The PhD Process


Earning a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies 


Stage One: Admission to Doctoral Program

The first step in earning a PhD in Leadership Studies is earning admission to the program. Visit the How to Apply page to learn more. 

Stage Two: Achieve Candidacy

The Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies, unlike other programs, does not require comprehensive exams. Instead, students undergo a process of researching, writing, and submitting their candidacy paper - an original, high quality theoretical/conceptual piece. The candidacy paper must be 20 pages in length and pass the review of two program faculty members. Advancement to candidacy is a critical point in the doctoral program, as it addresses the following intentions:

  1. To provide the department with tangible evidence of the student’s ability to write a doctoral level paper that is professional, cohesive, complex, theoretical, and insightful
  2. To give students the experience of producing a paper that can be submitted for publication after the candidacy has been successfully completed
  3. To allow students to explore potential topics for their dissertation, with the purpose of further clarifying their research interest
  4. To ensure the student's ability to successfully complete the program and reaffirm the appropriateness of the program relative to the needs and abilities of the student

While students typically apply for candidacy after completing their first 18-24 credits in the course, they are eligible to apply for candidacy after completing the following courses: 

  • DPLS 700: Leadership Theory
  • DPLS 701: Organizational Theory
  • DPLS 703: Global Leadership
  • DPLS 720: Principles of Research

Stage Three: Dissertation Proposal Defense

After achieving candidacy, a doctoral candidate will choose a core faculty member to chair their dissertation committee. Together, the doctoral candidate and dissertation chair will discuss the candidate's research topic, conceptualize the proposed research, and formulate their dissertation committee. This stage of the PhD process usually lasts 12-18 months and is designed to generate the first three chapters required for dissertation proposal defense:

  1. The introduction of research design
  2. The literature review grounding the study
  3. The methodology and methods to conduct the research, with supporting literature to ground the methods

When the candidate successfully defends the proposal in front of the dissertation committee, the research study can begin. 

Stage Four: Complete Dissertation

Upon successful defense of their research proposal, a candidate will move forward with data collection, analysis, and writing of their final dissertation chapters. The process is fluid and iterative, and drafts of the dissertation will go from the candidate to their dissertation chair for feedback and guidance.

When the dissertation is complete, the candidate meets once again with their dissertation committee to defend their findings and conclusions. Revisions may be suggested, and these revisions must be submitted in the final copy of the dissertation. The committee must then sign off on the dissertation as complete.

Stage Five: Graduation

Once the committee signs off on the dissertation, it moves on to the Dean of the School of Leadership Studies for their review and signature. This final signature marks a completed dissertation, and when combined with the fulfillment of all program requirements, prompts the Chair of the Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies to notify the Registrar of the candidate's permission to graduate.  

Graduates will have the opportunity to walk in the Commencement ceremony in May, where they will be hooded as a Doctor of Philosophy from the Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies.


Heather Schmitt, Admissions Specialist
Call or Text: (509) 313-6240 or (866)380-5323