How to Grade a Dissertation.
Here's the skinny on how to flunk:
Unacceptable dissertations are poorly written and full of errors and mistakes. They are distinguished by “not”—not original, not thoughtful, and not well done. Unacceptable dissertations do not have a good or clearly defined question or problem. They exhibit a poor grasp of the field and either do not use the proper methods or use them inappropriately. Unacceptable dissertations do not yield new or relevant results, and those they yield are often misinterpreted or oversold.
The participants agreed that students produce unacceptable dissertations for different reasons. Most, however, cannot master professional standards and do not have what it takes to be a researcher. Some should not have been admitted into a program in the first place or should have been stopped before advancing to candidacy. Others cannot handle a big project; they do not understand what needs to done. Many cannot or will not take their adviser’s advice or criticism into account and, consequently, produce one bad revision after another. Yet others are capable of producing acceptable dissertations but fail to do so because they have taken jobs or otherwise left the university and have not kept up with research in their area. The result is an unoriginal or out-of-date product. Some fail because they push for the defense even though their advisers have told them they were not ready to defend.
Many advisers simply wait for students whose work is unacceptable to get discouraged and leave instead of proactively terminating them. Some try to disassociate themselves from such students by sending “signals” or by telling them to find another adviser. Others use the defense to get rid of the student. In rare instances, when an unacceptable dissertation makes it to defense, dissertation committees often seek excuses to pass it. They will take into consideration such things as their feelings about the person rather than the objective document. In the end, most defer to the adviser, hold their noses, and vote to pass.