Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Joint PhD Programs

The University of Michigan Women’s and Gender Studies Department has three joint interdisciplinary PhD options. The joint degree is unique in that it combines grounding in one of three disciplines, training in feminist theories and methodologies, and interdisciplinary coursework in Women’s and Gender Studies. We do not offer a freestanding Women’s and Gender Studies PhD program. The joint PhD programs are:

By choosing one of our joint PhD degrees, students benefit from:

  • Opportunities for interdisciplinary research and mentoring with a diverse faculty community dedicated to excellence
  • An active cohort of students involved in both Women’s and Gender Studies and another discipline
  • The intellectual and financial resources of a top-tier research university
  • A stellar placement record for graduates of our joint PhD programs

For more information on applying and admissions to the joint PhD programs, please visit our prospective student page for more information.

The Curriculum

Core Courses in Women's and Gender Studies

The three joint doctoral programs in Women’s and Gender Studies all have the same core Women’s and Gender Studies course requirements. Additional course requirements are stipulated by each joint program outline.

WGS 501: Proseminar in Women’s and Gender Studies (1 credit)

  • This course introduces students to graduate study in the joint Women’s and Gender Studies PhD programs. It is intended to give new students a place to form community, to meet Women’s and Gender Studies faculty, to think about Women’s and Gender Studies as a discipline and the nature of interdisciplinary study, and to begin to discuss professional issues.
WGS 502: Feminist Encounters (1 credit)
  • The course is organized around a series of practical, exploratory exercises and conversations aimed to help students review, update, and clarify professional goals; help them manage workloads and develop and sustain practices of self-care; create and sustain relationships with peers and potential mentors; develop strategies for confronting challenging ideas/methods/vocabularies/tasks/dynamics; explore the benefits and limits of one’s discipline and protocols for involvement in an interdisciplinary community; increase awareness of the breadth and possibilities of feminist research, especially as it is occurring at UM; interact with a range of faculty and students; and engage in practical skill-building.

WGS 530: Feminist Theory (3 credits)

  • This course provides an interdisciplinary exploration of various schools of feminist thought. It examines ways in which feminist scholars across the disciplines have theorized power and difference with regard to gender, race, sexuality, class and nation. It also explores the relationship of particular theories to both the production of knowledge and political practice.

WGS 601: Approaches to Feminist Scholarship in the Humanities, or
WGS 602: Approaches to Feminist Scholarship in the Social Sciences

  • These courses are designed to examine various methodological issues in feminist scholarship in relation to paradigms developed by the disciplines. Students in English and History will usually enroll in WGS 601; students in Psychology will take WS 602.

WGS 891: Advanced Research

  • WGS 891 is an independent study that serves as a bridge between coursework and work on the dissertation. The course offers students an opportunity to draft a prospectus, research plan, or first chapter under the guidance of their faculty committee, and oral discussion of the 891 project with the full committee serves as the preliminary examination in WGS. Please consult the 891 examination procedures described under each program.

Additional coursework: 9 credit hours

  • Joint students take nine hours (typically three courses) of Women's and Gender Studies graduate coursework in addition to their three core courses. These are chosen from among Women’s and Gender Studies offerings and courses cross-listed with Women’s and Gender Studies and other departments. Courses cross-listed with your own department may be used to fulfill this requirement. At least one of the additional courses must be an interdisciplinary course and must include substantial coverage of theoretical issues. Students are encouraged to include courses that focus on sexuality studies, global feminisms, and feminist pedagogy.

A Sampling of Recent Electives Offered in Women's Studies

    • WGS 519: Queer Women in the 20th Century
    • WGS 531: LGBTQ Studies
    • WGS 590: Disability Studies
    • WGS 603: Feminist Scholarship on Women of Color
    • WGS 604: Feminist Practice
    • WGS 606: Transnational and Multicultural Feminisms
    • WGS 621: Readings in United States Women's, Men's and Gender History
    • WGS 698: Queer of Color Critique (Special Topics)
    • WGS 698: Feminist Pedagogy (Special Topics)
    • WGS 698: Readings in Sadomasochism, Fetishism, and Leather (Special Topics)
    • WGS 698: Passing as an Analytic Concept (Special Topics)
    • WGS 698: Writing for Publication (Special Topics)
    • WGS 698: Gender and Diversity in Organizations (Special Topics)
    • WGS 801: Feminism, Posthumanism, and the Humanities (Advanced Seminar)

