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Graduate School Student Handbook

Welcome!  We are pleased that you chose to pursue your advanced studies at the University of Missouri-St Louis. We’ve gathered information for all graduate students in this guide. Of course, graduate study requires close collaboration with the faculty in your major. Please check with them for program requirements. If you see any conflict between what you read here and what the program requires, please check with the Graduate School (314-516-5900). Also, please email us at graduate@umsl.edu if you find broken links.

This guide is organized by steps that you must take to graduate. We don’t expect you to read it linearly. Please familiarize yourself with the contents then refer to the Table of Contents for links to specific topics as the need arises.

First Semester Tasks

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Expectations and Support

Chapter 2. Money

- Planning

- Working on Campus

    - Graduate Assistantships (GAs)

    - Non-academic Appointments

Chapter 3. Communication

- Communicating at the University

- Communicating With Your Advisor

Chapter 4. Studying

- Your Program Plan

- Special Cases

- Enrollment

- Course Load

- Overloads

- Residency

- Inter-University Agreement

- Grades

- Time Limits

- Leave of Absence

- Academic Honesty

Chapter 5. Graduation  

- Last Steps: Master’s Degrees

  - Program Degree Plan

  - Master’s Capstone Experience

  - Applying for Graduation

- Last Steps: Doctoral Degree

  - Candidacy

  - Capstone Experiences

  - The Proposal

  - The Dissertation

  - Applying to Defend the Dissertation

  - Abstracts

  - Oral Defense

  - Submitting the Final Copy

  - Applying for Graduation

CUT Program - Certificate in University Teaching
Chapter 1. Expectations and Support

The Graduate School staff is pleased to welcome you to the University of Missouri-St. Louis!

Before you are admitted, Graduate Admissions Advisors and Graduate Assistants are available to assist you with the online application. If you have specific program questions, you will be connected to the appropriate department or individual to assist you. 

Please familiarize yourself with the resources on the Graduate School home page. If you find resources that you need or would like to share with other students, please let us know (314-516-5900 or graduate@umsl.edu). We also recommend that you read the Mission Statement of the Graduate School. We want you to feel comfortable about being a member of this scholarly community.

As a student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, you will have available all university resources and also be expected to follow the Code of Student Conduct. Graduate School policies are set by the Graduate Faculty, upon recommendation by the Graduate Council. This guide is based on those policies. However, please refer directly to the policies if you have any doubts about the specific expectations.

Chapter 2. Money

Most graduate students find that doing graduate work requires more time and money than they imagined. In addition to tuition, books are very expensive. You may find that your computer is inadequate or at least you need new software or a better Internet connection at home. Printing and copying costs may escalate as you conduct more complex library searches. Attending professional conferences enhances your education, but they usually require travel and registration costs. At the same time they have all these expenses, students who attend full-time lose income when they give up their salary.

The key to managing these costs is to apply for financial aid through the university. Please check our resources page. You will find links for tuition costs as well as some scholarship sources.

In your planning you should also consult your tax advisor. IRS rules for graduate students are complex, depend on the kind and amount of income you receive, and change frequently. IRS Publication 970 has some helpful advice for US citizens; the IRS website is helpful for international students and scholars.

Federal law also governs how much and what kind of financial aid you can receive. Financial aid staff on campus can advise you on how your financial aid package may be affected by your decisions about working full or part-time, taking another scholarship, or other changes in income. Please ask before you make any changes so that they can help guide your decision.

Working on Campus

Graduate Assistantships  (GAs). Graduate assistantships provide a professional development opportunity as well as financial support. They allow graduate students to work on department or grant-related tasks for a set period while also studying. To hold a graduate assistantship, students must be admitted to a degree program and must be enrolled and making satisfactory progress (at least 3.0 GPA) toward the degree.

Each program establishes its own procedures for recruitment, selection, retention, and dismissal of graduate assistants in accordance with the University’s Collected Rules and Graduate School policies. However, departments may not offer assistantships unless the Graduate Dean has approved the applicant’s admission to the program.

