The University of Massachusetts Amherst
Section Menu

Pre-Spring 2018 PhD Regulations

Part One: Administration

1. The Degree

The Department offers a course of study leading to the PhD in Philosophy.

2. Supervisory Committee

The Supervisory Committee (SC) consists of three members. One of these is the Graduate Program Director (GPD). The other two are members of the Graduate Faculty of the Department of Philosophy, appointed to the SC annually by the Head. The Head may not serve on the SC. The SC administers the Starred Paper/Area Exam system, interprets the regulations governing that system, and performs other duties that are assigned to it by the department.

3. Advisors

Each student is expected to select some member of the Department's Faculty as Advisor (with the consent of the person selected) during the student's first month in the Program. Any student who does not satisfy this expectation will be assigned an Advisor by the GPD. When a student's PhD Dissertation Committee has been formed, its Chair becomes the student's Advisor. Advisors are expected to review progress with their advises at least once per semester. Advisors are responsible for representing the interests of their advisees at the Review.

4. Review

The work of each student in the Program is reviewed by the Department after each semester. Students who wish some action to be taken at a review should so inform the GPD in writing prior to the review. Students are expected to consult with their Advisors after each review. Students whose work is found to be satisfactory are so informed by their Advisors. Those whose work is found to be unsatisfactory may be asked to confer with the Head or GPD, as well as with their Advisors, and they may be dismissed from the program.

5. Grades in Courses

The grades given in graduate courses are: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, and F.

See the addenda to the regulations for more information about what grades mean.

6. Incompletes

If a student is unable to complete work for a course by the instructor's due date, the student may petition the instructor for a grade of incomplete. The granting of incompletes is at the discretion of the instructor. If the student receives a grade of incomplete, he or she will then have (with the instructor’s permission) until 11:59 PM of the day prior to the first day of the next semester to complete the work. (Thus, an incomplete for a Fall course must be completed before the first day of the following Spring semester; an incomplete for a Spring course must be completed before the first day of the following Fall semester.) If the coursework is not completed by the deadline, the course will no longer be eligible to be counted toward the satisfaction of any Departmental requirement, even if the coursework is subsequently completed and the student receives a grade in the course to replace the grade of I (incomplete) or IF (incomplete failure) on his or her graduate school transcript.

7. Preliminary Decision Semester

The SC assigns a Prelim Decision Semester for each incoming student during his or her first semester in the Program. Normally the Prelim Decision Semester is the spring semester of the student's third year.

Part Two: Preliminary Requirements

8. Course Requirement

Each student in the program must pass fifteen University graduate level philosophy courses (45 hours) at the 500-, 600-, 700- and 800- level. Philosophy 699 (Master's Thesis) and 899 (PhD Dissertation) may not be used to satisfy the Course Requirement; at most six hours of Independent Study may be used.

9. Seminar Requirement

Each student in the program must pass seven University philosophy seminars, each of which is at the 700- or 800- level. Philosophy 796 and 896 (Independent Study) may not be used to satisfy this requirement. It is sometimes possible for a student to use a 500-level course to satisfy part of this requirement.

10. Distribution Reqirement

Each student in the Program must pass one University graduate level courses in each of the following fields.

  • Ancient History
  • Modern History
  • Metaphysics
  • Epistemology
  • Ethics
  • Logic

At the beginning of each semester, the GPD will issue a memorandum to graduate students indicating, for each course scheduled to be given during that semester, which field, if any, the course falls under. Independent Study will not satisfy the Distribution Requirement.

11. Transfer Credit

Graduate level philosophy courses at institutions other than the University and courses in fields other than philosophy may be used to satisfy the Course, Seminar, or Distribution Requirements only with Departmental approval (i.e., in virtue of a vote of the Philosophy Faculty). A course is eligible for transfer only if it was taken while the student was enrolled in a graduate program. Acceptance of non-Departmental courses as satisfying either the Seminar Requirement or the Distribution Requirement is unlikely; it will happen only in exceptional cases. Furthermore, the upper bound on non-Departmental courses accepted as satisfying the Course Requirement is six in the case of a student who had an MA in philosophy at the time of enrolment in our Program; the upper bound is three in the case of those who do not have philosophy MAs; these upper bounds will be reached only in exceptional cases.

