In the sixth semester of their graduate work, students must enroll in the Dissertation Design Seminar (PS 598). The seminar facilitates the development of the dissertation proposal, the defense of which constitutes the main requirement of the course. The identification and discussion of common problems among students aid progress in the formulation of a dissertation question and research plan, and insights from other subfields contribute to the overall quality of the proposals at a point early enough to make a difference in the research. Another function of the course is to make available information to the students on funding opportunities for dissertation research.

Although the Dissertation Design Seminar is supervised by a single faculty member, the work on the dissertation proposal is to be done in conjunction with an advisor selected by each student. The student must ultimately present and successfully defend the proposal to the dissertation prospectus committee. Unanimous approval of the committee is required. The dissertation committee consists of at least four members, all of whom must be members of the graduate faculty. In accordance with University policy on the diversity of dissertation committees, at least one member of the committee must be outside of the student's primary specialization. After approval by the committee, the student is encouraged to make a public presentation of the proposal.

Students become eligible for admission to candidacy (ABD status) after completing the following requirements: (1) defending a dissertation prospectus to their committee, (2) depositing the prospectus in the Graduate Office, and (3) completing all required courses, qualifying examinations, and at least 16 units of (graded) graduate credit (i.e., the equivalent of 64 semester hours) with a minimum grade of B. At the end of the sixth semester, each student must submit a form reviewing their coursework, confirming that they have completed all requirements (tools, second year review, qualifying exams, etc.), and formally identifying a dissertation advisor. The form requires the approval of the dissertation advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

The final stage in the successful completion of the requirements of the PhD is the defense of the completed dissertation, which requires the unanimous approval of the committee. After a successful defense and the completion of whatever changes are deemed necessary, the dissertation must be deposited with the Graduate College in a format that meets their specifications.