Comprehensive exams for Ph.D. students

Before the exams

During your time in the Ph.D. program, but before taking comprehensive examinations, the following must be completed:

Specific course work requirements

In addition to History 600 (Proseminar), all Ph.D. students are required to take either History 781 (Historiography: The Americas), History 783 (Historiography), or History 785 (U.S. Historiography) and one of the following: History 700 (Cultural Studies and History), History 701 (Philosophy of History), or History 780 (Methodology).

Seminar requirement

Of the applicant's course work, at least 12 credits must be in seminars. Three of these credits must be chosen from a group other than the major field of study. The student should complete a seminar related to each of his or her examination fields, in order to prepare for the comprehensive examinations. Exceptions to this policy may be approved by the student's committee.

Independent study/readings

For most students, some course work occurs as independent graduate readings in history (History 697, 698, 703, or 705). Under each of these numbers, a limited number of credits may be taken (nine credits in History 698 and 705, six credits in History 697 and 703). Students should keep track of their credits in these courses, so as not to exceed the maximums. Any course taken under such an arrangement should be documented in writing before the beginning of the semester and at the completion of the course.

History 737

History 737 (Practicum in History) may be prescribed, on an individual basis, for those students who will be teaching in the department. It is also available to students seeking internship or supervised research experience. History 737 may not count toward fulfilling credit requirements for the Ph.D. in History.

Foreign language requirement

A current working knowledge of one foreign language other than the student's native language is required. Students planning on dissertation research which focuses on a foreign culture should expect to be examined in the principal language of that culture. Currency is determined by the student's completion with a grade of "C" or better of a fourth-level language course while a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, or by the successful passing of a language examination designed and administered by the department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. The student's committee may impose further requirements if deemed necessary for the student's program and professional objectives. The language requirement must be satisfied before taking comprehensive examinations.

Changes in committee members/examination fields

A student may change his or her examination fields or committee members only with the approval of his or her committee chair and the graduate advisor. Such changes may require the student to take additional courses. If the chair and graduate advisor will determine that the resulting change in the student's program warrants a new program-of-study meeting, the student will arrange that meeting. A change in the student's major field and/or committee chair will ordinarily require a new program-of-study meeting. If the change does not warrant a new meeting, the student should complete the "Change in Advisory Committee" form, obtain the required signatures of the outgoing and incoming committee members and submit the form to the graduate director for processing.

Comprehensive examinations information

Format and schedule

Each student must pass comprehensive written examinations of approximately six hours in length in each of his or her fields. Previous exams are kept on file in the department of history for review. Exams are offered only during fall and spring semesters. The graduate advisor schedules all exams within a one-week period, generally around the thirteenth week of the semester. They are to be taken during the student's final semester of regular course work.

Evaluation and Re-examination

All exams are read by at least two members of the Department of History, except in fields taken outside the department. The student's committee may, when the examiners believe that additional study is justified, permit the student to arrange for re-examination in the case of failure. Failure in the student's major field of study may lead to dismissal from the Ph.D. program. No part of the examination may be retaken more than once.


Comprehensive examinations (History 795) count for one credit. If a student must retake an exam after the semester in which exams were originally taken, he or she will receive a grade of Unsatisfactory, to be replaced with Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory after the re-examination.

After the exams

Admission to candidacy

The student is formally admitted to candidacy upon passing the comprehensive examinations, if the residency requirement has been satisfied. At this point, the "Doctoral Degree Admission to Candidacy/ Comprehensive Examination Report" should be signed by the committee and submitted to the graduate director for filing.

Prospectus colloquium

Upon passing the comprehensive examinations, the student prepares a prospectus for his or her dissertation, which is formally presented to the advisory committee at a prospectus colloquium. Typically the prospectus includes a bibliography and an extensive description of intended contents, methodology and archival sources. The colloquium is a public event of roughly 90 minutes, to which the history faculty and graduate students are invited. Ordinarily the candidate will make a brief (15-20 minute) presentation on his or her proposal, followed by questions from the committee and others assembled. After approval of the prospectus, the student may proceed to the dissertation.


Among the fields of study for the Ph.D., a select number are designated as areas for potential dissertation topics; these are indicated by an asterisk on the list below. The other fields listed are not available for dissertation research within the department of history. Within the marked fields, the specific topics must be approved by the student's graduate studies committee based upon factors such as required language skills, library and archival resources, and available faculty expertise. The student must secure the agreement of a faculty member to serve as the dissertation advisor. The dissertation is a work of significant original scholarly research and analysis. It should contribute to historical knowledge, exhibit a mastery of the sources and secondary literature of the subject and the techniques of exploiting them, and display a fair degree of literary skill. It should be submitted in accordance with the guidelines provided by the Graduate School. Students should obtain those guidelines at the beginning of the dissertation process, in order to avoid reformatting later. The Chicago Manual of Style, latest edition, will be the authoritative guide to style and form for all doctoral dissertations.

Graduation application

Students must purchase and complete an online application for graduation in each semester when they wish to graduate. Applications are due March 1 for May graduation; June 1 for August graduation; and October 1 for December graduation. The application for graduation provides a final list of all courses the student has taken in order to complete the program. If that list in any way deviates from the one on the Program of Study form, the student must attach a "Change in Program of Study" form detailing the changes.

Final oral examination

After the doctoral dissertation has been received by the advisory committee, a final oral examination (60-90 minutes) on the dissertation and related topics will be conducted, upon the committee's recommendation. The final oral exam is a public event, to which the university community is invited. Upon passage of the oral exam and acceptance of the dissertation, the committee members sign the "Doctoral Degree - Notice of Completion."