Requirements for the Master of Arts Degree
The Department of Political Science does not accept external applications for a terminal master’s degree. A terminal master’s degree in political science may be earned by Ph.D. students who, by their own volition or as a result of departmental action, will not continue with the doctoral program. The terminal master’s degree can be earned through a non-thesis option requiring 33 credit hours of formal, didactic coursework (including Political Science 8355 and 8356 and at least 27 credit hours of 8000-level courses). Students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 in the 8000-level courses. A master’s degree in passing option is available to students enroute to the Ph.D., who have completed all courses required for the Ph.D. degree, passed the preliminary examinations, and successfully defended the dissertation proposal (Qualifying exam).
Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) training and RCRG 6303-6307
CORE (33 credit hours)
PSCI 8355 Research Design (3)
PSCI 8356 Statistics for Political Research I (3)
PSCI 8000 level and above (27)
Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree
At least 42 credit hours of formal, didactic coursework with a grade of B or better are required for the Ph.D. degree; 72 credit hours (including dissertation research hours) are required in total to complete the degree. Two didactic 8000-level courses from departments outside of Political Science may be counted toward the formal, didactic requirement with DGS approval. One undergraduate level course may be counted toward the formal, didactic requirement with DGS approval. Up to two didactic courses at the 5000-, 6000-, and 7000-level may be counted toward the didactic requirement; more requires DGS approval. Research Design (8355), Statistics for Political Research I (8356), and Statistics for Political Research II (8357) are required of all prospective candidates. Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.3 in their first semester and 3.4 in the remaining semesters. In addition to the Graduate School Qualifying and Defense exams, students must complete a comprehensive exam in a primary field of study in the second year of study. A second-year paper and defense are also required.
Candidates for the Ph.D. are expected to demonstrate proficiency in substantive topics and research skills, including statistics, at a level fixed by the program faculty.
Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) training and RCRG 6303-6307.
CORE (42 credit hours)
PSCI 8355 Research Design (3 credit hours)
PSCI 8356 Statistics for Political Research I (3 credit hours)
PSCI 8357 Statistics for Political Research II (3 credit hours)
Remaining credits may come from graduate courses level 8000 or above (33 credit hours)
RESEARCH (30 credit hours)
PSCI 8999 Non-candidate Research (0-12)
PSCI 9999 Ph.D. Dissertation Research (0-12)
Detailed Requirements for the Ph.D. in Political Science
Doctoral students must complete 72 credit hours. This includes a minimum of 42 hours of “quality” or didactic course work including the required courses:
- Three methods courses: PSCI 8355 (Research Design), PSCI 8356 (Statistics for Political Research I), and PSCI 8357 (Statistics for Political Research II)
- Three courses in field one (fields and requirements described below)
- Three courses in field two
- Two courses in field three
- Electives either in these fields or others to complete the remaining 42 hours
The remaining hours consist of thesis credit (PSCI 8999 for pre-candidates and PSCI 9999 for Ph.D. candidates).
To maintain good standing in the program, doctoral students are expected to:
- maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.3 in the first semester and 3.4 thereafter;
- finish any incomplete course by the end of the following semester;
- submit a completed Plan of Study and participate in the Second-‐Year Review by the end of their fourth semester in the program;
- complete the normal load of organized courses, which is a minimum of 9 credit hours per semester, until reaching the required total of 42 didactic hours;
- be an active participant in the research presentation series for their primary field;
- complete and pass the comprehensive exam in their first field by October 1 of year 3;
- complete and pass the second-year paper requirement by December 15 of year 3;
- complete the Qualifying Exam by September 1 of year 4;
- maintain satisfactory progress (receive an “S” grade) in 8999/9999 coursework; and
- perform at or above expectations in RA/TA responsibilities each semester.
Students who are out of compliance with these expectations or exhibiting severe delay in meeting them will be put on probation and receive a notice from the DGS thereof. Students who remain out of compliance after being put on probation may have their funding revoked by the graduate committee and can be asked to leave the program.
Doctoral students must complete 72 credit hours in total. This includes a minimum of 42 hours of “quality” or didactic course work including the required methods courses and field courses. The remaining hours consist of thesis credit (PSCI 8999 for pre-candidates and PSCI 9999 for Ph.D. candidates).
