Home Graduate Doctoral Program Ph.D Students Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for current PhD students

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for current PhD students

Click the questions to see the answers.

What funding support do I get?

How many credits must I take, and how many “units” do I need, for the Graduate School to certify full-time status?

What work would I do as a Graduate Assistant?

What’s the general timeline in the PhD program?

What courses should I take in the first two years?

May I add or drop a course after the semester has started?

What’s PLCY898: Pre-Candidacy Research, and when should I take it?

What is the process of the Comprehensive Exams?

How do I advance to candidacy?

Must I prepare a computer slide show?

How do I register for PLCY899: Doctoral Dissertation Research?

Is funding support available for dissertation research and writing?

May I have a co-author on a chapter of my dissertation?

The funding package for a PhD student is determined at the time of admission.  A typical package has guaranteed two years of funding in the form of a graduate assistantship or a fellowship or both.​  The School has always tried to help individual students in need and hopes to enhance its typical funding package in future as its new Undergraduate Major begins to generate TA opportunities, but as of Fall 2017 the guarantee remains as stated.

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How many credits must I take, and how many “units” do I need, for the Graduate School to certify full-time status?

The Graduate School converts course credits to “units.”  To be certified as full-time, a graduate student each semester must register in courses together yielding (at least) a certain number of units.  Confusingly, the “certain number” varies by stage and circumstance.  The Graduate School’s full description of its policy can be found here: Designation of Full-Time and Part-Time Status.  What you need to know (but do not need to memorize) is sketched out below:

Credits and units for courses numbered 600 through 897

Full-time status may be established in various ways.  One way is to earn 48 units.  Here’s a common way to do that.

Most courses convey 3 credits, but some convey fewer and others more.

(3 credits/course)(6 units/credit) = 18 units/course

(3 courses)(18 units/course) = 54 units

Since 54 units > 48 units, a student taking three 3-credit courses has FULL-TIME status.

Students taking lighter course loads may also establish FULL-TIME status.  One way to to earn 48 units exactly.  The other way is to secure a Graduate Assistantship, whether it be called a “GA,” an “RA,” a “TA,” or a “CA.”   Graduate Assistantships are always assumed to further scholarly research, however indirectly; therefore, they convey units.  Thus, students with no GA at all, students with one-half GA, and students with a full GA differ in the number of additional units they must add to maintain full-time enrollment.  Here’s a summary:

  • 0.0 GA + (8 credits)(6 units/credit) = 48 units required for FULL-TIME status.
  • 0.5 GA + (6 credits)(6 units/credit) = 36 units required for FULL-TIME status.
  • 1.0 GA + (4 credits)(6 units/credit) = 24 units required for FULL-TIME status.

Credits and units for PLCY 898: Pre-Candidacy Research

This course, which has no scheduled meetings, enrolls only one student in a section taught by the student’s advisor.  PLCY 898 conveys a number of credits varying from 1 to 8; each credit is bought à la carte from the Registrar.  The number of credits to be bought depends on a student’s program; in Public Policy the number rarely if ever exceeds 3.  However, just as with courses numbered 600 through 897, as above, the credit total needed from PLCY 898 depends on a student’s support, as below:

  • 0.0 GA + (3 credits)(18 units/credit) = 54 units > 48 units required for FULL-TIME status.
  • 0.5 GA + (2 credits)(18 units/credit) = 36 units required for FULL-TIME status.
  • 1.0 GA + (2 credits)(18 units/credit) = 36 units > 24 units required for FULL-TIME status.

PLCY 898 may be taken alone, or it may be taken concurrently with courses numbered 600 through 897.  The latter circumstance decreases the number of PLCY 898 credits to be bought but complicates the calculation of units.  Come by in person for more explicit arithmetic.

Credits and units for PLCY 899: Doctoral Dissertation Research

This course enrolls only those doctoral students who have advanced to candidacy.  It has no scheduled meetings and is rarely discussed in terms of credits and units.  Nonetheless, a credits-and-units summary would look like this:

(6 credits)(18 units/credit) = 108 units required for FULL-TIME status.

