Chapter 6 - The Graduate Program of Study

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The Graduate College Handbook outlines the general requirements for completion of a graduate degree at ISU. Faculty in a major field have the responsibility for establishing educational objectives for their graduate program, including specific course requirements and research requirements appropriate to the master’s or Ph.D. programs in the major. These requirements may place additional responsibilities on the student, the major professor, or the student’s program of study (POS) committee beyond those listed in the Graduate College Handbook as deemed appropriate to the goals of the major program.

Faculty and graduate students are active participants in the academic programs of Iowa State University.  As active participants, they have a collective impact on the success of those programs and of the university in fulfilling its mission.  Each graduate program is encouraged to implement a mechanism for responding to feedback from graduate students as a valuable resource for continuing improvement.

6.1 - POS Committee

New graduate students at ISU may be assigned a temporary academic adviser by the major program in the first semester of the student’s residence. This advisor guides the student in selection of a field of study and in development of a graduate program of study until the major professor and POS committee are selected. After the POS committee has been selected, it guides and evaluates the student during the remainder of graduate study. Among the committee’s duties are:

  • reviewing periodically the progress of the student;
  • advising a student during the development of the creative component, the thesis, or the dissertation;
  • considering and approving the student’s program of study as well as changes in the program of study;
  • reading the creative component, thesis, or dissertation; and
  • conducting the preliminary oral examination (for Ph.D. candidates) and the final oral examination (for master’s and Ph.D. candidates).

Individual graduate programs may add other responsibilities for the POS committee.

Early selection of a major professor, appointment of a POS committee, and development of a program of study are very important. It is recommended that the committee be formed as early as the second semester of graduate study. The Program of Study and Committee appointment form (POSC) must be approved by the Graduate College no later than the term before the preliminary oral examination (doctoral candidates) or final oral examination (master’s candidates). In order for the POSC to be approved in any given term, the online form must be submitted to the Graduate College by the published deadline for that term.  To select a committee, the student must:

  • identify your department’s or program’s POSC requirements and deadlines (in addition to the Graduate College requirements).
  • complete the online Program of Study Committee form, and begin the online approval process. Committee members and the program’s Director of Graduate Education (DOGE) must approve it.
  • check the status as it moves through the approval process; send emails to faculty who seem slow to respond.
  • check to be sure it is approved by the Graduate College.

6.2 - POS Committee Makeup

6.2.1 The Major Professor

The major professor, who must be a member of the graduate faculty in the student’s declared major, serves as chair of the POS committee. (For information about graduate faculty, see Appendix G; for responsibilities of the major professor, see Chapter 6.)

6.2.2 Co-major Professors

A master’s or doctoral degree student may have two or more major professors who serve as co-chairs of the POS committee. Co-chairs are required in the following instances:

  • When a student has a co-major, each of the major fields must be represented by a different major professor, which will require the designation of co-major professors. However, the same person, if a faculty member in both majors, will be allowed to serve as major professor for both majors.
  • When master’s or Ph.D. work is administered through a program in which the largest share of course credits is taken, but the research is conducted or shared with another program or major and also supervised by a graduate faculty member in that program, both the master’s or dissertation supervisor and a member of the graduate faculty from the program in which the degree will be granted can be designated as co-major professors.
  • An approved committee for a double degree must include co-major professors from each of the programs. Only certain programs have been approved for double degrees (see Chapter 4).   
  • If a term member of the graduate faculty is chosen as major professor for a POS committee, a co-major professor who is a full member of the graduate faculty must also be identified.
  • If a major professor resigns or retires from the university, he/she may continue to serve, but a co-major professor who is a member of the graduate faculty must also be identified.

In all cases where there are co-major professors, both must sign on all required forms to be submitted to the Graduate College.

6.2.3 Members of the Committee

Members and Term Graduate Faculty Members. Any graduate faculty member or term graduate faculty member (see Appendix G) may serve as a member of a master’s or doctoral POS committee.

Member(s) from Outside the Student’s Field of Emphasis. The outside graduate faculty member(s) of the POS committee provide relevant specialized knowledge or a different perspective helpful to the planning, execution, and reporting of research, or some aspect of intellectual diversity deemed important by the committee and/or major.

Member(s) from a Minor. If a graduate minor has been declared, a graduate faculty member from the minor program or interdepartmental minor must serve on the POS committee. The major professor and the representative from the minor field may not be the same person.

