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Ph.D. Regulations

(updated May 2019)

I. Introduction

II. Requirements for the PhD

III. Normal Expected Progress
IV. Incompletes and Timely Feedback
V. Calendar for 500 and 600 Level Courses
VI. Advising
VII. Annual Review and Probation Policy
VIII. Regulations Concerning Philosophy 596 (Reading Course), Philosophy 598
(Independent Literature Survey), and Philosophy 599 (Dossier Reading Course)

IX. Regulations Affecting Support

I. Introduction

This is a summary of the regulations and procedures pertaining specifically to graduate students in philosophy. Information pertaining to all graduate students can be found in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies: Rackham Academic Programs, which contains detailed regulations in regard to admission and readmission, registrations, fees and expenses, performance and conduct, and degree requirements.

The Department of Philosophy offers the MA and PhD degrees. The regulations are so constituted that one cannot obtain a PhD without also having satisfied the MA requirements. Students in the PhD program who have satisfied the requirements for the MA will be awarded the MA degree upon request. The PhD requirements are designed to be completed in ten to twelve academic year (AY, that is, Fall or Winter) terms.

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II. Requirements for the PhD

In the requirements listed below, and unless otherwise noted, those which can be satisfied by the "successful completion" of a course – the Program Units requirement, the Distribution Units requirement, and the Logic requirement – require a grade of B+ or better.

A. Program Unit Requirement

Students are required to take 11 program units in philosophy. The following will count as program units:

  1. Satisfactory completion of an ordinary graduate-level course in the Department of Philosophy. (Minimum: 6 such units.)
  2. Satisfactory completion of Philosophy 596 (Reading Course), or Philosophy 598 (Independent Literature Survey). (Maximum: 1 unit.)
  3. A graduate-level course in philosophy completed in another graduate program, as approved by the Graduate Studies Committee. (Maximum: 4 units.)

Philosophy 599 (Dossier Reading Course) does not count towards the program unit requirement.
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B. Distribution Unit Requirement

Students are required to complete 6 distribution units. Everyone must take at least:

  • 1 unit in history of ancient philosophy
  • 1 unit in history of modern philosophy
  • 1 unit in ethics (normative ethics, meta-ethics, history of ethics, or political philosophy)
  • 2 units in distinct areas of metaphysics and epistemology (epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science)

The remaining distribution unit can be satisfied in one of two ways:

  • either 1 unit in a distinct area of metaphysics and epistemology
  • or 1 unit in a distinct area of ethics (at least one of the two ethics units must be in normative ethics or meta-ethics)

The following may count as distribution units:

  1. Successful completion of an ordinary graduate-level course or seminar in the Department of Philosophy in the subject area of the distribution requirement. The course instructor shall determine whether the course may satisfy a distribution requirement in a given area and announce this at the beginning of term.
  2. Completion of Philosophy 596 (Reading Course) or 598 (Independent Literature Survey), provided the faculty advisor agrees in advance that the course satisfies a distribution requirement in a given area. (Maximum: 1 unit.)
  3. By petition to the Graduate Studies Committee: satisfactory performance on a comprehensive 3-hour examination offered independent of a course, or a term paper for a graduate course taken elsewhere that would be acceptable as graduate student work. (Maximum: 1 unit.) 
  4. By petition to the Graduate Studies Committee: regular course work done in another graduate program. (Maximum: 3 units in addition to the 1 unit mentioned in (3.), for a total maximum of 4 units altogether.)

Please note, concerning petitions to count work done elsewhere as satisfying program or distribution units: In order to have a pedagogical context in which to consider such petitions, the Graduate Studies Committee will normally entertain them only after the student has completed five units of study at UM.

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C. Additional Candidacy Requirements

Students must satisfy the following requirements before advancing to Candidacy.

