Requirements for Candidates for Doctoral Degrees

Admission to Doctoral Work

For masters’ degree candidates intending to continue into the doctoral program in the same graduate program, the student’s graduate committee, at a designated time near the completion of the student’s masters’ work, decides whether or not to admit the student to the doctoral program. For entry into a UH Hilo doctoral program from a masters’ program at another university, or from a masters’ program in a different discipline at UH Hilo, students follow the regular graduate application and admission procedures.

Beginning the Program

At the beginning of the student’s doctoral work, the chair of the graduate program appoints a primary academic advisor or graduate committee (whose chair is the principal advisor). The initial advisor assists the student in planning coursework and in understanding the program structure and requirements; the advisor has primary responsibility for monitoring the progress of the student’s work. The advisor may or may not become the student’s graduate committee chair at a later stage in his or her studies. The initial advisor should meet with the student at least once each semester.

Requirements for a Doctoral Degree

The Graduate Catalog stipulates the specific requirements for the doctoral degree in each program. The requirements include:

  1. Maintenance of at least a B average in courses approved by the program’s graduate committee and presented for the degree.
  2. Fulfillment of all program course requirements (no credit is granted for graduate courses in which a grade lower than B- has been received).
  3. Completion of at least 24 credit hours in residence regardless of any previous graduate coursework elsewhere. Students continuing their studies for a doctoral degree in the same UH Hilo program from which they earned their masters’ degree need not fulfill a second residence requirement.
  4. Continuous registration including the semester in which final degree requirements are completed.
  5. Demonstration to the graduate committee by means of a comprehensive examination (written and/or oral) of familiarity with basic hypotheses and techniques of the discipline and competence in applying them.
  6. Fulfillment of any research skills requirements.
  7. Submission of a dissertation on a topic approved by the department or school, embodying the results of original research and giving evidence of high scholarship.
  8. Successful defense of the dissertation at a final oral examination.
  9. Completion of any other requirements specific to the graduate program.

Research Skills Requirements

Each graduate program establishes foreign language reading competency or equivalent research skills for its students. The graduate program determines the method(s) to be used to fulfill these requirements. Graduate students may register for research skills courses that have been established in each program.

Formation of Dissertation Committee

By the end of the second semester of course work in a doctoral program, Form 1: Graduate Committee Formation should be submitted.

Committees are formed and modified (if necessary) by mutual agreement between the student and the faculty. The principal dissertation supervisor serves as chair of the graduate committee. Faculty are not required to serve on a particular dissertation committee if they do not wish to, and they are entitled to withdraw from a dissertation committee for reasonable cause. Faculty members from outside the student’s own department or school may serve on the dissertation committee, but they do not replace the outside examiner, who is appointed by the VCAA before the final oral examination is scheduled.

Visiting, affiliate, and research faculty of UH Hilo (not holding the rank of Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor) may be appointed to a dissertation committee by the VCAA or designee upon recommendation of the program for a period not to exceed their term appointment at UH Hilo. If such term appointment is renewed, the member may continue to serve on the student’s graduate committee.

Outside Member

  1. In consultation with his or her committee chair, the student will identify a UH faculty member from outside of the student’s graduate program to serve as an outside voting member of the dissertation committee.
  2. The outside member must possess sufficient familiarity with the student’s research topic to be able to review and comment on the manuscript.
  3. The committee chair must ascertain that the outside member is indeed independent of the faculty in the student’s graduate program and that his or her membership on the committee will not constitute any conflict of interest.

The outside member fulfills the following functions:

  1. Represents the University faculty on the committee, ensuring administration of proper procedures and fair treatment of the student;
  2. Ensures that the level of research is indeed appropriate to the student’s degree objective; and
  3. Provides disciplinary expertise and an academic perspective that may not be possessed by the faculty of the student’s graduate program.

The approval process for the outside member is as follows:

  1. The student and committee chair will forward the name of the proposed outside committee member to the Graduate Council.
  2. If the Graduate Council affirms the selection, the name will be sent forward to the VCAA for final approval.
  3. If the Graduate Council does not affirm the selection, the VCAA will determine how to resolve the disagreement; final selection will rest with the VCAA if the disagreement cannot be resolved between the candidate/committee chair and the Graduate Council.

