PhD Pre-Defense and Final Defense


The pre-defense is an occasion for the dissertator and their committee to come together over a draft of the dissertation to discuss the main arguments, evidence, structure, and organization. This is a good juncture at which each of the committee members can advise the student about major revisions and additions to the tasks of research and thinking that need to be accomplished before the final defense.

The pre-defense generally takes place three to six months before the final defense.

The student is responsible for setting up the meeting: arranging the time and place as well as distributing the draft of the dissertation in time for all the readers to engage with it in a substantive way. The department should also be notified about the event with an e-mail message to the Graduate Secretary.

The pre-defense usually lasts two hours. During the pre-defense each of the committee members has a chance to ask the student questions and usually an organic conversation emerges. If one of the committee members is off campus, they should be asked to participate by sharing comments in advance with the committee chair and the student or might participate via internet. It is not imperative that the entire committee be assembled for the pre-defense.

There is no formal or Graduate College paperwork involved. When the conversation is complete and the student has the instructions from the committee, the advisor should notify the DGS with a short e-mail summary of the pre-defense (about one paragraph). This will be placed in the student's file. A notation will also be added to the Graduate Secretary's records that the pre-defense has taken place.

Final Defense

Instructions for Preparations of Thesis, and a history department thesis checklist, are distributed to each student who becomes ABD. Questions should be directed the Thesis office of the Graduate College and/or the Graduate Secretary. For Graduate College policies about doctoral committees and the final defense, see

All members of the Doctoral Examination Committee should receive a copy of the dissertation well in advance of the final defense, and in any case not less than one month prior. Some faculty are willing to read electronic copies, but this should not be assumed--please ask your committee members. The Chair of the Committee is responsible for the scheduling, but may delegate the task to the student.

During the final defense, the student is normally asked to leave the room at the beginning of the meeting so committee members can confer about the dissertation and decide on the order in which they will question the student and willingness to have others chime in during their “time” with related questions. The student is then usually invited to return and initiates discussion by briefly describing the dissertation, its main arguments, significance, their own assessments of its strengths and weaknesses, and questions they may have for the committee. Committee members ask questions in sequence, usually ending with the advisor/chair of the dissertation committee. At the end of the two hours the student is asked to leave the room again so the committee members can confer on the result.  The result is conveyed orally to the student immediately, and in writing on the forms provided by the graduate secretary.

Time Limitations

Graduate College rules:

  • A student who enters the graduate program with a BA must complete the PhD within seven years after first registration in the Graduate College.
  • A student who has received an MA elsewhere must complete the PhD within five years after first registering in the Graduate College.
  • A student who has an MA from Illinois, then terminates his/her enrollment only to return to the PhD program a year or more later, must complete the PhD no more than six years after the date of return.

Graduate students who have reached these official Graduate College time limits--which differ slightly from norms in history--must petition for approval from the Graduate College to continue. To receive this approval, the student will present evidence of substantial progress toward the degree (supported by the thesis advisor) and set a date for completion. A petition must be submitted to the Graduate Secretary, who will obtain the necessary signatures and forward to the Graduate College.

Students who have completed 96 hours and all other requirements, save the dissertation, may cease to enroll at the University while they continue to work on the thesis. Students should remember that unless registered they will not have access to services for which they do not pay fees. Upon completion or near completion, a PhD student may re-apply to register for the semester during which the final defense will be taken. Procedures for this vary according to how long the student has been unregistered; and students are advised to contact the Graduate Secretary several months in advance of when they intend to register.

If more than five years elapse between advancement to candidacy (ABD) and the final defense, students are required to demonstrate the currency of their knowledge by retaking the prelim exam, usually in the form of an oral exam with the dissertation committee prior to defense of the thesis--this could be additional time allotted at the start of the final defense. Evidence such as scholarly publications and college-level teaching may be taken as partial evidence of currency, but a prelim exam committee must be appointed, the exam given, and the results reported to the Graduate College.