  1. Philosophy 597, the Proseminar, required of all first year students in the Fall term.
  2. A logic requirement, to be met by satisfactory performance in Philosophy 413 or 414 or a more advanced logic course, equivalent coursework in another graduate or undergraduate program (as approved by the Graduate Studies Committee), or suitable examination (arranged through the Graduate Studies Committee). Satisfaction of the logic requirement by a course taken as a graduate student at Michigan, but not otherwise (ie, not by a course taken elsewhere, or by examination), will count as one program unit.
  3. Rackham's Cognate Requirement, consisting of at least 4 credit hours of graduate-level work in a field other than philosophy, completed with a grade of B- or better. Graduate work completed outside of Rackham may count toward this requirement, as can Rackham graduate courses cross-listed with philosophy. In both cases, the student must submit a petition to the Graduate Studies Committee to have such courses count toward the cognate requirement. Since this is a Rackham requirement, all such petitions must be approved both by Graduate Studies and by Rackham.

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D. Candidacy, Dossier, Prospectus, and Dissertation Requirements

1. Candidacy

Students will be admitted to Candidacy when, and only when, they have satisfactorily completed (a) the Program Unit requirement; (b) the Distribution Unit requirement; (c) the Additional Candidacy requirements (ie, Proseminar and Logic); and (d) any applicable Rackham requirements (eg, the Cognate Requirement).

As soon as a student achieves Candidacy, Rackham requires the student to form a dissertation committee. At this stage, it can be highly provisional, since a dissertation committee can easily be revised later if and as a student wants. (See the last paragraph of II.D.5.c below.)
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2. Dossier

In the final stages of achieving Candidacy, the student should begin to explore possible dissertation topics and identify members of the faculty who might serve on a dissertation committee or even as its chair. To help guide and structure this process, the student will enroll in a preliminary Dossier Reading Course (599) under the direction of a faculty member likely to serve as the director of the dissertation committee, with the aim of producing a dossier soon thereafter for review. The feedback received from this review should put the student in a good position to proceed to submit the final version of the prospectus shortly thereafter and go forward with the writing of the dissertation.

a. Dossier Reading Course

In the term during which Candidacy requirements are being completed or in the AY term immediately following, the student should enroll in Philosophy 599, the Dossier Reading Course or DRC, under the direction of a faculty member the student would like to consider as a possible director of the dissertation committee. The choice is not binding on either party as regards the constitution of the dissertation committee; it is meant only as a convenient opportunity for a trial run. The aim of the DRC is to help the student explore and identify a viable dissertation topic and begin substantive work on it, by working towards the two draft documents that will constitute the student's dissertation dossier:

  • a draft of a substantial chapter of the planned dissertation
  • a draft of the dissertation prospectus

The chapter draft cannot be a review of the literature or the state of the question, or any sort of merely critical or preliminary material. It should attempt instead to work out part of the dissertation's central argument and so show something of the dissertation's positive and original contribution. The draft of the prospectus should not be a long document, but rather a sketch of the dissertation's overall argument, setting out briefly where the work stands in relation to the existing literature, its general methodology and a tentative chapter plan, together with a general bibliography. Formulation of a prospectus will normally proceed in tandem with substantive work on the dissertation.  

Though desirable, completion of these documents is not required for the DRC. But the work done in the DRC should place the student in a position to complete them expeditiously and submit them soon thereafter for a Dossier Review, so that the student can devote the main bulk of their time to the dissertation itself. Students should approach a member of the faculty whom they would like to direct the DRC the term before the beginning of the term the DRC occurs. The student and the DRC director should decide together and in advance on the content and specific writing requirements for the DRC.

b. Dossier & Dossier Review

The student may submit the dossier at any time after the completion of the DRC. At that point, the student will select two faculty members other than their DRC director as dossier readers, again with an eye towards the eventual constitution of the dissertation committee (and again with no obligation on the part of either party). The readers will provide written reports to the student, the DRC director, and the Graduate Studies Committee; these reports should assess whether the student has identified a viable dissertation topic and has developed the work to the point that, with minor revisions, the student can proceed to a successful prospectus defense in short order. The reports should include constructive feedback on both documents, with an eye towards revision, so that any major changes can be sorted out at this stage, before lauching on the dissertation itself.

After deliberation, the GSC will offer its recommendation to the Executive Committee, any member of which may decide to call for a vote on whether to allow the student to proceed to a formal prospectus defense. If the GSC recommends that the dossier be approved and no such vote is called within one week, the dossier approval is complete. If the GSC does not recommend that the dossier be approved, the Executive Committee will meet to consider the case. Possible outcomes of the meeting include (i) dossier approval; or (ii) a decision not to accept the dossier. In the case of outcome (ii),  the result will be communicated along with a concrete plan (subject to constraints set down in VIII B) for working toward an acceptable dossier.

