The USC Graduate School is responsible for those academic and professional affairs of the university that relate to the degree programs offered through the Graduate School. The Graduate School also participates in general university affairs relating to graduate and professional education and research.
Sarah Pratt, PhD, Vice Provost for Graduate Programs
Meredith Drake-Reitan, PhD, Associate Dean
Shayna Kessel, PhD, Associate Dean
Laura Yoneda, Associate Dean
Graduate studies had their formal beginnings at the University of Southern California in 1910, and 1923 marked the official constitution of the Graduate School of the university.
The Graduate School values the contribution of every graduate student. Its mission is to promote a distinguished PhD educational experience, to support and celebrate all graduate student achievements and to provide leadership in the establishment and communication of policies, standards and processes related to graduate education. The Graduate School partners excellent students with excellent faculty across the spectrum of disciplines and awards fellowships to incoming students who show outstanding promise for academic careers in research and teaching, and who serve to increase the representation of under-represented groups in their disciplines. Incoming PhD students are eligible for Provost’s Fellowships, Annenberg Fellowships, Rose Hills Fellowships and Global Fellowships. Advanced PhD students are eligible for Endowed Fellowships, Research Enhancement Fellowships and Dissertation Completion Fellowships.
The vice provost for graduate programs has academic oversight responsibility for all graduate programs at the university. Excellence in graduate and professional education is critically dependent on the exchange of scholarly ideas among an increasingly diverse community of faculty and students. The values that characterize these interactions include dedication to excellence, mutual respect, fairness, collegiality, honesty and integrity.
The Graduate School, which confers all the university’s PhD degrees, several professional doctorates and many master’s degrees, adheres to that vision and those values. Graduate students at USC are key members of the university’s community of scholars, contributing diverse viewpoints and fresh insights that are poised to make their mark on the theories, systems, innovations, public policy and creative work of the 21st century.
Common threads in all Graduate School activities are: promoting academic excellence; advocating on behalf of graduate students; and the fostering of the sense of community (composed of students, faculty, staff, alumni and administrators) that characterizes graduate education at USC as a place for students of all backgrounds. Facilitating the participation of under-represented groups in all areas of research and graduate studies is critical to the mission.
Graduate School Policies and Requirements
Admission to degree or certificate programs in the Graduate School is processed through the USC Office of Graduate Admission, which receives and processes all applications, evaluates credentials and issues notification letters. Only a letter from the office of Graduate Admission grants official admission to a graduate degree objective in the university. The Graduate School establishes and monitors the standards under which students are admitted for study in degree programs under its jurisdiction. The following are the basic requirements: (1) a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from a regionally accredited college or university, comparable in standard to that awarded at USC; (2) satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE); (3) for international applicants, a valid score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Pearson Test of English (PTE), or International English Language Testing System (IELTS); (4) intellectual promise, including evaluation of grade point averages (GPA) that indicates an ability to do acceptable graduate work; (5) and strong personal qualifications, including good moral character. Credentials for admission must include a complete record of all previous college or university work. Admission to the university, under the standards of the Graduate School, is determined by the appropriate academic department or program.
It must be stressed that while every student must be qualified for admission to the Graduate School, the fact of qualification does not guarantee admission.
Admission documents are reviewed by the applicant’s prospective department or program. Applicants are advised that individual departments and programs may establish additional admission standards, such as requiring the submission of the appropriate GRE Subject Test or the submission of academic letters of recommendation directly to the department or program at USC. The applicant should contact the department or program of interest for information on additional required supplementary documents. See the departmental sections of this catalogue or visit the department or program Website.
Graduate Record Examinations
As a supplement to other evidence of an applicant’s preparation for successful graduate study, the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is an integral part of the admission procedure. Individual departments and programs may also require the appropriate Subject Test.
The analytical portion of the GRE now requires a writing sample. The results are conveyed to any institution requesting an applicant’s test results. Applicants should take the package of General Interest measures containing the Mathematical Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning Test as appropriate for their intended program.