The University of Missouri-St Louis is a signatory to the Council of Graduate Schools’ policy regarding offers of graduate assistantships. Specifically, prior to April 15th students are under no obligation to respond to our offers of financial support for the coming academic year. Students who accept an offer before this date and later wish to withdraw may submit a resignation in writing. However, if students who accept an offer after April 15th and later change their mind, they must obtain a written release from the first institution before accepting another offer.

The Department Chair, Graduate Program Director, advisor, or project director of a grant assigns the graduate assistant’s duties. These are expected to be supervised, relevant professional and academic experiences that may include any role that a future professional may play. Normally these include teaching or assisting in a course under the supervision of a mentor, grading for a course, assisting in a department-sponsored laboratory or instructional center, assisting a professor on a research project, professional conference development, tutoring, or development of administrative or research skills.

No Graduate Assistant should be assigned to work that is primarily clerical or housekeeping. Although any project may have clerical elements, appropriate graduate projects also require higher-level skills such as decision-making, judgment, analysis, and evaluation.

In addition, the Graduate Assistant is not to be a personal assistant to a faculty member's duties. The student should never be asked or assigned to babysit, run personal errands, or work on projects for which the faculty member is being paid outside of the university. Faculty members should not ask graduate assistants who are not assigned to them to perform substantial time-consuming tasks. Service tasks should always be assigned by the faculty member to whom the assistant is assigned.

The State of Missouri requires all teaching assistants who do not have English as their native language to pass an oral English examination documenting that they are ready for teaching at the level of instruction required for the assignment. The Languages and Cultures department administers the test.

Graduate students may hold one of three academic appointments: Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA), Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), or Graduate Assistant (GA). The Graduate Assistant title is newly established and is used for graduate students working in non-academic areas but with duties relevant to their degree program. You may apply for Graduate Assistantships using the Graduate School Assistantship Application form.

Departments are responsible for GAs' stipends. They may differentiate the stipends by the student's status (e.g. master's, doctoral, first year, or experienced), position, and the hours of work required by the assistantship.

Students who are awarded an academic appointment (GTA/GRA/GI) also receive a tuition scholarship from the Graduate School. Graduate Assistants with a .25 FTE appointment (10 hours per week or one course) are eligible to pay fees at the in-state educational fee rate. GAs with a .5 FTE appointment (20 hours per week or two courses) receive scholarships for their educational fees (both in-state and out-of-state) paid by the Graduate School. However, students must pay any non-educational fee related charges or any tuition surcharges. Your department will prepare the paperwork for your tuition scholarship. For more information on these awards, please refer to our assistantship website. The generic Graduate Assistant title may or may not include tuition scholarships. No graduate student may hold more than a total .70 FTE on all campus appointments.

Note: The Graduate School provides scholarships for educational fees for a maximum of nine hours of graduate level courses. These courses must be part of the student's degree program and the student must be in good academic standing. The Graduate Program Director may request that the Graduate Dean make an exception for programmatic reasons.

Summer GA appointments for graduate students may be available. Summer appointments are normally limited to a maximum of two and one-half months. The monthly stipend is normally one-tenth of the previous academic year's stipend, though externally funded positions sometimes allow a monthly stipend rate of one-ninth of the academic-year stipend. Appointments are normally made as halftime (0.50 FTE).  Students are expected to devote full time to their appointment and graduate program. Check with your department to determine whether your program requires you to be enrolled if you work as a GA in the summer. Students may be allowed to work more than 20 hours per week in the summer.

Because academic appointments provide so many benefits, there are usually more applicants than there are positions. Departments may limit how many years one student may have an academic appointment.

Students with assistantships must move through their graduate programs on a timely basis and hence are required to enroll for a minimum of five credit hours in semesters in which they hold the assistantship. Individual departments may require higher per-semester enrollments for their teaching and research assistants, and they may also require summer enrollment for summer appointments.

