How to Graduate

A guide to getting to the PhinisheD line in the Persson group! Remember that everyone's academic and research path is unique and there are no set timelines for finishing a PhD.

Disclaimer: The initial version of this document was written by Rachel WR, and has a bias of my own experience in AS&T/MSE. Therefore this may contain misinformation for folks in other departments or with other experiences, so please change/update this if that is the case! Also, always defer to Kristin if you have any specific questions about your requirements in the group.

Am I ready to graduate?

This is a decision that you should come to in agreement with your advisor, with the department, and in alignment with your own goals. It’s helpful to check in with Kristin about your graduation timeline up to a year before you are planning to be done. Things to consider:

  • Have you met the graduation requirements of your department? (courses, teaching, etc)

  • Have you met the graduation requirements from Kristin? (note: set up a meeting with Kristin to be clear on what these are)

  • Do you feel like you've met your goals for grad school and are ready to move on?

  • Are you ready to write up your dissertation?

  • Note: UC Berkeley notoriously does not require a thesis defense as a graduation requirement!

Writing a dissertation

Deciding the intention of your dissertation

In MSE and AS&T there are few rules about what a dissertation should look like, so much of the content and structure of your dissertation is up to you. To graduate with a doctorate in the Persson group, your thesis must include at least 2 first-authored papers (or papers in progress), but what else to include is rather arbitrary. In Berkeley MSE, theses have ranged from ~60 pages to >400 pages, each of which results in a PhD degree (fun fact: the longest PhD thesis was 2,200 pages, on the development of sailing ⛵️). Therefore, much of the thesis is personal and is based around what you want out of it.

Ask yourself: what is my intention in writing my thesis?

  • To just let me gtfo asap?

  • To write something I can be proud of?

  • To serve as a testament to what I’ve done in grad school?

What do you want after your PhD?

  • If aiming for an academic career, it may be useful to have more than 2 first-authored papers and a more in-depth lit-review

  • If you want to get out asap, a thesis with an intro + 2 first authored papers + conclusion is fine!

Conventional ways to go about the thesis

  • “Staple papers together” method

    • Already have papers (published or ready to submit)

    • Write a quick intro and conclusion and call it a day

  • Include unpublished work

    • You can include work that is not ready for publication yet, but rather is a draft.

    • If you are not planning to publish this work, a thesis may be a good place for it to live so that it can see the light of day. If you are planning to publish this work at some point, you’ll want to embargo your thesis.

    • If you don't embargo your thesis and then publish that same work in a journal it will be considered “plagiarism” (see below)

  • Include extra stuff (see Content to Include)

Planning the content

Depending on your intentions and a conversation with Kristin, you can come up with an outline/draft of what content will go into your thesis.


(not a requirement, but can be helpful)

  • Note: There are many different approaches to writing an outline. One method that has worked well for me to develop a narrative is called the ABT method (and, but, therefore). Here are some resources for anybody interested:

  • Schedule a meeting to set up a plan with Kristin and go over your outline

  • Optional: you can go over your outline with your committee if that's useful for you, but this is not a requirement

Content to include

  • Required content to include (see link for more info on UC Berkeley guidelines)

    • Abstract

    • Table of contents

    • Introduction

    • At least two chapters of research content

    • Conclusion

  • Possible extra stuff to include –– this is your chance to write anything!

    • Literature review

    • Methods chapter

    • Acknowledgments

    • Appendices with details

    • Analysis of CO2 impact of a PhD

    • Discussion of outreach or extracurricular activities during PhD

    • “Lessons learned” or reflections/commentary on your work and the scientific process

    • Unpublished work and/or less successful projects (e.g. I included “failures” from my research that I wouldn’t publish anywhere but that I thought would be useful for the materials discovery community)

    • Code or Applications that you developed in your time here

    • Fun add-ons, e.g. art or poems about your work (seriously, you can do anything!

    • Or nothing! (really, it's up to you)

Formatting and faff

A lot of the formatting is up to you, but the Grad Division's website contains formatting guidelines you have to follow in your thesis. I will not repeat these here, but here are some useful tips for formatting.

  • Here is a link to a LaTeX template for the thesis that contains almost all the formatting requirements

    • There are some changes you need to make to this template:

      • 1) The word "by" on the title page needs to be capitalized to "By"

      • 2) When you write your department, if it is in the college of engineering, it needs to be preceded by "Engineering - ". For example instead of "Materials Science and Engineering" you should write "Engineering - Materials Science and Engineering".

      • 3) You may find that some parts of your thesis don't obey the the 1 inch margins. If they don't, the thesis folks will email you telling you to fix them. Here are some margin tips:

        • Make sure you make you set your figures less than or equal to 6.5 inches.

        • Add \usepackage{xurl} to make urls in your references respect your margins.

