In History, the time needed to prepare a dissertation varies widely. There are intellectual variables (e.g. background preparation, availability of research materials, need for special language or computational skills) which when combined with less scholarly, but no less important considerations (e.g. travel needs, finances, health, loved ones, the political and economic state of the world), influence the dissertation research and writing process.
Ordinarily a student registered for full-time study should receive preliminary certification by the end of their third year. A student who has not been certified by this time must file with the Dean of the Graduate School a statement, approved by the DGS in the major department, explaining the delay and setting a date for the examination. Except under unusual circumstances, extension will not be granted beyond the middle of the fourth year.
The Graduate School has a firm policy on unfinished dissertations, expecting completion in History within four calendar years after passage of the preliminary exam. If the dissertation has not been submitted within four years of the preliminary exam, a student must request a continuation extension through the DGS. If you are beyond the deadline, the DGS will contact you in the summer and ask for:
- A detailed work plan and an expected date of completion.
- A supporting letter from your advisor.
The DGS will then write a recommendation and submit the materials to the Dean of the Graduate School. The Graduate school usually makes continuation decisions in mid-summer. If this extension is granted and the dissertation is not submitted and accepted by the new deadline, a student's situation becomes precarious in the following ways:
- First, a student may be dropped from candidacy by the Graduate School though petitions for further extensions are sometimes possible.
- Second, the Graduate School may require that a student must pass a second preliminary exam, as determined by the DGS, to be reinstated as a candidate for the degree.
- Third, if more than five years elapse between the preliminary and final examinations, the Graduate School can require the department to submit to the Dean specific requirements for revalidating course credits.
Progress Goals for Ph.D. Students
The following discussion deals with the pedagogical assumptions of the graduate curriculum, suggesting general guidelines for your intellectual trajectory in the Duke History Department. We hope these guidelines will help orient your and make sense of your coursework; we similarly hope that the guidelines will assist faculty as they develop either readings or research seminars for our graduate students.
Obviously, not every graduate student will hit these intellectual milestones at exactly the same times or in the same combinations. In some fields, foreign language study, methodological training, and/or the need to travel to distant archives may result in a different pace through the program. In a similar vein, the terms of some students' grants may preclude experience in teaching until after the first few years in the program. We nonetheless believe that you will greatly benefit from having a clear sense of the general logic of the department's curriculum, and its more specific academic goals, as you proceed through the program. We similarly believe that the members of the graduate faculty should keep these goals in mind as they counsel to their advisees and teach their graduate courses.