Preliminary Examination

All students must pass a preliminary examination subsequent to successfully completing all required course work and prior to being admitted to doctoral candidacy. In consultation with the student’s advisory committee and with the approval of the doctoral program coordinator, one or a combination of the following formats will be required:

  • a paper that consists of three sections: a) critical literature review in a discrete area of study, b) discussion of the relevant theory and its application, and c) description and critique of research methodologies and analytic strategies;
  • an alternative preliminary examination that includes both a written and oral component. The written preliminary examination will be designed to assess the breadth and depth of a student’s knowledge in the core curriculum and area of concentration along with his/her ability to conduct independent research. At least one semester prior to the examination, the student will develop a reading list in consultation with her/his major professor that covers: a) critical literature in a discrete area of study, b) the relevant theory and its application in this area, and c) description and critique of research methodologies and analytic strategies common to the area. Potential examination questions will be submitted by the members of the examining committee and will be based on the sources appearing on the reading list. The final set of examination items will be selected by the chair of the examination committee;
  • regardless of format, the preliminary examination is comprehensive and integrative, reflective of the student’s individual course of study, and requiring independent work beyond the course requirements.

Dissertation Examination

Dissertation Proposal Defense

All students must successfully complete an oral defense of their dissertation proposal to determine their preparation for independent research. The defense must be completed successfully within four years of initial enrollment.


Students who have successfully completed the qualifying exercise and a one-page preliminary dissertation proposal are formally admitted to doctoral candidacy. In accordance with Graduate School policies, students must then register for three research or thesis/dissertation credits each semester until the dissertation is submitted to the Graduate School. To meet the requirements for the dissertation, the candidate must complete an original independent research project that adds meaningfully to the existing body of knowledge in criminal justice or social work. It should be of a caliber that warrants publication in respected journals in the field.

Dissertation Defense

As the final step toward the degree, the candidate must pass an oral examination before his/her doctoral committee in defense of the dissertation. The examination may also cover general topics relevant to the student’s area of study. This requirement may not be completed until all other degree requirements are satisfied.

Time Limit

It is expected that most students will complete all degree requirements within six years of initial enrollment in the doctoral program. All requirements MUST be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment.

For additional information on Graduate School PhD requirements, see the PhD section of the Graduate Faculty and Student Handbook.