Degree Requirements - Doctoral
General Credit Requirements
Optional Graduate Representative
Program of Study
Defense of Dissertation
Electronic Thesis/Dissertation (ETD)
Degree Requirements/General & Age of Courses
Commencement & Degree/Certificate Completion
The Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.), Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) are awarded on evidence of a particular field of knowledge, the ability to carry out independent research, and the ability to present the results of such research in a scholarly manner.
- All doctoral students are expected to be familiar with both The Graduate School and their specific academic college and department degree requirements.
- All students earning a doctoral degree from MSU must complete a minimum of sixty (60) credit hours post-baccalaureate, of which eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28) must be dissertation credits. The satisfactory completion of certain courses is stipulated by the department.
- Only those courses listed on an approved Graduate Program of Study are applicable toward graduate degree credit requirements.
- A maximum of thirty (30) credits from a previously earned master's degree (from MSU or another accredited University) may be applied toward the sixty (60) credit minimum required for the doctoral degree.
- Doctoral students who have previously earned a master’s degree must take at least twelve (12) coursework credits and eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28) dissertation (690) credits. For students who apply master’s credits, an additional twelve (12) coursework credits must be taken beyond the master’s degree credits.
- A minimum of thirty (30) credits applicable to the degree must be taken from MSU.
New faculty who are bringing graduate transfer students to Montana State should email email@example.com for transfer information specific to your situation.
- See Minimum Enrollment
- No dissertation is required for the Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.).
- The age of courses at the time of graduation may not exceed seven (7) years for the Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.).
The graduate committee advises the student on academic matters and is the examining committee for the oral and/or written doctoral comprehensive examination and dissertation defense.
Note: If a doctoral student is not registered for three (3) consecutive terms, not counting summer, they will be considered inactive and the graduate representative on their committee will be released. Once a student has been reactivated (via an Intent to Register form) they will need to confirm their committee is valid. See Re-enrollment/Registration.
COMMITTEE CHAIR — A tenured or tenure-track faculty member serves as the chair of the student's graduate committee and acts as a channel of communication within the degree-granting department. In the event that the student does not select a chair of their graduate committee within the third (3rd) term of attendance as a doctoral student, the department head will appoint a temporary advisor. This advisor will advise the student until a tenured or tenure-track faculty member is selected as chair of the graduate committee.
CO-CHAIR — A co-chair is not required. If a student elects to have a co-chair serve on their committee, they may choose one of the following committee compositions:
- Chair, co-chair, and members.
- Co-chair, co-chair, and members. If there are two co-chairs, at least one must be tenured/tenure-track faculty. For information regarding non-tenure track committee members, see section below.
- More than two co-chairs and members. If there are more than two co-chairs, the majority must be tenure/tenure-track faculty.
COMMITTEE COMPOSITION — A doctoral committee is composed of a minimum of four members. The majority of the committee should be made up of faculty from the degree-granting department, but due to the interdisciplinary nature of many degrees, is not limited to the degree-granting department. The graduate committee chair and the department head recommend the committee composition to The Graduate School. Final approval of committee composition rests with The Graduate School. See Graduate Program of Study & Committee or Committee Revision forms.
A student and committee can elect to add a graduate representative to the student’s graduate committee. See Optional Graduate Representative.
NON-TENURE TRACK COMMITTEE MEMBERS — Committee members not holding tenure or tenure-track faculty status at MSU must submit a letter of recommendation from the student’s department head to The Graduate School. In some cases, these committee members may act as co-chair of a student’s committee.
CHANGES TO THE COMMITTEE — The student may make changes to their committee, using the Graduate Committee Revision form. Committee makeup should not be changed simply to accommodate short term scheduling issues.
COMMITTEE APPOINTMENT DEADLINE — The committee composition must be submitted to The Graduate School by the end of the student’s third (3rd) semester of graduate attendance. See Graduate Program of Study & Committee form. See Fees & Holds.
Effective March 2, 2016: The University Graduate Council, with Faculty Senate support, has approved the elimination of the requirement of the Graduate Representative to serve on doctoral committees. This ruling is effective immediately. If a student, their committee chair, and existing Graduate Representative wish to continue to participate, they may.
The Graduate Representative is an optional member of the doctoral committee. The first time that this option can be exercised is at the time that the Program of Study & Committee form is submitted for approval. The criteria for selection of the Graduate Representative and their responsibilities are listed below.
