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PhD Program Requirements

The policies and requirements listed here are in addition to any requirements of the Rackham Graduate School (see Rackham's Academic Policies).


Each student will have two advisors to assist them in moving through the Ph.D. program. The first,  the A advisor, is a faculty member in the student's primary area of research interest. This advisor will be assigned by the beginning of the student’s first term, on the basis of the student's statement of interest in their application for admission to the Ph.D. program. The second, the B advisor, may be any member of the faculty whom the student chooses and is selected sometime during the first year. The student meets frequently with the A advisor, with whom they are likely to be engaged in research. After a dissertation committee has been approved, the student's A advisor will usually become the dissertation committee chair.

Students are free to make changes in advisors at any time, in agreement with the new advisor(s), and do not need to seek permission of their current advisor(s) to do so (any changes need to be informed to the Graduate Chair and the Student Services Coordinator.)

Course Requirements

In addition to meeting the fee hour and grade point requirements of the Rackham Graduate School (see Rackham's Graduate Student Policies). Linguistics students who are not in a dual degree program must meet the following course requirements:

  1. Ling 740 (Research in Linguistics), taken by first-year students in the Fall semester.
  2. Ling 997 (Independent Study). Students take this course in their second semester. It provides an early opportunity to engage in research with a faculty advisor.
  3. Ling 750 (Research Writing): This course is typically taken by students while writing their QRP in their third semester (second year) and fifth semesters (third year). In the third semester, students register for 2 credits, and in the fifth semester for 1 credit. If a student advances to candidacy before their third year, the requirement for the course to be taken in the fifth semester is waived.
  4. GSI Training. Students entering their second year are required to participate in the Graduate Student Instructor Teaching Orientation offered by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching followed by a 3-day GSI training seminar in late August.  Students receive LING 993 credit for the training seminar.
  5. Ling 780 (Interdisciplinary Seminar in Linguistics). All second-year students are required to take this seminar, normally in the Winter term.
  6. Other Linguistics courses and cognate courses:
    1. Ling 512 (Phonetics), Ling 513 (Phonology), Ling 515 (Syntax), and Ling 516 (Semantics).  Students normally complete these 4 courses by the end of their first year.  They must be completed prior to candidacy.
    2. 6 additional courses, at least 4 in Linguistics and 1 cognate courses outside the Department (more on the cognates below). Two of the Linguistics courses must be outside phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics or morphology (to add breadth to students’ training). Two of the courses (at least one being in Linguistics) must be at 600-level or above.

Students must define a flexible course plan by the beginning of their third term, in line with the requirements above and in agreement with their academic advisor(s). Exemption from, or substitution for, any of these courses must be done with the approval of both a faculty member who regularly teaches the course and the Graduate Committee.

Students must maintain a minimum average of B+ in all Linguistics courses taken in their first two years. At least two of the grades in Linguistics 512, 513, 515 and 516 must be A-­ or better.

Qualifying Research Paper

Students complete one substantial qualifying research paper (QRP). Submission by end of the fifth term is expected. The QRP is written in addition to any papers done as part of course work, and is planned in consultation with a faculty member. The QRP may be a substantially expanded/elaborated version of a course paper or an entirely separate project. The paper should show the student's ability to pose a linguistic question within a framework of current linguistic research, collect and marshal empirical evidence that bears upon that question, and present the results in a way that communicates successfully to other linguists. The QRP is assessed by two research faculty readers, one serving as the primary advisor.


A student advances to candidacy when the following conditions have been met:

  • At least 36 Rackham graduate credit hours (18 for students with an approved MA).
  • Successful completion of all course requirements as listed above. In consultation with their advisors students can postpone completion of two courses (two electives, or one elective and Ling 780) to the post-candidacy period of their degree, provided (i) that they meet all other Rackham candidacy requirements, and (ii) that Ling 780 is completed no later than the sixth semester in the PhD program.
  • Successful completion of the Qualifying Research Paper.
  • Additionally, Rackham requires a cumulative GPA of at least B (3.0 on a 4.0 scale) of all graduate work taken for credit. Rackham also requires a grade of at least B-­ on the cognate courses.

Students are expected by both Rackham and the Department of Linguistics to advance to candidacy by the end of their 5th term (usually the middle of the third year). Failure to advance to candidacy by then will normally result in not being in good standing. Exceptions may be granted upon request, at the discretion of the Graduate Committee and in consultation with A and B advisors.

Language Requirement

The Linguistics PhD program does not have an official requirement for proficiency in languages other than English. However, given the nature of each student's research, it is often relevant for students to have knowledge of other languages. Therefore, each student should discuss with their advisor(s) what kind of work would be relevant for them to pursue regarding other languages.

Dissertation Prospectus

The principal goal of the prospectus is to communicate clearly to the dissertation committee the background to the proposed dissertation research, and its goals, scope and methods. It usually begins with a discussion of the central issue or problem, interwoven with a critical review of the scholarship to date in the area. The prospectus should include an outline of data collection procedures and other methodological issues, as well as a demonstration — usually via some preliminary analysis — that the proposed study will be able to deliver answers to the research questions. 

The prospectus is prepared in consultation with members of the dissertation committee. Students consult with their advisor in identifying faculty who might be approached as suitable committee members. The draft prospectus is discussed in a meeting involving at least 3 dissertation committee members (ideally, the full committee) so that faculty have a clear and common understanding of the student's plans, so that they can offer their advice and suggestions, and so that the student can defend the prospectus. An approved prospectus, signed by all members of the committee, is filed with the Department. The prospectus should be defended by the end of the 8th term.


The dissertation is a substantial piece of work that presents and analyzes original research results, and motivates the research and interprets the results within an appropriate framework. The dissertation is supervised by a dissertation committee consisting of at least 4 members, at least 2 of whom are in the Department of Linguistics and at least 1 Graduate Faculty member from another Department. The dissertation is examined at a public oral defense. It is expected that the Dissertation be defended before the end of the 10th term.