Once the dossier is approved, the student should be able to defend their prospectus in relatively short order, after incorporating the revisions recommended by the reports. The department's Charles L. Stevenson Prize, funded by the Marshall M. Weinberg Endowment, is awarded annually for excellence in a dossier. The prize will be awarded towards the end of Winter term, based on dossiers approved from the beginning of March of the preceding year through the end of February of the current year.

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3. Prospectus

Once the department has approved the dossier, the student should review the constitution of his or her dissertation committee, in consultation with his or her advisor, and make any desired changes. The committee should then meet as a whole to discuss the next steps and talk about a date for a prospectus defense. As the student has already written a draft of the prospectus and received feedback from likely members of the committee, it should be possible to make any necessary changes and submit a final version soon thereafter.

The prospectus defense is a meeting between the committee (or at least the philosophy members thereof) and the student to discuss the prospectus. The committee will decide on the basis of the meeting whether to accept the prospectus and notify the department thereof.
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4. The Candidacy Seminar

All candidates who (i) have completed their Dossier Reading Course, and (ii) are not currently on the job market, are required to attend the Candidacy Seminar each Fall term. (Candidates who have not yet completed the Dossier Reading Course are encouraged to attend.) The seminar does not require formal enrollment with the Registrar, and does not issue a credit or grade. Thus it does not count toward the MA or PhD course requirement, though it is a requirement of the PhD degree. The seminar is intended to help with students' progress and give them additional feedback. The Placement Officer will schedule the presentations of dissertation work and faculty members to be present, and each student will be required to make at least one presentation during the term.
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5. Dissertation

a. The requirement consists of the completion of a dissertation that constitutes a contribution to knowledge, and acceptance of the dissertation by the student's dissertation committee.

b. A set of regulations governing the preparations and submission of a dissertation is set forth in a Rackham publication, "The Dissertation Handbook". In what follows we will be concerned only with the regulations and practices specific to the Philosophy Department.

c. The dissertation committee should include no more than three members of the Philosophy Department, of which it is expected that no more than two would play an active role in guiding the student through all stages of dissertation writing. The chair of the committee must assist the student during all stages of dissertation writing and work closely with the student, on terms acceptable to both parties. The second active member may be consulted as needed, on mutually acceptable terms. The third member is expected to participate in meetings of the whole committee, but is under no expectation to meet on an individual basis with the student, or provide detailed comments on the dissertation before submission of a complete draft.

Students are expected to meet with their dissertation chair and second active member at least once each term. It is especially important that they meet with their whole committees at the end of the Winter term to discuss plans for a productive summer.

The Graduate School requires that each member of the committee submit an independent evaluation of the dissertation after it is formally submitted and before an oral examination is authorized. Therefore the candidate must have the entire dissertation approved by each member of the committee before the final version is printed. All members of the committee should have a complete draft of the dissertation not less than a month before the final version is due.

A student may change the composition of their committee at any time, or the committee members' respective roles, provided the student obtains the consent of the new members and of any continuing members who are asked to play a heightened role, and file a change of dissertation committee form with the approval of the Chair of Graduate Studies. Students need not ask permission of their current committee members to drop them from the committee or reduce their role on the committee, although courtesy requires that they notify them of such changes.
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d. The date, time, and place of the final oral examination for the PhD shall be announced to all department faculty and graduate students one week in advance; an abstract of the dissertation shall be distributed with the announcement; and the examination shall be held in a public place suitable for accommodating faculty and graduate students who may wish to attend. It is the student's responsibility to coordinate arrangements to meet these requirements with the department's Graduate Student Coordinator, and to report the date of the oral examination to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee, two weeks prior to the date of the oral examination.

e. After passing the oral examination on the dissertation, the student is required to deposit a bound copy with the department. This copy must have the title engraved on the spine.
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III. Normal Expected Progress

Achieving Candidacy should require the completion of no more than 12–13 courses: 11 courses to satisfy the Philosophy PhD requirements described in IIA, IIB, and IIC, and 1 or 2 courses (totaling at least 4 credits) to satisfy Rackham’s Cognate Requirement. The standard funding package offered students upon admission to the PhD program supports them for six academic years. A student making normal progress through the program will achieve Candidacy and begin the transition to dissertation work during the third year, will defend the prospectus and begin full-fledged dissertation work during the fourth year, and will devote years five and six to executing the dissertation and preparing for the job market. Hence students making normal progress should

  1. Have 6 program units complete by the start of their second year;
  2. Have 10 program units complete by the start of their third year;
  3. Achieve Candidacy and undertake the Dossier Reading Course by the end of the winter term of their third academic year;
  4. Have their dossier accepted and their prospectus defended by the end of the winter writing period (see V) following their fourth academic year.