Test scores on the GRE that are more than five years old at the start of the intended first term at USC are not accepted. Students are advised to repeat the GRE if they have not taken the test within five years.
Test of English as a Foreign Language, Pearson Test of English, and International English Language Testing System
The ability to communicate effectively in English — to read, write and speak the language fluently — is vital to the success of all USC students. Therefore, graduate applicants at all levels are expected to demonstrate their English proficiency as part of the application process. All international graduate applicants are required to submit scores from either the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), PTE (Pearson Test of English), or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). There are no minimum TOEFL, PTE or IELTS scores required for admission. Official scores must be received from the testing service, dated no earlier than two years (24 months) prior to the start of the student’s first term at USC.
Deadlines and Notification
The completed application for admission and all required supporting documents should be submitted to the Office of Graduate Admission based on the published deadline for the program of interest. In the case of a student enrolled in the last semester of the baccalaureate program, all credentials, including evidence of work in progress, should be submitted.
Some departments and programs only admit graduate students to begin study in the fall semester. Departmental and program deadlines are listed on the department or program Websites. Unless an academic program advertises a different deadline, priority consideration for PhD student funding will be given to those applicants who submit all application materials by December 1. The university will continue to accept and consider applications submitted after December 1.
Only a letter from the Office of Graduate Admission grants official admission to a degree objective in the university. Correspondence with department chairpersons, program directors or individual faculty members does not constitute admission.
Acceptance with a Degree Objective
Students will be admitted with a specified degree objective. Admission to a degree objective and permission to enroll does not imply that the student is or will be automatically guaranteed the right to continue in a degree program or to be a candidate for an advanced degree.
Classification of Admission Status
Full Graduate Standing
Students who have been accepted for admission, have met all the basic admission requirements and filed all relevant documents with the Office of Graduate Admission are considered admitted to full graduate standing. Occasionally, applicants for admission may lack one of the qualifications listed above or may have difficulty producing appropriate documentation; such students may be conditionally admitted.
Conditional admission is a status for those students who have not yet met all requirements for admission to full graduate status or who have not filed all relevant documents with the office of graduate admission. See the Graduate and Professional Education section for policies governing enrollment as a conditionally admitted student. Full graduate student standing is not granted until all conditions have been met within the time limit given.
Limited Status Students
Some students may wish to enroll in graduate-level courses for personal satisfaction or professional enhancement without currently seeking a graduate degree. Students may be permitted to enroll with permission from the department or program. Such students should obtain a special Limited Status form from the Office of Academic Records and Registrar at the time of registration. This will permit them to register in the classification limited status. See the Academic Policies section for policies governing limited status enrollment. Limited status enrollment is not to be construed as admission.
Doctoral Admission with Advanced Standing
Students can be admitted with Advanced Standing (entry with an appropriate completed graduate degree from an accredited institution) to all programs in which the PhD degree is conferred by the Graduate School at USC with approval from the vice provost for graduate programs. See the Graduate and Professional Education section under “Transfer of Course Work” for more information.
Advancement to Candidacy
Admission to graduate study does not imply advancement to candidacy for an advanced degree and gives no right or claim to be so admitted. Candidacy is determined after the student has demonstrated the ability to do graduate work with originality, excellence and independence at USC.
General Requirements for Graduate Degrees
The foundation for the master’s degree or for the PhD degree is a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent comparable in standard to that awarded at USC from a regionally accredited college or university. Many doctoral students, of course, will already have received a master’s degree.
University policies governing unit, grade point average and time limit requirements are stated in the Academic Policies section of this catalogue. Graduate students should also consult this section for policies on transfer of credit, concurrent enrollment, continuous enrollment, leaves of absence, readmission, and waiver and substitution of course requirements.
