Student Handbook: Dissertation

The Dissertation (Handbook Home)

Each student’s advisor will assist with selection of the Dissertation Committee from among the graduate faculty of the university.  A written dissertation proposal must be formally approved by the student’s Dissertation Committee before dissertation work proceeds.  The dissertation process generally takes a minimum of one year.  An oral examination on the dissertation will be conducted by the Dissertation Committee.  The dissertation chair will chair the oral dissertation defense which will be open to the campus community.

Definition of a DPA Dissertation

A dissertation is an original, significant contribution to the scholarly literature in public affairs and/or public management.  The dissertation should make a contribution to theory and practice.

The dissertation is the threshold of the student’s career and therefore should be of sufficient quality and importance to merit publication in a refereed journal or to form the basis for a book or monograph from which other scholars can build on in subsequent work.

For a list of completed dissertations click here.

Characteristics of a Dissertation

The dissertation must demonstrate a clear understanding of the research issue and the relevant literature.

The dissertation must utilize a research approach that is appropriate for the research question and the current state of the related research.

The dissertation must be presented in a clear and professional manner, with documentation and references that adhere to the UIS formatting instructions. Traditional dissertations often consist of five or more chapters including a chapter on the importance of the topic, a review of the literature, a methods chapter, a findings chapter and a conclusion. This can vary. Alternatively, there is the possibility of a “three article format.” Guidelines for this format are here.

The dissertation must be the work of a single author – the student.

What is the role of the dissertation chair?

The dissertation chair supervises the student’s preparation of the dissertation and is responsible for coordinating the Dissertation Committee.

The chair ensures that the dissertation proposal and dissertation is well written and adequately organized prior to circulating it to the other members of the committee.  The chair is responsible for deciding when drafts of the dissertation proposal and dissertation should be distributed to other committee members.

The chair ensures that the student consults and gets input from all members of the Dissertation Committee to draw upon their respective areas of expertise.

The chair is responsible for helping the student prepare for the dissertation proposal defense and the dissertation defense.

The chair, in conjunction with the other Dissertation Committee members, decides when the student is ready to defend his/her dissertation proposal and dissertation.  The dissertation chair coordinates the scheduling of the dissertation proposal defense and the chair presides over the dissertation proposal defense and the dissertation defense.

What is the role of Dissertation Committee members?

Dissertation members are responsible for reading drafts submitted for their review and the final version of the dissertation proposal and the dissertation in a timely manner. The Dissertation Committee members are expected to provide the student with input through written comments and by meeting with the student as needed.

The Dissertation Committee members should be involved throughout the whole dissertation process.

Dissertation Committee members are responsible for attending the dissertation proposal defense and the dissertation defense.  They also are responsible for certifying that they have read the dissertation and find it acceptable prior to signing the dissertation certification form.

Who can chair a dissertation?

The chair of a DPA dissertation must be (1) a member of the DPA faculty or an affiliated DPA faculty member and (2) university policy requires that she/he be a graduate faculty member.

An affiliated faculty member is a delegated non-DPA UIS faculty member who has a professional interest that overlaps with the field of public affairs and public management and has been approved by the DPA program committee as an affiliated faculty.

The dissertation chair cannot be a relative of the student by blood or marriage and cannot be (or have been) involved in an intimate relationship with the student or a member of the student’s family.

It is departmental policy that a faculty member can serve on no more than three dissertation committees concurrently as a committee chair.

Who can serve on a Dissertation Committee?

The student should establish his/her Dissertation Committee after or near completion of all course work.  Among the criteria that students may want to utilize for selection of Dissertation Committee members are (1) faculty who have expertise in an area germane to the student’s dissertation topic, and (2) faculty who add to a variety of perspectives related to the research.

The Dissertation Committee should consist of three to five faculty members.  One member of the student’s Dissertation Committee must be the “Dean’s Representative.”  The Dean’s Representative is a DPA program or affiliated faculty member outside of the student’s area of interest approved by the college dean.

Dissertation Committee members must be members of the graduate faculty.

Subject to the review and approval of the DPA program committee and the Dean of the College, individuals outside of the UIS faculty can serve as voting members of the Dissertation Committee if they satisfy the criteria for UIS graduate faculty.  Generally, outside faculty members must have a “terminal level degree.” In most disciplines this is a doctoral degree. Individuals outside of the UIS faculty who do not satisfy the criteria for UIS graduate faculty can serve as nonvoting members of the Dissertation Committee subject to the review and approval of the DPA program committee and the Dean of the College.  The majority of the Dissertation Committee must be UIS campus faculty members.

Dissertation Committee members cannot be a relative of the student by blood or marriage and cannot be (or have been) involved in an intimate relationship with the student or a member of the student’s family.

In the rare case where the DPA student becomes a visiting or some other type of UIS faculty member, the DPA program recommends that departments have students recuse themselves from participating in all departmental personnel actions until they are no longer a DPA student. Departments should pay special attention to possible conflicts of interest issues when DPA students serve on search committees.

Faculty members have a right to refuse the invitation to serve on a Dissertation Committee (as chair or as a committee member) and the right to withdrawal from a Dissertation Committee up to the point when Dissertation Committee members sign a form that indicates their approval for the student to defend their dissertation proposal.  The intent is that after that point in time, the Dissertation Committee will remain intact through the completion of the dissertation and the dissertation defense.

Membership changes in the Dissertation Committee may be made by the student, in consultation with the student’s dissertation chair. To remove, add, or replace a Dissertation Committee member requires approval of the DPA program faculty. A student who desires to change committee membership may petition the DPA program by sending an email to the program director explaining the reasons for the change. Please copy the dissertation chair. Since both student and faculty interests change overtime, the student should not feel hesitant to request the addition or removal of a committee member.

The committee members (including the chair) may resign from the committee by written notice to the program chair.

How Do I Officially Set Up the Committee and Chair?

The student should consult with his/her proposed dissertation chair and obtain agreement with the proposed chair and consent from committee members to serve on the committee.  The student should then send an email to the Director of the DPA Program listing the Dissertation Committee chair and members including the proposed Dean’s Representative.


If the plan is that a portion of the dissertation is to be co-authored and published previous to defense of the dissertation, then this plan needs to be reviewed by the DPA Program Committee previous to the submission of the manuscript for publication and/or inclusion in the dissertation.

See more about the Dissertation Proposal

See more about preparation and defense of the dissertation