At least 12 credits (216 units) must be taken to graduate.

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What work would I do as a Graduate Assistant?

A PhD student typically works as a research assistant supporting a member of our PhD faculty, as a course assistant supporting our graduate-level courses, or as a teaching assistant supporting our undergraduate courses.​

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What’s the general timeline in the PhD program?

To make adequate academic progress, full-time doctoral students should do the following, roughly in the order shown:

  • Confirm a professor’s agreement to function as Faculty Advisor.
     
  • Complete PLCY 798R: Quantitative Research Methods and Public Policy within 3 semesters of entry.
     
  • Complete PLCY 798Z: Qualitative Research Methods and Public Policy within 3 semesters of entry.
     
  • Complete 24 other graduate credits (typically, 8 courses), as advised, within 4 semesters of entry.
     
  • Confirm a Faculty Advisor’s agreement to function as Dissertation Committee Chair.
     
  • Sign up for your Advisor’s section of PLCY898: Pre-Candidacy Research.
     
  • Pass all Comprehensive Exams, normally within 4 semesters of entry — but, more realistically, when well prepared and on a schedule negotiated with all examiners.
     
  • Compose a Dissertation Committee.
     
  • Successfully defend a well advised dissertation proposal (alternately called a prospectus) and thus “advance to candidacy” no later than 5 years after entry.  Learn more.  Note that 5 years is a hard deadline set by the Graduate School.
     
  • Sign up for your Advisor’s section of PLCY899: Post-Candidacy Research.

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What courses should I take in the first two years?

Your Faculty Advisor and the PhD Program Director will be glad to help you develop your course plan.  You can find links to our Graduate Course Projections and sample syllabi here.​

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May I add or drop a course after the semester has started?

The University has a Schedule Adjustment period during the first 10 business days of the fall and spring semester. In this period, you may drop and add courses without penalty provided that the changes are made on the same day and that the total number of credits does not change.  Remember, to avoid additional charges when dropping and adding, BOTH the drop and add must be done during the same day. The total number of credits dropped and added must be equal. If you drop a course without adding another with the same number of credits, you will have to pay a penalty. Please review the University policy on Schedule Adjustment to avoid financial penalty.​

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What’s PLCY898: Pre-Candidacy Research, and when should I take it?

Technically you may take PLCY898 any semester before you advance to candidacy. However, it is advised that you take at least 24 credits of other graduate courses that will prepare you for your comprehensive exams and research before registering for PLCY898.​

Please see this list to find the section number that corresponds to your Faculty Advisor.​

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What is the process of the Comprehensive Exams?

Some faculty members who administer comprehensive exams will announce the exam schedule via email.  Please see this page for the exam topics and examiners.​  But other professors will expect to negotiate a reading list, a test focus and format, and a date.

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How do I advance to candidacy?

Aside from the required coursework and Comprehensive Exams, you also need to present and defend your dissertation proposal, often called a prospectus.  The term “proposal” here is especially instructive, as you will be asking your Committee members to join you in an original research project that may take several years to complete and will obligate a good bit of their time in an advisory capacity, perhaps also in a collegial capacity, and ultimately in a judgmental capacity.  They must accept your invitation or you cannot proceed.  If your defense goes well, you must prepare the Application for Admission to Candidacy.  It is important to note that this form must be received by the Office of the Registrar prior to the 25th of the month in order for the advancement to be effective the first day of the following month.  Meeting or missing this deadline affects the start of PLCY899 and any associated support.

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Must I prepare a computer slide show?

No, not really.  Doctoral students have come to believe that to defend a dissertation proposal (or prospectus) or to defend a dissertation itself they must prepare a computer slide show — colloquially a “PowerPoint®,” although other software may be used instead.  Learning to prepare a computer slide show — a good one, as contrasted with a not-so-good one — is advisable, but complicating an event as critical as a defense to do so is not advisable.  You will be defending a document, not a slide show, and the document you will be defending is one your committee will have read.  Transferring attention to a screen is not a good strategy.  Disadvantages are several.

