Qualifying Papers (QPs)

A Qualifying Paper (QP) is a paper of near publishable quality of a length that is appropriate for the area of specialization. Each student is required to complete two QPs – the first in the second year and the second in the third year.

Students may base their QPs either partly or wholly on a paper that was written for a course. In line with the interdisciplinary emphasis of the program, the two QPs are expected to reflect breadth by, e.g., engaging with different specializations and/or research methodologies.

The QP plan and forming your committee

At the end of their first and second year, students submit their QP Plan – a short document consisting of i) a one-paragraph description of their indented QP project/area and ii) a list of 2 or 3 preferred research advisors for the QP. The QP Plan should be submitted by the student to their program advisor by April 15.

Each QP has a committee consisting of a primary QP advisor and a secondary QP advisor. The advisors must be faculty members in the Department of Linguistics. The first QP must have an additional faculty member from outside the department as a third member. The second QP has just internal faculty.

Students are expected to provide input on their preferred QP advisors in their QP plan. Using this input, the department will assign QP committees by the end of the academic year. The students' preferences will be considered, but these will be balanced against faculty expertise and faculty committee loads.

The QP proposal

Before a QP Defense, students must submit a proposal that may or may not be approved by their QP committee. The proposal, 1-2 pages long, outlines your research topic and is composed of research questions, a work plan, and references. This is not the same thing as the QP plan.

Students are expected to submit a QP Proposal for each of their QPs by September 15 of the respective academic year (year 2 for QP1, year 3 for QP2).

The QP timeline

This visual timeline may help you better understand the timeframe for when all the parts of each QP are due.

To schedule your QP defense, you must find a day/time that works for you and your entire committee. Then, let the department manager know at least 10 business days in advance so an exam appointment form can be completed.

For a more comprehensive overview of the PhD program, go to the detailed PhD timeline.


Students should work with their primary advisor and their QP committee to address any concerns with the QP process or timeline.

It's possible to apply for a QP extension if needed; however QP extensions are not gauranteed, and are subject to the approval of your program advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Frequently asked questions

What are the different parts of a Qualifying Paper (QP) and when are they due?

There are three parts to a Qualifying Paper (QP): the QP plan (a short document consisting of a one-paragraph description of your intended project area and a list of preferred QP advisors), the QP proposal (a one to two page document outlining your research topic/questions, a work plan, and references), and the QP defense. The timeline for when each of these parts are due can be found above.

Do the topics of QP1, QP2, and the dissertation have to be different?

The topic of QP2 must be different from QP1 and it must be in a distinct subfield. For instance, it cannot be the case that both QPs are in formal semantics. The faculty will make a determination on a case-by-case basis whether a proposed QP2 is sufficiently distinct in terms of topic and subfield from QP1. We encourage students to discuss possible topics for QP2 with their advisor well in advance of the proposal, so the advisor can discuss any unclear cases with the rest of the faculty. The dissertation, however, can build upon a topic in one of your QPs.

The first QP needs to be have a committee member from outside of the department, so if the topic is more "formal" linguistics, does this mean that I need to find a committee member from outside of the university?

The committee member does not need to be from outside the university if the QP is more formal in nature. For instance, for certain topics, there are faculty in Philosophy and Computer Science who might naturally be on the committee. But for other topics, it will often be most natural to find an outside member from outside the university (e.g. for formal syntax QPs).

What's the process for finalizing my QP committee?

You share your preferred QP committee members in your QP plan and through continued discussion with your primary advisor. The faculty will vote and assign official QP committees by the end of the academic year that you submit your QP plan in, taking your preferences into consideration.

So, for example, for QP1, your plan is due April 15 of your first academic year. Then shortly after that, your committee will be finalized.

What are the expectations of QP committee members in guiding a student through the QP process?

There are no fixed expectations for the committee members beyond reading the final draft of the paper and participating in the defense. With that said, it is completely reasonable to request feedback on drafts and request meetings to discuss progress with a committee member, and we encourage students to do so. It is up to the student to make any such requests.

What must I do administratively to prepare for my QPs?

You must copy the department manager on emails when submitting your QP plan, QP proposal, and the final draft of your QP.

To prepare for your QP defense, you must choose a date that works for you and your committee members at least a month in advance. An exam appointment form must be completed and submitted at least ten business days prior to the defense date.

Once the defense is complete, an exam report form must be completed and submitted within one week regardless of the outcome of the defense.

My QP1 needs to be completed in my second year. When should I defend?

The QP plan is due April 15 of the first academic year; the proposal is due September 15 in the beginning of the second academic year; and then the defense can take place anytime in the Spring or Summer term before your third academic year. The second QP follows the same pattern, but takes place in your third academic year. Note: It’s possible that your QP2 plan is due before you defend your QP1. A full timeline can be found above.

What are the possible outcomes of a QP defense?

The potential outcomes of a QP defense are:

  • Pass (You’re done!)

  • Pass with minor revisions (Revisions are due within the month)

  • Pass with major revisions (Revisions are due by the end of the next semester)

  • Fail (You must start the entire QP process over from scratch)

The exact deadlines will be communicated to you in a letter you receive from your QP committee following your defense.

When do I become a PhD candidate?

Once you’ve completed the required coursework and successfully defended your first QP, you will become a PhD candidate.