Academic Policies & Procedures

All graduate students are held to the same requirements and regulations as approved by the Graduate Faculty Committee. Please review the Academic Policies & Procedures page.

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.

Dissertation Defense


To begin the process of holding your dissertation defense, the first step is to apply for graduation in PAWS. This must be done no later than the second week of the semester in which you plan to graduate. The Application for Doctoral Defense and Graduation paperwork that is generated is used to determine your eligibility for defense and graduation, and for scheduling the date of your defense. The Graduate School and your program work together in this process.

In order to graduate in the semester you applied for, the dissertation defense must be held at least two weeks before the commencement ceremony date. Please see the posted Deadlines.

Follow your program’s defense guidelines

Each program has its own process in place for how its students should prepare for the defense. In most cases, this requires a draft of your dissertation to be sent to each committee member early in the semester to determine if you are truly ready to defend.

All committee members must read the dissertation in its entirety. The time allowed for members to read the dissertation is determined by the individual program units. A member cannot keep the dissertation for an inordinate amount of time because of the press of other duties. Service as a doctoral committee member is an integral part of a faculty member’s teaching assignment, fully comparable to conducting classes.

After the committee members have read the dissertation, they advise your major professor on its readiness for defense. If substantial revisions are necessary, they must be completed before the defense date is confirmed. Your major professor contacts you to confirm this date.

Defense Readiness Confirmation

By mid-semester, the defense date should be set. Your major professor returns the Application for Doctoral Defense and Graduation to the Graduate School, confirming the date.

Send an email attachment of the draft version of your dissertation to Doctoral Services in the Graduate School ( by the formatting check deadline to review your dissertation for the necessary formatting requirements.

Readiness for defense does not indicate acceptance of the dissertation; it means the committee agrees that you have met the terms of your proposal and that the dissertation is defensible. The decision to hold a doctoral defense, moreover, is not solely that of the committee. If you insist on defending the dissertation before the committee believes it is ready, you may defend.

At least a week prior to the defense, the Graduate School sends the Warrant for Doctoral Defense to your program’s graduate representative. This is the document the committee will use to record their votes on the day of the defense. If committee membership or the defense date changes, the Graduate School must be notified, and a new warrant will be issued.


The subject of the doctoral defense is the dissertation itself. The dissertation defense provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise after several years of preparatory coursework, research, and writing. You also will demonstrate your ability to explain ideas and methods embodied in the dissertation and to defend the implications and conclusions of your research.

The defense allows your committee members to verify your independent scholarly contributions. They may offer guidance regarding publication possibilities for the dissertation, and encourage further research efforts in your area of academic specialization.

The structure of the defense is determined by your program. It typically consists of a public oral defense, followed by a closed session with you and your committee.

All committee members are responsible for reading and voting on the dissertation. All committee members must be in attendance at your defense. Committee members may attend via video conference if unable to appear in person. In such cases, that member must email their vote to your committee chair or the program’s graduate representative, providing their decision and authorization for the chair or Grad Rep to sign the warrant in their place. That email must be printed and returned with the warrant to the Graduate School.

If at the last minute, a committee member cannot attend the defense in any format, the student must set up a time to defend separately to that committee member.


At the conclusion of the defense, the committee may vote either pass or fail, or it may decide to defer the decision. All committee members must vote. The warrant (indicating pass or fail) or the deferral form must be returned to the Graduate School within 10 working days of the defense or a deferral is automatically assigned.


To pass the defense, a majority of the committee must vote to pass. No absentee ballots are allowed.


If you fail the defense, you may re-defend once after a waiting period, to be determined by the committee and communicated to you in writing. The Graduate School requires that this second defense take place within one calendar year of the original defense. A new application and warrant are required for the second defense. In the case of a four-person committee, if the vote is a tie, the defense is failed.


If the committee determines that you need more than 10 working days to complete revisions to the dissertation, a deferral form must be so marked and submitted to the Graduate School within 10 working days of the defense.

