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Defense of Capstone Work and Comprehensive Examination

Capstone Work for the M.S. in Communication and Information

All master’s students will prepare a proposal of the project/thesis. Those who will be writing a thesis will orally defend their proposal to their full committee. This is an opportunity for the student and faculty members to clearly define the thesis and come to agreement about expectations. Students who will be working on a project should be sure that their project adviser and members of their committee are fully aware of what the project entails and approve of the approach to the project.

The final project/thesis serves as the capstone for master’s students. In addition to the materials prepared for this capstone experience, all master’s students will also conduct an oral defense of the completed project/thesis. They should submit a copy of the thesis/project to their committee members no less than two weeks prior to the defense. 

Exams and Defense for the Ph.D. in Communication and Information

The primary purpose of the comprehensive exam is to help doctoral students synthesize what they have learned in their coursework and make application of that material to their dissertation. The exam is not intended as a “mega-exam” in which students re-hash all the material from specific classes, but rather it should be an opportunity for the student to “make sense” of what he/she has learned over the course of graduate studies at the University of Tennessee.

Doctoral students take the comprehensive exam at the end of coursework. In total, the exam will include at least four questions. The question areas will be determined by the program committee, which oversees the comprehensive exam, based on the student’s program of study – including concentration and cognate areas. Within the areas, at least one question should incorporate a focus on theory and at least one should incorporate a focus on research methods. At the committee’s discretion, additional question(s) may be added to include professional issues or other items tailored to the student.

Students will have four hours to complete each question area. They will be allowed to bring in a one-page, non-annotated, bibliography for each question area, with no restrictions on font size or spacing. The college will provide a computer on which students may write answers, but students are not to bring in any computer storage medium nor are they to connect to any external sources during the exam. The comprehensive exam will be completed within two weeks.

Committee members write questions in consultation with the committee chair and other committee members and have questions delivered to the committee chair so that she/he can send questions two weeks in advance of the exam to the associate dean who will review the questions for overall consistency with program guidelines. Committee members will provide general guidance at their discretion to the student about how to prepare for the comprehensive exam. At a minimum, a committee member should meet with the student to discuss the general framework of the question(s) the member will ask. Committee members should not ask a student questions covering material that was not presented in the student’s program of study.

After the answers to the comprehensive exam questions have been distributed to committee members for review, a meeting will be held with the committee and the student, which serves as an oral defense of the written exam and also facilitates the transition to work on the dissertation. Faculty members should have a minimum of two weeks to read written responses before the oral exam defense is scheduled. At the end of the exam’s oral defense and following the pass/fail decision, the student should present a short (about three pages) overview of his/her plans for a dissertation. If the membership of the dissertation committee will be different from the membership of the exam committee all faculty members from both committees should be present at this meeting. Note that the student and his/her dissertation chair may choose to hold a separate meeting to discuss the dissertation plans instead of presenting it following the comprehensive exam defense.

Students who do not successfully complete and/or defend the written exam may be asked to repeat one or more sections of the exam. Such a retake may be scheduled no sooner than three months and must be completed within a year of first taking the comprehensive exam.  There may not be student-initiated changes to the program committee for the retake of the exam unless the student obtains written permission from the associate dean. If students are not successful in writing and/or defending the exam after a second attempt they will be dismissed from the program.

A checklist of procedures and timelines for the comprehensive exam is in Appendix F

After comprehensive exams have been successfully completed, doctoral students prepare a full proposal of the dissertation and will orally defend that proposal to their dissertation committee. Typically a doctoral proposal consists of a clear statement of the problem to be addressed in the study, a discussion of previous academic work in related field(s), and a general outline of how the research will be conducted.  This is an opportunity for the student and faculty members to clearly define the dissertation and come to agreement about expectations. The form to be used in the proposal defense is found in Appendix G.