Tips for Survival in Graduate School

IN GENERAL

  1. FILLING OUT FORMS AND MEETING DEADLINES
    It is your responsibility to be aware of all the rules, regulations and deadlines concerning the graduate program.  These rules (and especially calendars listing various important dates and deadlines) are published in a number of places, but most prominently in the University catalog.
  2. THE PROGRAM OF STUDY AND GRADUATE COMMITTEE
    Every student must file a Program of Study (POS) form.  The POS lists by name and number all courses to be taken in fulfilling requirements for the graduate degree. This form also allows you to officially designate those faculty members who have agreed to serve on your committee.  (All graduate students must form a graduate committee; the members of this committee, and the chair of that committee in particular, help you as you develop and carry out your final research project in the program.  They also serve as your advisors, once this form has been filed.) Their signatures must appear on this form prior to filing it with the Graduate School.
    MA/MPA POS Committees consist of at least three members.  The chair and one other member must be from the Political Science Department.  A member from another university department must also be included.  Ph.D. Committees consist of five members.  The chair and two members must be drawn from our department; two must be from other departments.  All POS Committee members must hold graduate faculty status.  (Graduate faculty are marked with an asterisk at the back of the University catalog.) If you are declaring a formal minor, then you also must have a representative from the minor department on the POS Committee.
  3. FORMING A POS COMMITTEE
    Your POS Committee should be formed as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the semester in which you complete your 12th graduate credit.  At that time, your committee assumes the primary responsibility as your program advisors in the department (especially the committee chair).  Since the committee generally supervises your course work preparation and your professional paper/thesis/dissertation (PTD), you should choose faculty members who can  give you substantive guidance. Thus, you need to take courses from or otherwise work closely with faculty who might serve on your POS Committee.  
  4. PROFESSIONAL PAPERS/THESES/DISSERTATIONS (PTD)
    All students must complete a major research project, the end result of which is a PTD.  The PTD, in turn, must be approved by and defended before your committee: a thesis or professional paper for MPA and MA students, or a dissertation for Ph.D. students.  There is no single form for PTDs.  (Professional papers will probably show the most variation in style.)  However, there are some general points of commonality.  These include:
    1. The topic is selected by the student. It is your research project.
    2. All papers should review relevant literature. This covers both the specific topic (e.g. nuclear waste) of the paper and also the broader body of literature (from political science and/or public administration) into which your topic falls.  Remember, you are getting a degree in political science and/or PA and have been exposed to distinct bodies of the relevant literature(s). Graduate level work makes the connection between specific topics of analysis and broader theoretical issues.
    3. A PTD is not a term paper.  You may use a term paper (e.g. the paper you produce as part of the required two courses in research methods--with the approval of your committee) as the basis for a PTD, but expansion will be necessary.
    4. The paper does not have to be quantitative. A key lesson to be learned from the methods sequence is the appropriate use of various methodologies.  Hence, use the mode of analysis that is appropriate.
    5. Your PTD must conform to one of several acceptable academic styles.  Whether or not you can use this at work is irrelevant. This paper is not being written for your employer; it is being written to receive a graduate academic degree.
  5. PROCEDURES GOVERNING A PTD
    In part the procedures are subsumed by point 1 above.  The following items are either requirements, good form, or both.
    1. The PTD you write should be the paper you originally discussed with your POS Committee.
    2. It is unreasonable to expect that the first draft of your PTD will be of sufficient quality to defend. (All PTDs must be orally "defended" in the presence of your committee, as well as other faculty or students who may be in attendance.  You should be prepared to respond to questions about the PTD at your defense. Work closely with your chair as you approach this last stage of your graduate program.)  
    3. Your PTD should first be given to and reviewed by your POS Committee chair.  A good rule of thumb: when the chair is satisfied, it is time to go forward with the process.
    4. There must be a ten working day period between the announcement of the oral (final) PTD defense and the actual defense.
    5. You should schedule your final defense in order to meet various deadlines stated in University calendars. This will generally require you to have a preliminarily approved version of your paper (in accordance with point 5c above) done about one month before these deadlines take effect. Theses and dissertations have more formal rules attached to them than professional papers; plan accordingly.
    6. You are responsible for scheduling the defense.  Remember, this involves coordinating the schedules of at least three other people (your POS Committee).  Leave adequate time for such scheduling and various deadlines.
    7. Failure to heed items in points four and five above can easily lead to delays in the completion, acceptance and successful defense of your PTD.
      Numerous books are available that describe the Professional Paper, Thesis and/or Dissertation research and writing process and provide useful, frequently time-saving tips.  Offerings available in our library include: The Thesis Writer's Handbook (Joan Miller); Surviving Your Dissertation (Erik Kjell Rudestam);  Strategies for Academic Writing (Irvin Hashimoto); Proposals That Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertation and Grant Proposals (Lawrence F. Locke); How to Write Theses (Harry Teitelbaum); Guide to the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: A Handbook for Students and Faculty (James E. Mauch); The Dissertation Cookbook: From Soup to Nuts (Marilyn Simon). 
      Students completing a thesis (as opposed to a professional paper) or a dissertation must follow the format mandated by the Graduate School. You can get a copy of the Graduate School's Instructions on same at the Graduate School office.
  6. COMPREHENSIVE EXAMS
    All students must successfully complete one or more comprehensive exams; this typically occurs after the student has taken "enough" preparatory coursework to pass such an exam. Remember, these exams are "comprehensive" in nature; by definition, they may cover any aspect of the entire field in which you are testing (American Politics, Political Theory, International Relations, Comparative Politics, Public Policy or Public Administration). Thus, it is not a glorified final exam. You are strongly advised to take the Seminar in the field in which you plan to test, as well as any other course offerings that will help you pass this exam. You are also expected to do additional reading beyond those to which you are exposed in a classroom context.  You are expected to know "the literature" in the field(s) in which you test.  Work closely with your committee, especially your chair, in selecting a menu of courses and independent readings that will adequately prepare you for this exam. Although you may be allowed to retake a failed exam once, permission to retake a failed exam is not automatically granted. That decision is entirely discretionary; such discretion is granted to your Committee, working in consultation with the Graduate Director and the Department Chair.

