Defending your Dissertation

Setting a time to defend your dissertation can be frustrating. Halfway through the quarter, before you expect to defend, email everyone on your committee. Provide your committee members the title of your dissertation and check your committee members’ availability. It is not uncommon for someone to be on sabbatical or have some other excuse for not being able to attend your defense. If this happens, you may need to hunt down someone else to be a part of the committee and Reconstitute it. Alternatively, you can sometimes make arrangements to meet with the missing member at an alternate time.

You would think that finding a time for 6 people to meet would be an easy task. Sadly, it can be exceedingly difficult. You may need to be very flexible and accommodating in order to make things work. You may also need to be persistent about asking if you have a non-responsive committee member.

At the same time, you need to call OGS and schedule a “Preliminary Appointment.” The purpose of this appointment is for them to check the margins and the formatting of your dissertation. While the above information should get you through this part without any problem, sometimes there are minor issues that arise and must be confronted (for example, published work that shows up in your dissertation has some extra requirements associated to it). The meeting should last about 30 minutes and you’ll receive a couple questionnaires to complete before your final appointment.

In addition, the following information is critical to you completing your thesis, defending it, and completing your PhD:

  1. The university requires that your committee members each have a good readable draft of your dissertation at least FOUR WEEKS before your final defense.
  2. It is your responsibility to make arrangements with each committee member for the date and time of your defense.  Room reservations should be made at the Front Desk.
  3. A few days before your defense pick-up from the Graduate Advisor a “Final Report of the … Dissertation …” form (which requires the signatures of all your committee members), a “Degree and Diploma Application,” and a survey form.  Don’t forget to bring to your defense the required signature page of your dissertation as well.
  4. After your examination return the forms to the Graduate Advisor. The Graduate Advisor will check for errors, obtain the Graduate Vice Chair’s signature, and then make copies for departmental records.
  5. Once your final exit appointment with OGS is finalized, take all this paperwork and your dissertation with you to your OGS appointment.

A few other suggestions:

About a week before you defend, you should send an email to your committee to remind them that your defense is coming, and you might even want to send a day-before or day-of reminder.

You should discuss the details of your defense with your advisor, but it’s basically a 50-minute talk where you highlight the main results of your dissertation. The audience is usually your committee plus a few graduate students.

Once OGS has signed off on your thesis, it is time to submit your thesis online to Proquest/UMI. When you do this, they give you an option to purchase bound copies of your thesis from them. This is not particularly appealing for three reasons:

  1. They are rather pricey, about $40-$60 per copy
  2. They will print it exactly as you submitted it, according to OGS standards: double-spaced, 8.5×11, etc, which doesn’t make for an attractive book. (How many of the math books on your shelf are 8.5×11 double-spaced?)
  3. Personally, I think UMI is kind of a scam: they’ve made themselves the central source for thesis archival, so your university forces you to submit your thesis to UMI so that UMI can make money charging people to access it.

Fortunately, another option is available: self-publishing services. Originally these were intended for authors who had written a book, but couldn’t find a publisher for it, so they’d have it printed at their own expense. Nowadays there are online sites filling this market, where you submit your manuscript and design the book yourself through their site. They can print on demand, so there is no minimum number of copies to order, and they can be quite inexpensive. A former graduate student, Nate Eldredge, chose to go with Lulu, so this article will describe that service.

You can begin by creating an account on Lulu’s site, which is pretty self-explanatory. They have several different book types available. I decided to go with a 6×9 “casewrap hardcover”, which is a pretty standard size and style for a book. If you have a yellow Springer book on your shelf, that’s a pretty good facsimile of what we’re talking about here.

The main issue, then, is reformatting the thesis into a 6×9 format. Fortunately, LaTeX makes this pretty easy. Pretty much, you just need to swich from the UCSD thesis class to the standard LaTeX book class and make a few other changes. Here is a modified version of the UCSD thesis template, modified to fit this format. Nate put comments in various places indicating the relevant changes and choices he made. In several places he took advantage of the fact that he no longer had to conform to OGS’s awkward requirements to make the thesis more “book-like” and remove some things that wouldn’t appear in a book. It shouldn’t take you more than an hour or two to convert your thesis file, depending how fastidious you are. (If you don’t want to go to this trouble, Lulu will also print 8.5×11 books. You could use your existing PDF without change. It may not look as pretty, but it will still be cheaper than UMI.)

Note that you should check carefully for overfull \hbox’es when you compile the thesis, because changing the paper size may have caused things to run outside the margins or off the page. You may have to manually break up long equations or reword paragraphs. Also, the book class will insert several apparently blank pages; these relate to the fact that the book will be printed double-sided, and guarantee that certain things always appear on the left- or right-hand side of a spread. If you want a book-like effect, you should not try to defeat this.

Once you’ve generated an appropriate 6×9 PDF file and uploaded it to Lulu, you can design a cover for it. They have a couple of different interfaces. For his thesis, Nate created a pretty simple cover with a UCSDish blue color scheme, and the abstract and a graduation photo on the back cover.

When you are all finished, Lulu creates a page where you or anyone else can buy copies of the book. (You have the option of keeping this private, so that only people you share it with can find it.) Then you can buy as many copies as you want to keep or give away, and you can also send the link to your parents if they want to buy lots of copies for all the relatives. (In this case, Lulu’s “revenue” option may be useful, where you select an amount to add to the price of the book, which Lulu passes along to you after each sale. The page remains up indefinitely if you want more copies later.

If you want to see what a finished product looks like, Nate Eldredge’s thesis Lulu page is located at

The book turned out quite nice looking, with quality and appearance comparable to commercially published math books. And they were only $15.46 per copy (plus tax and shipping). Overall that is a vast improvement over UMI.

Also, Nate uploaded the template as a Lulu project. It can be found at