PhD Student Handbook

The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing equips nurse researchers and scholars to explore, develop, and move forward the scientific bases of nursing practice. Students are prepared to conduct research in the domains of nursing science. The curriculum is enriched through electives taken in the social, behavioral, and biological sciences; interdisciplinary and interprofessional research; and the integration of technology in program delivery. Dissertation research prepares graduates to contribute to the body of nursing and health care knowledge with a focus in either bio-behavioral or systems science. The location and mission of the College of Nursing as well as the expertise of the faculty provide a unique opportunity for the discovery of knowledge related to nursing and health issues in rural underserved areas. Upon graduation, students are prepared to assume leadership positions as researchers, administrators in public and private health care organizations, policy makers and analysts, and university faculty.

The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing has three entry methods: BSN to PhD, MSN to PhD, and DNP to PhD. The BSN to PhD option blends the doctoral curriculum with two different MSN concentrations – the Nursing Education concentration and the Health Systems Leadership concentration. This option reduces the number of master’s level courses that are required in the traditional MSN program and facilitates completion of the nursing PhD. Within the BSN-PhD option there is also an Early Assurance Program (EAP) for select undergraduate students. The MSN to PhD option is the traditional post master’s pathway for achieving a PhD. The DNP to PhD option is an accelerated pathway that allows the transfer of up to 12 credit hours from a DNP program to partially fulfill requirements of the PhD program.  A minimum of 42 additional semester hours of doctoral coursework completed at ECU is required for a minimum of 54 semester hours for degree completion.

The emphasis of the PhD program at East Carolina University College of Nursing is to prepare nurse scholars to advance the science of nursing practice, education, and administration/health policy. Two focus areas of research emphasis exist within the program: 1) System Science – the investigation of complex systems, such as Health Systems Leadership and nursing education, aimed at understanding interactive and interdependent elements of a complex whole that are applicable in nursing; and 2) Bio-Behavioral Science – the investigation of the interplay of behavioral, biological, sociocultural, and environmental factors to better understand nursing’s role in advancing the continuum of health across and within populations. The faculty, moreover, are committed to individualized, interprofessional education based on the student’s interests and career goals as congruent with the Program’s purpose, research foci, and the College’s mission.

The doctoral program prepares graduates to:

  • Integrate philosophical, conceptual, and methodological foundations to guide the generation of new nursing knowledge.
  • Formulate research questions and conduct scholarly inquiry that contributes to a body of nursing science.
  • Develop expertise within an area of bio-behavioral or systems nursing science.
  • Demonstrate interprofessional collaboration in advancing nursing science.
  • Convey research findings through multiple modes of dissemination including publications and presentations.
  • Demonstrate professional stewardship through service and leadership.

Students are required to complete a minimum of 54 credit hours (c.h.) beyond the master’s degree (includes a minimum of 6c.h. for dissertation) with the exception of BSN to PhD students who are required to complete between 72 and 80 credit hours and DNP to PhD students who are required to complete a minimum of 54 credit hours that may include up to 12 credit hours from a DNP program to partially fulfill requirements of the PhD program. As in other research-focused programs of doctoral study, students in this program may expect to enroll in more than the minimum required credit hours and participate in opportunities that focus on particular areas of study in addition to the basic program requirements. Additional study is individualized and depends on the student’s background and graduate preparation as well as the identified career focus. The program of study includes both full- and part-time options. Since enrollments in doctoral programs tend to be small, students should closely adhere to the plan of study, as most courses are offered once a year. To deviate from the plan of study may mean a delay of one or more semesters before course enrollment is again possible.

BSN to PhD Option Plans of Study

MSN to PhD Option Plans of Study

DNP to PhD Option Plans of Study

Graduate credits earned at other institutions may be accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral program. Courses offered for transfer credit will be evaluated individually relative to Graduate School requirements, program requirements, and the student’s plan of study. Please refer to the Graduate School Transfer Credits Policy located in the Academic Regulations section of this catalog.

The DNP to PhD option is an accelerated pathway that awards credit for prior work completed in a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. Up to 12 credit hours from a DNP program can be transfered to fulfill requirements of the PhD program (credits may be considered for the following courses: NURS 8262 (3 c.h.); NURS 8255 (3 c.h.); 2 electives (6 c.h.). Credit for coursework in a DNP program is determined based on a review of transcripts and course syllabi by the PhD Program Director. DNP-PhD applicants are responsible for providing course syllabi to support transfer credit. A minimum of 42 credit hours of PhD coursework must be taken at ECU for a minimum of 54 credit hours for degree completion.

BSN and MSN to PhD students must complete at least five semesters in residence. DNP to PhD students must complete at least three semesters in residence.

Students must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) throughout the program. PhD students are permitted to earn a grade of “C” in only one course during the entire program. After receiving a “C” in a course in the program, the student will be placed on academic probation and if the student earns a second “C” they will be dismissed from the program. Academic progress will be evaluated at the end of each semester by the academic advisor, who is responsible for notifying the College of Nursing Associate Dean for Academic Affairs if a student’s academic status is in jeopardy.

PhD students apply to take a candidacy exam upon completion of all required nursing courses and prior to beginning the dissertation. The anticipated semester during which the candidacy exam is administered is noted on the student’s plan of study and must be successfully completed within five years of matriculation.