Our objective is to require courses in such a way as to support the development of expertise in students’ primary area of substantive focus, methodological acumen as needed to execute outstanding research projects, and a rounded, multi-faceted approach to social science thinking.
Ph.D. students are required to complete the minimum courses in three fields:
- Field One (American Politics, Comparative Politics, or International Relations): Requires completion of at least 3 courses with a grade of B+ or better, one of which is normally expected to be the core course; and completion of a written and oral comprehensive exam. Each subfield may have additional requirements; students are advised to check with the field conveners for subfield-specific requirements.
- Field Two (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Methodology, or Political Theory): Requires completion of at least 3 courses with a grade of B+ or better on average across the courses, one of which is normally expected to be the core course. In Political Methodology, students must complete 3 courses beyond the three required methods courses (PSCI 8355, 8356, and 8357). Each subfield may have additional requirements; students are advised to check with the field conveners for subfield-specific requirements.
- Field Three: Requires completion of 2 courses, with a grade of B or better in each, which normally includes:
- any two courses in a major field of political science that are not categorized as courses in the student’s first or second fields (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory). OR
- two courses in Political Methodology beyond PSCI 8355, 8356, and 8357, provided that the student is not using Methodology as their second field. These can be other methods courses within the Department, or approved courses outside the department (including the ICPSR Summer Training Program). OR
- two courses in a cognate field outside of political science. This option can be taken only with the prior permission of the Director of Graduate Studies and the student’s adviser.
In addition to the field requirements, all students are required to complete the three core methodology courses: PSCI 8355 (Research Design), PSCI 8356 (Statistics for Political Research I), and PSCI 8357 (Statistics for Political Research II).
Students who receive a grade of B- or lower in any course must consult with the DGS and a faculty member in the student’s major field to discuss the student’s performance in the course and the program overall. The student may be asked to retake the course. Students receiving two or more grades of B or lower in PSCI courses in any semester OR a GPA lower than 3.3 in the first year or 3.4 thereafter in any semester may be placed on probation for unsatisfactory progress.
Doctoral students typically take 8000-level courses. Up to two courses at the 5000-, 6000-, and 7000-level may be taken for credit toward the degree. Students may take one upper-level undergraduate courses for credit toward the degree; any undergraduate courses must be approved in advance by the DGS.
Students may not count courses that are categorized on the department website as Methods courses toward a substantive subfield. Courses are categorized by subfield here.
Doctoral students seeking to transfer course credit from previous graduate study must consult with the DGS for approval. The student should email the DGS the name of the course they wish to transfer, what type of course or requirement they wish the course to count as, the syllabus for the course, and a transcript listing the grade received for the course. The DGS will consult with faculty who teach similar courses in the PSCI department to determine if the course is of similar intellectual level to a doctoral course and appropriate for the named requirement. In most cases, the DGS will not approve the transfer of more than one course or any course where the student received a grade lower than A.
Students who have completed their 42 didactic course hours should elect pre-candidate dissertation credits as PSCI 8999 or candidate dissertation credits as PSCI 9999, with the student’s major adviser serving as the course section instructor. Students should register for research credits up to 72 total hours. Candidates who have reached the required 72 credits should specify 0 credits of PSCI 9999, with the dissertation adviser as the course instructor. Note that international students maintain full student status even when registered for 0 credits of PSCI 9999, if they are enrolled as such.
Faculty assign grades of “S” (Satisfactory) or “U” (Unsatisfactory) to students enrolled in PSCI 8999 or 9999. Receipt of one grade of “U” in PSCI 8999 or PSCI 9999 will result in a student being placed on probation. Receipt of two successive grades of “U” would constitute two semesters out of compliance, which could result in a student being asked to leave the program.
Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR) Requirement
Research integrity is fundamental to good research. Vanderbilt University has an obligation to model, teach, and actively promote the responsible conduct of research in scholarship and science. The University requires all graduate students to complete online RCR training and participate in a discussion-based session to further explore the issues and challenges in conducting ethical research and scholarship.