These guidelines for normal progress will be suitably adapted for students in special programs and joint programs, as well as for students who pursue two degrees, pursue part-time study, or take leave, etc. The department recognizes that serious or extended illness, or other comparable disruptions, can delay progress; and that students can experience or encounter special difficulties in the program. The department may relax its expectations in regard to progress in such cases, as it deems appropriate.

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IV. Incompletes and Timely Feedback

The Department expects that work for a given course or unit of study will be completed in a timely fashion. The accumulation of incompletes has many unfortunate educational aspects, and failure to complete courses may jeopardize a student's progress to degree severely enough to prompt removal from the program, in accordance with the policy outlined in VII below.

The Department recognizes the responsibility of faculty to provide timely feedback on student work. The Philosophy faculty commits itself to provide students, within one month of receipt, grades as well as written and/or oral comments on all work they are responsible for evaluating. Students are encouraged to facilitate timely feedback by submitting their work on time and, for independent research, promptly requesting an appointment with their advisors to discuss their work. They are also encouraged to consult the DGS, their academic advisor, or a Department ombuds if a faculty member takes more than a month to grade or to provide feedback on submitted work.
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V. Calendar for 500 and 600 Level Courses

The Department recognizes that pre-candidates in their second year and beyond may find timely completion of seminars difficult due to the concentration of teaching responsibilities at the end of each term. To facilitate the completion of work in 500- and 600-level courses, the effective academic calendar for graduate seminars will be modified in the ordinary case (but at the discretion of the relevant instructors) to permit a Writing Period in between the Fall and Winter Terms. Fall Term seminars will usually end two weeks before the normal end of classes. (There shall be no modification of the calendar for the Proseminar.) Winter Term seminars will usually begin substantive meetings two weeks after the formal beginning of classes (that is, there would be a brief organizational/introductory meeting the first week of classes, to help guide students in course selection; there would be no meeting the second week; and the seminar would resume in the third week of term). The month of May will serve as the Writing Period for Winter Term seminars. Faculty teaching graduate seminars, especially in the Fall, are also encouraged to make available options for satisfying course requirements at a regular pace throughout the whole term, rather than in one massive paper at the end of term. If they do so, they may, out of consideration of the importance of not encouraging previous courses to compete with following term enrollments, require that all seminar requirements be completed during the Fall Writing Period.
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VI. Advising

Each year the department assigns an advisor to each graduate student who has not yet had a prospectus accepted. Students should take responsibility for meeting with their advisor at least twice a term, once at the beginning of term to discuss course selection and the like, and once in the second half of the term to discuss progress in completing units of study. Students should consult with advisors in regard to their academic plans for the summer.
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VII. Annual Review and Probation Policy

A. Annual Review

The department will meet in October to review the progress of each graduate student in their second year and beyond. Graduate students in their first year will be reviewed in May. Students will receive the results of their review from their advisors.

There is a presumption that a student's prospects for completing the program are not in doubt if the student has made Normal Expected Progress.

On rare occasions, the annual review raises serious questions about a student's prospects for completing the program – that is, for writing an acceptable dissertation in a reasonable amount of time. 

A student in danger of falling irretrievably behind will be alerted that unless their progress accelerates, they'll be placed on academic probation (described in more detail in VIIB). The alert will come with a clear condition for averting probation and a deadline for meeting that condition. A student who has been issued a probation alert and failed to meet its terms may be placed on probation. Probation will come with a clear condition for lifting probation, a deadline for meeting that condition, and a faculty member charged with helping the student frame and execute a plan for meeting the condition by the deadline. Failing to meet the probation’s terms could result in dismissal.

