Skip to main content

Candidacy Examination

The Dissertation Proposal Defense serves as the Candidacy Examination. The purpose of the Candidacy Examination is to demonstrate an understanding of knowledge in the concentration area that supports the student’s dissertation research. Upon successful completion of required coursework and this examination, the student advances to degree candidacy status.

Students are expected to pass the Candidacy Examination no later than the end of the 3rd semester following Dissertation Seminar unless the student obtains written permission of the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. Students who do not abide by these policies will no longer be in good academic standing (see “Academic Standing”) which will be reported to funding agencies and the Associate Dean for Academic Programs.  

Examining Committee

The preparation of the Candidacy Examination occurs under the guidance of the Dissertation Committee. The Chair serves as the facilitator of the Candidacy Examination.

The Examining Committee includes the members of the Dissertation Committee plus two readers selected by the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair with recommendations for readers offered by the Dissertation Chair. These two readers must be members of the Graduate Group in Nursing with expertise in the area of study.

Format

The Candidacy Examination contains a written and an oral component. The student must achieve a passing grade for both the written and oral components to advance to degree candidacy status. 

Written Component

In the written Candidacy Examination, the student discusses the problem to be studied, the relevant literature, and the methodology to be used in the dissertation research (see below in the Dissertation section for a discussion of possible dissertation formats).

Oral Component

For the oral portion of the Candidacy Examination, which is two hours in length, the student provides an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal and responds to questions by the Examining Committee.  

Evaluation

The written and oral proposal defense is graded on a “Pass” or “Fail” basis.

If the student receives a failing grade for either of the two components (written or oral components), the student fails the defense. If the student fails the defense, s/he may repeat the defense of the proposal (both oral and written components) one time within the next 60 days.

Students who fail the Candidacy Examination twice may be withdrawn from the School of Nursing. 

Procedure

Please start the scheduling process at least six weeks in advance of the potential exam date.  

  1. The student should consult the Dissertation Committee for potential date(s) and time(s) for the oral defense portion of the Candidacy Examination. The oral Candidacy Examination is scheduled for two hours.  
  2. The student should email 1) the title of the paper, 2) names of the Dissertation Chair and committee, and 3) names of at least four suggested readers from the Graduate Group in Nursing (two will be selected), in priority order, to the Graduate Group Chair with a copy to the Dissertation Chair and the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs.  Several names of readers should be suggested for scheduling purposes, but not contacted in advance for their availability.  
  3. The Graduate Group Chair will review the list of suggested readers and reply to the student, Dissertation Chair, and Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs with the approved names of potential readers to contact in order. 
  4. Then the student should contact the top two suggested readers first to ask for availability, and move down the list until two examiners are available (see here for a suggested email template).
  5. Once the date and time are finalized, the student should request a small sized conference room on the Facilities Office intranet site. It is recommended that the student schedule the room for the required two hours plus 15 minutes prep time and at least 15 minutes post-exam time in case additional discussion is needed. Once the student receives a confirmation email from the Facilities Office, the student should confirm the date, time, and room of the exam with the committee, with a copy to the Associate Director for Graduate Academic Affairs, who will note it for official records.
  6. The student is responsible for providing the exam committee and readers with a copy of the exam at least two weeks before the exam date.
  7. The student should bring the Candidacy Exam form to the examination for committee signatures, and then return the form to the Office of Student Services.

Degree Credentials

Degree credentials (e.g., AD, BS, BSN, MS, MSN, PhD, EdD, DNP) are commonly used and indicate completion of a particular educational program. The highest degree attained is usually placed immediately after the last name. All or some of degrees can be used.

Terms used to indicate partial completion of a degree or student status such as “SNP” (student nurse practitioner), “PhDc” (PhD candidate) or “ABD” (all but dissertation) are fabricated terms and are not to be used.


Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee oversees and approves the research proposal, and ultimately, the dissertation.

Dissertation Chair

Having selected an area of research, the student identifies a Chair of the Dissertation Committee. The Chair must be a member of the Standing Faculty of the School of Nursing. The individual may or may not have been the student’s advisor. There is no duty to invite the advisor to chair the dissertation committee.

