Doctoral Student Handbook
Policies and Regulations
September 18, 2018
Graduate Program Director (GPD)
Graduate Program Secretary
This section provides a general overview of the timeline for the graduate program. Descriptions of these requirements and associated policies are described in depth in the sections on General Information and Chronology of Progress.
After fifth Year
Check to see if your statute of limitations has expired.
This overview aims to explain the structure of our PhD program with an eye to helping students maximally benefit from it. Every student's course of study is unique, and is shaped by extensive interaction with faculty advisors. The program can be most usefully seen as providing a framework for that faculty-student interaction.
The main goal of the first year courses (and other non-seminar classes) is to provide students with the foundational material they need to conduct independent research in subsequent years. They also serve to provide non-specialists with sufficient understanding of research outside of their main areas so that they can interact fruitfully with specialists and their work, and pursue research at the interfaces and on secondary interests. Because the courses focus on getting students ready to take on research projects in this department's areas of specialization, they are quite different from the types of overview course that one might encounter in an undergraduate program.
Given the diversity of backgrounds of the students entering our program, and the goals of training both specialists and non-specialists, first year courses can be challenging for both the students and the faculty. For students the courses can pose problems if they seem to assume too much, or too little, in terms of their background. Students with extensive background in a particular area sometimes request to be exempted from a first-year course in that area, but in general these requests are denied, for two reasons. One is that the courses are usually taught differently at UMass than elsewhere. The other is that other students learn a lot from the more advanced students in the class. (This is part of a more general point that students learn a lot from each other here – anything that can enhance this learning opportunity, such as attending reading groups and finding other ways to engage intellectually with your classmates outside of class is worth pursuing.)
The problems arising from the diversity of the make-up of the first year class are best overcome through communication inside and outside of the classroom. Students are encouraged to ask for clarification of even the most seemingly basic issues, and to pursue further advanced discussion of points that pique their interest. Because class time is often too short, it is especially important to follow up outside of class as well, with faculty and other students, including those that don't happen to be participating in that class. Faculty members are also always happy to suggest further reading.
Discussion with faculty outside of class is also important in initiating the advising relationships that are the basis for forming GP and dissertation committees, and these conversations can often lead to other types of research and advising opportunities. The GPD serves as the formal advisor for first year students and also helps to facilitate first years’ advising relationships with other faculty. First year advising is designed to introduce students to faculty in their areas of specialization, some of whom will later become members of Generals Paper (GP) or dissertation committees. In consultation with the GPD, first year students arrange 2-3 meetings with 2-3 faculty who work in areas related to the topic of the first GP. These meetings are opportunities to explore areas of mutual interest and to get to know the advising styles of the faculty - they need not involve extensive preparation.
Communication is especially key in addressing another general challenge of the first year: the workload. Simply adjusting to the sheer number of hours of work and the self-organization that are necessary to succeed in graduate school and beyond is often a challenge, and faculty and other students will have lots of advice about how to be a productive scholar. It's also often the case that faculty are not aware when an especially heavy burden in one class conflicts with another, so communication can help in coordinating these. And finally, if you are having difficulty getting the work done for a course, it's important to talk right away to the instructor about how to make sure that you are able to complete the course successfully.
One way of easing the workload in the second semester, and helping to develop advising relations with faculty, is to take an independent study as one of the four courses. There are, however, circumstances in which four regular courses are a better choice. The choice of the second semester classes, and all other courses, should be made in consultation with faculty advisors. The GPD should always be consulted, but students should also be talking with other faculty about these decisions.
It is almost always best to think of the first year as a time to lay the seeds for future research, rather than as a time to pursue independent research projects. One reason is that there usually isn't enough time to take on additional projects. The other is that it takes some time to figure out how one's interests are best pursued in the UMass context – not to mention that one's interests are usually shaped by that context. A concrete and important goal in this regard is to work towards topics for Generals Papers, by taking on course paper topics that may lead to further development, by reading broadly and deeply in areas that interest you, and talking about your interests with your faculty and student colleagues.
The first Generals Paper (GP) is scheduled for the second year, and the second GP for the third year. Completing the GPs on time allows students to then move on to the prospectus starting the summer before the fourth year, which is key to getting a good start on the dissertation by the beginning of the fifth year, which is itself key to success on the job market at that time. Managing the workload in the second and third year involves the new challenge of making time for work on the GP, whose deadline may sometimes seem far off, while at the same time fulfilling TA or RA duties and taking classes, for which deadlines are more immediate. It is important to aggressively pursue the first generals paper early on, since a delay in its completion will delay your start on the second. Regular meetings with faculty and breaking the project down into smaller pieces with shorter-term goals are key.
Before turning to the advising structure, a few words should be said about the purposes of the GPs. The main purposes are to provide a framework for students to launch research programs that they will pursue in their dissertation and elsewhere, and to develop the advising relationships with faculty on which the success of the dissertation projects depend. Good GP topics should therefore not only be of manageable size so that they can be finished on time, but they should also work towards developing a research program that can fruitfully be pursued in collaboration with the faculty here. The existence of two GPs rather than a single thesis helps students develop breadth in their research profile. Therefore, the GPs are required to be in distinct areas of the field. Potential areas and topics should be discussed with your advisors, and the ultimate decision will be made by the second DGC. The intent is not to promote breadth for its own sake – it is almost always better to aim for an integrated, but reasonably broad, research profile, rather than to work on a very broad set of unconnected research topics. For example, it is perfectly fine to do one generals paper in syntactic theory, and the other on syntactic acquisition, but if those papers are on the same syntactic phenomenon (e.g. passives), the committee will usually decide that they aren’t sufficiently distinct. Most positions that students will apply for are in a particular sub-area, and it is good to be able to demonstrate diverse strengths that relate to that sub-area.
