The dissertation proposal process at CUA is rather involved and complex. The following sections offer advice on navigating the procedure.

  • The Process

    You will not start work on the proposal until you have defined the topic (click here for tips on selecting a topic). Once you have done this, the first step in the dissertation proposal process is to identify the director of your dissertation committee; in many cases, you will have already had frequent conversations with one particular faculty member about the topic, but it is still proper to formally request that he or she serve as your director. Your director will then help you identify the other members of your committee. There must be two other members, who do not necessarily need to be associated with CUA. (Be aware that outside readers must formally commit to working with you and, if he or she does not live in the DC metropolitan area, must commit to traveling to DC at his or her own expense for the dissertation defense.  It is also possible for committee members to participate in defenses electronically.) It is permissible in some cases to add a fourth member to the dissertation committee, but it is important to realize that having a fourth member may lengthen the time it takes to complete the dissertation because it adds a fourth editor to the mix.

    You will initially work on the proposal just with your director. Once the director has approved a draft, you will then share it with the other members of the committee for their comments. After you have incorporated their comments and received their approval, your director will forward the proposal to the full-time faculty in the Department of Music Theory, History, and Composition, who will discuss the proposal at the next scheduled department meeting (typically the second Tuesday of the month). Based on the discussion at the faculty meeting, you may need to submit at least one or two additional sets of revisions. After the department faculty have approved the document, it is presented to the Dean of the School of Music, Drama, and Art for approval. (At this point, your participation in the process is over.) Upon the Dean's approval, your director will ensure that the proposal form receives the proper signatures, and it is sent to the Dean of Graduate Studies, who assigns it to an external reviewer for approval. You will be notified of final approval of the proposal by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The entire approval process can take over a month. It is thus advisable to submit your proposal to the committee as early in the semester as possible.

    Once the proposal is completed and approved, it is crucial that you arrange a meeting with your director to discuss research protocol, start putting together a timeline, and go over the adviser's expected procedures for submitting outlines and drafts.

  • Preparing the Proposal

    The CUA dissertation proposal follows a unique format. In addition to the “Doctoral Dissertation Topic and Committee: Request for Approval” form available on the website of the Dean of Graduate Studies, the entire text of the proposal (including a selected bibliography) must fit on two pages (in 12-point Times New Roman font). The proposal may be single spaced, and the smallest permissible margins are half an inch on all sides, but all the same, it is important to be as concise as possible. The exact format of the proposal is specified in the instructions printed on the final page of the “Request for Approval” form.

    Instructions for filling out the form
    • Under “School,” write “Music, Drama, and Art.”
    • Under “Department / Program,” write “Music Theory, History, and Composition."
    • The date of admittance to candidacy is the first day of the fall or spring semester following that in which you passed your last comprehensive exam.
    • Be sure to check with each committee member on the proper presentation of his or her name, as well as the exact faculty rank.
    Tips on writing the proposal
    • Organize the proposal into sections following the categories listed in the instructions (Statement of Problem and Background; Purpose; Methodology; Contribution and Originality; Human Subjects Concerns; Selected Bibliography). Use bold-face headings for each section, but avoid putting extra spaces after each heading (to save space). Also avoid extra spaces between paragraphs (indent each paragraph instead), and do not double space between items in the bibliography.
    • In your first draft of the proposal, it is not necessary for you to initially concern yourself too much with the two-page limit. We can always edit the proposal (and finagle the paragraphs as necessary) later.
    • Throughout the proposal, refer to items in the bibliography with brief internal citations. Ensure that every author and/or work mentioned in the proposal also appears in the bibliography. It is also good to list representative primary sources in the bibliography.
    • Try to avoid redundancies between the “Statement of Problem and Background” and “Originality” sections. The former should focus primarily on general background information and the unanswered questions in the field, while the latter should compare your research to specific existing studies on the topic.
    • It is customary to include a provisional chapter outline in the “Methodology” section. · A “Human Subjects Concern” section is only necessary if your topic and methodology involve living human subjects. It is very rare that a proposal needs review from the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, as the typical musicological research methods involving human subjects (namely interviews) are exempt. However, if your research involves living human subjects, it is still necessary for you to receive written approval from the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Services (Ralph Albano, Associate Provost for Research) indicating that your research is exempt (an email is fine). The written approval should be attached to your proposal.