Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

PhD Regulations

(updated September 2017)

I. Introduction

II. Requirements for the Ph.D

III. Normal Expected Progress
IV. Incompletes and Timely Feedback
V. Calendar for 500 and 600 Level Courses
VI. Advising
VII. Periodic Review and Removal from the Program
VIII. Regulations Concerning Philosophy 599
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 two announcements of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies: Rackham Academic Programs and the Student Handbook. The latter contains detailed regulations in regard to admission and readmission, registrations, fees and expenses, performance and conduct, and degree requirements. There is also a Philosophy Department Constitution.

The Department of Philosophy offers the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. The regulations are so constituted that one cannot obtain a Ph.D. without also having satisfied the M.A. requirements. Students in the Ph.D. program who have satisfied the requirements for the M.A. will be awarded the M.A. degree upon request. The Ph.D. Requirements are designed to be completed in ten to twelve terms.

Back to top

II. Requirements for the Ph.D.

In the requirements listed below, 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 of 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.
Back to top

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 above, for a total maximum of 4 units altogether.)

Back to top

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 doctoral student at Michigan, but not otherwise (i.e., not by a course taken elsewhere, or by examination), will count as one program unit.
  3. Rackham's cognate field requirement, consisting of at least 4 credit hours of graduate-level work in a field other than philosophy. 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.

Back to top

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 Units requirement; (b) the Distribution Units requirement; (c) the Additional Candidacy requirements (i.e., Proseminar and Logic); and (d) any applicable Rackham requirements (e.g., 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.)
Back to top

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 by the three faculty members likely to serve on the dissertation committee. 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 Fall or Winter 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.

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 they 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 student enrolls in it, and they should decide together 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 advisor for the DRC 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 both the student and the Graduate Studies Committee, regarding whether the student has identified a viable dissertation topic and has sufficiently developed the work such 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, 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 to approve the dossier and no such vote is called within one week, the dossier approval is complete. After a 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 February of the current year.

Back to top

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.
Formulation of a prospectus will normally proceed in tandem with substantive work on the dissertation. The committee (or at least the philosophy members thereof) will hold a meeting with the student to discuss the prospectus, after which they will decide whether to accept it and notify the department thereof.
Back to top

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, does not issue in a credit or grade, and so does not count toward the M.A. or Ph.D. course requirement, though it is a requirement of the Ph. D. degree. The seminar is intended to help with students' progress and give them additional feedback. The Placement Officer will schedule the presentations of thesis work and faculty members to be present, with each student will be required to make at least one presentation during the term.
Back to top

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 thesis writing. The chair of the committee must assist the student during all stages of thesis 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 thesis after it is formally submitted and before an oral examination is authorized. Therefore the candidate must have the entire thesis 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 thesis not less than a month before the final version is due.

Students may change the composition of their committees at any time, or their respective roles, provided they obtain 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. They 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.
Back to top

d. The date, time, and place of the final oral examination for the Ph.D. 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; a copy of the dissertation shall be made available in Tanner Library 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 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.
Back to top

III. Normal Expected Progress

Candidacy requires 11 program units. All other program requirements, except the cognate requirement, can be met within these 11 units. Thus, achieving candidacy should normally require the completion of no more than 12-13 units of study: 11 program units, and 1 or 2 cognates that total at least 4 credits.

The following constitutes normal expected progress in the program:

  1. Completion of at least 3 program units and 2 distribution units by the end of the January reading period in the 1st year.*
  2. Completion of at least 6 units of study, 5 program units, and 3 distribution units, by the end of May of the 1st year.*
  3. Completion of at least 8 or 9 units of study by the end of the January reading period in the 2nd year.*
  4. Completion of at least 11 units of study and 6 distribution units by the end of May of the 2nd year.*
  5. Undertaking the Dossier Reading Course no later than the beginning of the Summer term after the end of the 2nd year.
  6. Completion of all departmental and Rackham requirements for candidacy by the end of December of the 3rd year.
  7. Approval of a dossier by the end of May of the 3rd year.
  8. Approval of a prospectus by the end of October of the 4th year.

