Advancing to Candidacy: Qualifying and Dissertation Proposal

Deadlines
Qualifying Paper/Exam
Dissertation Committee
Dissertation Proposal

The doctoral program involves two stages. The first stage, a minimum of three academic quarters of residence (but typically 3-4 years), is spent in fulfilling general requirements, consisting of formal coursework, teaching, beginning research, and examinations.

The student must have completed at least three continuous academic quarters in residence at UC San Diego before the dissertation committee may be appointed.

Each student is expected to complete the requirements for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree by December 1 of the fourth year. International students are expected to complete the requirements for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree by the end of their 3rd year (by September 1st before the start of the 4th year).  Interdisciplinary Program students are expected to complete these requirements by the end of Spring quarter of their fourth year.

Students not completing the qualifying requirements by the appropriate time will be placed on departmental probation. Any student who fails to qualify by the end of the spring quarter of the fourth year of residence will automatically have a hold placed on their account by the Graduate Division. Additionally, per Graduate Division rules, students are not permitted to receive financial support from the university or the department beyond their eighth year.

Deadlines

The Advancement to Candidacy process is intended to certify the readiness of the student to conduct thesis research. The emphasis of the requirements is on the student's knowledge of the field and the ability to do research in that area. The Qualification/Advancement process consists of four parts. Part I is proposing the Qualifying Paper or Exam; Part II is defending the Qualifying Paper or Exam. Part III is the Appointment of the Doctoral Committee. Part IV is the writing and oral defense of the dissertation proposal.

Department Advancement Deadlines

  • Qualifying Proposal - Oct. 1, 2nd year 
  • Qualifying Defense - April 30th, 2nd year 
  • Appointment of Dissertation Committee - Nov. 1, 4th year (recommended)
  • Dissertation Proposal - Dec. 1, 4th year (International students: September 1st before the start of the 4th year)

Graduate Division Advancement Deadline

  • Advancement to Candidacy Deadline - End of 4th year (Sept. 1)
  • Extensions approved only for good cause (e.g., change of advisor, LOA, etc.)
  • Grads not meeting any departmental deadline, without an approved extension, are considered on probation (e.g., lose TA priority, lose eligibility for Anderson Travel and Research Funds, flagged for discussion at end of the year faculty meeting, etc.)
  • Grads not advanced by the Graduate Division deadline will have a hold placed on their account and may not enroll in courses or receive departmental support.
  • Students enroll in Psychology 299 for independent study units after Advancement (as opposed to PSYC 296 taken before advancing).
  • Once advanced, students must be enrolled for three quarters (with full fees), or on a leave of absence for three quarters, or a combination of enrollment and leave for three quarters before they can complete their dissertation and file for a Ph.D. Exceptions to this must be petitioned with the Graduate Division (see the Graduate Coordinator for more information). 
  • Students do not have to be registered or on a leave the quarter they file for a Ph.D. if they were registered or on a leave the quarter before. They will be required to pay a filing fee of approximately $179.

Cognitive Science IDP Advancement Deadlines Extension

  • Departmental Advancement Deadlines are extended two quarters for students enrolled in the Cog Sci Interdisciplinary Program; Graduate Division advancement deadlines remain unchanged.

Qualifying

Each student, in collaboration with their faculty advisor, can decide if he/she would prefer to write a qualifying paper or take a qualifying exam. In both cases, the formation of the qualifying committee is the same. However, the format of the proposal and defense will differ.

Formation and Make-up of the Qualifying Committee

The student is responsible for forming the Qualifying Committee, a departmental committee consisting of three or more faculty members from the Department of Psychology (one of whom is the student's advisor). The committee should be formed at least one month prior to the Qualifying Proposal. The student is also responsible for arranging the meeting time & place (email reservations-psyc@ucsd.edu to reserve a room) and submitting an advance copy of the proposal to committee members via email minimally two weeks in advance of the scheduled meeting. For students who are co-advised, or with a primary advisor located outside of the department, committees should include 4 members (both the primary advisors plus two additional members from within the Psychology Department).

NOTE: There are many academic titles, and not all of them allow the holder to be eligible to serve on a committee in an unrestricted capacity. Grads should check with the Graduate Coordinator if there is the slightest question about an individual's eligibility.

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper written by the student should be modeled after those published in Psychological Bulletin or Psychological Review. Ideally, the paper will consist of a detailed review and theoretical synthesis of a coherent body of research. The paper should demonstrate independent and original thinking on the part of the student and should either take a theoretical stance or recommend experiments designed to resolve theoretical ambiguities (i.e., the paper should not merely review published research). The paper does not have a prescribed length, although low-end and high-end limits of 30 and 50 pages, respectively, seem reasonable.

Qualifying Paper Proposal

Once the committee is formed, the student should prepare a brief (e.g., 3 page) proposal defining the area of research and the theoretical issues that will be addressed in the paper. A proposal meeting is then arranged (before Oct. 1 of the second year), and committee members may at that time recommend changes to the scope of the paper and define their expectations. The paper proposal and an email attachment of the proposal should be made available to committee members at least two weeks prior to the proposal. On the day of the proposal the student should bring the Qualifying Paper Proposal Approval Sign-Off Sheet to have the committee sign upon acceptance of the proposal. Once signed, this sheet should be turned in to the Graduate Coordinator.

