The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

MCIBS - Thesis

Information about preparing and defending the Ph.D. thesis

The doctoral thesis is the culmination of the thesis work and should be a document both student and adviser are proud of.

For practical information about the mechanics of assembling and submitting a thesis go here.

Graduate School guidelines on the final oral defense and thesis are here.

MCIBS students at graduation

Summary of key points from the grad school:

  • the final thesis should be given to the committee 2 weeks before the oral defense
  • the committee should determine whether the thesis is "in its "final" form, with correct and polished content and style, appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc." 1 week before the oral defense, and it if is not the oral defense will be postponed

How to have a successful thesis defense:

  • Turn in a polished thesis to your committee. If your committee arrives at your defense thinking you are not ready, it will not be fun. If your thesis indicates a high level of scholarship the committee will be ready to discuss the finer aspects of your work with you as a colleague.
  • Prepare a talk suitable for a general audience. Make sure you let everyone in the room know why your project is important.
  • Take the tips below seriously. 


Program chair's tips on thesis preparation:


What to include:

  • An overview of your field of study that sets up your key questions and hypotheses
  • Transitions between sections to help make the introduction a logical whole

    Life Sciences

  • Key questions and hypotheses
  • Figures and diagrams to help your readers navigate the key points
  • Tips: use spell and grammar check, keep your thoughts and sentences clear
  • A paragraph at the end of the introduction that previews the rest of the thesis for the reader, describes chapters and how they relate to published work, and lays out collaborations involved in the work.

What not to include:

  • A list of everything you can think of that might touch on your project
  • Spelling errors and long convoluted sentences- this is obviously true for the whole thesis!


  • At the beginning of each chapter you should set up the question you will be asking. You need to make your audience excited about the hypothesis- this means they need to understand what the hypothesis is and why it is important.
  • At the end of each chapter you should have some sort of conclusion or wrap up section. What was the answer to your question? Why is it important?
  • Each chapter can be a published or planned paper. If it is published make sure you clearly describe how the chapter relates to the published work (is it the paper word for word? Is it the paper plus some additional data? Is it part of the paper? Be specific).
  • If you include work of others make sure to clearly acknowledge their specific contributions in the Figures.
  • Include the Figure near the text that describes it to make it easy for your reader to navigate. Include a complete figure legend with each figure.
  • Materials and Methods can be included within each chapter or can make up a separate chapter.


  • The goal of the last chapter is to position your work in the field. You should say what you have learned, how this has advanced the general understanding in the field.
  • Include some models to summarize your work. Maybe speculate about what might come next, how your work has led to new questions as well as new understanding.

Thesis Timeline

  • You should get your thesis to your committee 2 weeks before the defense.
  • Get a complete draft to your advisor 1 month before your defense.

Final tips

  • If you feel writing clearly and using correct wording and grammar might be a problem, please have someone else look through the thesis first.
  • Throughout the thesis help guide your reader by using introductory sentences to paragraphs and transitions between paragraphs.
  • Also please know that all the wording must be your own. No sentences can be derived form anyone else’s work; this is plagiarism and any evidence of plagiarism will result in an unacceptable thesis, as well as other consequences.
  • As you develop an outline go through it with your adviser to make sure you are on track.