I'm a PhD student in computer science. In my university, the PhD process is divided in the following steps:

  1. Qualification exam
  2. Research proposal exam: presentation of chosen topics and methodology and plan (near 1-1.5 year after PhD program begining)
  3. Thesis proposal exam: presentation of done and remaining work (near 1-1.5 year after research proposal)
  4. Thesis defence

I'm at the end of my PhD and basically at the end of the dissertation writing. I still have to write the last chapter about the validation results.

I still haven't done the «Thesis proposal exam» and will take it in mid august; then I expect to submit the dissertation draft at the end of august, for a defence expected in late september or in october.

I'm embarrassed, as I basically almost ended the dissertation, by the fact that the «Thesis proposal exam» presentation and the «Thesis defence» presentation will foregone be the same content. It look like the first one will be a sort of rehearsal of the second one.

How can I proceed to present a meaningful «Thesis proposal exam» and still having something new to say during my defence presentation?


  • 7
    Ask your advisor. (Also, I'm a bit shocked that you were able to get to the point of having your dissertation nearly completed without warning sirens going off in your advisor's head that you still had the thesis proposal exam hurdle to take care of.)
    – Mad Jack
    Jul 27, 2015 at 23:37
  • 1
    @MadJack My department only recently instituted a mandatory one-semester gap between proposal and defense. The vote for the new requirement was not unanimous.
    – JeffE
    Jul 28, 2015 at 1:27
  • 1
    @JeffE If the OP is in such a situation, I expect there will be wide latitude for students caught by the transition.
    – jakebeal
    Jul 28, 2015 at 14:59

3 Answers 3


As MadJack says in the comments, this is really something that you and your advisor need to sort out with the department. Part of an advisor's responsibility to their students is to make sure that they don't end up in easily avoidable bureaucratic screw-ups like this. So yes, you've failed, but your advisor has failed as well.

First thing to do, then, is to sit down with your advisor and figure out how serious a problem this is. If it's something like JeffE suggests, and due to recent regulation changes, or if it's a requirement that is more pro-forma than serious, then there are likely good ways to deal with it. For example, you might end up following the letter of the law and in fact having the proposal exam be essentially a dress rehearsal for the defense (and that might be considered to be OK). Or the proposal exam might end up finding some problems that really do need to be addressed before you defend, and you will be grateful---you might be delayed, though, and that might or might not be a problem (you don't say where you are: in the US, delay is generally not a problem if your advisor can fund you; in some other countries it can be a major issue).

If the department is not flexible, however, and wants to make an issue of your failure to comply with the letter of the law, then the resolution will be very particular to the department, and that is something that you and your advisor will need to navigate together.


If this is just "bureaucracy", maybe you can even roll them into the same presentation. Or present your work as (pro forma) "research proposal", fix whatever details require adjustment and do the final presentation. Unless the audience is exactly the same, they'll probably won't mind. But be prepared for much more in-depth questions the second time around if there is overlap...


How can I proceed to present a meaningful «Thesis proposal exam» and still having something new to say during my defence presentation?

I understood your concern to be not so much with whether you will get in trouble for condensing the timeline, but more about how to make the two presentations different enough to keep your audience interested.

How about this: your first presentation is a re-creation of what it would have been a year or two ago -- give them all the background for the work you did. You can leave them with a cliff hanger -- which will be resolved a few weeks later in your second presentation.

  • 1
    You can leave them with a cliff hanger -- which will be resolved a few weeks later in your second presentation. — I have my doubts about how well this will go over in practice: OP will inevitably have to explain how they managed to get 2 years of work accomplished in 2 weeks.
    – Mad Jack
    Jul 29, 2015 at 1:18
  • @MadJack My assumption is that the committee is condoning this creative timeline. Jul 29, 2015 at 1:44
  • Yes, that could be. Perhaps it sounds worse to me than it actually is.
    – Mad Jack
    Jul 29, 2015 at 1:50
  • 1
    Thank you all for your comment. It is true that some rules haven't been stictly followed in my case, but things are not always black or white. When the time was to take the «Thesis proposal exam» I didn't have much stuff to present. So my supervisor decided to delay the exam. To make the story short, I think my supervisor wanted the best output for me what would also be a better output for her as well. She might not be perfect but I thanks her for that.
    – cProg
    Jul 30, 2015 at 15:33

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