The other purpose of the GPs is to provide students with the experience of working on a relatively large independent research project so that they can decide if they want to continue in the program and take on the larger project of writing a dissertation. This decision is of course one that is made in consultation with faculty, but it is important to bear in mind that the best path for some people is not to write a dissertation, and that this decision is best made before starting one.
Each GP is supervised by a committee (the Doctoral Guidance Committee) of two specialists and a chair who remains constant between the two papers. The committee is chosen by the Graduate Program Director in consultation with the students and the faculty. This advising structure helps to promote breadth in interactions with faculty. Students should be meeting regularly with both specialist advisors, and showing them written work as soon and as frequently as possible. It is often difficult to get used to showing faculty and other students unfinished work, but it is vitally important to get advice at early stages so that you don’t produce a highly polished paper that needs to be completely rewritten. Occasionally, students find that they are getting contradictory advice from their specialist advisors. This is natural, because faculty will sometimes differ in their judgments about what the best approach is. This is usually handled simply by the student weighing the options, and with further discussion with the individual faculty. Students can also ask faculty to meet jointly at any time they think it would be profitable, and the regular Joint Advising Meetings (“JAMS”, a.k.a. Doctoral Guidance Committee Meetings) are partly designed to help negotiate these sorts of situations.
The criteria for a finished GP are decided by each committee. The departmental-wide criteria from later in this Handbook leave considerable room for variation:
A generals paper is a more substantial undertaking than a term paper, although many generals papers do start out as term papers. A generals paper is also somewhat less than a published article in a major refereed journal, although many generals papers do end up as published articles. Somewhere between these two points lies the range of a successful generals paper. It should demonstrate an ability to discover an interesting topic of appropriate size, knowledge of the appropriate literature and the ability to work within a theoretical framework, clear exposition, and originality.
A variety of factors will determine whether the committee continues to ask for revisions, or deems a GP ready for submission. For example, they will likely expect more of a GP by a specialist than a non-specialist. Faculty will also often make decisions on the basis of whether further work on the topic is better done as revisions of the GP itself or in further work after the GP is filed, in addition to whether it has met criteria of quality. Once the committee has agreed that the GP is ready to be filed, file it right away (e-mail a .pdf of the GP, along with the date that it was defended to the Graduate Program Secretary, with a cc. to the whole committee). GPs in students’ files are very rarely consulted, and you can always do further work before you submit it or circulate it more informally. Committees should also give you advice about how to further pursue the project (e.g. whether to submit it to a conference or journal, and if so, which one). If they don’t do this spontaneously at the GP defense, ask.
The Joint Advising Meetings are held towards the end of each semester starting in the fall of the second year, continuing until the second GP is defended and a prospectus committee is formed.
Once the GPs are finished at the end of the third year, the next step is to form a prospectus committee who will guide you in the initial stages of working on the dissertation prospectus. This is scheduled for the summer before the fourth year of the program. In the fall of the fourth year, once the topic and scope of the prospectus is sufficiently developed, students form their dissertation committees, who will supervise subsequent work on the prospectus and dissertation.
As in the case of the GPs, there is a great deal of variation in what a committee looks for in an acceptable prospectus. Here is the description from later in this document:
The prospectus is a brief document that lays out a research problem, the reason that it’s interesting, and the method of investigating it. It provides background to the research that you will do in your dissertation (usually a short survey of previous research, with more detail on any relevant work of your own), and an overview of the outstanding issues you will pursue and how you will address them.
Your committee, especially your chair, will want to make sure that you have a topic that is of the right scope, that is appropriate for your background and your goals, and that is in an area that they can supervise. They will often also use prospectus writing as a tool for advancing your thinking on the dissertation topic. As soon as you have the committee’s go-ahead, file the prospectus right away. This is not a document that will be consulted by anyone in the future, and you should move on to the dissertation.
Students are assigned to TA-ships by the Chair in consultation with the faculty. The Chair aims for equity in TA assignments, and is the first person to talk to if you have preferences for upcoming assignments, concerns about your current TA-ship or any related questions. TA-ships provide an opportunity to learn valuable teaching skills. There is a TA training workshop every spring, and a faculty advisor is available to consult with throughout the year.
RA-ships mostly come from two sources. Faculty are sometimes granted RA positions by the University as part of a start-up or retention package. More often, they are funded by external grants that have been awarded to one or more faculty members. The department maintains a list of active grants on the website, and if you are interested in participating in a research project, talk to the relevant faculty. Faculty also aim for equity in RA assignments, but because they tend to be attached to specific research projects, they cannot be distributed evenly across the student body. If you have questions or concerns about RA assignments, you may speak to the Chair, the GPD, or any other faculty member.
The general advice given above about making progress on the GPs also applies to the dissertation, but with greater force, since the project is bigger: meet regularly with your advisors, break the project down into smaller pieces with staggered deadlines, and discuss early stage thinking and writing. If you are having trouble making progress, speak about it right away with your supervisor, so that you can work together towards solutions. You may also find it easier to talk to someone who isn’t your supervisor, and the GPD or any other faculty member is always happy to give you advice, in full confidentiality if you wish. Finally, remember that your dissertation is a springboard for your research career, rather than the final word on the topic.
