mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

PhD Dissertation Guidelines

Maintained by LG

The following policy on astronomy PhD dissertations was adopted at a graduate faculty meeting on May 8 1981.

1. Purposes of the Guidelines

The PhD. dissertation is the means by which a major effort of research is first presented to the public -- research that has required several years of dedication from the student author, considerable contributions from members of the doctoral committee, and a substantial investment of resources by the University. It is further the means by which the student's competence as a scientist will be judged both by the faculty and by prospective employers. It is essential that the standards of workmanship employed in writing the dissertation be at least as high as those applied to the research itself.

The dissertation is not normally published in its entirety. The standards of brevity demanded of scientific papers by the economics of publishing are incompatible with the level of detail which many doctoral committees demand in a dissertation. It is necessary to resolve these conflicting demands in order to minimize the time after acceptance of the dissertation until a paper based upon its appears in a journal. The value of particular scientific results often decays rapidly with time, as other scientists work on similar projects. If the research effort is not to be part wasted, the months of delay often attendant upon rewriting the dissertation for publication, which often must be done while the former student is embarking upon a new career, must be drastically reduced.

It is, therefore, the purpose of these guidelines to assist students and doctoral committees toward the production of dissertations which meet the goals set forth above.

2. Organization of the Dissertation

a) Principal Section.

The essential points to be conveyed to the reader should be set forth in the principal section, which should be, in effect, a publishable paper embedded in the dissertation. It should clearly describe the essentials of the research process, present and discuss the results, and assess the relevance of the results to the existing body of astronomical knowledge. If no historical introduction is given (subsec. 2b) the principal section should also contain an introduction which sets forth the motivation for the research program. It should be possible to lift the principal section from the dissertation, and, with minimal changes, send it to a journal for publication.

Some research projects naturally divide into subtopics to be presented in separate publications. In these cases, the principal section of the dissertation may be subdivided into sections in the same way.

b) Historical Introduction.

In order to have a proper perspective on the significance of the research project, a student must be aware of the history of the subject area. It is often desirable to include in the dissertation a fairly extensive historical introduction, describing this history and leading to a clear statement of the motivation for the research. The decision to include or omit such an introduction should be made jointly by the student and his/her doctoral committee. If a historical introduction is included in the dissertation, a condensed version may be added to the principal section to serve as an introduction, when that is submitted for publication.

c) Appendices.

The brevity required in published research papers usually does not permit sufficient detail about the research procedures to enable the reader to judge whether the research was done competently; the reader must suspend judgment on that point or base judgment on the author's reputation. Since the purpose of the dissertation work is, in part, to demonstrate the student's competence, the doctoral committee may wish to require more detail concerning the research procedures that would be possible in a published paper. Such detailed information can be accommodated in one or more appendices. Additional appendices may serve to archive tabulations of data or computer codes, which also would not be published, but might be mentioned as available to interested readers upon request.

3. Style

The dissertation must be written in good, grammatical English with correct spelling. Furthermore, the style must be clear and concise. The principal section should quickly convey to the reader what was done, what the results were, and what the significance of the results is. A rambling style which leaves the reader fatigued and confused is unacceptable. The appendices also should convey the intended information clearly and economically. There is no merit whatever in a dissertation being longer than is necessary, and writing clearly and concisely is part of the scientist's craft which the student must learn.

4. Publication

It is not sufficient that the principal section be capable of publication, it should, in fact, be promptly published. It is therefore, required that the manuscript of a paper, or papers, essentially equivalent to the principal section of the dissertation, be submitted for publication to a reputable scientific journal before the dissertation is regarded as complete. Submission of the manuscript for review by the cognizant research unit of the University is expected.

5. Responsibilities of the Doctoral Committee

It is the responsibility of the student's doctoral committee to ensure that the dissertation meets the specifications set forth here.

a) Consultation.

The doctoral committee should require that the student submit preliminary drafts of the dissertation to at least a majority of the members of the committee. The committee members, either separately or jointly, should advise the student as to how the dissertation might be improved. The committee should keep in mind that the student may receive conflicting advice, and should allow maximum freedom for the student's judgment to operate, within the limits set by these guidelines.

b) Approval of the Dissertation.

In considering whether to approve the dissertation, the doctoral committee must judge both the scientific content, and whether the style and organization meet the specifications set forth here. Both aspects must be judged satisfactory before approval is given. The dissertation must be approved by the committee, and papers based upon it must be submitted for publication, before the oral examination is scheduled.

The above requirement does not imply that the dissertation must be typed in final form before approval. Revisions suggested at the oral examination, and by the journal's referees, may be included in the final form of the dissertation.