Independent Study and Directed Reading Courses

We strongly encourage all Women’s and Gender Studies PhD students to enroll in regularly scheduled classes offered each fall and winter terms. If, for some reason, students need an alternative option, they may petition for an Independent Study (WGS 580) or Directed Reading (WGS 690) to count as one of the Women’s and Gender Studies electives. In order to request one of these courses, the student must have prior approval of a Women’s and Gender Studies faculty advisor. Students must also submit an advisor-approved reading list to the Graduate Program Coordinator indicating the student’s intentions of work to be completed during the term. All requests for Independent Study or Directed Reading are subject to the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

Cognate Requirements

The Rackham cognate requirement is automatically fulfilled by students enrolled in Women’s and Gender Studies joint PhD programs.

Other Requirements

Annual Mentoring Plan for Graduate Students

Effective mentoring plays a central role in the scholarly and professional development of graduate students, and research suggests that completing a written mentoring plan and revisiting it each year helps advisors and advisees to communicate clearly about expectations, goals, and challenges. Accordingly, every year, Women’s and Gender Studies requires faculty members and their primary advisees to complete a written mentoring plan, which should be submitted to WGS Graduate Program Coordinator by October 15. In early September, the DGS circulates an Annual Mentoring Plan template that may be helpful for advisors and advisees to use, but those who complete a mentoring plan for another department may submit a duplicate of that plan to WGS rather than filling out two different forms.

Annual Progress Reports

All students are required to complete the Annual Progress Report (APR) for Women’s and Gender Studies near the end of the Winter term (exact due date is subject to variation, but will never be before March 10 or after April 10). All students should plan to meet with their primary advisors as part of this annual review. The purpose of the academic progress report is to: 1) document and reflect on each student’s progress as a teacher and scholar; 2) create an annual opportunity for students to meet with their advisors about their efforts; and 3) offer students written feedback about their progress from the WGS Doctoral Programs Committee.

Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship Training (RCRS)

Effective for new students beginning in the fall 2014 term, all PhD students are required to complete training in the responsible conduct of research and scholarship before advancing to candidacy. The training requires at least eight hours of face-to-face contact between students and faculty members, with more than one faculty member involved. In keeping with the joint Women’s and Gender Studies PhD programs practice not to duplicate requirements required by our disciplinary partners, Women’s Studies joint students should all participate in the RCRS activities through their other departments. This discipline-based plan is particularly important given the wide variation in research and writing norms in our three existing programs (English, Psychology and History). In addition, Women’s and Gender Studies will exceed the 8-hour requirement by providing supplemental training that specifically addresses interdisciplinary Women’s and Gender Studies training. This supplemental training will be provided in the required first-year course WGS 501. The training will center on interdisciplinary discussion around questions of ethics and knowledge production. Specific areas where training will be provided include: (1) Introductory readings taught in the course that address knowledge production and Women’s and Gender Studies; and (2) Discussions of publication strategies and professional activity. The above plan will allow students to meet the standards of their disciplines as well as discuss the interdisciplinary dimensions of ethical norms in their research, writing and professional activity.

Women’s and Gender Studies 891 and Preliminary Examinations

Preliminary exams are conducted according to the requirements of each department. WGS 891 is an advanced research project conducted under the guidance of an individual faculty member in the context of an interdisciplinary committee. The 891 project and its discussion at an oral exam serve as the preliminary examination in Women’s and Gender Studies.

Dissertation Prospectus/Proposal

The prospectus is a student’s proposal or plan for dissertation research and writing. Please see the individual program descriptions for specific information. Please remember to file a copy of your prospectus with the Women’s and Gender Studies Graduate Office.