To be in compliance with this requirement, all students must complete online CITI training for the social and behavioral sciences during their first semester of study. They must also participate in the A&S discussion session on RCR at the end of their second year; the full-day training is always scheduled for the Monday following graduation in May. These requirements must be fulfilled before a student may enter Ph.D. candidacy.
Please note: RCR training is NOT THE SAME as HSR/IRB compliance [completed in CITI].
Comprehensive exams allow students to demonstrate the breadth of their knowledge of their primary subfield and to develop original arguments about the state of scholarship in the field, preparing them to read for research puzzles and to develop graduate seminars in the future.
Students take one comprehensive exam for their first field at the end of the second year (May). In rare cases, students can petition the DGS to take comprehensive exams at a different time. Before taking the comprehensive exam, a student must have completed all outstanding incomplete courses and have taken three courses in their major field.
Students should consult with faculty in the subfield for subfield‐specific guidance on the content covered by comprehensive exams. Such consultation should occur in the spring of the second year (if not before).
A student who fails a comprehensive exam will enter probationary status and must petition the Graduate Committee to retake it in the fall of the third year. Normally, students can expect a second opportunity to sit for a comprehensive exam. However, students who are out of compliance with Department expectations (weak academic performance, incompletes, or poor performance in RA/TA work) may be denied that opportunity, and therefore denied further funding or asked to leave the program. This decision will be made by the Graduate Committee in consultation with faculty in the student’s first field.
Students may sit for a comprehensive examination no more than twice. Failure to make the second attempt or failure to pass on the second attempt by December 31st of the third year will prompt a review by the Graduate Studies Committee in consultation with the student’s adviser. In most cases, students who do not pass the comprehensive exam in two attempts will be dismissed from the program and denied further funding. The student may be eligible to receive a Terminal MA (see Degree Requirements).
A key part of academic training is the development of original research for publication. As such, students will write a second-year paper in which they advance original political science research, which would be sufficient quality to be presented at a major conference in political science.
Students will complete and present a solo-authored, article-length research paper by August of their third year in the program.
Second-year papers may draw from papers that were originally written for courses. However, it is generally the case that course papers will need substantial revision before becoming suitable second-year papers. Students may write second-year papers in fields other than their first or second fields.
Acceptable article length for most political science journals is 8,000 to 11,000 words, and second-year papers should be of a similar length. The article should take a structure similar to those common to the relevant subfield. In consultation with their adviser, students with demonstrated research ability may petition to the Graduate Committee to submit an NSF-style grant proposal in lieu of a research article for this requirement.
Students must identify an adviser for the second-year paper by the end of the fall semester of their second year. Second-year paper advisers may be the first-year adviser but are not required to be. Second-year paper advisers may go on to supervise dissertations but are not required to do so. Advisers must agree (certified in writing, to the graduate program coordinator) to serve this purpose by the time and day grades must be submitted to the University in the fall of the student’s second year. Students are advised to contact the DGS or their field chair if they are having difficulty identifying an adviser.
A complete draft of the paper must be submitted to the DGS for circulation to the department by a date set by the DGS, at least 7 days prior to the presentation date. Students will present the paper for all available political science faculty and graduate students at a session with all second-year students just before the beginning of the regular semester in August of their third year. The student’s second-year paper adviser will summarize the comments of the faculty who attend the presentation, so as to provide feedback to the reading committee and the student on the presentation.
Students may then revise the paper in response to comments, and they must submit the final manuscript to the DGS and their respective readers by August 31st of their third year. The final paper will be evaluated by the paper adviser and one additional faculty member chosen by the DGS and the Graduate Committee. The readers should use a DGS-provided rubric; they may also amend the rubric, depending on their preferences and the nature of the student’s project, but those expectations should be written into the rubric and shared with the student before they submit their first drafts. Final grades will be submitted to the student and DGS within one month after submission.