    NOTE: PH.D. READING LISTS ARE AVAILABLE FOR STUDENTS TESTING IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND PUBLIC POLICY.  YOU MAY OBTAIN COPIES OF THESE LISTS IN THE MAIN POLITICAL SCIENCE OFFICE.PROFESSOR JOHN MARINI ALSO HAS DEVELOPED A READING LIST FOR MPA STUDENTS.  A COPY OF THIS LIST CAN BE OBTAINED FROM THE FRONT OFFICE.


    MPA students take their comprehensive exam in Public Administration, which is administered as part of PSC 785, Leadership in Public Organizations.  You may not take PSC 785 until completion of the five core MPA courses.  (You can take PSC 785 simultaneously with a needed core course.) MA students must pass one comprehensive exam in a field of study selected by the student. Ph.D. students must pass two such exams, in both a major and a minor field of study (also selected by the student). You cannot substitute an area from outside the department for either the major or minor field.  MA and Ph.D. comps are given twice a year.  Ph.D. and MA exams are given twice each year, in September and May.  Beginning in Spring 1996, however, the the exams will be given in April rather than May.  You must give written notification to the Director of Graduate Studies one month in advance of the time (either Fall or Spring semester) you plan to take a comprehensive exam.  You do not need to register for PSC 795 Comprehensive Exam, but some students prefer to do so, as this is reflected on your transcript.
  7. SOURCES OF INFORMATION
    Rules and procedures are generally covered in catalogs or other program statements.  When in doubt, ask the Director of Graduate Studies or your POS Committee Chair.  Generally, a poor source of information on formal rules and procedures is another student.  Use students for informal information on whom to work with, take classes from or other issues associated with student life.
  8. FILING FOR GRADUATION
    A separate form, Application for Graduation, must be filed in the semester in which you plan to graduate. (There is a $25 charge associated with this form.)  You must have a POS form on file in the Graduate School before you can apply for graduation.  The graduation application must be filed early in the semester during which you plan to graduate.  (See point 1 above about knowledge of the exact date.) If you fail to complete all materials for graduation in the semester during which you apply for graduation, you must re-apply.
    This memo covers some basic, albeit abbreviated points concerning the graduate programs.  In general, we want you to graduate, but will enforce academic standards.  Academic standards may not be as clear as you would like and may seem a bit arcane.  Being socialized into such standards is a key component of graduate education.

The PTD process and development of your final product

STEP-BY-STEP

  1. Select and have approved by all members of your committee a PTD topic.
  2. Develop, write, submit and have approved by all members of your committee a formal proposal. This proposal should include, at a minimum, sections that detail what you plan to do; why you plan to do it; reference to the literature in which your project will be grounded; and the way in which you plan to carry the project through to completion (methodology and timetable).
  3. Begin and complete the research process, maintaining contact with the head of your committee, as well as any members of your committee who have substantive knowledge in the issue area in which your are working.
  4. Submit your first draft to the head of your committee, who will help you with revisions, if any.
  5. Submit revised manuscript to entire committee.

