The Doctor of Philosophy Degree at Southern Methodist University
The Doctor of Philosophy degree recognizes a scholar’s demonstrated ability to conduct and present advanced, original research that contributes significantly to their field of study. Ph.D. programs at accredited universities vary in their specific requirements. Generally, however, they require completion of a body of course work, designed to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct advanced research, along with one or more examinations, usually referred to as “qualifying examinations,” designed to confirm the student’s competence in the field of study and preparation to undertake Ph.D. research. Successful completion of these requirements results in advancement to candidacy, after which the student must complete their Ph.D. research, write a dissertation describing the results of that research, present the dissertation to a committee of experts in the field, and receive that committee’s approval.
SMU’s Ph.D. programs are responsible for setting and maintaining curricula that meet the highest standards in their fields. Each Ph.D. program is operated by a specific academic department or academic program and is governed by policies and procedures set by the school in which that department or program resides. The text below describes policies that apply to all Ph.D. programs. Policies and procedures set by each individual school can be found in that school’s section of this catalog.
Admissions Requirements for Ph.D. Programs
Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from a college or university recognized by the accrediting agencies in whose jurisdiction it is located to enroll in one of SMU’s Ph.D. programs. Applicants with international degrees equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s will be considered, provided the degree is from a college or university of recognized standing. Graduates of colleges not fully recognized will be treated as special cases and will be required to produce evidence attesting to the quality of their programs. Some Ph.D. programs may require that applicants have received a master’s or equivalent international degree in order to enroll. All applicants must have adequate subject preparation in the chosen major field, normally an overall grade point average of 3.000 (on a 4.000 scale), and a satisfactory score on the GRE graduate school admission test. SMU recognizes that international institutions often use different grading systems and evaluates transcripts from institutions outside of the U.S. on a case-by-case basis. Applicants should consult the sections of this catalog that address regulations in their school and program of choice for additional application requirements.
Applicants who do not speak English as their native language are required to supply scores on the TOEFL English language proficiency test or the IELTS English competency test. The minimum TOEFL score for admission to a Ph.D. program is 80, and the minimum IELTS score is 6.5. This requirement is automatically waived for students who have received undergraduate degrees from an English-language institution located in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa and who have been in residence at that institution for at least two years while earning their undergraduate degree. International applicants for whom this requirement is not automatically waived but who believe they have demonstrated English-language proficiency may also request to have the requirement waived. These requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Final application deadlines for fall admission vary from Ph.D. program to Ph.D. program. In addition, Ph.D. programs may set separate deadlines for priority review of applications and for consideration for financial aid. Applicants are advised to consult with their prospective programs for information about the deadlines that apply to them.
Applicants who wish to be considered for nomination by their programs for the Moody Ph.D., University Ph.D., or Mustang Fellowships offered by the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies must apply by their program’s priority deadline or by February 1, whichever comes earlier.
In special cases, some Ph.D. programs may offer admission in terms other than the fall. Applicants should consult with their prospective programs about deadlines for admission in other terms.
The time required to attain the necessary skills to conduct advanced, original research and then to complete and present that research varies from field to field. It may also depend on a specific student’s preparation and the nature of the research project they take on. In all cases, however, pursuing a Ph.D. degree is a significant investment of time generally requiring, at minimum, four years of full-time study. Nevertheless, Ph.D. programs recognize that research in their fields advances rapidly and that scholars need to stay up to date on and to continually practice the skills and techniques of the field. Time limits for degree milestones and completion ensure that graduating students’ research and skills are current.
SMU’s schools and programs thus set limitations on the time granted to advance to candidacy and on the time granted to complete all degree requirements after advancing to candidacy. Usually, students will complete all examinations required by their programs by the end of the third year and will complete all requirements for the Ph.D. no later than five years after advancing to candidacy. The course of study for the Ph.D. degree is therefore expected to take no more than eight years in total. If a student takes a leave of absence approved by their program and school, the leave may be granted without being counted towards the time limit. Extensions, usually limited to one year, may be granted in special circumstances, for example if a student is pursuing their degree part time. Students should consult with their programs and schools for more information about the time limits that apply to them and about the procedures for applying for extensions.
Coursework and Residency
Credit hour requirements for the Ph.D. are set by schools and programs. Students should consult their school catalogs or Ph.D. program handbooks for this information.
Continuous enrollment is expected for Ph.D. students, unless the student is granted an official leave. All Ph.D. programs follow their school’s leave of absence policy for leaves for medical or other personal reasons. Programs may also grant leaves for other purposes, and students should consult with their schools and programs for additional leave options. No leave will be considered official unless approved through the leave of absence process or by the student’s program and school. Students who do not enroll during the usual academic year (fall and spring semester) without receiving leave will be required to reapply. Students are also required to be enrolled in the term in which they graduate.
A period of residency at SMU is required for all Ph.D. students. The required length of residency varies by school and program, and students are advised to consult their school and program for their residency requirements.
