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PhD Program Requirements & Milestones

The PhD in Asian Languages and Cultures is an interdisciplinary degree program that allows students to focus in the following areas of study: Buddhist studies, Chinese studies, Japanese studies, Korean studies, South Asian studies, or Southeast Asian studies. Students are expected to complete three years of course work at the graduate level. The degree program takes an average of five to seven years to complete including time spent researching and writing the dissertation. Below, you will find descriptions of all benchmarks and program requirements.

Course Work

Applicants with an M.A. from another program or university should be aware that their prior graduate work will not fulfill any of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree at the University of Michigan. The Department offers courses for graduate credit at the 500-level and above, but courses at the 400-level may also qualify for Rackham credit. Current course offerings can be found on the LSA Graduate Class Search.

Mentoring Committees

Upon admission to the program, the student will be assigned to a first-year mentoring committee consisting of a faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. By the end of the second term, the student will form a Mentoring Committee that will consist of a faculty chair and two additional members who may or may not be from the Department. The Mentoring Committee will be constituted by the student in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies at the end of the first year.

Language Requirements

Specific language requirements will be determined by the Chair of the Mentoring Committee. By the time the preliminary examinations are completed the student will be required to demonstrate a high degree of proficiency in the Asian language most relevant to the student's research plans. In some cases this will involve both modern and pre-modern forms of that language. This requirement can be satisfied by completion of approved sequences of course work in the language or by passing an approved test whose results are evaluated by a faculty member appointed by the Graduate Program Committee.

Fourth Term Review

By the end of the student’s fourth term in the program, she or he will submit a dossier to the Graduate Program. The Mentoring Committee will meet with the student to evaluate and discuss with the student his or her progress in the program.

Fourth Term Review Dossier

The student will provide, by a date set by the Graduate Program Committee, the following for the Mentoring Committee to review:

  • All of the student’s term papers written for courses both in the Department and in other units of the University.
  • A Fourth-Term Review paper submitted to the Mentoring Committee and presented to the Department.
  • Student's teaching evaluations
  • A statement of purpose and direction, indicating the relationship between the student’s completed and planned course work and dissertation.
  • An up-to-date copy of the student's transcript

In addition, the Graduate Program Committee will provide the following items for the fourth-term review dossier:

  • Statements from the lead instructors of any courses for which the student served as a GSI about the performance of the student as a GSI
  • Records of evaluations submitted by faculty members at the conclusion of each graduate course which are solicited by the GPC

Results of the Discussion

Following the formal review, the Mentoring Committee will provide the Graduate Program Committee with a written summary of the review. The Committee will recommend whether or not the student should continue in the Program.

In the case of a negative review the student's support will be withdrawn. A student who is determined ineligible to continue in the Ph.D. Program may receive an M.A. degree, if all the requirements for the M.A. degree are completed (24 credits).

Preliminary Exams

A "prelim" is an examination taken during the third year in residence of the Ph.D. program consisting of two written exams and one oral exam. The purpose of the Preliminary Examinations is to encourage breadth and evaluate the student's competence in specific fields. Passing the "prelims" qualifies the student to proceed to the next state of the program. The Preliminary Examinations must be completed before the beginning of the seventh term.

Steps in Taking the Prelims

1. During the 5th term the Mentoring Committee and the student will jointly decide the fields for the preliminary examinations.

2. The Mentoring Committee and the student will identify and obtain the consent of the appropriate supervisory faculty members for the respective fields. These supervisory faculty will make up the Preliminary Examinations Committee.

3. The students and the Preliminary Examinations Committee should meet to specify the two fields to be tested and begin developing two reading lists (one for each examination field).

4. Once the reading lists have been submitted, dates for the prelims should be specified.

Results of the Preliminary Examinations

The results of the preliminary examinations will be reported in writing by the supervisors to the Mentoring Committee and the Graduate Program Committee. Each of the readers will give the student a grade of Pass (P) or Not Pass (NP). For written examinations to be successfully completed, both examiners have to provide a grade of P. In the event that the student fails one of his or her written exam, he or she may be allowed to retake the exam once.


In order to advance to candidacy, a student must have: (1) successfully completed 36 credit hours in approved courses, (2) finished all incomplete course work, (3) met the first and second research languages requirement, and (4) passed preliminary examinations. The Graduate Program Committee should be notified in writing by the Chair of the student's Mentoring Committee once the student completes each of these benchmarks. The Graduate Program Coordinator will then file the necessary paperwork with Rackham to have the student advanced to candidacy.

Dissertation Committee

Upon reaching candidacy, the student selects a Dissertation Committee comprising of four faculty members in consultation with his or her Mentoring Committee. The Mentoring Committee will then be dissolved. The Dissertation Committee consists of a Chair from within the Department, one cognate member (from outside the department), and at least two other faculty members, one of which must be from within the Department. The student must notify the Graduate Program Coordinator in writing once all members of the Dissertation Committee have been confirmed.


Prospectus Date

The dissertation prospectus must be presented to the Dissertation Committee no later than the end of the student's seventh term in residence. The specific date for the presentation prospectus will be set in consultation with the Dissertation Committee. The candidate will establish the structure and content of his or her prospectus in consultation with the Chair of their Dissertation Committee.

Presentation of the Prospectus

The presentation of the prospectus must be attended by the Dissertation Committee and will be open to all interested faculty and students. Following the presentation, the Dissertation Committee will inform the Graduate Program Committee in writing of the results of the presentation.

Dissertation and Oral Defense

The Ph.D. dissertation must be based upon original research. It must demonstrate mature scholarship and critical judgment, as well as familiarity with the tools and methods of research, and constitute a contribution to knowledge in the candidate's specific field.

Date of the Defense

Complete copies of the dissertation, in compliance with the Graduate School's rules for formatting, will be submitted to the Department before the date of the oral defense. The dissertation will be reviewed by the Dissertation Committee.

Oral Defense of the Dissertation

An oral defense will follow the submission of the dissertation. During the defense, which will be open to the public, the candidate will make a presentation and answer questions regarding the dissertation and related topics. The Department and the student will be informed of the outcome according to the relevant Graduate School rules.