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Advancement to Candidacy | Dissertation Research | Dissertation Requirements


Advancement to candidacy indicates that the student possesses the organizational and conceptual skills necessary for Ph.D. level research, and is judged capable and prepared to begin thesis work. At this time, the responsibility of monitoring the student’s progress shifts from the Student Affairs Committee to the Student’s Thesis Committee.

After the second preliminary examination, the Executive Committee will review the student’s performance in the graduate program. Although the student must possess at least a B average in all coursework, including independent studies and laboratory rotations, the most important aspect of this evaluation is the student’s performance in laboratory work and the Second Preliminary Exam. At this stage, the Executive Committee will recommend to the Graduate Group Chair to (1) advance the student to Dissertation Status or (2) dismiss him/her from the program. In unusual situations, this decision may be deferred until a student takes remedial measures.


Upon advancement to candidacy, the student must do the following:

Select a thesis laboratory and begin a research project in that laboratory within a month.

Choose a Thesis Committee within six months. The Advisor will help select four faculty members to serve on the Thesis Committee. Two of the faculty members must be in the IGG. The thesis advisor and members must be approved by the IGG Chair, who will then officially appoint the Thesis Committee. Subsequent changes in membership can only be made with the permission of the Thesis Committee and IGG Chair.

Meet with the Thesis Committee and Mentor within 12 months. At this time the committee will select a chairperson, who will document the progress of the student on the Thesis Committee Meeting Evaluation Form. The form must be reviewed by the student and Mentor and then placed in the student’s file within a week of each formal meeting. At each meeting the committee will decide the interval of time until the next meeting. The Thesis Committee Chair will ensure that the committee meets at least once a year; under no circumstances shall it be more than 12 months.

Student Progress
The Thesis Committee is responsible for evaluating the student’s progress toward the degree. If the Committee feels the student’s progress is unsatisfactory, they will notify the Immunology Group Chair. The Chair will call a meeting of the Executive Committee to discuss and determine the appropriate course of action. In extreme situations, the Executive Committee can recommend the student’s dismissal from the Program.

Quality of Research
The Thesis Committee must also evaluate the scientific quality and importance of the student’s work and decide when to grant permission to write the thesis. Formal permission to write the thesis implies that all of the data the student will include in the document has been reviewed by the thesis committee and meets with their approval.

Relevance of Research
The Thesis Committee must also ensure that the body of work accomplished by the student is relevant and important to the scientific community. These criteria can be met if the student has at least two papers published or in press in peer-reviewed scientific journals. If the student has not published two papers, the Thesis Committee will evaluate the work within the proposed thesis and predict if the student can reasonably expect that s/he will publish two papers on the work. At this point, the Chair of the Thesis Committee should notify the IGG Chair in writing that the Committee plans to grant permission to write the thesis. Upon receiving official permission to write, the candidate must complete the thesis within six months. Failure to do so will place the student in unsatisfactory standing, and the Executive Committee will meet to discuss the student’s situation.



The Ph.D. dissertation is a document that describes the body of research accomplished while in the thesis laboratory and, moreover, places this work within the framework of the specific field of study and immunology in general. By its very nature the dissertation is a scholarly and comprehensive discussion of the laboratory work, the literature leading up to and justifying the importance of the research, and a thorough discussion of the interpretation and importance of the findings. The dissertation is not merely the "stapling together" of published and unpublished manuscripts written by the student. The written dissertation demonstrates to the scientific community that the Ph.D. candidate is able to define and execute hypothesis-driven research and able to define its contribution to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

The body of the dissertation has four sections.

1) Introduction

This section is a comprehensive review and analysis of all the relevant literature on the thesis topic. This review provides an argument for the relevance and logic of the proposed hypotheses, and allows the student to justify the experimental systems used. The literature review also provides background information and references so that the dissertation can be evaluated and understood by scientists outside of the immediate field.

2) Experimental Work

This section comprises multiple chapters, each associated with experimental results that test independent hypotheses or separate questions. The entirety of the experimental work that is related to each or all of the questions addressed in the thesis laboratory is presented and interpreted in the context of a unified theme or area of study. All data and results presented must be of high quality and capable of withstanding peer review. The candidate can reasonably conclude that work accepted for publication and/or reviewed and previously accepted by their thesis committee meets this standard.