Your major professor must notify you and the Graduate School of the specific reasons for the deferral action and the completion date required by the committee (not to exceed 4 months from the original defense date). If satisfactory changes are not made within 4 months, the deferral turns into a fail. You then have 8 months from the deferral deadline to pass a second defense.

You cannot graduate in deferral status and must register for the next semester if the deferral is not changed to a Pass by the Graduate School dissertation submission deadline.

The entire committee is responsible for verifying that the dissertation revisions have been made to their satisfaction. At this point, the committee passes or fails the dissertation and the major professor returns the signed warrant to the Graduate School.

Dissertation Formatting

Please see the Thesis & Dissertation Formatting website.

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.

The general Graduate School regulations for formation of the doctoral committee are as follows:

  • By the time of your preliminary exams or dissertation proposal hearing, the committee must have at least three members, including your chosen major professor. At least two 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 may have more specific requirements for committee formation and membership to which you will need to adhere. Please contact your program for details.
  • 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. You are allowed a maximum of six committee members for your defense.

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.

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.

Doctoral Minor Options

Minor: Option A

You may supplement the doctoral program by completing a minimum of 8 credits in residence at UWM in a different graduate program, or a different transcript-designated concentration within your program. The minor must be approved by both your program advisor and the graduate representative in the minor program and identified on your program of study. Option A minors are identified on your transcript. You may not earn a graduate certificate and a Minor Option A using the same courses.

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 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.

Graduate Transfer Credit

From a UWM Master’s Program

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 Graduate 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.

Other UWM Graduate Credit or Another Institution

The transfer of other graduate credits not from a master’s or other graduate-level degree may be permitted up to 12 graduate credits, 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 Graduate Transfer Credit Evaluation Form (PDF) form should be submitted.

An official transcript of the coursework listed on the form must be sent directly from the transfer institution to the Graduate School. Unofficial transcripts are unacceptable. UWM coursework does not require a transcript.

To take coursework at another institution as part of your doctoral program, you must obtain permission from your advisor and from the Graduate School. Taking coursework at another institution during the semester you intend to graduate is not recommended and does not satisfy the minimum registration requirement at UWM for your final semester of studies.

Transfer credit will be posted on your official record after you have completed one semester in your degree program. Transfer work is not calculated into the UWM GPA; only UWM coursework is calculated into the GPA.


Please see the Doctoral Graduation website.

Major Professor as Advisor

You should 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.

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.

Milestones of Doctoral Study

View the Milestones of Doctoral Study.

Multidisciplinary Committee-Directed PhD

The multidisciplinary committee-directed PhD program is designed to meet the needs of select, highly qualified doctoral students with unique needs and interests that cannot be met by a single existing program. The program crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries and opens new areas of instruction and research.

If you are considering this option, understand that although you must comply with all general Graduate School requirements for the PhD, your specific program of coursework, independent study, and research will be highly individualistic. Throughout the degree program, you must work very closely with your entire supervisory committee. This committee helps you select courses and activities designed to meet your goals, examines your progress at various phases (e.g., preliminary examination, dissertation proposal hearing), and assumes all the responsibilities of a department or program faculty in a conventional program.

For more information, please see the Multidisciplinary PhD program page.

Professional Doctorate Programs (DNP/DPT)

The professional doctorate programs may have different or additional requirements. They do not submit a dissertation, but may have other final project or paper requirements. All other graduate academic policies apply. Please consult with your program if you have any questions.

Replacement of Major Professor or 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 may 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.

Please see the Office of Research’s Research Compliance website for more information.


Residence requirements cannot be met at the master’s level, and must be fulfilled before you can achieve dissertator status. There are two types of doctoral residency that must be met:

Academic 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% Requirement

At least 50% of the graduate credits required for your PhD program must be completed at UWM in doctoral status.

Time Limit to Degree

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.