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What Is An Undergraduate Dissertation?

Graduate students are expected to propose dissertation topics, perform the research they proposed, and then write up and defend the final product in order to earn an advanced degree (either a Master’s or PhD, in most cases). The necessary components of a dissertation include: a written proposal, an extensive body of research, a written final report, and an oral defense before a committee.

Undergraduate dissertations are similar: they are extensive research projects with a lengthy written component and (possibly) a public defense before a committee the student selects. However, undergraduates typically complete dissertations for either an Honor’s Degree, a Degree with Distinction, or a one-year Master’s degree from their institution.

Other than the degree conferred, an undergraduate dissertation differs from a graduate dissertation in the length and depth of research expected, though standards are still set quite high for such works. Below is a detailed description of the required aspects of an undergraduate dissertation.

Written Proposal

Before undertaking the dissertation research, the student must first write a lengthy, detailed proposal of the research they would like to conduct. This dissertation proposal should be at least two dozen pages long, and should outline the existing research on the topic, propose a specific research question, state predictions or hypotheses, and briefly outline the methods the student will use to answer the research questions. A bibliography should also be placed at the end, citing relevant research.

Committee Formation

To pass a dissertation defense, a student must form a committee that is in charge of reading the paper, providing feedback and criticisms, and passing judgment on the final product. The committee members should be faculty in the student’s major department, ideally faculty with a vested interest in the topic the student is examining. Generally, the faculty should also be current or former professors of the student who is working on the dissertation.

Final Paper and Defense

After the undergraduate has written a proposal and gotten approval from their committee, they should conduct the research they have proposed. Then, the results should be written up and attached to a full-length paper that includes the text of the proposal. This document is the dissertation. The dissertation should be shared with the committee members, who will provide critiques and comments.

After the dissertation paper has been read and approved by the committee members, some undergraduate programs require that the student also completes a public, oral defense. In this defense, the student presents their dissertation research in a talk that lasts between a half an hour and an hour in length. The hypotheses, methods, and results should be described at length.

After these requirements have been met by the student, it is time for the committee to decide whether or not to pass the undergraduate. If the student is passed, they have successfully completed their undergraduate dissertation.