The Department will consider requests for transfer credit only from students who have completed at least two semesters in the PhD Program.

See the addenda for more information on how to obtain transfer credit.

12. Starred Papers

A Starred Paper is a substantial work giving solid evidence that its author is able to do the kind of original research and writing required to complete a satisfactory doctoral dissertation in philosophy.

More information on what is expected of a Starred Paper is available here.

13. Starred Paper Day

At the beginning of each semester, the GPD establishes a Starred Paper Day for that semester. Normally, Starred Paper Days fall in November and April. Any student planning to submit a Starred Paper must notify the GPD at least eight weeks before the relevant Starred Paper Day. The notification should state the title of the proposed paper, give a short description of the subject matter, and specify the field of submission.

14. Starred Paper Committees

The SC will establish appropriate Starred Paper Committees for grading Starred Papers. Each Starred Paper Committee consists of three members, one of whom serves as Chair. The student is informed of the membership of the Starred Paper Committee and is required to have at least one meeting with the Chair. Students are encouraged to consult with all three members of the committee prior to submitting the paper. The SC will aim to bring it about that prior to completing the Starred Paper Requirement each student will have been graded by a wide selection of the Philosophy Faculty.

15. Submission

Any student who has properly notified the GPD and has met with the chair of the Committee may submit a Starred Paper on Starred Paper Day. The SC sees to it that all members of the appropriate Starred Paper Committees receive copies of papers promptly after submission.

16. Grades on Starred Paper Day

(Revised 2012) Each Starred Paper Committee assigns to its paper exactly one of the following grades: PASS, FAIL, NEITHER-PASS-NOR-FAIL (NPNF). Within ten school days of Starred Paper Day, the Starred Paper Committee reports the grade to the SC on the Starred Paper grade report form.

The SC reports each grade submitted to it to the student in question. Overall grades on Starred Papers are determined by the following chart.


































After consulting with other Starred Paper Committee members, the Chair of each committee produces a brief written statement of the committee's evaluation of the paper. One copy of this statement is given to the student, another is placed in the student's file together with the paper. Students are encouraged to discuss their papers with committee members.

17. Starred Paper Requirement

Each student must receive two passes on Starred Papers. The papers must be in two distinct fields.

18. Area Examinations

After selecting the area of the intended dissertation (normally near the end of the fifth semester in the Program) a student may notify the GPD that he or she wishes to take an Area Examination. The SC then forms a suitable Area Examination Committee composed of three members of the philosophy faculty, one of whom serves as Chair. The student and the Committee members then agree on a list of readings in the area of the intended dissertation.

The student then prepares an Area Exam Document of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 words containing summary exposition and brief discussion of the main doctrines and arguments in the area of the proposed exam. The Area Exam Document is submitted to members of the Area Examination Committee, who then may either approve it or ask for modifications. When all members of the Committee have approved the document, the Chair proceeds to schedule the Area Exam.

The Area Examination is an oral exam lasting approximately 90 minutes. Questioning in the exam should be primarily focused on doctrines and arguments discussed in the Area Exam Document. Grading and reporting of grades on Area Examinations follow the pattern of grading and reporting on Starred Papers (outlined above in Section 16).

19. Area Examination Requirement

A student satisfies the Area Examination Requirement if he or she receives a grade of pass on the Area Examination.

20. Preliminary Requirement

If, by the end of his or her Prelim Decision Semester, a student has completed all components of the Course, Seminar, Distribution, Starred Paper, and Area Examination Requirements, then he or she will be certified as having completed the Preliminary Requirement for the PhD in Philosophy.

If, by the end of his or her Prelim Decision Semester, a student has completed all components of the Preliminary Requirement except for the Starred Paper Requirement or the Area Examination Requirement, and the student has received a total of three grades of PASS or NPNF on Starred Papers and the Area Examination, then the Department will consider the case as a whole and either (a) certify the student as having completed the Preliminary Requirement, or (b) drop the student from the program, or (c) otherwise resolve the issue.

Any student who has not been certified as having completed the Preliminary Requirement by the end of his or her Prelim Decision Semester, and who has not been granted an extension permitting submission of another Starred Paper or another Area Examination, will be dropped from the program.

