Skip to main content

Goals for Dissertation Years Graduate Students

Students in their dissertation years should:
  1. Maintain satisfactory academic progress
  2. Actively participate in research seminars
  3. Maintain continuous registration
  4. Get a job  with the Department's help
  5. Write a dissertation within these guidelines
  6. Defend their thesis in a final oral examination
  7. Apply for the degree and submit the final thesis
  8. Graduate!

Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress

By the end of the Fourth Year

Students are making good progress if their dissertation committee chair has certified by July 31 that the student has submitted a written paper sufficiently far in advance of the deadline for the faculty member to have comprehensively reviewed it, and can certify that it is of suitable quality to form at least one chapter of a dissertation. Coauthored papers are allowed but can only be used by one student for purposes of paper certification.

At the end of the Fifth and each Subsequent Year

Students in year five and above can demonstrate making “good progress” by July 31 each year by (1) having already filed to receive their degree in the Summer Quarter, or (2) their advisor checks options A (student going on the job market in the coming year) or option B (student is not going on the job market but is making good progress) or Option C (student already has a job and is making good progress) on the form Certification of Good Progress at End of Year 5 and Above.  A student whose advisor either checks option D (student is not making good progress) or does not submit the form is regarded as not making good progress and placed on departmental probation.

Students are removed from probation if their thesis advisor writes to the Director of Graduate Studies advising that satisfactory progress has resumed. A student who fails to resume good progress within two quarters, which is the say the last date of the following Winter Quarter, is excluded from the program and Northwestern University.

Complete Thesis Within Time Limit

Students must complete all requirements for the Ph.D. within nine years (36 quarters of study) of initial registration in TGS. After nine years, students are placed on probation by TGS for unsatisfactory progress. Students who have exceeded their time to degree deadline and cannot remediate within the two-quarter probationary period may petition for a one-time extension. Information on the conditions and requirements for an extension can be found on TGS's Website.


During the dissertation years, active participation in the field seminar(s) appropriate to a student’s interests is vital. Students get to meet, at lunches and in office visits, external presenters with whom they may ultimately interview for jobs. When the student has prepared their job market paper, they normally present their work in the relevant field seminar in the Fall Quarter of their final year.


All active students must be registered in each of the fall, winter and spring quarters until all degree requirements have been completed. Summer registration is also required when the student is receiving university funding.

Dissertation-stage students receiving funding should register for TGS 500. If a student is not funded in a quarter, they should register for TGS 512. Consult the The Graduate School (TGS) website for fees and conditions associated with TGS 512


The department assists its students in obtaining jobs. The assistance includes editorial advice on the job market paper and vita, training on presentation skills and practice interviews. The vitae of job market candidates are disseminated by the department on its website. Candidates also prepare a personal web page on a university server.

The Placement Director coordinates the activity. Each year a handbook is issued that contains a timetable of key dates, templates for preparing vitae and personal websites, and advice and guidance.

The Placement Director is a resource to advise job candidates and also the conduit for employers seeking information on candidates. Students on the job market should inform the Placement Director of their preferred positions, any constraints they face, the state of their negotiations, and their acceptance of job offers.

Dissertation Guidelines

TGS requires that “every candidate for the Ph.D. degree must present a dissertation that gives evidence of original and significant research.”

The Department of Economics has additional guidelines:

  1. Each dissertation should contain at least three chapters.
  2. At least one chapter should be single authored. A student can be exempted from this requirement by their dissertation committee, subject to the written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.
  3. Coauthored chapters with other students and faculty members are allowed, but at most one chapter can be coauthored with a faculty member. Each of the student authors of a coauthored paper can include it in their dissertation.

TGS has guidelines for the format of the thesis posted on their website.

Final Oral Examination (“THESIS DEFENSE”)

When the student's dissertation is complete, they must pass a final oral examination on the dissertation and related topics.

Ordinarily, the examiners are the members of the student's thesis committee. The committee need not be the same as that listed at the prospectus. However, the same rules on committee composition apply:

  1. The committee must have three or more individuals.
  2. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty.
  3. The chair of the committee must hold a tenure-line appointment in the Economics Department or have a voted courtesy appointment in the Economics Department.
  4. If the committee chair holds a courtesy appointment, at least one other member of the committee must hold a tenure-line appointment in the Economics Department.

Exceptions to conditions 3 and 4 are only permissible with prior written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. The names of faculty outside Economics holding courtesy appointments are listed on our website in the section on the dissertation prospectus.


Full information on completion procedures are posted on TGS's website.

Step 1 is to file an Application for Degree form with TGS using GSTS. Degrees are awarded four times a year at the end of each quarter. The deadline for submission of the application to receive the degree in a quarter is shown in the Registrar’s academic calendar, and in the Graduate Connection newsletter.

Step 2 is to set a final exam date and confirm participation of committee members. Then file a PhD Final Exam form with TGS using GSTS several weeks before the exam date.

Step 3 is to hold the final exam. Committee members render their approval by clicking the embedded link in the email they automatically receive once the defense date passes.

Step 4 is to make any edits and revisions required by the committee and submit the thesis to TGS online via ProQuest. TGS reviews its formatting and confirms via email that the dissertation is acceptable or notifies the student if changes need to be made.

The deadline for submitting the final thesis to receive the degree in a quarter is shown in the Registrar’s academic calendar, and in the Graduate Connection newsletter.