If the committee chair or a committee member or the student wishes to add a Graduate Representative after the approval of the Program of Study & Committee form, they may do so by submitting a completed Graduate Committee Revision form. If the committee chair or committee member or student cannot agree on the choice of the Graduate Representative, one will be appointed by the Graduate School Dean.
CRITERIA FOR SELECTION — Criteria for selecting a Graduate Representative are as follows:
- A Graduate representative must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member at MSU who is not a member of the student’s degree-granting department.
- The student and the committee chair(s) are responsible for selecting and inviting the Graduate Representative to serve. The Graduate Representative must sign off on the student’s Program of Study & Committee form.
- The Graduate School has the final approval on the eligibility of all Graduate Representatives.
GRADUATE REPRESENTATIVE'S RESPONSIBILITY — The primary responsibility of the Graduate Representative is to ensure that examinations and defenses are conducted in a fair and satisfactory manner. The Graduate Representative is to attend all examinations and defenses with the exception of the written examination. The Graduate Representative, however, must be a participant in any reviews of the results of the written exam. At examinations and defenses the Graduate Representative has the same privileges to ask questions and offer comments that are accorded to any other committee member.
EXAM REPORT — An exam report is not required but will be recorded if submitted. See Graduate Representative Report. Reports should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments also may be made regarding the student’s performance. The Graduate School will consider carefully any written comments submitted by the Graduate Representative.
The program of study acts as a contract between the student, the department, the college, The Graduate School, and the University. The program of study defines the minimum requirements for the degree. Approval of a program of study is a two-step process. The first step is the submission to The Graduate School and the second step is a review by the ODPC.
The graduate committee and the student together develop the Graduate Program of Study. Once a listed course is taken and graded, it cannot be removed from a program of study. Courses applied toward one degree may not be used for another. Exception: the graduate committee may recommend that up to thirty (30) credits obtained from a master’s degree can be applied to a doctoral degree.
Students may take classes beyond those listed on their program of study. Other requirements as determined by the student's graduate committee may also be listed.
PROGRAM APPROVAL— The program of study must be recommended by the graduate committee chair and department head. Final approval rests with The Graduate School.
Note: Approval comes with a fee. See Fees & Holds.
FILING DEADLINES — The program of study must be submitted on an official Program of Study & Committee form to The Graduate School by the end of the student’s third (3rd) semester of graduate attendance. A one-time fee is associated with the filing of this form. See Fees & Holds. See Requirements/General/Other Credits.
A student must have an approved Program of Study and Committee form on file with The Graduate School prior to sitting for any portion of the comprehensive examination or dissertation defense.
CHANGES TO THE PROGRAM OF STUDY — The program of study may be amended through the course of the student’s graduate study. Changes to a student’s program of study must be made through the Graduate Program Change form and recommended by the graduate committee chair and department head. Final approval rests with The Graduate School. No fee is associated with this form.
HOLDS — See Fees & Holds.
The comprehensive examination is the major academic examination during the doctoral study that assures that the student has attained sufficient mastery of their discipline. Some departments use the passing of the comprehensive examination as the qualifying examination that admits the doctoral student to candidacy. This examination is valid for five (5) years from the term of successful completion.
Note: See Video Conferencing Policy.
WRITTEN AND ORAL — The comprehensive examination requirements are department specific. In the case where a department has written and oral examinations, the graduate committee will determine if the student has passed or failed the requirements. A student must have an approved Graduate Program of Study & Committee form on file with The Graduate School prior to sitting for any portion of the comprehensive examination or dissertation defense. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all committee members, including the graduate representative if applicable, are available when scheduling the comprehensive examination. See Optional Graduate Representative.
MINIMUM REGISTRATION — The student must be registered for a minimum of three (3) credits at MSU during the term in which the examination is taken. If the student wishes to sit for the comprehensive examination during the time between terms, then the student must be registered for a minimum of three (3) credits in the term prior to or immediately following the time between terms.
DEADLINE — The last day to take the comprehensive examination is on or before the fourteenth (14th) business day prior to the end of the term that the student intends to graduate.
COMMITTEE REPRESENTATION — See Committee
GRADING — The comprehensive examination is graded with either a passing or failing grade determined by a majority vote of the student’s approved graduate committee.
