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
A students' primary advisor is the faculty member who works with them as they progress through their degree, from initial coursework through dissertation research and preparation for their career after graduation. Applicants do not enter the program with an assigned advisor. The Director of Graduate Studies advises all graduate students from admission until a permanent advisor is decided (generally in year 2). Students may ask a faculty member to be their advisor at any time, but they must select a permanent advisor by the spring of their second year.
Most students have one advisor, though a co-advising relationship with two faculty members is also possible. Students must have one advisor within the department until they receive ABD status, at which point they are no longer required to have an advisor within the WGSS core faculty. Advisor(s) must be a full member of the UMD Graduate Faculty.
- 12 credits of core courses (WGSS 601, 602, 618, 708) which must be taken in sequence
- 18 credits (6 courses) of electives within the first two years
- 12 credits (4 courses) taken with WGSS core faculty (WGSS698 or others which may be cross-listed)
- 6 credits (2 courses) taken with faculty outside of the department 9 credits from electives (chosen in consultation with advisor)
- 6 credits of WGSS628: Colloquium in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (a 1 credit course, 2 credits taken in year 1)
- 19 credits (minimum) of research credits taken once required classes have been completed
UMD requires that students be continually registered for classes while pursuing doctoral study. Prior to advancement to candidacy and after completion of required coursework, students should be registered for WGSS 709: Major Fields Research or WGSS 898: Pre-candidacy Research. After advancement to candidacy, the registrar’s office will register students in good standing for 6 credits of WGSS 899 Dissertation Research each Fall and Spring until program completion.
WGSS 601: Theoretical Foundations in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
First semester; 3 credits
A foundational theory seminar which examines fundamental concepts in the interdisciplinary field of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The course engages intersectionality as a critical analytic and set of responses to structural power and domination. It provides students with a theoretical foundation for understanding gender, race, and sexuality as analytic categories operating in transnational and global contexts and intersecting with other categories of difference.
WGSS 602: Methodologies and Epistemologies in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Second semester; 3 credits
This seminar examines the politics and practice of knowledge production in the interdisciplinary field of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, setting the foundation for students’ emergence as producers of knowledge. It explores how theory is connected to the formation of raced/gendered/sexed bodies, subjectivities, and existences that unsettle Eurocentric genealogies of disciplinary knowledge formation. The course introduces students to methodological and epistemological frameworks for attending to the impact of relations of power and domination on how research and scholarship are created and defined within and across disciplinary boundaries, cultures, and paradigms.
WGSS 618: Feminist Pedagogy
Required in first semester of teaching (usually third semester); 3 credits
Whether or not you enter the program with prior teaching experience, this seminar is required the first time a student has a teaching assistantship. Students work in direct collaboration with their faculty instructor, who is also the instructor for the undergraduate lecture in which students are serving as TA. WGSS 618 explores principles and frameworks of feminist pedagogy and discusses how they can be implemented into teaching practice. As a graduate teaching assistant in WGSS 618 you may be asked, among other things, to clarify and supplement the materials discussed in the large lecture session, take responsibility for sessions within the large lecture, monitor class attendance and participation, proctor exams, and grade papers. Your time commitments will therefore vary from week to week as you prepare for your individual sections and course expectations.
Following the first semester of teaching, students will take the 1 credit course WGSS619: Teaching Practicum in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
WGSS 708: Research Seminar in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Fourth Semester, 3 credits
This course strengthens students' understanding of research as a process, providing an opportunity to work on an independent project within the structure of a graduate seminar. Using the accountability and collaboration of a seminar and the one-on-one support of a faculty mentor, students will build their research knowledge and apply these research skills as they develop their individual projects. Students will construct a research proposal, engage in substantial research and reading, and produce an original research essay or creative project.
WGSS 628: Colloquium in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
1 credit, required by all students for a minimum of 6 credits total
Two of these credits must be taken in the first year. You may complete your 628 credits after reaching ABD status if necessary. If you register for WGSS 628 but do not complete the requirements, the semester will not count toward your 6 required credits in the class.
Typically taught by the Department Chair or Director of Graduate Studies, this course meets monthly and may include visits from guest speakers, professionalization workshops, guidance on funding applications, and research presentations from advanced students. Attendance is required for the six semesters during which you are enrolled in the class and encouraged for all students in the program. While registered for the Colloquium class, students must attend every session and complete whatever work the instructor requires.
In addition to their required coursework, all students must complete five benchmarks to receive the PhD.
- Portfolio Review (year 2)
- Second Language Requirement (may be completed any time prior to advancement)
- Major Fields (students advance to candidacy once this is completed)
- Dissertation Prospectus (due within 6 months of advancement)
The goal of this benchmark is to ensure students engage with the broad range of WGSS scholarship and provide them with early feedback on their progress in the program. Completion of Portfolio Review, along with all required coursework, enables students to apply for a Master’s degree (non-thesis option) if they so wish. WGSS does not accept students directly to the MA, so this is the only way to obtain a Master’s in WGSS from UMD.
Second Language Requirement
Before advancing to candidacy, students must demonstrate intermediate competence in a language other than English through prior knowledge, coursework, or a formal test. The purpose of the language requirement in WGSS is three-fold: 1) to have communication skills in the language of a particular community, especially but not exclusively if one’s research is located in a community that is non-English speaking; 2) to be able to read and appreciate the work of scholars, artists, and activists working in languages other than English; and 3) to pursue the ability to become conversant in another language, which allows scholars to make broader intellectual engagement with people and materials.
The Major Fields benchmark marks your movement from student, following a path set out for you by others, into independent research, where you map out and pursue the unique trajectory you will follow in your career as a scholar. This benchmark requires you to delve deeply into interdisciplinary perspectives in your field of specialization and build competency in the methodologies and approaches you will employ in your dissertation. It provides you with the opportunity to build your scholarly networks and craft your professional identity as a scholar. This benchmark is equivalent to the “comprehensive exams” taken by students in disciplinary fields, and the areas of knowledge you develop at this time will be those you anticipate as your future areas of teaching and research expertise.
The prospectus is prepared under the supervision of the dissertation chair and in consultation with your dissertation committee, which you will assemble at this stage. Before you proceed to writing the dissertation itself, you must defend your dissertation prospectus in a formal meeting with your committee. The prospectus defense is necessary to ensure that you have an opportunity to discuss your research plans in depth, and to make sure that they are of an appropriate scope and workability for a dissertation project, before you embark on research and writing in earnest.
The culmination of your doctoral work is your dissertation, which makes an original, significant contribution to the interdisciplinary field of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The department expects that the format or structure of each dissertation will be determined in consultation between the student, the dissertation director, and the dissertation committee. However, it may be useful to know that dissertations depend on extensive primary or original research; are typically 200 or more pages in length; and are expected to situate their interventions within a deep citational context. WGSS welcomes dissertations that incorporate a creative or technical element, but we expect such elements to be presented within a scholarly infrastructure that clarifies their relationship to WGSS as an academic field.
This timeline shows how a student moving through the program would typically complete requirements. Individual pathways through the program may vary for any number of reasons.
First Year (students are funded by a fellowship and focus purely on coursework)
Second Year (students begin to teach)
Third year (most students teach)
Fourth year (most students teach)
Fifth year (most students teach, unless funded through dissertation fellowship)
Sixth year and beyond (past guaranteed funding; continued teaching often possible)
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