  • You will have spent the most critical pre-event days, hours, and minutes fiddling with your slide show, which you need not defend, rather than thinking through your own document, which you must defend.
  • You will naturally have pitched your slide show to your spectators — your friends and the morbidly curious — few of whom will have read your document and none of whom will be voting.
  • Your slide show will be less well organized and much less complete and far harder to navigate than your document.
  • Your committee members, already oriented to your document, will politely try to reorient themselves to your slide show and endeavor to grasp its relationship to what they have prepared to discuss.
  • Your slide show will remain vulnerable to electromechanical failure, whereas your document, having already been distributed and duplicated, will be uniquely resistant to all accidents not involving coffee.

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How do I register for PLCY899: Doctoral Dissertation Research?

Easy; you don’t have to.  Students who have advanced to candidacy will automatically be registered by the Office of the Registrar for six credits of PLCY899 every semester. The Graduate School requires at least 12 credits of PLCY899 to be completed before you earn the PhD degree.​

While writing your dissertation you should adhere to the style that the Graduate School will ultimately require.  Many students discover that they must reformat their work extensively before uploading their dissertations and that they cannot graduate until they do so.  For students defending “at the last minute,” few minutes are left to accommodate this task.  Accordingly, the savvy student will avoid this problem altogether by adhering to these guidelines from the start.  On the Thesis & Dissertation Filing page, examine “Style Guide” and download the The University of Maryland Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Style Guide.

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Is funding support available for dissertation research and writing?

Yes.  You may be able to secure a Dissertation Fellowship from the Graduate School.  Multiple named fellowships share the same application process, so you’d have to fill out only one application.  Please send your application to our School’s Office of Student Affairs at least one week before the deadline. If more than two applicants from our School apply in the same semester, the faculty will determine which two applications will go forward to the Graduate School.​

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May I have a co-author on a chapter of my dissertation?

A dissertation should demonstrate an individual aspiring scholar’s ability to create and contribute either new knowledge or new understanding of existing knowledge.  In many fields now, though, methods and costs nearly preclude truly individual contributions.  Here’s the Graduate School’s guidance.  A graduate student may co-author work with faculty members and colleagues, and that work may be included in a dissertation.  However, special scrutiny is applied by the student's committee, and a letter must be sent to the Dean of the Graduate School certifying that the student made a substantial contribution to the included work.  This letter must cite the approval of the dissertation-committee chair and also the PhD Program Director.  The letter must be included with the dissertation at the time of submission.  The format of such inclusions must conform to the standard dissertation format.  A foreword to the dissertation, as approved by the Dissertation Committee, must state that the student made substantial contributions to the relevant aspects of the jointly authored sections of the dissertation.  Please review the full text of the policy for context.

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What must I do to apply for graduation, to nominate a committee, to defend my dissertation, and to file my dissertation?

There are several deadlines to follow in the semester you defend your dissertation and graduate, so please look them up on the Graduate School’s Academic Deadlines page.  Be sure to use the drop-down menus to select a specific semester, year, and student type.

The first step feels out of order; it’s to apply for graduation — even before you’ve defended your dissertation.  Use the “Apply for Graduation” link found here on the “Academic Progress” page.

Then, prepare the “Nomination of Thesis or Dissertation Committee” form and turn it in to our School’s Office of Student Affairs, which will submit it to the Registrar for you.  This form takes some time to complete and must be submitted to the Registrar at least six weeks before your defense.  If any one of your committee members isn’t a member of the UMD Graduate Faculty, the Doctoral Program Director must consult with the School’s faculty to ensure that the off-campus member is acceptable, and approval from the Graduate School may take longer than expected.  Please plan ahead.

