Union Theological Seminary Academics


Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Following completion of the M.Phil. requirements, the student becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. and prepares a proposal for a dissertation that must be approved by the faculty.

The Dissertation Proposal

Normally, the dissertation proposal will be submitted six months to one year following the completion of the comprehensive examinations. The student drafts a proposal, which the principal advisers examine. When the advisers believe the proposal is ready for formal review by the faculty of the program in which it is being written, they set up a hearing with the student and at least three faculty who shall be member of the dissertation committee. After this committee approves the proposal, the advisers notify the Academic Office in writing of the approval. The student writes the dissertation under the direction of the advisers and the professors on the dissertation committee.

The Dissertation

While working on the dissertation, it is the student’s responsibility to remain in close contact with his or her advisers. The advisers, in turn, have the responsibility to explain to the student the procedures and schedule they expect to be followed regarding meetings and submission of drafts. Normally, the advisers assume responsibility for working out difficulties, should they arise. Candidates should work with their advisers to establish a reasonable calendar for the completion of their work. Typically, they should deliver or send (via email, fax, or regular mail) to their major advisers a brief written update of their progress at least twice a semester. This is particularly important for students living outside the metropolitan New York area. During the writing of the dissertation, the primary and secondary advisers will continue the annual formal review of a student’s standing in the program, as specified above in the section Review of Student Progress.

The Defense of the Dissertation

The advisers, in consultation with the student and the academic dean, assemble the members of the dissertation committee. When the advisers agree that the dissertation is ready for submission, the student should pre p a re a copy of the dissertation for every member of the committee. Ordinarily, the examining committee is constituted by the student’s advisers and at least one other faculty member, who may be appointed from another graduate school or theological faculty; on occasion, the examining committee may include a recognized expert who is not part of such a faculty. (In the case of faculty from other schools, the advisers make the initial contact, and the academic dean then extends a letter of invitation on behalf of the Seminary.)

This committee conducts a public oral hearing in which, typically, the candidate lectures for about 15 minutes on the goals, arguments, methods, and implications of the dissertation, and receives questions and comments from the committee. Because close advisement has happened throughout the process of writing the dissertation, normally a candidate will not “fail” in this defense of the dissertation unless he or she has ignored the counsel of the primary advisers. Should a candidate disagree with his or her advisers’ warning that the dissertation is not ready for defense, he or she may appeal to the academic dean, who will follow the same appeal procedures specified above in Review of Student Progress. It is typical, however, for the committee to suggest modest revisions and corrections for the final copies of the dissertation that will be submitted to the Academic Office at least by noon one week prior to Commencement.

Completion of Requirements

The candidate must satisfy all requirements for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. not later than seven years after admission. If, after seven years, the student has not completed all requirements and presented the dissertation for defense, he or she is discontinued from the program, except that officially approved leaves of absence will not count against the time.

That student who has not defended a dissertation after seven years may, however, be granted an extension by appeal to his/her faculty advisers and by decision of the consortium. An extension, which must be a matter of record in the Academic Office, can be granted one year at a time, up to the tenth year. If a student wishes to appeal a decision made by the advisers and field, that appeal goes to the faculty’s committee responsible for doctoral studies. If after ten years, the student has not presented the dissertation for defense, he or she is dismissed from the program. Petition for re-admission may subsequently be made to the academic dean.

Notifications to students regarding stipulations about completing the program will normally be sent by certified mail by the academic dean.


©Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York, NY 10027 | Tel: (212) 662-7100