The Dissertation

Students normally spend their fourth and fifth years researching and writing the dissertation. The dissertation topic is expected to draw fully from theories and methods in both Women's and Gender Studies and the student's other discipline. You should expect to meet with the Chair or Co-Chairs of your committee regularly for advice, guidance and discussion as you begin to write the dissertation. In general, your Chair or Co-Chairs will read and comment on any written work before you submit it to the rest of the committee. You should discuss with your chair when it is most appropriate to ask for feedback from other committee members. This kind of consultation is particularly important with an interdisciplinary dissertation. Students are expected to meet with their full dissertation committee at least once a year.

It is recommended that all students review Rackham's Doctoral Students website for procedures on obtaining the doctoral degree. Rackham offers a detailed step-by-step breakdown of all the Doctoral Steps along the way.

For a taste of prior joint PhD student dissertations, students can browse the dissertation titles page of our website with links to DeepBlue.

The Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee is comprised of at least four members and must be interdisciplinary. At least one member is to be affiliated with Women's and Gender Studies and at least one is to be drawn from the student's other department. However, to insure depth of involvement from one unit, we recommend that two members be affiliated with either Women's and Gender Studies or the student's other department.

Enrollment in 990/995: Continuous Enrollment Policy

The Dean and the Executive Board of the Rackham Graduate School have adopted a continuous enrollment for PhD students at the University of Michigan, effective Fall Term 2010. Once admitted to a PhD program, students register every fall and winter term until their degree is awarded, unless they are on an official Extramural Study or Leave of Absence status. Students will only register for a spring/summer term if they elect courses, take preliminary examinations, or defend their dissertations. Students must be enrolled during the dissertation defense term and in the term during which all requirements for the degree are met (if different than that oral defense term).

PhD candidates must work actively toward their dissertations. As a candidate, enrollment in the 995 course is not only required due to the Rackham Continuous Enrollment policy, but it also provides library and computer privileges and permits students to take one additional course per term. Those who have not yet achieved candidacy but are working on their dissertations should register for the 990 course.

Rackham Pre-Defense and Post-Defense Meetings

As you approach your dissertation defense, you should consult the Rackham Dissertations Office and schedule a Pre-Defense Meeting. You will need to work closely with this office to insure timely and accurate completion of all requirements for the dissertation, including the formatting guidelines for your dissertation. Please notify the graduate office in both Women's and Gender Studies and your department of the date of your defense.

Satisfactory Progress

Satisfactory progress is defined as maintaining an appropriate academic record, reaching the various stages of progress in the program at or near the expected time, and, for students supported by GSIships, giving evidence of satisfactory teaching. Cases of students not maintaining satisfactory progress will be reviewed by the Graduate Director and referred, if necessary, to the DPC.

To maintain satisfactory academic standing, graduate students must make satisfactory progress toward their degrees and have a minimum Rackham cumulative grade point average (GPA) of “B” (5.0 on a 9 point scale) as well as a minimum GPA of “B” for all graduate courses taken for credit and applied towards the degree programs. Students who fall below this average are placed on academic probation.

Students are expected to finish Incompletes in a timely manner.

The Women’s and Gender Studies Department takes satisfactory progress into account in awarding teaching support and internal fellowships.

Stages of satisfactory progress will differ in each program; please consult the individual program descriptions for English, History, and Psychology for more information.


Requests for exceptions to any Women’s and Gender Studies program regulations must be made to the Women’s and Gender Studies Director of Graduate Studies. In some cases, the Director of Graduate Studies may wish to consult the DPC. A Petition for Modification or Waiver of Regulation form may also need to be filed with Rackham.

Doctoral Programs Committee (DPC)

The Doctoral Programs Committee (DPC) handles all administrative and policy matters pertaining to the joint PhD programs. The DPC:

  • Oversees the admissions process
  • Makes and coordinates funding decisions
  • Decides on curricular and policy changes
  • Tracks student progress

The committee is chaired by the Director of Graduate Studies and consists of a liaison from each participating department. The liaison in most cases will be a faculty member with a joint appointment in Women’s and Gender Studies and the department.