Retired Faculty. Retired ISU graduate faculty members may serve as members only (not as major professors) on newly formed master’s or doctoral committees as long as they are willing to participate actively.

Resigned Faculty. Graduate faculty members who have resigned but are currently serving on an approved committee may continue to serve in that capacity. They may not be appointed to any new committee.

Affiliates. Affiliates are professionals who are not employed by Iowa State University, but have been officially appointed as an affiliated faculty member and a Term Graduate Faculty member. Affiliates can serve as committee members or as a co-major professor. They cannot serve as a stand-alone major professor.  Affiliates must establish an ISU e-mail address to be included in the routing process for Program of Study and Committee (POSC) forms. To establish Affiliate status, a letter of intent (rank only) must be approved through the Provost’s Office and then a Nomination for Graduate Faculty Term Membership form must be submitted and approved through the Graduate College.

Additional Non-voting Members. When a non-member of the Graduate Faculty possesses expertise particularly relevant to the student’s field of study, he or she may serve informally on either the master’s or the doctoral POS Committee as an additional non-voting member. The non-voting member does not sign the online POSC. Non-voting members are invited but not required to attend all committee functions.

6.2.4 Doctoral POS Committee Makeup

The POS committee for a doctoral program consists of at least five members of the graduate faculty. It must include at least three members, including the major professor, from within the student’s major or program. The committee must include member(s) from different fields of emphasis so as to ensure diversity of perspectives. A term member of the graduate faculty may participate in the direction of a student’s dissertation research as a co-major professor if a full member of the graduate faculty serves as a co-major professor and jointly accepts responsibility for direction of the dissertation.

6.2.5 Master’s POS Committee Makeup

Master with thesis:  The master’s POS committee for a student completing a thesis consists of at least three members of the graduate faculty. It must include two members, including the major professor, from the major or program. The committee must include member(s) from different fields of emphasis so as to ensure diversity of perspectives. A term member of the graduate faculty may participate in the direction of a student’s master’s research as a co-major professor if a full member of the graduate faculty serves as a co-major professor and jointly accepts responsibility for the direction of a program of study.

Master with creative component:  The master’s POS committee for a student completing a creative component consists of at least one member of the graduate faculty as the major professor.  Individual programs should consider whether the minimum number of committee members should be increased for the benefit of the students.  The number of committee members in addition to the major professor will be established and monitored by the major/program/department. The POSC form available through AccessPlus must be submitted.

Master with coursework only:  The master’s POS committee for a student completing a coursework only program consists of at least one member of the graduate faculty in the designated major.  This is often the DOGE of the coursework only program. The student must submit the online POSC form, but only the single committee member (usually the DOGE) is required.    

6.2.6 POS Committee Changes

Recommendations for changes in the POS committee for a master’s or Ph.D. degree must have the approval of the student, major professor, DOGE, and all committee members involved in the change (committee members who are on Faculty Professional Development Assignments, retired, or resigned do not have to sign) before seeking approval of the Graduate College. Changes to the POS committee can be made on the online POSC form through AccessPlus. These changes must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate College before the preliminary or final oral examination is held.

All members of the POS committee are required to attend the oral examinations unless prior approval has been granted by the Graduate College for a substitute or replacement. In some cases, it may only be possible to convene the committee in a timely manner if one of the committee members participates at a distance. This is permitted if the distance participation is agreeable to all committee members, if the mode of communication permits the full participation of the committee member at a distance, and if the Graduate College is notified in advance of the examination in writing by the major professor and advised who will sign for the distant committee member at the conclusion of the examination. The preferred method of distance participation is video conferencing, but speaker phone is acceptable in cases where visual presentation is not critical. The distant committee member must participate for the entire examination.

6.2.7 POS Committee Member Replacement in an Emergency

In the case of any emergency occasioned by sudden illness, accident or other serious and unforeseen ability of a faculty member to attend a meeting of the POS Committee, the Dean of the Graduate College will approve via telephone an emergency replacement. This emergency procedure can be activated by calling the Dean’s office directly at 515-294-4531.