B. Probation Policy

The department reserves the right to make appropriate revisions to the policies outlined here when circumstances merit it. Students who believe that their circumstances (e.g. significant personal or academic setbacks or conditions warranting accommodation) merit extensions or exceptions to the probation policy outlined here may petition the GSC. Normally, a petition to be excepted from a probation deadline should be submitted at least one full semester before that deadline falls.

The procedures described below presuppose that students are continuously enrolled, and that they are not pursuing a research plan requiring extensive outside coursework.  Students who take AY Leaves of Absence, and students who have excellent reason to do extensive outside coursework, will be automatically subject to adapted versions of the policy. While they needn’t petition for exceptions to the standards articulated below, such students should meet with the DGS to discuss how the policy will be adapted to their case.

The decision to place a student on probation, or to alert a student that they are at risk of probation, will be made by the Department Executive Committee, normally at either the October or the May graduate student evaluation meeting, and on the following grounds:


Second years: Second years who have not completed 7 program units by the time of the October review meeting will be informed that failure to complete 7 program units by the May review meeting will result in probation. Second years who have not completed 7 program units by the May review meeting will be placed on probation immediately. The probationary period will extend through July 15 (following the second year) and the condition for returning to satisfactory standing will be submission by that date of the coursework required to complete 7 program units. For these purposes, at most one of these 7 program can take the form of coursework earning 3 credits toward Rackham's Cognate Requirement.

Third years: Third years who have not completed 10 program units by the time of the October review meeting will be alerted that failure to complete 10 program units by the May review meeting will result in probation. Third years who have not completed 10 program units by the May review meeting will be placed on probation immediately. The probationary period will extend through July 15 (following the third year), and the condition for returning to satisfactory standing will be submission by that date of the coursework required to complete 10 program units.  For probation purposes, at most one of these 10 program units can take the form of coursework earning 3 credits toward Rackham's Cognate Requirement.

Fourth years: Fourth years who have not achieved Candidacy by the time of the October review meeting will be alerted that failure to achieve Candidacy by the May review meeting will result in probation. Fourth years who have not achieved Candidacy the time of May review meeting will be placed on probation immediately. The probationary period will extend through August 15 following the fourth year, and the condition for returning to satisfactory standing will be submission of the work necessary for Candidacy by that date.


Candidates in their fourth year who have not had a prospectus accepted by the time of the May review meeting will be alerted that failure to have a prospectus accepted by the October review meeting will result in probation. They will also, if possible, take one of their terms of non-teaching fellowship the winter semester of their fifth year. Fifth years who have not had a prospectus accepted by the October review meeting will be placed on probation immediately.  The probationary period will extend through May 15 of the following year. The condition for returning to satisfactory standing will be to have a prospectus accepted by May 15.

1. Academic Support While on Probation

A student placed on probation will work with a Probation Officer, a member of the faculty responsible for helping the student frame and implement a plan for meeting conditions for returning to satisfactory standing. Because it is desirable for the student and the Probation Officer to have a constructive working relationship, the DGS will identify the Probation Officer in consultation with the student. At the student’s request, another faculty member, of the student’s choosing, may also participate in this consultation.

A student who receives a probation alert may be issued, or request, a probation officer, who will be identified by means of the procedures outlined in the previous paragraph.

2. Notifications

The graduate chair must notify the student and Rackham OARD in writing before the probationary period begins, explaining the reasons and conditions of probation; the start and end dates of the probationary period; funding support; conditions, if any, for returning to satisfactory standing; and options for appeal. Probation will remain in effect until the conditions meriting probation are remedied or the student is dismissed.

3. Funding

Normally, probation will coincide with the summer term, or with an AY term during which the student would have been on non-teaching fellowship. Students on probation will be funded as they would have been had they not been on probation. Students on probation are not eligible for Sp/Su GSI positions. (Unlike AY GSI positions, no student is promised Sp/Su GSI support upon admission. Every effort will be made to avert financial hardship for students who are prevented by probation from assuming Sp/Su GSI positions.)

4. Dismissal

At the end of probation, and upon the recommendation of the graduate chair and the consent of the Graduate School, a student may either be returned to good academic standing or dismissed from the program. The decision to recommend dismissing a student will be made by a committee consisting of the Graduate Studies Committee, the Department Chair, and the student's academic advisor. The graduate chair must notify Rackham OARD of a recommendation for dismissal.