The paper can receive a pass, a low pass, or a failing grade on the paper. The DGS may mediate grade discrepancies. If the paper does not receive a passing grade, the student will enter probationary status and must petition the Graduate Committee to revise and resubmit the paper by no later than the end of the fall semester of their third year. Normally, students can expect a second opportunity to submit a second-year paper. However, students who are out of compliance with Department expectations (weak academic performance, incompletes, or poor performance in RA/TA work) may be denied that opportunity, and therefore denied further funding and/or asked to leave the program. This decision will be made by the Graduate Committee in consultation with faculty in the student’s first field.
Students may submit their second-year papers for evaluation no more than twice (they do not need to present the project a second time). Failure to make the second attempt or failure to pass on the second attempt by December 31st of the student’s third year will prompt a review by the Graduate Studies Committee in consultation with the student’s adviser. In most cases, students who do not pass the second-year paper in two attempts will be dismissed from the program and denied further funding. The student may be eligible to receive a Terminal MA (see Degree Requirements).
Qualifying Examination (i.e., Prospectus Defense)
To advance to candidacy, students must pass an oral Qualifying Exam, where they defend the dissertation prospectus. Before a Qualifying Exam may be scheduled, a student must have completed all 42 required didactic course hours, cleared any remaining “incomplete” grades, and passed the required comprehensive exam and second-year paper requirements. Ideally, students will defend the dissertation proposal by the end of the third year. Students who have not successfully defended the prospectus and advanced to candidacy by Sept. 1 of the 4th year in the program will be placed on probation. A student is allowed only two opportunities to pass the Qualifying Exam. Students who have not successfully defended the prospectus and advanced to candidacy by May 15th of the 4th year in the program will be denied further funding and/or asked to leave the program. Students with exceptional circumstances may petition the graduate committee and the graduate school for a one-year exception to this rule.
The student must have a minimum of four faculty on the Qualifying Examination (QE) committee. The composition of the committee should be made in consultation with the student’s major adviser, who will serve as chair of the dissertation committee, and the DGS. Three members of the QE committee must be members of the Vanderbilt University Department of Political Science. One member of the QE committee must be an “outside member,” who is a member of the Graduate Faculty at Vanderbilt or a faculty member at another institution.
There is no “standard” structure or format for a dissertation prospectus. Students should work with their main adviser(s) and committee members to determine what elements should be included in the submitted document. In general, the prospectus should include significant discussions of
- The research question(s) of the project/articles.
- A discussion of how the question(s) or puzzle(s) have been addressed in the major relevant scholarship.
- What the project’s/articles’ theoretical argument is and how it addresses the conflicts or debates outlined by the scholarship.
- The research strategy to be employed. How will the problem be investigated? Where appropriate, what analytical methods, types of evidence, data collection strategies, and sources will be employed?
- The proposed plan of study and timeline for completion of the project.
The Request to Schedule the Qualifying Examination Committee form must be filed with the Graduate School no later than two weeks before the student’s Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is to be held. This same form may be used to constitute the student’s QE committee members, if not already done. The required form is available at the Graduate School’s Form Locator website.
After passing the Qualifying Examination, the student must submit the Qualifying Examination Results form to the DGS. All members of the QE committee must sign this form. Only the DGS may file this completed form with the Graduate School. The required form is available at the Graduate School’s Form Locator website. Per the Graduate School’s rules, a student is allowed only two opportunities to pass the Qualifying Examination.
 Graduate Faculty at Vanderbilt include faculty members whose primary appointments are tenure‐track or tenured professors in departments or programs offering the MA or PhD outside of the Department of Political Science.
 All others (including individuals who are research‐track, clinical, or professional, or who are outside the university) must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School, via the Request to Schedule the Qualifying Examination Committee. Deviations in committee constitution must be approved by the DGS and the Graduate School.
Admission to Ph.D. Candidacy
A graduate student may become a candidate for the Ph.D. degree (also known as “All But Dissertation” or “ABD” status), upon recommendation of the DGS and the departmental faculty, by applying to the Vanderbilt Graduate school. Application for admission to candidacy requires the following:
- Completion of 42 hours of didactic coursework, including required courses, with no outstanding incomplete grades;
- Completion of the Graduate School’s RCR requirement;
- Passing the required comprehensive examination;
- Passing the second-year paper requirement;
- Approval of the dissertation prospectus and qualifying examination by the student’s approved committee; and
- Good standing in the Ph.D. program.
