Taking Orals (Aka “The Prospectus Meeting”) And Advancing To Candidacy

  1. Official Requirements You Have To Pass Before Taking Orals
  2. Finding a Dissertation Topic
  3. Prospectus
  4. The Oral Exam
  5. The Aftermath

1. Official Requirements You Have To Pass Before Taking Orals

Here are the official requirements (that is, the requirements that come between finishing the M.A. and taking Ph.D. orals):

Deadline: End of fall quarter of your 4th year (10th quarter)


Candidates for the Ph.D. are required to have taken 36 units of graduate coursework beyond the M.A. requirements. These 36 units must include:

Linguistics 210A and 210B

Eight units in an area distinct from that of the student’s major area of concentration (no 26x courses may be used towards the eight unit requirement).

The 36 units may not include:

Course 275 (colloquium), any 300- or 400-level course, 597, or 599.

Of the 36 units, no more than 12 units may be in course 596A. A maximum of four two-unit seminars and proseminars may be included in the 36 units.

One Research Paper:

“In order to be advanced to candidacy, the student is required to prepare one substantive research paper in linguistics. This paper is to be submitted to and approved by the guidance committee. “

Note that this paper is usually your M.A. thesis.

Paperwork Needed:

Before taking orals, the student is required to submit a nomination of doctoral committee form to the department’s Student Affairs Officer. This form needs to be signed by the DGS. It should be submitted to the SAO a minimum of four weeks (one month) before the scheduled date of the student’s orals. This is so Graduate Division has time to review the proposed committee. The doctoral committee must be approved before the student takes his/her orals. For regulations governing the nomination of doctoral committees, please visit the Graduate Division web site and click on Standards & Procedures for Graduate Study at UCLA.


“A written prospectus of the dissertation must be submitted to the guidance committee, with a copy to the department file, one month prior to the oral examination. At this time, an official doctoral committee must be established.”

See more on the prospectus below.

2. Finding a Dissertation Topic

The idea here is to locate a really good dissertation topic, one which you will personally really like working on, and ideally something original and interesting which will help launch a professional career. Consult your adviser and committee members frequently, both for input and for the help one gets simply from bouncing ideas off of someone.

3. Prospectus

This is a document of variable content. What goes into your prospectus should be worked out between you and your adviser. But traditionally, the prospectus contains things like:

  • Background to the research problem, laying out the problem and why it is interesting
  • Literature review; what’s been done in this area
  • Your research results so far
  • A plan of work, ideally quite specific, with scheduling of when everything will be done

The prospectus is submitted to your doctoral committee, which should be chosen as early as possible, so you will have maximal time to educate the committee members about what you are working on and bring them up to speed. Consult with your adviser on good choices for the committee.

Many committee members feel that the prospectus should go through more than one draft, with the final draft addressing the comments of all committee members. Be sure to check with all the members of your committee on this issue.

Timing: you want to budget enough time that the committee members can read as many drafts as each feels to be appropriate. Getting the prospectus in earlier is of course a courtesy to busy people, though often committee members will be understanding given the great importance of finding a really good topic.

4. The Oral Exam, aka “The Prospectus Meeting”

This is an official examination of the University which (in principle) certifies your readiness to write a dissertation. The whole committee shows up, listens to you talk, and asks oral questions. In principle, these questions could be about anything (at one university a student was asked “Where did Jakobson go when he left Prague?”), but typically in the Linguistics Department they bear closely on the prospectus.

A few things make the orals a bit dramatic. Once everyone is the room, the candidate is usually asked to leave, so that the committee can discuss her/him. Then you are called back. By a regulation of the University, the room may only contain the examinee and the committee, no guests.

Exactly what happens is a matter best negotiated in advance between candidate, dissertation adviser, and committee members. Some committee chairs like to have the candidate give a carefully-pretimed outline presentation of the proposal, hitting the high points and shunning the details. This is actually very helpful, as it brings the committee members up to speed, where necessary, and helps them think of good questions and new angles. Committee members are asked to limit their questions during the presentation to clarificational ones, provided the talk really looks like it’s not going to exceed the time limit.

Once the presentation is over, the committee members take turns asking questions of the candidate, and there is open follow-up and discussion. Every chair and committee are different, so the format of orals can be quite different from above. Consult your chair and committee to find out.

As the ending time of the orals approaches (the whole process is scheduled for two hours total), the examinee is again asked to leave the room, and the committee arrives at a Pass/Fail verdict. It is also decided which members of the committee will be “signing members”; those whose signature is needed for the dissertation to be accepted. The candidate is invited back in, the verdict is reported, and ideally, celebrations ensue.

Some handy hints for making this all a reasonably pleasant experience:

  • Negotiate with your chair to obtain uninterrupted time for a short presentation, with only clarificatory interruptions, as outlined above. Then prepare a really nice presentation.
  • If when the exam starts, you are sent out of the room for a really long time, don’t assume that a disaster is necessarily in the making. There are many questions that often need discussion among the committee members (e.g. “Were the requirements duly passed?”, “Were all committee members consulted and given time to read the prospectus?”). Often there is discussion in private of the dissertation proposal even before the candidate makes her/his presentation. All this takes time.
  • Bring friends to accompany you as you pace up and down in the hallway, or at least a good book …

5. The Aftermath

Once you pass orals, you get a minor degree called Candidate in Philosophy. Also, various financial levies by the University, particularly against foreign students, are reduced. In order for an international student to be eligible for the reduced non-resident tuition, the student must pass his/her orals and advance to candidacy by the Friday of finals week of the preceding quarter. Also, you become eligible to apply for a Dissertation Year Fellowship, which is required in the Linguistics Department of all graduate students to obtain fifth-year support (that is, you have to apply, you don’t necessarily have to win one.). Also, if the orals have gone well (like a productive, collective advising appointment), everybody feels good about it.