University General Course Catalog 2021-2022 
    Oct 03, 2023  

Doctoral Degree

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Doctoral degrees are conferred for work of distinction in which the student displays original scholarship and achievement. The student must prove their ability to design and complete a program of original research and scholarly activity by preparing a dissertation that adds to existing knowledge and defending that work in an oral exam conducted by the student’s advisory committee. A minimum of sixty (60) units is required, including at least forty (40) units in course work.


  • Additional information about the combined M.D./ Ph.D. and professional degrees can be found in the relevant college school section of the catalog.
  • Due to the consummate commitment required to complete a terminal degree at the doctoral level, students are not permitted to pursue more than one doctoral program at a time.

Advisory and Examining Committee

Upon admission to graduate standing, students are assigned a temporary advisor by the graduate program. By the end of the third semester, the student must select a permanent advisor and submit a Declaration of Advisor form to the Graduate School. The permanent advisor chairs the student’s advisory/examining committee and works with the student to appoint the remaining members of the student’s advisory/examining committee, which, along with the advisor and the graduate director of the program, supervise the student’s course of study and examinations.

Advisory/Examining Committee Composition 

Advisory/examining committees consist of five (5) to six (6) members of the Graduate Faculty; the committee chair/permanent advisor, at least two (2) faculty members from the student’s major department, at least one (1) faculty member from a department in a field related to the student’s major, and one (1) Graduate School representative. The committee chair may be a different faculty member than the student’s primary advisor, as determined by the department (school, college). The committee chair must be from the student’s major department. The Graduate Dean makes formal approval of the student’s advisory/examining committee.

Students may request the appointment of a committee member from the faculty of another institution from a relevant discipline or profession, provided the prospective member has achieved a record of distinction. The student’s Advisory Committee will decide if the prospective member is an appropriate addition to the committee. The Graduate Dean will approve them as an “additional inside member” who will have voting rights. 

Timeline: For students going directly from the Bachelor’s degree to the Ph.D., the advisory/examining committee should be formed prior to and no later than the end of the fourth (4th) semester. Students entering a Ph.D. program with a Master’s degree should form the advisory/examining committee during their first semester of enrollment.

The Role of the Advisory/Examining Committee Members

The role of the graduate committee is to provide guidance and mentoring to the graduate student with respect to their graduate education. This includes guidance on the selection of courses, i.e. the program of study, guidance on the knowledge requirements for their discipline, i.e. the comprehensive examination, and guidance with respect to the development of their research expertise, i.e. the dissertation. By providing guidance and mentoring, the graduate committee sets forth appropriate academic standards and rigor.

All committee members should be afforded the opportunity to provide guidance as defined above under the role of the graduate committee (program of study, comprehensive examinations, professional paper, thesis/dissertation). The degree of guidance on these matters from the graduate school representative may vary depending on how closely the graduate school representative is allied to the student’s area of specialization.

However, the graduate school representative is always charged to represent the Graduate School as a participant in the student’s academic endeavors.

The Role of Graduate School Representative Committee Members

The Graduate School representative must be a member of UNR’s graduate faculty from outside the home department or program of the other committee members. The Graduate School representative protects the interest of the student, the advisory committee, and the Graduate School, assures compliance with Graduate School regulations and procedures, and reports any deviations from prescribed standards to the Graduate School. The Graduate School representative should act as an “unbiased person” to whom the Graduate Dean may turn for judgment and counsel. The primary responsibility of the Graduate School representative is that of an observer, hence they should be invited to participate in both preliminary and final oral examinations. They should not, however, take a dominant role in the exams. 

The Graduate School Representative should either:

  1. Sign the form without comment, or
  2. Sign the form and note any specific comments, or
  3. Sign the form and note that a letter to the Graduate School Dean will follow (with copies to the Committee).

The Graduate School Representative may wish to comment on:

  1. The appropriateness of the committee;
  2. The adequacy of the Plan of Study;
  3. The appropriateness of examination questions and procedures;
  4. The quality of the student’s performance; and/or
  5. Reservations about the dissertation.