GAs may work outside the university while holding a GA appointment, provided the hours are limited and they have the approval of the program’s Graduate Director or Department Chair and the Graduate Dean.

GAs may qualify for additional funding through competitive fellowship awards. However, you must notify the Graduate School of any supplementation of your stipend from any source through the University payroll. University auditors require documentation to determine that such practices conform to established policies.

Non-academic Appointments . Full and part-time staff positions may be available on campus. Although such work will probably not be related to your graduate study, it does have the advantage of limiting your commute time to class. For information on what positions are open and how to apply, please contact the campus’ Human Resources office or web page.

Note: Before taking any position or accepting any award that changes your income, do not forget to check with Financial Aid to learn what the impact will be on your financial aid package or student loan.

Chapter 3. Communication

Communicating at the University
Much communication in universities is carried out electronically. You are responsible as a student for routinely checking your UMSL student email account for official correspondence. We will use that for official business only, so you do not need to worry about SPAM. You must check it regularly and send all official correspondence through it, as it is the only means through which the Graduate School can confirm your identity as a student and issue sensitive information securely. Learn more about campus email.

Canvas is a great communication tool. It’s the University’s website that allows you to conduct private business here such as checking your grades. In addition, most faculty members post their syllabi and class materials on My Gateway. The Graduate School also announces information on a My Gateway page to keep you abreast of news.

Some of the most important skills for graduate students are oral and written communication. While the programs expect you to communicate well, they also provide experiences to hone your skills. Please check the Writing Center for help too. Even good writers need editors.

Another good idea is to practice giving scholarly talks in class and in sessions with friends. As you get more experience, attend conferences and take notes on how good speakers convey their ideas. Then ask a faculty member and/or your peers to help you write a proposal to give a presentation at a regional meeting. Before you graduate, it’s a good idea to submit at least one proposal to present a paper at a national or international conference.

Communicating With Your Advisor
Much graduate work is designed to fill gaps in your knowledge, usually as documented in courses on your transcript. For example, if you are changing careers, you may need to take prerequisite courses that someone with a bachelor’s degree in that field already took. Since all graduate courses are required to have prerequisites, you’ll be glad that you have the appropriate background when you start the advanced courses.

You will be assigned an advisor when you enter the program. Normally the decision is made on the basis of mutual interest and availability of faculty. Sometimes faculty go on leave, so you may have to change advisors. In some programs students have a program advisor then chose a research advisor to direct the thesis or dissertation.

Since your advisor will be planning your degree program plan, it’s essential that you communicate your interests, concerns, and aspirations. At the same time, in many programs there are few electives. Be sure to check your program’s requirements so that you know how much wiggle room you have in your program. You’ll need to accept the fact that all graduate students are required to take courses that they may not think they need. Your advisor may be able to help, however, by suggesting when you should take a course you think you’ll dislike. For example, if you have never liked mathematics, avoid taking a statistics course in the summer or with another difficult course.

Try to meet your advisor in person or by email as soon as you learn who it is. Some students even do a Google search on the campus Web page or through the entire Web. Many students are surprised how many hits they get on their UMSL faculty.

It is in your interest to learn to work with your advisor, no matter whether or not you like him or her. Programs are usually small, and people in the same field move in the same professional circles. However, if you have not been able to establish a good working relationship after trying for at least two semesters, you will not normally be forced to work with an advisor. The department chair or dean can be your advocate if you think that you need to make a change.

Chapter 4. Studying

Your Program Plan. Soon after you are admitted into a program, you should discuss your program requirements with your advisor. The Bulletin lists requirements and course descriptions that give you an idea of what will be required. However, in Graduate School, advisors have the responsibility of preparing each student for the program’s outcomes. Your advisor may suggest courses or a sequence of courses that better meets your needs.

At UMSL, graduate courses are numbered starting with 5000. At least half of the credits for your degree plan must be from 5000-level courses and above; the rest normally come from the 4000-level. Courses numbered from 0 to 3999 may not be taken for graduate credit.

