REGULATIONS PERTAINING TO THE DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

Doctor of Philosophy
Other Research Doctoral Degrees
Other Professional Doctoral Degrees

Doctor of Philosophy

Doctor of Philosophy degrees are awarded for completion of graduate programs in various departments within the School of Arts and Sciences, the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Education, the John A. Swanson School of Engineering, the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the School of Information Sciences, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the School of Pharmacy, the Graduate School of Public Health, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and the School of Social Work.

Admission to Doctoral Study

In some departments, the requirements for admission to graduate study and for admission to doctoral study are identical, while other departments require the completion of a master's degree or its equivalent as a prerequisite for admission to doctoral study. Admission to doctoral study does not include any implication concerning "admission to candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy degree."

Normally, only one major department of graduate study is permitted for the PhD degree. However, a few formal interdisciplinary programs and, under some circumstances, some independently designed interdisciplinary doctoral programs are available (see Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programs).

Programs of Study

All PhD programs offered at the University of Pittsburgh should provide a coherent series of courses, seminars, and discussions designed to develop in the student a mature understanding of the content, methods, theories, and values of a field of knowledge and its relation to other fields. Each program should train the student in the methods of independent research appropriate to the discipline and provide an adviser and a committee to guide the student in an extended investigation of an original and independent research project of significance in the field.

The overall form and content of each student's program is the responsibility of the Graduate Faculty of the department or program. To carry out this responsibility, departments or programs must ensure that each student has a major adviser who, in consultation with the student, plans a program of study and research in accord with school and departmental guidelines. The adviser may prescribe additional courses both within and outside the department or program that are essential and/or appropriate to the student's program.

Some doctoral programs may include approved areas of concentration used to define and describe the students' training and expertise within the broader discipline. Such an area of concentration is added to the transcript upon the granting of the degree.

Doctoral level courses are numbered in the 3000 series, but courses numbered in the 2000 series may also be appropriate for doctoral study. Normally, courses numbered below 2000 do not meet the minimum requirements for doctoral study, although they may be taken to supplement a doctoral program.

Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 in courses to be eligible to take the preliminary and comprehensive examinations as well as to be graduated.

The requirement of proficiency in the use of foreign languages or other tools of research is at the discretion of individual departments or schools.

Departments or programs are expected to provide students with a copy of school and departmental regulations appropriate for their program and, in turn, students are expected to become familiar with these and to satisfy all prescribed degree requirements.

Credit Requirements

The minimum credit requirement for the PhD degree is met by six terms of registration as a graduate student for 12 or more credits per term or the equivalent number of credits in a reduced load. If the school requires completion of its master's degree program prior to admission into its doctoral program, at least four terms of registration for 12 or more credits per term or the equivalent number of credits in a reduced load are required as a minimum for the PhD degree. No more than 30 credits may be accepted for a master's degree awarded by another institution to meet the minimum credit requirement. In recognition of graduate study beyond the master's degree successfully completed elsewhere, no more than 12 additional credits may be accepted at the time of admission to meet the minimum credit requirement. (See Acceptance of Transfer Credits) No more than 30 credits may be accepted for a previously earned PhD degree in recognition of master's degree work.

Graduate students already enrolled may, when approved in advance by their department or programs and the dean, spend a term or more at another graduate institution to obtain training or experience not available at the University of Pittsburgh and transfer those credits toward the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Pittsburgh. In all cases, at least three terms, or 36 credits, of full-time doctoral study or the equivalent in part-time study must be successfully completed at the University of Pittsburgh.

Students must register each term for the number of credits of course work, independent study, or research equivalent to the anticipated use of faculty time and University facilities. A student who has not registered for at least one credit during a 12-month period will be transferred automatically to inactive status and must file an application for readmission to graduate study (and pay the application fee) before being permitted to register again.

Residency Requirement

Students seeking the PhD degree are required to engage in a minimum of one term of full-time doctoral study, which excludes any other employment except as approved by their departments.

Preliminary Evaluation

The preliminary evaluation should be designed to assess the breadth of the student's knowledge of the discipline, the student's achievement during the first year of graduate study, and the potential to apply research methods independently. The form and nature of the evaluation should be approved at the school level and described in the school bulletin. It should be conducted at approximately the end of the first year of full-time graduate study. The evaluation is used to identify those students who may be expected to complete a doctoral program successfully and also to reveal areas of weakness in the student's preparation. Evaluation results must be reported promptly to the dean's office, but no later than the last day of the term in which the evaluation occurs.

Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Examination should be designed to assess the student's mastery of the general field of doctoral study, the student's acquisition of both depth and breadth in the area of specialization within the general field, and the ability to use the research methods of the discipline. In some programs, the comprehensive examination is combined with the overview or prospectus meeting. It should be administered at approximately the time of the completion of the formal course requirements and should be passed at least eight months before the scheduling of the final oral examination and dissertation defense. In no case may the comprehensive examination be taken in the same term in which the student is graduated. Examination results must be reported promptly to the dean's office but no later than the last day of the term in which the examination is administered. A student who is unable to complete all degree requirements within a five-year period after passing the comprehensive examination may be re-examined at the discretion of the department, program, or school. 

