Details on Program Milestones

Qualifying Exam

All PhD students take a three-part qualifying exam.  In the spring of their first year they take a written exam.  Over the summer before their first and second years, they write a summer paper with the guidance of a summer-paper advisor.  Finally, at the start of the fall semester of the second year, they have an oral exam in which they present and defend their summer papers.

OID Department faculty members evaluate students based on the quality of the three components of the exam: their answers to the written exam, the quality of their summer paper, and their presentation and responses during the oral portion of the exam.

If the faculty determines that the student has sufficiently mastered the skills needed to continue progress towards a PhD in the chosen specialization, then a student receives a passing grade. If the faculty determines that a student is missing some basic skills, it can specify remedial steps the student must undertake to receive a passing grade.

Remedial steps typically include, but are not limited to, reworking or retaking the written exam, improving or redoing the summer paper, and/or completing specific courses with a sufficient grade. The student must complete all qualifying exam conditions by May 31 of the student’s second academic year.

If the faculty determines that a student is sufficiently far from meeting requirements, or if the student fails to meet all conditions by the May 31st deadline, then the student receives a failing grade and may no longer continue in the program.

Written Qualifying Exam

All students take the written qualifying exam after the end of the spring semester of their first year.  Each department specialization determines the content covered by the exam as well as the format of the exam.

First-Year Summer Paper

During the summer between their first and second years, all students must complete a research paper under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Decision Making students often may identify a faculty advisor and a summer-paper topic as early as the fall of the first year, and all students should begin the process of selecting a topic and advisor by the beginning of the spring semester.  Students then work closely with their advisors throughout the summer and submit completed papers to the PhD Coordinator at the end of the summer.

Oral Qualifying Exam

At the start of the fall semester of the second year, students present and answer questions regarding their first-year summer papers to a group of at least three faculty members.


Identifying the Area of Research

During the second year, students identify potential dissertation advisors and develop with their advisors a rough plan of the type of work the dissertation will pursue.  This may take place as early as the fall of the second year and should occur, at the latest, by the end of the second summer.


Second-Year Summer Paper

Together with their advisors, students determine the topic of the second paper, which may be the same as or differ from that of the first-year summer paper.

As with the first-year summer paper, at the end of the second summer, students must submit completed papers to the PhD Coordinator, and early in the fall of their third year they present the paper orally to a review committee of at least three faculty members.


Dissertation Proposal and Defense

The dissertation proposal is the time at which students select a dissertation committee and propose a dissertation plan.  It should occur early in the student’s fourth year.

Having chosen a committee, the student circulates a written dissertation proposal to committee members.  The proposal describes the student’s preliminary results, along with a detailed plan for the work that the student will complete in the dissertation.

After circulating the proposal, the student presents it to the committee, at which time the committee provides explicit feedback to the student regarding the results to date as well as the plans for completing the dissertation.


Dissertation Defense

The final requirement in the program is the dissertation defense, which typically occurs around the end of the student’s fourth or fifth year.  As with the dissertation proposal, the student first circulates a written dissertation to the committee members and then defends the dissertation during an oral presentation.