Doctoral Degree Requirements

Academic Residency

All doctoral students need to establish academic residency to ensure their doctoral program is reasonably compact, continuous, and cohesive, and that a substantial portion is in fact done at and under close supervision by the University.

  • No additional hours over and above those for the required program of studies will be needed to fulfill academic residency.
  • For a student beginning a doctoral program in the University of Nebraska system with a bachelors degree, the academic residency requirement is 27 hours of graduate work within a consecutive 18-month period or less, with the further provision that 15 of these 27 hours must be taken after receiving the masters at UNL.
  • For a student beginning a doctoral program in the University of Nebraska system with a masters degree from another educational institution, the academic residency requirement is 27 hours of graduate course work within a consecutive 18-month period or less.
  • For a member of the University staff who is engaged at least half time in instruction or research in their major area, or a person employed in their major field, the residency requirement is 24 credit hours of graduate work within a consecutive two-year period with the further provision that they take at least 12 of these after receiving the masters degree at UNL. For important registration restrictions, refer to University Staff Exemption.
  • In exceptional circumstances, where it is clear that the purpose of residency will be fulfilled although the above formal conditions are not met, the student’s Supervisory Committee may, with the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies, designate an alternative procedure for satisfying the residency requirements.

Supervisory Committee

In order to assure that students are under careful advisement and mentoring throughout their careers, a Supervisory Committee is established before a doctoral student has accumulated 45 credit hours including any transfer hours but excluding research or language tools.

The Supervisory Committee is appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies based upon a recommendation of the departmental or program Graduate Committee in the student’s major prior to the approval of the program of study. 

The Supervisory Committee consists of at least four resident Graduate Faculty members.

  • All professors on the Supervisory Committee must either be on the graduate faculty or be non-graduate faculty approved to perform specified Graduate Faculty duties.
  • The Supervisory Committee must include at least one Graduate Faculty member external to the academic department or program in which the doctorate is to be granted but within the University of Nebraska system. If the student is pursuing a minor, the Graduate Faculty member from the minor department may serve as the outside representative.

Supervisory Committee Member Roles


The Chair of a doctoral student’s committee serves as the advisor and mentor of the student.  Once the student’s research focus has been determined, the Chair

  • helps the student establish a supervisory committee.  Once the committee is established, the supervisory committee chair completes the Appointment of Supervisory Committee form and submits it to the program Graduate Committee Chair for review and approval. The committee form will then be forwarded to the Office of Graduate Studies for approval.
  • helps the student determine what courses should be taken to complete their doctoral studies reflecting the requirements of the program and the interest of the student.  The Chair signs the Program of Studies for the student and then submits it to the Office of Graduate Studies for approval.
  • monitors student’s progress.
  • may not serve as the Outside Representative or a designated reader.

Supervisory Committee Member

All members of the committee serve as additional resources and mentors for the student.  Along with others on the committee, they vote to allow the student into candidacy, request an extension and determine the outcome of the student’s dissertation defense.  Members may serve as the reader or outside representative. 


Two members of the supervisory committee may be designated as readers of the student’s dissertation.  They, along with the Chair, read the draft(s) of the dissertation to determine if the student is ready to defend.  They sign the Application for Final Oral if the student is approved to move forward with the defense. Courtesy members may serve as readers.

Outside Representative

One member of the committee must be external to the student’s major program but within the University of Nebraska system.  If the student is seeking a minor, the graduate faculty member representing the student’s minor may serve as the Outside Representative.  He or she may serve as a reader on the student’s committee. 

Courtesy Member

Faculty external to the University of Nebraska system may serve as a fifth committee member on the student’s committee.  Courtesy members may serve as readers and have voting rights for the student’s committee.  Only one courtesy member may serve per committee.  Courtesy members may not serve as outside representatives.

Once the committee has been formed, an Appointment of Supervisory Committee form, signed by the Graduate Committee Chair, should be filed with the Office of Graduate Studies.