Per the Academic Rules for PhDs and Research Master’s Degrees:

If the Chair leaves the Standing Faculty in Nursing or retires before the dissertation is completed, then a new chair from the Standing Faculty must be appointed Chair.

If a faculty member retires from the Standing Faculty, s/he may remain as the primary dissertation advisor but a new Chair must be appointed from the Standing Faculty.

Dissertation Committee Members

The student, in consultation with the Chair, selects two other members of the Dissertation Committee, at least one of whom is a member of the Graduate Group in Nursing.

The third individual may be a faculty member at or outside of the University of Pennsylvania with approval from the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. For members outside the University of Pennsylvania, the individual’s CV and a rationale for membership on the committee should be emailed to the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair for information, with a copy to the Associate Director for Graduate Academic Affairs. In some cases, the student may have a committee of more than three individuals.

Dissertation Committee Credentials

Members of the Dissertation Committee are expected to have an earned Research Doctorate (PhD). Exceptions may be made for committee members with a non-Research Doctorate (for example, MD or DNP) if they are members of a University of Pennsylvania Graduate Group or demonstrate other evidence of participation in research-intensive roles. The Dissertation Chair will be responsible for making this decision and must notify the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. 

Procedure

To make the committee official, the student must submit a Request for Dissertation Committee Form with committee signatures to the Office of Student Services for review by the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. 

 


Dissertation Status

Following Dissertation Seminar, the student will be registered for dissertation status.  Registration is done by the Office of Student Information and is required in each succeeding semester until all degree requirements are met. A student on Dissertation Status who wishes to take additional coursework may do so with approval of the academic advisor and Graduate Group in Nursing Chair depending on available funding for tuition. While supported by School of Nursing or federal funding, students may only take coursework that is directly related to their dissertation question.


Dissertation

The preparation of the dissertation constitutes the final phase of the PhD program. The dissertation should demonstrate a high-level of analytical and research competence and represent an original contribution to the field of nursing science. It is expected that the formation of a topic will begin in the early phases of study in the program and grow out of experience and work in the focused area of science and scholarship. It is also expected that the dissertation topic will build on the research and expertise of two or more members of the Graduate Group in Nursing. 

Dissertation Format

Generally, three dissertation formats are appropriate. The best option depends on the type of research planned. Each format is described in the table below, with an explanation of the nature and scope of work for the dissertation proposal. Note that all three formats are potentially suitable for qualitative and mixed-methods research; students pursuing a qualitative or mixed-methods project should consult with the Chair and the Dissertation Committee to determine the most appropriate format for the student’s specific study. The dissertation format must be approved by the student’s Dissertation Committee. Additional formats may be suggested as nursing science continues to evolve; formats of dissertations (and proposals) that are not addressed below will be considered. In this case, the Dissertation Chair and student will review their recommended format with the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair.

University of Pennsylvania policy permits dissertations based on joint work with other researchers, provided that, in such cases, a unique and separate dissertation is presented by each degree candidate. The candidate must include a concise account of his or her contribution to the whole work. Authorship of a dissertation by more than one degree candidate is not allowed.

Dissertation Formats
Format Structure of Dissertation Content of dissertation proposal
for Candidacy Exam
Five Chapter

Chapter 1: Introduction and Specific Aims
Chapter 2: Substantive review of the literature
Chapter 3: Methods
Chapter 4: Results
Chapter 5: Discussion

Chapters 1-3

May use NIH PSH398 subheadings, but see note below *

Three Article

Chapter 1: Introduction to the body of work
Chapters 2-4: Three manuscripts prepared for submission, submitted or published in appropriate peer-reviewed journals. At least two of the three manuscripts should be data-based (i.e., not methodological or conceptual). Data-based manuscripts should include aims, background, methods, results, and conclusions. One of the three papers can be a new grant proposal such as a post-doctoral fellowship application.
Chapter 5: Summary chapter synthesizing conclusions, implications, and future directions.

Additional information about the format and requirements of this format are described below.

Chapter 1, plus a summary of the aims, background, and methods/approach for each article.

