Ph.D. Advising and Requirements

By design, Princeton emphasizes comparatively short and intensive programs of doctoral study. The Graduate School therefore has few central requirements for doctoral candidates beyond the standard requirements for all graduate students related to administrative standing, residency, and full-time study. 

To qualify for the Ph.D., students are required by the Graduate School to pass the general examination in their subject; to present an acceptable dissertation; and, after receiving approval of the advanced degree application from the department and the Graduate School, to pass the final public oral examination.  Any additional requirements are set at the level of the department or program.

Dissertation and Research Advising

Ph.D. students at the research stage of their programs are required to have faculty advisers who can appropriately advise their topics and who are willing to advise them.  This is an essential requirement in order for a Ph.D. student to remain enrolled and successfully work towards completing the degree.  The point at which the research stage begins may differ from program to program, depending on individual program requirements and funding models.  In certain fields organized by laboratory and research groups, the requirement for a student to identify an adviser may start as early as the end of the first academic year.  In other fields, the requirement may start at the point when the student has successfully passed the general examination and formally been approved to enter the dissertation phase and advance to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Princeton's departments and programs have broad academic expertise, and Ph.D. students have the opportunity to work with faculty who are experts in many fields and subfields of academic research.  While the range of topics that Ph.D. students may pursue for dissertation work is wide, it nonetheless may be limited by the interests and expertise of the faculty.  Students may need to adjust their research topics in order to align them with faculty expertise if they wish to complete the degree.  Adjustment of topic may be necessary, for example, if a student's adviser leaves the University, particularly if the student has not yet completed the general examination and no other faculty within the department can appropriately advise on the student's originally intended topic.  (Students who have completed the general examination and are in the dissertation phase may be approved in certain circumstances to continue to work with advisers who have left the University.  See Graduate Committee Requirements and associated clarification in the External Advisers section.)

It is a Ph.D. student's responsibility to identify a research topic and secure an appropriate research adviser.  Faculty within departments, including and especially directors of graduate studies, will make every reasonable effort to help students find and secure appropriate advisers, provided students are otherwise making satisfactory degree progress.  Students who feel that satisfactory resolution of an advising issue has not been found even after consulting with the relevant faculty within the department may consult with the Academic Affairs staff within the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School.  (See Rights, Rules, ResponsibilitiesSection 2.6 - The Graduate School, especially the entry titled "Graduate Student Grievances," for more information.)  In cases where, despite all reasonable efforts, no satisfactory advising structure can be found for a student, that student's enrollment and degree candidacy may be terminated.

Ph.D. students benefit from frequent meetings with their dissertation research advisers and constructive feedback on their work.  To ensure that they are meeting expected research milestones, remaining on track for timely degree completion, and addressing any concerns raised during prior meetings, Ph.D. students with an assigned dissertation research adviser are required by the Graduate School to meet with their adviser a minimum of once per semester and with an additional faculty member in their department at least once per year. (See Frequency of Advising Meetings for Ph.D. Students)