Doctoral Requirements

The Ph.D. degree is the highest degree conferred by the University. It is a research degree, not conferred solely as a result of any prescribed period of study. The degree is granted on evidence of general proficiency, distinctive attainment in a defined academic field, and ability to carry out independent investigation as demonstrated in a dissertation that presents original research or creative scholarship with a high degree of literary skill. The following minimum requirements for the Ph.D. degree apply to all students. For more information, contact the Doctoral Specialist at

Major Professor as Advisor

You must have at least a temporary advisor when you first enroll in your doctoral program. You must select a permanent advisor no later than the proposal hearing or the preliminary examination, whichever comes first (See Milestones of Doctoral Study below).

Your advisor is responsible for overseeing your transformation from apprentice to professional. Selecting your advisor is one of the most important decisions you will make in graduate school. This person will be your mentor—helping you shape your dissertation proposal, guiding you through the writing and defense of your dissertation, and often employing you as a research or teaching assistant. Your relationship with your advisor will directly affect the quality of your graduate school experience.

Credits and Courses

Your academic unit may apply any prior graduate-level courses that it deems appropriate to your program of study. The rest of the program of study contains the graduate courses, including research/dissertation credits, to be taken in doctoral status at UWM. Your academic unit verifies completion of these requirements when you apply for dissertator status.

The Graduate School requires a minimum of 54 graduate credits beyond the bachelor’s degree. Some programs have a higher minimum credit requirement. The Graduate School monitors only completion of credit, not individual course requirements.

Grades for Doctoral Students in Dissertation/Research Courses
Doctoral students in research courses are assigned grades of S (satisfactory progress) or U (unsatisfactory progress). The U grade may be a result of a lack of progress in the dissertation or a lack of communication with the major professor regarding this progress.

Research course grades are permanent and are not changed upon completion of the dissertation. The satisfactory credits are added to the total required for the degree, but are not calculated in the GPA.

Minor: Option A
You may be required to supplement the major by completing a minimum of 8 to 12 credits in a single discipline, which designates the minor field. The courses must be planned with your minor professor and identified on your Program of Study. A cumulative GPA of 3.0 must be earned in the minor. The minor examination is administered by the faculty of the minor discipline. Option A minors are identified on the student’s transcript.

Minor: Option B
If your department determines that your needs will best be served by preparation not available as a departmental minor, it may require you to develop a special program in lieu of the minor. To meet the requirements of this option, you must complete a minimum of 9-12 credits in two or more departments outside the major in courses relevant to your area of concentration. The courses must be planned with your advisor and identified on your Program of Study. Both the request to choose this option and the content of the proposed program must be approved by your major department. In addition, the department is responsible for setting standards for grade performance, examination, or both, to measure your level of preparation in this supporting field. Option B minors are not identified on the student’s transcript.

Foreign Language/Research Skill

Each unit administering a doctoral program may establish foreign language and/or research skill requirements for its doctoral students. Inquiries on specific requirements should be addressed to your graduate program unit.


Residence requirements cannot be met at the master’s level, and must be fulfilled before you can achieve dissertator status.

Continuous-Year Requirement

You must complete 8 to 12 graduate credits in each of two consecutive semesters, or 6 or more graduate credits in each of three consecutive semesters, including summer sessions. This requirement is intended to provide immersion in the chosen discipline and foster participation in the community of scholars.

50% of Credits Requirement

At least half of the graduate credits required for the Ph.D. must be completed at UWM in doctoral status.

Some program units have different residence requirements. See individual doctoral program descriptions for additional residence information.

Time Limit

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within 10 years from the date you first enroll in a doctoral program at UWM. This includes all coursework, the dissertation, and examinations required for the degree. Students entering doctoral programs in the fall of 2000 or later must pass doctoral preliminary examinations within five years of initial doctoral program enrollment. Some programs may have shorter time limits.

Transfer Credit

For students with a master’s degree who are admitted to a Ph.D. program, the graduate credits from the master’s degree may be counted toward the doctoral program by approval of the doctoral program. Graduate credits approved by the doctoral program may not exceed 50% of the total credits required for the degree.

For example, the Anthropology Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 54 credits beyond a bachelor’s degree. Up to 27 credits from a master’s degree may be accepted by the program, with the remaining 27 credits to be taken at UWM in doctoral standing.

A Transfer Credit Evaluation form is not required for these credits. The doctoral program should indicate in the student’s program of study that these credits were met via the master’s degree.

The transfer of other graduate credits not from a master’s or other graduate-level degree may be permitted, subject to doctoral program approval, and the following Graduate School requirements:
  • Coursework used toward any other degree cannot be transferred.
  • Coursework must be at the graduate level.
  • Coursework must be from an accredited institution.
  • Coursework must have received grades of A, B, or equivalent (a B- is not acceptable).
  • Coursework must have been taken within five years prior to enrollment in the doctoral program.
  • Coursework cannot be used to meet the doctoral residency requirement.
  • The doctoral program may have more stringent requirements.
For credits meeting these requirements, a Transfer Credit Evaluation Form
form should be submitted.

Cooperative & Special Degree Programs

Multidisciplinary Committee-Directed Ph.D.

Exchange Programs

Exchange Program Registration
If you are considering taking courses under the Marquette or MCW exchange agreement, please be aware that their registration calendars are different from UWM’s, so it is a good idea to begin the process early.

If you need to apply as an non-degree student at Marquette for Spring 2014 enrollment, please do so as soon as possible. For information and a link to the application form, please visit the Marquette Graduate School Website or the Marquette Graduate School of Management Website. More details about Marquette registration will be available soon.

