Doctoral Degree

The dissertation represents the culmination of a student's graduate training and involves an original piece of research that advances psychology as a science.


The attainment of doctoral candidacy is formal and marks the completion of all primary RIG courses (and, if applicable, secondary RIG courses) and requirements for the doctoral degree, other than those related to research leading to the writing, submission, and defense of the thesis. Because faculty and students in this department have diverse research interests and philosophies of education, as is reflected in our RIGs, we believe that a flexible system for admission to candidacy is preferable to a uniform set of requirements; thus, a students’ candidacy requirements are determined by their RIG and their admission to candidacy committee.

Department Requirements

As soon as you have finished your Master’s thesis (or earlier if you entered Rice with a relevant Master’s), you should form your admission to candidacy committee. A student’s admission to candidacy committee will include the advisor; other members are often identical to those serving on the Master’s committee—but they do not have to be.

Once you have chosen your admission to candidacy committee, it should meet to decide on a set of candidacy requirements. You should initiate this process by giving each member of the candidacy committee a summary of your progress in the program. Your statement should include publications, research in progress, presentations, courses taken (with grades), dissertation plans (if not a proposal), career plans, and any other relevant information (in other words: where have you been, where are you now, and where are you going?). In addition to this being a useful developmental exercise for you, the committee will use your statement as a basis for preparing candidacy requirements. Requirements the committee might recommend might include (and are not limited to) things such as:

  • A completed version of the Master's thesis, in a form suitable for submission to an appropriate journal
  • Research project(s) that has been written up in a form suitable for submission to an appropriate journal
  • Presentations, teaching, and other communication and mentoring in relevant fora (professional conferences, seminars and workshops, brown bags and lab meetings)
  • Completion of additional courses, tutorials, and other reading necessary to fill in developmental gaps in skills and experiences
  • A written exam covering substantive and methodological aspects relevant to doctoral training

Please note that your formal dissertation proposal is not a prerequisite requirement for attaining doctoral candidacy, although it often is. However, depending on the requirements that have been established, the doctoral proposal may be completed following successful admission to doctoral candidacy.

Admission to Candidacy

Once you have completed your doctoral candidacy requirements and held a meeting with your doctoral candidacy committee, obtain a signature from each member of your committee on the “Completion of Requirements” form that can be obtained from the Forms page on the Psychological Sciences website.

After the candidacy committee approves your admission to candidacy, you will decide on a thesis committee for your dissertation. This committee will be responsible for reviewing your dissertation and for examining you on the subject matter contained therein. The committee must comprise at least three members: the committee chair (usually your longstanding advisor), a tenure-track department faculty member, and a third “outside” member who must be a tenure-track Rice faculty member whose primary appointment is in another department within the university.

Doctoral Candidacy Paperwork

There are three required forms you must fill out in order to petition for doctoral candidacy:

  1. Doctoral Candidacy Petition Form
  2. Doctoral Completion of Requirements Form
  3. RIG-Specific Course Checklist Form

These forms can be found and downloaded from the Forms page on the Psychological Sciences website, or you can contact the Graduate Coordinator to receive copies.

Present the petition form, the “Completion of Requirements” form, and the RIG-specific checklist form to the department’s Director of Graduate Studies or the Department Chair, who will sign the petition form. Then submit everything to your Graduate Coordinator, who will sign the form, prepare a copy of your transcript, and submit the completed paperwork electronically to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Again, please remember you cannot defend your dissertation until you have submitted your candidacy paperwork on time!

Doctoral Proposal

The doctoral dissertation represents past research training and future research promise. It is the product of a student's graduate training, intellectual interests, and research investments. It involves an original piece of research that in conceptual and empirical ways meaningfully advances psychology as a science. Typically, work on the dissertation begins informally, with a series of conversations and research activities with you and your advisor, and other graduate students and faculty within the department. Once a clear direction for the research becomes established, you will engage in writing a formal dissertation proposal that summarizes the relevant research literature and outlines in detail the incremental contribution of the proposed work, as well as the methods and analyses to be used in the research.

The nature of the research and the research approach you will be proposing should be spelled out in detail, where in addition to your research topic and the requirements of your thesis committee, you will likely provide the details of your research hypotheses and the data collection, data analysis, and power analysis that together will test them. Although there are not strict page limitations and the length of your proposal will depend on many factors, most committees will expect the proposal to be between 20 and 50 double-spaced pages. You should use APA format, allowing for any exceptions that make the paper more readable (e.g., embed figures and tables should be inserted in the text rather than at the end of the document; single-space tables if they fit the page better).

