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The dissertation is an original, interdisciplinary and scholarly examination of a topic relevant to an aspect of media, art and/or text. While primarily a work of written scholarship, the dissertation may include work in media other than text.

The Graduate Bulletin outlines general university procedures governing dissertations and doctoral exams, as well as those specifically for the MATX program.

The dissertation concept is a brief preliminary statement of the dissertation topic formulated with the advice of either the MATX director or the prospective dissertation director. It serves primarily to help the student begin formulation of the topic and develop a pitch to recruit members of the committee. It should be prepared at the beginning of the second year, with the goal of having a committee in place during the spring semester of the second year. The concept may not exceed two pages in length (double-spaced), but it may be as short as a single paragraph. It is work in progress, not a final document, and it should not go through multiple drafts.

The dissertation committee consists of the dissertation director and three or four additional members whose scholarly knowledge and interests are relevant to the project. All must be members of VCU’s graduate faculty, and the director must hold a Ph.D. The committee must have at least one member from each of the sponsoring units (School of the Arts, Robertson School of Media and Culture and the Department of English). Appropriate faculty from outside VCU may serve on committees (but not as director) with the approval of the MATX director, the prospective dissertation director and the graduate dean.

In consultation with the dissertation director and the MATX director, the student identifies and recruits relevant faculty for the committee. It is the student’s responsibility to assemble the committee; committees will not be appointed by the program. The process of identifying potential committee members should begin during the first year. Once the student and the director have secured written commitments from committee members, the dissertation director sends a list to the MATX director for approval.

Once a committee has been constituted and approved, the director will convene a meeting to discuss the topic as formulated in the concept, the elements listed below and procedures for the committee. This meeting is mandatory; further work may not proceed until the meeting takes place.

Before beginning formal dissertation research, students must complete all 36 hours of required coursework, both stages of the e-portfolio, and the requirements described below. Upon completion of these, the student will apply for degree candidacy.

These requirements must be completed in the order specified and within the space of a single semester. Once begun, the process can only be suspended for extenuating circumstances (such as serious illness) and with the approval of the MATX director. Full-time students will complete this process preferably in the fifth semester but no later than the sixth semester. Students who have not attained candidacy by the end of the sixth semester will be reviewed by the MATX committee for termination due to failure to maintain satisfactory academic progress.

Each student must obtain and demonstrate a skill or technique relevant to the dissertation research or planned professional career. At its initial meeting, the dissertation committee will approve the following:

  • the specific competency
  • the manner of demonstration, which may be, but is not limited to, a project, paper, demonstration or performance
  • explanatory material, such as a brief statement outlining how the competency was acquired and how it supports the dissertation research
  • mode of evaluation, i.e., when and where and whether by the whole committee, a subset or the director alone

The dissertation committee will approve a reading list of 20 to 30 sources relevant to or supportive of the dissertation topic. Questions will be composed by the dissertation director in consultation with the committee. Evaluation by the committee as a whole is pass/fail. The exam may be repeated once. A second failure results in automatic termination from the program.

The dissertation director submits the questions to the graduate programs adviser, who emails them to the student by noon on a Friday. Essays are due back by noon the following Monday. With approval of the MATX director, an equivalent sequence of days may be selected.

The committee will evaluate the feasibility, originality and professional relevance of the proposed topic based on the prospectus submitted by the student. The precise format is determined by the committee and should be appropriate to the student’s primary discipline. Whatever the format, the prospectus must clearly indicate the significance of the research, give a short review of relevant literature, state the research question, specify the proposed methodology and indicate how the project lays the foundation for the anticipated academic or professional career. It must also include a work plan for the completion of research and writing, as well as a complete bibliography.

The prospectus should be approximately 15 to 20 pages in length, double-spaced, excluding bibliography.

The student will defend the prospectus before the dissertation committee. The final draft must be provided to each member of the committee at least two weeks prior to the prospectus defense. At the defense, the committee will decide to accept the prospectus with or without revisions or reject it. Upon successful completion of the defense, the student will submit the signed candidacy form to the MATX director for review and forwarding to the Graduate School. The prospectus defense may be repeated once. A second failure results in automatic termination from the program.

A final copy of the prospectus, with all required revisions, is to be submitted to the graduate programs adviser for inclusion in the student’s file.

The committee may choose to receive dissertation drafts in any form. VCU requires electronic submission of all dissertations. See the Graduate School website for the dissertation manual and the Graduate Bulletin website for university regulations, procedures and deadlines.

Given the varied nature of doctoral research, there is no set time frame for completion of a dissertation. It is expected, however, that the dissertation will be completed about two years after attaining candidacy. It takes that much time to complete research, prepare and revise successive drafts and receive comments from the director and members of the committee. Students should clarify expectations regarding time frame, satisfactory progress and submission of drafts with their committees at the outset.

Dissertation credits are graded S (satisfactory), U (unsatisfactory) and F (failing). Grades are assigned by the dissertation director, who should clearly articulate what the student is expected to produce each semester. S and U grades are not calculated in the GPA. However, credits graded U do not count toward graduation requirements and may need to be repeated. Receipt of a U may result in review of the student for termination from the program. A grade of F will be assigned if the student fails to remain in contact with the director and/or submits no work or evidence of research activity for the semester. A grade of F will result in immediate termination as specified in the Graduate Bulletin.

As illustrations and copyright vary by discipline, each student should discuss proper procedures and expectations with the committee at the initial meeting. Consultation with the MATX director is strongly recommended.

Students who produce creative work as part of the dissertation should establish with their committee how such work is to be reviewed and/or exhibited. The MATX program does not provide exhibition space; candidates are responsible for securing their own venue, which should be easily accessible to the committee.

The dissertation defense may be scheduled only after the director has approved the final draft for distribution to the committee, which must occur at least four weeks prior to the defense date. Defenses must occur no later than the final defense date as announced each semester on the MATX program calendar. Generally this date will be in early November or early April. An announcement of the oral defense, including the candidate’s name, dissertation title, and the date, place and time of the defense, must be made at least 10 working days in advance via the graduate programs adviser.

At the defense the candidate will respond to questions from members of the committee. They will evaluate his or her performance and the dissertation for originality and command of cross-disciplinary knowledge. Although the draft presented at the defense is to be final and complete, the committee may require additional revisions.

The final draft of the thesis must be submitted electronically to Cabell Library by the deadline specified on the university’s academic calendar and in accordance with the procedures posted on the VCU Libraries website.

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