May use NIH PSH398 subheadings, but see note below*

Humanities Integrated analysis and data-based narrative of a set of historical, qualitative, or ethnographic questions that provide the basis for a book manuscript or a series of manuscripts. Presentation of a narrative that establishes the background context, significance, and possible primary and secondary sources (which may include archival sources, oral histories, or possible interview subjects or texts used in ethnographic or other qualitative research) that the student will use to address the questions during the dissertation research.

* NOTE: The proposal for a five-chapter or three-article dissertation may use the NIH PHS398 subheadings (Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Innovation, and Approach) provided that the background and significance are presented in sufficient depth to demonstrate thorough mastery of the relevant literature. PHS398 page limits do not apply; proposals using the PHS398 subheadings will likely be longer than 10-15 single-spaced pages. An NRSA proposal is not an acceptable dissertation proposal. If using the PHS398 subheadings for the dissertation proposal, the student should negotiate the appropriate scope of the Background and Significance section in advance with the Chair and Committee. An underdeveloped background and significance section may be grounds for failing the Candidacy Exam.   

The three manuscripts option may include manuscripts that are published during the course of the doctoral program; see the “Use of Copyrighted, Previously Published, or Coauthored Material” section of the University’s Doctoral Dissertation Manual for details.

Requirements and Format of the Three Article Dissertation

The Graduate Group allows students who publish papers during their doctoral program to use these papers as part of their dissertation.  Following are the requirements and format for the Three Article dissertation option:

Requirements
  1. Any publications (or publishable papers) to be used in the dissertation must represent research or scholarship comparable in scope and contribution to the standard dissertation.
  2. A minimum of three papers should be included that are full-length articles in line with expectations for reviews or reports of original research that are found in recognized journals. At least two of the papers must be data-based manuscripts. Abstracts, monographs or short summaries are not acceptable. One paper may be a postdoctoral grant proposal if the proposal is substantive in effort and length (e.g. F32 or K99). For a grant proposal, it would be expected that you include a human subjects section, and that you are following the relevant formatting guidelines (i.e. ½ inch margins and single-spacing for an NIH proposal). It is recommended that students embargo their dissertation for one year so that their proposal does not become public.
  3. Each paper must be prepared under the supervision of at least one member of the dissertation committee.
  4. The student must be the primary author of the papers, with content based on scholarship or research conducted primarily by the student.
  5. Potential content, authorship, journals for submission, and anticipated dates for submission of each paper will be agreed upon by the student and dissertation committee when the committee meets to approve the student’s dissertation proposal (see Form A - Proposed Publications for Dissertation – Three Article Format). With agreement of the committee, planned content of the papers may change based upon findings from the dissertation or other factors. Publication titles, authorship and other details should be finalized for each publication when an initial draft of the dissertation is submitted by the student as evidence of readiness for graduation (see Form B - Publications for Dissertation – Three Article Format). 
  6. Papers submitted for publication prior to the final defense of the dissertation need to have approval of all dissertation committee members if they are to be included in the dissertation.
  7. Papers not yet submitted at the time of the final defense should be approved by all committee members as ready for publication. The committee’s assessment of readiness should consider: 
    1. coherence and substantive quality of the content,
    2. congruence with the guidelines and format of the journal to which a paper is being submitted, and
    3. an agreed upon date for submission.
  1. At least one paper must be fully formatted for the chosen journal and ready for submission by the time of graduation.
  2. When determining authorship on papers, students should refer to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association for information on ‘publication credit’ or the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ reference on ‘Authorship and Contributorship’: http://www.icmje.org/ethical_1author.html.
Format
  1. The dissertation should begin with an introductory chapter that describes the study problem, including the purpose of the study, its significance, and the research aims or questions that were approved by the committee in the proposal defense. The introduction should also describe how each published/publishable paper will be incorporated into the overall dissertation.
  2. The rationale, methods and findings of the dissertation can be described within the published/publishable papers. Each paper should be presented as a separate chapter of the dissertation and should be clearly linked to one or more of the original study aims/questions. If key aspects of the dissertation’s methods and/or results are not described in the papers, they should be included as an additional chapter to assure that methods and results related to all study aims/questions are fully addressed in the dissertation.
  3. A final discussion chapter should synthesize dissertation findings for all aims/questions, describe and interpret the significance of the overall dissertation results, and identify implications for research and practice that stem from the entire dissertation. It is important that this chapter show how separate findings presented in distinct papers contribute to an integrated body of knowledge that addresses the overall purpose of the dissertation research.

