Rackham Dissertation Committee Duties

Doctoral degrees administered by the Graduate School include:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Conferred in recognition of exceptional demonstrated ability and scholarship in a relatively broad field of knowledge.
  • Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA). Offered in composition, conducting, and certain fields of performance for students demonstrating high competence in those areas. The degree program is intended to develop creative and performing artists with great breadth of knowledge and scholarship.

In addition to doctoral programs located in a single department, school, or college of the University, the Graduate School offers a number of Interdepartmental Degree Programs (IDPs). These doctoral programs, leading to a single degree, bring together faculty from two or more departments, schools, or colleges. Students may also initiate a Ph.D. program that integrates different disciplines and fields and that does not exist formally as a degree program at the University (section 8).

Doctoral education has two stages. Graduate students first take preliminary coursework to prepare for advanced research. During this precandidacy stage, students must complete at least 18 hours of graded graduate coursework on the Ann Arbor campus. Students who are successful in this coursework, who meet other program requirements including passing preliminary or qualifying exams, and who demonstrate readiness to do original and independent research are admitted to candidacy by their program. Certain graduate programs may have additional requirements. Specific requirements are available from individual graduate programs.


5.1 Candidacy Requirements

The precandidacy stage of the doctoral program prepares students for undertaking original independent research, and allows them to acquire knowledge and tools needed to be successful in an academic or research position. Students learn about their field of study and gain familiarity with standards of evidence, argument, practice and methods in preparation for candidacy when they focus intensively on a narrower area of research.

Graduate programs should conduct annual reviews to assess progress of students toward meeting candidacy requirements.

Students should demonstrate readiness to undertake independent dissertation research by achieving candidacy no later than three calendar years after the first enrollment in their Rackham doctoral program. Faculty determine candidacy requirements, and may set earlier deadlines. A student who does not achieve candidacy within three years can be placed on academic probation, unless the graduate program petitions Rackham OARD to request additional time because of extenuating circumstances (section 4.7).

5.1.1 Ph.D. Programs

Candidacy requirements include:

Bachelor’s Degree or Equivalent
The University of Michigan transcript (academic record) must show a bachelor’s degree or equivalent awarded by an accredited institution.
Minimum Rackham Grade Point Average
A cumulative minimum GPA of B (3.0 on a 4.0 point scale) is required for all graduate work taken for credit. Graduate programs may require a higher minimum cumulative GPA, or a minimum grade for specified coursework.
Coursework In Residence
A precandidate must complete at least 18 credit hours of graded (including the grade of S – Satisfactory) graduate coursework registered as a Rackham student while in residence on the Ann Arbor campus. Courses elected as visit (audit) do not meet this requirement, nor do any doctoral courses (those designated as 990, etc.).
Cognate Requirement
Before advancing to candidacy, students must complete 4 credit hours of cognate coursework with a grade of B- or better; certain graduate programs may have additional cognate requirements (section 5.2).
Registration if Preliminary Exams are Taken During the Spring or Summer Half Term
Students taking preliminary exams during the spring or summer half terms must be registered. Students who will be enrolled for either the spring or summer half term immediately following two successive terms of full-time fall and winter term enrollment may take preliminary exams anytime during the spring or summer half terms.
Preliminary Examinations
Rackham expects graduate programs to determine the form and content of preliminary examinations as well as procedures for administering and assessing these, and to inform students in advance about the format, schedule, procedures and expectations for these exams. A student must pass preliminary examinations to test knowledge of each primary field and all supporting fields. Students are entitled to specific feedback on their performance.
Additional Graduate Program Requirements
A student must fulfill any additional requirements specified by the graduate program. These may include, but are not limited to: passing of qualifying exams at the end of the first year or at another time during precandidacy; additional cognate coursework; competence in one or more foreign languages; residence on the Ann Arbor campus during certain terms; work experience; and preparation of a research paper or essay.

5.1.2 Doctor of Musical Arts

In addition to meeting general candidacy requirements for students in Ph.D. programs (section 5.1.1), students in Doctorate of Musical Arts programs must accumulate a minimum of 36 fee hours as a precandidates (section 2.1). A student who has a relevant non-Rackham master’s degree from an accredited institution on the Michigan transcript must accumulate only 18 fee hours. A DMA student who lacks the required fee hours may be allowed to pay for these at the rate published by the Registrar.

