Pre-Candidacy Topics


Pre-Candidacy is the initial stage of graduate school for all students prior to selecting advanced degree committees, beginning the final requirements, and advancing to candidacy.  During pre-candidacy students complete prerequisites, program coursework and language requirements, take preliminary and qualifying examinations, fulfill residency requirements, refine research goals, and select mentors.  

Your Advising Network

Advising is an integral part of the graduate academic experience, and each student has a support network including support people in their program and in Graduate Studies.  Graduate Chairs, Graduate Advisors, Graduate Coordinators, and major professors in the program help students navigate graduate school, including degree requirements, planning, research, writing, funding, student status, and day-to-day support.  Senior Academic Advisors and the Associate Deans in Graduate Studies are available to assist with meeting degree milestones, mediate conflicts, provide support to students in crisis, and assist programs with student service.  Contact information for the roles listed below are available on each Program page.  

  • Graduate Program Coordinator
  • Graduate Coordinators are staff members who often serve as the primary point of contact for graduate students at the program level and who assist with managing the administration and operation of the graduate program.  Graduate Coordinators provide guidance to prospective & current students and faculty on admission requirements, program degree requirements, policies & procedures, campus services, and funding opportunities.  

    Reasons to contact your Graduate Coordinator:
      • Graduate Coordinators are your primary contact for navigating the university and graduate school.  One of their major responsibilities is maintaining an up-to-date working knowledge of campus resources, student services, information systems, and department contacts.  Even if your Graduate Coordinator doesn't know the answer to your question, they typically know who to ask or where to look.
      • You have a questions about degree requirements, policies, forms, or processes.
      • You have a question, but don't know the appropriate contact.  
      • You would like to discuss fellowships, employment, and funding
      • There is a problem with your registration, funding, student account, or student status.
      • You need a permission to add (PTA) number.
      • You need resources for any reason.
  • Graduate Program Advisor
  • The Graduate Advisor addresses academic matters and procedures affecting graduate students and their program of study. Typically Graduate Advisors are the students initial faculty mentor, and advise on fulfilling academic requirements and successfully navigating the program and field of study.  Graduate Advisors are nominated by programs and approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies to act as program signing authorities on graduate forms and petitions.  Signing authority is provided with the expectation that Graduate Advisors maintain knowledge of current campus policies affecting graduate students and their program degree requirements.  Graduate Studies recommends students check-in with their Graduate Advisor quarterly.  

    Reasons to contact your Graduate Advisor:
      • To develop your program of study - Graduate Advisors are your program resource for discussing course selection, areas of interest, degree requirements and milestones, interdisciplinarity, research interests, and goals.
      • To discuss mentorship and committees - Graduate Advisors can help you identify and connect with potential mentors, advise you on best practices for communicating with faculty, review the expectations for mentors/mentees, guide your committee selection, and mediate mentorship conflicts.
      • If you would like to take a leave, change your degree objective, drop a course late, etc. - Graduate Advisors and Graduate Chairs are the only signing authorities for petitions and forms.
      • You have an academic hold due to academic probation status.  
      • To learn about professional development, careers in your field, and publishing.
      • If you are struggling - from academics to employment to grad life balance, Graduate Advisors are available to provide resources, help you create a plan, and support your success in the program.  
  • Major Professor
  • The major professor is the faculty mentor with whom graduate students works most closely (often their P.I.). The major professor guides the graduate student through the process of identifying a desired area of focus, planning an appropriate course of study, specifying a research topic, conducting the research, providing feedback on the thesis, dissertation, or exam, and preparing for a career after graduate school. Some students begin their program with a major professor, while others won't identify a major professor until their first, second, or third year in the program. All PhD students are required to identify a major professor by their third year. It is important that each student has a faculty mentor who is actively guiding them through their graduate school journey. The student's Graduate Advisor may serve in the role temporarily if a major professor is not identified.  Major professors are not granted signing authority on graduate forms and petitions, unless major professor signature is specified or the major professor is acting in their role as a current program Graduate Advisor.

