There are three main stages of the PhD program in philosophy.
Students take between ten and fifteen graduate courses, mosty within the first two years of the program, with a few specific requirements and some general breadth requirements that can be satisfied in many different ways. The coursework stage of the program gives students an opportunity to explore their interests, shore up weaknesses, and begin to decide the focus of their further studies.
The transition between coursework and the independent work that is involved with writing a dissertation. It involves three main program benchmarks that the student must pass between the fourth and sixth to eighth semesters. Beginning in the fourth semester, students turn in prepared papers representing their best work to be evaluated for the second year review. By the end of the sixth semester, students must take and pass an area exam establishing breadth of knowledge in the area of their intended dissertation research. The final benchmark is to pass the qualifying exam, which is required to take place by the end of the eighth semester, although we use incentives to encourage qualifying in the sixth or seventh semester.
At this stage, most students still attend graduate seminars of interest to them and participate in reading groups, but their main job is to research and write their dissertation. A dissertation is simply an extended project which demonstrates the student’s ability to perform research at a level that makes a genuine contribution to the field.