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Progress to Degree

A doctoral degree, typically completed in four to six years, begins with required coursework and moves toward a successful dissertation and defense based on an original research project. Below are the requirements students will complete along the path toward degree completion.

*Select links on the left for more detailed information.


Graduate coursework lays a foundation of the fundamental concepts, principles and tools on which students build competency for critically evaluating current research and making an original contribution in their field of study.

Advisor and Committee

The core of each graduate program is the completion of a piece of original research. Faculty advisors and dissertation committee members mentor and collaborate with students through the research process, including selecting a topic, conducting original research, and writing the dissertation.

Teaching Assistant Service

Some Ph.D. programs formally require students to serve as TAs, and most expect graduate students to be appointed in a teaching capacity at some point during their graduate training. Serving as a TA is a valuable tool. Through active involvement in course instruction, TAs gain a firmer understanding of basic course materials, the ability to think on their feet, organize their thoughts, and communicate clearly and effectively. These are skills appropriate for an individual holding an advanced degree; no matter what career path is eventually taken.

In addition to providing a source of funding, TA positions are central to the preparation of a pool of graduate students qualified to teach at post-secondary institutions. Serving as a TA provides valuable training and experience for:

  • Future roles as university faculty or career professionals
  • Preparation for the oral qualifying examination and oral defense of the dissertation
  • Development of clear and effective communication skills and ability to respond on the spot in an organized

For more information on TA appointments, visit the Funding & Employment section of our website.

Qualifying Examination

In order to become eligible to advance to candidacy for the doctoral degree, students must pass a Qualifying Examination wherein they demonstrate a high level of scholarship and a promising research focus.

The oral qualifying exam tests the breadth of a student’s comprehension of fundamental facts and principles that apply to their major field of study and their ability to think critically about the theoretical and practical aspects of the field. Though focused on the student’s field of research, the exam may and should venture into other areas of scholarship that underlie or impinge on the research topic. The exam consists of two parts: 1) a written examination, and 2) an oral exam conducted by the dissertation committee.

In order to apply to take the Qualifying Exam, students must first complete their group's advancement requirements. Each graduate program requires students to pass the qualifying exam within a particular timeframe. 

Qualifying Exam Paperwork

A month before the qualifying exam, the student will submit the approved Application for Qualifying Exam.

At the exam, the student will need to bring a copy of the Qualifying Exam Report for the committee to sign after the exam. All forms will go directly to Graduate Division.

Once the student has passed the qualifying exam and completed the above forms, the student must contact their SSHA Graduate Coordinator to complete the Advancement to Candidacy.

Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy signifies that a student has completed certain academic requirements and is ready to move forward in their research project, focusing predominantly on writing and defending a dissertation.

Students may apply to advance to candidacy after passing the Qualifying Examination. Once the Qualifying Exam Report form is submitted to the Graduate Division, the student may begin the Advancement to Candidacy electronic form which will also require approvals from their faculty advisor, committee members and graduate group chair. In addition, students must pay the $90 advancement to candidacy fee through their UC Merced Connect Portal. In order to apply to graduate, students must advance to candidacy at least one semester prior to the desired graduation term.

Students must contact their SSHA Graduate Coordinator for the Advancement to Candidacy form.


The final step toward obtaining an advanced degree is the defense and submission of a written dissertation. The finished manuscript is an original scholarly work that is the product of extensive research and related preparation.

The dissertation demonstrates a student’s knowledge of a broad field of learning and contains an original contribution to the chosen field of study. In preparation for the defense, the student must provide a copy of the dissertation to each member of the committee at least four weeks in advance of the desired defense date. Should any of the committee members deem it necessary for the student to address errors or shortcomings, the student will be given the opportunity to make revisions. Once the committee agrees that the dissertation is ready to be defended, the defense date may be scheduled.


The student will be evaluated on the substance of the written dissertation and the student’s performance on the exam. After the student successfully defends their dissertation and makes any needed corrections and/or revisions, the committee will approve the finalized manuscript. The student then submits the dissertation online by the end of the semester in which the degree is to be conferred. After submission, dissertation manuscripts automatically become available for public access and circulation as part of UC Merced’s Library Collections.


Commencement marks the transition from "student" to "graduate." Upon successful completion of all degree requirements, students are celebrated by faculty, staff and administrators in this time-honored academic ceremony.


In anticipation of the successful defense of their dissertation, a student may determine the term in which they plan to graduate and submit an online Graduate Student Graduation Application by the published deadline on the Registrar’s website and pay the appropriate fee(s). Students can refer to the Ph.D. Checklist for Degree Completion to get started.


Students should review their progress to degree via the student portal and contact their SSHA Graduate Coordinator with questions or to resolve issues. When the student passes their dissertation defense, they must turn in the Report on Final Examination form to the Graduate Division and submit their finalized dissertation manuscript electronically to the UC Merced ProQuest ETD website by the published deadline on the Registrar’s website.


Students may participate in the Commencement ceremony they selected on their graduation application. This event is a significant recognition and celebration of student achievement.


Degrees are conferred at the end of the academic semester in which all requirements have been satisfied. After final approval by the Graduate Dean, students will be notified by mail of formal degree conferral and may submit a Request for Certification of Completion form.


*The gathered information was part of UC Davis Graduate Studies and UC Merced’s School of Natural Sciences website.


Last Updated: June 2021