The doctoral dissertation is the culmination of the student’s research program and must be an original piece of scholarship of more than ephemeral interest. Students should begin considering possible thesis topics at an early stage in their graduate work. They are expected to discuss these regularly with faculty members as their ideas develop.
Preparing to write the dissertation
Students can begin formal work on their dissertation only after having passed their General Examination. As a first step, students choose a topic and a thesis committee. One member of the committee must be a Linguistics faculty member who agrees to function as the principal advisor on the dissertation. Two or more additional faculty members are also chosen, who together with the principal advisor constitute the thesis committee. If the student wants to include a non-MIT professor, or an MIT professor in another department, this must be approved by the faculty, but at least three members of the committee must be MIT Linguistics faculty.
Early in the 8th semester, each student must submit a dissertation prospectus to the Graduate Program Director, prepared in consultation with their intended dissertation committee members. We expect in most cases that the prospectus will be 2-3 pages in length. It should outline the problems to be investigated in the dissertation, the reasons why they are interesting, and the student’s “plan of attack” on these problems. The title page of the prospectus should list the members of the student’s committee. Upon submission of the prospectus, the student will schedule an informal advising meeting with the proposed dissertation committee, to discuss, refine and approve the proposal. There is no formal defense of the prospectus (as is the case in some PhD programs). The purpose of the prospectus and advising meeting is organization and planning.
Writing the dissertation
While working on the dissertation, students should meet regularly with their advisor and other committee members, who can be counted on to assist with every aspect of the research and writing of the dissertation. There are also many venues in which dissertation writers can present their work in progress to their fellow students and other members of the department.
By Institute regulation, the dissertation is normally prepared in residence, during which time the student must register for an appropriate number of thesis units and pay tuition. The purpose of this regulation is to ensure that the student maintains regular and frequent contacts with the dissertation advisor. However, on some occasions, it may be essential for students to be absent from the campus during part of their dissertation research. In this case, permission to become a nonresident doctoral candidate can be obtained.
When the steps described in the previous sections are completed, the candidate is scheduled for a dissertation defense. The student, in consultation with the thesis committee, may choose to have either a public or a private defense. In a private defense, the candidate meets for approximately two hours with the thesis committee for an examination on the contents of the dissertation. In a public defense, the candidate makes a one-hour presentation of dissertation research to which the local linguistic community is invited, followed by an approximately one-hour private meeting with the members of the thesis committee, for further discussion and examination on the contents of the dissertation.
After passing the dissertation defense, the student revises the dissertation in light of the suggestions made by the committee. The revised version is prepared in accordance with Institute regulations and submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Upon written certification to the Registrar that the candidate has presented and successfully defended a satisfactory dissertation and has passed the final oral exam, the faculty of the Department recommends to the Dean of the Graduate School that the candidate be approved for the doctoral degree. Final discretion in this matter remains with the faculty of the Institute as a whole, which acts upon recommendations to it by the Committee on Graduate School Policy.
Note: The department awards a Master of Science degree only under special circumstances. In order to be eligible for this degree, a student must pass all of the first year subjects and defend a thesis. (Students participating in the MIT Indigenous Language Initative fulfill the requirements of that program instead.)
Subject to availability of funds, the department will pay nonresident tuition and medical insurance for sixth-year Linguistics students who meet the following conditions: (1) the student has successfully defended the dissertation before the first day of the Fall semester, but has not filed it, and (2) the student has applied to appropriate advertised positions during the fifth year but has not been successful in this effort.
This policy reflects our strong and continuing commitment to the completion of the dissertation by the end of the fifth year. Note also that the policy does not offer a stipend for the sixth year, which would be beyond our financial resources. We know that this fact has unequal implications for students, but reflects the limits of what is possible.