CBFE Preliminary Dissertation Proposal, Evaluation Rubric, & Hearings

After passing their exam and completing all coursework, students will develop a dissertation proposal (typically the fall of the third year or later). The purpose of the proposal defense is to determine the student’s readiness to commence their dissertation research. The proposal should clearly identify the research question or topic, establish the theoretical framework for the proposed topic, reference the relevant literature, and describe in detail the proposed research design and methods. A proposal is typically 25 pages in length.

The proposal should include a statement of the problem or question that the dissertation will answer. It should discuss the theory and methods appropriate to the question and provide a literature review that includes theory, data and methods. The proposal should also have a work plan for the research dissertation. It should also address who will be interested in the results, the importance of the results in the field, and potential policy implications. Proposals should include a process for IRB review. The IRB protocol must be approved by the UW Human Subjects Review Committee prior to starting any data collection. The IRB submission has to be completed by your advisor or other faculty.

The student is expected to present and defend their research proposal, as well as any material their committee feels is necessary for the student to conduct their dissertation research. Students should not schedule a proposal hearing until approved by their advisor and all committee members. Please plan any committee meetings at least a month in advance. Presentations may occur in an online virtual format or on campus as agreed by the committee with the student.

At least 3 weeks before the proposal defense, students must contact the SoHE Graduate Program Coordinator to request what is called a “prelim warrant” from the Graduate School. This warrant is signed by the student’s committee and returned to the Graduate School. Students should provide a draft and seek written and oral feedback from their proposal committee well in advance of the proposal date.

The committee can pass the proposal, accept the proposal with revisions, or not accept the proposal. If the committee does not accept the proposal, the committee must make clear to the student what work is required to revise the proposal and whether the student must publicly defend the revised proposal. Committee members are not required to sign off until the proposal meets or exceeds all expectations.

Upon the committee’s approval, the proposal (including any revisions recommended) constitutes a “contract” between the student and their committee. If the student proposes any major changes to their proposal, the student is responsible for consulting with their committee prior to making those changes.

If a student adds or replaces committee members after the proposal is completed, it is the student’s responsibility to share the defended proposal with the new member(s). New member(s) may request for revisions to the proposal, request a new proposal defense or even additional requirements.

Preliminary Exam Proposal Evaluation Rubric

Pass Deficient
Theory Shows strong knowledge of theories and the ability to apply to practical problems proposed Only shows weak knowledge of theories and/or cannot show ability to apply theory to problems
Methods Shows strong knowledge of methods and the ability to apply to research question Only shows basic knowledge and cannot apply methods to research questions proposed
Feasibility The proposed work is appropriate and can be completed within the student’s timeframe, including work appropriate for the job market The proposed work is not sufficient, appropriate or achievable towards a job placement
Relevance Can apply findings to applications in real world Has findings but cannot translate into real world significance.


It is the responsibility of the student to confer with their committee about their expectations, seek feedback, and obtain permission from their major professor to schedule their proposal hearing. Students also will arrange the date, time and location/format for the hearing agreeable to the committee members. Committee members should receive a copy of the proposal well in advance of the hearing (at least 7 working days).  Hearings are scheduled for 120 minutes, with the first 60 minutes open to the public.

The location and time of the hearing should be circulated two weeks in advance (10 working days) for the information of all department faculty and graduate students.  All graduate students are expected to attend the public portion of each hearing. The student is required to share meeting announcements to all CS faculty, CS staff and CS graduate students via email.

At the end of the public presentation and question period, a private session with the student will follow. The student will be asked to leave the room to allow the faculty to discuss the project.  Then the student will be called back into the room for further discussions.


School of Human Ecology Graduate Programs Handbook Copyright © 2022 by Michelle Holland. All Rights Reserved.

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