The course of study for the master’s degree must include at least 24 units in required and elective courses. In addition, students in a program requiring a thesis must register for four units of 594ab Master’s Thesis.
A minimum of 60 units of course work beyond the baccalaureate is required for the PhD degree, including research courses and four units of 794ab Doctoral Dissertation. No more than 8 units of 794 may be received or applied toward the degree.
A minimum of 36 units of course work beyond the first graduate degree, exclusive of 794 Doctoral Dissertation, is required for doctoral degree students admitted with Advanced Standing. Additional course work may be required if deemed necessary by the student’s faculty.
Residence is a period of intensive study completed at USC. For the master’s degree a minimum of 20 units of course work applicable toward the degree must be completed on the University Park and/or Health Sciences Campuses and/or at one of the university’s approved off-campus study centers.
For the PhD degree a minimum of 24 units applicable toward the degree, exclusive of 794 Doctoral Dissertation, must be completed on the University Park and/or Health Sciences Campuses. Internships, fieldwork and other off-campus experiences do not count toward residency.
It is not intended that the PhD degree be conferred as a certificate of residence, however faithful or extended, or as a certificate of the satisfaction of unit requirements, which are to be regarded as largely preliminary. It has been found that the scholastic requirements for the degree cannot be completed in less than the equivalent of three full years of work devoted wholly to graduate study and research with appropriate facilities and under university supervision.
Exception to Graduate School Policy
Exceptions to certain policies and procedures governing Graduate School degree programs will be considered by the vice provost for graduate programs upon the submission of a specific request supported by adequate reasons, information and documentation, if needed. The signatures and recommendation of the faculty adviser or committee chair, the department chair or program director, and, in some cases, the dean of the degree program, are required. Requests must be initiated and submitted on behalf of the student by the department’s or program’s staff adviser. After training on the Graduate School’s online request system, advisers may access the necessary forms through the Graduate School’s Website.
General Requirements for Progressive Degree Programs
A progressive degree program enables a USC undergraduate to begin work on a master’s degree while completing requirements for the bachelor’s degree. The degree may be in the same or different department or program but should be in a similar field of study. See the Graduate and Professional Education section for detailed information.
The requirements and regulations set forth in this portion of the catalogue are to be construed only as minimal requirements established by the Graduate School. In addition, the student is obligated to meet all the requirements established by the individual department or program as described in the departmental sections.
Advisement and Program of Study
Academic advisement of entering graduate students will be provided by a designated faculty member in the student’s home department or program. Ideally, during the first semester of graduate enrollment a formal program of study should be developed and agreed upon in writing. This academic plan should include: (1) the sequence of required and elective courses, with a diversity of faculty instruction and a reasonable balance between course work and directed research appropriate for the degree; (2) evaluation of available transfer credit for application toward the degree; and (3) the schedule and procedures for departmental or program evaluation of the student. The program of study should be on file in the student’s department or program and may be modified in keeping with the student’s progress toward the degree objective. This should become the responsibility of the student’s qualifying exam committee when it has been established.
Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirements
Although the Graduate School does not require a foreign language examination, some departments and programs do have specific language requirements for their graduate programs.
The foreign language requirement is determined by the individual departments, programs or schools, subject to approval by the University Committee on Curriculum. For the PhD student, these requirements should be met well in advance of the qualifying examination.
When proficiency in a foreign language or a research tool is required, the evidence attesting to proficiency may not be more than five years old. This regulation applies regardless of the form of the evidence.
For specific information, see Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirement under the appropriate department and program sections of this catalogue.
Academic Warning and Dismissal
Faculty advisers and departments and programs take factors other than satisfactory grades and adequate GPAs into consideration in determining a student’s qualifications for an advanced degree. A student’s overall academic performance, specific skills and aptitudes, and faculty evaluations will be considered in departmental or program decisions regarding a student’s continuation in a master’s or doctoral degree program.
