Last Updated: January 31, 2019


Dr. Hawkins’ students are encouraged to review and understand the following guidelines.  Doing so will help to reduce the stress associated with obtaining a graduate degree.  Students should contact Dr. Hawkins with any questions about these guidelines.  These guidelines will be updated on a regular basis and students should check them often to identify changes.


One of the purposes of a thesis/dissertation is to train the student how to write well.  As do other faculty members, Dr. Hawkins’ places significant emphasis on a completing a well-written thesis/dissertation.  Students should write carefully.  Students should evaluate their word choice for each sentence to make sure they are conveying the desired concept in an appropriate and accurate manner.  Texas A&M has many resources to help students learn to write better.  One in particular that you may want to utilize is the Texas A&M University Writing Center (  The center is for undergraduate students, but you may find some of their on-line materials helpful.  Graduate students may also want to hire an editor to review their drafts.  While this requires an out-of-pocket expense, it can significantly streamline the review process and completion of the thesis.


Deadlines and Administrative Requirements

       It is the student’s responsibility to meet all deadlines. 

       Office of Graduate Studies deadlines can be found on the OGS website under the “Dates and Deadlines” tab. 

       Students that wait until the last minute to meet a deadline should be aware that one or more faculty members may not be able to provide the needed input within the student’s schedule.  Typical situations include students that wait until the day that a form is due to get faculty signatures and then find the faculty member is out-of-town.  Another example is waiting until late in the process to schedule a defense date, only to find that one or more committee members are not available on the desired date.

       The College of Engineering requires Master’s students to submit their degree plan early in their program.  Master’s students are blocked from registering for classes after they have completed 9 credit hours unless they have an approved degree plan filed with OGS. 

       Students are strongly encouraged to submit a draft chapter of their thesis as early as possible for review.  This will provide Dr. Hawkins a chance to advise the student on needed changes in the writing style before the student writes a significant portion of the thesis/dissertation.

       The complete draft thesis/dissertation should be submitted to Dr. Hawkins a minimum of six weeks before the thesis/dissertation defense if Dr. Hawkins has not previously reviewed any portion of the thesis/dissertation.  If an extended review time is expected (due to the quality of the writing or scheduling conflicts), the draft should be submitted to Dr. Hawkins even earlier.  Students may submit material on a chapter-by-chapter basis to Dr. Hawkins. 

       If Dr. Hawkins has previously reviewed chapters, the complete thesis must be submitted to Dr. Hawkins a minimum of four weeks prior to the expected thesis/dissertation defense.  An earlier submittal date may be appropriate (see previous point).

       Students are encouraged to schedule a defense date as soon as they have a draft document (or partial document) for Dr. Hawkins for review.  In some cases, the student may want to schedule the date prior to submitting a draft to Dr. Hawkins in order to reserve dates on committee members’ calendars.  Scheduling the defense date is the student’s responsibility.  Students should be aware that committee members may not be available on the student’s preferred date due to other commitments.  Students should also be aware that trying to schedule a defense during the last week before the defense deadline may be especially difficult if they wait too long.  If a student does not meet the deadlines for submitting drafts to the chair and committee, the defense date may need to be rescheduled.

       It is reasonable to expect that you will have to submit two to six drafts of your thesis/dissertation (or individual chapters) to Dr. Hawkins before he feels that the thesis/dissertation is ready to distribute to the committee.  Depending upon the number of pages, the quality of the writing, and Dr. Hawkins’ schedule, each review may take 3 to 10 days to complete.

       The thesis/dissertation shall not be distributed to the committee until Dr. Hawkins has indicated that the draft is ready for distribution to the committee.

       The complete draft thesis/dissertation must be submitted to the committee members at least two weeks prior to the thesis/dissertation defense.  The thesis/dissertation is submitted to the committee only as a complete document (not as individual chapters).  These requirements are consistent with those contained in the TAMU Graduate Catalog – “The final examination may not be administered before the thesis is available to all members of the student's advisory committee in substantially final form, and all members have had adequate time to review the document.

       Holidays, semester breaks, faculty travel, or other faculty commitments may require earlier submittal of drafts and can impact the scheduling of a final exam/defense.  Students are encouraged to discuss a schedule with Dr. Hawkins and the committee members well in advance of the deadlines. 

       The student should conduct a practice defense with Dr. Hawkins no less than 7 calendar days before the defense date.  Before practicing in front of Dr. Hawkins, the student shall practice before an audience that will provide constructive criticism for improving the presentation. 