It is only after this last step is completed that you can schedule your defense.  It is your responsibility to keep track of departmental and graduate school guidelines and timetables (for example, you need to be aware of the deadlines for filing various forms, submitting an application to graduate, and scheduling your defense). The department needs enough prior notification to post an announcement, make your manuscript available to those in the department who need or want to read it.

It is important to note and remember that, while some papers that are generated in the methods sequence can, upon expansion and/or revision, stand as defensible professional papers or theses, such acceptance is not automatic.  It depends on the make-up of your committee; the topic of and methods used in the paper; your own personal preference, etc.  Please do not plan, with no prior consultation whatsoever, to hand to your committee a completed term paper and expect them to accept it without qualification.  The job of the committee is to see to it that you develop and are able to present an orally defensible paper that does both you and the department justice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please  call your Chairperson.

Graduate Forms

You will need to fill out a number of forms as you move through your program of study.  Be aware of the existence of each of these; what they are used for and by whom; and when/if each should be submitted and the timeline. 

Download forms from the Graduate School Website: www.unr.edu/grad/forms

A brief description of most of the forms that you might need to know about follows:

  • Advisory-Examining Committee/Program of Study (GSA-2): Puts together your Program of Study and your Graduate Committee. Identifies, also, the chair of that committee.
  • Change of Committee or Program of Study (GSA-3): This form is used to address any modifications that were made in your program of study as you have moved through the program.
    For example, on the original program of study form, you may have identified a particular course that you wanted to take as an elective--BUT, that course was not offered at a time at which you could take it. If you substituted another elective for the one you were unable to take, this form allows you to notify the graduate school of that change, and to demonstrate to the graduate school that you have obtained department approval to do so.  You must submit this form in advance of your application for graduation. This form is also used to change committee members.
  • Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request (ADM 158): This form is used to get approval of those courses that you wish to transfer into your graduate program, and by definition, have included in your program of study.  Remember: if you entered graduate school as a graduate special, you may bring in no more than 9 credits taken as a graduate special into your program once you have been admitted into the program.  You do not need to fill out this form to bring Graduate Special credits into your program; this is done automatically by Admissions and Records. However, this form must be used to transfer any and all non-UNR credits into your program.  If you have more than 9 credits as a Graduate Special, you will "lose" all credits above nine (i.e., they cannot be counted toward completion of your program of study).  You identify which Graduate Special course you want to bring in with you by including them on your POS form.  All courses brought into your program, of course, must be approved by the Graduate Director and/or the Chair of your POS committee.   
    MA and MPA students can only transfer into their program of study NINE graduate credits (upon approval of the Department, of course), no matter where those credits were obtained (UNR or elsewhere). NONE of your courses can be more than six years old at the time of your graduation; those courses that are older than six years will not count toward completion of your program. 
    A Ph.D. student who has received a Masters degree prior to entering the Ph.D. program, or who has taken graduate-level courses after the B.A., may be allowed to bring into his/her Ph.D. program up to 24 of such Masters' level credits (pending departmental approval).  Work with your chair and/or the Graduate Director to determine which courses, if any, can be brought into the Program with you.  You use this form to identify and obtain approval of such courses.  All of the courses taken by you at UNR in pursuit of the Ph.D. degree must be no more than eight years old at the time of your graduation.  (The department and the graduate school do not care how old transferred-in courses are, PROVIDED those course were part of a terminal Masters program for which you received a Masters degree.)
  • Masters Degree/Application for Admission to Candidacy/Notice of Completion: This form is used by MA and MPA students to notify the Department, College and Graduate School that you have completed all requirement for the MA or MPA degree (including passing the Comprehensive Exam and completing a Professional Paper or Thesis).  It requests that these entities recognize same.  Approval of this request allows you to graduate.
  • Doctoral Degree/Application for Admission to Candidacy—Comprehensive Examination Report: This form is used by Ph.D. students to notify the Department, College and Graduate School that you have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. degree except the dissertation.  It is used to request that these entities advance you to "candidacy" (move you up the graduate ladder into an official position of candidate for the Ph.D.).
    YOU MUST BE ADVANCED TO CANDIDACY AT LEAST EIGHT MONTHS PRIOR TO APPLYING FOR GRADUATION. YOU CANNOT BE ADVANCED TO CANDIDACY UNTIL YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY PASSED A MAJOR AND A MINOR COMPREHENSIVE EXAM AND MET THE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT.  NOTE: THE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT MANDATES THAT YOU COMPLETE TWO SUCCESSIVE SEMESTERS OF NINE CREDITS EACH SEMESTER.
  • Doctoral Degree/Notice of Completion (Grad-6): This form, when approved by the Department, College and Graduate School, allows you to receive your Ph.D. degree.  It is submitted after ALL requirements for the Ph.D. degree have been successfully completed, including the dissertation and its defense.