This is the last discrete exercise you need to complete before proceeding to write the dissertation, and is directly preparatory to it. It is worth devoting a certain amount of energy to getting the prospectus right: apart from being useful in clarifying your own idea of what you aim to do in your dissertation and showing up possible problem areas, the prospectus will be useful as the basis for grant and fellowship applications you may wish to make in the course of writing up.
Students are required to submit a one-page description of their PhD project to their dissertation advisor for approval by the end of the spring semester of their final year of coursework, after completing the PhD exam. This will be used as the basis for the prospectus. Students will begin work on the prospectus during the summer following their last year of coursework and must complete it and defend by the end of the fall semester of their third year (fourth year in the case of students with five-year awards).
N.B. This is a generic timetable, conceived for students who, at the time of compiling List D for their exam have only an idea of the field they wish to work in, but not their precise dissertation topic. Students who already have a clear idea of their topic may wish to accelerate the process, and to aim for submission of the prospectus at the beginning of the fall semester of their third/fourth year, or even before.
The prospectus, which should be formulated in consultation with the student’s advisor, should be around 10-15 pages long. It should aim to situate the dissertation project within the context of existing work in the relevant area, making clear what is original in it and in what ways it serves to advance scholarship and/or critical debate. It should also supply a statement of the methods and sources to be used, and an overview of the arguments of the dissertation. A general sense of the structure of the work should also be provided and, where possible, a breakdown of chapters. A bibliography should be given in conclusion.
A prospectus defense will be scheduled following submission, with an examining panel made up of the advisor and two other faculty members (usually the two other core members of the dissertation committee). This will serve to assess the feasibility of the project, to identify potential problems, and to suggest further lines of inquiry, as appropriate. The defense will last around an hour.