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Former department of Careers

A Glossary of Terms

Compiled by CCGRS faculty, this is a great list of must-know terms for the soon-to-be grad student.

Assistantship: A form of financial aid in which the graduate student is paid for work performed, work which is often related to the student’s studies or area of specialization. A research assistantship (R.A.) pays a student to assist a professor on an experiment or research project; a teaching assistantship (T.A.) pays a student to teach sections or classes of undergraduate courses or to help grade papers and examinations.

Defense: This is the final examination on a graduate student’s dissertation and the final requirement for the Ph.D. The defense may take one of several forms, such as a lecture on the dissertation topic or a formal oral examination. The graduate student explains and defends for informed questioners the accuracy and significance of the research and arguments in her/his/hir thesis.

Director of Graduate Study: Also called Graduate Advisor, etc. The faculty member in a department who is responsible for disseminating information about the graduate program, answering questions from the applicants, and advising graduate students who have not yet selected a dissertation topic.

Discipline: A broad field of study, such as psychology, physics, English, or computer science.

Dissertation: The independent project conducted by a graduate student after completing course work and general examinations. The dissertation will vary in form and length depending on the discipline and nature of the research project; it usually requires from one to three years to complete. The dissertation is demonstrates mastery of knowledge and research tools and should contribute something new to the discipline in which it is written.

Doctorate (Doctoral): Another word for the Ph.D. or doctor of philosophy degree. Those who earn the Ph.D. are entitled to use the title “Doctor.”

General Examination: This is also called the preliminary or qualifying examination. The general exam tests the depth and the breadth of a graduate student’s knowledge in his or her discipline. It may be written or oral, is often divided into sections corresponding to the specific fields within the discipline, and is usually taken after the completion of course work. The student prepares for it independently, though often they are assisted by professors through “directed readings.” After passing “generals” or “qualifiers,” the student begins work on the dissertation.

GRE: The Graduate Record Examination is for graduate school applicants what the SAT is for college applicants. It is a standardized test designed by Educational Testing Service to measure knowledge and skills; it is scored on a 200–800 scale. The GRE Aptitude Test has three sections: verbal, quantitative, and analytical. There are also GRE Advanced tests in specific disciplines, such as French, mathematics, philosophy, engineering, etc. GRE scores are often an admissions application requirement.

Master’s Degree: The degree of professional certification in a field, following the bachelor’s. A master’s curriculum usually requires one to three years of course work and may involve a thesis or limited research project as the final requirement. The master’s is not often a prerequisite for admission to a Ph.D. program.

Outside Fellowship: A fellowship awarded by a source outside the student’s university or graduate department, such as corporation, government, or foundation.

Ph.D.: See Doctorate.

Postdoctoral Fellowship: A type of position available in some disciplines (especially sciences) to individuals who have just completed the Ph.D. and wish to continue research in a university. Some “postdocs” require teaching, others encourage fellows to dedicate themselves exclusively to research.

Stipend: A grant of money to a graduate student for use toward expenses above tuition and fees. Graduate fellowships sometimes pay both tuition and a stipend, which can be applied toward living expenses.

Thesis: A research paper presented as a major, and usually final, requirement of a degree program. “Thesis” is sometimes used interchangeably with “dissertation,” referring to Ph.D. research; more often it refers to a project more limited in scope, completed as a master’s requirement.