PhD Proposal and Proposal Defense

Important Dates FS18

Registration Opens 01.02.2018
Registration End and Submission Due Date 19.02.2018
Notification for Document 28.03.2018
Proposal Defense Date 25.04.2018

Please note: Registration end and submission of the proposal document are on the same date - this being the first day of lectures of each semester. For HS18 this will be 17.09.2018. PhD students will be notified by e-mail in due time about the submission and defense dates each semester.

Important Dates HS17

Registration Opens 01.09.2017
Registration End and Submission Due Date 18.09.2017
Notification for Document 14.11.2017
Proposal Defense Date 22.11.2017

Proposal Process

  1. PhD student registers for the PhD proposal defense and submits proposal document
  2. Supervisor of registered student provides suggestions for external document reviewer or internal reviewer
  3. Advisor and reviewer(s) write a review of the proposal and decide about pass/conditional pass/fail on the proposal document
  4. PhD student and his/her advisor will be notified by the Doctoral Committee about pass/conditional pass/fail on the proposal document, and they will receive the feedback from the reviewer(s)
  5. PhD student with pass or conditional pass on proposal document prepares and defends his/her proposal at the proposal defense date. For this oral defense of the PhD proposal, the PhD student incorporates the feedback from the reviewers.
  6. PhD student will be notified by Doctoral Committee about pass/conditional pass/fail on PhD proposal (and if revisions will be necessary).
  7. In case of a conditional pass, PhD student incorporates any requested changes into the written proposal (the detailed process for this case is described below).

Proposal Formatting

The PhD thesis proposal must not exceed 20 pages and 80,000 characters (with spaces), illustrations, formula, tables and bibliographies included. A minimum of point 10 font size and 1.5 line spacing must be used. In general, the PhD thesis proposal should not contain any annexed documents.

Proposal Structure and Content

A PhD thesis proposal must contain content on the following topics:

  • Introduction/Motivation (1-2 pages)
  • Related work (2-6 pages)
  • Problem statement (1 page)
  • Proposed solution and research idea (2-6 pages)
  • References (1-2 pages)
  • A dedicated section (e.g., in the prior work section) where the student lists what he/she has published so far
  • A “schedule” (ideally as a flow chart) which shows the sequencing of all work packages, from the start of the PhD till the end of the PhD. From the schedule it must become apparent how long the PhD student has worked on the research topic of the PhD proposal and when the PhD student intends to graduate (obtain the PhD). This is particularly important for PhD students who have switched topics. Master Fast-Track students shall indicate that they are in the Master Fast-Track program; to clarify the timing, they shall include their Master studies in the schedule and indicate when they have started to work on the research topic of the PhD proposal.

Note that for some PhD thesis proposals, additional topics/sections not listed above may be useful to add. The order and exact naming of the sections of the PhD proposal is left to the PhD student. The number of pages indicated above are rough suggestions but can vary significantly from proposal to proposal.

Note that your proposal should focus only on your research. It should not contain your list of activities that explained how you got your ECTS points. This document is about your thesis research only.

Useful Questions for your PhD Proposal

When writing your PhD proposal, it may be useful to think about the following questions. Ideally, your proposal answers all of them:

  • What problem are you choosing to investigate? What is your hypothesis?
  • Why is the problem/hypothesis important/relevant?
  • What are the specific research questions your work will address?
  • How have others attempted to address this in the past?
  • How are you planning to address this?
  • How will you answer these research questions (e.g. what is the method/approach and why have you chosen these?)
  • How will you evaluate the extent to/success with which you have addressed these research questions?
  • What are the expected research contributions of this work? (i.e. what knowledge or research products will your work produce that others in the research community can use?)
  • How will you know that you accomplished your goals? (i.e. what is the stopping condition to be applied to your work?)

It might be useful to structure the proposal around these questions.

 

Proposal Defense

PhD Students have to defend their thesis proposal at an official thesis proposal date organized at least once a term by the end of the 3rd year of their PhD. Candidates are strongly encouraged to defend their proposal earlier (e.g. at the end of their 2nd year), such that the feedback has more impact. The goal of the thesis proposal defense is to ascertain that the candidate has a plan to finish his/her thesis.

In general, the thesis proposal defense must be given in English. In exceptional cases, the presentation can also be held in German, which is more commonly used in certain research fields (e.g. Business Informatics). If you want to give your proposal defense in German, then you must first petition the Doctoral Committee (providing a reason) at least 6 weeks before the proposal defense date.

Prepare a presentation of 20 minutes' duration.

When preparing your proposal defense please take into account that the proposal defense is not a seminar talk. You need to assure us during your talk that you have good answers to the following questions:

  • What problem are you choosing to investigate? What is your hypothesis? What is your contribution?
  • What are the specific research questions your work will address?
  • Why is the problem/hypothesis/contribution important/relevant?
  • How have others attempted to address this in the past?
  • How will you answer your research questions (e.g. what is the method/approach and why have you chosen these?)
  • You need to have a clear plan (independent of possible project involvement)
  • How will you evaluate the extent to/success with which you have addressed these research questions?
  • What are the expected research contributions of this work? (i.e. What knowledge or research products will your work produce that others in the research community can use?)

In all of this please differentiate between your research contribution and the engineering tasks that you potentially need to undertake. We are interested in the former, not the latter. Also, you might want to consider the use "I" as opposed to "we" in your presentation, such that we know what you are doing personally as opposed to your collaborators (either in the research group or the project).

Please consider adding a detailed example to your presentation for people to be able to follow your ideas. Some things that are obvious to you may not be obvious to others, who are not emersed in your work.

The outcome of the proposal defense is either pass or fail. If you fail you may have to submit a new thesis proposal, defend it again, or both of those. You can only repeat this process once.

Proposal Document Revisions after the Defense (conditional pass)

If you are required to make changes to your PhD proposal and submit a new version to the IfI PhD committee, then please follow the following steps:

  1. Carefully revise the PhD thesis proposal taking into account all of the feedback you received on your initial version (from all of the reviews and during the defense). Please use a different font color for those text passages where you have made major edits relative to the previous version, to make it easier to find the changes.
  2. Prepare a second document called "Revision Outline" (1-3 pages) where you briefly describe what parts of your PhD thesis proposal (i.e., pages and sections) you have changed, and how you have changed them, in response to the feedback you have received.
  3. Submit both of these documents to your advisor and to the IfI PhD committee (by sending them to IfI PhD program coordinator).