Carnegie Mellon University


All Ph.D. students are required to prepare a thesis prospectus (also known as a proposal) within four semesters following the successful completion of the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination. This time clock begins with the semester following the Qualifying Examination. A calendar year has three semesters (spring, summer and fall). If a student leaves for a semester to return to industry, this four-semester clock is stopped. However, the time clock for the overall Ph.D. program is not stopped. The Ph.D. prospectus clock stops when the student leaves and begins the semester the student returns. Students who have not met their Ph.D. prospectus requirement within the four semester time limit must discuss a revised timeline with their advisor prior to the semester Graduate Progress Review.

The prospectus is both an informal written description of the problem to be investigated and the expected accomplishments of that investigation, and an oral presentation to the Prospectus Committee for its review and recommendations. Both the prospectus requirements must be completed at least one semester prior to the final defense.

Prospectus format

The Ph.D. prospectus write up should be no more than 25 double-spaced pages in length, although prospectuses that are on the order of five to ten pages are encouraged. The prospectus should include the following:

  • An explanation of the basic idea of the dissertation topic;
  • An explanation as to why this topic is interesting;
  • A statement as to what kind of results are expected, and;
  • A convincing argument as to why these results are attainable in a reasonable amount of time.

Furthermore, the prospectus should not be:

  • A summary or abstract of the dissertation;
  • The first chapter or part of the dissertation;
  • A technical report;
  • A survey of the field, or;
  • An annotated bibliography.

Students should discuss the presentation format of their prospectus with their faculty advisor. Typically, a student is expected to provide a 45 minute to 60 minute presentation on his/her prospectus, then participate in a question and answer-based discussion with his/her committee. 

Prospectus committee

Access the Ph.D. prospectus declaration form

The Prospectus Committee consists of four members, including the student's advisor. At least two members of this committee must be ECE faculty and at least one member must be from outside the department. Faculty members from other departments who hold courtesy appointments in ECE are considered to be inside the department. Faculty members who hold adjunct appointments in ECE are considered outside the department.

Once the date, time and place of the prospectus have been confirmed, the student should email the completed Ph.D. Prospectus Form to the Graduate Affairs Office at least one week before the presentation. The title and affiliation of any outside committee members must be included on the Prospectus Form. An electronic copy of the proposal should be submitted to the Graduate Affairs Office on or before the presentation date.

All four committee members must actively participate in both the prospectus meeting and defense and at least three committee members must be physically present. It is desirable to have all committee members participate in person; however, a student is allowed to have one committee member of four participate by teleconferencing. Any deviation from this teleconferencing policy is exceptional and must be petitioned for approval from the department via the Ph.D. Prospectus Form. After the committee has been approved, the student will meet with his or her committee to present the prospectus to them. In order to encourage open and frank dialogue, this presentation is attended only by the student, the committee and any other interested ECE faculty members. Other attendees must be approved by the committee chair.

The outcome of this meeting will be either that the prospectus is accepted or not accepted. If the prospectus is not accepted, the student will be asked to revise it and meet again with the committee for approval.

Milestone review

At the time of the proposal, students should make an appointment to meet with the Graduate Affairs Office to review their fulfillment of course and breadth requirements and teaching internship requirements. At this time, students may be informed of their eligibility for All But Dissertation (ABD) status.