6.3 - Developing the Program of Study

The student and the major professor develop the program of study with the consultation and approval of the POS committee. This agreement between the student and the Graduate College should be submitted as early as possible for approval. It is recommended that the committee be formed as early as the second semester of graduate study. The POSC form must be approved by the Graduate College no later than the term before the preliminary oral examination (doctoral candidates) or final oral examination (master’s candidates). For students in approved master’s programs with no final oral examination, the POSC form must be approved by the Graduate College no later than the term before a graduation application is submitted.  In order for the POSC form to be approved in any given term, the form must be submitted to the Graduate College by the published deadline for that term. POSC forms are available online through AccessPlus under the Student tab, Graduate Student Status. Each student’s program of study should be designed to correct deficiencies in academic preparation, allow study of subject matter that most interests the student, and avoid repetition in areas where the student is well prepared. The POS committee assures that program requirements are met before approving the POSC form.

The POSC form is approved by the student, committee members, and the DOGE of the major, minor or interdepartmental major/minor, if appropriate, before submitting it to the Graduate College. There the program of study is reviewed for adherence to the standards of the Graduate College and is submitted to the Dean of the Graduate College for approval. When the Graduate College has approved the POSC, the status of POSC approval can be checked in the AccessPlus Student tab. Approving parties are notified by e-mail when a form is ready for their approval.  

6.3.1 Changes on the Program of Study

Recommendations for modifications to the program of study for a master’s or Ph.D. degree must have the approval of the student, major professor, all committee members, and the program’s DOGE before approval by the Graduate College is sought. Modifications to the POS can be made on the online POSC form available in the Student tab in AccessPlus. A change of degree requires a new POSC form.

6.3.2 Graduate Courses Taken as an ISU Undergraduate

Certain graduate-level courses listed in the ISU Catalog may be used in the program of study even though they were taken for graduate credit by the student as an undergraduate at ISU. The following conditions must be met:

  • The POS committee can request approval from the Dean of the Graduate College for up to nine hours of such credit to be applied toward meeting advanced degree requirements. These courses must be clearly marked on the POSC form.
  • Credits earned in these courses must be in addition to those used to meet requirements for the bachelor’s degree.
  • Contact the Registrar's Office staff (210 Enrollment Services Center) to certify and note on the permanent record the courses that were not used for the undergraduate degree.
  • Credits earned in these courses must have grades of B or better.
  • The student must be classified as an undergraduate and not a nondegree undergraduate (special) student. Credits taken as a nondegree undergraduate (special) student are not allowed.

6.3.3 Declared Minors

Requirements for declared minors are determined by the minor program and the faculty member representing the minor field on the student’s POS committee. The minor subject area must be tested at the preliminary oral and final oral examinations for Ph.D. candidates and at the final oral examination for all other advanced degrees. A minor cannot be added to a program of study after the preliminary or final oral examinations have been taken, nor can a minor be placed on the transcript after graduation, unless it was approved on the POS, listed on all examination reports, and recorded on the “Application for Graduation” form. All courses used for a minor must be listed on the POSC.

6.3.4 Expired Courses

The age of a course used on a POSC is defined as the time between when the credits were earned and when the student graduates. A course is considered expired when its age is greater than the time limit for the master’s or doctoral program. As indicated in section 4.4.5 of the Graduate College Handbook, the Graduate College Time-to-Degree Limit is seven years. Graduate programs may establish more restrictive policies for both time-to-degree limits and expired course limits.

Typically, POSC forms include only age-compliant course credits, no older than seven years. Occasionally, a student and her or his POSC committee members may believe expired credits should be counted toward degree requirements. Recognizing the wide diversity of graduate programs at Iowa State University, and the fact that students embark on graduate study under many different circumstances and with varying degrees of prior experience and/or education, the Graduate College offers the following procedure for the review of expired courses for possible inclusion on a POSC:

  • Although the time-to-degree limit is seven years, graduate courses (those at Iowa State University, or those documented as graduate-level from other appropriately accredited institutions) that are between eight to ten years old may be used toward a graduate degree with the approval of a student’s program of study committee and program DOGE(s). See the chart below for limits on these credits.
  • Up to 24 expired graduate credits that are eleven to sixteen years old may be used on a doctoral POSC with approval of the Graduate College. Requests for approval are forwarded to the Graduate College from the student’s major professor(s) according to the following procedure:
    • Prior to approval of a POSC form, a written request for acceptance of the expired courses must be submitted to the program’s Director of Graduate Education for approval. The expired course request must be approved by the student’s program of study committee prior to the submission of the request to the DOGE, and it should include the following:
      • a justification for why the courses are still relevant,
      • an assurance that the student has kept current with the information covered in the overage, and
      • an explanation of how the student will be evaluated on overage material. Evaluation could include a written examination (a preliminary, qualifying, or comprehensive examination), evidence of satisfactory performance in course(s) for which the overage courses are prerequisites, or the completion of an audit in one or more current courses in the areas encompassed by the overage course. The object should be to determine whether the material learned in those courses is still timely and adequate. The evaluation method should be specified by the committee at the time the POSC form is submitted.
  • Expired courses beyond sixteen years of age are prohibited on all master’s POSC forms, but up to 12 credits from such courses may be included on doctoral POSC forms when the courses were taken in pursuit of an earned graduate degree and the student has been professionally engaged in the discipline continuously since the prior graduate degree was earned. Requests in this category must be directed to the Graduate College for consideration by completing an Expired Course Petition (http://www.grad-college.iastate.edu/common/forms/index.php).
  • The following guidelines will be followed by the Graduate College for the number and age limits of expired credits allowed in a POSC:
  8 - 10 Years 11 - 16 Years 17+ Years
Master's degrees 6 credits 0 credits 0 credits
Ph.D. no limit 24 credits 12 credits
  • If the Graduate College approves the use of expired courses, it does so based in part on the year of expected graduation on the POSC. If a student does not graduate by the term indicated on the POSC, the approved use of expired courses is void. Students and faculty advisors should plan in advance for the possibility that additional courses will be required due to delays in graduation.

6.3.5 Pass/Not Pass (P/NP) Courses

Students may not list courses taken on a P/NP basis on their POSC form. For more information, see Chapter 5.

6.3.6 Repeated Courses

Repetition of a course is permitted with the approval of the POS committee or temporary academic adviser. For more information on repeating courses, see Chapter 5.

6.3.7 Testing Out Credit

The POS committee determines if testing out credit may be included on the POS. See Chapter 5 for more information on testing out credits.

6.3.8 Transfer Credits

At the discretion of the POS committee, and with the approval of the program and the Graduate College, graduate credits earned as a graduate student at another institution or through a distance education program offered by another institution may be transferred if the grade was B or better. Such courses must have been acceptable toward an advanced degree at that institution and must have been taught by individuals having graduate faculty status at that institution. If a student wishes to transfer credits from graduate courses taken at or through another university as an undergraduate student, it is that student’s responsibility to provide verification by letter from that institution that those graduate courses were not used to satisfy undergraduate requirements for a degree. (Grades from courses taken at another institution will not be included in ISU grade calculations, nor will the grades display on an ISU transcript.)

A copy of an official transcript must accompany the POSC in order to transfer credits. The transcript should show that the courses were taken as a graduate student. There should be a clear indication that the courses taken were graduate level courses. The POS committee may ask for other materials, such as a course outline or accreditation of the institution, to evaluate the course. Transfer courses not completed when the POS is submitted must be completed before the term in which the student graduates. A transcript must then be submitted through the online POSC process for review and final approval.

Research credits earned at another institution are generally not transferred. In rare circumstances, the transfer of S or P marks may be accepted for research credits only. It is the responsibility of the POS committee to obtain a letter from the responsible faculty member at the other institution stating that research credits recommended for transfer with S or P marks are considered to be worthy of a B grade or better.

Audits may be listed on the program of study, but do not carry credit. (See Chapter 2 for more information on audits.)

6.3.9 Undergraduate Courses to Make Up Academic Deficiencies

Undergraduate-level courses are sometimes required of graduate students to make up deficiencies in undergraduate background. They do not appear on the POSC form. Such courses appear on transcripts and are included in the determination of the grade point average. These courses may not be taken on a P/NP basis.

6.4 - POS Committee Responsibilities: A Summary

6.4.1 Major Professor (Chair) Responsibilities

Procedural matters:

  • Review and sign forms requiring the major professor’s approval.
  • Preside at meetings of the POS committee.
  • Recommend to the Dean of the Graduate College in writing that:
    • Provisional admission be changed to full admission after background deficiencies have been corrected with a B grade average or better. If the student is a nonnative English speaker, the graduate English requirement must also be met.
    • Student be removed from probation or request to be allowed to register for satisfactory academic performance.
    • Significant changes in the program of study are necessary (must be approved by the student, committee members, and the program’s DOGE before submission to the Graduate College).
    • Waiver of six-month requirement between the preliminary oral and final oral examinations requested (must be approved by student, major professor, and program’s DOGE before submission to the Graduate College).
    • All conditions placed on a preliminary oral or final oral examination may be removed. If the report form is checked that all committee members must sign to remove a condition, then all signatures will be required to remove the condition.
    • Time extension to complete the degree requested be granted (must also be signed and approved by the program’s DOGE before submission to the Graduate College).
    • Graduation with less than the 3.00 G.P.A. for extenuating circumstances (must also be approved by the program’s DOGE before submitting to the Graduate College).
    • Changes in committee are made and approved by the Graduate College prior to a preliminary or final oral examination (also signed by all members involved in the change and the program’s DOGE).
  • Present doctoral candidates at graduation ceremonies.
  • Write letters of recommendation for students as appropriate.

Research and thesis/dissertation responsibilities:

  • Guide the graduate student doing research by conferring regularly to review and evaluate progress.
  • Guide the student in development of communication skills through assistance in preparing manuscripts for presentation or publication.
  • Criticize constructively the written draft(s) of a thesis or dissertation before it is circulated to other members of the POS committee.
  • Work with the student in editing the written draft(s) of the thesis or dissertation.

The major professor’s relationship with the student:

  • Provide needed guidance without hampering creativity.
  • Be accessible within a reasonable schedule for discussions with the student.
  • Accept a student only if he or she has sufficient time to direct the student’s program and can reasonably expect to have available facilities and sufficient funding to support the student to the completion of the degree.
  • Write letters of recommendation for the student and aid with job or position placement as appropriate.
  • Inform the student of any special leave that may cause inconvenience or delay in the student’s research progress or in the arrangement of the preliminary oral or final oral examinations.

Resolution of major professor-student relationship problems:

  • When irreconcilable problems occur between the major professor and student, it may be advisable to dissolve the relationship. The DOGE is responsible for recommending to the Graduate College that the original POS committee be dissolved and that a new POS committee be formed.

6.4.2 POS Committee Member Responsibilities

Procedural matters:

  • Review periodically the progress of the student.
  • Verify that the program of study meets the major’s requirements (and minor’s requirements when applicable) and recommends approval to the Graduate College.
  • Discuss and recommend changes in the student’s program to the Graduate College.

Committee/Student Relationships:

  • Inform the student of any circumstances that might cause inconvenience in arranging periodic meetings or the preliminary oral or final oral examinations.
  • Write letters of recommendations for students.

Research and thesis/dissertation responsibilities:

  • Advise the student during development of creative component, thesis or dissertation, either individually or in conference with other committee members.
  • Participate in the preliminary oral examination of a doctoral student and decide whether to recommend that the student be advanced to candidacy for the degree.
  • Read the creative component, thesis, or dissertation critically and suggest corrections.
  • Conduct a final oral examination for Ph.D. candidates and decide whether to recommend granting of the Ph.D. degree.
  • Conduct a comprehensive oral examination of a master’s student and recommend whether the degree should be granted.

6.4.3 Student Responsibilities

Procedural matters:

  • Submit all forms requiring approval in advance of Graduate College deadlines.  
  • Recommend a POS committee by identifying appropriate members to serve on the committee.
  • After obtaining agreement from the major professor and committee members, complete the POSC form with assistance from the major professor. Submit it through AccessPlus for approval by the major professor, committee members, DOGE and the Graduate College. Remember, POSC forms must be approved by the Graduate College the semester before the semester of graduation.

Relationship with the major professor:

  • Meet with the major professor periodically, as often as possible or necessary, to discuss research progress and/or problems and to review thesis/dissertation or creative component.
  • Develop and, if necessary, regularly revise an agenda with the major professor.
  • Submit to the major professor all required forms for signature in a reasonable time frame.
  • Inform the major professor of personal leave and sick leave. Personal leave should be planned so it does not interfere with the student’s duties.
  • Be accessible to the major professor periodically and within a reasonable schedule for discussion of various matters and/or assistance in research related or teaching assistantship activities.
  • Provide copies of thesis or dissertation to major professor in time for adequate review before submission deadlines to the Thesis Office.

Relationship with the POS committee:

  • Schedule all POS committee meetings for discussion of research proposal, research progress, and preliminary oral and final oral examinations.
  • Be accessible periodically and within a reasonable schedule for discussion with members of the POS committee.
  • Submit the thesis, creative component, or dissertation to the committee members at least two weeks before the final oral examination.