Familiarize yourself with the regulations in this document and those of the Graduate School. (Some of the Graduate School requirements are repeated here, but not all of them, so read the Handbook the Graduate School sends you.) If there is something you are uncertain about or don’t understand, consult the Graduate Program Director (GPD).
You are responsible for initiating all actions related to your progress toward the degree — submission of memos, submission of change-of-grade cards for grades of Incomplete, waivers of the statute of limitations, and so on. It is therefore essential that you become familiar with the various administrative requirements and their deadlines. There is no department internal monitor of your trajectory through these requirements.
You must register every fall and spring semester either by signing up for courses or by signing up for “Continuous Enrollment” and paying the Program Fee. (See [program fee] for an explanation.) It’s important to pre-register (in November for the Spring semester and in April for the Fall semester), although technically you can register just before the first day of classes of each semester. It’s expected that students will pre-register because it helps us tailor the courses to your needs and to avoid scheduling conflicts. It also ensures that the university treats you as an ongoing graduate student through the summer. If you are a foreign student traveling outside the U.S. through the summer, maintaining your status as a continuing student can sometimes be helpful at the border. If for some reason you haven’t registered by the beginning of classes, you still have until the end of the drop/add period in which to register (although your paycheck may be delayed since the University will not pay you until you register). If you fail to register or pay program fee by the end of the drop/add period, you will be automatically withdrawn from the University and will have to reapply and, if your application is approved, pay a Readmission Fee.
The University defines full-time status as enrollment for 9 or more credits (audited courses do not count); part-time status is 8 credits or fewer. In particular cases, students may nevertheless be certified by the department as full-time regardless of the number of credits for which they register, if they are working full-time on research. If you require this certification (for a loan or to maintain your visa, for instance), email the GPD, cc-ing the Office Manager.
You can add or drop a course during the first two weeks of the semester (known as the “drop/add period ”) with no record on your transcript. After that, but within the first six weeks of the semester, if you drop the course, there is a “DR” notation on your record (which has no known consequences). With the help of the GPD, you can do a late drop, late add, or change your registration in a course from credit to audit up until the last day of classes.
To receive a PhD, you must take at least 48 credits of graduate course work, of which at least 18 must be dissertation credits. “Graduate course work” means courses numbered 500 or above in the Linguistics Department, or 400 or above in other departments.
Required courses include: Ling 601 (Transformational Grammar), Ling 603 (Generative Phonology), Ling 610 (Semantics and Generative Grammar), Ling 604 (Syntactic Theory), and Ling 606 (Phonological Theory). In addition, students must take three “Foundation” courses, which are selected in consultation with your DGC. Foundation courses include all 600-level graduate courses in Linguistics. It should be emphasized that the foundation course requirement need only be satisfied by the end of the program, so if a course happens not to be available in your second year, it can be taken in the third. Normally only 600-level courses in the Linguistics Department count for this requirement - exceptions must be approved by your DGC and the GPD. All students normally register for the colloquia course, 791A, every semester in which they have room for it in their schedules.
The normal course load is 12 credits per semester during the first year (the three required first semester courses are four credits each; all other courses are 3 credits), and 9 credits per semester during the second and third year. Students also take 791A (Linguistics Colloquium, 1 credit) each semester for the first three years and an area workshop (2 credits) in the second and third years. Independent studies can serve as 3-credit electives (see section on Independent Study below). Students may take the same course number more than once for credit (e.g. proseminars, seminars).
All students (and faculty) are expected to attend colloquia. Students receive credit for colloquium attendance through Ling 791A. Students are strongly encouraged to ask questions following colloquia and faculty are expected to allow students a chance to do so.
You are generally allowed to take at most one independent study (of 3 credits) per semester, as long as it does not prevent you from taking required courses. Each semester of the second and third years, students generally sign up for 3-credit independent studies with their GP advisors. These independent studies allow the student and faculty advisor to officially record the time devoted to the research and advising, respectively, during this time. In special circumstances, if approved by the GPD and the advisor, students may pursue other topics in independent studies or pursue independent studies during other semesters. These latter types of independent studies are arranged with the prospective instructor before the beginning of the semester, and the requirements are worked out with him/her at that time. Note that an independent study is not a regular course taught for one person, but rather an independent plan of study designed by the student in consultation with the instructor. Regardless of the number of independent studies, however, students must take at least two regular (non-independent study) courses each semester of the second and third years. You can’t register through SPIRE for an independent study; you must ask the Graduate Program Secretary to register you. If a seminar is offered in your general area, you may not take an independent study in its place.
By University regulations, if you are not in residence or if you have fulfilled all of the credit requirements for the degree (including 18 dissertation credits), you do not need to register for courses. Instead, you may pay the cheaper Program Fee. You may do this every semester until the degree has been formally awarded. This fee is payable within the first five days of classes. Failure to pay the fee by the deadline means that you must apply for readmission. If your readmission application is accepted, then you will need to pay a Readmission Fee as well. You register for Program Fee on SPIRE by signing up for Grad School 999. (Unlike courses offered through the department, the Graduate Program Secretary cannot register you for Program fee. Only you can do this.)
Most faculty members in the department give grades of “A” for satisfactory work in all graduate courses. If you receive a lower grade such as “A–” or “B” you should consult with the instructor about the reasons. If you fail to satisfactorily complete more than one course, talk to the GPD immediately.