5.2 Cognate Requirement

Rackham recognizes the value of intellectual breadth in graduate education and the importance of formal graduate study in areas beyond the student’s field of specialization. Cognate courses are those that are in a discipline or area different from a student’s field of study but are related or connected with some aspect of this field. All cognate coursework must be approved by the graduate program. Cognate requirements may be satisfied in three ways:

  1. By completing 4 credit hours of cognate coursework in approved graduate-level courses with a grade of B- or better (certain graduate programs may have additional cognate requirements).
  2. By using coursework within the same graduate program but in a subfield different from the student’s own. A course in a student’s program that is cross-listed as a course in another program may satisfy the cognate requirement. In this case, the graduate program should notify Rackham OARD.
  3. By completing graduate coursework at another institution that meets the expectation of the cognate requirement, without transferring the credit to the transcript. This coursework must be completed no more than 5 years before admission to the current Rackham doctoral program. The student must provide Rackham OARD with an official transcript, and the graduate program should notify Rackham OARD that the coursework fulfills the cognate requirement. These courses do not apply toward the minimum 18 credit hours required for the degree and do not appear on the University transcript.

5.3 Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship Training

Integrity in research and scholarship is a fundamental value of the University of Michigan. It is the responsibility of all students to conduct research and scholarly activities in an ethical manner at all times. An indispensable part of graduate education is for students to become knowledgeable about the responsible conduct of research and scholarship appropriate to their discipline or field of study.

Effective for new students in the fall 2014 term, all Ph.D. students are required to complete training in the responsible conduct of research and scholarship before advancing to candidacy. Each graduate program determines the content and methods for providing students with this education and for ensuring its successful completion. Requirements may take the form of a course, workshop, or be part of a larger professional development seminar, but must include at least eight hours of face-to-face contact between students and faculty members, with more than one faculty member involved.

The Graduate Chair must certify that each student who applies to advance to candidacy has completed the required training.

Training in the responsible conduct of research and scholarship is optional, but strongly recommended, for students in master’s and DMA programs.

5.4 Advancing to Candidacy

Upon a student’s completion of the requirements for candidacy, the graduate program submits the recommendation through the online system, certifying the requirements have been met by the deadline for the term in which the student will become a candidate. Deadlines are listed on the Rackham Website.

Enrollment status changes automatically for a student who passes preliminary exams and is advanced to candidacy in the same term. Students advanced to candidacy are charged tuition at the candidacy rate and the change in status results in an adjustment to tuition and fees. For a student who advances to candidacy while enrolled in course 990, enrollment will be changed to course 995 with 8 credit hours for the term. If a student is enrolled in classes other than 990, enrollment status will be changed to include an additional 8 credit hours for a full term of 995 or 4 credit hours for a half term of 995. In either case, tuition and fees will be adjusted accordingly.

A student who has been enrolled full-time during successive fall and winter terms may take preliminary exams in May following the winter term without registering for the spring, spring/summer, or summer terms.

Doctor of Musical Arts students are not required to be enrolled during the term when advancement to candidacy takes place.

5.5 Doctoral Dissertation Requirements

Rackham’s Dissertation Handbook is a guide to completing Ph.D. degree requirements and submitting the dissertation, and contains information about procedures, advice for the oral defense of the dissertation, an outline of responsibilities of the dissertation committee, and steps for submission of the finished dissertation. DMA students should consult the School of Music, Theatre & Dance for program-specific dissertation requirements. In addition to the following doctoral regulations and requirements, students should consult with their department or program to learn about any supplementary requirements and visit the OARD Website for more information.