You may not use any course from your undergraduate degree on your graduate degree plan. If you took graduate credit before entering a graduate program at UMSL, your advisor may allow you to transfer an approved graduate course for which you earned a grade of at least B-. You may even ask your advisor to consider up to three credit hours for institutes, workshops, clinics, and Continuing Education courses. To be allowed on a program plan, such courses must have been taken at an accredited university and awarded a letter grade, not as credit/non-credit or pass/fail.

Special Cases. Students who have completed one master's degree may petition to transfer appropriate credits to a second master's degree program. The number of transferable credits may not exceed one-third of the credit hours required by the second program; subsequent transfers to a third degree are not permitted.

Students may simultaneously pursue two master's degrees under the following conditions:

  • No more than one-third of the credit hours required by either program may be applied to both programs unless the programs have specific exceptions on file in the Graduate School; 
  • Students must obtain approval of the program advisors from both areas before they have completed 12 hours in either program.

Doctoral students may receive a master's degree for work they have completed on their way to a doctoral degree. Alternatively, doctoral students may seek approval for a master's degree in another department and may apply up to two-thirds of the courses on their master's degree program to their doctoral degree program if they have been admitted to both programs and have obtained the approval of the advisors from each program. Credit from the master's degree must constitute less than half the total credits required for the doctorate unless the relevant departments have established multi-disciplinary studies with the Graduate School.

Students in the Education Specialist (Ed.S.) in School Psychology and Education Administration programs may apply that coursework to an Ed.D. degree, with an advisor’s approval.

All graduate students who regularly use faculty resources or facilities (i.e. advising, library research, data gathering, or examination) must be enrolled for appropriate credit.  To remain in good standing, they must enroll for at least one term each calendar year or risk dismissal. If they are dismissed, students may reapply, but if they are readmitted, they are subject to all regulations in effect at the time of readmission.  After candidacy is achieved, doctoral students must enroll each semester.  International students must also enroll fulltime for each fall and spring semester.  Students must be registered on campus in their final semester.

Course Load

The minimal fulltime course load is nine credit hours for a regular semester.

Fulltime graduate students frequently are engaged in work that requires more than attending class. The university recognizes some of that work formally through the Graduate Equivalency Credit policy. Please check with your advisor to learn whether you qualify for these Graduate Equivalencies:

  • Three equivalency hours for holding a 0.5 FTE Graduate Teaching Assistantship or Graduate Research Assistantship; up to two equivalency hours for appointments between 0.25 and 0.49 FTE. 
  • Three equivalency hours in the semester the student is preparing for comprehensive examinations. This semester hour equivalency is allowed for a maximum of two semesters.
  • Eight equivalency hours after achieving candidacy. This semester hour equivalency is allowed for a maximum of eight semesters.
  • Participation in approved required out-of-class experiences (normally internships) in specific programs. Please check with your advisor.

If you are eligible for equivalency hours, please complete the Graduate Equivalency Credit form and ask your advisor to approve it.

Overloads . Normally no more than three credit hours may be taken in any four-week period. You may request exceptions for course loads over 12 hours during the regular semester or three hours during any four-week period.

Please note the two stipulations for an overload to be approved: better than average grades or graduating the semester of the overload. If you want to take a heavier load and meet these requirements, you should seek your advisor’s approval on the Petition for Course Overload form before the registration period. Take the completed form with all the approvals to the Registrar when you register for classes.

The final two-thirds of the courses in a master’s degree program and the final half of a doctoral program (including dissertation) must be completed in UMSL courses.

In addition, doctoral students have a residency requirement of fulltime enrollment. They must successfully complete a minimum of 15 hours over two consecutive terms, which may include summer.

Normally graduate students may not take courses at another university after enrolling in a graduate program. If you take a course offered by one of our collaborating institutions, we make an exception. There are two collaborative programs:

Inter-University Agreement. With prior approval, regularly admitted graduate students are permitted to take a course not offered by the University of Missouri-St. Louis at Washington University, St. Louis University, or Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Please complete the Inter-University Graduate Exchange Program Enrollment Request which may be obtained from the Registrar’s office.