Changes to the Supervisory Committee

Changes to the Supervisory Committee may be made if the Supervisory Committee chair leaves the employ of the University, or retires or is otherwise unable to serve on the Committee. The Office of Graduate Studies must be notified immediately and a change in the Supervisory Committee made as follows:

  • If the student has achieved Candidacy, the former chair who has left the employ of the University may continue to serve as co-chair of the Supervisory Committee, with the approval of the departmental Graduate Committee and the UNL Dean of Graduate Studies. A second co-chair must be appointed who is a resident Graduate Faculty member.
  • If the student has not yet achieved Candidacy, a new chair of the Supervisory Committee who is a resident Graduate Faculty member must be appointed immediately, with the agreement of the departmental/school Graduate Program Committee and the UNL Dean of Graduate Studies.
  • If a member of the Supervisory Committee other than the chair leaves the employ of the University, or retires, a replacement should be appointed who is a resident graduate faculty member. In certain circumstances where special and needed continuing expertise is involved and the faculty member is willing to continue serving, he/she may continue as a member of the Supervisory Committee, with the approval of the Supervisory Committee Chair and the concurrence of the UNL Dean of Graduate Studies.

Graduate faculty who have retired and been appointed to emeritus status may co-chair the supervisory committees of doctoral students with a resident graduate faculty member. Emeritus faculty may continue to serve as members of committees.

Changes may be made to a Supervisory Committee any time prior to the submission of the Application for Final Oral Exam using the Change of Committee form.

Courtesy Members

The UNL Graduate Faculty welcomes associations with faculty members from other institutions who might contribute unique expertise to our doctoral programs. These external experts are given courtesy membership on a doctoral student’s committee. Courtesy members

  • must hold a doctoral degree appropriate to the discipline and have academic accomplishments comparable to the criteria for UNL Graduate Faculty;
  • are appointed as voting members of the Supervisory Committee;
  • must be willing to participate in the student’s doctoral program in a manner consistent with this role;
  • may serve as one of the two appointed readers; but may not serve as committee chair, co-chair, or outside representative;
  • are not granted blanket status and must be approved separately for each supervisory committee upon which the individual is nominated to serve;
  • only one courtesy member may serve on each supervisory committee, and the committee must also include a minimum of four members of the University of Nebraska Graduate Faculty.

Appointment of a courtesy member is accomplished by the submission of the Courtesy Committee Member form signed by the Supervisory Committee chair and Graduate Committee chair. A current CV from the courtesy member should be submitted with this form (the CV may be e-mailed to "Courtesy Member CV" in the subject line).

Program of Studies

The Program of Studies should be filed in the Office of Graduate Studies with at least half of the program of courses remaining to be taken for the student’s doctoral program.

The Program of Studies should

  • be filed in the Office of Graduate Studies within the same semester as the appointment of the Supervisory Committee;
  • contain at least 90 semester credit hours including a minimum of 12 or a maximum of 55 hours of dissertation research;
  • include any departmental language or research tool requirements, and the general area of research for the dissertation;
  • reflect a major from the list of approved doctoral programs. At least half of the graduate work, including the dissertation, will be done in this field.

The Supervisory Committee will determine what course work taken prior to filing of a Program of Studies, including hours earned toward the masters degree(s), will be accepted as part of the 90-hour program.

  • The Supervisory Committee is not obligated to reduce the doctoral Program of Studies by applying course work completed prior to its appointment.
  • Prior course work should be assessed in relation to its contribution to framing a research foundation for the doctorate. Each course accepted must be determined to be current and relevant in relation to the desired degree.
  • No graduate credit will be accepted from a previously awarded doctoral degree at any institution, including UNL.
  • The time limit on granting the doctoral degree is eight years from the time of filing the student’s Program of Studies in the Office of Graduate Studies.

Any subsequent change in the program is approved by the Supervisory Committee and the action reported to the Office of Graduate Studies in writing.

