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Normal Progress

Approved by the Faculty December 2014, updated February 2019

A number of elements of the Graduate Handbook employ the term “normal progress” that implies a set of benchmarks toward earning a graduate degree. Specified here are the benchmarks for what the Department of Communication Studies regards as normal progress, with the goal of providing clarity to students and advisers regarding normative expectations for graduate student performance.

In general, a student is making normal progress toward a degree if s/he is moving through coursework, candidacy, and dissertation writing in a timely manner and with positive outcomes. Because the goals of graduate education include both cultivating scholarly acumen and acclimating graduate students to the institutional realities of academic life, normal progress is also defined by timely completion of the various requirements that the Department and the Graduate School place on students.

To meet departmental expectations for normal progress:

  1. Students must be conscientious members of the professional academic community.  That means, at the very least, responding appropriately and in a timely way to faculty and staff requests and deadlines.
  2. The student must comply with all the policies and procedures of the department as laid out in the Department’s Graduate Handbook and the Graduate School’s policies and procedures as per the Graduate School Handbook (available at
  3. The student must establish a good working relationship with an adviser and a committee. In the first year of graduate study a student should work closely with a temporary adviser to begin defining his/her areas of interest, to select relevant coursework, and to move toward establishing a relationship with a permanent adviser.  A good working relationship entails timely response to the adviser’s requests, as well as consultation with the adviser on the direction of coursework, research, and composition of a committee. As the student moves toward the dissertation proposal defense and dissertation defense, s/he must comply with advice on drafts of these documents or risk having defense dates postponed.
  4. Until the student’s coursework is completed, s/he must have completed (with a permanent grade—H-P-L) at least 18 units during each academic year—excluding the final year of coursework in which fewer than 18 units may be required.  Grades of P are expected. L grades, even though passing (until one acquires as many as 9 units of L, which results in academic ineligibility), are warning signs.
  5. All of the core courses must be completed during the student’s first four semesters with a grade of P or higher.  COMM 700 and COMM 702 must be taken in the first semester of the student’s coursework.  A grade of L in any core course requires that course to be retaken and passed with a grade of P when it is next offered.
  6. Unless granted under exceptional medical or personal circumstances, and in consultation with the student’s adviser and DoGS, incompletes reflect negatively on a student’s progress. In addition, there is an expectation that incompletes should be resolved at the earliest possible opportunity. The one-year deadline is firm; absent the resolution of the incomplete before this deadline, the grade will automatically revert to an F.
  7. The student must complete the requirements of the program at a rate that warrants a reasonable expectation that s/he will fulfill the requirements for a Ph.D. within the five years of allotted funding.  Required minimum units for students admitted with a Master’s degree = 48. Required minimum for students admitted with a Baccalaureate degree = 63. These are minimum numbers; the program of study as constructed by the student and his/her adviser may require additional units. If so, that typically will mean an extended number of semesters of coursework.  So too for students whose programs include time for fieldwork or archival work.  Extended department funding will typically not be available under these circumstances. In such cases, it would be in students’ interests to seek external funding, if needed.
  8. Students are expected to establish a professional profile outside the department. At a minimum, students should show some evidence of cultivating an external network through conference attendance (preferably at least once a year) by their second year in the program, and by demonstrating some progress towards submission of work for publication by their third year in the program. The nature of this requirement might vary depending on the expectations of a student’s adviser.
  9. Students entering the program with a Baccalaureate degree must complete the Qualifying Exam successfully and on time as specified in the Qualifying Exam policy in order to continue in the doctoral program.
  10. Any student who chooses to leave the program with a Master’s degree (whether s/he entered with a Baccalaureate or Master’s degree) must complete the Qualifying Exam successfully and have finished 30 units of coursework, 24 of which must have been taken in residence.  Funding will not be extended beyond the second year.
  11. The Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation Proposal defense(s) must be completed no later than the end of the fourth academic year if there is to be any reasonable expectation of completing the dissertation within the five-year funding window.  For a student who entered the program with a Master’s degree, it should be possible to complete at least the Comprehensive Examination by the end of his/her third year and the Proposal defense by his/her seventh semester.  The same may be the case for a student who was admitted with a Baccalaureate degree, but it is more likely that s/he will complete both in the fourth year.
  12. By stipulation of the Graduate School, students have up to eight years (dating from the time of their original admission) to complete the doctorate.   Funding will not be available beyond the normal five-year period.
  13. A student must defend his/her dissertation by a date no later than four calendar years after the completion of his/her comprehensive exams.  After that four-year deadline, s/he would be required to retake the Comprehensive Examination in order to complete the program.
  14. The student must execute conscientiously his/her duties as a TA and/or TF.  TAs must fulfill all the duties reasonably expected of him/her by the course instructor and must respond to the requests of the instructor in a timely manner. Teaching Fellows must execute their duties in accordance with the department’s expectations for teaching excellence, including but not limited to: making syllabi available in a timely manner; preparing for and conducting effective classes; providing appropriate feedback to undergraduates; grading fairly; and, when necessary, working in consultation with the course supervisor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Assistant Chair or Chair. Students must submit all required documentation for teaching assignments, including requests for teaching and supervision forms by the dates set by the Department.
  15. The student must submit all required documentation for assessment of graduate performance, including filing an annual plan of study and complying with the requirements for the annual review protocol, e.g., completing the end-of-year survey each year until s/he has graduated.

An assessment of normal progress is, of course, different for different individuals given the distinct demands of the different subfields in Communication Studies, the student’s proposed plan of study, and differences in an individual student’s career path. An assessment of normal progress is also based on a cumulative picture of the student’s work in all of the areas listed in the preceding statement of departmental expectations, though failure in any one of these areas could constitute grounds for denying a student an assessment of normal progress.

The Department is under no obligation to maintain funding for any student not making normal progress.  Progress will be assessed for all students once each year.  On the first occasion an assessment is made that a student is not making normal progress, his/her funding may be revoked temporarily, until s/he has remedied the problem. If a second such assessment is made, the student’s funding revocation may be permanent.  That would not mean dismissal from the program, simply that the student would not receive any additional funding.