UM System Visiting Student Program. Graduate degree-seeking students at any University of Missouri campus may take a course as another UM campus as a non-degree student. Please check with the Graduate School (314-516-5900) in 121 Woods Hall for advice and support in this process.

If you find a course on one of these campuses that fits your needs better, ask your advisor if it can be approved. If approved, the Graduate School will help you process the paperwork for the Visiting Student Program. The Registrar’s office will help you process the paperwork for the Inter-University Agreement program. You may register using the forms and pay UMSL tuition for the courses.

In rare circumstances, graduate students enrolled at UMSL may take a course at another institution for credit toward a degree here. In no case will credit be given without the advisor’s prior approval, so be sure to check with your advisor before registering at another university. An approved Petition for Waiver of the Residence Requirement must be approved.

IMPORTANT: Courses taken through the Inter-University agreement or transferred in from another university should be taken before your last semester of study. Other universities have different dates by which courses are recorded on the transcript and those transcripts may not be received in time for you to graduate.

Graduate faculty have complete discretion in assigning grades. This is true of non-course requirements such as qualifying or comprehensive examinations as well as graduate courses.

If you have a disagreement with a professor about a grade, first try to negotiate an agreement. If you cannot find a solution, you may download the Grade Appeal Procedure and contact the department chair about departmental procedures.

Point assignments for grades are as follows: 
A = 4.0 points 
A- = 3.7 
B+ = 3.3 
B = 3.0 
B- = 2.7 
C+ = 2.3 
C = 2.0 
C- = 1.7 
F = 0 
EX = Excused 
DL = Delayed
FN = Failure/NonParticipation

The Graduate School does not recognize a D grade for a graduate student; grades lower than C- are recorded as F. The satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) option is not available to graduate students. Students may enter courses as auditors but may not change from audit to credit or credit to audit after the first week of class. Auditors are charged full fees and receive no academic credit.

Delayed grades may be given when a student's work is incomplete but otherwise worthy of credit. Delayed grades must be removed within two regular semesters after the time recorded or they automatically become Fs. In such cases, course instructors may subsequently change F grades to other grades when all work has been completed. Some advisors give delayed grades for thesis or dissertation research. These are left as delayed grades until the final regular grades are reported by the instructor.

Students cannot graduate with any delayed grades on their transcript. The only exception to this rule is for students enrolled in doctoral programs who are obtaining a master's degree or certificate on the way to the doctorate. For these students, delayed grades in dissertation research are allowed at the time they receive their master's degree.

Students who stop attending classes without officially dropping courses receive grades of FN (Failure/NonParticipation).

All courses taken at UMSL for graduate credit figure into the calculation of the transcript GPA, including courses that may not be a part of the degree program. However, only courses included in the degree program figure into the calculation of the degree program GPA. Transfer courses are not included in any GPA calculation, even though the courses may be included as part of a degree program. The degree program GPA must be at least 3.000 for a student to graduate.  UMSL calculates GPA to three decimal places; hence a GPA ≥2.9995 will be rounded up to 3.000. A   GPA ≤2.9994 will be rounded down to 2.999, which is not sufficient to graduate.

After a student has at least nine credit hours, if the transcript GPA falls below 3.0, the dean will place that student on probation. A department may also place a student on probation if it regards the student's progress as unsatisfactory, so please review your program’s requirements and communicate with your advisor if personal situations are affecting your academic success.

Probation lasts for one semester. After one semester the student will be removed from probation, continued on probation, or dismissed, depending on his or her progress. The Graduate School may dismiss a graduate student who fails to achieve at least a 3.0 over two semesters.