5.5.1 Time Limit for Completing a Doctoral Degree

Students are expected to complete the degree within five years of achieving candidacy, but no more than seven years from the date of the first enrollment in their Rackham doctoral program. Graduate programs should conduct annual reviews of candidates to assess progress toward completion of the degree. Students who entered their program prior to the fall of 2007 and have not completed their degree within the seven year limit should petition Rackham OARD for an extension of time to degree with a plan for completion. Effective for students entering in the fall of 2007 and later, graduate programs may request an unconditional one-year extension for students deemed to be making satisfactory progress toward the degree, providing a plan and timeline for completion. A program may request an additional one-year extension, but a student who does not complete the degree after two years of extension may be returned to precandidacy status and required to meet candidacy requirements again. Rackham will notify graduate programs of students who have not completed their degree within the stipulated period.

5.5.2 Candidacy Course Registration

Ph.D. candidates register in the fall and winter terms for 995, “Dissertation/candidate,” which consists of 8 credit hours for a full term or 4 credit hours for a half term. No part-time enrollment is possible. A student who defends in the spring/summer term must register for 8 credit hours of 995 for the spring/summer full term.

Candidates who register for a course should seek prior approval from their faculty advisors. Candidates may elect either one course per term or more than one course for a total of no more than four credits without paying additional tuition beyond candidacy tuition. Courses may be taken for credit or as a visit (audit). A candidate who does not elect a course during a term of 995 enrollment may, in the next term, either register for courses for no more than 8 credits or register for no more than two courses that total more than 8 credits. An additional course may not be taken in anticipation of taking none in a future term of 995 enrollment. Candidates who choose to take more courses than those for which they are eligible will be assessed additional tuition per credit hour. Course Registration for DMA Candidates

DMA students who have advanced to candidacy must be registered during any term in which they draw University services, which includes faculty consultation and guidance. DMA candidates who have accumulated the minimum number of fee hours required to achieve candidacy (section 2.1), will need an additional 32 fee hours to reach the required Required Fee Total (RFT) of 68 fee hours (50 fee hours for a student with a master’s relevant to the doctoral degree). Anytime a candidate registers for a course, he or she will also automatically be registered for 995, “Dissertation/candidate,” which consists of 8 credit hours (or a maximum of 8 fee hours) for a full term, or 4 credit hours (or a maximum of 4 fee hours) for a half term. A student must register for 995 during the term in which the dissertation defense is conducted and doctoral requirements are completed. A student who defends in the spring/summer term must register for either 8 credit hours of 995 for the spring/summer full term, or for 4 credit hours of 995 in both the spring half term and the summer half term.

Candidates who register for a course should seek prior approval from their faculty advisors. Candidates may elect one course per term (and will automatically be registered for 995) without paying additional tuition beyond candidacy tuition. This course may be taken for credit or as a visit (audit), but does not count toward the Required Fee Total. A student who does not elect a course during a term of 995 enrollment may elect two courses in the next term of 995 enrollment; no more than one course may be deferred in this manner (an additional course may not be taken in anticipation of taking none in a future term of 995 enrollment). Candidates who choose to take more courses than those for which they are eligible with candidacy tuition will be assessed additional tuition per credit hour; such additional courses will be counted toward the Required Fee Total.

5.5.3 Formation of the Dissertation Committee

Dissertation committee members are expected to have specific and complementary knowledge of a student’s area of research and to provide guidance and support throughout the research and writing process (or performance, in the case of DMA students). Nominations for dissertation committee service must be approved by the program and Rackham and are subject to the following guidelines:

  • Dissertation committees must have at least four members, including at least three tenure or tenure-track members of the instructional faculty affiliated with a Rackham doctoral program. Such faculty include those holding a regular or “unmodified” (i.e., not research, clinical, visiting, adjunct, etc.) appointment as Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor.
  • At least two of the four committee members must be from the candidate’s home program.
  • Committees may also include a person holding regular clinical, research professor, visiting, adjunct, instructor, or lecturer appointment. Subject to review on a case-by-case basis, a committee may include other qualified University faculty and staff, or person from outside the University who can provide expertise in the candidate’s research area.
  • Persons who do not have an earned doctorate, whether affiliated with a Rackham doctoral program or not, must be approved for dissertation committee service on a case-by-case basis.
  • Committees must have a cognate member who is familiar with the standards for doctoral research. The cognate member’s role is to broaden the scholarly representation of the dissertation committee beyond the candidate’s home program and to provide a perspective on the quality of the dissertation from outside the field of specialization of the candidate. Except for the committee of a student in an interdepartmental program, the cognate member must hold at least a 0.50 appointment in a Rackham doctoral program other than the student’s home department/program, and may not hold a sole appointment as research or clinical faculty, instructor, or lecturer. For committees formed after July 1, 2007, the cognate member may not serve as chair or co-chair.
  • A committee may have a sole chair or two co-chairs. By special arrangement, retired faculty members who were affiliated with a Rackham doctoral program or research professors may serve as sole chairs. Persons who may serve as co-chair, but not sole chair, include:
    • tenure or tenure-track members of the University’s instructional faculty who are not affiliated with a Rackham doctoral program;
    • research faculty;
    • instructors and lecturers;
    • similarly qualified University faculty or staff, or person from outside the University; and
    • former University faculty members who have moved to a faculty position at another university.

