Academic Programs Catalog

Graduate Education

Doctoral Programs

Planning a Doctoral Program and Appointment of a Guidance Committee

Each graduate student admitted to a doctoral program has the responsibility to form a guidance committee with the approval and the assistance of the department or school chairperson or director or designated representative. The guidance committee will consist of at least four Michigan State University regular faculty at least three of whom, including the committee chairperson, possess an earned doctoral degree, preferably of the same type that the student is seeking (for example, Ph.D.). For the D.M.A. degree, the guidance committee will consist of at least four regular MSU faculty, at least two of whom, including the committee chairperson, possess the D.M.A. degree. As defined in the Faculty Handbook:  “ The ‘regular faculty’ of Michigan State University shall consist of all persons appointed under the rules of tenure and holding the rank of professor, associate professor, assistant professor, or instructor, and persons appointed as librarians. In addition, the principal administrative officer of each  major educational and research unit of the university shall be a member of the ‘regular faculty.’ “

An exception may be granted by the Dean of the Graduate School to allow a non–tenure stream faculty member or an Academic Specialist to serve on a doctoral student's guidance committee as one of the four required faculty members or, in special circumstances, as the chairperson of a doctoral student's guidance committee. With the approval of the chairperson or director of the department or school, an exception may be granted to allow an Emeritus faculty member to serve as one of the four required faculty members on a doctoral student's guidance committee; in addition, an Emeritus faculty member may continue to serve as the chairperson of a guidance committee. More than four persons may be members of the guidance committee. Persons who are not Michigan State University regular faculty who can contribute to the student's program may serve as members of the guidance committee and assist in the work of the committee, providing that the number of such persons does not exceed the number of regular faculty on the committee. In consultation with the student, the guidance committee plans the entire program, including examinations, and thereafter supervises it, making modifications as needed until the degree is completed.

The guidance committee shall be formed no later than the third semester of doctoral study, or within two semesters beyond the master's degree or its equivalent. Within one semester after the committee has met, the student shall initiate and submit for approval a Ph.D. Degree Plan via GradPlan, listing all agreed upon degree requirements. This Plan, as changed or amended in full consultation between the graduate student and the committee and approved by the appropriate department or school chairperson or director and the dean of the college, shall be regarded as the official statement of program requirements. GradPlan training guides can be found at To start a Ph.D. Degree Plan or Master’s Degree Plan, go to and select GradPlan.

The Ph.D. Degree Plan includes course requirements and comprehensive exam areas, with a timetable, and  a tentative dissertation topic. The committee also recommends whether to accept any graduate credit beyond the master's degree level that was taken at other institutions; whether any study may be done in absentia, and under what conditions; what language examinations or alternative program, if any, the student must complete; and which member of the committee should later direct the research that is to form the basis of the student's dissertation.

Once designated, the guidance committee has the responsibility to meet periodically to oversee the graduate student's progress for as long as the graduate student continues in good standing. Any desired or required changes in the membership of the guidance committee may be made by the graduate student with the concurrence of the unit chairperson or director or designated representative, or by the unit with the concurrence of the graduate student in accordance with university, college, and unit policy. The membership of the guidance committee, with the concurrence of the graduate student, may be changed as appropriate to the dissertation topic. Guidance committee chairpersons on leave shall provide for the necessary guidance of their advisees during their absence.

The guidance committee is responsible for insuring the adequacy of the overall program, in keeping with the general policy that six or more semesters of study and research beyond the bachelor's degree are required.