Procedures for Graduate Students


The purpose of this document is to communicate to students the procedures by which their academic progress is assessed by faculty, how funding decisions are made by the faculty, and how these decisions should be communicated to students. The document outlines typical procedures, although naturally every case is different and no attempt has been made to describe what may happen under each and every eventuality. In dealing with individual cases (both typical and atypical) it is our aim that no student shall have departmental funding withdrawn or their enrollment in the program terminated without a) notice that their funding/enrollment might not be continued, and given a chance to rectify the problems that have caused this, and b) all faculty being made aware of the problem, and having an opportunity to comment.

Students should note that only Teaching Assistantships (TAs) and a few other miscellaneous Graduate Student Assistantships (GSAs) are actually controlled by the department. In practice the majority of our students are funded by Research Assistantships (RAs), which are controlled by individual faculty members. Because of the limited number of positions under departmental control, the department cannot formally guarantee funding for all students who make satisfactory academic progress. However, we make concerted efforts to help every such student find funding, and have always succeeded in this in the past.

Annual/Bi-annual Reviews:
The progress of every graduate student in the PhD and Part-time/Concurrent MS programs is reviewed by the faculty at least once a year, during Winter quarter (typically in February). PhD students who have passed the first-year (=MS) Theory Exam and PhD project preliminary exam are also reviewed in Fall quarter, typically in October. Students should arrange to meet with a member of faculty (either their departmental advisor, or if applicable their RA or thesis advisor) before these meetings. (Faculty will be encouraged to contact their student advisees before these meetings, but the department considers it each student's responsibility to contact faculty to arrange a meeting.) During these reviews the faculty discuss many different aspects of each student's overall progress and performance, including (for example) performance in course-work, exams, and RA/TA/GSA-ships, as well as other factors such as the extent to which the student is engaged in the program (eg is the student actively seeking an advisor at the appropriate time?). Additionally, annual committee meetings of each PhD candidate (a student who has completed their general exam) will be summarized by the chair of their PhD committee.

Every student will receive a letter after the Winter review, summarizing the faculty's view of their progress. This letter will typically confirm to the student that their overall progress is satisfactory and, funds permitting, the department will be willing to support them for the next academic year (PhD students) and/or confirm their continuing enrollment in the program (PhD and MS students). However, in cases where the faculty have reservations about continuing to fund a student or permit continued enrollment (e.g. because the student's progress is deemed unacceptable) the letter will inform them that their financial support and/or participation in the program for the next academic year is not guaranteed. The letter will outline the reasons for this and suggest conditions under which the faculty would decide that support for the student be continued (this applies both to TA and RA support) and/or permit continued enrollment. For example, funding/enrollment would not be continued if a required exam is failed for a second time. 

In such cases, the final decision about funding/continued enrollment will be made in a faculty meeting as soon as possible, typically after the results are available for any required exam taken by the student during spring or summer quarter. Before this meeting the student will be informed that a review is to be conducted, and the student should contact their advisor (or, at the student's discretion, some other member of faculty), and check with her/him that she/he will be attending the meeting and is aware of issues that the student believes should be considered by the faculty. A decision that the department should not continue support/enrollment requires a vote by the faculty. Faculty who are not present at the meeting will be encouraged to comment and vote by email. Only after all faculty have been given an opportunity to comment will the decision be considered final and a letter be sent to the student informing them that support/enrollment will not be continued. In this case the department will try to continue support/enrollment for that student for Fall quarter, to give the student a chance to plan for their future. 

The department has a firm policy of not continuing PhD support/enrollment if a student fails the MS Theory Exam twice or fails the research prelim twice (regardless of area). Other than after the Winter review, students will typically receive letters regarding their progress only if it is unsatisfactory and/or if they have failed an exam.

A note on TA/RA performance evaluation
Each quarter faculty will be invited to give feedback for students who have TA'd or RA'd for them. Any such feedback will communicated to the student and becomes part of the student's academic file.

Guidelines for progress for full-time, department-funded Ph.D. candidates
For students entering with a Bachelor-level degree:
* Prelims: Pass the first-year (=MS) Theory Exam by the end of year one (The MS Theory exam is waived for students excused from 512-513 if at least an average 3.3 grade is achieved in 581-582-583.) Pass the research project prelim by the end of year two. 
* Research: Find a research topic and supervisor during year three. Form a dissertation committee by the end of year three, pass the General Exam by the end of year four, pass the Final Exam and graduate by the end of year five.

Very well-prepared students entering with a Bachelor's degree and well-prepared students entering with a Master's degree can aim to complete each stage one year earlier.

The following typically will be considered the outer limits of satisfactory progress for all department-supported full-time PhD students: pass the required theory exam and research project prelim, begin research, and form a dissertation committee by the end of year four, pass the General Exam by the end of year five, pass the Final Exam and graduate by the end of year six. (However, as noted above, overall academic performance includes many factors, not only performance on exams. Therefore, keeping to this schedule does not in itself convey satisfactory academic progress).

(Updated July 31, 2013)