Satisfactory progress toward an advanced degree as determined by the faculty is required at all times. Students who fail to make satisfactory progress will be so informed by their department chair, program director, committee chair or school dean. The faculty has the right to recommend at any time after written warning that a student be dismissed from a graduate program for academic reasons or that a student be denied readmission.
Theses and Dissertations
Submission of Theses and Dissertations
Required documentation is electronically submitted to the Graduate School by the deadline date and time. It is then reviewed by the thesis coordinator. When the documentation is determined to be complete, the candidate is cleared to electronically submit the dissertation manuscript.
Required documentation for doctoral students includes the Approval to Submit Defended and Final Copy of Doctoral Work form, the most recent Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam or Dissertation Committee form, and for PhD students only, the electronic receipt confirming completion of the Survey of Earned Doctorates. For master’s students, required documentation includes the Approval to Submit Final Copy of Master’s Thesis form and the most recent Appointment or Change of Master’s Committee form. All of these documents are submitted as PDFs.
Manuscripts are reviewed and required documentation is processed in the order received. Students have three months from the date the committee chair signs the Approval to Submit form to complete the necessary corrections to the formatting of the manuscript.
Early Submission Option: Students who submit the necessary documentation a week or more before the add/drop deadline and who also upload the manuscript to the Graduate School by the add/drop deadline in a given term are exempted from the requirement to register in 594 or 794 in that semester. Otherwise, students register for 594, 794 or the equivalent in order to maintain continuous enrollment. International students considering the Early Submission Option should check with the Office of International Services to be sure the lack of course registration will not affect their visa status.
Acceptance by the University
The university must accept all theses and dissertations in an approved, final, and electronic form before the degree can be conferred. The student’s committee must have approved all documents before submission to the Graduate School. The student remains in contact with the Graduate School during the corrections process.
At the time of submission, all manuscripts should be formatted and edited according to the style determined by the student’s department or program. The thesis coordinator does not function as a proofreader or copy editor.
If the formatting of the manuscript requires corrections, the student makes the corrections and uploads a new PDF of the manuscript in the time allotted by the thesis coordinator. A manuscript that has been electronically submitted for further review is also processed in the order in which it is received.
After a manuscript has been approved by the thesis coordinator, the student uploads an identical copy of the final PDF of the manuscript to the USC Libraries.
Schedule of Deadlines
The Graduate School provides a schedule of specific dates for completing the thesis or dissertation submission for the student to qualify for graduation in the corresponding semester. These dates are published on the Graduate School’s Website. Regardless of the date of submission, students must submit complete documentation and finish all corrections to the manuscript before the degree can be conferred. Upon completion of all requirements, the official USC transcript will serve as evidence of the degree until the diploma is received.
All theses and dissertations will be made available via the USC Libraries.
The doctoral candidate’s fee of $115 covers USC Libraries and Graduate School processing fees. The master’s candidate’s fee of $105 covers USC Libraries and Graduate School processing fees. The fees are assessed by the thesis coordinator after the required documentation has been submitted, and the charges appear on the student’s account.
General Requirements for the Master’s Degree
The Graduate School confers the master’s degree upon the satisfactory completion of a carefully planned curriculum. A comprehensive examination or summative experience may replace a thesis in certain departments and programs. A student must enroll in GRSC 810 during the semester in which the comprehensive examination is to be taken if not otherwise enrolled. Consult the appropriate departmental section of this catalogue for specific course requirements.
For those master’s degrees not conferred by the Graduate School, the degree-conferring school determines if a thesis, comprehensive exam or other summative experience is required.
When the summative experience is not a thesis or comprehensive examination, the nature of the summative experience needs to be explicitly defined including the method by which the student’s performance will be assessed and how the results of that assessment will be recorded. The summative experience requirement will often be satisfied by passing a course designed specifically for this purpose.
See Transfer of Course Work for the maximum number of units of transferred course work that may be applied toward a master’s degree. Except in formally designated dual degree programs, this same policy regulates the number of credits that may be applied toward a master’s degree from an advanced degree previously completed at USC.
