Dissertation Expectations

The dissertation is an original research project with the student as first author. It may take place within the context of an ongoing research program, but the student is responsible for conducting all phases of the project with support from his/her mentor(s) and Dissertation Committee. All dissertations must have IRB approval from both Universities; some may also require IRB approval from the VA or other agencies (refer to the Human Subjects/IRB webpage). Please discuss this with your mentor at the time you decide the topic of your dissertation.

Dissertations represent empirical studies. The dissertation can be a single document, or can be three first-authored manuscripts describing empirical studies and combined with an introduction and discussion (see 3-Paper Dissertation Option).

Dissertations are expected to incorporate rigorous scientific design, including methods and analytic approaches appropriate to the aims of the dissertation, and with attention to the need for statistical power, reliability, validity, and replicability. Dissertations completed for the JDP are typically quantitative in analytic approach, or represent a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses (i.e., mixed methods). A well-designed and well-executed qualitative dissertation may be acceptable, but students considering this approach should consult closely with their mentors and the Co-DCTs before proceeding.

(Approved by Steering Committee, Spring 2017)

TIMELINE: It is expected that you will schedule and hold your dissertation proposal defense on or before September 1st of the fall you plan to apply for internship. Therefore, doctoral committees need to be approved no later than by June 1stPlease refer to the Nominating the Dissertation Committee webpage for more information on how to establish your doctoral committee.

(Approved by Steering Committee, Fall 2022)


Guidelines for Preparing the Dissertation Proposal Document

Whether you intend to do a traditional or three-paper dissertation, for your proposal defense you need to prepare a dissertation proposal document that:

  1. thoroughly reviews the relevant scientific literature.  This review should support and lead to your proposed hypotheses/aims; 
  2. includes a detailed description of all proposed methods, and what data will result; and
  3. includes a detailed description of the data analytic procedures you will use to address each hypothesis/aim.  

In some cases, students have written grant proposals (e.g., F31s) that essentially cover this same information.  In this case, students can use modified/expanded versions of their grant proposals as their dissertation proposals. It is possible that the literature review, in particular, may need to be expanded beyond what is included in a grant proposal.    

The dissertation proposal is distributed to the dissertation committee at least two weeks in advance of your proposal defense so that committee members can see that you have expertise in the literature in your chosen area, and they can carefully evaluate the proposed methods and analysis.  Proposed methods and analysis are typically the central focus of the discussion at the proposal defense, as it is important that the student, dissertation chair(s), and all committee members are  in agreement on how the dissertation will be carried out. 

There are sometimes substantive changes to the dissertation proposal that are requested by committee members, and agreed to at the proposal defense.  In this case, you should prepare a revised proposal document and/or a written summary explicitly detailing all changes, and circulate this among your committee for approval.


Dissertation Proposal Defense

Each student is required to pass an oral examination (the “proposal defense”) defending the proposed dissertation.  

The proposal defense can be scheduled any time after completing two years of the program at full-time status and the second year project. The student must also be in good standing.  There is no need to wait until the clinical or the emphasis comprehensive examinations are completed.  In fact, we encourage students to propose dissertations early so that there is enough time to collect the data before going on internship.

The dissertation proposal defense is a public meeting. Although the proposal defense will be open to the public, final determination of the content, including “passing” the defense of the proposal, rests with the dissertation committee. 

Circulate a copy of your dissertation proposal to your entire committee at least two weeks before your scheduled proposal defense date. Your dissertation committee must formally approve your dissertation proposal before you can go forward and complete the dissertation.  Their approval is indicated by each member’s signature on the JDP-3 Form.  

Committee Participation at Dissertation Proposal Defense:

Effective Fall Quarter 2022:

Per UC San Diego policy, the default method for the doctoral committee to conduct graduate examinations (doctoral qualifying examination [dissertation proposal] and final dissertation defense) is when the student and all members of the committee are physically present in the same room. 


In rare circumstances, the student may submit a request for one committee member to participate remotely. These will only be approved in circumstances that prevent the committee member from participating in person.  The following is the procedure for requesting an exception if needed:*  

  • Step 1) The student must first submit the exception request (including the name of the committee member and reason for the request) to their Dissertation Chair (and Co-Chair if applicable) for approval.  
  • Step 2) Once approved by the Dissertation Chair (and Co-Chair if applicable), the exception request must be submitted by email to BOTH JDP Co-Directors for final approval. Make sure to copy the Dissertation Chair (and Co-Chair if applicable) and both Program Coordinators on this request. 