       Do not get any signatures on any form until Dr. Hawkins has signed the form.

       Any exceptions to these deadlines must be worked out with Dr. Hawkins in advance of the deadline.

       Dr. Hawkins wants to see his students graduate on the planned date and he will take every reasonable step to help a student satisfy the degree requirements as long as the student is making a diligent effort to meet the deadlines.

       FAILURE TO MEET ANY OF THESE DEADLINES MAY RESULT IN THE DEFENSE BEING DELAYED.  Please contact Dr. Hawkins before the deadline if you think that you will not be able to meet the deadline.


Thesis/Dissertation Proposal

       The research proposal is a description of the research which the student intends to undertake and which will be reported in a detailed, comprehensive fashion in the completed thesis or dissertation.  It offers the student an opportunity to convince the Chair and other members of the Advisory Committee of his/her ability to pursue the projected topic to a successful conclusion.  Filing the proposal is one of the requirements for the admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree. 

       The proposal should be prepared after the student becomes familiar with the body of literature but before the student begins data collection and analysis.  A proposal that is submitted too late in the process may result in the student having to redo data collection and/or analysis.

       The proposal is intended to be a description of what the student intends to do and should provide sufficient detail so that the committee has a good understanding of the students research intentions.  The bulk of the proposal should focus upon the student’s work plan for the research.  The total length of the proposal should be limited to 4,000 to 5,000 words.  Proposals that exceed this length may be returned without review.

       At a minimum, a proposal should include the following elements: Introduction, Problem Statement, Background, Goal/Objectives, Work Plan, and References.  Each of these is discussed below.  Additional sections may be added as the student sees fit.

       Introduction: A general description of the issues and needs that support the reason for conducting the research effort.  The introduction should be written so that a non-engineer can understand the general reasons why you are doing the research and the value of the expected result.

       Problem Statement: A statement of the challenge the student is addressing and what the student is trying to accomplish with the thesis/dissertation.  State the nature of the problem clearly and specifically.

       Background: A preliminary review of the pertinent literature on the topic.  This section is intended to show that the student is aware of the significant research done in this area by others and to identify the research that the student is building upon.  The background section should summarize pertinent previous research in this field, showing the relation of the material cited to the present problem.  References to previous research should be properly cited (see Reference section).  The background section need not be a complete bibliography, but should indicate that the state of knowledge in the proposed field has been surveyed.  This background section should be a concise synthesis of the literature.  It is not a memory dump of all the information the student has available.  The background section should be no more than one-fourth to one-third of the total proposal.

       Goal/Objectives: The student should identify an overall goal for the research and provide a list of specific objectives that the student will accomplish in the course of the research effort.  The objectives should be clearly stated in terms that lend themselves to observation and/or measurement.  The goal is the overall purpose of the dissertation research.  Think of it as your elevator speech (a 30-second conversation you have in an elevator that explains what you are doing).  Write it as a 25± word description that almost anyone should be able to understand.  Think of the objectives as the questions that you will have to answer in order to complete the goal.  Objectives don’t have to be written as questions, but they can be if you want to. 

       Work Plan: State the steps/activities to be taken to achieve the objectives.  The work plan consist of a series of task descriptions.  The work plan should indicate that the procedure has been thoroughly considered.  Describe the data that will be needed/collected and how the data will be acquired, the analytical techniques that will be used to manipulate the data, and the expected type of outcome from the analysis (but not necessarily the specific expected results – just a general indication of the type of expected outcome).  The work plan should state clearly how the research is to be done and should indicate that an attempt will be made to explain the results in terms of past research.  In writing task descriptions, address:

o   What are you attempting to do in this task?

o   Why are you trying to it?

o   How will you attempt to do it?

o   What data will you be using and how will you obtain the data?

o   What do you expect to get as a result?

o   How will you use the result within the dissertation?

       References: A properly cited list of references that are used in the proposal.  All references must be cited in the proposal.  The references should be consistent in form with the professional journal cited for style and format.


Thesis/Dissertation Preparation Guidelines

       Do not write any documents (proposal, thesis, etc.) until you have reviewed the TAMU thesis web site and the TAMU Thesis Manual. 