Minor Within the Doctoral Program

A student may include a minor within their Program of Studies.  A minor

  • may be taken in any department that has been approved to offer a major leading to a UNL masters degree;
  • is included in the total hours for the doctoral program established by the committee;
  • must include at least 15 semester hours with 6 hours in courses open exclusively to graduate students (900 level or 800 level without 400 level or lower counterparts); and
  • must include course work outside the major program but within the program in which the minor is being sought. In addition, the minor for the PhD may, in certain departments, be completed in a subdivision of the administrative department.

 A graduate faculty member from the minor program must be a member of the student’s Supervisory Committee. 

Language and Tools

There is no uniform language or research tool requirement for UNL Graduate Studies. However, certain departments have specific research tool and/or language requirements. Students should contact their Graduate Chair for specific requirements related to research and/or language tools.

All required language or research tools requirements for the student's program should be listed on the Program of Studies by the Supervisory Committee and be satisfied prior to filing the Application for Admission to Candidacy, which is due at least seven months before the scheduled final oral examination.

Interdisciplinary Program of Studies

An Individualized Interdisciplinary Doctoral (IID) program of studies is designed for students who wish to tailor a program to meet their professional interests and research endeavors across programs.  Although it allows a high degree of flexibility, an IID Program of Studies is a rigorous program and requires the approval of Graduate Studies as well as the participating academic units.  It should not be considered an alternative for students who cannot gain admission to other programs. Also, it is not a mechanism for offering the PhD degree within units which do not have their own authorized PhD programs. An (IID) program of studies may be developed only with programs which offer a doctoral degree.

A student interested in setting up an IID program of studies may select a field of study that integrates material offered in two or more departments without meeting the specific major requirements of one program.  

For information on developing an IID Program of Studies, contact the Doctoral Specialist in the Office of Graduate Studies.

Comprehensive Examination and Admission to Candidacy

When a student has substantially completed studies in the doctoral program (PhD, EdD, DMA), he/she must pass a written comprehensive examination, in the major and minor fields of study.

Requirement and scheduling

The Supervisory Committee arranges for comprehensive examinations — written and potentially also oral — at least seven months prior to the final oral examination (dissertation defense).

  • Written: The written comprehensive examination is not a repetition of course examinations but is an investigation of the student’s breadth of understanding of the field of knowledge of which his/her special subject is a part.
  • Oral: At the discretion of the Supervisory Committee, an oral comprehensive examination may be required. The oral examination may include the minor or related fields in addition to the major field of study.  If an oral exam is required, this is considered a part of the comprehensive exam requirements to be met before candidacy can be achieved.

After the exam(s)

When the student has passed the comprehensive examination, satisfied language and research tool requirements of her/his approved program, and removed any provisional admission requirements, the committee will recommend to the Office of Graduate Studies the doctoral student’s admission to Candidacy by filing the Application for Admission to Candidacy for the doctoral degree, noting the dates of completing the comprehensive examination(s).

The Application for Candidacy must be filed at least seven months prior to the final oral examination (dissertation defense).

Following admission to Candidacy the student must register for at least one credit hour during each fall and spring semester until he/she receives the doctoral degree, even if the student has already met the total dissertation hours on their approved program of study. Failure to register during each academic-year semester will result in termination of the program of study.

Should the Supervisory Committee determine the student has failed the comprehensive examination, a letter must be submitted by the chair of the Supervisory Committee to the Dean of Graduate Studies stating the conditions under which the student may attempt another examination, or part thereof. Additional attempts may not be earlier than the following academic term or summer. Typically, but upon the discretion of the Supervisory Committee, only two attempts to pass the comprehensive examination will be permitted.


The dissertation is of no fixed length. It should treat a subject from the Candidate’s special field, approved by the Supervisory Committee. It should show the technical mastery of the field and advance or modify former knowledge, i.e., it should treat new material, or find new results, or draw new conclusions, or it should interpret old material in a new light. Each candidate for the degree shall submit with the dissertation an abstract of the same, not exceeding 350 words in length including the title.