Many advanced courses require a term-final paper, sometimes as their chief activity. This can create a debilitating bottleneck of work for students at the end of term. To address this problem, the department has a policy which allows students to replace a term-final paper with other work in semesters when the student would otherwise have three or more term papers. This policy applies to all students except those in their first-year, when term final papers are rare or of smaller magnitude. This policy goes by the name of “The Two-Paper Rule.” Thus, if you are taking 3 courses at once, all of which require a term paper, you may “two-paper” one of them, opting not to write a paper, if you inform the instructor of that course during the first two weeks of the semester that you will be invoking this privilege. Then you and the instructor work out a mutually agreeable substitute activity: a squib, a class presentation, or the like. To guarantee your eligibility for this privilege, you must obtain your instructor’s signature on the two-papering form (available from the Graduate Program Secretary) and make arrangements with the instructor by mid-semester. Generals papers count toward the rule but only one time per generals paper, usually in the fourth and fifth semesters. Approved courses with exceptionally high work loads like Psych 640 and 641, also count towards the rule. Papers written to fulfill Incompletes and course requirements other than full term papers do not count toward this rule.
Sometimes, an unusually heavy combined workload in linguistics and another department (for instance, a generals paper and statistics in the same semester) may be grounds for invoking the two-paper rule even if you’re not writing more than two papers. If you feel that your workload justifies invoking the two-paper rule, you should negotiate this with the GPD and the instructor you would like to two-paper within the first two weeks of the semester.
Technically, PhD students can receive a Master’s degree on the way to the PhD by request after the completion of both generals papers, the breadth paper, and a minimum of 30 graduate credits, though this is rarely done. See the Graduate Program Secretary or the GPD for more information.
Requirements for a terminal Master’s degree are described in the Graduate School Handbook. See the GPD for more information.
The department does not have a language requirement for the PhD.
One of the requirements for satisfactory completion of the PhD degree in the Department of Linguistics is that you gain teaching experience, including demonstrating the ability to plan and conduct your own section of Linguistics 101 and/or 201 (and occasionally other courses). There is an orientation for teaching assistants put on by the University at the very beginning of the Fall term. (See the Handbook for Graduates which the Graduate School distributes for details.) TAs whose native language is not English are required to take a language exam that is conducted by the university at various times during the year. Ability to speak and understand English satisfactorily, as demonstrated by this exam, is a prerequisite for receiving an appointment as a TA at this University. See the Chair or TA coordinator for details.
The Department is committed to providing full funding for all students making normal progress through to the end of their fifth year. This is done by pooling funds that the University provides to the department with grant and fellowship monies which students and faculty bring into the department from other sources. The revenue students bring into the department is a critical component to the department’s ability to maintain these funding levels. It is essential that students aggressively pursue – that is, research and apply for – grants and fellowships offered by the University and other sources throughout their attendance in the graduate program. It is also essential that students notify the Chair when they apply for a grant or fellowship (to help the Chair with financial planning). Eligible American citizens are expected to apply for NSF Graduate Research Fellowships in their first year, and citizens of other countries should investigate what grants are available to them. The Graduate Students Grant Service office in Goodell 517 is a very useful resource (or visit their website at www.umass.edu/gradschool/gsgs/). The GPD will be glad to assist you in finding and applying for grants and fellowships. Let the GPD or Chair know of the grants or fellowships you apply for, and, of course, of those that you receive.
The department recognizes that some areas of research (e.g. experimental work in psycholinguistics or phonetics or modeling work in computational linguistics) may require substantial course work outside the department or beyond the ordinary curriculum before any original research can be begun. For example, students specializing in adult psycholinguistics normally take the first year graduate sequence in Cognitive Psychology (Psych 617, 618, 640 and 641). When these circumstances exist, approved external courses may be substituted for two foundation courses.
You must write two generals papers in two areas within the competency of the departmental faculty: phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, psycholinguistics, acquisition, and morphology. The function of this requirement is primarily to show ability to conduct research in linguistics and readiness to write a doctoral dissertation. Secondarily, it, together with the breadth requirement, ensures that each student is acquainted with a range of linguistic knowledge. And finally, together with the breadth paper, it replaces the Comprehensive Exam given in other doctoral programs.
A generals paper is a more substantial undertaking than a term paper, although many generals papers do start out as term papers. A generals paper is also somewhat less than a published article in a major refereed journal, although many generals papers do end up as published articles. Somewhere between these two points lies the range of a successful generals paper. It should demonstrate an ability to discover an interesting topic of appropriate size, knowledge of the appropriate literature and the ability to work within a theoretical framework, clear exposition, and originality.
The role of the Doctoral Guidance Committee (DGC) is to help lead the student to successful completion of the generals papers and to evaluate those papers. By the end of the second semester of the graduate program, you form a DGC in consultation with the GPD. The DGC is made up of three faculty members within the department; two function as “Specialists” and the third is the Chair. The Specialists are faculty with expertise in the area of the paper; they will function as the primary advisors for the paper. One of them is chosen by you and the other is chosen by you and the GPD jointly. The Chair is usually a faculty member who is not a specialist in either generals paper area. Once you and the GPD have decided on the members of your committee, you should then approach the Specialists and ask them to serve on your committee. (The GPD notifies the Chair.)
In May of your second year, you form a DGC for your second generals paper, again in consultation with the GPD. This committee will be made up of two new Specialists, one chosen by you and the other chosen by you and the GPD jointly. As before, the Specialists’ area of expertise is relevant for the topic of your second paper. The Chair of your first DGC will normally continue to serve as Chair of the second DGC. Once the members of this second DGC are chosen, you should, as before, approach the Specialists and ask them to serve on your committee. The DGC’s job is done and it dissolves when you advance to candidacy (with the submission of the Candidacy Memo).
