The Catholic University of America

Ph.D. Degree

Ph.D. Candidacy

The next stage for PhD students after successful completion of the comprehensive examinations is to advance to candidacy for the PhD. Advancement to candidacy is not automatic. The Department will review each student’s transcript, seminar papers turned in for research credit, and performance on the comprehensive examinations. It is expected that the candidate will also have been accepted for supervision by a Ph.D. advisor.  On the basis of these criteria, the Department will vote on allowing students to proceed to candidacy. Candidacy for the doctoral degree begins formally on the first day of the semester following successful completion of the comprehensive exam and subsequent Department approval. The student has five years from this date of formal admission to candidacy to complete, defend and deposit the dissertation.

The Dissertation Proposal

The Ph.D. dissertation topic must be submitted and approved within two calendar years after the date of admission to candidacy. The development of the topic is the responsibility of the candidate working together with the professor who will direct the dissertation, and the two additional faculty members who will serve as dissertation readers. When the student has defined the project to the satisfaction of the committee, he/she formally prepares a proposal which in no more than two pages describes the issues the dissertation will address, the contribution to the literature it will make, the sources and methodology to be employed, and a brief bibliography of the relevant background literature on the subject (a set of guidelines for the dissertation proposal as prescribed by the University is available from the Dean of Graduate Studies and students must read these carefully before submitting the final proposal). This proposal, together with the names of the faculty members who will constitute the dissertation committee, is then considered for approval by a vote of the entire faculty of the Department. When that approval is given, the proposal is forwarded to the School of Arts and Sciences.

Students should note that once a proposal has been approved, the School of Arts and Sciences requires either that the committee and the topic (even the title) of the final dissertation conform exactly to that of the originally approved proposal, or else that formal application for change be made to the School. Any changes, therefore, have to be brought to the attention of the School administration, via forms for that purpose, prior to the submission of the final draft of the dissertation.

Time Limits and Continuous Registration

The candidate has a total of five years from the time of entering candidacy to complete all of the requirements for the degree. If the final oral defense of the dissertation is not completed within the five years, the student must petition the Dean in writing for an extension. Unless there has been a leave of absence granted during the five year period, the extension can be granted for no more than one year. Be aware that these time limits are taken seriously and that a student who does not conform to them may be dropped from the program.

It is equally important that the student be continuously registered during the five-year period. The ordinary expectation is that the student will enroll for a one-credit course (History 997, 998 - Dissertation Guidance) each semester during dissertation writing. The only exception arises in situations stemming from serious reasons approved by the school (e.g. serious health problems, required military service, major family difficulties) which result in involuntary interruption of graduate studies. In such cases the student is permitted to take a leave of absence, which costs no tuition but presupposes that the student will not have academic guidance from his/her dissertation committee (and a leave of absence also means that a student loses access to library and computer facilities during the leave). In order to do so, a student must address such a request in writing to the Department Chair, who will pass on his/her recommendation to the Graduate Dean for approval. Students are cautioned that the reasons for the leave are reviewed quite carefully and approval is given for only a single semester at a time.

Students are strongly cautioned that if continuous enrollment is broken, the student is automatically dropped from candidacy by the university. The result is that the student must re-apply for the Ph.D. program.

There is another serious implication of these rules for the dissertation student: the financial implication. Students must expect that they will be required to pay for the full dissertation guidance (equal to the cost of one credit hour) for each semester during which they are working on completing the dissertation. Moreover, university regulations require that the student must be registered for full dissertation guidance during the semester when the dissertation proposal is submitted, and during the semester when the dissertation is submitted for committee approval; not even the extenuating circumstances set out above can alter this. Moreover, students must also be aware that under current rules the University does not regard a leave of absence as constituting full-time student status, and therefore will not certify such for the purposes of postponing repayment of student loans. It is vital that all graduate students plan ahead financially for these circumstances.

Completion of the Dissertation

The University has complex regulations regarding the style of the completed dissertation and the details of the final oral defense. When a student approaches the end of the project, he/she should contact the Office of Graduate Studies for the detailed regulations governing the final submission of the dissertation.

After the dissertation has been completed to the satisfaction of the dissertation committee and the committee has certified in writing their approval, the final stage in the requirements for the Ph.D. is an oral defense of the dissertation, which is normally a two-hour examination conducted by the dissertation committee plus a defense Chair and Secretary chosen from outside the Department and assigned by the School of Arts and Sciences. A student must pass the defense of the dissertation, which is regarded as a separate act from the completion of the dissertation itself, in order to proceed to the degree. Dissertation defenses are regulated by School and University rules, for which students are referred to the pertinent parts of the Graduate Announcements.