The Doctor of Philosophy

The Department offers a Doctoral Program leading to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. It typically takes four to six years to get a Ph.D. The Ph.D. program is focused on research. There are course requirements in the first three terms, but starting in the third term the main focus is on research, guided by an advisor and supervisory committee.

The goal of every student in the Ph.D. program is the production of a doctoral dissertation. Some of the milestones along the way are:

  • Passing an area exam administered by the supervisory committee, which tests mastery of the general subject area and context of the student’s research interests.
  • Writing a paper on the subject of the first year of research (called the “690 paper” because the first year is classified as a course with this number).
  • Submitting a dissertation prospectus and being admitted to candidacy.
  • Writing and defending the dissertation.

To keep this process as free from trauma as possible, students are required to give practice talks throughout their career, starting in the third term. Every student gives an “official graduate-student talk” to the department once a year. These talks are attended by faculty members and other students. They allow students to learn how to give a talk, and allow the faculty to stay acquainted with what all the students are doing. There is one such talk per week.

The formal dissertation defense has two phases; a public talk that all members of the department are encouraged to attend, followed by a private encounter between the faculty and the Ph.D. candidate. Having part of the defense take place in public minimizes the mystery that students might otherwise perceive in the process.

We make every effort to make sure students succeed in the Ph.D. and Master’s program. If problems arise, we try to correct them rather than look for an excuse to eject someone. In particular, if a Ph.D. student encounters trouble meeting the requirements in the first two years, our first goal is to make sure that the student has a supervisory committee that is well matched to his or her interests and talents. Although it is not uncommon for the student and the department to realize jointly that graduate education is probably not what the student really wants to do, it is very rare for the department to give up on a student unilaterally.

Applicants to the Ph.D. program who already have Master’s degrees may under some circumstances waive some of the requirements. This and other details are spelled out in the Graduate Handbook.