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Timeline to Ph.D.

Many students wonder what the shape of their graduate careers will look like if they make normal expected progress to degree. When will they start thinking about a dissertation topic?  How will their teaching duties interact with completing degree requirements?  When will they go on the job market?  The following timeline outlines a model graduate career with the following broad parameters in mind:

  1. The Ph.D. requirements are designed to be completable in five to six years.
  2. Students should achieve candidacy by the end of the Fall term of their third year, and complete their dossier by the beginning of their fourth year.
  3. Financial aid is offered for twelve regular (fall/winter) terms.  The first year is on fellowship.  Students will teach thereafter until they achieve candidacy.  They will receive a non-teaching fellowship for one term in their first year of candidacy, and may usually expect two additional terms or more before graduating. Students who win outside fellowships will get more, provided that they are making satisfactory progress.
  4. Students should expect to go on the job market in their sixth year—that is, their last year of dissertation writing before graduation.

In this model timeline, entries for terms illustrate the typical content of one’s academic work for those terms; entries for support illustrate the sources of support a student can expect for that year; normal expected progress describes the official milestones students should have achieved that year.  This timeline is a model only. Some students will move more quickly through the program than this, especially if they have earned program units from coursework in a previous graduate philosophy program. Other students will take longer than this to graduate.  The model shows how students will need to progress through the program if they are to graduate before running out of guaranteed financial support.  Some students will enjoy more financial support than illustrated, because they were guaranteed more upon admission in virtue of their arriving with an outside fellowship, or because they win a competitive fellowship later (usually, a full-year fellowship for the last year of dissertation writing).

Under Rackham's policy of Continuous Enrollment, students must be registered for every Fall and Winter term until they graduate, with only few exceptions (for certain health or personal issues, military service, or study in another degree program related to one's Ph.D in philosophy). More information here.
The regulations are so constituted that one cannot obtain a Ph.D. without having satisfied the M.A. requirements along the way. Students in the Ph.D. program who have satisfied the requirements for the M.A. will be awarded the M.A. degree upon request.
First Year

  • Fall term:
    Proseminar, plus one additional philosophy courses. Courses outside philosophy should not be taken in the first term.
  • Winter term:
    3 courses, of which no more than 1 should be a non-philosophy course.
  • Spring/summer term:
    Independent study in philosophy.

Full fellowship support for Fall and Winter terms, including tuition and stipend; summer stipend for spring/summer terms.

Normal expected progress:
3 program units, 2 distribution units by Jan. 15; 6 units of study, 5 program units, and 3 distribution units by May 31.

Second Year

  • Fall term:
    2-3 courses. Students should take graduate seminars (500- and 600- level courses) in their anticipated field of specialization, if they have not already done so.
  • Winter term:
    3 courses.
  • Spring/summer term:
    Students should begin research on the dossier reading course under the supervision of an advisor. The dossier reading course provides students with their first opportunity to begin formulating ideas for a dissertation.

Support: GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) appointment fall and winter terms; fellowship for spring/summer. First-time GSIs will typically teach both regular terms receiving a GSI appointment (.5). Teaching duties will typically consist in leading 2 discussion sections of 24 students each, attached to a lecture course taught by a faculty member. First-time instructors should keep their fall course load light, so that they can adjust to the teaching load.

Normal expected progress:
8 or 9 units of study by Jan. 15; 11 units of study and 6 distribution units by May 31; start dossier reading course in the summer.


Third Year

  • Fall term: Dossier reading course and work on the dossier. Completion of candidacy requirements, if any remain. All other academic pursuits should take a back seat to this.
  • Winter term: Submission of dossier, if not already accomplished. Preparation of prospectus & prospectus defense. Both stages involve selection of faculty likely to serve on the dissertation committee.
  • Spring/summer term: Begin work on dissertation, if all other requirements have been met. Otherwise, top priority should be given to completing any outstanding requirements (candidacy, dossier, or prospectus).

Support: One term GSI appointment (.5), one term fellowship for students who have completed candidacy requirements by the end of the fifth term; otherwise, GSI appointment (.5) both fall and winter term. A summer stipend is again available for the spring/summer terms.

Normal expected progress: Completion of all candidacy requirements; dossier submitted and approved; optimally, prospectus scheduled or even defended.

Fourth Year

  • Fall/winter/spring/summer terms:  Prospectus defense by Fall term; work on dissertation.

Support: One term GSI appointment (0.5), one term fellowship for students who have achieved candidacy on time.  GSIs will typically start teaching their own introductory courses, and may apply for summer teaching.

Normal expected progress: Approved prospectus by Oct. 31.


Fifth Year

  • Fall/winter terms:  Write core dissertation chapters.  Compete for full-year outside dissertation fellowships in the fall, if eligible.
  • Spring/summer term: Work on core dissertation chapters; draft job talk, dossier paper in anticipation of job market the following fall.  To be ready for the job market in the fall, students must have the core ideas of their dissertation worked out and distributed to the dissertation committee by the beginning of fall term, so advisors can testify in their letters of recommendation that applicants will be able to graduate by the following August (i.e., before they fill the jobs for which they are applying).

Support: GSI appointment (0.5), fall and winter terms; fellowship spring/summer terms.

Sixth Year

  • Fall term: Apply for jobs; polish job talk, job paper, revise dissertation.  APA Convention job interviews in December.  Few students are able to make significant progress on the dissertation before the APA meetings, because the job market takes up so much energy.
  • Winter term: On-campus job interviews; complete and defend dissertation.

Support: GSI appointment (0.5), fall and winter terms (unless awarded a Rackham predoctoral fellowship or external fellowship).