What Are The Major Milestones of the Doctoral Program?

The major milestones are:

  • Second-Year Research Project
  • Qualifying Examination
  • Advancing to Candidacy
  • Dissertation
  • Clinical Science students should also refer to their area-specific documentation

What is required for the Second-Year Research Project?

The second-year research project is intended to make sure that you get an early start on research.  It might be the sort of thing that leads to your doctoral dissertation, or it might not.  Students present their second-year research projects at a Department-wide “Second-Year Research Poster Session,” which is held in mid-May of every year.


Is there a paper requirement?

Students must prepare a written paper describing their research, either as a master's thesis or in a format (e.g., "APA style") suitable for eventual journal publication.  A first draft is fine, but the draft must be complete, including an abstract, introduction, method section, results with appropriate tables and graphs, discussion, and reference list. The draft manuscript must be read and approved by your advisor and your area’s Graduate Advisor by the last day of classes in the Fall Semester of your third year of graduate study. If your paper is publication-quality, your Qualifying Examination committee may agree to substitute it for one of the three written QE questions.


When should I take the Qualifying Examination?

Third-year students must set a date for their exams by the first day of instruction in the Spring Semester of their 3rd year (Fall Semester of the fourth year for Clinical Science students), and this exam must be completed no later than the last day of regular classes that same semester.


If this is not accomplished, the respective Area Head may assign a committee and a date for the examination. Students who do not appear for their orals will automatically fail.


There is a tendency among students to view the Qualifying Exam (QE) as some kind of make-or-break exercise, which you are not ready for unless you know everything. This is not true. If you have been paying attention in your proseminars and other basic courses, attending your area colloquia, and keeping up with your chosen field, the QE should present no problem. Do a good job, but do not obsess. Just do it.


What does the Qualifying Exam look like?

The QE consists of a written section and an oral section. The written section represents departmental policy, whereas the Graduate Division requires the oral section. The written section is usually completed a week prior to the oral portion. 


The written portion of the QE can take many different forms. The default option is that students are examined on three discrete topics of their own choosing, in which case students are expected to prepare a reading list for each topic, in consultation with the committee members. The written examination is followed by an oral examination, usually held one week after completing the written exam (10 days if the exam includes one or more papers in lieu of questions).


You may be able to substitute one to three publication-quality papers for QE written questions at the discretion of your QE committee.


How do I organize my Qualifying Exam?

Refer to the QE Guidelines and Timeline: (link coming)


Can I take the QE over the summer?

Yes, if you can get your committee to agree to it, but don’t depend on it. Students are discouraged from scheduling QE and dissertation committee meetings during the summer (June-August), because faculty members are under no obligation to attend summer meetings.


What should I expect in terms of the doctoral dissertation?

There is a tendency to view the doctoral dissertation as one's best work ever, and/or as a book-length, monolithic document. It should not be viewed in those ways. It is merely the final milestone on the way to the doctoral degree. It is different from the research you did before it in that it is, perhaps, somewhat more independent; and different from the research you will do after it in that no degree hangs in the balance. It is nice if doctoral dissertations are earth-shattering, but they hardly ever are. Ask your advisor about his or hers; then check with the rest of the faculty. See what we mean? The only necessary feature of the doctoral dissertation is that it be completed. It should clearly be geared toward publication, too. Do a good job, but do not obsess. Just do it.


When do I defend my dissertation?

Amazingly, there is no oral defense of the doctoral dissertation at Berkeley. Once you have the approval of each member of your dissertation committee, as indicated by their signatures on the Approval Page; that is it. However, students in some areas are also encouraged to present their dissertation research at a formal colloquium sometime in their last year in residence. (This may, and probably should, take the form of a practice job talk.)


So how do I get approval of my dissertation from my committee?

Members of the dissertation committee must be given ample time to review the draft version, and the final version, before submission of the dissertation to the University. Therefore, do not plan to present your committee members with a fait accompli the day before the University’s filing deadline for the degree. As a general rule, you work up the first few drafts in consultation with your advisor. Once the draft is pretty much in hand, give the rest of your committee members at least two (2) weeks to review the penultimate full draft, and at least another two (2) weeks to review the final version. Assuming that you will need at least two (2) weeks to consult with your advisor on changes in the initial draft, you should submit the first full draft of your dissertation to your committee members no later than six (6) weeks before the filing deadline for the degree. For your own protection, make sure that your committee members agree to review the draft, and the final version, within two weeks.


How do I submit the final copy of my Dissertation?

The Department requires two digital copies of the dissertation in Portable Document Format (PDF); one is sent to the dissertation committee chair and the other to the Graduate Student Services Advisor. The Final Report verifying degree completion will not be sent to the Graduate Division until the dissertation has been filed and the Department has received the two digital copies.  A separate copy of the dissertation abstract is also required. It is to be submitted to the Graduate Student Services Advisor for inclusion in a compendium of dissertation abstracts.


What happens if I do not fulfill a requirement by the deadline?

Do not be misled by advanced students who may tell you that the faculty do not take these deadlines seriously. We do. Do not assume that you can take an extra year, or more, or even an extra semester, to reach some particular milestone. And do not assume that you can take the summer after the formal deadline to meet some requirement. Faculty may have other plans for their time. Failure to meet certain deadlines can result in probationary status, jeopardizing your ability to receive financial aid or even to register for the next semester.