       The Thesis Office gives a “Saturday Seminar” on the requirements associated with submitting a thesis to the Thesis Office.  This seminar is typically held in February or March.  Students are strongly encouraged to attend this seminar.  A copy of the presentation is available at “Tips for Smooth Passage through the Thesis Office.”  Students are required to review this document.

       Students are encouraged to use the TRB Transportation Research Record or the ASCE Journal of Transportation Engineering as the style for their thesis/dissertation.  Dr. Hawkins will allow another style to be used if arranged in advance.  Students that use the TRR style should consult the TRB Information for Authors for formatting guidelines.  Students that use the ASCE style should consult the ASCE Information for Authors for formatting guidelines. 

       Students are responsible for knowing and following all thesis/dissertation guidelines and formatting requirements.

o   The applicable information in the TRB guide begins on page 4 in the Style section.  You should be following the guidelines for a peer-review documents (tables/figures embedded in text).

       Any conflicts between the TRB and TAMU guidelines should be resolved in favor of the TAMU guidelines (such as margins).

       Every document you send Dr. Hawkins shall be dated and have and have page numbers.  Electronic files should have a unique file name from all other files that you send Dr. Hawkins.  File names should have the format “student’s last name.chapter # or” 

       All documents that you submit to Dr. Hawkins for review should meet the applicable style requirements.  Exceptions include:

o   All draft documents should have 1.5 or 2 line spacing to provide room for comments.

o   In draft documents, text does not need to be rearranged to fill a page when a table or figure will not fit immediately after the reference to it.

       Revisions to proposals and thesis/dissertations that are for Dr. Hawkins review only should have changes from the previous draft identified by using track changes.

       If you provide metric units, make sure that they are SI units.  (FYI, SI units do not include cm.)

       You should proof-read all material you prepare before you submit it to Dr. Hawkins.  It is also recommended that you have someone else proof-read your document before you submit it to Dr. Hawkins.  Before you submit a draft document to Dr. Hawkins for review, you must print it out and look at it to make sure that looks the way you want it to.

       If you do not write well, Dr. Hawkins strongly recommends that you have draft material reviewed by an editor prior to Dr. Hawkins reviewing the draft.  Poorly written material will add two or more additional reviews to the process, potentially delaying progress by anywhere from two to six weeks.

       Dr. Hawkins requires that his students have a pre-submittal conference with the Thesis Office before he will sign the approval page.  In this conference, the Thesis Office will work with you to identify corrections that you need to make before you formally submit the thesis.  You can schedule this conference at anytime after you have formally scheduled your thesis defense.


Typical Comments by Dr. Hawkins

       See Dr. Hawkins’ General Writing Guidelines for typical comments, formatting guidelines, and other information that will help you write better.  Graduate students are required to review this information.


Reference Materials

       Dr. Hawkins has many examples of thesis and dissertations in his office that students may wish to review to get some insights into good and bad aspects of thesis and dissertations.

       Dr. Hawkins CE Profs website has links to the thesis proposals of previous students.  Students may want to review these proposals for insights into expectations.  However, following any part of one of these proposals does not guarantee that Dr. Hawkins will accept it.  Each student’s proposal is expected to stand on its own merit.


Thesis/Dissertation Defense

       Dr. Hawkins requires his students to present their research in a defense and offers the following guidelines and requirements to help students prepare for the defense.

       The presentation should be prepared to be approximately 20-25 minutes long.

       The presentation should provide a thorough description of what the student did on his/her thesis, how they did their analysis, and what he/she found from the research.  This is an academic presentation.  The emphasis should be on what you did and how you did it.

       The presentation should meet appropriate presentation guidelines.  There are numerous guidelines available.  One version is the TRB Annual Meeting Audiovisual Aids and Speaker Guidelines (the link provides only that part of the guidelines that is pertinent to presentation preparation.  The complete guidelines are available at

       The student should practice the early draft of the presentation in front of an audience. 

       After practicing the presentation before friends, the student should send the presentation to Dr. Hawkins for review and practice.  This presentation must be provided no less than 7 calendar days before the defense date and may be required sooner at certain times of the year.  Dr. Hawkins will work with the student to refine the presentation prior to the defense. 

       Dr. Hawkins’ students are expected to make an additional seminar presentation of their research to other students, faculty, and TTI researchers.  Dr. Hawkins suggest that you do this presentation in advance of the defense as practice.  If not done before the defense, the student will make the presentation after the defense.  Dr. Hawkins will make the seminar arrangements once he and the student have identified a date.