Carnegie Mellon University
For All Students

For All Students

University wide policies

It is the responsibility of each member of the Carnegie Mellon community to be familiar with university policies and guidelines. In addition to this departmental graduate student handbook the following resources are available to assist you in understanding community expectations:


Students at Carnegie Mellon may register as either full-time or part-time students. Part-time registration is also possible on a per-unit fee basis, with a minimum of five units required for graduate student benefits. There is minimum residency of one year of full-time study for M.S. and M.A. students. Occasionally, master’s students continue into a fifth term, either for additional coursework, or to remain in residence (without taking classes) while completing their thesis. Written requests for either of these special arrangements should be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies by June of the summer preceding the proposed fifth term.

By CMU policy, all students must be registered students (minimum of five units) whenever they complete requirements, including defending and submitting a master's thesis. This will require paying tuition for those units. The registration requirement is waived during the summer if the student was enrolled full-time during the previous spring semester. The department cannot waive this requirement.

All Carnegie Mellon students who enroll for 19 or more units in a semester must pay the Student Activities Fee at the Cashier's Office. The monies generated by this fee are administered by the Student Government organization to support various campus activities. The Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) receives some of this money, and it in turn divides some of its allocation among graduate student departments.

Course requirements

Individual course requirements may be waived at the discretion of the Director of Graduate studies if the student has taken an equivalent graduate-level class at another institution. Students who would like to apply for a waiver should make an appointment to discuss the issue with the DGS as soon as possible. To this appointment, the student should bring a copy of the transcript for the relevant course and a copy of the syllabus for the course. The DGS will likely consult with an instructor of the CMU course to determine if the the courses are equivalent.

If a course is being used to fulfill a requirement, the student must have received a grade of B or higher.  Only graduate level (600 or above) level courses can be used to fulfill course requirements at both the masters and PhD level.

To receive a masters degree a student must have a QPA of 3.25 or higher at the time the degree is awarded.  This applies to students in both the masters and PhD programs who are seeking a masters degree. 

Thesis/Dissertation defense

It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for a thesis committee. Choosing faculty for the committee should be done in consultation with the student's advisor. Master's committees must include two faculty. Both Ph.D. and prospectus committees must include two members from within the department and one member from outside the department. The outside member may be from other departments at Carnegie Mellon or from another institution. The outside member must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies prior to the defense. All committees may include more members if this is desired.

Once the student's advisor has approved a draft of the thesis for a defense, the student should contact all committee member to arrange a date and time for the thesis defense. When a time has been arranged, the student should inform the Graduate Academic Coordinator of the time. The student must supply the Graduate Academic Coordinator with a copy of the thesis or dissertation no less than one week prior to the defense. This copy will be placed on display in the departmental office.

All defenses are open to the public and may be attended by anyone. It is not unusual for other faculty and students to attend thesis and dissertation defenses. After the defense, the faculty will deliberate in order to determine if the student (a) passed outright, (b) passed on condition that some changes are made to the document, or (c) failed the defense. Faculty who are not on the committee may participate in the private deliberation after the defense, but they do not have a formal vote on the outcome.

If a student fails the defense, they must make schedule another one. They cannot advance in the program or be awarded the degree until they have passed a defense and made all required changes to the thesis document. Failing a defense does not extend any deadlines for remaining in good standing. Students who have been passed with changes required will not be regarded as having completed that stage of the degree until after the required changes have been turned in and approved by the committee.

By default, any faculty member on the research, teaching, or tenure track whose primary appointment is in the philosophy department may serve a member of the committee. Any member who is not on one of these tracks, or who is not a member of the philosophy department, must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies who may consult with other members of the faculty.

Seminar and colloquia attendance

The department sponsors seminars and colloquia by researchers from within and outside Carnegie Mellon, which are attended by faculty, graduate students, and staff. Students are encouraged to meet and interact with these visiting scholars. This is extremely important, both to get a sense of the academic projects that are pursued outside Carnegie Mellon and to get to know the leaders of such projects. This applies not only to seminars directly relevant to a student’s research interests; the seminars provide an opportunity to widen one’s perspective on the field.