        • Add \usepackage{hyphenat} and replace - with \hyp{} to force hyphenated words to respect margins.

        • In some places in my references I had to manually add \hyp{} to force random things like ISBN numbers to respect margins and break onto the next line.

  • In your thesis text, take ownership of what you have done! There’s no requirement to write in first person, but I found it useful to use “I” to distinguish what I had done and what collaborators had helped with

  • On that note, make sure you clearly state when work is yours, when it’s a collaboration (if so, what did you do?), when you’re reporting work somebody else has done, and when you’re referring to the literature

  • Again, carefully follow the formatting rules on the Grad Division’s website (there are some strange ones, e.g. page numbering in the abstract, TOC, and intro

  • Look at former group members theses on ProQuest to see examples.

Choosing your committee

Your committee with be responsible for reading and signing off on your dissertation. Although in many graduate students’ experiences, committee members don’t carefully read through the thesis, they may –– so you still need to prepare accordingly. Also make sure to be respectful of your committee members' time, and plan ahead.

Here are some suggestions from group members' experiences choosing and working with a committee.

  • Pick a committee you would actually like to have feedback from!

    • Note: Your thesis committee does not have to be the same as your qual committee

  • Several months before you plan to send your dissertation, ask committee members whether they are willing to be on your committee.

    • They will likely say yes, but do not expect them to say yes.

    • Send a thank-you email if they do agree to be on your committee

  • Check / update committee form on CalCentral Check

    • Dissertation Committee on CalCentral (by beginning of term): Ensure that all members listed are correct and show as “active”. If you have a committee member outside of the university, double-check that their email address is correct as well, as the final signature eForm will be routed to this email address for their approval. If your committee is not up to date, you can change it at any time by going to CalCentral > My Dashboard > Submit a Form > Higher Degrees Committee eForm > Committee type “Doctoral”.

    • If one of your selected committee members is not on the academic senate (e.g. I had my mentor from NREL on my committee), you'll have to upload their CV and get advanced permission. Make sure to do this asap

  • Ask committee members how long they will need to read your thesis and either approve it or send comments, in order to be able to reasonably plan your timeline

  • Be prompt, send them your thesis with enough time for them to read it

  • Don’t hesitate to send follow-up emails if they do not respond. They are busy and, in the experience of our group members, they often don’t respond the first time =D

Make a dissertation/graduation timeline

Have a plan and timeline with Kristin, and a backup plan! Here are some strategies [TO DO: get Kristin's approval on this part of the doc]

  • Ask Kristin how long she will need to read your thesis and send comments (she’s said 1-2 weeks or 3 weeks to us in the past; however, this will change depending on her timeline/bandwidth in a given semester, so be sure to ask her explicitly)

  • Figure out if you will submit before the Spring, Summer, or Fall campus-wide deadlines (check the deadline here)

  • Your thesis has to be approved by your committee and submitted to the Grad Division on or before the campus-wide deadline.

    • All edits or requested changes from committee member revisions must be added to your document before this date

    • Note: However, if the Grad Division requests changes after this date, you can make those changes and resubmit without getting penalized

  • Then count backwards based on how much time your committee will need to read, how much time Kristin will need to read, and an estimate of how much time you’d need to implement changes

    • Deadline MINUS committee edits MINUS committee reading time MINUS Kristin edits MINUS Kristin reading time MINUS possible buffer time

    • E.g. for me, Aug 13 2021 – (2 weeks for committee edits) – (2 weeks for committee reading time) – (3 weeks for Kristin edits) – (3 weeks for Kristin reading time) – (1 week buffer in case life happens) = final draft to Kristin May 28, 2021

    • Note that I (Rachel) still missed my deadline (twice...), and lived to tell about it. A deadline should be a guideline, but sometimes life happens, and if you miss the deadline you can still get a PhD.

What do you need to submit?

Permissions, self-plagiarism, and embargos

You have to include the proper permissions or it’s considered “plagiarism.” Permissions are a doozy… sp I’d recommend to start that early. Here is a summary of the types of permissions you'll need, from my experience.

Author permissions

If you are using work that has been published or is a collaboration with others, you need to get written permission from your co-authors that it is ok to use this work in your thesis (even if you are the lead author!)

  • Last I checked, this can just be done over email. E.g., you can write an email to coauthors requesting they respond to an email

  • I didn’t know this and had co-authors sign PDFs stating their permission. There’s no formal template how to do this, but here are some templates I wrote that you could use:

Journal permissions

If you are using work that has been published, depending on the journal you may have to get written permission from the journal to reproduce or adapt the content (yes, even though it’s your work…). Note that this is the same process you'd follow if you're reproducing something from the literature in a written manuscript or review article.

Here’s an overview of how to go about this process (it varies by journal):

  • Go through the checklist.