For further information on the composition of the dissertation committee and roles of the members, see Guidelines for Dissertation Committee Service.

Doctoral students must have their graduate program coordinator submit a Dissertation Committee form at least six months prior to the defense. If committee membership changes, the graduate program coordinator submits a new Dissertation Committee form.

5.5.4 Human Subject and Other Research Approval

Federal regulations and University policy require that all investigations using human beings as subjects of research be reviewed and approved by an appropriately constituted Institutional Review Board (IRB) before such investigations may begin. No dissertation based on the use of human beings as subjects can be accepted without prior review and approval by the appropriate IRB. In many instances, the faculty advisor will request the review, but graduate students should verify with their advisors that the necessary review has taken place and approval for the investigation has been granted. See the Office of the Vice President’s Website, Use of Human Volunteers in Research.

Special approval may also be required for animal research. See the Website of the University Committee on Use and Care of Animals.

5.5.5 Use of Copyrighted Material

Doctoral students are required to receive written permission from the copyright owner for any material to be used in the dissertation that falls outside the guidelines of fair use.

5.5.6 Dissertations in Languages Other Than English

If the primary literature on a subject matter is in another language, and the dissertation addresses a community of scholars who publish in a language other than English, a student may elect to write the dissertation in that language provided that all committee members speak and read the language and support its use in the dissertation. If a reasonably broad English-speaking community of scholars is actively pursuing the dissertation’s general topic, the dissertation should be written in English. All dissertations must include an abstract and title page in English. A second title page in the language of the dissertation may be included or the English title page may also include the title in the dissertation language underneath the English title.

5.5.7 Dissertation Formatting Requirements

The style and format of the dissertation must meet Rackham’s style and formatting requirements. See the Dissertation Format Guidelines and Dissertation Self-Editing Checklist.

5.5.8 Oral Defense Preparation

A candidate must register online to schedule a pre-defense meeting (in-person or remote) with a representative of Rackham OARD. The pre-defense meeting must take place at least 10 working days before the oral defense. Candidates are encouraged to bring a copy of the dissertation for a format review. OARD staff and the candidate review steps to complete the degree.

  • Oral defenses must be public. Candidates provide OARD with the date, time, and location of the defense, and OARD will publicize the information.
  • As soon as possible but no later than 10 working days before the oral defense, a candidate should distribute copies of the dissertation and abstract to all committee members. A committee member who does not receive a copy of the dissertation and abstract at least 10 working days before the defense may ask for a postponement.
  • At least 3 working days before the oral defense, Rackham OARD must receive and review dissertation evaluations from the committee members so that Rackham may authorize the final defense.

5.5.9 Final Oral Examination Report

The Final Oral Examination Report should be submitted within 48 hours, but no later than the deadline for the final term of enrollment. The student should confirm with the chair that the report has been submitted. Any disagreement over the acceptability of a dissertation will be resolved by the Dean of the Graduate School, who will act as final arbiter in consultation with the Dissertation Committee members. The Certificate of Dissertation Committee Approval must be submitted no later than the deadline for the final term of enrollment (section 5.5.13).