All students are required to be in candidacy by May 15 of their fourth year of study. Students not entering candidacy by this date may forfeit their funding and continuation in the program per consideration of the graduate committee and the Graduate School.
The department recommends that all students eligible for Ph.D. Candidacy apply at the same time for their master’s degree in passing.
A candidate for the Ph.D. degree must present a dissertation demonstrating technical competence in the field and research of an independent character. The dissertation must be completed within four years after a student has been admitted to candidacy for the degree (i.e., passed the Qualifying Exam and completed all other requirements for degree except the final dissertation submission and defense). Upon petition to the political science graduate committee and the Graduate School, a one-year extension of candidacy may be granted. If such a period has expired without successful completion of the dissertation, the student may be dismissed from the Graduate School.
Candidates must file an Intent to Graduate form with the Graduate School at least four months before they intend to graduate. Each graduation date has specific deadlines for filing and defending the dissertation. The required form is available via the YES portal.
Candidates must file a Request to Schedule Dissertation Defense form with the Graduate School at least two weeks before the date of the defense. The required form is available at the Graduate School’s Form Locator website. The candidate should also submit a copy of the completed dissertation to the Ph.D. committee at least two weeks prior to the dissertation defense. The committee reviews the dissertation and conducts the final examination. Instructions for submitting final copies of the approved dissertation can be found on the Graduate School website.
An important skill for academics, independent researchers, and non-profit organizations is to apply for funding to support the work that they do. Per College of Arts and Science regulations, all students are required to apply for at least one grant of any size from a funder external to Vanderbilt University by December 1 of their fifth year in the program to graduate. They should verify the submission by sending the confirmation email and the written proposal to the DGS for record-keeping.
The PSCI department expects that students will attend the subfield-relevant departmental workshop of their research area on a regular basis, especially in the first three years of the program.
Graduate Research Award
The department presents an annual award for the best graduate student research paper of the year. Papers presented at scholarly conferences, completed for coursework, or accepted for publication over the past academic year, including the summer before the previous academic year, are eligible. A paper may not win this award twice, that is, it cannot win in one year as a conference paper and in the following year as an article publication; it will be up to the committee to determine whether a submission is sufficiently similar to a previous award-winning paper to be disqualified from consideration. Only papers written by doctoral students are eligible. Students will be invited to self-nominate. A student may only have one paper per year under consideration for this award, and this includes co-authored papers. A paper is eligible only if all co-authors are current Vanderbilt students. Specifically, a paper co-authored with a faculty member or a non-Vanderbilt graduate student is not eligible.
RA and TA Requirements
Doctoral students are expected to work up to 19 hours per week each semester as a research assistant or teaching assistant for a faculty member or research center. At the discretion of the faculty member(s), students will assist in research activities or teaching courses.
At the end of the semester, students will be evaluated by the faculty member(s). These evaluations are used to assess the student’s progress in the program; they may also be used in awarding departmental research funds for workshops, training, or travel as well as the departmental awards for best paper or the TA award. Students who receive two unsatisfactory evaluations from two separate faculty members can have their funding revoked and be asked to leave the program.
Each doctoral student is allowed two service-free semesters during their funding period, in which they do not work as an RA or TA for the semester but remain funded. Students, in consultation with their faculty advisers and the DGS, may select when to use these service‐free semesters, provided that necessary teaching support is covered.
Erwin Hargrove Outstanding TA Award
The department will present an annual teaching award to a graduate student based on their annual performance. Students can self-nominate at the end of each academic year. Nomination materials should include a cover letter, student course evaluations, syllabi for courses taught, and a curriculum vita. Faculty observation letters and/or a statement of teaching philosophy are welcomed but not required. A student may win this award only once in his or her career. The winner of the teaching award will be chosen by the director of graduate studies and the placement director each summer.
Advising and Mentoring
Advising is a key element of doctoral training, as students learn by doing alongside their mentors. We strongly encourage multi-layered mentorship, such that a student will establish and maintain a network of cohort peers, advanced cohort peers, informal faculty mentors, formal committee members, and mentors external to the department. In this way, the many facets of substantive expertise, methodological expertise, professionalization, and emotional support can be addressed with many linked hands.
