Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Ph.D. Program

The department enjoys a global reputation for new methodologies and exciting new research. Our students and alumni are building new fields of study and reimagining the future of feminist thought, within and beyond academia.

Students in the program explore feminist and queer theories, methodologies and genealogies through coursework within the department and then draw upon resources across UMD and the D.C. area to build an individualized course of study as they ready themselves for dissertation research.

With the guidance of faculty, students work through our series of benchmarks in order to gain a strong grounding in the field and then develop their specific trajectory, pursuing the classes, networks and training necessary for the projects they are building.

Our program and campus have particular strengths in the following areas:

  • Race and racialization, ethnic and diasporic studies, Black feminist thought and intersectionality
  • Arts, technology, media, cultural studies and digital humanities
  • Sexual cultures, queer and trans studies and queer of color critique
  • Social justice and political movements
  • Transnational feminisms and global gender justice

The doctoral program trains students in scholarly research, which our graduates have successfully applied within a wide range of professional arenas. Graduates of our program are working not only in women, gender, and sexuality academic studies but also in traditional disciplinary departments, non-teaching academic positions, nonprofits, publishing, museums and beyond.

Since the program began in 1999, the department has granted 36 Ph.Ds. These scholars have gone on to successful careers in a variety of fields. 70% work in higher education in a combination of tenure track, non-tenure track and community college positions, as well as post-doctoral and university administration positions. 11% work in nonprofits, 5% in secondary education and 5% in creative positions. Learn more about our current doctoral students and our Ph.D. alumni.


Overview of PhD Requirements

With the guidance of faculty, students work through our series of benchmarks in order to gain a strong grounding in the field and then develop their specific trajectory, pursuing the classes, networks and training necessary for the projects they are building.

All students entering the Ph.D. program take a selection of courses, including the required core interdisciplinary seminars in the department. Students must then pass a general examination given annually in August. Students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree are expected to take the general examination by the summer before their fifth semester. Students entering the program with a relevant master’s degree are expected to take the general examination the summer before their third semester.

Students are also expected to complete a second year interdisciplinary paper. At the end of the fifth semester, a review of student progress by the departmental faculty is required. The assessment of students’ progress is based on their portfolio, which includes the following: GPA, faculty evaluation of required coursework, general examination, the second year interdisciplinary paper and the plans for completion of the language requirement. This assessment is the basis for the student’s continued participation in the doctoral program.

Students are expected to take their major field exam within two years of successfully completing their general exam requirement. Following the major field examination, students select a dissertation committee to be approved by the faculty of the Department of Women’s Studies and the Graduate School. On approval of the dissertation prospectus and successful demonstration of reading competency in a language other than English, students are advanced to candidacy. Students are awarded the Ph.D. after successful defense of the dissertation.


Students will be advised for their first year by the director of Graduate Studies (DGS). The DGS will assist students in developing an initial plan of study and exploring research interests and the resources of the university, suggest courses and faculty and assist in identifying a research focus. By the end of the first year, students will identify an appropriate advisor. Although this advisor will typically serve in this role for the rest of the student’s career, students may at any time speak to the DGS to request assistance in transferring to a different advisor.

By the end of the second semester students are also expected to have identified a faculty member (referred to as the “first reader”) with whom they will work to complete their second year paper. This faculty member may or may not be the student’s advisor. It is expected that if the student chooses a faculty member who is not their advisor, they will do so in consultation with their advisor.

The student’s major field committee also serves an important role. Near the beginning of the fifth semester, students must identify a three-person major field committee that will approve the student’s overall course of study, assuring that the student has been adequately prepared in a major field and for the writing of a dissertation. The major field committee must include the student’s advisor (who will serve as chair), one affiliate faculty and one scholar of the student’s choice.

Upon successful completion of all coursework and other major requirements for the Ph.D., a student selects a dissertation committee consisting of five persons, including at least two departmental faculty members, one affiliate faculty and two other scholars of the student’s choice. The dissertation chair must be either a departmental or affiliate faculty member.

Students may request in writing to change their advisor or committee members through the DGS.

Required Coursework

  • 9 credits from WMST601, WMST602 and WMST621 (no specific sequence is required)
  • 9 credits from electives, chosen in consultation w/ advisor

WMST601: “Approaches to Women’s Studies I” (3 credits)

This course examines two fundamental concepts in women’s studies: intersectionality and interdisciplinarity. Looks at how feminisms have shaped and been shaped by knowledge-production within and across disciplinary boundaries, cultures, and paradigms. Develops an appreciation of intersectional theory as a critical research tool and as a set of responses to issues of power, domination, oppression and other loci of difference.

WMST602: “Approaches to Women’s Studies II” (3 credits)

Continued examination of intersectionality and interdisciplinarity with emphasis on the politics of knowledge production and identity.

WMST621: “Feminist Theories and Women’s Movements: Genealogies” (3 credits)

This course examines theories to explain the matrix of domination from the nineteenth century to the present. Students learn the key debates that produced new insights and shifted the ground of subsequent feminist theorizing within multi-racial feminisms. Examines those debates within global perspectives. Examines how dominant theoretical frameworks have been developed at specific historical moments.

General Examination

The general exam list includes readings from WMST601, 602 and 621 for the prior two years, as well as other books and articles the faculty consider basic to our field. The list changes annually. The exam is administered in late summer or early fall (recently, over the 3rd or 4th weekend of August). A three-person faculty committee makes up, administers and grades the exam.

