Thesis Defense & Graduation Procedures

This information is offered to guide BPhil candidates as they plan for graduation and the thesis defense; students are encouraged to share this information with their thesis advisors.

You are responsible for reading the following information. Not adhering to the requirements listed below could jeopardize your graduation.

If you have any questions or require any assistance as you progress, please contact David Hornyak (412-624-6884), Assistant Dean, David C. Frederick Honors College.

Important COVID-19 Information

Throughout the duration of the pandemic, students defending BPhil theses have the option of conducting their defenses remotely or in person. In-person defenses must adhere to all University standards and guidelines related to the pandemic.

Please note that if you choose an in-person defense, your external examiner is not permitted to travel to campus to participate in your defense in person; external examiners will participate in your defense remotely through Zoom, Teams, etc.

As this is an evolving situation, in-person defenses may not be an option in the future if the University's pandemic response changes.

When planning your defense, please adapt the procedures below accordingly. All documentation related to your defense must be submitted electronically. Use this ETD Approval Form, which will allow you, your thesis advisor, and your committee members to digitally sign the form through DocuSign, an Adobe signature, etc.

Graduation Deadline

The entire defense process must be completed by NOON on the LAST WEEKDAY OF CLASSES of the term in which you will graduate.

Specifically, this means that you must have successfully defended your thesis before your committee, incorporated and received approval for any revisions required by your committee from your defense, and uploaded the final, edited copy of the thesis in proper Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) format to the D-Scholarship@Pitt website by this deadline.

If you are unable to meet the requirements by the deadline, you will either need to defer your graduation or forego receiving the BPhil degree and graduate with the standard bachelor's degree associated with your major(s).

NO EXCEPTIONS will be made to this deadline, so effective planning is important to successfully complete the BPhil degree.

Graduation Application Procedures

Although the BPhil degree replaces the standard bachelor's degree associated with your major(s), it is jointly-awarded by the Frederick Honors College and another school/college at Pitt (e.g., Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, Swanson School of Engineering, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, etc.). Therefore, you must follow all procedures, regulations, and deadlines established by the school associated with your major(s) regarding applying for graduation. Most important, at the time you apply for graduation, you must indicate that you are also pursuing the BPhil degree. The Frederick Honors College does not require you to complete a graduation application form with us.

Scheduling the Defense

The thesis advisor and student should coordinate a time and location for the defense with the committee members. Scheduling should take into consideration that all requirements for the BPhil degree must be completed no later than NOON on the LAST WEEKDAY OF CLASSES of the term in which you will graduate. If you anticipate any problems meeting this deadline, you should contact David Hornyak immediately. For specific steps to follow in the BPhil defense process, including a suggested timeline, please review the checklist for BPhil degree candidates at the bottom of this web page.

Forming the Defense Committee and External Examiner Procedures

As you consider the formation of your examination committee for your thesis defense, please remember that this committee must consist of at least four individuals: your thesis advisor, who serves as the chair of the committee; two additional faculty members from the University of Pittsburgh; and one individual (the external examiner) who is a faculty member from another college or university within the United States. Although deciding on the composition of the committee is usually a collaborative effort between you and your thesis advisor, the final composition is the prerogative of your thesis advisor.

(NOTE: For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, external examiners are not permitted to travel to campus for BPhil defenses; external examiners must participate in the defense remotely.)

Once the external examiner for your committee has been identified and a date for the defense has been set, please inform the Honors College by completing the following form:

BPhil Defense Info Form (Word)

PLEASE NOTE that for an external examiner who is not a US citizen, the Frederick Honors College will not be able to execute the contract for the external examiner to serve in that capacity and receive an honorarium, but the Frederick Honors College will transfer funds to the thesis advisor's department in order for the department to handle the contractual arrangements (contact David Hornyak for more details).

Structure of the Defense Itself

The BPhil defense is a public defense, so initially there will be both members of the committee and non-committee members in the room. The thesis advisor is considered the "chair" of the committee, facilitating the process. It is the student's responsibility to bring the ETD Approval Form to the thesis defense. The general format of the defense is as follows:

  • An initial presentation by the student providing an overview of the research and the findings. The student should assume the audience has familiarity with the topic of the research. In other words, the student should tailor the presentation to the committee members and not to the lay persons in the audience. Most students can provide this overview in about 20 minutes.
  • Open questions from the audience. At this point in the defense, both the committee and non-committee members can ask questions. There is no set time limit for questions. It is up to the thesis advisor, as chair, to end this section of the defense. Because this public portion is often a unique component of the BPhil defense that most graduate thesis defenses do not include, some guidelines for when to end this part of the defense are: when the committee begins to monopolize the discussion; when the non-committee audience members appear to be out of questions; or when the audience starts asking questions that seem to be off track from the student's research.
  • The chair dismisses the non-committee members in attendance, allowing the committee members to ask the student questions in private. This should take as long as required according to guidelines for master's thesis defenses within the chair's discipline.
  • The chair dismisses the student and the committee discusses the student's research project, signing off on the paperwork for the defense, verifying completion of the thesis. If revisions to the thesis are required, the entire committee (or only the committee chair) may withhold signing the paperwork until the revisions have been approved.
  • The chair invites the student back into the room and congratulates the student on a successful defense (the committee can offer feedback/comments to the student as appropriate).

The entire defense (including the committee's deliberations) generally does not take longer than two hours (the room for the defense should be reserved for at least two hours).

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Procedures

After successfully defending the thesis and making any necessary revisions required by the committee, the final BPhil theses document must be submitted as an ETD. For specific information, see the University's ETD website and the UHC ETD instruction page.

NOTE: It is highly recommended that students review the information on the University's ETD website prior to beginning to write the thesis and that students attend the available training workshops offered.

Students are to follow these steps to complete the BPhil process once any necessary revisions have been made to the thesis:

  • Give the completed ETD Approval Form directly to David Hornyak. The first two pages must be completed entirely, including all appropriate signatures. Remember to include any written permission statements from owners of copyrighted matter used in your thesis along with the approval form. Also include one copy of your thesis Title Page and two copies of your Abstract, both Abstract copies initialed by your committee chair (your thesis advisor) in the upper right corner.
  • Upload the file to the ETD submission page, formatted correctly with all appropriate bookmarks and hyperlinks. When uploading the file, choose "David C. Frederick Honors College" in the "Schools and Programs" section (do NOT choose your major department in this section).

IMPORTANT: The ETD must be uploaded and all documents noted above must submitted to David Hornyak no later than NOON on the LAST WEEKDAY OF CLASSES of the term in which you will graduate.

Checklists for BPhil Candidates

This information is offered to guide BPhil degree candidates as they plan for the thesis defense by providing a suggested timeline and a checklist of items related to the defense.


Spring 2023 BPhil Checklist (PDF)

Fall 2022 BPhil Checklist (PDF)

Summer 2022 BPhil Checklist (PDF)