* Program units for graduate level courses in philosophy completed in another graduate program (II.A.3) may not count toward normal expected progress until all other required units of study have been completed. Distribution units for regular coursework done in another graduate program (II.B.4) may not count toward items 1 or 2; they may, for the purposes of these definitions, accumulate at the rate of one per term beginning in the 2nd year. The Graduate Studies Committee will not accept petitions for program or distribution units for work done elsewhere before the student has completed five units of study.

The criteria for normal expected progress will be suitably revised for students in special programs, joint programs, and pursuing two degrees, who pursue part-time study or take leave, etc. The department recognizes that serious or extended illness, or other comparable disruptions, can delay progress; that students can prove to have backgrounds below the normal range for admitted students; 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.
Back to top

IV. Incompletes and Timely Feedback

The department expects that work for a given course or unit of study will be completed on time. The accumulation of incompletes has many unfortunate educational aspects: it slows progress of students through the program; it causes competition between current course work and completing outstanding incompletes; it results in less timely feedback to students on their work; it reduces the educational value of a course, by distancing the writing process from intensive engagement in the discussions that take place while the course is meeting; it lowers student morale; and it induces students to avoid the professors to whom they owe work, thereby undermining their integration into the program. Failure to complete courses promptly 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. Failure to provide timely feedback to graduate students has many harmful educational consequences: students learn less from feedback far removed from the time when they were actively engaged in the work being evaluated; they lose time that they could have used to improve ideas and skills that faculty think need improvement; they may continue to make mistakes or go down blind alleys while awaiting feedback that could correct these problems; they may be unable to advance their line of research until receiving feedback on work to date; they may be distracted from current work by worries over delayed feedback, and belated faculty requests to revise old work; they may lack a sense of closure and accomplishment while awaiting feedback; they may infer that faculty don't care about their work, and thereby suffer reduced morale and alienation from the program. In view of these considerations, the Philosophy faculty commits itself to provide students, within one month of receipt, 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.
Back to top

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. 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). (There shall be no modification of the calendar for the Proseminar.) 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 before the end of the Fall Writing Period.
Back to top

VI. Advising

Each year the department assigns an advisor to each graduate student who has not achieved candidacy. 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.
Back to top

VII. Periodic Review and Removal from the Program

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.

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. In some of these cases, the Department can best serve the interests of both the student and the program by asking the student to leave. The Department's approach to such cases will be governed by the following principles:

  1. 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.
  2. If the Department is considering asking a student to leave the program, the student will be so informed at the time of the October review, and a final decision will be deferred until the following spring.

Students must progress through the requirements of the program in a timely fashion in order to finish the degree before their financial support is exhausted. The definition of Normal Expected Progress sets the pace that students should aim to achieve. The presumption articulated in principle 1 (above) offers an incentive to do so. To prevent students from falling behind irretrievably, the Department also sets the following standards for Minimal Required Progress:

  1. Either the completion of 8 program units, or of 3 credit hours of cognate coursework with a grade of B- or better plus the completion of 7 program units, by May 31 following the fourth semester (if the fourth semester is in the Winter) or by January 15 following the fourth semester (if the fourth semester is in the Fall).
  2. Either the completion of 11 program units, or of 3 credit hours of cognate coursework with a grade of B- or better plus the completion of 10 program units, by May 31 following the sixth semester (if the sixth semester is in the Winter) or by January 15 following the sixth semester (if the sixth semester is in the Fall).
  3. Approval of the dossier by May 31 following the eighth semester (if the eighth semester is in the Winter) or by January 15 following the eighth semester (if the eighth semester is in the Fall).

Failure to meet any of these deadlines will result in removal from the program.

If a student is in danger of failing to meet the Minimum Required Progress standards, they must meet with their cohort advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, or another faculty advisor (designated by the Director of Graduate Studies) in order to produce a detailed plan for accelerating their progress. A written copy of this plan will be kept on record in the student’s file. The plan must include strategies for holding the student accountable for their progress, such as concrete deadlines for completing work and a schedule of frequent meetings with members of the Department who will be helping the student succeed in implementing their plan.

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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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 by 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. Students shall not receive a ninth term of support without having achieved candidacy, and shall not receive a tenth 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 terms of support from LSA General Funds. This includes regular term GSI appointments and some fellowships, but not summer GSI appointments, Rackham Fellowships, or support derived from Philosophy Department endowment funds. 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.