Carnegie Mellon University
For Ph.D. Students

For Ph.D. Students

The programs leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy strike a balance between theoretical and applied work while preparing students for careers in academia, research, industry, and government. In addition to their course studies and assigned duties, doctoral students are expected to participate in seminar and workshop courses, assist in teaching, and aid in research projects.

En route to satisfying their programs’ core requirements, doctoral students must complete one Master's degree (although some students complete two). For students in the Philosophy and Logic, Computation, and Methodology (LCM) tracks, this M.S. or M.A. degree must be from within the department. Some students also opt to complete Master's degrees in other departments, which may be done at any time during the student's career at Carnegie Mellon.

Students in the PAL program who already have a masters in mathematics may apply to have the masters requirement waived. The Director of Graduate studies in consultation with other members of the faculty will determine if the masters degree will be taken to satisfy the requirement. If a student's master degree requirement is waived their funding guarantee from the department will be reduced by one year. The student can retain this year of support if the student opts to pursue a separate masters degree in Logic, Computation, and Methodology. Waiving the masters requirement does not waive the research paper requirement.


All students are expected to meet with their advisor (or DGS if no advisor has been chosen) at least once a semester to discuss coursework and to have their course schedule for the next semester approved.

Ph.D. students are encouraged to talk to many different faculty about advising opportunities during their first year. Ph.D. students must have chosen a faculty supervisor for the master's thesis before the beginning of their second year. Students should approach potential advisors and request that the faculty member advise them. Whether or not a faculty member serves as an advisor is at the faculty member's discretion – the faculty member can say no. Some students have opted to have more than one co-advisor. This is acceptable so long as all parties agree to the arrangement.

After the master's degree is completed, the student must again select an advisor for the Ph.D. While many students remain with the same advisor, there is no obligation on the part of the student or faculty member to remain with each other. Students are encouraged to explore other options, and may select a different advisor if they so choose. Faculty who have supervised a student's Master's thesis may decline to supervise that student's Ph.D.

By default, any faculty member on the research, teaching, or tenure track whose primary appointment is in the philosophy department may serve as an advisor. If the student would like to be supervised by a faculty member who is not in these tracks, or a faculty member from another department, they must secure permission from the Director of Graduate Studies who may consult with other members of the faculty.

Research and teaching

During their first semester at Carnegie Mellon, doctoral students typically do not serve as teaching assistants because they are expected to begin focusing on areas of interest with department faculty. This initial research ideally lays the groundwork for the students’ future thesis work, including learning the state-of-the-art in a particular research area or studying a technical or formal framework. Students are strongly advised to start identifying a research area early on, as this is necessary for timely completion of the master’s thesis.

Beginning in the second semester, doctoral students are expected to serve as teaching assistants. This may be done in a variety of ways, e.g., as a grader or as a TA who conducts office hours and leads discussion and review sections. While the department recognizes that not all doctoral students desire academic employment upon completion of the degree, it is committed to preparing all students to ably pursue this option. To this end, doctoral students are required to serve as TAs or graders for at least two semesters, and are strongly encouraged to gain the experience necessary to be allowed full responsibility for one or more courses.

Detailed information on being a TA can be found in the Philosophy Department Teaching Assistant Handbook. In addition, the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence offers regular seminars to help students refine their teaching methods and also make use of appropriate technology.

Students working with individuals under the age of 18 may be required to obtain clearances under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, known as "Act 153", including the following clearances: (1) a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) a Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) a Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Background Check (collectively, the "Clearances"). The FBI Criminal Background Check requires you to submit your fingerprints at an authorized fingerprint site. If the University determines that you are covered by Act 153, we will notify you and assist you in obtaining the clearances. Failure to obtain any required clearances may impact your ability to serve as a teaching or research assistant.

Graduate students may also have the opportunity to work as RAs during a semester, instead of as a teaching assistant or grader. Students working as RAs are expected to work 15 hours per week.


To remain in good standing Ph.D. students in the LCM and Philosophy tracks must complete the M.S. or M.A. degree by the end of the Spring term (defined as CMU's Commencement) in year 3. Students in the PAL track must complete the Master's degree in mathematics by the end the Spring term in year 4, although they are strongly encouraged to finish it earlier. Students in the PAL track must defend their research paper by the end of the Spring term in year 3. All students must complete and successfully defend a prospectus by the end of Spring term in year 4. In addition, students must be making adequate progress toward completing their degree requirements. Finally, students must be completing their TA, grading, or research assistant duties adequately.

Should a student receive a failing grade in any graduate level course, they will be placed in bad standing and prohibited from enrolling in the next semester. Any student who has committed academic misconduct in a course, regardless of final grade, will be placed in bad standing. Students may petition for special consideration which will be considered by the faculty as a whole.

If a student is placed in bad standing, then that student cannot enroll in classes and they will no longer be provided with any financial support. For foreign students, this will jeopardize their student visa. A student in bad standing must apply to be returned to good standing and allowed to re-enroll. Removing students from bad standing is done at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Department Head.