Program of Study

Advanced degrees are conferred by the University upon recommendation by graduate faculty and the Graduate Dean, following the completion of an approved Program of Study Form. The approved program of study describes the student’s specific plan of courses, research, and related activities. The graduate student’s advisor, the graduate director of the program, and the advisory/examining committee determine the program of study for each degree candidate. This includes the dissertation and the acceptable courses for completion of the degree. The Graduate Dean has final approval of the program of study. Only graduate courses are applicable toward the graduate degree. Graduate courses are those numbered 600-799.


Subsequent changes may be made at any time via the online Change in Program of Study Form or Change of Advisory Committee Form, but only with the approval of the major advisor, graduate director of the program, and the Graduate Dean. It is the responsibility of the student and the advisory/examining committee to ensure that the graduate courses in the proposed program of study are consistent with the requirements of the Graduate School and the department.

Additional Courses

The student’s advisory/examining committee may require the student to take additional courses if, in its opinion, additional training is needed to achieve the expected level of proficiency. Students should consult individual departments to find out the specific requirements for completing the degree.

Program of Study Course Limitations

A minimum of sixty (60) graduate units is required, including at least 40 units in course work. A maximum of twenty-four (24) units of course work from a completed master’s degree program or previous post-baccalaureate graduate studies program (with grades of “B” or better) may be allocated toward the doctoral degree. These units are subject to the approval of the advisory committee and the Graduate Dean. Units completed as a Graduate Special or from a completed master’s degree may not exceed twenty-four (24) total units when applying to a Ph.D. program. There is no limit on the number of units transferred when students earn their master’s en route to Ph.D. in a University of Nevada, Reno doctoral program.

S/U Grades

A maximum of nine (9) graduate course work satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) units may apply toward a doctoral degree, excluding the S/U units for the comprehensive examination and dissertation units, but including transfer units. For graduate courses, a grade of “S” indicates achievement equivalent to a “B” or above. The grade of “U” represents performance equivalent to a “B-” or below.

A maximum of six (6) graduate units of S/U grades, excluding the S/U units for the comprehensive examination, may apply to the Doctor of Education degrees offered by the College of Education and Human Development.

Dissertation units

While doctoral students may enroll in more, only twelve to thirty (12-30) dissertation units may be applied to a Doctoral degree (unless otherwise specified by a particular graduate program’s requirements). With program director approval, internship/externship experiences may count for dissertation units.

Professional Courses

Generally, course work from a professional degree (i.e. Medicine, Law) is not considered graduate level and is not accepted for graduate units.

Qualifying Examinations

Individual departments or graduate programs may require a qualifying exam as part of the requirements for a doctoral degree. The qualifying exam helps assess the student’s current knowledge and defines the departmental requirements yet to be completed. Each department will provide explicit guidelines about qualifying examinations in their graduate student handbook.

For the student entering the doctoral program without a master’s degree, qualifying examinations should be completed before the student earns twenty-four (24) graduate units. For students entering the program with the master’s degree, qualifying exams should be completed during the first semester of graduate study.

Programs use either the XXX 795–Comprehensive Examination, e.g., ENG 795 - Comprehensive Examination , registration to enroll students in qualifying exams or develop separate course titles for the qualifying exam.

Comprehensive Examination and Admission to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy confirms that a student has successfully completed the departmental course requirements and university residency requirements (two (2) consecutive semesters excluding summer sessions, nine (9) units each). In order to gain admission to candidacy, a student must meet all the following requirements.

  1. Hold at least a “B” average in all graduate work;
  2. Gain the advisory/examining committee’s formal approval for the program of study, including dissertation development; and
  3. A graduate program may, at its discretion, impose additional requirements for admission to candidacy.

Students pursuing doctoral degrees should file for candidacy no later than eight calendar months prior to graduation. The Admission to Candidacy Form is available online. The student’s advisory committee, graduate director of the program and the Graduate Dean must approve the form. The examinations should be taken after completion of any language and all course requirements. The exam may be taken after a minimum of 75 percent of the student’s required course work, beyond the bachelor’s degree, is completed. This examination must be both oral and written, and test the student’s mastery of a broad field of knowledge, and not merely the formal course work that has been completed. The written examination is designed and administered by the student’s major department and the oral examination is conducted and evaluated by the advisory/examining committee. The student fails the exam if more than one (1) negative committee vote is cast. The examination may be retaken once, if additional study is approved, by the examining board. The advisory/examining committee determines the period of additional study.