Courses taken outside of the Philosophy Department

Students are encouraged to take courses in other departments at Carnegie Mellon to broaden their training; indeed, the interdisciplinary character of all our programs demands that. Full-time students may also take one course per semester at the University of Pittsburgh without having to pay additional tuition. Such courses appear on the student’s transcripts and count toward requirements (if appropriate). Students should discuss their plans for taking cross-registration courses with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Leaves of absence

Students must apply in writing for leaves of absence. Students are only permitted four consecutive semesters on leave of absence before being withdrawn from the graduate program, unless explicit permission is provided by the Director of Graduate Studies. Students who have been withdrawn must apply for readmission to the graduate program.

In general, two kinds of leaves are recognized: professional and personal. Professional leaves include periods away from a program when working as an intern or trainee on a job or when participating in extended research or educational activities at other institutions. No support is available for professional leaves. Personal leaves include limited periods away from a program for personal reasons, e.g., maternity leaves or illness. Personal leaves need not result in full- time absences. In cases where a student on support wishes to maintain part-time registration in a program, e.g., to take a reduced load of classes during a period of partial personal leave, pro-rata support may be requested. Long-term personal leaves are discouraged.

While the department does not currently have formal maternity or paternity leave, the department is committed to supporting our graduate students who chose to have families. Graduate students who are considering this should discuss what arrangements are possible with their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Because of legal circumstances outside the control of the department, leaves are complicated for foreign students who are on student visas. The department will do what it can to support both professional and personal leaves for these students, but such students should be aware of the constraints imposed by United States immigration law. Any concerns should be discussed with the Director of Graduate Studies.


Students who wish to participate in the May commencement ceremony may do so as long as they have (a) completed all requirements for their degree prior to the commencement or (b) the Director of Graduate Studies provides certification, in writing, that the student will complete his or her degree prior to August of that calendar year. Students who are expected to complete their degree requirements later than the August deadline are allowed to participate in the ceremony the following year. In all cases, only students who have fulfilled their graduation requirements by the May deadline receive their actual diplomas or doctoral hoods during the May commencement ceremony.

As soon as the student has decided to participate in the ceremony, they should inform their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies so that a suitable representative from the department can attend the ceremony to award the degree. After a student is certified for a degree (either M.S./M.A. or Ph.D.), it is the responsibility of the student to provide a final copy of the thesis or dissertation to the CMU library. If the student fails to submit a final version within six months, then the department will submit the most recent version provided to the advisor on his or her behalf, regardless of possible substantive or typographical errors. Students are thus strongly encouraged to ensure that a fully-corrected version is submitted within six months of certification.



Although Pittsburgh does not have the crime problems of many major American cities, theft and assault remain threats on or near the Carnegie Mellon campus. Students should be careful with their belongings and should avoid walking alone in poorly lit or remote areas. For the safety of everyone, and in the interests of protecting our valuable equipment, it is extremely important that all students be very careful about the security of the department. In particular, students should make sure that their office windows are locked, when leaving for the day. After regular office hours, the lobby doors of all suites should be kept locked. People not affiliated with the department should be admitted to the departmental suites only if known or if accompanied by a department member. If strangers are found in the wing after hours, they should be asked to identify themselves and their purpose for being there; if the situation is uncomfortable, Security (Campus Police) should be called at extension 8-2323.

Public spaces

Out of courtesy to everyone in the department, all common areas (i.e., kitchenettes, lounges, and copy room) should be kept in good shape. Dirty dishes and utensils should not be left in the kitchenettes; spills should be cleaned immediately. The refrigerators are for short-term storage only; all items should be removed after a few days, before any spoilage occurs. All items in the copy room should be returned to their proper places immediately after use. The lounges/seminar rooms should be kept in order. Student offices and other spaces with more than one occupant (like the Laboratory for Symbolic and Educational Computing) are quasi-public spaces, and the same courtesy considerations should be applied.

New policies

When policies are changed, it is because the department believes the new rules offer an improvement; any such changes will be discussed at a meeting with the graduate students. However, students currently enrolled whose degree program is affected by a change in policy may choose to be governed by the older policy that was in place at the time of their matriculation. In case degree requirements are changed and certain courses are no longer offered, the department will try to find some compromise that allows those students to satisfy the original requirements.