Time Limits

Starting with the first course, the maximum amount of time allowed for completing a degree is six years for the master's and eight years for the doctoral degree.   If you are transferring courses from another institution into your degree program, you should get pre-approval for the transfer courses by filing a G3 form as soon as you enter the program.  If transfer courses have been pre-approved, then we will base your time limit on the date of your first course at UM-St. Louis.  Without pre-approval, the time limit will be based on the date of the oldest transfer course.

There is no form for requesting a time extension.  Instead, the student should submit a letter to their Graduate Program Director for approval.  If the Graduate Program Director approves, the request will be forwarded to the Graduate Dean.  The letter should cover the following topics:

  • The primary reason for the delay in graduation. 
  • A list of courses (including course numbers and titles) completed outside the allowed time limits.  For each course, either explain how the student has maintained their knowledge/expertise in the content area of the course (e.g. subsequent courses, work experience) or indicate which additional courses will be taken to update the student’s knowledge in the subject matter.
  • An expected graduation date.
  • A detailed plan for completion by the specified date.  The plan should include milestones for meeting all the degree requirements, including the completion of all required courses, the resolution of all delayed grades, and the completion of the thesis/dissertation.

Once a time extension has been granted, you are expected to complete the degree by the deadline.  A second time extension will be granted only under extraordinary circumstances.  In addition, pre-approval of transfer courses is voided upon the request of a second time extension.  All transfer courses will be re-evaluated.

Leave of Absence

If you are required to be continuously enrolled but are forced to interrupt your studies for a period of one or more years, you should request a leave of absence from the university. There is no form for requesting a leave of absence.  Instead, the student should submit a letter to their Graduate Program Director for approval.  If the Graduate Program Director approves, the request will be forwarded to the Graduate Dean.  The student is expected to work with their advisor to define program modifications required, due to the leave of absence.

The letter should cover the following topics:

  • The program modifications that the leave of absence requires;
  • Indicate the reason for leaving and
  • The expected date of return to the university.

If you are not required to be continuously enrolled, you may still request a leave of absence if you must interrupt your studies for more than one year.  This will avoid the requirement that you reapply to the university, and will preserve your original requirement term (you will be able to graduate under the rules in effect when you started your program).

A leave of absence does not affect the maximum time limitation set for a degree program.

Academic Honesty
Your degree from UMSL is as good as the university's reputation. Our faculty write articles and books that are read around the world, and students win awards for their academic achievements. None of that matters if the community knows that a few students are cheating the rest by their lack of integrity.

Although not required, a graduate student is expected to report incidents of academic dishonesty to their professors, advisors, or Academic Affairs (516-5304 or 516-5898). All you have to do is state what you saw, give your name and phone number, and be willing to answer questions about the situation.

The administrators in Academic Affairs will be fair, even to those who are charged with academic dishonesty. Students who are charged are given due process. That means that they have the right to know about the charge and give their side of the story. If the investigation finds that the student is guilty of academic dishonesty, administrators write a formal disciplinary letter stating the sanction. Included in the disciplinary letter is a separate sheet on which students who are given sanctions can agree to them or not. If they appeal, they face a hearing committee. They can also appeal the committee’s decision to the Chancellor.

Sanctions for graduate students are always stiffer than for undergraduate students. We expect that you’ve been successful in your previous academic work and that you know how to cite authors. If you worry that you aren’t citing your sources correctly, please check with the professor and/or stop by the Writing Center and get help before you have to turn in the paper.

Chapter 5. Graduation

Last Steps: Master’s Degrees

Program Degree Plan . A master's degree student may complete an advising form for use in planning your program with your advisor.  When you are ready to graduate, you and your advisor will complete an M4 Application for Graduation which will list your courses and capstone project required for graduation. The Graduate School will use the information on this form to add you to the graduation list and verify eligibility for graduation. The M4 should be completed early in the semester in which you intend to graduate, deadlines can be found on the graduation information page.