The student’s master’s committee directs the student’s program of study and thesis and/or comprehensive examination. The master’s committee consists of at least three and no more than five members. The committee chair and at least one additional member must have an appointment in the student’s program. At least one member of the committee must be tenured or tenure-track, or a research professor at the associate or full professor level. Faculty eligible to serve as committee chairs and members include tenured and tenure-track faculty, and non-tenure-track faculty (including research faculty) of outstanding stature who have a documented record of exceptional expertise and superior achievement in a field relevant to the exam and have been approved by the dean of the school.
Application for the Master’s Degree
At least one semester preceding the one in which the student expects to receive the degree and prior to registration in 594a Master’s Thesis, the student should ask the academic department or program to request an online degree check from Degree Progress. Application is made online by the academic department or program and then transmitted to the Degree Progress Department following approval of the program of studies by the student’s home department. Degree Progress will prepare a Degree Audit Report (STARS Report) reflecting course work and requirements completed and those remaining to be met. A copy of the Credit Summary is sent to the student and the home department or program.
A student who fails the master’s examination may be permitted, at the discretion of the faculty, to take it a second time. The retaking of a failed master’s examination must be completed before the end of the second consecutive semester (excluding summer session) following the first examination. Requests for exception must be approved by the department chair or program director. A student may not take the master’s examination more than twice and must be appropriately enrolled at USC during the semester in which such an examination is taken or retaken. A student who fails the master’s examination a second time may not continue in the degree program after the end of the semester in which the second examination was taken. No exceptions are allowed.
The thesis is supervised throughout its preparation by the student’s master’s committee. It is desirable for the student to have a conference with each committee member promptly following the approval of the topic. Thereafter, thesis work is normally under the immediate supervision of the committee chair: Final acceptance is based upon the unanimous recommendation of all members of the committee.
A student who is required to write a thesis must submit a satisfactory outline and comprehensive bibliography for the proposed thesis and demonstrate a mastery of the subject satisfactory to the master’s committee. The student’s thesis or master’s committee is responsible for the content and bibliographical consistency of the thesis.
During the five-year time limit allowed for completion of the degree and following the completion of all course work, the student must enroll in 594 Master’s Thesis for two consecutive semesters and for each semester thereafter, until the thesis has been approved and the approval of the master’s thesis form has been signed by the student’s master’s committee. Registration for the thesis in two semesters is the minimum requirement entitling the student to thesis supervision by the master’s committee. No more than four units of credit in 594 may be received regardless of the number of semesters the student may be required to be enrolled. Students may not register for more than two units of 594 during a given semester; individual exceptions require the approval of the dean of the degree program.
Students who find it necessary to be excused from registration in 594 for a semester must request a leave of absence by petition to the dean of the degree program prior to the beginning of the semester. See Leave of Absence . Approval of the committee chair, department chair or program director, and dean of the degree program are required. During a leave of absence students will not be entitled to assistance from the master’s committee or to the use of university facilities. Considerations for approving a leave of absence include the student’s progress to date in meeting the time schedules for the completion of degree requirements.
Final Approval of the Thesis
If a thesis defense is required: After the thesis defense has been completed and after the committee determines that no further changes are required of the thesis manuscript, each committee member electronically certifies on the Approval to Submit Defended and Final Copy of Doctoral Dissertation form that: (1) the defense was appropriately rigorous; (2) the student’s thesis is original and represents advanced scholarly work in keeping with the standards of the given field; and (3) the thesis defense process was fair and in keeping with USC’s academic and ethical standards. No changes can be made to the manuscript’s content after the Approval to Submit form is complete. The Approval to Submit form is electronically available through Thesis Center, the Graduate School’s online thesis and dissertation processing system.
Master’s Thesis Submission
Please refer to the Theses and Dissertations section for information on the submission process.
