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How do I develop a program of study proposal?

The Program of Study Proposal is an important part of the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam and the Master's Program of Study Review.The purpose of constructing a proposed program of study and having it approved is to establish early a set of courses and a possible thesis/dissertation topic that enable one to meet degree-related scholarly and professional goals.

This document, which is developed and distributed prior to the committee meetings specified above, provides the basis for a conversation among the student, the student's permanent advisor, and the assembled committee. Precisely what should appear in a student's Program of Study Proposal will differ depending on the student's background, her or his objectives, and the expectations of advisors and committees. Students should discuss the Program of Study Proposal with their advisor prior to its development.

The following is a general guide that students can use when developing the Program of Study Proposal.

  1. The document should articulate the student’s objectives for his or her graduate education.
  2. It should identify the courses that the student hopes to take to meet his or her objectives.
  3. It should provide some means for assessing the student’s capability to complete the proposed program of study--e.g., transcripts of completed courses, a CV, etc.
  4. It should provide some sense of the student's own position relative to his or her field of inquiry and the type of career she or he hopes to secure in the future.

The responsibility for constructing the program of study and arranging for its review are with the student.  The following steps constitute a set of best practices that students may follow:

  1. Find a permanent advisor who can help you identify and achieve your goals.
  2. Discuss with your advisor potential committee members and courses.
  3. Obtain sample copies of successful Program Proposals from your advisor and/or more advanced graduate students.
  4. Prepare your proposed program of study proposal and revise it according to your advisor’s recommendations.
  5. Submit the proposal to your committee at least two weeks in advance of the relevant committee meeting (Masters Program of Study Meeting or the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam.
  6. Work with Robin Kowa to find an appropriate room, date, and time for the meeting.
  7. Meet with your committee at the time set and answer all questions concerning the proposed program, as well as related matters as directly as possible.
  8. Following the meeting, revise your program of study to reflect any changes required by the committee.
  9. Send a finalized copy of your program of study document to your committee and advisor.

The proposed program of study can be a relatively short document, usually no more than 5-10 pages in length. The content of programs of study varies among students and advisors; however, at minimum, it should include:

  1. A clear statement regarding your scholarly and professional goals (often including a brief history).
  2. Completed and planned courses (number, title, and semester taken or to be taken) that help you meet your goals.
  3. A discussion of the relationship of the courses to your scholarly and professional goals.
  4. A discussion of the possible thesis/dissertation topic or question you hope to pursue.

Your program of study remains a proposal until you have had a meeting with your advisory committee. If the committee approves the proposed program of study (with or without modification), you will become a candidate in the department for the degree you specified in your application. Please realize that your program of study represents a plan—it can be changed with the approval of your committee. Each of us has preferences regarding what the program of study involves. So, be sure to discuss the content of your program proposal with your advisor before setting a meeting with all committee members. Finally, be sure that the proposal, as developed, satisfies all Departmental and Graduate School requirements relating to the particular degree objective of interest.