The exam is a written take-home examination that students have 72 hours to complete. Students will meet with the examining committee after taking the exam to obtain feedback and their grade within 45 days from submission of the exam. Exam grades will be “pass,” “pass with conditions” or “fail.” Students who fail will be permitted one make-up; the date for this make-up must be prior to the beginning of the spring semester.

Second-Year Interdisciplinary Paper

All students are required to produce a 25-40-page (including reference list) second year interdisciplinary paper no later than October of the student’s fifth semester, in time to be included as part of the student’s portfolio review. Students are expected to examine a topic and make use of, and illustrate their knowledge of, more than one disciplinary perspective. Students may revise an already written seminar paper or write a new paper.

Major Field Examination

Students are expected to take their major field exam within two years of successfully completing their general exam requirement. In this exam, students will demonstrate a strong theoretical understanding of feminist theory, in-depth knowledge of interdisciplinary perspectives in their field of specialization and a competency in at least two methodologies/approaches appropriate to the exploration of their areas of inquiry.

The student’s major field committee will assist in designing and articulating a broad major field, advising on appropriate courses and preparing the reading list for the exam. The format for administering the exam will be determined by the committee in consultation with the student.

The department has identified the following areas that draw on the strengths of the research faculty (departmental and affiliate). They serve as a guide for the breadth required of a major field and provide a descriptive language for research areas broadly recognized by practitioners of women’s studies. Students may select one of these broad major areas or create new designations for their own self-designed field:

  • Gender, Race, Racialization, and/or Diaspora Studies
  • Women’s Movements, Global and Local
  • Bodies, Genders, Sexualities
  • Gendered Labor: Households and Communities
  • Art, Culture, Technologies, and Social Change

Examples of recent major fields are:

  • 20th Century Lesbian Theory, History, Culture & Literature
  • Canadian Studies and Feminist Movement Histories
  • Towards a Queer Asian American Critique
  • Feminist Perspectives on Transnational Capital and Racial Formations
  • Black Visual Culture and Social Change: Diasporic Feminist Visions
  • Black Queer Feminist Thought and Pedagogy
  • Resituating Reproduction within Technoscientific and Transnational Feminist Frames
  • Black Women, Spirituality and Social Justice in Contemporary Popular Culture
  • Disabling Inequalities and Intersecting Identities
  • Intersectional Approaches to Prostitution, Juvenile Justice and Racialization
  • Intersecting Between Collective and Interpersonal Violences


The doctoral dissertation represents an original contribution to the field of women’s studies and a commitment to its interdisciplinary pursuit of meaningful knowledge. The first step in writing a dissertation is to develop and defend a prospectus that will serve as a guide for the actual writing of the dissertation. The prospectus is prepared under the supervision of the dissertation chair and in consultation with other dissertation committee members.

When the student has completed a draft of the prospectus satisfactorily to the dissertation committee chair, the chair convenes a meeting of the full dissertation committee, at which the student presents the prospectus to the committee. During this meeting, the student is provided the opportunity to engage with faculty to demonstrate the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the work. There are four possible outcomes after a prospectus defense: 1) the prospectus may be approved as submitted; 2) the committee may suggest approval with minor revisions; 3) the committee may suggest major revisions to strengthen the prospectus and request that the student resubmit a revised prospectus for another reading; or 4) the committee may disapprove the prospectus, provide significant feedback on proposed changes and request another prospectus defense.

A student is advanced to candidacy following successful defense of the dissertation prospectus and all other pre-dissertation requirements (required courses, general exam, major field exam, second-year paper, an approved portfolio review, fulfillment of the second language requirement). A student must be admitted to candidacy for the doctorate within five years after admission to the doctoral program and at least six months before the date on which the degree will be conferred.


A student’s dissertation must be completed within nine years after starting the doctoral program or within four years after advancing to candidacy, whichever is greater. After the dissertation is completed, an oral defense is required (and revisions to the dissertation may be requested) before the Ph.D. is conferred.

Other Requirements

Doctoral students must show competency in a language other than English. This may be done by successful completion of language courses through the intermediate university level or by successful completion of a language exam administered by the department and graded by one department member or affiliate faculty fluent in that language. The women’s studies language exam tests both comprehension and translation skills. International students who passed the TOEFL and anyone who has passed an intermediate college-level language course within five years prior to admittance to the women’s studies doctoral program are exempt from this requirement. The language requirement must be completed before advancement to candidacy.

Portfolio for Assessment of Continuation in Graduate Program (Ph.D.)

A portfolio will include the following:

  1. Brief student statement of work completed and future plans (2-4 pages)
  2. Copy of transcript
  3. Faculty’s written evaluations of student’s required course work
  4. General examination grade
  5. First reader’s summary and assessment of second-year interdisciplinary paper
  6. Evidence of, or a plan for, language requirement completion
  7. Teaching evaluations
  8. Updated advisor form with all relevant signatures (including having identified major field committee members)
  9. Updated curriculum vitae

Students’ portfolios must be completed and submitted to the director of Graduate Studies by November of their fifth semester. The departmental faculty review each portfolio to determine if the student should continue in the program and will notify the student of her/his status at the end of fall semester. There are four possible outcomes of the portfolio review: “approved,”“additional Information is required with re-evaluation in spring,” “inadequate progress,” “inadequate progress with decision to terminate.”

The renewal of funding is based on adequate progress to degree.


Learn more about our alumni, who work in fields ranging from academia to the nonprofit world.

Graduate Placement


Since 2013, the Women's Studies Graduate Association at the University of Maryland has hosted "Interventions," a biennial graduate symposium featuring innovative, interdiciplinary research in the field.

Biennial Graduate Symposium