21. One Pass Rule

Any student who does not receive at least one pass on a Starred Paper by the end of his or her fourth semester in the Program will be deemed to be in bad standing in the Program, and the student may be dismissed from the Program.

22. Two Fail Rule

Any student who receives two fails on Starred Papers will be deemed to be in bad standing in the Program, and the student may be dismissed from the Program.

Extensions of this and other milestones are sometimes granted.

23. Master's Degrees

Students in the PhD Program may receive the Master's Degree upon completion of all components of the Preliminary Requirement other than the Area Examination, as well as applicable requirements of the Graduate School.

Part Three: The Dissertation

24. Dissertation Committee

Once a student has completed the Preliminary Requirement, he or she acquires a Dissertation Committee, which then oversees the rest of his or her work for the PhD. This Committee is formally appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School, on the recommendation of the GPD. The Committee has four members, three of whom (including the Chair) must be members of the Graduate Faculty of Philosophy, and one of whom (the "outside member") must be a member of the University's Graduate Faculty, but in some Department other than Philosophy. Students must form their committee, and have it formally appointed, by the end of the semester after becoming ABD.

25. Forming the Committee

In forming a Dissertation Committee, a student first chooses the Chair of the Committee. Having established the Chair's willingness to serve, the student reports this choice to the GPD. The latter then chooses the three additional members, after consulting with the proposed Chair and the student, and submits the whole slate of members to the Dean of the Graduate School for formal approval.

26. Role of Committee Members

Most of the actual writing of the dissertation is done under the supervision of the Chair of the Dissertation Committee. The three remaining members serve primarily as readers of the dissertation and as examiners at the Final Oral Examination, though they may provide guidance during the writing as well.

27. Prospectus

Once the Dissertation Committee has been appointed, the student, in consultation with the Chair, prepares a dissertation prospectus, which must then be approved by each member of the Committee. When the prospectus has been approved by the members of the Committee, the GPD submits the approved prospectus to the Dean of the Graduate School.

28. Philosophy 899

In order to receive the PhD, a student must register for at least 18 credits of Phil 899, Doctoral Dissertation.

29. Seven Month Rule

The Graduate School requires that at least seven months elapse between the submission of the prospectus and the Final Oral Examination.

30. Final Oral Examination

When the dissertation itself is finished, it is submitted to the Dissertation Committee for judgment. If, and only if, the Committee approves it unanimously, the dissertation is submitted to the Head of the Department, who, if he or she also approves, then instructs the GPD to place a copy of the dissertation in the main office and to schedule the Final Oral Examination

The dissertation need not be typed in final form at the time it is submitted to the Committee. It must, however, be complete and clearly legible.

The time and place of the Final Oral Examination are announced by the GPD not less than two weeks beforehand. The copy of the dissertation placed in the Main Office by the GPD must be available for a period of at least two weeks prior to the Final Oral Examination.

The Final Oral Examination is conducted by the Dissertation Committee. The Examination is open to the University community at large, students and faculty, and any member of the Department may participate in the questioning of the candidate. Only the members of the Dissertation Committee, however, vote on the candidate's performance. Their vote must be unanimous in order for the student to pass the Examination.

31. Submission of Final Version of Dissertation

Having passed the Final Oral Exam, the student then has the dissertation finally typed and bound, according to the specifications given in the Graduate School Handbook. The typed original, unbound, and one copy, bound, must be submitted to the Graduate School, and a second copy, bound, to the Department of Philosophy, on or before April 29, August 31, or December 30 for the student to be awarded a degree at the May, September, or February graduations, respectively.

Part Four: Miscellaneous Regulations

32. Residence Requirement (Imposed by the Graduate School)

In order to qualify for the PhD, a student must spend at least one academic year – either a fall-spring or a spring-fall sequence – in residence doing full-time graduate work at the University. A student does full-time graduate work in a semester only if he or she then takes a schedule of courses amounting to eight or more credits.

33: Statute of Limitations (Imposed by the Graduate School)

Except for those already holding the MA in Philosophy at the time of admission, each student in the PhD Program must complete all requirements for the PhD within six calendar years of admission. Students holding the MA in Philosophy at the time of admission must complete all requirements for the PhD within four calendar years of admission.