Students are required to conduct an original research project, which adds to the body of knowledge in nursing, and to communicate the research in a written dissertation and an oral defense of the dissertation within six years of admission. With endorsement of the dissertation committee and the Associate Dean for graduate programs, students may request one extension of not more than two semesters, summer semesters included. In exceptional circumstances, students can request up to 10 years for completion of the degree; however, this requires consultation with the PhD Program Director and approval by the ECU Graduate School dean.

Credit by examination is a method provided by the University and used by students to demonstrate learning competencies equivalent to university-level graduate course work (for example, participation in a summer institute for research or health policy course through a university continuing education program).

  1. Credit cannot be awarded for any course in which the student has already received credit from any educational institution.
  2. Credit cannot be granted for a course taken at an educational institution after credit by examination, for that course, has been awarded.
  3. Credit may not be received for lower-level or prerequisite courses when credit has already been received in a higher-level course within the same field.
  4. Not more than 20% of a degree or Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) program may be earned through credit by examination, and credit earned will not be counted as residence credit.
  5. Credit by examination requires approval by the Dean, Program Director or chairperson of the department, and the Dean of the Graduate School.

Six hours of electives (6000 level or above) are required to support the area of dissertation interest. It is highly recommended that students take 3 hours of electives in the content area of the dissertation and 3 hours in advanced methods based on the proposed research design for the dissertation. Discussion regarding elective courses, both within and outside of the College of Nursing, should be held with the research mentor/advisor prior to registration.

Examples of content elective courses outside of nursing that might fit a plan of study:
  • ADED 6445 Introduction to Adult and Community Education (3) COHE 6000 Health Care Systems and Problems (3)
  • EDTC 6010 Introduction to Instructional Technology (3)
  • ENGL 7730 Issues in Technical Communication (3)
  • LEED 7415 Introduction to Internal Evaluation in Education (3)
  • LEED 7521/7522 Directed Readings in Educational Leadership (4)
  • PADM 6100 Politics and Management in Public Agencies (3)
  • PADM 6110 Human Resource Management in Public Agencies (3)
  • PADM 6160 Public Procedure Formulation and Implementation (3) MGMT 6802 Organizational Behavior (3)
  • MGMT 6832 Human Resources (3)
Examples of nursing electives that may fit a plan of study:
  • NURS 6035 Interdisciplinary Rural Health (3)
  • NURS 6971 Health Policy, Law, Regulation (3)
  • NURS 6903 Curriculum Development in Nursing (3)
  • NURS 6904 Educational Concepts, Theories & Strategies in Nursing (3)
  • NURS 6909 Evaluation in Nursing Education (3)
  • NURS 7100 Qualitative Research: Analysis and Interpretation (3)
  • NURS 7270 Introduction to Historical Nursing Research (3)
  • NURS 7271 Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Nursing Practice (3)
  • NURS 8236 Qualitative Methods II
  • NURS 8242 Emerging Research Priorities and Research Design
Six hours of mentored research experience (NURS 8250 and NURS 8255) are required for BSN-PhD and MSN-PhD students. While DNP students are only required to take three hours of mentored research (NURS 8250 Research Practicum), it is highly recommended that they also take NURS 8255 Directed Research to pilot their dissertation research. NURS 8255 Directed Research involves one or more research experiences under the supervision of a graduate faculty member (or members) for the purpose of mentorship and research experience. The NURS 8255 Directed Research Form (Appendix C) must be completed by the student and faculty mentor to specify student learning objectives from the experience. This completed form is submitted at the time of registration and is kept as a record of the student’s research experience.

The PhD program is a year-round program that accommodates both full and part-time students. Part-time study is defined as 6 semester hours each fall and spring semester, while full-time study requires nine semester hours each fall and spring semester until students are post-candidacy. Taking less than 6 semester hours of study during fall and spring semesters is strongly discouraged and requires approval of the PhD Program Director and research mentor/advisor. New cohorts of PhD students begin the program in the summer semester (May) of each year. Students take a hybrid course, NURS 8205 – Nursing Scholarship and Discovery I, during the 11-week summer session. This course includes an onsite intensive as well as online and face-to-face coursework that prepares PhD students for the journey ahead.

Most nursing courses in the PhD program occur only one time per year. Failure to follow the plan of study may result in delayed graduation since the courses will not be offered again until the following academic year. The PhD program is conducted in an online delivery format. All courses offered in the summer, except NURS 8205, are 100% online. Electives, independent studies, and directed research classes may be offered online, hybrid, or in person. Online classes may be synchronous or asynchronous, based on faculty teaching preferences. Synchronous online classes will occur on Tuesdays.

To track progression through the program and achievement of benchmarks, students must complete a Qualtrics Annual Progress Report Survey each academic year by April 1st. Students submit this survey to the PhD Program Office and also share the progress report annually with the research mentor/advisor. Failure to complete the Annual Progress Report Survey will result in a hold on registering for courses in the next semester. Once submitted, the hold is lifted.The PhD in Nursing program requires that all doctoral students complete mandatory human subjects training offered by ECU and other facilities that are a part of the doctoral research study. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval is required prior to conducting any research in the PhD program. All research studies are reviewed by the ECU University and Medical Center Institutional Review Board (UMCIRB) and the IRB of record for any participating organizations as applicable if conducted as a part of the PhD student role.