Dissertation Defense

When the written dissertation is completed to the satisfaction of the dissertation committee, an oral defense with public and closed components will be scheduled for two hours. The examining committee for the dissertation consists of the dissertation committee and two readers from the Graduate Group in Nursing who are appointed by the Graduate Group in Nursing Chair. All members of the Graduate Group and doctoral students as well as other individuals whose presence is desired by the student are invited to the public component. The public component consists of a brief presentation of the findings and their implications by the student followed by a brief question and answer by individuals who are not members of the examining committee. The following component may be either open or closed depending on the preference of the Dissertation Chair. In this portion, guests may be excused while questioning and discussion by the readers, the dissertation committee members, and the student occur. The dissertation defense is graded on a Pass/Fail basis with the majority of the five examiners necessary for a decision.

At least three members of the dissertation committee must participate in the defense. Participation of one of the three may be via video or audio.

Source: PennBook Academic Rules for PhDs and Research Masters Degrees

Procedure

Please start the scheduling process at least six weeks in advance of the potential dissertation defense date.

  1. The student should consult the Dissertation Committee for potential date(s) and time(s) for the Dissertation Defense. The defense is scheduled for two hours.  
  2. The student should email the following information to the Graduate Group Chair with a copy to the Dissertation Chair and the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs.
    1. Title of the dissertation
    2. Name of the Dissertation Chair
    3. Names of the committee members
    4. The potential date(s) and time(s) of the defense
    5. Names of at least four suggested readers from the Graduate Group in Nursing, in priority order (Note: several names of readers should be suggested for scheduling purposes, but not contacted in advance for their availability. Noting readers who participated in the Candidacy Exam is helpful to the Graduate Group chair. If for some reason these two individuals should not be reappointed, please note that as well).
  3. The Graduate Group Chair will review the list of suggested readers and reply to the student, Dissertation Chair, and Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs with the approved names of potential readers to contact in order.  The approved names of potential readers may or may not be the same individuals who were readers on the Candidacy Exam.
  4. Then the student should contact the top two suggested readers first to ask for availability, and move down the list until two examiners are available (see here for a suggested email template).
  5. The student should ask the committee and two available readers to hold the date and time.
  6. To schedule a room, the student should email the Associate Director for Graduate Academic Affairs with the date, time, and anticipated number of attendees at the defense.  Please note if a dissertation reception/celebration is planned following the defense.  (It is traditionally the responsibility of the Dissertation Chair to organize and pay for the reception.) The Associate Director for Graduate Academic Affairs will reserve a room, and communicate the location to the student.
  7. The student should confirm the date, time, and location of the exam with the Dissertation Committee and readers. 
  8. 9. The student should email an abstract of the dissertation at least two weeks in advance of the defense date to the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs. The abstract should be formatted as indicated in the Dissertation Manual. The dissertation defense date will be announced to the School of Nursing.
  9. The student must distribute a copy of the examination to the Examining Committee and readers at least two weeks prior to the scheduled oral defense.
  10. There are several forms required by the University and the SON as part of the graduation process: 152, 153, 154155, and a signed copy of the title page.  The student should bring the four forms to the dissertation defense, fill in information where applicable (except form 155), and get committee signatures on all forms.  The student should return the forms to the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs, who will get the Graduate Group Chair’s signature and Dean’s (or designee’s) signature, complete form 155, and hold forms temporarily for safekeeping.  If minor changes need to be made to the dissertation, the Chair must email the Associate Director of Graduate Academic Affairs to document when those changes have been satisfactorily completed.
  11. Once all requirements for the PhD have been met, and once all forms are complete, the Associate Director for Graduate Academic Affairs will scan the completed forms for the student’s official academic file, email a copy of the forms to the student for personal records, contact the student to pick up the original, signed forms for the dissertation deposit, and give the student official approval in the University’s online application for degree. 

Please review the PhD Graduation Checklist to keep track of the steps required before, day of, and after the dissertation defense.