The Doctoral Degree in Geography


Before the preliminary doctoral examination is scheduled, and before beginning dissertation work, you must write a dissertation proposal in consultation with your advisor and have it approved by your dissertation committee. The dissertation proposal should be concise and focused; a good model to follow is the NSF Dissertation Grant Proposal document ( The grant proposal has a 15 page limit; in no case should the proposal exceed 30 pages. It should include:

  • Title page – proposed title of dissertation; name of student; name and signature of 1st and 2nd readers, and the names of two reviewers; date of submission; a 50-100 word abstract typed (single spaced) stating concisely the nature of the problem to be pursued, objectives of the study, and data and methods to be employed
  • Introduction & Justification – A specific statement of the problem as a researchable issue, including its relationship to past and present research
  • Literature Review – Discussion of the pertinent literature and placing the proposal in context with this
  • Procedure – Discussion of research objectives and design, along with the data to be used
  • Timetable – A timetable for producing the product, including research, analysis, and writing phases
  • Bibliography – Listing of works that most clearly relate to the study as sources of theory, data or methodology

Your dissertation will be the result of a comprehensive investigation of a basic and significant problem within your major area of study. It must represent a significant and original contribution to knowledge, and highlight your ability to conduct independent research of high quality.

Three paper dissertation option (adapted from Cornell)

With the consent of the student’s Dissertation Committee a three paper option may be completed in lieu of the traditional dissertation.  The three papers must have a common focus and be of a quality that the Dissertation Committee feels would be publishable in appropriate professional journals. To conform to Graduate School requirements the three papers must be in standard dissertation format and there must be a separate chapter introducing the work and one summarizing the conclusions found in the work.

The standards for the three paper option are taken from the Cornell Department of City and Regional Planning website

  • The three papers should be thematically linked and reflect a trajectory of work with depth of inquiry in a common area.
  • Each paper must contribute significantly to the frontier of knowledge and be deemed publishable in a reputable refereed journal.
  • There should not be considerable overlap in the material covered in the papers.
  • The candidates’ committee (or chair) should have the final say as to the form of the exit option, specifically whether the three-paper model is appropriate.
  • Articles should be ready for submission to an academic publisher.  Articles already submitted, accepted or published before the defense, are admissible as long as the committee is satisfied.  If the committee is not satisfied with the quality of the articles, the student must continue to make improvements to satisfy the committee.
  • Co-authored papers, with the student as lead author are acceptable; however one or more of the papers must be single authored by the candidate.