In addition to evaluating the generals paper, the DGC is the final authority on questions of distinctness and suitability of the paper and on whether the papers come from different fields within the competency of the faculty. The DGC or the GPD can decide on whether a breadth paper is suitably distinct from the two GPs. The DGC chair, together with the DGC as a whole, assumes the role of your advisor, replacing the GPD’s role as advisor. Thus, the DGC provides guidance and helps with problems. The chair of the DGC is responsible for communicating any decisions or discussion at the Student Progress Meeting that are relevant to your progress in the program.
As you do the research and writing of your generals paper, you should meet regularly with the Specialists supervising it to consult about your work. You should also ask the Chair of your DGC how involved he or she would like to be in your work; be sure to keep the Chair informed of your progress. You are encouraged to get advice from any of the faculty in the department, whether they are on the committee or not. For some kinds of research (in psycholinguistics or computational linguistics, for instance), it may be appropriate for you to consult extensively with faculty from other departments as well.
You will meet with your first DGC in a Joint Advising Meeting at the end of the third semester. At this first meeting, you and your committee will review progress on your first generals paper and help you plan your upcoming semester. Make sure to discuss with the Specialists how frequently you will meet with them in the following semester, and perhaps even to schedule some of those meetings.
Continued funding through the five years of the program, as well as continued enrollment in the program in those five years and thereafter, is dependent on a student’s making “normal progress toward the degree”. The faculty of the Department have responsibility for determining whether each student is making such “normal progress”. This is determined partly on the basis of the student’s performance in classes and partly on how successful the student has been in satisfying the other requirements of the program (e.g. writing generals papers). In evaluating normal progress, the faculty gather information from the GPD, the student’s instructors, and the student’s DGC or dissertation committee, if any. They take into account faculty opinion of course work, letter grades and grades of incomplete, quality and on-time completion of term papers and generals papers, and the relationship of course work to the student’s research plans.
At the end of each semester, and at other times as necessary, the faculty holds a Student Progress Meeting to discuss how students are doing in the program. At this meeting, the faculty review student performance and evaluate, to the extent possible, where a student’s relative strengths and weaknesses lie. Part of this evaluation involves determining whether students are making “normal progress” toward the degree. If serious problems in making normal progress are noted, they will be communicated to the student in writing as well as orally, and specific remedies or deadlines will be noted. Similarly, if in evaluating a student’s progress the faculty determines that the student has particular strengths which indicate a direction for future studies or specialization, these will be conveyed to the student by his or her Advisor (the GPD, the chair of the Doctoral Guidance Committee, or the chair of the dissertation committee). In addition, a student may request an informative report of the results of the Student Progress Meeting by speaking to his or her Advisor.
Faculty are not required by the conditions of their employment to be available during term breaks, the January inter-semester period, or the summer. It is commonplace for faculty to be away from campus during these periods. Students cannot assume that it is possible to schedule defenses, have regular meetings, or get papers read outside of the regular term. It may be possible to arrange meetings or defenses during the summer, but you must arrange this with individuals involved and you should not assume that it can be done.
In its efforts to ensure that students receive the best possible guidance, the Department has instituted a great many advising mechanisms. In fact, there are so many that their different functions can be confusing. This summary attempts to sort things out.
Of course, in addition to the specific roles mentioned here, you should always feel free to approach any other faculty member with a problem or question.
Things do not always go as planned. The department deals with the unexpected through petitions. Work taking longer than expected does not by itself constitute grounds for a petition: a student should expect work to take longer than estimated. Medical reasons, equipment failure, a coup in a country where fieldwork is planned provide clear reasons for a petition to extend a deadline. There may be additional grounds for granting a petition, but petitions will not be granted as a matter of course.
If you would be helped by a waiver or modification of a Departmental requirement, you should discuss your need and your reasons with the Graduate Program Director and/or your DGC, and then submit a petition to the GPD requesting the change. For relatively minor matters, the GPD can grant a waiver on his or her own authority. For more important matters, the GPD will convene a meeting of the faculty to seek departmental concurrence in granting or denying the waiver. The requests most commonly heard by the department as a whole are for extension of departmental deadlines, especially the deadlines for completing a generals paper. Such extensions will not be granted automatically. Allowable reasons for missing deadlines are primarily non-academic or circumstances entirely outside the control of the student such as unforeseeable problems in collecting data. It is wise to discuss these particular petitions in advance with your DGC.
The Department cannot waive or modify University regulations, although the GPD can present a case for waiver or modification on your behalf to the Graduate School.
Because petitions are designed to handle the unexpected, the faculty considers each in its own context. Nonetheless, certain trends or practices have emerged surrounding certain kinds of petitions which are described below. Bear in mind that these only describe how the faculty tends to respond when presented with these kinds of petitions; there is no way to anticipate all the specialness of future cases.
For personal, non-academic reasons (such as illness or family obligations), or for academic reasons (such as spending time at another university or doing fieldwork), you can request a temporary unfunded leave of absence from the graduate program. You do this by presenting a petition to the GPD which indicates the time during which you would like to take a leave and the reasons for doing so. The GPD, in consultation with the Department, then passes this along with a recommendation to the Graduate Dean, who makes the decision. Leaves are for a specified period, usually one semester or one year. All departmental deadlines are postponed by one semester for each semester’s leave (or significant fraction thereof, at the discretion of the Department). Failure to return on time from a leave requires readmission to the program, which is not granted automatically. During a leave, you pay the program fee to the Graduate School rather than the usual tuition and fees. If you want to be away from campus for an extended period because of fieldwork or for some other academic reason without taking an official unfunded leave, you should describe the circumstances and your plans to your advisor or the GPD.