External Examiner

The VCAA or designee, upon recommendation from the graduate program, adds an external examiner to the examination committee as the representative of the Graduate Division and the university. The external examiner is either a UH Hilo faculty member from a related area outside the student’s graduate program or someone from a related discipline outside the University. Normally, the external examiner will have no involvement in the supervision of the student’s dissertation. The external examiner’s function on the examination committee is to render an independent judgment and to assure that the dissertation satisfies Graduate Division standards. Because the external examiner is supposed to serve the Graduate Division, s/he therefore must have substantial experience evaluating the scholarship/research of doctoral students (e.g., by being part of a graduate program, on graduate committees, supervising graduate research).

In special circumstances, particularly when a student would benefit from early counsel from a faculty member outside UH Hilo, the department chair or director of graduate studies can petition the VCAA or designee to appoint an external examiner while the dissertation is still being written. If the nominee is from another institution, the program chair should forward the nominee’s academic credentials, including a vita, to the VCAA or designee to be evaluated. The VCAA or designee then invites the nominee or another faculty member to serve as external examiner.

Comprehensive Examination

A comprehensive or proficiency examination is used to test candidates’ specialized knowledge in the discipline and to demonstrate that they are qualified to undertake advanced-level dissertation work. The comprehensive examination may be written and/or oral.

The student’s graduate committee serves as the examination committee, and this body determines the outcome of the examination. The student may repeat all or part of the comprehensive examination only once without prior approval from the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (VCAA) or designee. The student has five years to complete the doctorate after passing the comprehensive examination.

Once the comprehensive examination has been successfully passed, the program should complete the Comprehensive Exam Reporting Form (PDF) and submit it to the Graduate Division.

Dissertation Planning

After the student passes the comprehensive examination, the student’s graduate committee will oversee the dissertation work. The committee will include an additional member chosen from a field outside the graduate program or from a similar field but from a different university, approved by the VCAA or designee. Based on the student’s recommendations, the committee is appointed by the chair of the student’s graduate program. Two of the three regular members of the committee must be full time faculty at UH Hilo. Students must receive approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for theses involving human subjects or from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee for dissertations involving use of vertebrate animals. IRB approval, where appropriate, must be sought at the time of approval of the dissertation topic, and research on the dissertation may not commence until after IRB approval is granted. Where appropriate, permission from other entities, such as the [Institutional Biosafety Committee][1], may be required.


The prospectus functions to identify the topic to be undertaken in the dissertation and to formalize the approval of the project by a faculty committee. The timing, format, length, and conventions governing the prospectus are set by each graduate program. If the student’s program requires a prospectus, the student should submit it within six months after being admitted to candidacy; the prospectus must first be approved by the dissertation committee. In a conventional prospectus, a student is asked to identify a topic, to summarize relevant backgrounds, and to explain the approach. Some programs substitute for the prospectus another means of ensuring that the student’s project has been identified clearly and has received written approval by each member of the committee.

Before approving the dissertation project, the chair of the graduate committee is encouraged to arrange a conference with the student and the other committee members for the purpose of discussing the research topic. Each program must inform doctoral students of its expectations, standards, and procedures regarding the prospectus or other approval of dissertation projects and must provide access to samples of accepted proposals or prospectuses. Graduate programs should include specific information about their expectations for a prospectus in advising manuals for graduate students.

Admission to Candidacy

After the student has passed the comprehensive examinations and met all research skills and coursework requirements, as certified by the program’s submission of the Form 2: Thesis/Project/Dissertation Proposal (PDF) form, he or she will be officially admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree by the VCAA. Intra- and inter-program majors and minors should be declared at this time where applicable.

At least two semesters normally elapse between admission to candidacy and the granting of the degree. Doctoral candidates must complete all requirements for the degree, including the dissertation, within five years after admission to doctoral candidacy.

Dissertation Defense

The graduate committee has direct charge of all matters pertaining to the dissertation. The student’s dissertation must have the unanimous approval of his or her dissertation committee and of the chair of the graduate program before arrangements are made for the final examination for the degree. Members of the student’s graduate committee serve as the examination committee.

Final Oral Exam (Dissertation Defense)

After the student’s program has been notified of the appointment of an external examiner, the program director, in conjunction with the chair of the examination committee, may proceed to schedule the final oral examination. Because of the time required to give adequate consideration to the student’s research, the student should submit the dissertation to the graduate committee well in advance of the final oral defense. Normally, two months is recommended; the student should consult the committee.

The final oral examination is open to any person wishing to attend. Members of the graduate committee must be given sufficient time to question the candidate about the dissertation. The final defense is a public examination, however, and the committee chair is responsible for the conduct of an open and impartial examination, including reasonable participation by observers. At the conclusion of the examination, it is customary for the chair to request that everyone except the graduate committee leave the room, so that the members may reach a decision. This procedure should not be invoked at any other time during the examination and should not preclude questions from either committee members or outside observers. The final oral examination shall not exceed 4 hours in length. No member of a graduate committee can be expected to participate in a dissertation defense if that member has not had at least two weeks to read and consider the dissertation beforehand.