Upon entering the program, the DGS will advise incoming students as to initial course selections and assign to each a faculty adviser. This assignment will be based on the DGS’s evaluation of appropriate student-faculty matches based on student interests and faculty advising responsibilities, but students who have an adviser in mind are encouraged to say so. The initial adviser assignment is preliminary in nature and in no way reflects an assumption the adviser will remain an adviser throughout the program. The adviser’s primary responsibilities are as a point person for the graduate student to ask questions and seek advice.
The DGS has responsibility for advising on course planning, program requirements, student progress, and all other administrative matters.
Students are responsible for selecting their second-year paper adviser by the end of the fall semester of their second year in the program.
The expectation is that students will ultimately select their own dissertation adviser (or co-advisers) by the third year of the program; the graduate school form officially selecting their adviser should be submitted to the graduate school by September 1 of the student’s third year. Students may change advisers and committee members as needed, in consultation with and with approval from the DGS.
At the end of each semester, the DGS reviews all students’ records, combined with input from the subfield meetings and individual advisers, to determine how best to advise and support individual students, as well as to identify missing milestones that require reminders.
Each year, the faculty of each subfield will meet in late April or early May to discuss the progress of each student for whom that field is their primary field. The graduate committee subfield representative to the graduate studies committee will attend the meeting and bring any relevant information to the notice of the DGS.
At the end of the first year, the DGS will hold a meeting or meal with the first-year cohort to solicit their impressions, concerns, and suggestions related to their first year of study. This is an opportunity to improve the program and its community.
Before the beginning of their fifth semester in the program, each student participates in a mandatory Second-Year Review. The purpose of the Second-Year Review is to assess the student’s progress in the program and discuss the student’s next steps in the program.
Prior to the review, students are required to submit a Plan of Study form identifying a) their three fields; b) a list of completed and future courses taken to meet the requirements of the degree; c) when they plan to take the comprehensive examinations (if not complete or not passed); (d) their second-year paper adviser; (e) their plan and topic for their second-year paper; (f) their primary adviser; and (g) the general topic of the dissertation. The form is available from the DGS.
In the Second-Year Review, the student, their primary adviser(s) and the DGS will discuss the student’s progress and Plan of Study. Students making unsatisfactory progress may be asked to leave the program.
Progress Towards the Degree
A Five-Year Plan of Study
The Ph.D. program in political science is designed to make it feasible for students to complete coursework in two years, complete all major milestones by the end of year three, and be prepared to enter the academic job market in law and political science in the fall of year five.
This timeline describes a recommended course of study to complete the program in 5 years.
A Sixth Year of Funding
If students believe that they need a sixth year of tuition and stipend funding to complete the program, they should alert the DGS to the need for an additional year of funding by December 1 of their fifth year in the program. The graduate committee, with the input of the student’s adviser, will award a sixth year of funding to students who have made demonstrable progress toward the degree and can enumerate a credible plan to complete the degree by the end of the sixth year.
A seventh year of departmental funding will be granted in only very rare circumstances.
A Three-Year Plan of Study
Students who enter the Ph.D. program with three years of external funding, such as students funded by the US military, progress through the program on an accelerated track.
Policies to Enchance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Commitment to Enhance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Like Vanderbilt University, the Department of Political Science defines diversity broadly to include experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and identities. We believe such diversity among our faculty and students enhances the intellectual experience and achievements of this academic community. As such, we are committed to principles of equal opportunity and inclusion, and we encourage individuals from diverse, under-represented populations to apply to our program.
This graduate program seeks to:
- Continually improve the climate for current students from underrepresented groups to feel empowered and supported in our community and classrooms;
- Be aware of inequities in preparation and uneven challenges to success in the program and balance with support and mentoring wherever possible; and
- Give all students the tools to succeed in a diverse discipline.