Master’s Capstone Experience . Since a graduate student learns more than the sum of the courses, each program has at least one experience designed to assess students’ learning over the entire program. For master’s students these may be a comprehensive examination, scholarly paper, thesis, and/or exit course or project. Your advisor will submit the Appointment of Thesis, Examination, Paper or Project Committee form to recommend that the Graduate Dean approve the committee.

Thesis students complete a draft of the thesis. They then file a Preliminary Approval of Master's Thesis form in the Graduate School with one copy of the thesis at least six weeks before the end of the term in which graduation is sought. The chair of the thesis committee is responsible for verifying that all the changes suggested by the Graduate Dean and the thesis committee have been incorporated in the final draft of the thesis or have been discussed further with the Graduate Dean or the committee. Visit the IRL@UMSL page on the Graduate School's website for an overview of the process.

We have moved to electronic theses, so please check on the Graduate School Website or with our Coordinator of Academic Programs (516-5879) for current rules.

Applying for Graduation . Your graduation is not automatic, even after you’ve met all the requirements. You must notify the university that you intend to graduate by submitting an Application for Graduation to the Graduate School by the end of the fourth week of classes during the term in which all degree requirements are met. Students completing the master's degree during the summer must file the application by the first day of the eight-week session.  Students must be enrolled on campus in their final semester.

Last Steps: Doctoral Degree
There are two stages in a student's doctoral degree work:

  1. A pre-candidate is a student who has requirements to fulfill in addition to the dissertation, including course work, language requirements, and/or comprehensive examinations. 
  2. A candidate is a student who has met all degree requirements except the completion of the dissertation.

Candidacy . Doctoral students may apply for candidacy after passing all required comprehensive and language examinations, written or oral, and successfully completing all course work. Students should also choose a dissertation advisor and should file an Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Advisor form.

After students achieve candidacy and complete the residence requirement, they must remain enrolled during fall and winter semesters until the degree is completed or risk termination. If terminated students reapply and if they are readmitted, they will be subject to all regulations in effect at the time of readmission, and will be required to enroll for at least one credit hour in each semester since their last enrollment.

Capstone Experiences
All doctoral programs at UMSL require a comprehensive examination. Students should submit an  Appointment of Comprehensive Examination Committee form when they are ready to take their exam. Some programs also require qualifying and/or oral examinations.

All doctoral programs also require a dissertation. Key to a successful dissertation is the committee. It consists of at least four members of the Graduate Faculty: the committee chair, at least one other member from the unit and at least one member from outside the unit. A recognized scholar from outside the university may serve as the outside member upon the recommendation of the unit and approval of the Graduate Dean.

The Proposal. A proposal is required for all dissertations. Before any substantial research is conducted for the dissertation, the dissertation committee has to approve the proposal after a formal defense. Further, if your research involves human subjects, you must first obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board.

After the committee members each sign their approval via the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal form, the student submits the approved proposal for the Graduate Dean’s review and approval. The dean reviews the proposal for the following characteristics: 

  1. So what/who cares? The first element of a successful proposal is a convincing rationale for the importance of the topic. 
    • Generally scholars make a convincing argument by showing a need to understand the topic and by demonstrating a gap in the research literature.
    • Traditional tools of argument work very well:
    • Thesis: What do you expect the results of your question to show based on current trends in the research?
      • Antithesis: What credible studies contradict the thesis? What areas remain unclear even in studies that support the thesis?
      • Synthesis: Given the gaps in knowledge about the topic, where does the field stand on the topic?

The importance of the study is generally found in the Introduction or Chapter One. However, students find it easier to write after conducting the review of literature, traditionally found in Chapter Two.

  1.  So how?/Methodology. The second important concern that a proposal must satisfy is that the dissertation is feasible. 
    • The dean wants assurance that the student will be able to complete the study within the timeframe allowed for doctoral study.
    • Pilot studies, documented access to data sources, IRB approval, copyright waivers, and other foundational work provide evidence that the dissertation writer will not encounter undue barriers.
    • Some advisors request that students prepare a timeline for the study, which may or may not be included in the proposal.
      • The quality of a study requires that the methodology be appropriate to the questions.
    • The proposal needs to justify the research design, including analytical tools.