Prior to participating in research at any clinical site, students must fulfill all clinical requirements outlined in the Graduate Handbook. If a student is registering for dissertation hours, directed research, or independent study coursework, the student must work with the faculty mentor to design the experience and identify objectives and outcome expectations. The appropriate forms, including all required signatures should be sent to the PhD Program Office. The NURS 8255 Directed Research Form (Appendix C) must be completed and signed before registering for directed research and the NURS 8500 Independent Study Form (Appendix D) must be completed and signed before registering for independent study coursework. The NURS 9000 PhD Dissertation Hours Contract Form (Appendix K) must be completed and signed before registering for NURS 9000 dissertation hours.

Students may receive a grade of Incomplete in up to two courses during the entire PhD program of study. All Incompletes must be resolved within one semester. Exceptions require approval by the PhD Program Director, research mentor/advisor, and the faculty of record.

Students are assigned a research mentor/advisor by the Program Director upon admission from among the approved graduate faculty. By the end of year one the student/mentor/advisor relationship is affirmed or renegotiated with the assistance of the Program Director. If a student’s area of interest changes or if there is not a good fit between the student and the research/mentor/advisor, the PhD Program Director will assist the student in finding a mentor/advisor from the approved list of faculty. After confirmation, this faculty member assumes the mentor/advisor role.

A list of approved graduate faculty is available in the PhD Program office. Unless renegotiated, the research/ mentor/advisor will become the dissertation and candidacy committee chair for the student and assume responsibility for advisement for the remainder of the student’s program of study.

Each student works with a research mentor/advisor to develop a plan of study for successful completion of the PhD program. This plan includes elective courses that will support the student’s dissertation interests. The plan of study is entered into DegreeWorks and edited as the plan changes. The College of Nursing’s PhD Program Office is responsible for registering all students for courses within the College and will assist students in finding and registering for electives outside of the College. The Program Office will notify students of the early registration period dates so that students can meet with their research mentors/advisors to plan schedules. Once a student has met with the research mentor/advisor and selected courses for a semester, a PhD Course Registration Form (Appendix A) is completed and submitted to the PhD program office for registration. If a student and their research mentor/advisor agree that the student should take coursework outside of the College of Nursing, the department offering the course will need to process the registration. It is the student’s responsibility to contact the appropriate department to secure any special permission necessary to register for a course. The student will notify the College of Nursing PhD Program Office when the non-nursing course has been added to their schedule. Students and their research mentor/advisor should discuss how the course will support the student’s research objectives.

  1. Academic Advising responsibilities include:
    • Interpreting the doctoral program curricula and policies for . students.
    • Assisting students with the development of a plan of study that will meet program requirements and equip students to successfully conduct dissertation research.
    • Assisting students with registration procedures, specifically approving and signing all registration materials and other forms to support student progression.
    • Monitoring students’ academic progress by reviewing the Annual Progress Report and assisting students in setting goals to meet program benchmarks.
    • Participating in regularly scheduled student meetings to discuss issues, progress, grades of Incomplete, academic performance, and plans of study (at least one meeting/semester)
    • Maintaining an up-to-date plan of study in Degree Works and if needed, submit updated plans to the PhD Program Assistant by the end of the first month of each fall and spring semester.
    • Evaluating student’s readiness for progression to candidacy
  2. As students’ progress through the PhD program, they are required to update their vitae as they complete the Annual Progress Reports. At the end of each semester, the advisor/mentor evaluates student progress and notifies the PhD Program Director if a student’s academic status is in jeopardy.
  3. The research mentors/advisors work with students as they progress through their program of study, help them select courses for elective study, and assist them in identifying directed research projects, electives, or independent study for their learning.

By the end of the fall (semester 5) of the 2nd year, the dissertation chair and student select at least two additional Dissertation Committee members from the CON. Committee selection should include a member with content expertise and a member with methodological expertise. The chair and student choose a fourth member, who may be from the CON, another ECU college, school, or department, or an external member from outside the University. All members of the dissertation committee, both from within or outside of the CON must be approved by the ECU Graduate School. The student provides the PhD Program Office, in writing, the names of the faculty members selected for the committee and the dissertation chair by completing the PhD Dissertation Approval Form (Appendix J). Any changes in chair or committee members requires resubmission of the form. The Graduate School will notify the PhD Program Office when the committee has final approval.

The three members of the committee from the CON also become the candidacy exam committee for the student, and the chair of the committee serves as chair of the candidacy committee. After successfully passing the candidacy exam, the student must complete the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form (Appendix I). This form is completed electronically and submitted to the Graduate School. The Dissertation Committee selection of committee members and proposed dissertation title must be finalized before submission of the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy form. Approval of the Dean of the Graduate School for these forms generally takes one to two weeks. The PhD Program Office will notify students and committee chairs if the Graduate School requires additional information for approval of the committee members.

Click on the following link for directions on completing the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form:

Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form

Click the following link to complete the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form:

PowerForm Signer Information.

Ad-hoc committee members external to the University may serve without additional qualifications as long as at least four members of the committee have the appropriate graduate status as previously described.