Your proposal must be approved by your thesis advisor before it is distributed to the other committee members. Be sure to budget ample time for your advisor to read your proposal and provide feedback for revisions before forwarding to the committee. Students should speak with their advisor about establishing timelines even prior to writing the proposal.

Once your advisor judges that your proposal is ready to be presented to the committee, you should schedule a formal proposal meeting, providing a copy of your proposal to the committee members at least 10 business days prior to the meeting. At the proposal meeting, you have the benefit of obtaining feedback on ways to improve the proposed study. At the end of the meeting, you and the committee members should agree on the exact nature of the study, what needs to be considered, what changes might need to be provided to the committee members to obtain their review and approval, and whether another proposal meeting is required (one that would again require the revised proposal being provided to committee members 10 business days prior to the meeting).

Although committee members agree to serve after learning about the student’s research plans, the proposal meeting can still lead to discussing new and fundamental differences of opinion about any aspect of the content or process of research. This is the time (not at the defense) that faculty members who, on the basis of known fundamental differences, may decide they cannot support the research and should resign from the committee. Although resignations are very rare, such resignations should be replaced by another faculty member immediately. In a similar vein, it can be helpful for the graduate student to provide research updates to the committee (by email or informal meeting) such that any disagreement during any phase of the ongoing research can be resolved in a timely fashion, where the entire committee is informed of those resolutions. Any disagreements remaining are subjected to committee vote, where majority vote prevails, but subsequent faculty appeals can be made to the Department Chair. If the Chair cannot resolve the issue through discussion with the parties involved, he or she may replace the minority member(s) through consultation with the majority and, as appropriate, the student. Dissenting member(s) are allowed to appeal the Chair’s decision further by calling a special meeting of the entire department faculty that requires a quorum in attendance and is subjected to a vote, which holds. Consequences of this vote are handled by the committee, Director of Graduate Studies, the Chair, and the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, as appropriate to the situation.

Clear dissertation proposals greatly help in leading to clear advice and decisions on them. If you ever feel that your committee’s instructions are unclear or ambiguous, or that different members are making different or conflicting demands, it is your responsibility to obtain clarification as soon as possible. It is also your prerogative to call a committee meeting any time, if you want full assurance that the matter is resolved. Students should not accept verbal understandings or proposal changes with individual committee members (or they do so at their own risk); even when there is goodwill among committee members, memories can falter, the committee composition can change, etc.; therefore, the best procedure is to put all changes of plans in writing and supply them to your committee members.

Once your research is complete, you begin the process of writing and rewriting your dissertation. This revision process often requires several iterations before your advisor judges that the document is ready to distribute to the committee for the final dissertation defense. Please discuss with your advisor your dissertation goals and timeline, the latter of which should incorporate reasonable time for multiple iterations on your dissertation document. It is generally not acceptable to demand immediate input (or no input at all).

Doctoral Defense

A complete draft of your dissertation should be given to your advisor at least 20 business days (one month) before it is given to the full dissertation committee. Once your advisor approves of it, a fully edited and formatted version of your dissertation (complete with all references, figures, and tables) must be submitted to the committee at least 10 business days (two weeks) prior to the scheduled defense; a copy should be emailed to the Graduate Coordinator at that time as well.

The oral examination must be advertised through the GPS Office at least two weeks ahead of time; if you fail to do so, you will not be permitted to proceed with the defense as scheduled. To advertise your defense, complete and submit the form at, which will post to the Graduate Studies calendar. The Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will email your Graduate Coordinator, who will then send out an announcement to the department.

Always be sure to follow the thesis procedures described on the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website ( Your defense plans should also always be communicated to the Graduate Coordinator.

Review of Doctoral Thesis Timeline:

  1. Form your admission to doctoral candidacy committee as soon as you have finished your master’s thesis.
  2. Petition for approval of doctoral candidacy for a doctoral degree before the beginning of your ninth semester at Rice. If you plan to receive your degree the same semester, you must submit your petition before November 1 for mid-year degree conferral or before February 1 for May conferral.
  3. Defend your dissertation before the end of your 16th semester at Rice. Provide public notice of the oral defense at least two weeks in advance.
  4. Submit your dissertation to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies no more than six months after your defense.

Ph.D. students are required to complete their program, including thesis defense, within 20 semesters (10 years) of initial enrollment. This includes any period in which the student was not officially enrolled or was enrolled part-time, for any reason.