If you have not submitted and defended your generals papers by the end of the second and third year, and filed GP2 by the end of the third year, you are not making normal progress toward the degree, and this places your funding and your ability to remain in the program in jeopardy. However, it is possible to petition for an extension of the deadline. Should you need such an extension, you must submit a petition specifying the reasons to the GPD, who will bring it to the Student Progress meeting for discussion by the faculty. The petition should report the current status of your generals paper, what future work remains outstanding, and suggest a specific extended deadline. If there are special hardships or difficulties you have experienced which have affected work on the generals papers – health problems, catastrophic equipment failure, etc. – these should be mentioned as well. It is recommended that you fashion this petition in consultation with the DGC. At the end-of-semester Student Progress Meeting, in consultation with your DGC, the Department will then consider your petition. If the faculty finds that the reasons stated in the petition for a first extension are sound and that you have previously been making normal progress in the program, it will grant your petition. The faculty will impose a new deadline for completion of the generals paper, taking into consideration your overall progress and the matters presented in your petition.
If you believe that it is unlikely that you will meet any of the deadlines for either generals papers or extensions, you should immediately consult with both your Advisor (the Chair of your DGC) and the GPD. They may be able to help you diagnose the problem and take steps to solve it.
If you believe that seeking relief from course-work would be helpful in bringing your generals papers to completion, discuss this with the GPD who may be able to arrange a deviation from the normal schedule of classes. In general, it is very important to keep your Advisor and the GPD informed of the status of your generals paper should you fall behind.
The following describes the expected progress of students from almost all backgrounds. Students who enter the Graduate Program with a strong background in linguistics are generally not permitted to skip steps in this progress toward the degree, although waivers of courses already taken elsewhere may sometimes be arranged in consultation with the instructor and the GPD.
During the Fall semester, you take Ling 601 (Transformational Grammar), Ling 603 (Generative Phonology), Ling 610 (Semantics and Generative Grammar), and 791A (Linguistics Colloquium). 791A records the one credit you earn by participating in department colloquia. There is no formal class meeting. With permission of the GPD, you may enroll in or audit additional courses and, in exceptional circumstances, postpone 610 to the following year, if preparation for your GP research requires it. In the Spring semester, you are required to take Ling 604 (Syntactic Theory), and Ling 606 (Phonological Theory) and two additional courses. It is normal to take one or two of the three foundation courses during this time. Incoming students with substantial prior background in linguistics may be allowed to waive one of the Fall semester courses, but they are asked to audit it and take a substitute course. Decisions on waivers are made by the instructor and the GPD at the beginning of the semester. Students with substantially less background than their classmates or students with special problems who find the normal course load overwhelming should consult the GPD.
The GPD is your Advisor in the first year. The GPD serves as your primary advisor until you form a Doctoral Guidance Committee (DGC) at the end of the second semester. The GPD also helps to facilitate advising meetings with prospective DGC members during the first year. With guidance from the GPD, first year students arrange 2-3 meetings with 2-3 faculty who work in areas related to the topic of the first GP. These meetings are part of the process of forming the first DGC.
Before classes end, you form your first Doctoral Guidance Committee (DGC) in consultation with the GPD. The formation of this committee is a culmination of a process that starts upon your arrival in the department: through coursework, first year advising, and other interactions, you should have developed a working relationship with one or more faculty members who specialize in the area of your first Generals Paper. Together, you and the GPD will select two specialists, taking into account your research plans, your preferences, and equitable distribution of the faculty’s work-load. You will then approach them to ask them if they are willing to serve (this may have already come up in discussions with the specialist). The GPD also selects a non-specialist as permanent chair of your DGC. It is the chair’s job to serve as your Advisor, conveying information to you from the committee, calling meetings, etc.
Further details on the formation, composition, and function of the DGC appear below in the Generals Papers and the DGC section.
Once you have formed this committee, notify the Graduate Program Secretary of its composition by e-mail, with a cc. to the committee members and the GPD.
In the second and third years, students enroll in three electives each semester, as well as an area workshop and the Linguistics Colloquium. The electives are generally composed of a combination of foundation courses, (pro)seminars in the two generals paper areas, and independent studies. However, courses outside the department may also be appropriate preparation for GP or dissertation research. It is very important to continue to take courses in both of the areas in which you plan to write generals papers until those papers are completed. From now until the end of the third year, you must register for 3 courses each semester, choosing various electives (which may include courses from other departments) with the advice of the GPD, your Doctoral Guidance Committee (once you’ve formed one), and other faculty. These three courses do not include the area workshops or colloquium credit.
The area workshops meet weekly, and provide a venue for students and faculty to present and discuss their ongoing research, for professional development activities, and for other activities of general interest. You are required to attend at least one workshop after your first year and until you form a dissertation committee.
The first of the two generals papers is to be written in the third and fourth semesters. In connection with preparing this paper, you take the area workshop in the relevant area, independent studies, and any relevant seminars. In the area workshop, students present their work to receive feedback from their peers. Students also consult regularly with the members of their Doctoral Guidance Committee, and with other members of the faculty as the need arises. A draft of the first generals paper should be turned in by April 15th in your second year, defended by the JAM meeting at the end of the semester, and filed by the end of the summer.