Additionally, a Dean’s Representative (DR) must be found.  Your Advisor will help you find a DR or, if no one agrees to serve, may ask the Dean of the Graduate School to appoint a DR randomly.  DRs are members of the University’s Graduate Faculty but not the School’s faculty and are appointed to represent the Dean of the Graduate School at your defense.  DRs may know nothing of your topic or discipline, but they will know if you or your Advisor or your Committee misbehave procedurally or if you fall far below the standards expected by the Graduate School.  Note that a DR may be a sixth member of your committee and not vote or, if expert in some aspect of your topic, may be a fifth member of your committee and vote.  Either way — but crucially if voting — the DR should get a copy of your dissertation far enough in advance to read it.

Once your Advisor figures your dissertation is good enough to survive scrutiny, then, assuming your committee has been fully formed, you will proceed to schedule a defense.  By tradition this task devolves to the candidate alone and may be hard to distinguish from hazing.  Finding a date, a time, and a room is always difficult, especially if your committee includes a sixth member (that is, a non-voting DR) or anyone who must attend by video connection.  (Until recently, ALL members had to be physically present, but now one — but no more than one, and NOT the chair — may attend remotely.)  To schedule a room for your defense, please contact Becky Wineke (rwineke@umd.edu) at the Dean’s Suite front desk.

Send copies of your dissertation to your committee members individually.  Send PDFs if acceptable; print copies for anyone insisting on paper.  Single-sided copies are better, as their sheets are less likely to become disordered or hard to read if marked up and because printers still often jam when printing long double-sided documents.  (Double-sided printing generates more heat than single-sided printing, and more heat increases the stickiness of glossy-coated sheets.)

If your defense is successful, your committee members will sign the “Report of Examining Committee” form.  [Congratulations!  Almost done!]

Your Chair will send the Report of Examining Committee form to the Office of Student Affairs, which will submit it to the Registrar.  You are then responsible for following Graduate School guidelines for submitting your dissertation.  PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO GRADUATE SCHOOL DEADLINES FOR THESE STEPS.  These steps will include filling out the Thesis and Dissertation Electronic Publication Form for the Graduate School and a much longer form for ProQuest, which was founded in 1938 in an Ann Arbor, Michigan, funeral parlor as University Microfilms (UMI), a safe photographic repository for the British Museum’s documents, for wartime maps, and soon for dissertations and other scholarly papers.

Lastly, the Graduate School will require you to complete two surveys.

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What if I need a waiver of some sort — maybe because I’m unable to finish all my degree requirements on time?

Waivers must be justified, but they’re usually granted.  So don’t worry, but do fill out the Petition for Waiver of Regulation form.

If you applied for graduation this semester and cannot graduate, your application will automatically roll over to next semester.  (That is, spring application rolls over to summer, summer to fall, and fall to spring.)  You won’t have to apply for graduation in the rollover semester.  However, the rollover occurs only once.

If you have completed all the degree requirements and the graduation date is still a few months away, you may request an official letter from the Office of the Registrar stating the expected degree conferral date. The letter may be used to demonstrate your degree to a potential employer before you receive your diploma.  The Registrar’s staff responsible for graduate-degree clearance can help you with this; their contact info is here.​

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I’m presenting a paper at a conference. May I get funding?

There are two funding sources to explore:

1. Funding from the SPP PhD Program​.  The SPP PhD Program is pleased to support conference attendance.  The PhD Program Director calls for applications for funding once or twice per semester.  The application process is announced via email to all PhD students.  Preference will be given to students seeking awards that meet the criteria of the the Goldhaber Travel Grant. Learn more.​

2. Funding through the Graduate School.  The Graduate School offers two travel grants: The Jacob K. Goldhaber Travel Grant and The International Conference Student Support Award (ICSSA). These grants are intended to help defray the expenses incurred by students who are traveling to scholarly, scientific, or professional conferences to present papers, posters, or other scholarly material.  Students may receive each award twice during their graduate education at UMD, once before the achievement of candidacy and a second time after the achievement of candidacy.  For the Goldhaber Grant, the PhD Program Director can provide the “Funding Representative” signature on the application form. Your Faculty Advisor can provide the required recommendation letter.  Please coordinate with Kathy Monroe  at our School’s Office of Finance and Administration as you prepare the application and, after your travel, submit receipts for reimbursement.​

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