Assessment of Ph.D. Students
Ph.D. students are evaluated regularly—at least once every academic year—to ensure that they are receiving the appropriate mentorship necessary for success in their program. Evaluations also determine whether students are meeting degree requirements, adhering to appropriate standards for conduct, and fulfilling the responsibilities of their assistantships. Students may be placed on probation, suspended, or dismissed if they are failing to meet standards in any of these areas. In the case of probation or suspension, clear conditions as well as a timeline for clearance of the probation or reinstatement in the program will be established and communicated to the student by their program. In all cases, Ph.D. students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA, and are placed on probation for one regular term if they fall below this level. If, at the end of that term, their cumulative GPA is not up to 3.0, they may be removed from their program at the discretion of their school’s dean’s office.
Qualifying Examinations and Admission to Candidacy
Admission to a Ph.D. program does not imply admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree. Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree is a distinction that recognizes that students have gained a mature understanding of the literature of their field and have attained the necessary knowledge and skills to identify and investigate a significant research problem in that field. Students should consult their school catalogs and program handbooks for information about the requirements and timeline for advancement to candidacy.
Although additional requirements vary from program to program, all Ph.D. programs require students to pass at least one significant examination, separate from their coursework and administered by the program, before they can be admitted to candidacy. These “qualifying” examinations, usually including at least one examination conducted orally, represent certification by the student’s examination committee that the student has demonstrated the ability to identify an important research problem appropriate for Ph.D.-level research and has communicated a clear and viable research strategy for addressing this problem. Upon completion of the candidacy requirements, the program will notify the Dean of the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies that the student has been admitted to candidacy.
Dissertation Committee Membership
All Ph.D. programs require that the candidate write a dissertation embodying the results of a significant and original investigation. The dissertation is expected to be a mature and competent piece of writing and must make a significant and novel contribution to the student’s discipline. In addition, all dissertations must be approved by a committee whose membership has been approved by the student’s program and school. The dissertation committee is composed of experts qualified to judge the validity of the student’s research and its contribution to the field. In most cases, the majority of the committee will be full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty in the student’s program. Students are also often encouraged, and in some cases required by their program, to include an external member unaffiliated with their program on the dissertation committee. Students are advised to consult with their schools and programs for additional regulations with regards to the formation of the dissertation committee.
Responsible Conduct of Research
SMU recognizes that one of the duties of a scholar conducting research is to maintain responsible research practices and to avoid misconduct in all of its forms. The Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, therefore, in collaboration with the Office of Research offers a full-day seminar in the responsible conduct of research, covering such topics as authorship and plagiarism; data management and falsification and fabrication of data; and conflicts of interest. In accordance with federal regulations, Ph.D. students funded on federal grants are required to complete this seminar. The Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies also provides online responsible conduct of research training to other graduate students and requires master’s students funded by federal grants to complete this online training.
University grants, scholarships, fellowships and assistantships are awarded in the school or program in which the graduate student will enroll. Schools and Ph.D. programs offer a significant number of tuition scholarships and teaching or research assistantships each year. For more information, students should contact the appropriate school or program.
The Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies offers Moody Ph.D. Fellowships, University Ph.D. Fellowships, and Mustang Fellowships to Ph.D. students nominated by their program and selected at the time of admission. Moody Ph.D. Fellowships provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and stipends of $30,000 for up to five years for Ph.D. students who demonstrate exceptional promise for academic success at the time of admission to their Ph.D. program. University Ph.D. Fellowships provide funding above the amount typically available to students through their program, and are renewable for a total of five years of support, contingent upon acceptable progress towards the degree. Mustang Fellowships provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and stipends of $30,000 for up to five years for Ph.D. students who are US citizens or permanent residents and identify as diverse in their disciplines. In addition, the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies provides a limited number of travel grants to students in reimbursement for expenses to attend a conference to present an accepted paper or poster.
The Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies also offers Moody Dissertation Fellowships and Dean’s Dissertation Fellowships to select Ph.D. students in the final, dissertation-writing phase of their program. Moody Dissertation Fellowships provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and stipends of $30,000 for one year, and Dean’s Dissertation Fellowships provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and stipends commensurate with the standard stipend in the student’s program for up to one year. Students who receive these fellowships commit to work full time on dissertation research and writing during the fellowship period and to defend their dissertations and complete their degrees by the end of the fellowship period. Students must be nominated by their programs to be eligible for a Moody Dissertation Fellowship or a Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship. Moody Dissertation Fellowships are reserved for students whose dissertations demonstrate exceptional potential to contribute to their field of study.
Student Health Insurance
The support Ph.D. students receive from their assistantships or fellowships at SMU in most cases includes full coverage of the premiums for the Student Health Insurance Plan. Full-time enrolled Ph.D. students will be automatically eligible for this coverage, if they 1) are fully supported by an SMU fellowship or assistantship which provides the student with compensation of at least $18,000 for the year or $9,000 for the semester, 2) are within five years of their term of matriculation in their Ph.D. program, and 3) are making satisfactory progress in their program. Coverage will be provided for the full academic year or on a semester-by-semester basis, depending on the nature of the student’s assistantship or fellowship. Coverage may also be provided to Ph.D. students who do not meet these criteria, particularly if they are supported by an external fellowship or internship that does not provide health insurance coverage. Ph.D. students who are not automatically eligible may, with the support of their program and school, petition the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies for health insurance coverage. Full-time Ph.D. students who do not receive health insurance coverage may still enroll in the Student Health Insurance Plan and pay the premiums themselves.