To request an external member be appointed to a PhD student’s dissertation advisory committee, the Program Director will notify the Graduate school. The committee members approval of the external member, an overview of the member’s contribution by the PhD Program Director, and a copy of the individual’s CV must be attached. The Dean of the Graduate School will consider the request and send a letter granting external member status when approved.

In general, all university representatives on a dissertation committee must have graduate faculty status at ECU except for the additional conditions outlined below. Additionally, faculty serving on or chairing dissertation committees must participate in a PhD Faculty Orientation Program at least once every 5 years. Update sessions will be offered periodically.

A link to faculty in the CON with graduate faculty status as well as who have attended the PhD Faculty Orientation and annual update sessions, may be obtained in the PhD Program Office.

Member 1 - Chair Role Member 2 & 3Member 4Member 5
(additional members)
  1. Tenured member or tenure track member (completed 2 years) of the Graduate Faculty in the College of Nursing who has participated in the PhD faculty orientation.

  2. Earned nursing terminal research-focused degree.

  3. Served as member on at least one dissertation committee.

  4. If the chair is a tenure track assistant professor, they must have previously co-chaired a dissertation committee with a tenured faculty member.

  5. Has conducted research beyond doctoral study.

  6. Has a body of published research.

  7. Has current publications in refereed journals or participates in other scholarly activities.

  8. Serves as research mentor/advisor of PhD students.

  9. Faculty chairing or serving on dissertation committees must have graduate faculty status.

  1. Member of the Graduate Faculty in the College of Nursing who has participated in the PhD faculty orientation.

  2. College of Nursing rank of Assistant Professor or above.

  3. Has theory, methodological, or content expertise in the student’s intended research focus.

  1. Faculty from ECU
    Colleges, schools, or departments outside of the CON; must have theoretical, methodological, or content expertise in the research area.

  2. ECU CON Graduate teaching, clinical, or research faculty may serve as a fourth member of a committee.

  3. Persons external to ECU or the CON may serve as the 4th member of a dissertation committee.

  1. Persons external to
    ECU may serve on a committee in an advisory capacity as a theory content or methods expert.

  2. Persons external to the CON or ECU who assist the student with gaining agency or data access for research may also serve on a committee in an advisory capacity.

  1. A candidacy exam is conducted at the end of the semester when students have completed all required PhD courses and satisfied any grades of Incomplete. The semester during which the student will be eligible to sit for the candidacy exam is noted in the student’s plan of study. Required coursework that must be completed prior to taking the candidacy exam includes: NURS 8205, NURS 8206, NURS 8220, NURS 8226, NURS 8227, NURS 8235, HUMS 7004, NURS 8225, NURS 8240, NURS 8241, and NURS 8260. The candidacy exam is a comprehensive exam of the students’ integration of basic knowledge from core courses with application in their focus area of research. The dissertation chair must approve the student’s progression to candidacy.
  2. The Candidacy Exam Application (Appendix G) is filed by the student in the PhD Program Office at the beginning of the semester in which the student intends to complete the examination. Candidacy exams are scheduled by the PhD Program Office. Candidacy exams may include both an oral and written portion. The written portion of the candidacy exam occurs during the week following the end of PhD classes in the fall and spring semesters. An oral exam is administered within 1-2 weeks of the completion of the written exam if the committee has questions or concerns after reading and scoring the written exam. A schedule of when candidacy exams are issued and returned as well as when oral exams would be scheduled if needed is posted annually by the PhD Program Office and distributed to all faculty members serving on or chairing dissertation committees.
  3. The candidacy exam is comprehensive and draws on basic knowledge from foundational courses to evaluate readiness for conducting independent research and progression to the status of PhD candidate.
  4. The candidacy exam is developed each semester by the chairs of candidacy committees in conjunction with the PhD Program Director. The completed candidacy exam is submitted by students to the PhD Program Office and is evaluated by the dissertation committee members selected by the student and dissertation chair (a minimum of 3 CON faculty members must participate in the evaluation). In the event there is disagreement about the outcome of the candidacy exam among committee members, the PhD Program Director will serve as an Ex Officio member of all candidacy exam committees if needed. The PhD Program Director ensures that candidacy exams are equitable and that they provide a comprehensive assessment of the student’s readiness to advance to candidacy.

Guidelines for the Conduct of PhD Candidacy Exams

The following chart outlines the responsibilities of faculty, students, and the PhD Program Director in conducting the candidacy exam:

Faculty ResponsibilitiesStudent ResponsibilitiesPhD Program Office & Director Responsibilities
  1. Candidacy chairs approve student readiness and develop exam questions each semester.

  2. Candidacy chairs confers with Program
    Director for approval of the candidacy exam questions.

  3. Faculty are notified by the PhD Program Office when students are sent the candidacy exam.

  4. Committee members evaluate written
    responses using the candidacy exam rubric within three days of receipt of the exam. Committee chair convenes a meeting to discuss the evaluation of the exam and to prepare a summary report.

  5. Candidacy chair submits summary report of the written candidacy exam evaluation to PhD program office. Chair also notifies student of the committee’s decision and whether an oral exam is needed which is scheduled according to the annual program calendar.

  6. Candidacy Chair schedules oral exam as needed with PhD program office. Candidacy committee and chair meet with student to conduct the oral exam if needed.

  7. Chair submits the completed
    Advancement to Candidacy Application form to the PhD program office.

  1. Discusses readiness for candidacy exam with research mentor/advisor.

  2. Consults with dissertation advisor to confirm the CON dissertation committee members that will serve on the candidacy committee.

  3. Students confirm receipt of the candidacy exam and return the exam to the PhD Program Office on or before the required due date.

  4. Notifies the candidacy exam committee of the preferred date for the oral exam if required and meets with the dissertation chair to discuss what to expect during the oral exam.

  5. Meets with the candidacy committee and completes the oral examination if needed.

  6. Students who do not pass the exam must remediate as directed and retake exam within 1 semester, or as determined by the remediation and retesting plan designed by the student and committee.

  1. Meets with students and advisors as needed to discuss the process of the candidacy exam.

  2. Serves as advisor to the committee chairs regarding exam process.

  3. The PhD Program Assistant emails the candidacy exam to students scheduled to take the exam and emails completed exams to the candidacy committee for evaluation.

  4. Maintains a list of eligible faculty members who can serve on dissertation committees.

  5. Develops annual timeline for both the written and oral exam schedule.

  6. Reviews students’ responses to the candidacy exam questions and the committee’s evaluation.

  7. Reviews and approves the committee’s remediation plan.

The candidacy exam assesses the student’s capacity to:
  • Integrate basic knowledge from the core courses.
  • Discuss the literature in students’ area of research interest in the context of philosophical and theoretical perspectives.
  • Communicate nursing knowledge development clearly.
  • Describe appropriate methods and approaches for knowledge development in the identified area of interest.
  • Demonstrate core research analytics.

The candidacy exam focuses on substantive discussion of a concept with relevance to a students’ research interest, within the perspective afforded by the discipline of nursing. The candidacy exam questions are developed by the candidacy committee chairs and approved by the PhD Program Director. The written examination response may not exceed 30 double-spaced, typed pages of text (references and appendices not included) and should be prepared using American Psychological Association formatting.

The oral component of the examination occurs only if the written examination responses to the questions are underdeveloped or inconclusive and require additional clarification and discussion as determined by a majority of the candidacy committee. The oral examination is scheduled for two hours and should consist of questions related to the written components of the exam that are unclear or not addressed in sufficient detail. The purpose of the oral examination is to allow the student to provide the candidacy committee with the information needed to make an appropriate determination about the candidate’s readiness for candidacy.

All written and oral exams will be conducted on a pre-determined date/time scheduled as noted on the PhD Master Calendar. Faculty and students participating in the candidacy exam must reserve these dates and be present if an oral examination is required.

If a student fails to follow instructions for completing the candidacy exam, the exam may not be evaluated and the student will be required to complete the candidacy exam during the subsequent semester in which the exam is offered. This is not considered as a failure of the candidacy examination.

All three members of the Candidacy Committee evaluate the written and when required, oral examination, using the Candidacy Exam Rubric (Appendix H).

The candidacy committees must meet either in person or virtually by the due date published in the PhD Master Calendar to determine the outcome of the candidate’s exam. The goal of the candidacy committee is to reach consensus on pass/fail for each of the exam questions. If consensus is not possible then a majority vote will rule.

A final aggregated rubric for each question is given to the PhD program office by the predetermined date on the academic year calendar.

If the student fails, the majority of written candidacy exam questions the exam will be considered as ‘failed’ without the option of an oral exam. The student will be eligible for 1 retake of the exam during the subsequent semester in which the exam is offered.

If the student any written questions an oral exam will be required to address those questions. The student will be notified of missed questions and will be allowed to bring materials to the oral examination that support their response to the questions. Students must be successful in passing the oral examination to pass the candidacy exam.

If the student does not pass the oral exam, the student will receive a fail for the exam and will receive a remediation plan designed by the committee. The student will be allowed to take the exam during the next semester during the pre-determined date that the exam will be offered.

After successfully completing the candidacy exam, students develop a Dissertation Agreement with their dissertation chair. Based upon this contract, students register for a minimum of 3 semester hours of NURS 9000 Dissertation Research every fall and spring semester until their dissertation is complete. Hours of NURS 9000 are determined by the research mentor/advisor based upon expected student outcomes for the semester. Students completing dissertation hours must be continuously enrolled in fall and spring sessions for at least one hour of NURS 9000. Summer registration is not required; however, if faculty are working with a student in the summer, the student must register for NURS 9000 hours.

NURS 9000 outcomes are evaluated as either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory, based on the objectives and outcomes defined in the NURS 9000 PhD Dissertation Hours Contract Form (Appendix K) for that semester. A grade of Incomplete will not be assigned for NURS 9000.. If NURS 9000 dissertation work is determined to be unsatisfactory (i.e., satisfactory progress in meeting the objectives and outcomes described in the NURS 9000 PhD Dissertation Hours Contract Form was not accomplished during the semester), no credit for the class will be awarded.

The PhD degree must be completed before the end of the sixth year of study, following initial enrollment. With endorsement of the student’s dissertation committee and the director of the PhD Program, a student may request an extension of up to two semesters (one academic year). The ECU Graduate School will approve an extension to complete the degree within 10 years with a recommendation from the PhD Program Director and adequate justification and review. See the ECU Graduate Catalog for a more detailed discussion of the process.

An Application for Degree must be completed and submitted by students the semester before they expect to complete the dissertation requirements for the degree and graduate. Should students fail to meet the requirements, they must reapply for the degree for the semester conferral is expected. Upon completion of a successful dissertation defense, students must complete the Dissertation Signature Page electronically. The Dissertation Signature Page requires signatures of all committee members, the PhD Program Director/Chair of the Department of Study, and the Director/Chair of the Dissertation. The Dean of the Graduate School’s signature is added after the final dissertation is electronically submitted and approved.

Click on the following link for directions on completing the Dissertation Signature Page:

Digital Signature Pages for Theses or Dissertations at ECU

Click the following link to complete the Dissertation Signature Page:

PowerForm Signer Information

Students, in consult with their dissertation chair determine the format of the dissertation. There are two options for dissertations: the traditional dissertation option (TDO) or manuscript dissertation option (MDO). The dissertation proposal format is determined by this decision and the required components are outlined below in the DISSERTATION FORMAT OPTIONS section.

Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

The dissertation proposal describes the student’s proposed plan of research for the dissertation study. The proposal is comprised of chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the student’s dissertation. The dissertation committee chair and committee members approve the proposal before the student submits an IRB application to conduct their study.

Students have six months from completion of all required course work to write and defend the dissertation proposal. If the proposal is not completed and approved in that time frame the chair of the dissertation committee will work with the student to develop an amended dissertation agreement. The revised dissertation agreement, that includes the timeline for completion of the dissertation proposal and remaining PhD program requirements will be shared with the student’s dissertation committee.

Students work primarily with the dissertation committee chair to prepare the dissertation proposal; however, often a member of the committee with methodological expertise active in the process. When the student and the dissertation committee chair agree that the proposal is ready to share with the committee, the student and chair convene the committee for the dissertation proposal defense. In preparation for the defense, the proposal is sent by the student to the committee members at least 10 working days in advance of the proposal defense date.

Dissertation proposals are sent electronically. Approval of the dissertation proposal serves as a written agreement between the student and the committee regarding the expectations, limitations, and scope of the dissertation research.

Once the proposal and any required changes are approved by the chair and the committee members, and before beginning the research project, the student completes an IRB application for the research study. All dissertation studies must be reviewed, approved, and/or exempted by the ECU UMCIRB and the IRB of record for all other organizations in which the research will occur if required. Students are also required to submit the PhD Dissertation Approval Form (Appendix J) signed by all committee members to the PhD Program Office after completion of the dissertation proposal defense.

Dissertation Proposal Format

The format for the dissertation proposal is as follows.


CHAPTER 1 introduces the proposed research, including the significance of the research to nursing, purpose of the study, conceptual framework, theoretical and operational definitions, specific aims and research questions, hypotheses (as applicable), and includes a summary of the chapter at the end.


CHAPTER 2 provides a critical review of literature that describes the state of the science about the research topic and identifies gaps in the literature that the proposed research study will address. The importance and relevance to the literature discussed must clearly link to the specific aims and objectives of the study. A chapter summary is provided at the end.


CHAPTER 3 describes the research design, setting, sample, human subjects protection, instruments, research procedures, proposed data analysis plan, study limitations, and includes a summary of the chapter at the end.

The length of the dissertation proposal is usually 75 pages or less, excluding references and Appendices (such as instruments, permissions, and consents).

Dissertation Format Options and Guidelines

The student, in consultation with the dissertation chair, determines which dissertation option the student will pursue. The student may select either the traditional dissertation option (TDO) or manuscript dissertation option (MDO). Both the TDO and MDO are submitted electronically through Vireo, ECU’s electronic thesis and dissertation submission service. The dissertation format is determined by this decision and the required components for each option are described below.

Traditional Dissertation Option (TDO)

The traditional dissertation option is constructed in five chapters. Refer to ECU’s Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission Service: Vireo: Required Elements for a discussion of the required elements of theses and dissertations.

For the TDO, CHAPTERS 1, 2, and 3 will be in the same format as the dissertation proposal, updated to reflect the conclusion of the dissertation research study.


Chapter 4 presents the results of the dissertation research study.


Chapter 5 provides a summary of the research, including implications, conclusions, and recommendations for further study.

Manuscript Dissertation Option (MDO)

Like the TDO, the MDO is also constructed in 5 chapters. For the MDO, chapters 1, 2, and 3 will be in the same format as the dissertation proposal, updated to reflect the conclusion of the dissertation research study. The MDO is an alternative dissertation format that may reflect either traditional or flexible manuscript models; the format is to be determined in collaboration with dissertation chair.

Chapters 4 and 5 of the MDO include manuscripts that were or will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. At least one manuscript included in the MDO must be data-based.

Chapter 4 is the first of two manuscripts. The manuscript to be included in this chapter is negotiated between the student and the dissertation committee chair. Pilot studies and integrative or systematic reviews of the literature are examples of manuscripts that are acceptable for one of the two MDO manuscripts. The manuscript in Chapter 4 should be formatted exactly as it was or will be submitted to the peer-reviewed journal of choice, according to the journal’s guidelines for publication. There should be no page number on the first page of this chapter, and the chapter should be titled as Chapter 4.

Chapter 5 is the second of two manuscripts. The manuscript to be included in this chapter is typically a data-based research article summarizing the dissertation research project. The manuscript in Chapter 5 should be formatted exactly as it was or will be submitted to the peer-reviewed journal of choice, according to the journal’s guidelines for publication. There should be no page number on the first page of this chapter, and the chapter should be titled as Chapter 5.

Examples of published dissertations, demonstrating the proper formatting of Chapters 1 through 5 in both TDO and MDO formats can be found at College of Nursing Doctoral Dissertation. Note that this link takes you to a page where you will be browsing ECU College of Nursing dissertations.

Please review the Graduate School instructions, deadlines, processes and libguides for dissertations at Thesis/Dissertation.

The awarding of the PhD degree requires that each student successfully complete a dissertation defense before the dissertation committee, complete a public presentation of the dissertation, and submit a final electronic version of the dissertation document, approved by the Dissertation Committee to ECU Graduate School.At the beginning of each academic year the PhD Program Office issues a calendar of required due dates for completing the dissertation. Failure to meet these submission dates will delay student graduation. Additionally, the University calendar has required submission dates that must also be met.

Dissertation Defense

When the student’s chair determines that the dissertation is ready for final review, the student notifies all committee members and the date/time is selected for the dissertation defense. Whatever the format agreed upon by the committee and candidate, a copy of the dissertation must be submitted to all members of the committee at least 10 working days before the final defense meeting. In addition, the student will provide the PhD Program Director with a copy of the dissertation at the same time copies are provided to the Dissertation Committee. The Committee then meets on an agreed upon date to decide if the document is acceptable and defendable.

Before the public presentation, the dissertation committee and chair conduct a private, committee only oral dissertation defense with the candidate. The success of the dissertation defense is determined by a vote of the official dissertation committee. The decision to award the degree must be unanimous.

After the student successfully defends the dissertation before the dissertation committee, the public dissertation presentation/defense is scheduled. Students are required to submit information to be included in the dissertation flyer announcing the public presentation to the PhD Program Office at least 10 working days prior to the scheduled public defense so that a flyer may be prepared and distributed to all PhD program faculty and students.

Dates for public presentation/defense of dissertations are established at the beginning of each semester and the student must work with the PhD Program Office to determine a time for the presentation based upon the established dates. The public presentation/defense is open to the public, colleagues, friends, family, and members of the University community. An initial 20-minute presentation is given by the student (see Dissertation Presentation Guidelines in Appendix N). Anyone attending the public presentation may ask questions.

The Dissertation Committee may request changes to the final dissertation document, and the dissertation committee chair will be responsible for ensuring that the student has made the requested changes before the final sign-off. If the defense is not successful, reexamination will be held within six (6) months from the date of the first defense. If a second defense is required, the dissertation committee chair notifies the PhD Program Director of the date of the second defense. The candidate may re-attempt the final dissertation defense once only.

Dissertation Submission to Graduate School

ECU’s instructions and guidelines for preparation, formatting, and submission of electronic dissertations (ETDs) may be found at: ECU’s Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission Service: Vireo.

  1. At the end of fall semester in year one, students work with PhD Program Director to identify a research mentor/advisor and potential dissertation committee chair.
  2. At the end of the fall semester of the second year of study, students identify committee members and submit the PhD Dissertation Approval Form (Appendix J) with the pre-approval section of the form, completed and signed by the dissertation chair to the PhD Program Office. Once submitted to the PhD Program Office the PhD Program Director will approve and sign the form.
  3. Upon completion of the required prerequisite courses, students will successfully complete the candidacy exam.
  4. Following successful completion of the candidacy exam, students will submit the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form (Appendix I) electronically to the PhD Program Office, listing the committee members, the dissertation chair and Program Director to the Graduate School for approval using this link PowerForm Signer Information .
  5. Students, in collaboration with the dissertation committee chair determine the dissertation format (traditional or manuscript) and prepare the dissertation proposal accordingly.
  6. Students work with the dissertation committee chair and methodologist to complete the proposal and prepare it for review by the full dissertation committee.
  7. Students will negotiate a meeting date with the dissertation committee and the PhD Program Office for the proposal defense.
  8. The dissertation proposal must be sent to committee members at least 10 working days in advance of the proposal defense date.
  9. After presenting the proposal, students will make any changes the committee members and committee chair recommend.
  10. Upon the dissertation committee’s approval of the proposal, the post-approval section of the PhD Dissertation Approval Form (Appendix J) must be completed, signed by the dissertation chair, and submit to the PhD Program Office. Once submitted to the PhD Program Office the Program Director will sign the Post-Approval Section of the form.After the dissertation committee approves the proposal, students will submit an IRB application for permission to conduct their research.
  11. After receiving IRB approval, students will work with the dissertation committee chair and other members of the committee to complete the proposed research project.
  12. Before the final dissertation defense, students work with the dissertation committee chair on multiple drafts of the dissertation document until the chair grants approval to send the document to the committee for the final presentation and defense.
  13. Students are responsible for scheduling the dissertation defense and public presentation.
  14. After the committee and public defense, students will submit the Dissertation Signature Page electronically using this link: PowerForm Signer Information
  15. Finally, students will upload the final copy of the dissertation via the ECU Graduate School using this link: Thesis & Dissertation Submission System .

Survey will be sent to students via email to complete in the Qualtrics Survey Software.

After successfully passing the candidacy exam, the student must complete the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form (Appendix I). This form is completed electronically and submitted to the Graduate School. The Dissertation Committee selection of committee members and proposed dissertation title must be finalized before submission of the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy form. Approval of the Dean of the Graduate School for these forms generally takes one to two weeks. The PhD Program Office will notify the student and the committee chair if the Graduate School requires additional information for approval of the committee members.

Click on the following link for directions on completing the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form:

Click the following link to complete the Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy Form:

Each doctoral student conducts an original research project that adds to the body of nursing knowledge and communicates that research in a written dissertation.The Graduate School has specific guidelines for the presentation and writing of the dissertation. The Graduate School requires a specific page order and formatting of each page. See “Required Elements of Theses/Dissertations” (Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission Service) for the suggested page order and examples of pages for the dissertation or thesis. The components to be included in any given thesis or dissertation should be determined by mutual agreement between the student and his/her advisory committee. For each component of the thesis there is a prepared format to ensure that the student complies. This site has prepared templates formatted according to Graduate School guidelines. These are to be used as samples. It is the responsibility of each student to 1) follow the guidelines of the Graduate School for the elements of the dissertation and 2) attend a workshop on Graduate School thesis/dissertation submission (electronic or hardcopy). See Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission Service for a copy of the specific guidelines and schedule of workshops.

East Carolina University Graduate School Requirements Related to Dissertation

  1. Required elements in order of placement:
    1. Abstract (required)
    2. Blank Page (required)
    3. Title Page (required)
    4. Copyright Page (required)
    5. Signature Page (required)
    6. Dedication Page (optional)
    7. Acknowledgement Page (optional)
    8. Table of Contents (required)
    9. List of Tables/Figures (as appropriate)
    10. List of Symbols/Abbreviations (as appropriate)
    11. Preface (optional)
    12. Text (body of thesis or dissertation)
    13. References (required)
    14. Appendix A (required, IRB or IACUC Approval letters required if human subjects or animals are used)
    15. Appendix B (as appropriate)
    16. Blank Page (required, as last page)

In addition to the body of the dissertation, Appendices such as the IRB approval for each study, instruments (unless they are copyrighted), and other Appendices determined by the committee are included.

  1. Submit the NON-EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION LICENSE electronically using the following link: Non-Exclusive Distribution License
  2. Final approval of the dissertation rests with the student’s dissertation advisory committee.
  3. Information about deadlines for completion and submission of the dissertation including guidelines for electronic dissertation submission and for all other paperwork related to completion of the degree is available in the Graduate Catalog, which is also available online at Graduate Catalog

Once the student has successfully completed the defense of the dissertation, the grade of “U” for unsatisfactory or “R” for completion is determined by the committee and the chairperson notifies the Director of the PhD program. The PhD program office notifies the Dean of the Graduate School to award the degree.

Dissertation Presentation Guidelines

Students will present their dissertation before their dissertation committee and in a public forum attended by students, CON faculty, faculty and students from other departments, and individuals invited by the student. Students may invite family or other colleagues that have an interest in their work to the public presentation. The presentation for the committee and public defense can be the same, although the dissertation committee recommend revisions before the public presentation. The presentation should be 20-30 minutes long unless otherwise specified.

Content of the Presentation – About 20-25 slides with the following headings:

  1. Title Slide – Include the title of the presentation, student’s name, name of the chair and committee members.
  2. Background/Significance – 1-2 slides.
  3. Literature Review – 1-2 slides on the major findings in the literature. Students should not cite every study. Synthesize what the literature says and what the gaps are being addressed in the dissertation study.
  4. Theoretical/Conceptual Framework – 1-2 slides. A figure that displays the major concepts of the framework is desired.
  5. Research Aims/Questions/Hypotheses – 1 slide
  6. Methodology – This will vary depending on the study but should be no more than 5 slides as described below:
    1. Study Design
    2. Sample Selection
    3. Procedure
    4. Instruments
    5. Data Analysis
  7. Results – Provide 1-2 slides that include descriptive data related to the sample and instruments. Include slides that provide a description of the findings for each research question. If a graph is used, be sure it is easily readable. Maximum of about 6 slides.
  8. Conclusions/Implications- No more than 4 slides that include:
    1. Limitations
    2. Clinical/educational implications as appropriate
    3. Recommendations for future research
  9. Format of the Presentation
    1. Font size should be 24 points.
    2. No more than 12 lines of text per slide.
    3. Use bullets and numbering to summarize the text.
    4. Use a color scheme that is readable with good contrast between the background and the words.
    5. Do not use video, embedded links, or other distracting elements unless it is integral to the explaining the study.
    6. Be sure tables and figures are consistent and readable. Never say “I know you can’t read this, but this is what the slide says.” Make sure the information on the slide is readable.
    7. If you have a legend to explain the table or figure be sure that is also readable.
  10. Practice and time yourself before the presentation. Your dissertation chair may request that you schedule a time with them to practice your presentation.