Doctoral degrees have a residency requirement that consists of either two consecutive semesters (excluding summer sessions) of enrollment in nine (9) graduate units each or two consecutive semesters on a 20-hour assistantship with enrollment is six (6) graduate units.

Degree Description and Requirements

Foreign Language Requirements

Individual departments, programs, schools, or colleges may require competency in one or more foreign languages as part of the degree requirements for a doctorate. Students should consult individual departments for details.

Time Limitation

Doctoral Degree: All work towards a doctoral degree (transfer units, units completed at UNR prior to admission (i.e. grad special units), course work units and all examinations) must be completed within eight (8) calendar years immediately preceding the granting of the degree. For those students who have completed a master’s degree en route, the program will determine how many units (up to a maximum of 24) may apply to a doctoral degree. Those units so identified by the program will be exempt from the eight (8) year limit. The Graduate School will entertain an extension, not to exceed one (1) year or one-third of the course units required for the degree. Requests for extensions must come from the major advisor with the concurrence of the Director of Graduate Studies for that program and be based on an academic or humanitarian rationale for the delay in degree completion.


A minimum of sixty (60) graduate units is required, including at least forty (40) units in course work. (For doctoral degrees in the College of Education and Human Development refer to specific program descriptions.) A maximum of 24 units of course work (with grades of “B” or better) from a completed master’s degree program may be allocated toward the doctoral degree. There is no limit on the number of units transferred when students earn their master’s en route to Ph.D. in a University of Nevada, Reno doctoral program. A Credit Transfer Evaluation Request Form available online must be approved by the student’s advisory committee, the Graduate Program Director, and the Dean of the Graduate School. At least eighteen (18) units of 700-level coursework beyond the bachelor’s degree, exclusive of dissertation units, are required for the doctoral degree. As many as 18 units may be used from a master’s degree program.

Program Options

The following doctoral programs may be arranged with advance approval of the advisory committee:

Major Programs: Major degree programs may be completed without a minor. In some cases, elective courses may be taken outside the major.

Major-Minor Programs: At least two-thirds of the required units, including dissertation research, must be earned in the major field. A minor field must be approved by the department offering the minor.

Area Programs: An advisory committee consisting of members of several departments, with the approval of the Graduate Dean may designate an area program that includes the related subject matter of several departments. However, the student must be admitted to an established degree-granting program with the understanding that the degree received will be that of an established degree.

Dissertation Regulations

Each student must have an outline of the dissertation approved by the advisory/examining committee. Following this approval, the student is expected to complete the dissertation in a manner satisfactory to the committee. The curriculum requires that upon completion, all dissertations will be made publicly available through the university library to further the university’s mission of research and scholarship. The candidate should develop the dissertation while in residence, as close and constant supervision by the director is required.

Registration for Dissertation

A Ph.D. degree candidate must complete a minimum of twelve to thirty (12-30) units of dissertation. Students should plan to take the required dissertation units during the entire academic year, as many benefits (i.e., GI Bill®, student loans, housing and visas) require a student to be registered for a specific number of units. Departments may require that a student conducting resident research must register for a minimum of three dissertation units each semester. Beginning fall 2013, all dissertation enrollments will be graded on an S/U grading basis. Satisfactory or unsatisfactory progress will be recorded on the transcripts for each dissertation enrollment. Enrollments in dissertation units are not counted in grade-point average computations. A maximum of thirty (30) dissertation units can be applied toward degree completion (for most programs). Students may exceed thirty (30) units of dissertation enrollment to satisfy minimum enrollment requirements. Any dissertation enrollments prior to fall 2013 will show a grade of “X” indicating in progress. Additionally, any units in excess of the maximum twenty-four (24) dissertation units will show a grade of ‘X.” Upon graduation, the transcripts will be validated for the requisite number of dissertation units required to show a minimum of ten to thirty (10-30) earned units of dissertation enrollment.

Dissertation Defense

All candidates must conduct a successful oral defense of their dissertation in the presence of their entire advisory committee. The defense is unsuccessful if more than one (1) negative committee vote is cast. At the discretion of the advisory committee, the candidate may be permitted one additional attempt to conduct a successful defense.