We work hard to support all our students, especially those who face challenges or bias because of their backgrounds or identities. We have a gender-diverse faculty, with a large percentage of women and non-conforming persons in our faculty, relative to the wider discipline, and women at all ranks in the tenure ladder. We host social environments for discussing issues related to inequalities in the discipline. We also have professionalization programming to speak to issues relevant for all types of underrepresented minorities, whether relevant to identity diversity, gender, family status, socio-economic status, or other varieties of diversity; and all students who seek to support equity and inclusion in the academy.
Our program assumes students enter our program with various forms of preparation, so we begin methods training and professionalization from the ground up. This approach helps to support students who are first-generation college students, those who speak English as a second language, students with degrees in other disciplines, and other students who may have had different types of training in research skills. Our programming, like the week-long Math Camp prior to the first semester and the carefully designed sequence of methods course; our professionalization seminar; and our apprentice-like approach to research and teaching assistantships help support students of all backgrounds succeed in the Ph.D. program. Many of our faculty have received awards for their prowess at teaching and mentoring, which benefits all students in our program.
We foster a culture of cross-cutting interests. Students take courses in three fields and so participate in multiple intellectual communities within the department. Students meet and interact with faculty in all subfields, preventing intellectual or cultural silos within the department.
The Vanderbilt Graduate School policy for parental accommodations is as follows:
All students enrolled full-time in the Graduate School and supported by funding from either internal or external sources are covered by this policy. This includes students with funding through stipends, such as training grants or service-free fellowships, and students compensated for services, such as teaching assistants or research assistants. Students supported by external funding sources may be subject to additional rules of the granting agency regarding parental leave. Students are not employees and thus are not subject to the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Period of Leave
Prior to and/or following childbirth or adoption of an infant, the primary caregiver (whether mother or father) will be allowed to take six weeks of parental leave. During this period, the student’s current stipend, and, if applicable, funding for health insurance and tuition, will be continued without interruption. The student’s enrollment status will be continued during this period, as well.
If both parents are Vanderbilt graduate students, only one may take parental leave. The parental leave provided by this policy may be taken during the semester in which the child is born or adopted, or during any subsequent semester that begins no later than six months after the birth or adoption.
Advance notice and approval
The student must request a parental leave from her or his departmental chair, through the Director of Graduate Studies, at least three months prior to the beginning of the anticipated leave or, in the case of adoption, as soon as the adoption is confirmed. The request must be made in writing and, once approved by the department chair and Director of Graduate Studies, forwarded to the school dean’s office for approval and notification of the Graduate School. Students should also make appropriate arrangements as needed with their course instructors to make up any missed coursework during the leave period.
Documentation upon return
As soon as possible, the student must provide her or his departmental chair with (a) a copy of a birth certificate or, (b) in the case of adoption, written certification of child adoption from the adoption agency.
Students who wish or need to take a longer period of leave, without continuation of funding, may request a leave of absence for up to one year through the established policy of the Graduate School. Graduate students who are not receiving funding through Vanderbilt should request a leave of absence for childbirth or adoption if they anticipate an interruption in progress toward their degree.
The Graduate School policy is described in full here: https://gradschool.vanderbilt.edu/current_students/parental_leave.php
The Department will exercise flexibility in making accommodations in such a way that is not in conflict with Graduate School policies and requirements. Beyond the official six-week accommodation period, the student may request up to a one-semester delay in post-coursework requirements, including the second-year paper, comprehensive examinations, the prospectus defense, and, with a petition subject to the approval of the Graduate School, the deadline for entrance into candidacy at the beginning of the fourth year. The student should consult with the DGS in planning such arrangements.
It is important to note that parental accommodation is not a leave of absence. Students benefitting from accommodation are expected to maintain registration, remain in communication with their adviser and/or the DGS, and perform limited academic work as possible (e.g., reading) outside of the six-week leave period, assuming the good health of the student and the child(ren). They may be asked to do research assistant duties outside of the six-week leave period.
Students seeking accommodation should inform the DGS in writing at least three (3) months before accommodation is anticipated, unless unforeseen circumstances arise or religious reasons preclude doing so. The written request must indicate the expected birth or adoption date. The DGS will submit the student’s request for accommodation to the Graduate School and work with the student to exercise flexibility.
 These four paragraphs are copied verbatim from the Graduate School website as of January 2023.