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Achieving Candidacy

Frequently Asked Questions about Achieving Candidacy in Philosophy

Candidacy is the status students have when they have completed the coursework portion of the Ph.D. program. This page explains the features of the process immediately leading up to the candidacy decision.

How do I become a candidate?

You achieve candidacy by completing:

  1. the Program Units requirement
  2. the Distribution Units requirement
  3. the Additional Candidacy requirements (i.e., Proseminar and Logic)
  4. any applicable Rackham requirements (e.g., the Cognate requirement)

Rackham requires that students must form a dissertation committee in order to be considered candidates, though this committee can easily be revised later.

When should I plan on becoming a candidate?

To be assured of making normal expected progress, you should plan on becoming a candidate by the end of the Fall of your third year.

What are the advantages to becoming a candidate in a timely manner?

Your tuition charges drop substantially, and you become eligible for non-teaching candidacy fellowships. The Department is committed to provide four terms of non-teaching fellowship after the achievement of candidacy. Other fellowships, funded by Rackham and outside organizations, are also conditional on candidacy. Competitive fellowships may also consider time to candidacy as a factor in awards.

Beyond becoming a candidate, what do I need to do to start my dissertation?

Your first additional step is to complete the Dossier Reading Course (DRC), which you can do even prior to becoming  candidate. This course is under the direction os a faculty member you would like to consider as a possible chair of a dissertation committee. The choice is not binding on either party; it is meant only as a convenient opportunity for a trial run. The aim of the DRC is to help you explore and identify a viable dissertation topic and begin substantive work on it, by working towards the documents that will constitute your dissertation dossier. Though desirable, completion of the dossier is not required for the DRC. You should approach a member of the faculty whom you would like to direct the DRC the term before you enroll, and together, you will decide in advance on the content and specific writing requirements for the DRC.

When should I plan on taking the DRC?

Normally, students take the DRC during the Winter term of their second year, or the Fall term of their third year. Timely completion of the DRC is crucial for making normal expected progress on the dissertation dossier.

What should I include in my dossier?

The dissertation dossier consists of the following:

  • 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 a 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, briefly setting out where the work stands in relation to existing literature, its general methodology, and a tentative chapter plan and general bibliography.

What do I do after I have completed my dossier?

You may submit the dossier to the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) for review any time after the completion of the DRC. In addition, submission involves the selection of two faculty members other than the DRC advisor to serve as dossier readers.  You should select readers with an eye towards the eventual constitution of the dissertation committee (though there is no obligation on the part of either party). Readers then provide written reports to both you and the GSC, through the GSC Chair, in which they address the question of whether you have identified a viable dissertation topic and have sufficiently developed the work such that, with minor revisions, you can proceed to the dissertation in short order. After deliberation, the GSC offers its recommendation to regular departmental faculty members, who then vote on whether to endorse the recommendation. 

When should I plan to submit my dossier?

To be assured of submitting your dossier in time to make normal expected progress toward your degree, you should submit your dossier by May of your third year. However, you should always consult with your advisor before submitting a dossier. Some students are not ready to submit a dossier by May of their third year. Your advisor is in the best position to judge whether you will need the summer after your third year to complete an acceptable dossier for submission that Fall.

How long do I need to wait after I have submitted my dossier?

Given all of the other demands on faculty time, it is not reasonable to expect readers to report on a dossier in less than one month. After receiving the reports, the GSC can proceed quickly, but the timing of the full departmental review depends on the ability of the Department to schedule a meeting and clear time to discuss the dossier. During some busy times of the year - e.g., graduate recruitment season during the Winter term - take some time. Therefore, a decision on candidacy can be expected in no less than six weeks, not counting intervening vacations, holidays, and summer breaks.


What happens if I finish my dossier at the end of Winter term, so that the Department cannot approve it before the Fall term?

In special cases a student may proceed on the dissertation without a departmental vote, but only if the student's committee and the GSC approve. Even in these cases, however, a full dossier (including the two readers' reports) must have been submitted to the Department.

What happens after my dossier has been approved?

You then review the constitution of your dissertation committee, in consultation with your advisor, and make any desired changes. The committee then meets as a whole to discuss the next steps and to talk about a date for a formal prospectus defense that consists in a discussion of a revised version of the dissertation prospectus. As you have 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. After receiving the final version, committee members meet with you to discuss the prospectus, after which they decide whether to accept it and then notify the Department of the decision.

When should I plan on having my prospectus defense?

You are making normal expected progress if you have successfully defended your prospectus by the end of October of your fourth year.

Are there any other requirements for candidates working toward the dissertation?

All candidates who (i) have completed the DRC 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 DRC are encouraged to attend.)  The seminar does not require formal enrollment with the Registrar, does not issue in a credit 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 chair of the Graduate Studies Committee will schedule the presentations of thesis work and faculty members to be present, and each student will be required to make at least one presentation during the term.

Who should I ask if I have further questions about candidacy?