Scheduling the Oral Defense

The public oral defense must be scheduled with the student’s department/program and with the Graduate School no later than two weeks before the date of the examination. The date of the public defense will be coordinated by the student through written communication with committee members. It will be publicized through the student’s department/program and posted on the University events calendar tagged with the “Graduate School” website. The candidate must provide a copy of the completed dissertation to each member of the committee at least ten days to two weeks before the examination so that the committee members have ample time to read the document and prepare questions.

Components of the Oral Defense

There are two parts to the oral defense, public and private. It is the expectation that all committee members participate physically or virtually. In the event that a member of the committee cannot participate in the defense, the committee chair must notify the Graduate School as soon as possible after the disclosure is made. If more than one committee member cannot participate, the defense must be rescheduled.

In the public part of the oral defense, the student will give a presentation of their dissertation work to the academic community of the University.

The private part of the oral defense generally takes place immediately after the public oral presentation. In this part of the oral defense, the student will meet privately with the advisory committee, which will conduct a period of questioning. An absentee committee member must submit any questions pertaining to the student’s dissertation directly to the committee chair before the scheduled defense.

At the end of the exam, the student is excused and the committee members deliberate on whether the student has demonstrated sufficient command of the subject material to pass the examination, whether the student completed the research independently, and whether the dissertation was properly written and met all of the requirements established by the Graduate School. The decision may be made by consensus, secret ballot or another way the committee deems appropriate. A student will pass the oral examination with four (4) or more affirmative votes. Negative votes must be accompanied by the rationale for the decision. The student will be informed immediately of the outcome. Written feedback will be provided to the student within one week specifying any changes in the dissertation that must be made before it can be formally approved, and the date by which those changes must be completed. The committee chair will be responsible for informing the student whether the revisions are accepted or rejected.

If the committee votes to fail a student, the committee chair will meet with the student immediately following the defense and send a written evaluation of the candidate’s performance to the major department and the student. In accordance with Graduate School policy, the student may be permitted one additional attempt to conduct a successful defense. An additional failure will be addressed as specified by written Graduate School policy.

Dates for Submission of Dissertation

The final date for submission of the dissertation is available on the Graduate School website. Department approval is required for all extensions and must be submitted to the Graduate School by the established deadlines. Contact the Graduate School for details.

Format and Copies for Archival

Electronic and Paper Thesis/Dissertation formatting and submission Guidelines are available online.

Publication and Abstract

Doctoral students are required to publish the abstracts of their dissertations through Google Scholar and ProQuest. ProQuest no longer has a word limit on the abstract, “as this constrains your ability to describe your research in a section that is accessible to search engines, and therefore would constrain potential exposure of your work.” ProQuest does publish print indices that include citations and abstracts of all dissertations and theses published by ProQuest/UMI. These print indices require word limits of 350 words for doctoral dissertations and 150 words for master’s theses (only text will be included in the abstract). You may wish to limit the length of your abstract if this concerns you. The abstracts as submitted will NOT be altered in your published manuscript. Please also refer to the Graduate School website for important information about filing your dissertation. 


The Application for Graduation must be purchased and completed online. This application includes the intended date of graduation, degree, title of dissertation, and the advisory committee chair’s name and email address for notification of intent to graduate. Graduation application deadlines are:

  • March 1 for May Graduation,
  • June 1 for August Graduation,
  • October 1 for December Graduation

Consult the Graduate School web site for Important Dates to submit additional required graduation materials to the Graduate School. Failure to submit degree completion materials by the deadline will result in removal from graduation processing. If removed from December graduation processing, a new graduation application must be purchased according to the established deadlines. The graduation applications are non-refundable and non-transferrable. An applicant, who does not complete all degree requirements by the specified deadline for the semester for which they applied must purchase and complete a new graduation application online. 

Doctoral Hooding Ceremony During Fall or Spring Commencement

Graduating doctoral students are accorded special recognition during commencement exercises by participating in a Hooding Ceremony. They receive their doctoral hoods from their faculty mentor and the Dean of the Graduating School. To participate in this ceremony, students must have:

  1. Filed an application for graduation for the appropriate semester (fall or spring) and;
  2. Successfully defended their dissertation and filed the completed Notice of Completion with the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the commencement exercises. Students who complete their degree during the summer session are eligible to attend either the fall or spring commencement exercises.

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