Skip over navigation

Ph.D. Program

Dissertation and FPO


The dissertation must show that the candidate has technical mastery of the field and is capable of doing independent and original research. It must enlarge or modify current knowledge in a field or present a significant new interpretation of known materials. The Graduate School requires that all doctorate dissertations be written and submitted in English.

A candidate must submit the dissertation for official action only after having sustained the general examination. If a student presents a doctoral dissertation more than five years after having passed the general examination, the department is not automatically obliged to receive the dissertation for consideration. In such cases the department must vote formally as a faculty whether or not to receive it for review and examination. When the dissertation has been formally presented the department takes action on the positive recommendation of at least two principal readers to request that the dissertation advance to the final public oral (FPO) examination. At least one of the principal readers of the dissertation must be from the student’s home department. Qualified principal readers are those who are authorized to supervise doctoral dissertations in the University (such as regular faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher and certain others in senior research ranks). External readers must be of comparable standing in another university or in the research community. External readers must be approved by the Graduate School prior to dissertation submission. Each principal reader submits a written and signed dissertation reader report to the department. A bound and/or final copy of the dissertation must be available for interested readers in the department prior to the final public oral examination. The dean of the Graduate School authorizes the department to hold the final public oral examination.

Final Public Oral (FPO)

The final public oral examination is a final examination in the student’s field of study as well as a defense of the dissertation.

The department holds the final public oral examination after the Graduate School reviews and accepts the reader reports and is satisfied that all other requirements have been met. The department is required to post prominently the date, time, and place of the examination for a minimum of three days between the dean’s authorization and the date of the examination, in order to assure the open, public character of the oral examination. There are at least three principal examiners, all of them normally members of the Princeton faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher, at least two of whom have not been principal readers of the dissertation. At least one of the examiners must be from the student’s home department. The student and the examiners should be present in person. In extraordinary circumstances, a department may request that the Graduate School approve virtual, video-conferenced participation of an examiner, but in no case may there be fewer than two examiners who participate in person. Acting on the advice of the examiners, the department determines whether or not the candidate has passed the examination.

In case the examination is not sustained, the candidate may stand for it a second time after at least one year has passed. If unsuccessful a second time, the candidate is not permitted another opportunity to retake the examination, and Ph.D. candidacy is terminated. In cases where an appearance for the final public oral examination would constitute a substantial financial hardship for the candidate, the director of graduate studies may recommend to the dean of the Graduate School that the examination be waived. The decision of the dean in such cases is final.