At the final examination, the student will be required to respond to examiners’ questions concerning the dissertation and to defend the validity of the dissertation. To pass, the student must receive unanimous approval from the total graduate committee present. All members of the graduate committee who accept the dissertation in partial fulfillment of requirements for the doctorate shall so attest by their signatures on Form 3: Thesis/Project/Dissertation and Degree Requirements Completion (PDF). If the external examiner does not signify approval in this manner, he or she should give the reason for dissent by submitting a separate memorandum to the VCAA or designee within three days of the examination.

If at the final examination the examiners generally approve of the dissertation but require significant changes and are not yet prepared to sign Form 3: Thesis/Project/Dissertation and Degree Requirements Completion (PDF), the chair of the graduate committee will coordinate with other members of the committee to compile all required changes and will inform the student of the scope and substance of those changes. The committee will establish how the changes will be reviewed and approved.

Following the oral exam and approval of the dissertation, and with the signatures of the members of the dissertation committee, the student submits Form 3: Thesis/Project/Dissertation and Degree Requirements Completion to the Graduate Division, indicating that the student has now fulfilled all academic requirements for the doctoral degree, including submission to Mookini Library via ETD Administrator, and has successfully defended the dissertation. The Graduate Division obtains the final two signatures.

Remote Participation

Normally, all members of the graduate committee and the outside examiner are present at the defense. At the discretion of the program, with the unanimous consent of all members of the graduate committee and the student, committee members or the outside examiner may participate in the defense via real-time teleconferencing or real-time videoconferencing. In all cases, the chair and at least one other member of the dissertation committee must be physically present.

If in exceptional circumstances one member of the graduate committee cannot be present (either physically or virtually), they may submit questions and comments in writing. Such arrangements must be approved in advance by the program and must have the unanimous consent of all other members of the graduate committee and the student.


Degree completion deadlines are noted in the University calendar.

Degree Conferral and Commencement

As noted under Master’s degree requirements.

Completion Letter

Students who complete all degree requirements well in advance of the awarding of the degree may, upon request, receive a statement from the Office of the Registrar certifying that all requirements for the degree have been completed.

Checklist for Completion of Degree Requirements of Doctoral Degree

  1. Graduate program: Assigns principal academic advisor and graduate committee.
  2. Student: Submits Form 1: Graduate Committee Formation (PDF).
  3. Student:: Satisfies residence and course requirements.
  4. Student: Passes research skills examinations (if required).
  5. Graduate program: Arranges comprehensive examination.
  6. Student: Takes comprehensive examination.
  7. Student: Writes a prospectus.
  8. Student:: Submits Form 2: Thesis/Project/Dissertation Proposal (PDF) when ready to begin the dissertation and advance to candidacy.
  9. Student: Maintains appropriate registration for dissertation credit each semester, including semester in which all degree requirements will be completed.
  10. Student: Completes dissertation.
  11. Graduate program: Nominates Outside Member by memo to the Chair of Graduate Council who then forwards his/her recommendation to the VCAA or designee.
  12. VCAA or designee: Appoints Outside Member and so notifies the graduate program.
  13. Graduate program: Nominates External Examiner by memo to the VCAA or designee.
  14. VCAA or designee: Appoints External Examiner and so notifies the graduate program.
  15. Student:: Submits Graduation Application form and fee to the Business Office by the required deadline. If student wants to participate in Commencement exercises, student submits the separate Commencement Registration by the required deadline.
  16. Student:: Submits a copy of the Thesis/Project/Dissertation Defense Schedule (PDF) form to the Graduate Division one month prior to the defense deadline posted in the University Academic Calendar. Student retains the original until the time of the defense, and submits the completed form to the Graduate Division with the Primary Advisor’s signature indicating successful (or unsuccessful) completion of the defense.
  17. Student:: Defends and completes dissertation.
  18. Student:: Obtains signatures of committee members on Form 3: Thesis/Project/Dissertation and Degree Requirements Completion (PDF).
  19. Student:: Submits dissertation on ETD Administrator.
  20. Student:: Obtains initials of the Collection Development Librarian (or designee) on Form 3, then submits form to the Graduate Division by the required deadline posted in the University Academic Calendar. The Graduate Division obtains final signatures.