5. Appeal

Students have the option to appeal the decision to place them on probation, as well as the decision to dismiss them. Appeals based on procedural grounds will be referred to Rackham's Academic Dispute Resolution Unit. Appeals based on the grounds for probation/dismissal will be referred to a committee of three tenured faculty not currently on leave. Two of these will be a standing Appeals Committee, appointed by the Chair. It is desirable that standing Appeals Committee members have GSC experience but not be current members of the GSC.  The third member of the Appeals Committee will be a faculty member charged with representing the student's view of the original decision, and selected by the student or (in the case that the student declines to name a third member) selected by a Department Ombuds.

VIII. Regulations Concerning Philosophy 596 (Reading Course), Philosophy 598 (Independent Literature Survey), and Philosophy 599 (Dossier Reading Course)

Doctoral students in Philosophy may elect Philosophy 596, 598, or 599 only in their third term of study or beyond.

Philosophy 596, 598, and 599 require the permission of the faculty director. Students must submit a proposed plan of study to their directors no later than the beginning of the term in which the course is elected. The director must accept this plan within a week of the beginning of the term. A plan will normally not be acceptable if it overlaps significantly with a departmental course.

Philosophy 596, 598, and 599 must culminate in one or more papers reflecting an amount of work at least equal to that required in an average 500- or 600-level course. These courses shall be graded on a scale of A+ to E, and on the same standard used by the faculty director in 500- or 600-level courses.

IX. Regulations Affecting Support

The Department provides several types of support:

Normal support:
The department guarantees all PhD students six years of normal support, including a stipend, tuition, and health insurance, intended to meet basic living expenses in Ann Arbor, subject to the conditions below. Support under this guarantee may come from any source, departmental or extra-departmental.

Fellowship support:
Students entering the PhD program without outside fellowship support may expect two terms of non-teaching fellowship support in their first year, and at least two terms of non-teaching fellowship support after attaining Candidacy.

Summer support:
The Department seeks to offer Summer support, beyond normal support, to all students in the first three years with a plan of study approved by the Chair of Graduate Studies. Study plans should take up the bulk of the Spring/Summer terms, with a rebuttable presumption that they be undertaken at the University of Michigan. An acceptable plan of study cannot normally consist solely in the completion of outstanding incompletes. Upon attaining Candidacy, students may apply for summer teaching opportunities.

The department's restrictions governing support are as follows:

1. Teaching condition. All PhD students enrolled in the program shall receive normal support for six years, provided that the student's teaching is not judged by the department to be so seriously deficient that the department could not responsibly place the student in the classroom.

Students judged to have deficient teaching may be required to carry out an improvement plan under the supervision of a teaching mentor as a condition of receiving support. Teaching support may be suspended after the end of the third year if a student's teaching has not sufficiently improved by that time. Students whose support has been terminated due to unsatisfactory teaching cannot expect to receive a Departmental recommendation to any teaching position when they go on the job market.

2. Restrictions on support in the 5th year and beyond. Students shall not receive a ninth term of support without having achieved Candidacy, and shall not receive an eleventh term of support without having an approved prospectus.

The department will not assign teaching or fellowship support to any student who is expected to run afoul of this regulation. In the normal course, the department assigns its available GSI and Fellowship support for Winter in the preceding November, and for Fall in the preceding April. Therefore, if a student expected to run afoul of this regulation satisfies the Candidacy or prospectus requirements after these assignments are made, there is no guarantee that support will be available for the following Fall or Winter, respectively, existing support commitments notwithstanding. Students should note that the department requires one full month for the evaluation of a dossier.

3. Deferral of support. Support guarantees are issued for specific years. Students must petition the Graduate Studies Committee to defer all or part of a support guarantee.

4. The Ten Term Rule. This rule, administered by the College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts, limits graduate students to 10 AY terms of GSI support from LSA General Funds. This includes regular term GSI appointments, but not summer GSI appointments. For more information, consult LSA's webpage on the Ten Term Rule. Departmental teaching support beyond the 6th year may be provided only if the Ten Term Rule does not prevent a student from receiving a GSI appointment and the department needs more graduate student instructors than can be found from those who have not exhausted their guaranteed support.