What are the factors that are considered when granting a PhD degree. For example, if a person has published excellent papers, but their dissertation is not perfect i.e. omissions and typos, would the committee consider it? Also, what happens if they have good papers published, but the oral defense is not great. People generally believe that if the dissertation advisors says OK, then everything works out. How true is that? P.S. I am asking in the U.S.

  • In general, this depends on the process and rules of the university. In which country is this?
    – Davidmh
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 21:05

3 Answers 3


Although the exact process varies from university to university, the general form of the process in the United States is typically as follows:

  1. The student needs to do work that makes a novel contribution to the sum of all human knowledge. This is the universal part of the process, and the key thing that a Ph.D. really certifies that you are capable of.
  2. The student, with guidance from the advisor writes up this work in a thesis document. In some areas this is not-yet-published work, in others it is a summation of things already published. In either case, it should be a complete and thorough presentation of the ideas and work.
  3. Eventually the advisor and student are both satisfied, and the advisor judges that the student's work will pass external review.
  4. External review is obtained from some combination of oral or public defense and input from other committee members. Sometimes the defense is a serious part of the process, sometimes it is not; in either case, an advisor should never allow a student to stand for a defense unless they will pass.
  5. The student satisfies any additional requirements imposed through the external review. Sometimes this is just correcting typos, sometimes this is a lengthy period of additional research. If it is the latter, then the advisor has generally screwed up.
  6. Submit the final document for archive, and graduate.

Note that this process assumes some flexibility in the length of a Ph.D., which is typically the case in the US. I know that in some other places, such as many institutions in Europe, there is often a shorter and fixed schedule. I'm not sure how one deals with not being ready on time in that case...


It mostly depends on the university policy. Normally typoes are accepted to a certain extent as especially foreign students are not expected to manage the language perfectly.

Omissions on the other hand are a totally different thing. You have to omit many things anyway as they would not fit into the frame of your thesis. On the other handm if you omit something which is part of the area you are doing research on, then chances are high, that you are rejected - at least you will never get more than a "cum rite" and if you're satisfied with that, then I'd reconsider the whole doctorate-thing.


It greatly depends on the country and less so on the university. In general, it is true that a supervisor will not approve a thesis to be sent to the committee that he/she doesn't feel has a good chance of being accepted. Because doing so would not only reflect poorly on the supervisor, it also means more work for everyone involved.

In general, things like language errors are not cause for rejection unless you make it really bad. The thesis is judged primarily on its scientific content. Note that in some fields, you can create a thesis by simply making each published paper into a chapter and adding an introduction and conclusion. This allows for all of the critical parts of the thesis to be completed and reviewed beforehand.

The importance of the oral defense depends on the country. In my country, the Netherlands, the oral defense is practically irrelevant for most people. While in theory you can fail, as long as you keep talking, you will pass. It's mostly a show for friends and family. But in other countries the oral defense has more weight

  • 1
    Well, of course it is only dissertations in the sciences which are judged on their scientific content.
    – David Z
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 7:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .