Things to know at least the semester before you defend and/or graduate
As you approach graduation there are important rules and dates to keep in mind. The University considers graduation the cycle/semester the written thesis is filed, not the final oral thesis defense date. Most of the time these two events happen in the same semester but they do not have to. On occasion a student may defend the oral component of the thesis in one semester but must file the written thesis by the appropriate deadline the “next cycle”. The cycles are Fall, Spring, and Summer (3 per year). This is especially important for students who defend in the Spring, since they must file their written thesis by the Summer (typically July) deadline.
There is only one “hooding” graduation ceremony in May for graduate students. Individuals graduating in non-May cycles may attend the following May’s session if they desire.
The University requires all students be registered in the cycle/semester the student defends the oral component. Students are usually registered except for the Summer. Therefore, a student defending the oral component in the Summer must also register as a student the summer session in which the oral defense occurs. (Although the student should match the summer session they are registered with the oral defense date, there is only one written defense filing deadline each Summer.) Importantly, the University does not allow a student to register as a student the cycle after completing the oral defense. This means if a student stays in the same lab after the oral defense they must arrange an employment position. Commonly, the scenario of defending the oral thesis one semester, but filing the written thesis the next is used by students who have a job position already lined up but were unable to file/complete the written thesis by the required semester deadline.
If a student fails to file the final written thesis no later than the next cycle deadline after the final oral defense the University generally will not consider the student a graduate. Given all the constraints above, doing both the oral and written final defense in the same semester is preferable but not required.
Be aware the student and student alone must very early in the semester of planned graduation log into their ConnectCarolina account and complete self-service information for intent to graduate. Do NOT miss these deadlines. Procedures and deadlines for each cycle/semester can be found at https://gradschool.unc.edu/academics/resources/graddeadlines.html.
Working Backwards to Time Graduation Events
A strict deadline for graduating is filing the thesis; this date is set by the grad school and PhD programs have no say in this. Check the academic calendar, but this date is typically a month or so before the end of the semester (or end of summer session): https://gradschool.unc.edu/academics/resources/graddeadlines.html
The formatting of the thesis is determined by the grad school – not the program. There are many strict rules, however, the grad school will work with the student if the thesis is submitted before the deadline to allow formatting changes AFTER the thesis is submitted. (It is typical that minor changes to the thesis are made after submission.) What is in your thesis is between you and your thesis committee. The thesis committee must literally sign off on your thesis before it is filed with the grad school. A complete grad school guide on the thesis formatting can be found here: https://gradschool.unc.edu/academics/thesis-diss/guide/
Working backwards, in order to get comments on your thesis you must submit it to your committee at least 2-weeks before your final private defense. In the CBP Curriculum, the oral examination for the Dissertation defense will occur as formal seminar, open to the public, followed by an approximately 30-40 minute private discussion and examination of the work between the members of the Dissertation Committee and student. However, the exact length of time is entirely up to the committee. Comments/corrections by your thesis committee to your thesis are generally delivered by the committee at/no later than your public defense. Remember, you cannot file the thesis with the grad school until your committee has literally signed off on the form. Bottom of this page: https://www.med.unc.edu/cellbiophysio/cell-biology-and-physiology-curriculum/student-information/milestones-timeline-and-forms/
So the timing of these events is up to you and your committee. Do not forget the first event (which only you can do) is clicking intent to graduate in your Connect Carolina account. (that deadline is very early in the semester! ~a month into the semester/cycle) https://registrar.unc.edu/academic-services/graduation/applying-for-graduation/
In case you missed it, the top of this page explains the rare cases when thesis filing happens the semester/cycle after the private/public defense. (However, this is rare and does not work for most students.)
In the event that you accept a position and your employer needs documentation that you have completed all of your coursework, an Early Clearance may be requested. Any requests for early graduation clearance due to extenuating circumstances (generally only for employment or visa requirements) should be submitted through the academic program and only after the census date for the given graduation term. https://handbook.unc.edu/graduation.html
Clearance merely states that the student has completed all the coursework and milestone exams required by the program for the PhD, but the final thesis filing (required for graduation by the University) has not been completed. As stated above, once a student defends the final oral thesis defense exam the student cannot be enrolled as a student again anyway. This is not a guarantee that the student will graduate since only the student can file their thesis with the graduate school, and if this never happens the university does not consider the student a graduate. To put it another way, programs don’t graduate students, the University graduates students after all program requirements are completed AND the thesis is filed and accepted by the University. Typically, this option is only for those who have a job that starts soon but missed or cannot make the thesis filing deadline for the semester.
In order for an Early Clearance to be approved, you must have completed all milestones and all paperwork submitted. Then a Proof of Awarded Degree will be sent to employer. https://registrar.unc.edu/academic-services/transcripts-certifications/