The Medical College calendar in particular is much shorter than UWM’s, and there is a significant fee for late registration. Spring registration begins November 1st and ends November 30th. If you need to apply for non-degree status at MCW to take a course in Spring 2014, please do so as soon as possible.

Visit the MCW Admission Website for a link to the online application form. If you need assistance with the process, please contact Angela Gord in the Registrar’s office at

UWM/Medical College of Wisconsin Joint Graduate Studies Program

The UWM Graduate School and the Medical College of Wisconsin each have accredited M.S. and Ph.D. programs. Both institutions have entered into an agreement permitting students to take courses and use the library and laboratory facilities at both schools. This formal affiliation affords unique opportunities to the institutions’ faculties and students. Little duplication exists between the graduate degree programs of the two schools. Using the resources of both institutions results in programs that strengthen the educational missions of the two schools.

Approval must be granted by both institutions before you may participate in this program. For more information about the procedures for participation, contact Chris Parks in Graduate Student Services at 414-229-6332 or

Marquette University/UWM Cooperative Graduate Student Exchange Program

This exchange program enables graduate degree students in good standing to take courses that are not offered at their home institution without transferring and without any increase in tuition. Both institutions seek to help graduate students obtain appropriate coursework.

Approval must be granted by both institutions before you may participate in this program. For more information about the procedures for participation, contact Chris Parks in Graduate Student Services at 414229-6332 or

Minnesota/Wisconsin Reciprocity Agreement

If you’re a Minnesota resident, the tuition reciprocity agreement allows you to avoid non-resident tuition at UWM. Under the program, graduate students pay whichever state’s resident tuition rate is higher.

Applicants are asked to apply electronically. You can also contact the Minnesota Office of Higher Education at 800-657-3866 or write to Reciprocity, Office of Higher Education, 1450 Energy Park Drive, Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55108.

You may also contact the UWM Office of the Registrar at (414) 229-3796. A certification year runs from July 1 through June 30.

If you are not certified by the date fees are due, you must pay non-resident tuition and fees; the appropriate amount will be refunded upon certification by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Doctoral Committee

You will need to assemble a doctoral committee consisting of graduate faculty to guide your studies and research. This committee will also approve your dissertation proposal and serve as the doctoral examining committee for your dissertation defense. The committee is chaired by your major professor.

Following are the general Graduate School regulations for formation of the doctoral committee:
  • By the time of your dissertation proposal hearing, the committee must have at least three UWM graduate faculty members, including your chosen major professor.
  • By the time you are ready to defend your dissertation, the committee must have at least four members, including your major professor. At least three of the committee members must be UWM graduate faculty; one external member approved by the program to possess appropriate expertise is automatically accepted by the Graduate School.
Your graduate program unit may have more specific requirements for committee formation and membership.

When forming your committee, keep in mind that you will be working closely with its members for an extended period of time. Make sure to assemble a cohesive group; choosing members with similar research methods and approaches may be just as important as choosing people with closely compatible research interests. Your advisor or other mentors may provide ideas for possible committee members.

Maintain frequent contact with your committee members. If they hear from you often, they will be more likely to keep you in mind and advise you of new developments in your field or valuable research opportunities.

Replacement of Major Professor or Doctoral Committee Members

At any time, you may request that your advisor or members of your doctoral committee be replaced. Your advisor and committee members may also request release from their duties, with your consent. Ask your graduate program representative for more information.

In some cases, your advisor or committee members may remove themselves without your consent. These cases include:
  • The advisor or member is involved in a conflict of interest.
  • The advisor or member leaves the University.
  • You change your dissertation topic or substantially change your dissertation proposal.
Once your dissertation proposal has been approved by the advisor and dissertation committee, your advisor or committee members cannot normally remove themselves if they become dissatisfied with your progress.

Research Subject to Institutional Approval

All students, faculty, and staff who engage in research activity must be aware of the following requirements:
  • If your research involves human subjects, you must have prior approval from the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research (IRB).
  • If your research involves radioactive materials, biohazards, or vertebrate animals, it must be completed under the protocol or authorization of a principal investigator and/or faculty member. University Safety and Assurances coordinates research compliance for these activities.
You must certify the receipt of any required approvals when you submit your dissertation. The Graduate School will not accept a dissertation containing research data collected without required approvals.

Doctoral Dissertator Enrollment

Continuous Registration
Doctoral students with dissertator status must maintain continuous registration.

A dissertator must register for 3 graduate-level dissertation or research credits (at the current per-credit dissertator rate) each semester until the dissertation is accepted by the Graduate School. During any summers in which you use University facilities or faculty time, are a fellow or research assistant, or plan to graduate, you must register for 3 graduate-level credits (dissertator rate) in the regular eight-week summer session. Three is the minimum (and the maximum) number of graduate credits required per semester.

The Graduate School will monitor your registration every semester to be sure that you are registered properly. The Graduate School has the authority to remove you from dissertator status if you are not in compliance with dissertator regulations. The Graduate School will notify you and your program unit of dissertator status requirements and of any registration problems. If you do not maintain continuous registration, you will be placed in a default status.

Default status: If you break the continuous registration requirement after attaining dissertator status, you will be assessed a completion (dissertator default) fee of 12 credits. After re-entry, the 12-credit completion fee is reduced by 3 credits per semester for each consecutive semester of enrollment. If you return for at least four consecutive semesters following a break in registration, the completion fee is not assessed.

Milestones of Doctoral Study