Doctoral Committee

Before admission to candidacy for the PhD degree, the student's major adviser proposes for the approval of the doctoral program director and the dean a committee of four or more persons, including at least one from another department in the University of Pittsburgh or from an appropriate graduate program at another academic institution, to serve as the doctoral committee. The majority of the committee, including the major adviser, must be full or adjunct members of the Graduate Faculty. This committee must review and approve the proposed research project before the student may be admitted to candidacy.

This doctoral committee has the responsibility to advise the student during the progress of the candidate's research and has the authority to require high quality research and/or the rewriting of any portion or all of the dissertation. It conducts the final oral examination and determines whether the dissertation meets acceptable standards.

Meetings of the doctoral candidate and his/her dissertation committee must occur at least annually from the time the student gains Admission to Doctoral Candidacy. During these meetings, the committee should assess the student's progress toward degree and discuss objectives for the following year and a timetable for completing degree requirements. It is the responsibility of the dean of each school to determine a mechanism for monitoring the occurrence of these annual reviews.

The membership of the doctoral committee may be changed whenever it is appropriate or necessary, subject to the approval of the department chair or program director and the dean.

When a doctoral committee member leaves the University, he or she must be replaced unless the dissertation is almost complete or the member has an essential role on the committee. In the latter case, the dean's approval should be obtained. When the chair of a committee leaves and cannot be conveniently replaced, a co-chair must be appointed from within the department, and the restructured committee requires the approval of the department chair or director of the school's doctoral program and the dean. If the defense takes place within a few months of the chair's departure, the requirement of the co-chair is usually waived.

A retired faculty member may remain as a member or chair of a committee if he or she is spending considerable time in Pittsburgh or its vicinity and is still professionally active. Retired faculty who meet these criteria may also be appointed as a member or as a co-chair (but not chair) of a newly-formed committee. Retired faculty who leave the Pittsburgh area and/or do not remain professionally active should be replaced on committees and the revised committee approved by the department chair or the school's director of doctoral programs and the dean.

Overview or Prospectus Meeting

Each student must prepare a dissertation proposal for presentation to the doctoral committee at a formal dissertation overview or prospectus meeting. The overview requires the student to carefully formulate a plan and permits the doctoral committee members to provide guidance in shaping the conceptualization and methodology of that plan. The doctoral committee must unanimously approve the dissertation topic and research plan before the student may be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree. Approval of the proposal does not imply either the acceptance of a dissertation prepared in accord with the proposal or the restriction of the dissertation to this original proposal. The student is responsible for ensuring that all appropriate regulatory approvals are obtained for the proposed research. For example, if the research proposed in the overview or prospectus involves human subjects, that proposed research must be approved by the University Institutional Review Board (IRB) before it may be carried out.

Admission to Candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Admission to candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy degree constitutes a promotion of the student to the most advanced stage of graduate study and provides formal approval to devote essentially exclusive attention to the research and the writing of the dissertation. To qualify for admission to candidacy, students must be in full graduate status, have satisfied the requirement of the preliminary evaluation, have completed formal course work with a minimum grade point average of 3.00, have passed the comprehensive examination, and have received approval of the proposed subject and plan of the dissertation from the doctoral committee following an overview or prospectus meeting of the committee. In some schools, admission to candidacy is a prerequisite to registration for dissertation credits. Students are informed of admission to candidacy by written notification from the dean, who also states the approved doctoral committee's composition.

Dissertation and Abstract

Each student must write a dissertation that presents the results of a research project carried out by the student. An appropriate research project involves a substantive piece of original and independent research grounded in an appropriate body of literature. It is relevant to an identifiable field as it is currently practiced. It presents a hypothesis tested by data and analysis and provides a significant contribution or advancement in that field. It is the responsibility of the student's doctoral committee to evaluate the dissertation in these terms and to recommend the awarding of the doctoral degree only if the dissertation is judged to demonstrate these qualities.

Characteristics which a dissertation should demonstrate are: the establishment of a historical context for the presentation of an innovative and creative approach to the problem analysis and solution; a clear understanding of the problem area as revealed by analysis and synthesis of a broad literature base; a well defined research design; clarity in composition and careful documentation; results of sufficient merit to be published in refereed journals or to form the basis of a book or monograph; sufficient detail so that other scholars can build on it in subsequent work; the preparation of the author to assume a position within the profession.

If the dissertation is the result of a collaborative research effort, the project should be structured in such a way that the student's dissertation results from one, clearly identified piece of work in which the student has supplied the unquestionably major effort. The contributions of the student and the other collaborators must be clearly identified.

Published articles authored by the student and based on research conducted for the dissertation study may be included in the dissertation, if the student's department and school have a written policy that this is acceptable. In any case, the published work must be logically connected and integrated into the dissertation in a coherent manner, and sufficient detail must be presented to satisfy the characteristics of a dissertation. The student should be the sole or primary author of the published work. If the published articles were co-authored, the contribution of the student must be clearly delineated in the introduction so the committee can ascertain that the student's own work satisfies the requirements of a dissertation. Instructions on incorporating articles into the dissertation are provided in the Format Guidelines for Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Preparation at the University of Pittsburgh.