It is expected that there will be synchronous participation by all committee members in the scheduled proposal or final defense. If an unavoidable situation arises that affects a committee member’s ability to participate synchronously, the committee chair (or co-chairs) may decide how to proceed. The committee chair, or one co-chair, must participate synchronously in the scheduled proposal and final defense. 


*Note: The UC San Diego Graduate Council will defer to the graduate programs (Department Chair or Program Director) to review requests for exceptions and to make decisions to allow remote participation. 


To refer to UC San Diego’s Rules for Conducting Master’s & Doctoral Examinations go to: 



The dissertation proposal defense must be publicly announced to all Joint Doctoral Program faculty, students, and staff a minimum of two weeks’ before the defense date.  

Please follow these instructions to prepare your announcement. 


Dissertation Proposal Defense Announcement

Dissertation Proposal Defense Announcement Template

Writing the Abstract:

The abstract (not including the announcement details), must be no longer than 350 words.

The most common error in writing the abstract is failure to include a brief but complete description of the research project. A typical abstract should include:

    • the questions or hypotheses under investigation;
    • the participants, specifying pertinent characteristics;
    • the experimental method;
    • planned data analytic approaches, including statistical significance levels; and
    • the potential implications or applications

For 3-Paper dissertations: You must make it clear that you are proposing a 3-Paper dissertation and clearly list the 3 aims.

Note: The public announcement must occur at least two weeks prior to the scheduled defense date. Failure to meet this requirement may result in a forced delay of the dissertation defense to meet the two week minimum. 


Getting Your Announcement Approved

The following is the procedure for getting the abstract and dissertation proposal announcement approved:

STEP 1: Approval of Abstract by Dissertation Chair

The student must first submit the abstract to their Dissertation Chair (and Co-Chair if applicable) for approval. After the student has made any necessary changes required and has final approval by the Dissertation Chair, the student can finalize the proposal announcement. 

STEP 2: Approval of Proposal Announcement by a JDP Co-Director

The Dissertation Proposal Announcement (see template above) must be submitted by email to BOTH JDP Co-Directors for final approval. Please make sure you copy your Dissertation Chair (and Co-Chair if applicable) on the email. The email should include the student’s cell phone (or other phone numbers) so they can be called to discuss any questions or concerns the JDP Co-Directors may have; failure to be readily available by phone or email may delay the approval process.

Response to the initial request to review the proposal announcement (including the abstract) should be within a day or two. If either JDP Co-Director does not respond within a couple of days, please contact the respective offices to ensure that they are in town.

The JDP Co-Director(s) may ask you to make changes in the abstract. These requests will be sent to both you and your Dissertation Chair. The public announcement will not be sent out until one of the Co-Director(s) gives final approval.

STEP 3: Submitting the Approved Dissertation Proposal Announcement for Distribution

Once your proposal announcement has been approved by one of the JDP Co-Directors, it is ready to be sent for distribution. Please follow the guidelines listed below when submitting the proposal announcement for distribution.

Formulate an email as follows:

To: Graduate Coordinator of UC San Diego and Program Coordinator of SDSU

Cc: Dissertation Chair; Co-Chair (if applicable); SDSU Co-Director; UC San Diego Co-Director

Subject: [Your name] Dissertation Proposal Defense

Email Body: Please find a copy of my dissertation proposal announcement attached.  It has been approved by [Dissertation Chair name] and [JDP Co-Director name].

Attachment: The file should be a Word document, titled “Dissertation Proposal Defense [Your complete name] [date of the defense (e.g. October 10 2019)]”

Reminder: The public announcement must occur at least two weeks prior to the scheduled defense date. Failure to meet this requirement may result in a forced delay of the dissertation defense to meet the two week minimum. 


Processing the JDP-3 Form

For detailed steps on how to initiate/complete the JDP-3 Form – Report of the Qualifying Examination and Advancement to Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology, please visit the JDP-3 Form webpage under Student Handbook/JDP Forms. 

Last updated 5/26/2023