Besides experimental data and results, this section can also include descriptive tables, figures, and photographs that provide clarification and summaries of the experimental studies and models proposed. In all cases it is expected that these summaries and models will be supported by the data actually presented in the body of the thesis.

Finally, each experimental result chapter should be accompanied by a short discussion. This discussion should summarize the results presented in that section or chapter, and does not substitute for the thorough discussion described in the next section.

3) Discussion

This is among the most important sections of the dissertation, although it is often the one receiving the least attention during preparation. The discussion is not just a reiteration of the experimental results. Rather, the discussion is a critical survey of the important findings of the study. In this section, these findings should be interpreted in the context of the underlying theme or hypotheses outlined in the Introduction. Furthermore, the importance of the major findings and their interpretation should be discussed in a comprehensive manner as they relate to the field, both currently and within a historical perspective. In this regard, it is useful to return to the Introduction and explain to the educated scientist, but not necessarily an expert in your field, why your studies are important and how they explain, clarify, or expand upon current controversies or unanswered questions in your field of study.

Finally, and of equal importance, where do these studies fit in the general field of Immunology? This area of the discussion is speculative, but speculation is encouraged as long as it is logical and consistent with the data and the literature. The dissertation is an opportunity to exhibit creativity and ability to express this creativity within the constraints of sound scientific judgment.

4) Literature Cited

This section lists all published and in-press studies referred to in all other sections of the thesis. Although review articles may be cited in some cases, it is usually most appropriate to cite the primary work. References from textbooks are rarely appropriate.



The guidelines listed below must be followed precisely and the Chair of the Thesis Committee must notify the IGG Coordinator in writing of each progressive step.

The thesis committee formally grants permission to student to write their dissertation and student may then set their tentative defense date. The Student is responsible for having Thesis Committee Chair notify IGG Chair/Coordinator that that the student has been given permission to write.

The student must notify the IGG Coordinator of the defense date as soon as it is set so a room can be reserved.

The student has six months to submit thesis from time that permission to write is granted. If the student does not meet the submission deadline then another thesis committee meeting must be convened to review the student’s progress.

External Reviewer

Although an External Reviewer is not required it is encouraged. When an External Reviewer is engaged the steps below must be followed:

The student, with thesis committee approval, submits the name of an outside reviewer, from an academic institution other than Penn, to the IGG Chair for approval at a minimum of six weeks prior to defense date

With mentor approval, the student must submit their completed dissertation to their thesis committee for review at minimum six weeks prior to defense date

Student should follow up with their thesis committee four weeks prior to defense date so that they can make any recommended changes prior to submitting their dissertation to the external reviewer

The student is also responsible for making sure that the Thesis Committee Chair communicates his/her approval for submitting the dissertation to the external reviewer to the IGG Chair/Coordinator

The student must send the dissertation as well as the Criteria for Dissertation Review (provided by the IGG Coordinator) to the outside reviewer at least three weeks prior to defense date

The student is responsible for following up with the External Reviewer and ensuring that he/she submits comments to both the IGG Chair/Coordinator and the Thesis Committee Chair prior to the defense date.

No External Reviewer

The student must send submit their dissertation to the committee at least three weeks prior to defense date
In all cases:

If student does not give thesis committee and outside reviewer sufficient time (according to the above timelines) to examine their dissertation then they jeopardize the preservation of their defense date. In such circumstances, their defense date can be canceled at the discretion of the IGG Chair

For the dissertation defense, the Thesis Committee operates without the active participation of the Thesis Mentor. The defense itself will be preceded by a seminar on the dissertation results by the candidate. It will be followed by a closed session in which the candidate answers questions from his committee

Upon successfully defending their thesis, student receives Form 153-Certification of Dissertation from IGG Coordinator to bring with them on their deposit date

Student also receives Form 154-Postgraduate Information from the IGG Coordinator. The student must complete form and send it back to the IGG Coordinator along with a cooy od their Title/Abstract pages as part of their graduation requirements.

For information concerning the critical dates that must be met to graduate at the time desired, see the College of Arts and Sciences website.