For specific formatting guidelines required by the Office of Graduate Studies, the Guidelines for Preparation of an Electronic Dissertation should be consulted.  Style guidelines are determined by the student’s specific discipline.

Institutional Research Board

Research activities involving human subjects or live vertebrate animals may not be conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) unless the research activities have been reviewed and approved by the appropriate board or committee. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) reviews projects involving human subject research and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) reviews the use of animals in research. These reviews are in accordance with Federal regulations and UNL assurance documents to the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). The IRB New Protocol Submission form must be completed online via NUgrant; the Application to Use Animals is available from the Office of Research Responsibility.

The IRB and IACUC will not review projects already in progress. Approval must be secured prior to the initiation of the research. Evidence of IRB/IACUC approval must be submitted at the time the final version of the thesis or dissertation is filed.

Reading Committee

Following approval by the major adviser, the dissertation and abstract should be presented to the Reading Committee in time for its review, and recommendation of its members at least five weeks prior to the oral examination. The Reading Committee consists of two members from the Supervisory Committee, excluding the Chair or Co-chair.

The Chair or Co-Chairs of the Supervisory Committee must file in the Office of Graduate at least three weeks prior to the oral examination either:

  1. A recommendation (the Application for Final Oral Examination) signed by each member of the Reading Committee indicating general approval to defend the dissertation and abstract with the names of those to be in attendance at defense listed; or
  2. A statement signed by a majority of the Supervisory Committee indicating that the Committee rejected an adverse report by one member of the Reading Committee and recommends that the candidate be permitted to proceed to an oral examination defense of the dissertation and abstract.

Final Oral Examination

Once the candidate’s studies have been completed and the dissertation reviewed and approved by the Reading Committee and Supervisory Committee Chair(s), a final oral examination may be scheduled and given by the Supervisory Committee

The final oral examination for the PhD may not be scheduled unless a majority of the Supervisory Committee, including the Chair(s), are available for the examination. Exceptions may be made only by permission of the Dean of Graduate Studies.

An Application for Final Oral Exam should be filed with the Office of Graduate Studies no less than two weeks prior to the scheduled defense.  The submission of the application form indicates that the committee chair(s) and the readers (see Reading Committee) have read the dissertation, find it suitable for a defense and grant permission for the defense to be held. All committee members should be given sufficient time to read the dissertation prior to the student's defence.

The final examination for the doctoral degree is oral and open to members of both the University community and the public.

  • The Supervisory Committee determines the defense’s character and length. The examination may be devoted to the special field of the dissertation or to the Candidate’s general knowledge, or it may be designed to test judgment and critical powers.
  • During the dissertation presentation and general questioning all persons may be present.
  • At the end of the public hearing there will be a closed questioning portion of the examination where all persons except the Candidate, Supervisory Committee, and invited faculty must be excused.
  • The final oral examination over the dissertation may be waived only with the consent of the Graduate Dean.

The Supervisory Committee reports the results of the final oral examination to the Office of Graduate Studies.

  • If the student has passed the oral exam, a Report of Completion is signed by all committee members present for the defense. This is included in the documents submitted by the student for depositing the dissertation.
  • In the event that members of an oral examining committee are not unanimous regarding passing a Candidate, the student is to be approved for the degree if only one examiner dissents. However, in each case, the dissenting member of the committee will be expected to file a letter of explanation in the Office of Graduate Studies.
  • If a student fails to pass the final oral examination for an advanced degree, his/her committee must file a report on the failure in the Office of Graduate Studies and indicate what the student must do before taking another examination. Another examination may not be held during the same semester or the same summer session in which the student failed.

Depositing the Dissertation

Following the successful completion of the oral examination, the student should consult the instructions received at the time of filing the Application for Final Oral Exam before submitting the required items in the Office of Graduate Studies, 1100 Seaton Hall.

Only abstracts/dissertations that meet all published requirements can be approved and stamped for depositing.

Before the degree is granted, each Candidate pays a processing fee, and if desired, an additional fee to cover the cost of registering a copyright.