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Degree Programs / Graduate Program / The Doctoral Degree

The Doctoral Degree

Students will be admitted to the doctoral program only if they have first earned an M.A. degree in history at UK or at another institution.


Upon admission to the program, each student is assigned a faculty advisor in the student’s general field of study.  Students, however, may change advisors with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.  It is essential that students work with the advisor to develop a plan of study and to consider post-doctoral career plans.  They should meet regularly with their advisors to discuss matters such as the guidelines and rules specified in the Graduate Handbook, course selections, the scope of the qualifying exam fields, and the dissertation project.  Advisors are expected to meet regularly with their students to review progress to the degree. 

Credit Hours and Course Requirements

Doctoral students must meet three sets of course and credit-hour requirements.  One of these is the Graduate School’s requirement that a student have eighteen-hours of graduate coursework before sitting for the qualifying exams.  A second is the department’s requirement that all Ph.D. students take eight 600- and 700-level History seminars before they may sit for the qualifying exams.  (Students who have earned the M.A. degree in History at UK may apply seminars taken as an M.A. student toward this requirement.)  Finally, specializations within the department have established specific course requirements for their students.  These are explained in the Graduate Handbook.

Language Requirements

Students are required to demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one foreign language and in many cases two or more languages.  If the M.A. degree has been earned at UK, language proficiencies achieved as part of the M.A. program apply to the Ph.D. program.

Doctoral Degree Progress Expectations

Ph.D. students contend with two timelines.  One of these is to prepare for the qualifying examinations by completing coursework, meeting language proficiencies, establishing an advisory committee, and assembling reading lists for the exams.  When a student will sit for the exams will vary depending on whether the student has earned the M.A. at UK and whether the student’s field of concentration requires additional language training.  The Graduate Handbook discusses these expectations in more detail.  Students who do not sit for the exams within four years of entering the doctoral program, however, may be dropped from the program.

The second important timeline commences after a student has passed the qualifying examinations and begins to research and write the doctoral dissertation.  At this point, students who are A.B.D., or “all but dissertation” or “dissertators,” must first defend a dissertation prospectus.  This should be done within sixty days of the completion of the qualifying exams.  The Graduate School, meanwhile, requires a student to defend the doctoral dissertation within five years following the qualifying exams.  The History Department requires its dissertators to submit an annual report about the progress toward completing the research and writing of the dissertation.

The Qualifying Examination

At the end of a student’s formal coursework and before commencing full-time work on the dissertation, doctoral students sit for the qualifying examination.  This consists of written exams in three or four broadly defined fields and then an oral examination by the faculty advisory committee.  (Some fields within the department also require a major historiographical paper as part of the qualifying examination.)  “Quals,” as they are called, are intended to assess student learning and to test a student’s capacity to think historically, that is, to use the knowledge they have mastered to fashion historical arguments.

To sit for the exams, a candidate must complete all field, departmental, and Graduate School course and language requirements.  In addition, either by the end of the second semester of the doctoral program or early in the third semester, the candidate must assemble an advisory committee and prepare a “qualifying examination contract" with the committee members.  The contract will define the scope of the written examination fields. 

There are two qualifying exam periods: August 15 - September 15 and January 5 - 31. The written exams should be completed over a ten-day period.  The oral exam should follow within five days of the last written exam.

The Dissertation

Students finish doctoral study by researching and writing a dissertation. This is done under the supervision of the dissertation advisor and the advisory committee.  Work on the dissertation begins with a dissertation prospectus, which must be presented to the advisory committee for its approval within sixty days of the qualifying exam.  The prospectus should define the topic, explain the contribution of the dissertation to historical knowledge, and propose a strategy for research.

The dissertation should be an original contribution to a larger debate or field of study and demonstrate the student’s ability to carry out historical research and analysis.