Upon successfully defending your generals paper, notify the Graduate Program Secretary and the GPD by e-mail of the date of the defense. After your DGC has approved the final version of your generals paper (including any required revisions), you must file your GP by sending a .pdf copy of the paper by e-mail to the Graduate Program Secretary, cc’d to the GPD and all members of your committee.
Once you’ve formed a DGC, and continuing until you have formed a prospectus committee, your DGC meets with you every semester for a Joint Advising Meeting. Look for a schedule of these meetings towards the end of the semester. Each JAM meeting is organized around the following schedule. First, there is a general discussion between you and the members of your committee about your work and your progress through the past semester. The DGC chair will use this opportunity to get information from you about the courses you’ve taken, the projects you’ve worked on, the topics you plan for upcoming papers, and so on. You then retire briefly from the room, and the DGC discusses the information you have provided and other knowledge it has of your work. You are then invited back in and the DGC chair puts forward the committee’s impressions of your progress, strengths and weaknesses, recommendations for future work, and any matters requiring the attention of the whole faculty at the Student Progress Meeting. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to bring them up at this meeting.
The end of the fourth semester the student will present his or her research to the department at the Mini-Conference. Make sure to remain in Amherst after the last class of the semester for the Mini-Conference, JAMs Day (for as yet unscheduled JAMs), Defense Day and to discuss feedback from the Student Progress Meeting.
In May of your second year you form, in consultation with the GPD, another DGC for the second paper. The chair (the non-specialist) remains the same, but the specialist members change to reflect the new topic of your second generals paper. The procedure for selecting the specialists is the same as with the first DGC, as is the procedure for notifying the Graduate Program Secretary of the membership.
In connection with preparing this paper, you take the area workshop throughout the year. A draft of the generals paper must be submitted by February 1 of the third year, defended by March 15th, and filed by the time of the Student Progress Meeting.
Upon successfully defending your generals paper, notify the Graduate Program Secretary and the GPD by e-mail of the date of the defense so it can be recorded in the Student Progress database. After your DGC has approved the final version of your generals paper (including any required revisions), you must must send a .pdf copy of the paper by e-mail to the Graduate Program Secretary, cc’d to the GPD and all members of your committee. The deadline for filing the second generals paper is the last day of classes of the third year.
In addition to the two Generals Papers, you must write a third paper in an area distinct from those of the generals papers. Usually, you write this paper in conjunction with a seminar taken in the second or third year of the graduate program, but papers of seminar-level quality written for other courses are also acceptable. The DGC (in consultation with faculty in the area of the breadth paper) decides matters of distinctness and approves the Breadth paper. There is no special procedure for evaluating the quality of breadth papers; the mere fact that you have written and submitted it for a seminar course and it has received a grade is sufficient. When you have decided with the GPD which paper is to satisfy the Breadth Paper requirement, send the Graduate Program Secretary and the GPD an e-mail with the title of the paper and the class you wrote it for.
When you have fulfilled the course requirements, generals paper requirements, and breadth requirement, you are ready to advance to candidacy for the PhD. You do this by asking the Graduate Program Secretary to prepare a Doctoral Candidacy memo with the Graduate Program Director’s signature.
During the fourth and fifth years you will normally enroll in or audit seminars. Seminars are the central forum for discussing the research projects that faculty and students are engaged in. While they are typically organized around a topic or theme, they often range over a wider variety of issues than the course description may initially suggest. They are usually open to all members of the linguistics community: visiting scholars, exchange students, students from the first, second and third years, as well as faculty and students from other departments and colleges. They are the place where members of the linguistics community share ideas, explore new research agendas and generally do the business of pushing forward linguistic science. The participation of advanced graduate students is an important component to the success of these seminars. Area workshops serve similar purposes, and you are encouraged to attend. Do consult with your advisor, however, about what the best use of your time is, especially when you are writing the dissertation.
You must register for dissertation credits (course number 899) until you have amassed a total of 18 credits of dissertation research. After that, you are eligible to pay the Program Fee, an arrangement that may save you some money on other fees. Students generally enroll in dissertation credits in the fourth year onwards, but may also enroll in dissertation credits prior to the fourth year if their total course load is otherwise below 15 credits in a given semester. You may register for a maximum of 9 dissertation credits per semester. Only the Graduate Program Secretary can register you for dissertation credits; you must let her know when you want to do that. Students who are registered for Program Fee or less than 9 hours of dissertation can still be regarded as “full-time” students if the GPD certifies to the Graduate School that they are working full-time on research. To do this, ask the Graduate Program Secretary to generate a “full-time” memo.
At the end of the third year, generally in conjunction with the completion of your second GP, you form your prospectus committee in consultation with your DGC chair, the GPD and specialists in the prospective area(s) of your dissertation. The committee consists of two faculty. This committee will guide you in the initial stages of developing your dissertation topic and prospectus. Generally, prospectus committee members will be faculty with whom you have an ongoing advising relationship and with whom you have consulted about possible dissertation topics. These faculty may end up serving on your dissertation committee; however, there is no requirement that they must do so. The prospectus committee will supervise your work on your dissertation prospectus until you have identified a topic of appropriate scope and formed a dissertation committee, generally in the fall of the fourth year, at which point the prospectus committee will automatically dissolve.