    • If the link takes you to a form to fill out, select “republish in a thesis or dissertation” as type of use (TOU) and go through the checklist and it should be free. Once you fill out the form, it should take you to an order confirmation page. Take a screenshot of that page and save it. This is the route for most Elsevier, IEEE, (others?) journals

    • For open access journals and some others, the link will send you to a page that says “Permission/license is granted for your order at no charge.” Take a screenshot of this.

    • If the link says “Please contact the publisher directly to request permission for this type of use” (e.g. for ACS journals), then try going to the webpage your paper is published on and find a “permissions” form pertaining to that journal. Or if in doubt contact somebody from the journal.

  • Submit the PDFs of author and journal permissions when you file your thesis (TODO: I forget which stage this is?)

Submitting the dissertation

  1. Submit your thesis on ProQuest (this is what will go into the archives)

Embargoing your thesis

You have to embargo thesis if you use unpublished work or it’s considered “plagiarism” when you publish your work, so strategize about how you want to do this and make a plan with Kristin

  • You can embargo for up to two years, and request an extension if you need to embargo for longer

  • Downside (or upside depending on your relationship with your thesis?) to embargoing is that your thesis is not available for anybody to read

General/random tips

  • Always really good to be explicit and clear with your committee about expectations and deadlines

  • You fellow group members and colleagues can be a huge resource!

    • Since committee may not read your thesis in detail, it can be useful to ask colleagues (in the group or elsewhere) to read through intro or other parts not in papers.

    • Find an intro-read through buddy! It was useful to have my intro read by folks who were not in my research field to assess whether it made sense

  • Accountability writing groups are useful, too. Make one!

  • Start on the acknowledgments early!! It was really useful for me to reflect on gratitude and write this before I was burned out on thesis writing

  • (TO DO: add some tips for choosing a title)

Paperwork and requirements

Departmental graduation requirements

Figure out funding and student status

  • Plan with Kristin which semester will be your last semester, and whether you will be a full-time enrolled student or on filing fee

    • If you plan to file at the end of a semester and/or will be taking courses or researching full time, makes sense to enroll as a full-time student

    • If you plan to file in the middle of a semester and not be a full-time student, filing fee is likely your best option

      • CAUTION: make sure you look up the deadline and select to go on filing fee before the deadline! If you miss it, it’s a massive headache to go on filing fee retroactively

      • Filing fee does not cover health insurance. If you will be on filing fee, make a plan with Kristin about how your health insurance will be paid

  • Also have a backup plan in case something gets delayed and you have to file late (e.g. you need to make changes for the committee, or life happens)

  • You will likely be working with Sonia Dominguez (LBL) or Miriam Kader (UC Berkeley) on this status change, and will want to contact your department administrator (Ariana Castro if you’re in MSE or AS&T) to discuss details

Other requirements

Note: this section is borrowed from the UC Berkeley Math Department's page (TODO: update this for MSE, AS&T, and Chem/ChemE?)

  • Update Expected Graduation Term to current term (by beginning of term): Expected Graduation Term (EGT) must be set to the term in which you plan to graduate in order for you to be added to the campus degree list. Students can update their EGT by going to CalCentral > My Dashboard > Submit a Form > Change of Expected Graduation Term Request.

  • Check Academic Progress Report for incomplete milestones (by beginning of term): The Academic Progress Report (APR) shows all milestones required to complete a degree. Check your APR to ensure that only the dissertation filing milestone is incomplete. If any other milestones show as incomplete, please contact your GSAO. You can view your APR at CalCentral > My Academics > Degree Progress > View Academic Progress Report.

  • Submit Departmental Intent to Graduate Form (by departmental deadline): Advising staff will send this prior to the deadline each semester, generally in February and October for spring and fall respectively, but you are welcome to submit as soon as the semester in which you intend to graduate begins.

  • Review CalCentral incomplete tasks and complete any outstanding forms or surveys (at least three weeks prior to filing): A list of incomplete tasks can be found on your CalCentral dashboard.

Graduating at UC Berkeley

Exit talk

UC Berkeley notoriously does not require a thesis defense as a graduation requirement. However, if you feel this is anticlimactic and would like to give a talk to summarize your experience in grad school, many departments offer the option of planning an "exit talk."

  • MSE: MSE is just starting this tradition, and is opening up slots in the departmental seminar for graduating students to give talks. If you are interested in doing so, please reach out to Prof. Zak Al Balushi or Ariana Castro.

  • AS&T: AS&T has a tradition of voluntary exit talks in their seminar series. If you are interested, reach out to Prof. Junqiao Wu or Ariana Castro.

  • Chem/ChemE: [someone please add this]

How to get proof of graduation

If you are applying for jobs before you graduate, you may need to get proof of graduation before you recieve your official diploma.


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