Qualifying Paper Defense

After the completion of the Qualifying Paper, the student must give a presentation, explaining the ideas and data presented in the Qualifying Paper to his or her committee. The committee will be given an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the paper at this presentation before granting a satisfactory passing grade on the Qualifying Paper. A final draft of the paper and an email attachment of the paper should be made available to committee members at least two weeks prior to the defense. On the day of the defense the student should bring the Qualifying Paper Final Approval Sign-Off Sheet to have the committee sign upon acceptance of the final paper. Once signed, this sheet should be turned in to the Graduate Coordinator.

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is based on a reading list of 100 papers that span two areas within the department (Social, Cognitive, Developmental, Sensation and Perception, and Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience) as well as readings essential to a student's specialized research. The exam will consist of a written portion to be completed over 48 hours and an oral defense following the submission of the exam.

Qualifying Exam Proposal

Once the committee is formed, the student should work with his/her committee to determine the two breadth areas (from Social, Cognitive, Developmental, Sensation and Perception, and Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience) they will choose. The breadth area reading lists have been determined by each area and contain 30 papers primarily focused on foundational issues of the area. The student and his/her committee should also determine the 40 papers specific to the student's ambitions and research interests. Once the set of readings has been determined, the student should bring the Qualifying Exam Proposal Approval Sign-Off Sheet to have the committee sign upon acceptance of the proposal. Once signed, this sheet should be turned in to the Graduate Coordinator.

Qualifying Exam and Defense

The committee will be responsible for composing a list of 8 questions, 5 of which the student must answer. The exam will consist of a take-home essay component in which the student has 48 hours to address each of the five selected questions. Note that while the exam will have to be completed by the end of April, the student can select a 48 time window before this final deadline (with this flexibility designed to accommodate illness, travel, etc). This written portion would then be followed as soon as possible by an oral examination in which the student must defend their answers and also address any additional questions posed by the committee that fall within the scope of the approved reading list. Following the oral exam, the student should bring the signed Qualifying Exam Proposal Sign-Off Sheet to the graduate coordinator.

Dissertation Committee

Part III: Appointment of Dissertation Committee

Part III involves the Dissertation Committee. This official Graduate Division dissertation committee (aka doctoral committee) helps conduct the qualifying examination, supervises the preparation of and evaluates the acceptability of the dissertation, and administers the final examination.

The student nominates the doctoral committee (with department chair approval) when he or she has completed the Qual Paper or Exam proposal/defense and is prepared to propose the dissertation. The Chair of the dissertation committee will normally be the student’s advisor.

The committee should be appointed no later than one month prior to dissertation proposal. This is accomplished by meeting with the Graduate Coordinator to complete the online form. Grads are strongly encouraged to check in well in advance of this meeting to ensure that the members meet all requirements. A faculty advisor is also a very helpful source of information and assistance.

Note: This committee is different from qualification committee, but the same faculty members may serve on both committees.

A dissertation committee consists of five or more officers of instruction, with no fewer than four holding titles in the professorial ranks. The committee will consist of three members from the Department of Psychology (one of whom is the student's advisor) and two outside members from different departments. One of the Psychology faculty and one outside member must be tenured. One adjunct faculty can serve on a committee. The adjunct faculty can be from Psychology or an outside department.  It is also possible to allow four members from within Psychology and one member from an outside department to serve on the committee if the Psychology members have different specializations and if the outside member is tenured. See the Graduate Coordinator for more information.

Guidelines for establishing a committee:

  • Psychology Member 1 : tenured professor (Psychology)
  • Psychology Member 2: assistant, associate, or full professor (Psychology)
  • Psychology Member 3: assistant, associate, full professor, or adjunct (Psychology)
  • Outside Member 1: tenured professor (non-Psychology)
  • Outside Member 2: assistant, associate, full professor, in-residence professor, or adjunct (non-Psychology)

Remember, for these 5 members, only one may be an adjunct professor (either Psychology Member 3 or Outside Member 2). Additional members beyond these 5 can be added to the committee. They can hold any professorial title (regular, adjunct, or in-residence), but they must be affiliated with UC.

Only University of California faculty and adjunct faculty can serve on a doctoral committee. No faculty from outside the UC System can serve on a committee.

The committee is personally reviewed and formally appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The student should make initial contact with prospective committee members.

For more information, please consult the Grad Adviser’s Manual section on Doctoral Committee Membership.

Reconstitution of the Doctoral Committee

Occasionally, committee members are no longer available or no longer meet the needs of the committee and the student will need to reconstitute. All requests must be submitted to the Graduate Division to be approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies. If you wish to complete a reconstitution, please meet with the Graduate Coordinator.

Dissertation Proposal

Part IV of the Qualification is the dissertation proposal

This follows Parts I, II, & III of the Advancement process and will be an oral proposal including outside examiners. The dissertation proposal should contain a description of the field and the problem. There should be a description of the intended experiments. It is intended that students will pursue most of their dissertation research after the proposal, not before. Some pilot experimentation may be performed prior to the Qualification; indeed, the dissertation advisor may require that such pilot work be completed. There is a limit of 20 pages (typed, double-spaced) for the dissertation proposal (exclusive of references). The scheduled date, time, & place of the proposal is the responsibility of the student. An email attachment of the proposal should be made available to committee members at least two weeks prior to the examination.

All members of a committee need not absolutely be present at the proposal and defense; however, all members must sign the appropriate forms provided by the Graduate Coordinator in person. Proxy signatures are not sufficient. It is possible to conduct the dissertation proposal with only three or four members present, if the absent members have made arrangements separately to examine the student's proposal.