REPORTING THE RESULTS — The graduate committee and department head are responsible for submitting written notice of the results of the comprehensive examination to the student and to The Graduate School no later than five (5) business days after the examination is held or after each section is administered. The Report on Comprehensive Exam/Dissertation Defense is to be submitted to The Graduate School by the department, not the student.
FAILED EXAMINATION — The student is allowed two (2) total attempts to pass the comprehensive examination. At least six (6) months must elapse before the second (2nd) attempt at the examination. Failure to pass the second (2nd) attempt results in termination of graduate study and dismissal from the academic program. Students who are dismissed from the program due to a second (2nd) failed attempt are ineligible to reapply to the same degree program.
Note: See Age of Defense.
All doctoral candidates must defend their dissertation, with the exception of Ed.S. candidates. The defense usually consists of a public presentation and an oral examination of the candidate’s research. The candidate must have an approved Graduate Program of Study & Committee form on file with The Graduate School prior to the defense of dissertation. The public is invited to the oral presentation of the defense. Following the public portion of the defense, the committee chair will excuse the public from the defense. The graduate committee then will examine the candidate’s knowledge of the research in-depth.
Note: See Video Conferencing Policy.
DEADLINE — The last day to defend a dissertation is on or before the fourteenth (14th) business day prior to the end of the term the candidate intends to graduate.
COMMITTEE REPRESENTATION — See Committee
MINIMUM REGISTRATION — The candidate must be registered for a minimum of three (3) credits at MSU during the term in which the defense is held. If the candidate wishes to sit for the dissertation defense during the time between terms, then the student must be registered for a minimum of three (3) credits in the term prior to or immediately following the time between terms.
NOTIFICATION OF THE DEFENSE DATE — Each member of the graduate committee must be given a minimum of fourteen (14) business days prior to the defense date to read the dissertation. The graduate committee chair should discourage a candidate from defending if the candidate is not adequately prepared.
ADVERTISING THE DEFENSE — The candidate and the major department are responsible for submitting an announcement to the MSU calendar at least seven (7) business days prior to the defense with the following information:
- candidate’s name,
- dissertation title,
- defense time and place, and
- dissertation location.
Note: Announcements must be tagged with the correct presentation code so they appear
on the Graduate School website. Complete instructions, with screen shots, can be found
in this "How To" document.
INVALID DEFENSE — A dissertation defense held in the absence of the candidate’s graduate committee chair will be considered invalid and the defense will have to be rescheduled. See Optional Graduate Representative.
GRADING — The dissertation defense is graded with either a passing or failing grade determined by a majority vote of the candidate’s approved graduate committee.
REPORTING THE RESULTS — The graduate committee and department head are responsible for providing written notice of the results of the defense to the candidate and to The Graduate School no later than five (5) business days after the defense is held. The Report on Comprehensive Exam/Dissertation Defense is to be submitted to The Graduate School by the department, not the candidate.
FAILED DEFENSE — The candidate is allowed two (2) total attempts to pass the defense. At least two (2) months must elapse before the second (2nd) attempt takes place. Failure to pass the second (2nd) attempt successfully results in termination of graduate study and dismissal from the academic program. Candidates who are dismissed from the program due to failure to pass the defense are ineligible to reapply to the same degree program.
A dissertation, written by the candidate seeking the degree and based on original research, is a requirement for all doctoral degree programs except for the Ed.S. degree. The final dissertation must be presented in an acceptable form. See Electronic Thesis/Dissertation (ETD).
DISSERTATION (690) and SCHOLARLY PROJECT (675) CREDITS —
- Only eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28) dissertation (690) credits are applicable to degree requirements. Fourteen (14) credits of dissertation (690) are required for Ed.D. candidates.
- DNP students must take DNP scholarly project (675) credits. See College of Nursing.
- If a candidate is using faculty time or university facilities to work on their dissertation, they must be registered for dissertation (690) credits.
- Dissertation credits are pass/fail or N grade
- “N” grades may be assigned to students enrolled in specified continual or on-going courses only (for example, 590 and 690 thesis courses). This grade indicates that, although students have made progress, they have not completed the course objectives successfully. These students must re-enroll in the course immediately in order to continue with the course work and complete the course objectives. The N grade does not affect the GPA.
The dissertation must meet all formatting requirements set forth by The Graduate School. Final authority for approval or denial of a dissertation rests with the Graduate Dean.