The doctoral degree—the pinnacle of academic achievement—is the culmination of extensive research and dissertation development.
Many wonder if earning a doctoral degree is an endeavor that’s entirely self-directed and done at the student’s discretion or if coursework is involved. Dick Senese, President of Capella University, answers questions regarding coursework in a doctoral program.
Q. Is there coursework in a doctoral program?
A. Yes, although how much varies depending on the program. Coursework is designed to help students pose a question for their research and dissertation. Courses can help doctoral candidates deeply explore one specific topic or narrow their list of interests for the dissertation. What coursework they take will depend on how specialized their approach is.
Q. What kind of time commitment will doctoral program coursework entail?
A. The time commitment is varied and flexible. Life circumstances, work obligations, and other factors will influence how much time a student can allocate for coursework. Some students will find they can only handle one course per quarter, while others can handle two. Those doing more than one will obviously need to spend more time. Another consideration is whether or not they have transferable credits that can reduce the amount of time in coursework.
Q. What kind of coursework should a student expect in an online doctoral program?
A. Unlike a traditional program where students are expected to show up in a brick-and-mortar classroom at certain times of the week, online coursework is asynchronous, meaning it doesn’t involve actual class times. In any given course, online students will be expected to complete two units per week. The units could include textbook study, research, commentary to provide, reading and writing projects, group projects, or simulations.
Assignments can be done whenever and wherever. Students manage their own time and learn to be proactive. Each unit builds on the next, so it is important to stay self-motivated in order to keep up and not fall behind.
Capella University offers PhD and professional doctorate degrees in programs ranging from business to education and health to technology. Learn more about Capella’s doctoral programs.
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THE DOCTORAL EXPERIENCE
We offer five types of doctoral degrees in over eighty fields of study. Most of our doctoral degrees are PhDs; we also offer a Doctor of Education, Doctor of Environmental Science and Engineering, Doctor of Public Health, and Doctor of Musical Arts.
A Doctoral degree at UCLA averages 5 years to complete. The first year tends to be foundational—with coursework designed to immerse your incoming cohort into the field. During subsequent years, you will complete coursework, take examinations, assemble a Doctoral Committee chosen from faculty, advance to candidacy, and write a dissertation. It is also a time open to myriad research and professional development opportunities. Below are the UCLA-wide steps. Details will vary by program.
COMPLETE COURSEWORK AND OTHER REQUIREMENTS
Doctoral programs vary widely in the number of required courses as well as additional requirements. Most programs use the first year to prepare students for their chosen field. Some programs conduct an end-of-the-year exam for each first-year cohort, while others evaluate student by courses, papers, and projects completed in that first year. In addition to being assigned a Student Affairs Officer (SAO) by your program, you’ll also mutually choose your Faculty Advisor. Generally this is a natural process where a student’s and a faculty member’s interests and areas of specialization align. This relationship is an important one, which lasts well beyond a student’s tenure at UCLA. In your first year, you’ll take courses with a wide variety of faculty and make lasting friendships with your cohort.
FIND FORMS FOR DOCTORAL STUDENTS
We’ve assembled all UCLA-wide forms that may be useful to a graduate student on a Master’s track in one place: Forms for UCLA Doctoral Students. Your specific program may provide additional forms for your use. Here are some of the most common.
KNOW YOUR PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS
To keep on track, a Doctoral student must meet specific requirements for a student’s program.
Type the name of your program to jump straight to its requirements:
Your Program Requirements cover most things a current student needs to know in order to graduate on time. Our FAQs answers a few common questions about program requirements. Any outstanding questions can be answered by your program through their website or from your Student Affairs Officer (SAO).
If your program offers a Master’s Degree along the path toward a Doctorate, you’ll be required to initiate a specialized process and meet criteria specific to your program.
NOMINATE YOUR DOCTORAL COMMITTEE
During your second or third year, you’ll begin assembling (nominating) your Doctoral Committee. Your committee is comprised of 4 or more faculty members who are experts in your field who can guide you in your research. Some committee members will be on-campus while a few may be located at another academic institution. All committee members will be responsible for reviewing your work periodically, advising you on your direction and independent research, assessing your university oral qualifying exam, and approving your dissertation.
On occasion, your committee will fall out of compliance, in which case you’ll be required to reconstitute your Doctoral committee. Common reasons include when one of your committee members leaves her or his post at UCLA or when you or a current committee member decides that you’ll benefit more by working with a different faculty member.
For more about your doctoral committee, see the Graduate Council’s guide Graduate Student Academic Rights and Responsibilities and Standards and Procedures for Graduate Study at UCLA.
ADVANCEMENT TO CANDIDACY
Becoming a doctoral degree candidate is not a given. The first phase of your doctoral program is supervised by a faculty advisor or guidance committee. Your program will administer the written, and in some cases the program’s oral qualifying, exam after you complete courses and other preparatory work recommended or required by your program
Your doctoral committee may also require additional written exams. Only upon satisfactory completion of the written and oral qualifying requirements may you advance to candidacy. A student must also have met language requirements for advancement. This accomplishment generally happens between your second and fourth year.
CONTINUE PROGRESS TOWARD YOUR DOCTORAL DEGREE
With the guidance of your Doctoral Committee, you’ll conduct fieldwork, research, writing, and independent study all the way up through your dissertation.
While you’re completing your degree, keep an eye on your future. Be sure to participate in the great career and professional development events and resources at UCLA.
DEFENDING YOUR DISSERTATION
Some programs require you to present your dissertation to your doctoral committee in a time-honored event called the final oral examination (or final defense). To find out if your program has this requirement, consult your program requirements for the year you were admitted (see KNOW YOUR PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS above).
FILE YOUR DISSERTATION
You will complete an approved doctoral dissertation that demonstrates your ability to perform original, independent research and constitutes a distinct contribution to knowledge in your principal field of study.
CELEBRATE YOUR GRADUATION
Doctoral Degrees are awarded four times a year, and are integrated into a single commencement—called the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony—held once each year at the beginning of June. UCLA Graduate Commencement for Doctoral Students is where you’ll find info about tickets, locations, schedule, parking, and dress code (including caps and gowns). For information on commencement ceremonies hosted by various graduate departments and programs, search for your program on this year’s schedule.
Once you graduate, our support continues. You’ll find great resources, guidance, career support, and opportunities to network with fellow graduates through UCLA’s Alumni Association.
To network with fellow alumni and learn about meetups and events, like our UCLA Alumni Facebook page. and follow UCLA Alumni on Twitter.