5.5.10 Post-Defense Meeting and Dissertation Revisions

The candidate must

  • final Oral Examination Report
  • Certificate of Dissertation Committee Approval
  • a final, correctly formatted PDF of the dissertation and abstract which will be the official copy of record and submitted electronically to the University’s Deep Blue digital archive
  • application for graduation via Wolverine Access
  • NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates
  • for Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Performance or Music Conducting, a program from each of the three recitals or performances as well as a final, correctly formatted PDF of the abstract to submit to the University’s Deep Blue digital archive
  • electronic submission of dissertation and abstract to ProQuest/UMI (optional)
  • exit survey of Rackham Doctoral Recipients (optional)

To avoid registering for another term or having the degree awarded in a following term, the candidate must submit these requirements to the Graduate School by the published OARD deadline for the final term of enrollment. A candidate who fails to submit these requirements by the deadline will be required to register for another term, or may be awarded the degree in a later term.

A candidate who fails to submit all requirements within one year from the date of the oral defense will be required to defend the dissertation again.

5.5.11 Submitting the Dissertation to the University Library

Every dissertation will be submitted electronically to the University Library as the official copy of record. After the post-defense format check, the candidate will upload a PDF of the final corrected and complete dissertation. Once the degree is conferred, the Graduate School will transfer the dissertation to the Library for electronic access in the Deep Blue digital archive. Additional information is available in the Rackham Dissertation Handbook.

5.5.12 Dissertation Embargo

Doctoral dissertations and abstracts are normally made publicly available upon degree conferral when they are deposited electronically in Deep Blue. In limited circumstances, a doctoral student may wish to postpone public release of the final dissertation of record that is deposited in Deep Blue, the permanent digital repository of the University Library.

A student who is considering such a postponement, also called a dissertation embargo, should discuss this option with his or her faculty advisor and the rest of the dissertation committee. The student is responsible for requesting an embargo of the dissertation, and the request must be approved by the chair (and co-chair, if any) of the dissertation committee. Embargo requests must be submitted before the final dissertation submission deadline with which the student is working.

Two dissertation embargo options are available.

1. U-M-only access. A student may choose to restrict access to the dissertation to members of the U-M community (those with a uniqname and a Kerberos password) for up to one year from the date of degree conferral. The title and abstract will be displayed in online listings of the University Library, but the content of the dissertation will not be available to view or to download.

2. Full restriction. A student may seek permission from the Graduate School for an embargo that restricts all access to the dissertation for up to one year from the date of degree conferral. Permission will be granted only when:

  • The student (or his or her collaborators) is applying for a patent on research contained in the dissertation and does not wish to make the contents public until the patent application has been filed; or
  • The dissertation includes information that is covered for a limited period of time by a confidentiality agreement or contains third-party proprietary information.

    Dissertations that are fully restricted are not included in the online listings of the University Library and the title and abstract are not available to the public or the University Community. Unless the graduate requests and is granted permission for an additional year of U-M-only access, the dissertation will be fully released.

Dissertation embargo renewal. At the end of the one-year U-M-only or full embargo period, graduates may ask the Graduate School to postpone public release for an additional year at the U-M-only access level. Full restriction cannot be renewed. Permission from the Graduate School is required to renew a deferral. Permission will be given only for specific reasons, such as the graduate’s intention to publish work from the dissertation in a journal or book with a publisher that restricts consideration of manuscripts derived from dissertations that have been made available online. (Please note that most publishers do not have restrictive pre-publication policies.) It is the graduate’s responsibility to request a renewal of the U-M-only dissertation embargo. Permission is not guaranteed. Graduates may ask for up to two annual renewals, for a total of three years.

A student may independently choose among several levels of embargo for the copy of the dissertation that is deposited electronically with UMI/ProQuest.

5.5.13 Final Dissertation and Degree Requirement Deadlines

Degrees are awarded three times a year, at the end of the fall, winter, and summer terms. The final dissertation deadline for degrees to be awarded at a given commencement is a firm date, and extensions are not permitted. Rackham OARD publishes the deadline dates for the intended final term of enrollment. By 5:00 PM EST on the published date, the candidate must have completed and submitted all degree requirements, including all format revisions, to Rackham OARD. A candidate who does not meet the final deadline cannot be listed among the degree recipients for that particular term, nor participate in commencement.