Faculty liaisons for 2021-2022:

  • WGS and English: David Gold (F 21), Cathy Sanok (W 22)
  • WGS and History: Yi-Li Wu
  • WGS and Psychology: Isis Settles
  • WGS Director of Graduate Studies: Meg Sweeney

Directors of Graduate Studies

2020-2021 Meg Sweeney                                                                                                                             2019-2020 Anna Kirkland (Fall) and Valerie Traub (Winter)                                                                    2018-2019 Abby Stewart                                                                                                                              2016-18 Elizabeth Wingrove                                                                                                                          2015-16 Petra Kuppers                                                                                                                                  2014-15 Lilia Cortina

2012-14 Leela Fernandes
2011-12 Amal Hassan Fadlalla
2009-11 Adela Pinch
2006-09 Deborah Keller-Cohen
2003-06 Anne Herrmann
2001-03 Peggy McCracken
2000-01 Domna Stanton
1999-00 Suzanne Raitt
1998-99 Domna Stanton


The Women's and Gender Studies Director of Graduate Studies is a primary advisor for first-year joint PhD students. It is recommended that first-year students consult with the Graduate Director at least once per term. The DPC liaison is also considered an advisor for first-year students. This person is familiar with both sets of requirements and should also be helpful in constructing a joint program. All fourth- and fifth-year students will be advised by their dissertation chairs. In all years, the WGS Graduate Director continues to be an important resource. Please see the individual program section for more details.

Accommodations for Graduate Students with Disabilities

It is the policy of the University of Michigan to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination and harassment for all students, faculty and staff.  The University’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness extends to students with disabilities.

The Rackham Graduate School, in collaboration with Services for Students with Disabilities, Office on Institutional Equity and Academic Human Resources, launched a centralized administrative process for providing accommodations for all graduate students with disabilities, regardless of employment status.

Students seeking academic accommodations should register with Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office.  For more information, please visit the Rackham website.

Historical Overview

In 1982, the Women’s Studies Department established a Graduate Certificate to serve graduate students already enrolled in a terminal degree program. Functioning as a supplement to a PhD or terminal degree, this 15-credit program sought to offer formal training in a field that until then was either largely self-taught or reflected only in dissertation research.

Twelve years later, we began to offer an interdepartmental doctoral program for small groups of students whose work cannot or should not be constricted by parameters of traditional disciplines. These doctoral students have the opportunity to acquire the conceptual and methodological tools grounded in the interdisciplinary perspective of Women’s and Gender Studies. With an interdisciplinary faculty committee that provides shaping direction from an early stage, these students benefit from the kind of collaborative mentorship necessary to develop and complete an interdisciplinary dissertation.

The first students were admitted to the joint doctoral programs in English and Psychology in 1994, followed by History in 1999. During that period, the Department committed itself to staffing a Graduate Chair position, which oversees student progress and program policies. A joint doctoral program was approved with Sociology in 2002, with the first students to be admitted in 2004. Although there remain challenges, the joint doctoral programs have been extremely successful as a doctoral experience, and their success has created a distinctive niche for the Department nationally. In addition, the joint PhD programs have richly benefited the Department as a whole: undergraduates profit from PhD students’ teaching grounded in feminist pedagogy; faculty appreciate being able to engage in a sustained manner with an individual’s training in an interdisciplinary field; and students contribute to the production of knowledge in novel and creative ways.

Historical Timeline of Women's and Gender Studies Graduate Programs

  • 1982: Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies (18 credits) established
  • 1994: Joint PhD programs with English and Psychology established
  • 1995: Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG) established, including Community of Scholars program for graduate students
  • 1996: Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies reduced from 18 to 15 credits
  • 1998: First Graduate Chair in Women’s Studies
  • 1998: Abigail Stewart, Anne Herrmann, Sidonie Smith, “The Joint Doctoral Program at the University of Michigan” Feminist Studies 24:2 (summer 1998)
  • 1999: Joint PhD program with History established
  • 2001: WS 501 (proseminar for first year joint PhD students) created
  • 2004: Joint PhD program with Sociology established
  • 2006: Graduate Certificate in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Studies established
  • 2016: Sociology and Women's Studies joint PhD program closed
  • 2020: Name changed to Women's and Gender Studies

Master's Degrees

The University of Michigan does not offer joint Master's degrees. You may, however, receive an MA in English, History, or Psychology on your way to completing the requirements for the joint Women's and Gender Studies PhD.