When you have a topic, but certainly no later than the end of the fourth year, you form a dissertation committee. You do this by first approaching the prospective chair and discussing your ideas for a dissertation topic. Like the formation of a Generals Paper committee, this should almost certainly take place in the context of an ongoing advising relationship. Faculty members may ask to see a draft of the prospectus before agreeing to serve as a chair. You should produce a prospectus in consultation with your prospective chair by the end of the Fall semester of your fourth year (see the following section). Let the Graduate Program Secretary and the GPD know by e-mail when you have finished the prospectus. You select the members of the committee in consultation with the chair and the GPD, and you approach the prospective members to ask whether they will serve. A dissertation committee must consist of at least a chair and one other member from the Linguistics Department and one outside member from another department at UMass (even if they are an adjunct in the Linguistics Department), or from any department at one of the other Five Colleges, or from one of the other UMass campuses (e.g. UMass Boston). Co-chairs of dissertation committees require a memo from the GPD to the graduate school. All members of the committee must be present at the defense, so the larger the committee, the more difficult it becomes to schedule the defense, especially when students have to defend in the summer due to a job. The graduate school discourages committees with more than five members. It is possible to get permission for faculty at other institutions to be members or even co-chairs (but these people do not count as outside members) with a special memo from the GPD to provide justification (and a CV and “letter of commitment” from that person). However, since all members, even ones from other institutions, must attend the defense and must do so at their own expense this is usually only practical for faculty at nearby universities. A preferable alternative is to make such faculty a consultant rather than a regular member of the dissertation committee: a consultant receives official recognition but does not vote and need not (but can) attend the defense and sign the dissertation. To add a consultant to a committee also requires a CV from that individual.
When both your chair and the GPD have approved your committee, you are responsible for initiating the submission of a Committee Memo to the graduate school, which is the GPD’s recommendation to the Graduate School of a dissertation committee. To do this, send an e-mail asking the Graduate Program Secretary to prepare the memo, cc’d to your chair and the GPD. The Graduate Dean formally appoints the dissertation committee. If it becomes necessary to change the composition of your dissertation committee, you and the chair should discuss it and make a recommendation to the GPD, who will then write a memo requesting this change to the Graduate School.
By May of your fourth year, you must have submitted the dissertation prospectus to your dissertation committee for approval. The prospectus is a brief document that lays out a research problem, the reason that it’s interesting, and the method of investigating it. It provides background to the research that you will do in your dissertation (usually a short survey of previous research, with more detail on any relevant work of your own), and an overview of the outstanding issues you will pursue and how you will address them. The prospectus must be approved by all members of the dissertation committee, so you must be sure to plan ahead so you can get all signatures despite sabbatical leaves, vacation, etc. The approved prospectus is submitted to the Graduate School with the Prospectus Cover Sheet (see the Graduate Program Secretary). E-mail the Graduate Program Secretary a .pdf of your prospectus to be included in your file. Technically, the Graduate School approves a prospectus only after the Graduate Dean has appointed a Dissertation Committee; so the committee formation memo (see the last section) needs to be submitted before the prospectus. An approved prospectus must be received by the Graduate School no later than 7 months before the dissertation defense.
According to the Graduate School regulations, no more than six years can elapse between the day you first enter the graduate program and the day you receive the degree. If you are in peril of exceeding this Statute of Limitations, the Graduate School will inform you by mail several months in advance. It is then your responsibility to initiate the process of requesting an extension (for a specific period, not to exceed one year). You do this by obtaining a SOL Extension form from the Graduate Program Secretary. In the top section of the form you describe your progress, prognosis, and any reasons for delay. You give this form to the chair of your committee, who completes the middle section and makes a recommendation to the GPD. The GPD then approves and forwards the recommendation to the Graduate School, which may or may not grant the requested extension, may impose conditions, or may demand additional information or completion of tardy requirements. Extensions are not granted automatically by either the Department or the Graduate School. In making his/her recommendation, your dissertation advisor will seriously consider whether you are making progress on your dissertation. The Graduate School routinely refuses requests for extensions when basic paperwork is missing from the file (such as the student-initiated memos reporting advancement to candidacy (Candidacy Memo), formation of a dissertation committee (Committee Memo), or approval of a prospectus (Prospectus Cover Sheet)) or when the record contains more than one or two grades of Incomplete. They have also been reluctant to grant repeated extensions.
Exception: If you enter the program with a Master’s degree, the Statute of Limitations is reduced by two years. Since we give no special credit to incoming students for having a Master’s, please inform the GPD if you have one. We automatically ask for extensions to the full six years for students in good standing who are otherwise making normal progress toward the degree.
If your statute of limitation lapses, then you must apply for readmission to the program! Don’t let that happen!!
At least 6 weeks prior to the desired time for the defense, you submit a draft of the dissertation to the committee and ask their approval for a defense. If they approve, it is your responsibility to arrange for a mutually agreeable defense date when all members can be present and to collect signed Defense Approval Form (available from the Graduate Program Secretary) from all the committee members. After that, the procedure is:
By University regulations, all of your dissertation committee members must attend the defense. The defense is open to all members of the Graduate Faculty. By Departmental custom, faculty and students attend all defenses, regardless of specialization. The defense consists of a 45 minute presentation of major results by the candidate, followed by questions, first from the committee members, then from the rest of the audience. At the end of the question period, the audience withdraws and the committee renders its judgment and then meets with the candidate to discuss what revisions are necessary for the final version of the dissertation. Once you have passed the defense, notify the Graduate Program Secretary, who will prepare the Dissertation Memo for the Graduate School.