Graduate Degree Programs

The Stevenson Cafe courtyard outside the Linguistics offices

The department offers both PhD and MA degrees in linguistics. The requirements for the completion of each degree are summarized below. The department also offers a combined BA/MA degree for its undergraduate majors.

The PhD Program

Completion of the PhD in five years requires progress in several categories. For additional details, consult the PhD Program Handbook.

Sample PhD career in Linguistics

First Year

Core courses in phonetics, phonology, psycholinguistics, semantics, syntax, and field or experimental methods; language exam (spring quarter).

Second Year 

Research seminar and seminar courses; defense of first qualifying paper.

Third Year

Seminar courses; defense of second qualifying paper; qualifying exam.

Fourth Year

Dissertation-related research.

Fifth Year

Dissertation writing; dissertation defense


Students complete a minimum of thirteen courses (65 units). In the first year, students take a core sequence of courses in phonetics, phonology, psycholinguistics, semantics, syntax, and field or experimental methods. By the end of the second year, most of the required coursework (including in addition a research seminar and seminars in three distinct areas) has normally been completed.


Reading competence in one foreign language is demonstrated by examination, ideally early in the graduate career. The function of the exam is to test reading comprehension at a level which will allow effective use of the language in reading linguistic material.

Qualifying Papers

Students complete two qualifying papers (QPs) in distinct areas. Each QP represents an in-depth theoretical investigation into some natural language phenomenon, and is defended before a committee composed of three faculty members. QPs often lead to conference presentations or to journal publications. It is expected that the first QP be successfully defended in the second year, and the second QP in the third year.

Qualifying exam

Following successful completion of the two QPs, students must pass the qualifying exam (QE). This exam is the occasion on which a student demonstrates that she has achieved the level of competence and research-ability in a given area that is required for successful dissertation-level research. The QE is based on a substantial research paper written by the student (often a revised QP) and defended before a committee consisting of four members (three from within the department, one from without). Upon successful completion of this step, the student becomes a candidate for the degree.


The final requirement for the PhD degree is the presentation and public defense of a dissertation representing a significant contribution in some area of theoretical linguistic research. Prior to the writing of the thesis, the candidate prepares and defends a dissertation prospectus, which maps out the principal lines of research to be pursued.


In the course of the five-year program, students work closely with various faculty members, first through class work, then in preparing QPs, the dissertation prospectus, and the dissertation. The Graduate Director acts as advisor for first-year students in the typical case, but students should have chosen an advisor to work with more closely by their 4th quarter, the point at which the student's own research program will have begun to take shape. In any case, every student should have a designated advisor at each point of his or her graduate career and should meet in person with that advisor at least once each quarter.

Students receive regular and detailed feedback on their progress by way of the UCSC system of Performance Evaluations (or 'Narrative Evaluations') of coursework. In addition, the faculty as a group regularly reviews the progress of each student. The first formal review in the student's graduate career occurs at the end of the fall quarter of the second year (the Fourth Quarter Review). The outcome of this review, and advice regarding continuing progress, are communicated to the student in a letter from the department and in a conversation between the advisor and the student.

Teaching and Research Assistantships

After the first year, most PhD students receive some portion of their financial support from Teaching or Research Assistantships. A Teaching Assistantship involves the student in one of various undergraduate courses under the mentorship of the faculty instructor. It entails leading sections, holding office hours, and grading assignments and exams. The vast majority of Teaching Assistantships will be in Linguistics courses offered by the department, but students (depending on interests and aptitudes) may occasionally hold TAships in other departments and programs. After the student passes the qualifying exam and advances to candidacy, there are opportunities to take primary responsibility for teaching an undergraduate course, as a Teaching Fellow.

The MA Program

The MA degree involves a two-year course of study. It may be completed in one year by students who have a BA in Linguistics from UCSC and who have taken a number of the core graduate courses during their undergraduate career. For additional details, consult the MA Program Handbook.


The degree requires completion of a minimum of nine courses (45 units) beyond whatever courses were taken at the BA level. These include: the A sequence in phonology, syntax, and semantics; two courses from the B sequence; four additional graduate-level linguistics courses (one of which must be from the named list).


Reading competence in one foreign language is demonstrated by examination.

Master's Thesis

Students complete one substantial research paper in linguistics, which is read by a committee composed of two faculty members in Linguistics.