  • Each year OARD publishes deadlines for conferral of degrees in the same term in which a candidate meets all requirements. Students meeting this deadline may participate in commencement exercises, which are held fall and winter terms only. Students completing in spring/summer may participate in a future commencement.
  • OARD establishes two deadlines for conferral of degree in the following term without requiring a new registration.
    • The last day to defend is the last day of the term. Students whose oral defense is held beyond this date will be required to enroll for an additional term unless they have been granted an extension. To be granted an extension, a candidate must submit before the oral defense a note or e-mail from the chair of the dissertation committee that requests an extension and states that all revisions, corrections and other doctoral degree requirements will be completed by the deadline.
    • Rackham OARD annually publishes the last day to complete and submit all degree requirements without a new registration. If all requirements are not met by the published deadline, a new registration will be required. Candidates must submit final revisions to Rackham OARD within a year of the date of the defense (section 5.5.10).

5.6 Student-Initiated Ph.D. Programs

Some students have intellectual goals that encompass a combination of fields that do not exist formally as a degree program at the University. Rackham encourages and supports cross-disciplinary exploration and training, and allows well-qualified students to design their own Ph.D. programs as student-initiated degrees. A student-initiated Ph.D. program combines studies in two graduate programs that lead to a single Ph.D. degree citation (e.g., Ph.D. in Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies). A student-initiated Ph.D. program may include an Interdepartmental Degree Program (IDP).

A student must complete at least one term of coursework in a regular Rackham doctoral program before applying to a student-initiated Ph.D. program. Applicants must demonstrate strong academic performance and have the support of faculty of both graduate programs. Student-initiated degree programs may combine only the authorized names of the graduate programs. For example, a student interested in the history and philosophy of science may work toward a Ph.D. in the graduate programs of History and Philosophy. In this case, the degree program, and the degree citation, would be “History and Philosophy” and not “History and Philosophy of Science.”

Proposals for student-initiated Ph.D. programs are reviewed on an individual basis. Faculty advisors from the participating graduate programs must endorse the proposed program of study, which also must be approved by both graduate chairs and the Graduate School.

The proposed course of study should reflect the majority of requirements of both participating programs and specify all courses the student has taken and/or plans to take to satisfy these requirements. The proposal should also state how the student will meet the preliminary examinations of both programs necessary to achieve candidacy. The faculty who endorse the proposal may be asked to constitute an Advisory Committee to prepare and administer a special preliminary examination. The proposal should be submitted to Rackham OARD with a completed Request Form for Student-Initiated Degree Program.

When a student-initiated Ph.D. program has been formally approved, the student should form a dissertation committee as soon as possible. The committee must include at least two regular members from each associated graduate program. The dissertation committee is responsible for:

  • supervising the student’s precandidacy work and making recommendations for any changes to the specifications of the degree program;
  • conducting the preliminary examinations and all other requirements for candidacy, unless it has been previously specified that the student should be subject instead to the candidacy requirements of one or both departments; and
  • supervising the student’s research and the writing of the dissertation.

A doctoral candidate who applies for a student-initiated degree program will revert to pre-candidate status (including the tuition assessment) until all candidacy requirements for the new student-initiated degree program are fulfilled.

For more information, please see the Guidelines For Dissertation Committee Formation.

Download a PDF version of this chart.

In cases where the Chair is not employed by the University of Michigan, it is necessary to have a Co-Chair that is at University of Michigan.

* Professors with less than a 50% appointment must have special approval from the Director of OARD or designee to serve as cognate.

** Must be approved on a case by case basis by the Director of OARD or designee.

*** No Rackham affiliation required.

  • A committee must have a minimum of four members.
  • Of the four, three members must be from a Rackham Doctoral Program.
  • Of the four, two members must be from the student's home department or program.
  • Of the four, one member must have a 50% appointment in a Rackham doctoral program, other than the student's home department/program (except IDP programs).
  • Three members must have an appointment as professor, associate professor, or assistant professor with an earned Doctorate.

University faculty who were approved to serve as sole Chair or Cognate member but who are no longer affiliated with the University may not continue to serve as the sole Chair or Cognate member. The faculty member may serve as a Co-Chair or as a regular member based upon the eligibility guidelines for dissertation committee service.


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