General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree
Qualified students will be received as applicants for candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy degree with a major in departments and programs which are adequately equipped with staff, library and laboratory facilities to furnish the necessary training and opportunities for original research.
A screening examination or other procedure designated by the department or program is to be administered before the student has taken more than 24 units (including research courses). Passing this procedure is prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. Students who fail the screening procedure will be advised that they are not recommended to continue in the PhD program and that any additional work may not be counted toward the degree. Failure to undertake the screening procedure before completion of 24 units of course work may jeopardize additional units. Ideally, a faculty member will be appointed to serve as the student’s administrative adviser until the student establishes an approved qualifying exam committee.
The subject or field of concentration is called a major. The major is usually a departmental major, although several interdepartmental majors have been authorized.
Undergraduate prerequisite and graduate course work will be required in accordance with the regulations of the major department or program and the recommendation of the student’s qualifying exam committee. Consult the appropriate departmental section of this catalogue for specific course requirements.
Appointment of the Qualifying Exam Committee
The qualifying exam committee is responsible for supervising the student’s preparation for the exam and for the fair and timely administration and evaluation of the written and oral parts of the examination. The Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam or Dissertation Committee form, available on the Graduate School Website, is used to establish the qualifying exam committee. The form requires the signature of each member of the committee, the department chair or program director, and the dean or dean’s designate. The completed form is filed in the student’s home department or program.
The qualifying exam committee is composed of five members. The committee chair and at least two additional members must have an appointment in the student’s program. The committee chair and at least two additional members must be affiliated with the student’s program. Faculty eligible to serve as committee chairs and members include tenured and tenure-track faculty, and non-tenure-track faculty of outstanding stature who have a documented record of exceptional expertise and superior achievement in a field relevant to the exam and have been approved by the dean of the school. At least three members of the committee must be tenured or tenure track. Visiting faculty may not serve on qualifying exam committees. The vice provost for graduate programs is an ex officio member of all qualifying exam committees.
Individual schools and programs may require the inclusion on the qualifying exam committee of a member from outside the student’s program. If an outside member is required, it must be specified in the departments’, programs’ or schools’ sections in the Catalogue.
Changes in Qualifying Exam Committees
The Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam or Dissertation Committee form, available on the Graduate School Website, must be completed whenever a change is made in a qualifying exam committee. All such changes must be made in advance of the qualifying examinations. Informal substitutions for either the written or oral parts of the qualifying examination are not permitted. Changes in a qualifying exam committee are not permitted between the written and oral portions of the examination. The examinations must be scheduled at times when it is possible for all members of the committee, including the outside member, to participate. Changes made without the prior approval of the dean of the degree program are not recognized and may result in the invalidation of the examination.
A student may not change committee members after failing the qualifying examination the first time. The student must be reexamined by the same faculty on the same subject matter. If a faculty member is unable to serve on the committee (for example, due to serious illness, retirement, or transfer to another institution), the dean of the degree program must be notified in writing in advance of the rescheduled exam in order to approve the change. The faculty replacement must be approved by the dean of the degree program and the student must file a change of committee form well in advance of the exam.
The examination qualifying a student for candidacy for the PhD degree is designed to test the student’s fitness to undertake independent research. It is comprehensive in nature and includes both written and oral parts.
Prior to taking the qualifying examination, the student must have met all of the university’s and program’s requirements for the Ph.D. degree, except the dissertation and successful qualifying exam. The student must have a GPA of at least 3.0 on all USC course work available for graduate credit and the approval of his or her qualifying exam committee to proceed to the exam. Students with a master’s degree in the same or similar field may be approved to take the qualifying examination after the completion of 12 units and successful passage through the screening process. The GPA and qualifying exam committee approval requirements are the same as for students without a prior master’s degree in the field of study. If not otherwise enrolled, a student must enroll in GRSC 800 during the semester in which the qualifying examination is to be taken. Students are allowed to enroll in GRSC 800 a maximum of three times before approval from the university is needed.
