Doctoral Committee, Dissertation Prospectus & Advancement to Candidacy for the Ph.D.

Please refer to the official Catalogue requirements found here: click here for official requirements for exams.

Doctoral Committee:

The student and the principal advisor consult to determine the composition of a doctoral committee of three members including the principal advisor. The doctoral committee, under the direction of the principal advisor, supervises the student's research program and ultimately approves the dissertation. The Doctoral Committee must have a 51% majority from Visual Studies faculty, and all members of the committee must be UC Senate Faculty (although not necessarily from the Irvine division.) Exceptions are granted only by approval by the Dean of Graduate Study. See more in the Graduate Advisor's Handbook.

Dissertation Prospectus:

Your prospectus is a document in which you articulate your dissertation project, situate your project in relation to the existing scholarship, and map out your research plan. It gives you a structure to think through, formulate, and rationalize your project, as well as a plan to begin writing your dissertation. You may also be able to excerpt passages from your prospectus in abstracts and applications. Your ultimate dissertation will likely evolve—for instance in the number of chapters or specific case studies—as you research and write, but the prospectus gives you a foundation from which to work.

The length of prospectuses vary, but these are the six basic elements of a prospectus:

• Project Overview
This introduces the dissertation topic, articulates your guiding research questions, advances a preliminary thesis, and explains the stakes or intervention of your project.

• Literature Review
This offers a synthetic survey of the relevant topical scholarly fields upon which you are building or are putting into dialogue. Rather than offering a laundry listing of every scholar’s argument, this should give a sense of the major and most pertinent discourses and debates. Position your work in relation to the existing scholarship.

• Methodology
This explains the theoretical frameworks and disciplinary methods you are employing in your analysis. This is distinct from the literature review and will likely be shorter.

• Chapter Breakdown
This explains the subjects of each individual chapter (typically one paragraph per chapter) and the structural logic of the dissertation as a whole. The imperative tense in the second sentence might be reconceived to read: “It is here that you will describe the conceptual project of each chapter and justify how your selection of objects and texts in these chapters builds a project that is holistic rather than composed of arbitrary or uneven pieces.

• Research Plan
This provides a pragmatic overview of how you will accomplish the dissertation. The plan includes a forecast schedule for research and for completing chapter drafts, revisions, and delivering the whole dissertation to your committee. It also identifies archives where you plan to conduct research and fellowships and grants for which you plan to apply for additional funding. Very few students meet the deadlines they set for themselves, but it is helpful for many students to approach writing the dissertation as a series of smaller component parts, rather than being intimidated by taking on the project as a whole. It will also be important for you to figure out a personal writing rhythm that works well for you.

• Bibliography
This is a preliminary bibliography of work you anticipate citing. You may find it useful to organize your bibliography by subject rather than solely alphabetically.

Most students will work on the prospectus in close consultation with their advisors while concurrently enrolled in the VS 297 Writing Practicum during winter quarter of their third year. (Students and advisors will likely have begun developing the project prior to VS 297.) Students are expected to develop a full prospectus draft by the end of the 297 quarter and then to circulate it to their committee members for feedback early the following quarter. Students are expected to revise and defend their prospectuses by the end of spring quarter during their third year.

Additional questions you will likely want to consider in developing and narrating your project:

• What are the research questions that are going to drive your research and sustain your interest?

• What are the sites/objects/case studies that crystallize your interests? Are they "researchable"? Are there archives that exist to inform your research?

• Are there models for the kind of project you want to do?

• Has this been done before? What are you doing that's new? What's your intervention?

• Does my project have a clearly articulated argument or is it merely a discussion?

• Will the project be "legible" in a particular field/discipline? How can you frame it to excite specialists in your subfield but also make it accessible to a broader audience?

Advancing to Candidacy (Fall 2010 Requirements):

The winter quarter after students take their exams, they are required to take VS 297, a writing practicum in which they finalize a prospectus that defines the scope, approach, and rationale for a proposed dissertation and begin research on the dissertation. The prospectus must be finished by the end of the winter quarter at the latest. Advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree is contingent upon successful completion of this course, and provided that all language requirements have been satisfied. The five-member prospectus defense committee meets with the student in the spring quarter following successful completion of Visual Studies 297 to review the prospectus and the progress of the student, and determines whether to recommend advancement at that time. The normative time for advancement to candidacy is four years.

How do I formally advance?

After passing the preliminary exams, the student's Ph.D. Form I is placed in a "pending" file kept in the VS Staff person's office. Once the student has successfully completed VS 297 Practicum Writing and their prospectus has been approved by their doctoral committee, this form can be submitted to Graduate Division. The student will then formally advance, as indicated on their transcript.

Advancing to Candidacy (Fall-2014 Requirements):

During their third year, students draft a prospectus that defines the scope, approach, and rationale for a proposed dissertation and begin research on the dissertation. At the end of the third year the student should defend the prospectus with the entire five-person committee. 
Based on the student’s written exam results, prospectus defense, and overall progress, the committee will determine whether the student has successfully passed the examination. Except in extraordinary circumstances, no student will be given more than two chances to pass any given section of the examination.

Advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree is contingent upon successful completion of both the preliminary exams, subsequent approval of the prospectus by the dissertation committee, and satisfaction of all language requirements. The normative time for advancement to candidacy is three years.

Pre-Fall 2010 (old) Requirements:

Passing the Qualifying Exam and Advancing to Candidacy (Pre-Fall 2010 Requirements): 

If following Pre-Fall 2010 requirements, after passing the Qualifying Exams, the student immediately takes the Ph.D. Form I to the Cashier's office where advancement fees are paid. The form is then immediately turned in to the VS Staff, who will gather the remaining signatures and submit the form to Graduate Division. Once Graduate Division approves the form, a student will be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D.