You should work with your dissertation advisor to confirm that your proposal will be accepted before you take more than four hours of dissertation credit. That will help assure that you complete the study. Our experience shows that students who continue to take dissertation hours while preparing the proposal are less likely to graduate.

An approved dissertation proposal in no way implies a contract between the university and the student. Depending on the outcome of the research, the dissertation may require substantially more work than anticipated when the proposal was approved. If you must terminate the approved line of research and adopt a substantially new dissertation project, you must repeat the proposal process, including a formal defense and approvals.

The Dissertation. A strong proposal normally leads to a strong dissertation. Data collection, analysis, and interpretation will be the most challenging steps that remain.

Writing about the study may also be demanding because it requires attention to format as well as the content. Writing pitfalls that we have found include the following: inconsistent verb tenses, narratives with confusing lines of reasoning, the lack of transitional phrases between sections or paragraphs, and inconsistent application of a style-sheet. At UMSL, we allow students to follow the format of their discipline, so some students find it useful to use articles in respected journals as models for tables, headings, references, and even transitional phrases.

Applying to Defend the Dissertation . At least six weeks prior to commencement, you will need to submit to the Graduate School a draft of your dissertation that your committee deems provisionally acceptable. At that time you also set the oral examination date. The forms that accompany the draft may be downloaded here: Preliminary Approval of Dissertation and Oral Defense form, Defense of Dissertation Committee Report and Final Approval of the Dissertation form. An electronic copy of the oral defense announcement must be submitted at the same time as the dissertation. The Dean of the Graduate School may seek advice and make suggestions to the committee about dissertation content and style before signing the Preliminary Approval of Dissertation and Oral Defense form. Final examinations are open to the public.

Abstracts . Two different abstracts are required with the dissertation, one for external audiences and the other within the dissertation. UMI, one of the external audiences, requires an abstract of a maximum of 350 words. The abstract forming the second page of the dissertation should be no more than 600 words.

An advisor who helped a student submit an abstract to the Midwest Nursing Research Society offered the following suggested format for an abstract:

  • The purpose of the study 
  • The questions guiding this inquiry
  • How the research questions were addressed 
  • Research findings
  • What gaps in the research were found and suggestions for future research.

The “external” abstract (maximum of 350 words) is included with the Oral Defense form. You may download the Sample Oral Defense Announcement here. Note that the announcement cannot be smaller than 12 point. 

Since the examinations are announced via the Web, you should carefully consider the wording of the abstract in the announcement to make certain that it does justice to your study. The Graduate Dean will review and approve the provisional version of the dissertation and may make recommendations for the final dissertation.

Oral Defense . You should work closely with your advisor to prepare the defense in the format that he or she suggests. After deliberating on the oral defense of the dissertation, the Dissertation Committee votes on whether the defense was successful. The defense is considered unsuccessful if there are two negative votes, including abstentions. A student who has failed an oral defense may arrange for one additional defense before the same committee. The Dissertation Committee’s decision is final, and they recommend a decision to the Dean of the Graduate School. Their report of the final examination is due to the Graduate School no later than two days after the examination.

Submitting the Final Copy . We have moved to an electronic process for dissertation submission. In matters of style and documentation, the custom of the discipline is followed. Please visit the  Dissertation Web page on our Graduate School website for more information and an overview of the process.

Applying for Graduation . Your program director submits a list of graduating doctoral students soon after the start of their last semester. If your program director is not aware that you plan to graduate, it may be too late to include your name in the commencement bulletin. Just as has been the case throughout your program, good communication with faculty will help assure that your graduation is successful. Students must be enrolled on campus in their final semester.

CUT Program - Certificate in University Teaching
Graduate students may now enroll for CUT - the graduate certificate in University Teaching - which offers the option for professional development, feedback on teaching and a variety of seminars.  More information and sign-ups can be found on the CUT webpage.