The oral portion of the examination must be completed within 60 days of the written portion. The written examination will be prepared and read by the qualifying exam committee on campus. If the student’s written examination is satisfactory, the student may proceed to the oral portion of the exam. When the student’s written examination is satisfactory, an oral examination is given on the topics discussed in the written examination and/or touching upon additional material. If additional material is to be covered in the oral portion, the student should be notified of the content expectations in advance. The oral examination is also administered on campus. Remote participation of a committee member requires approval from the vice provost for graduate programs in advance of the exam date.
There are three possible results of a qualifying exam:
- Pass, and proceed to candidacy based on a positive vote by members of the committee.
- Fail, with the option to retake either specific sections of the exam or the whole exam, at the discretion of the committee. The student may not be required to repeat parts of the qualifying examination that were passed on the first administration. The retaking of a failed qualifying examination or any portion of a qualifying examination must take place between one and six months from the date of the first examination. If not otherwise enrolled, the student must be enrolled in GRSC 800 in the term in which any portion of the exam is repeated.
- Fail, with the result of dismissal from the program.
If the committee concludes that the written portion of the exam is so weak that the oral portion cannot counterbalance the poor performance, the student does not proceed to the oral and the exam is failed. The committee may provide the option of a retake, but is not required to do so. If the committee decides that a retake is not warranted, the student is dismissed from the program.
A student who fails the qualifying exam a second time is automatically dismissed from the program.
Report on the PhD Qualifying Exam
At the conclusion of the qualifying exam, each member of the committee is asked to certify on the Report on the PhD Qualifying Examination that: (1) the exam was appropriately rigorous; (2) the student’s performance on the exam was at the doctoral level; and (3) the entire qualifying examination process was fair and in keeping with USC’s academic and ethical standards. The Report on the PhD Qualifying Examination is available to graduate advisers on the Graduate School Website.
Advancement to Candidacy
Graduate students are officially advanced to candidacy for the PhD degree when they have completed the residency requirement and passed the written and oral portions of the PhD qualifying examination upon the favorable recommendation of the qualifying exam committee to the Graduate School. All PhD candidates are required to engage in original research.
Application for the PhD
After being advanced to candidacy, students must contact their academic department or program to initiate an online degree check that is transmitted to the Degree Progress Department. Degree Progress counselors prepare a Degree Audit Report (STARS Report) for each student listing any remaining requirements. The requirements will not be checked or the degree conferred if the student has not applied.
The dissertation committee is appointed as soon as possible after the examination has been passed and a dissertation topic approved. The committee should be appointed at least one month before the dissertation defense. The Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam or Dissertation Committee form, available on the Graduate School Website, is used to establish the dissertation committee. The form requires the signatures of each member of the committee, the department chair or program director, and dean or dean’s designate. The completed form is filed in the student’s home department or program.
The dissertation committee is composed of at least three and no more than five members. The committee chair and at least one additional member must have an appointment in the student’s program. Two committee members must be from the home program, at least one of whom must be tenured. Faculty eligible to serve as committee chairs and members include tenured and tenure track faculty, and non-tenure track faculty of outstanding stature who have a documented record of exceptional expertise and superior achievement in a field relevant to the dissertation and have been approved by the dean of the school. At least two members of the committee must be tenured or tenure track. Visiting faculty may not serve on dissertation committees. The vice provost for graduate programs is an ex officio member of all dissertation committees.
Individual schools and programs may require the inclusion on the dissertation committee of a member from outside the student’s program. If an outside member is required, it must be specified in the departments’ or programs’ and schools’ sections in the Catalogue.