Candidates for the doctoral degree must provide a suitable number of copies of the dissertation, as determined by the doctoral committee and school policy, for review and use during the final oral examination. The general format of the dissertation and the abstract is determined by the Office of the Provost and is set forth in the Format Guidelines for Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Preparation at the University of Pittsburgh. Specific instructions should be available in the office of the dean of the school. After the final oral examination is successfully completed, the candidate must electronically submit the approved complete dissertation and abstract in final form. The candidate must submit a dissertation approval form, the required agreement with University Microfilms Inc. for the publication of the dissertation on microfilm and for the publication of the abstract in Dissertation Abstracts, and any appropriate fees to the designated student services representative in the dean’s office of the candidate’s school.

Language of the Doctoral Dissertation

The language in which doctoral dissertations are written shall normally be English. Exceptions may be granted by the student's dean with the approval of the dissertation adviser and committee, but only for sound reasons of scholarship. Permission shall never be granted on the ground of inadequate command of English.

Final Oral Examination

The final oral examination in defense of the doctoral dissertation is conducted by the doctoral committee and need not be confined to materials in and related to the dissertation. Any member of the Graduate Faculty of the University may attend and participate in the examination. The date, place, and time of the examination should be published well in advance in the University Times. Other qualified individuals may be invited by the committee to participate in the examination. Only members of the doctoral committee may be present during the final deliberations and may vote on the passing of the candidate. A report of this examination, signed by all the members of the doctoral committee, must be sent to the dean. If the decision of the committee is not unanimous, the case is referred to the dean for resolution. The chair of the doctoral committee should ensure that the dissertation is in final form before requesting signatures of the members of the committee.

Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programs

A student may be admitted into one of two types of interdisciplinary doctoral programs:

 1. Generic Programs, which are ongoing, formally structured, and approved doctoral programs, admission into which follows the same procedures as those of departmental programs; and,

2. Individualized Programs, which are specially designed to permit an exceptionally able student who has earned a master's degree or the equivalent to pursue an interdisciplinary doctoral program structured to satisfy his or her unique goals. Such students should apply to the dean of the school if the departments involved in the proposed program are organized within one school or to the Provost if the departments are organized within more than one school. The student must satisfy the admission requirements of each of the departments or schools involved in the proposed program. If the request is approved, the dean or the Provost, in consultation with the departments concerned, will designate five members from these departments to serve as an advisory committee. After these advisers meet with the student, a chief adviser is selected to assume responsibility for general guidance to the student. These advisers continue their responsibility until the student is admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree and may, if it is appropriate, continue as the doctoral committee for this student.

Other Research Doctoral Degrees

The University of Pittsburgh, through its professional schools, offers the following research doctoral degrees in professional fields of study: Doctor of Education offered through the School of Education and the Doctor of Public Health offered through the Graduate School of Public Health.

These doctoral degree programs are similar to those for the PhD in the degree of rigor required, the minimum total credit requirements and permissible transfer credits, requirements for the successful completion of a preliminary evaluation and a comprehensive examination, admission to doctoral candidacy, nomination of a doctoral committee, preparation of the dissertation and abstract, publication of the dissertation, and successful completion of the final oral examination. These doctoral dissertations are usually based on an in-depth research project by the student and are intended to permit the student to apply relevant theory and knowledge as well as demonstrate skills in analysis of a major problem and to contribute to the improvement of practice in the student's area of specialization.

Other Professional Doctoral Degrees

The University of Pittsburgh also offers professional doctoral degree programs for practitioners, including the JSD (Law), DNP (Nursing), AuD (Audiology), DPT (Physical Therapy), PharmD (Pharmacy), and CScD (Clinical Science). These programs provide a coherent curriculum designed to impart the mastery of a substantial and complex body of knowledge that will serve as preparation for leadership and excellence in the practice of the profession. The curriculum should contain a research component to achieve the goal for the research competence of the graduate. Students should deliver a report based on research that demonstrates both mastery of their subject matter and a high level of communication skills. The curriculum should contain an internship, a practicum or a clinical component.  Each experience should have associated with it clear goals and objectives, a statement of what skills the student should master, a statement of how those skills will be assessed objectively by the academic program and what steps the program will take in response to those assessments. In addition, the program should have an objective way to evaluate the site where internships and/or clinical rotations take place and assure the expertise of those responsible for administering training and instruction. If the program is an accredited program, the standards of the accrediting body for a professional doctorate must be met. 


To attain the depth of knowledge and experience required by someone earning a doctorate, a minimum 9 semesters of full-time study are required.  Of this no more than one-third should be internships or clinical work. A comprehensive examination will be used to assess the student’s mastery of a substantial and complex body of knowledge.


The minimum admission requirements must be the same as for all graduate programs at the University of Pittsburgh.  In addition, the student must have completed a defined set of pre-requisites so that all students will enter with required basic knowledge. A student must attain a 3.00 GPA in order to maintain good standing and be graduated.


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