Financial support

Tuition and health benefits

Financial support awards are made in the initial offer letters admitting students to the graduate program. Please see the graduate student FAQ for information about the regular financial packages offered to students.


All Ph.D. students in good standing are provided with a stipend. To receive this stipend, the student must serve as a grader, teaching assistant, or research assistant. Doctoral students may receive financial support through outside fellowships awarded, for example, by the National Science Foundation. These external awards typically provide partial tuition support and a stipend. The department often supplements partial tuition awards to provide full tuition support for doctoral students. The Fellowships and Scholarships Office provides useful information on external fellowships.

Students who successfully defend their Master's thesis or PAL research paper by the end of Fall Term (defined as the Friday before the start of Spring Term) in year 3 will receive an additional semester release from teaching or grading duties, typically to be taken in the Spring of year 3, as well as one additional month of unencumbered summer support.

Students who successfully defend a prospectus by the end of Fall Term in year 4 will receive one additional month in unencumbered summer support.

When the department admits a doctoral student with financial support, it does so with the expectation that full support will be continued through the fifth year of study, provided the student is making satisfactory progress. Students who have defended a prospectus are enrolled with "ABD" (All But Dissertation) status. Each January and June, the Director of Graduate Studies will write a letter to each student outlining academic progress. The Department's commitment of support for the following academic year will be made in the June letter. Support beyond five years will be decided year-to-year based on circumstances and is not guaranteed for any student.

Students are expected to perform their grading, teaching assistant, or research assistant duties to the satisfaction of the faculty member supervising that work. Should a student demonstrate an unwillingness to perform the required duties in a satisfactory way, this may jeopardize their funding.

Research and travel expenses

Students are provided with an office budget, which can be used for copying and other course- and research-related expenses. These research-related funds carry over from year to year.

Students in their first three years will have departmental support to travel to one conference per year in order to present a paper. If the paper is coauthored, the student must be doing some or all of the presentation at the conference. And, the department will only support one student per paper.

Students must contact the Director of Graduate Studies when they apply to a conference to determine if the department can provide financial support. Financial support for conference travel is not guaranteed. When contacting the Director of Graduate Studies, students should provide the following information:

  1. Name and website of the conference
  2. Title of paper
  3. An estimate of the costs including hotel, registration, transportation
  4. Approximate date for acceptance or rejection

Students in years four through six will receive additional personal funds for conference-related travel support. These funds do not carry over from year to year. All requests for travel reimbursement regardless of source must be approved in advance by the Director of Graduate Studies.

No support for conference travel will be provided to students after year six.

Summer teaching

One common way in which Ph.D. students earn summer support is through organizing and teaching their own course. Graduate students teach for one of two six-week periods of summer school; compensation is a function of enrollment. This is a good way of gaining teaching experience, as this is an important opportunity the department provides for independent teaching of courses. However, it is standard policy that teaching assignments for particular courses will be given only to students who have assisted those courses previously.

Outside employment

During the academic year, full-time doctoral students in the department are expected to devote full-time attention and energy to their educational, teaching, and research endeavors. This is true for students on departmental fellowships as well as students who are serving as a TA or grader. Coursework and research assignments are planned to completely occupy full-time students, which ordinarily precludes outside employment and consulting. Doctoral students are asked to decline such work and concentrate on their graduate studies, with their stipends serving as financial compensation.

Only in exceptional cases, which would provide helpful experience in addition to remuneration, may doctoral students pursue opportunities for outside consulting or employment. Regardless, coursework, research, and teaching assignments must take precedence over outside work. Before assuming outside commitments all full-time graduate students must consult the Director of Graduate Studies, their academic advisor, or the Department Head. Also, students should be careful about consulting where conflict-of-interest and intellectual property issues may arise.

Job placement

The Philosophy Department conducts activities and procedures intended to help its graduate students find employment after graduation - both in academics and in the private sector. The Graduate Academic Coordinator coordinates these activities. The vigorous, early support of the department presupposes a realistic expectation that a student is going to graduate before the start date of the position. For academic positions that begin in the fall of an academic year two conditions have to be satisfied: (i) a good talk is prepared and presented to the department by December of the previous academic year; (ii) in the judgment of the student's advisor and thesis committee the dissertation will be completed no later than the summer prior to the start of the job.

The placement dossier contains all supporting materials that are sent in an application for a position. It generially includes at least a curriculum vitae, three (confidential) letters of reference (generally from faculty members), and for academic positions a writing sample, a statement of research interests, and teaching documentation. For more information about this last element, please see the Philosophy Department Teaching Assistant Handbook.

To facilitate efficient handling, particularly of confidential portions, dossiers can be administered by the University's Career Center at the initiation of the student. The Career Center provides a credential service and maintains a file of the materials to be sent to prospective employers upon request. If, for any reason, a student is not comfortable utilizing the Career Center, the Graduate Academic Coordinator may maintain a file in the department.