Doctoral Student Lifecycle

You've been admitted to your doctoral program and now you're likely asking - how does all of this work? This page will provide a digest of a typical completion timeline for a doctoral students, including when important milestones should occur (e.g., forms, comprehensive exams, proposals, and final defenses). There may be room to adjust based on your goals, but that's a conversation to have your faculty advisor. Also, this is a good time to review the graduate academic policies that govern your progression and degree eligibility. 

Year 1 - Get started and acclimated!

You're figuring out how this whole doctoral life works. You may be a full-time student, a part-time student, or even holding down a job while balancing school. It can be tough. So, know where your resources are located. Check out our Graduate Student Success resources page for available campus resources.

Important forms to submit in Year 1:

  • Program of Study Sheet
    • This form outlines all of the courses needed to complete your program. Your advisor will provide you with a copy to complete.
  • Doctoral Advisory Committee 
    • This form lists the faculty members in your department who are part of your 'squad' for the first few semesters. They're there to help guide you through your coursework and to help you polish your research idea into something that you can actually investigate. They will also be responsible for your comprehensive examination requirement. 
  • Transfer of Credit Form
    • You may have some previous graduate coursework that may be eligible for transfer toward your doctoral program. Have this conversation early with your advisor so that we can start the process immediately. Transfer credits may be added at the end of the first semester.

Year 2 -  Getting further into the groove!

Year 2 is about taking more classes. You should also be narrowing down your intended dissertation proposal idea and working with your advisor to seek out opportunities for professional development. This could be getting involved in pilot research studies, presentations, publishing articles, academic organizations, on-campus organizations, or expanding your network. 

Important forms to submit in Year 2:
  • None! 

Year 3 - Let's get ready for exams!

Generally, Year 3 is about wrapping up classes and scheduling your comprehensive exam. For financial and time efficiency, best practice is to take your comprehensive exam in your last semester of coursework. However, this is not a requirement. This exam can take many forms, but it typically it involves a series of lengthy papers on topics set by your Advisory Committee based on your intended dissertation topic. The exam should help you set the stage, from a literature and methodological standpoint, to make the case for your dissertation idea.Important forms to submit in Year 3: 

  • Comprehensive Exam Declaration Form 
    • This form signals that you're declaring your intention to sit for your exam. You should indicate the date/time range and members of your examination committee.
  • Results of Comprehensive Exam 
    • Your advisor will submit this form, but it tells us whether you passed or need to retake your exam.
      • If you passed - congratulations! You are now a doctoral candidate. This will be noted on your UofL transcript and it also starts your 4-year completion clock to defend your final dissertation. 
      • If you failed - it's not the end of the world. It really isn't and you can bounce back. But, you will need to have a frank discussion with your advisor about what needs to improve and when you can sit for the exam again (generally, you are permitted only one retake). 

Year 4 - Proposal time!

Now that you've defended your comprehensive exam, and passed, you move toward your proposal writing stage. This is where you set the pace, so a proposal could be defended either quickly or later depending on what's happening with your topic (and life in general, because you may move, take on a new job, end or start a new relationship, etc.,) and this can all affect your writing time. Ideally, your comprehensive exam should have helped you have a clearer idea of intended topic and what you need to adjust in order to have a strong proposal. 

  • Dissertation Advisory Committee Form
    • This form tells us who your 'squad' will be to guide you to the end of your dissertation. It could be the same faculty as your overall advisory squad, who were responsible for guiding you through the course completion stage, or you could change-up the lineup to better suit your dissertation topic and goals.
  • Proposal Approval Form 
    • This form tells us that you defended your proposal successfully. 

Year 5 - Dissertation time!

This is it! You've defended your proposal and now you're working on your dissertation. Again, this is a self-paced endeavor and time management is critical. We do suggest dedicating at least 2 hours of writing time at least 4-5 days a week. There may be hiccups along this road in terms of working with the IRB to get approval for your study, finding enough participants, dealing with revisions, and maintaining energy to get to the end. You'll be tired, but you'll get there. This is also the time to apply for your degree!


Important forms to submit in Year 5: 

  • Notification of Dissertation Final Defense 
    • This form tells us when you plan to defend your dissertation. We need the form at least 2 weeks before you defend to submit to the Graduate School.
  • Dissertation Approval Form 
    • This is the cover page for your dissertation. The official cover page will go to the Graduate School, but we also keep a copy in your student file.
  • Degree Application 
    • You need to apply for your degree via Ulink, in addition to submitting your final dissertation by the deadline established by the Graduate School


After Year 5 - Celebration time!


You've done it and you should be super proud of yourself. So, celebrate to the fullest in whatever way works for you. You may want to catch-up on sleep first, because we all know we've lost many hours to this process. But, after that, savor the moment.