Final Approval of the Dissertation
After the dissertation defense has been completed and after the committee determines that no further changes are required of the dissertation manuscript, each member electronically certifies on the Approval to Submit Defended and Final Copy of Doctoral Dissertation that: (1) the defense was appropriately rigorous; (2) the student’s dissertation makes an original and substantial contribution to its field of study; and (3) the defense process was fair and in keeping with USC’s academic and ethical standards. No changes can be made to the manuscript’s content after the Approval to Submit form is complete. The Approval to Submit form is electronically available through Thesis Center, the Graduate School’s online thesis and dissertation processing system.
The committee must unanimously agree in order for the student to pass the defense.
A dissertation is an original contribution to current knowledge in the field and a demonstration that the PhD candidate has achieved sufficient mastery in the field to pursue independent research and scholarship. A dissertation represents the individual candidate’s research and writing. In fields where collaborative research has become the norm, the candidate is the sole author of the dissertation and specifies his or her contribution to the research and also delineates colleagues’ contributions.
Dissertations are expected to be written in English. Exceptions require the approval of the vice provost for graduate programs or her nominee prior to beginning the work and will be granted only when there is strong scholarly justification.
The student is expected to be enrolled in 794 Doctoral Dissertation each semester, except summer sessions, after admission to candidacy until all degree requirements are completed. Registration for 794 for the two semesters (excluding summer sessions) immediately following admission to candidacy is the minimum requirement entitling the candidate to dissertation supervision by the dissertation committee. Enrollment in 794 prior to admission to candidacy is not permitted and such registration is invalid. If the dissertation is not completed and accepted within two semesters the candidate must continue to register for 794 each semester thereafter until the dissertation has been approved and the approval of the Ph.D. dissertation has been signed by the dissertation committee. Students are expected to complete and defend their dissertation before they have enrolled in no more than five semesters of 794. Students may enroll in 794 during one summer session but may not register for more than two units of 794 during a given semester; individual exceptions require the approval of the dean of the degree program. No more than eight units of credit in 794 may be received, regardless of the number of semesters in which the candidate may be required to enroll. Department or program approval is required for registration in 794.
A candidate who finds it necessary to be excused from registration in 794 for a semester must request a leave of absence by petition to the dean of the program of study prior to the beginning of the semester. See Leave of Absence . Endorsements from the dissertation committee chair and department chair or program director are required. During a leave of absence the candidate will not be entitled to assistance from the dissertation committee or to the use of university facilities. Considerations for approving a leave of absence include the student’s progress to date in meeting the time schedules for the completion of degree requirements.
Defense of the Dissertation
After passing all required courses and the qualifying examination, and after meeting all other requirements, the candidate must write and defend the dissertation. The doctoral dissertation must be an original contribution to scholarship or scientific knowledge and must exemplify the high degree of scholarly advancement and power of investigation demanded by the university for final recommendation to the doctorate. The dissertation defense is the culminating activity in the assessment of whether this standard has been met.
While the oral examination is open to the general university community, only the members of the dissertation committee have the authority to recommend acceptance of the dissertation. During the oral defense, all members of the dissertation committee must be present and must give a judgment on the student’s defense. The recommendation must be unanimous.
If the defense is satisfactory, the committee then signs the Approval to Submit Defended and Final Copy of Dissertation form. If additional work is required, the form must be signed only on full completion. Departments and programs differ concerning the time of the defense of the dissertation. The student’s dissertation committee is responsible for the content and bibliographical consistency of the dissertation.
Refer to the Theses and Dissertations section for more information on the submission process.
Diploma in Innovation
The USC Diploma in Innovation is a signature six-month program designed to enable current USC STEM PhD students to collaborate in translating their academic interests into innovative projects with tangible benefits to society. This selective program is offered free of charge to current USC STEM PhD students in good standing, whose proposals are accepted by a faculty committee.
All USC STEM PhD students admitted to the Diploma in Innovation program will be required to register in GRSC 791 Directed Research in Academic Innovation. In addition to satisfactory completion of this course, students will present their final projects to a faculty committee, which will determine whether the students receive the Diploma in Innovation.
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