    Reasons to contact your major professor:
      • You would like to discuss your research, lab, methods, project, areas of interest, or project/thesis/dissertation.
      • You would like to develop a mentoring plan or contract with your major professor
      • You have questions about publishing or professional development in the field.
      • To discuss your employment, duties, and lab work, if employed by your major professor.
  • Graduate Program Chair
  • The Graduate Program Chair is the academic leader and administrative head of a graduate program. They are responsible for overseeing the work of program Graduate Advisors, and for providing guidance to students and faculty in matters of policy, student services, academic progress, advanced degree committees, mentorship, graduate milestone examinations, and disqualification.  The Graduate Program Chair, whether or not they are also a Graduate Advisor, has signing authority on all graduate forms and petitions. In a departmentally based program, the Department Chair is responsible for the graduate program, even if day-to-day operations of the program are delegated to a department faculty member designated as the Graduate Program Chair.  

    Reasons to contact your Graduate Chair
      • Graduate Chairs may advise you on all the topics listed in the Graduate Advisor section.  Some Graduate Chairs are also a Graduate Program Advisor.
      • Graduate Chairs may also advise on and manage escalated issues related to mentorship, funding, student welfare, progress, academic probation & disqualification, curriculum & degree requirements, and exceptions.
  • Graduate Studies Senior Academic Advisors (SAA's)
  • Graduate Studies Senior Academic Advisors (SAAs) provide general advising to students and program staff & faculty on degree milestones, campus & graduate policies, progress & probation, graduation requirements, and mentorship issues.  SAA's also support students and programs with escalated issues. 

    For most questions, the best people to contact first are your Graduate Coordinator or Graduate Advisor.  SAA's are always available to join the conversation if additional assistance, context, or resources are needed.  SAA contact information and appointment calendars are available on the Meet Your Advisors page.

    Reasons to contact the SAA's:
      •  You have questions or concerns that you'd feel more comfortable discussing with someone outside your program - SAA's assist students with understanding and navigating issues, act as student advocates, connect students with helpful resources and contacts, including the Graduate Studies Associate Dean for Students, and provide a 
      •  You have a complex question about student status, policy, or process, or would like to discuss logistics related to student status.  
      •  You are preparing to file your thesis or dissertation or completing your Plan II or MFA requirements, and have questions about filing or degree awarding processes.  
      •  Your Graduate Coordinator, Graduate Advisor, or major professor has suggested you speak to someone in Graduate Studies
      •  You have been referred to the Office of the University Registrar (OUR) - SAA's are able to resolve many issues related to graduate student status and registration, or they may be able to coordinate with the appropriate OUR staff to streamline the process.  

Degree Requirements

Pre-Candidacy is about broadening your foundation knowledge and resources in the field, honing your research topic, and fulfilling many of the requirements for the degree.  Program degree requirements are available on each Program page.  Many programs provide students with a handbook, checklist, and/or program of study to assist students with course planning and completing requirements.

  • Academic Residence
  • Academic residence (different from state residence) refers to the minimum number of quarters a student must be enrolled in graduate standing at the university in order to be eligible for the degree.  Requirements are included in the Residence and Transfer Credit Policy (GC2011-03).

    Masters students must be enrolled in a minimum of four units of graduate level coursework for at least three quarters.
      • Residence during Summer - Master's students can earn residence credit during Summer by enrolling in two six-week Summer Sessions for at least two units of upper division and/or graduate coursework per session.  Sessions do not need to be consecutive.  

    Doctoral students must be enrolled in a minimum of four units of graduate level coursework for at least six quarters.
      • Residence during Summer - Doctoral students can earn residence credit during Summer in one of two ways. 1) enroll in two consecutive six-week Summer Sessions for at least two units of upper division and/or graduate coursework per session, or 2) enroll in an eight-week Summer Session for at least four units of upper division and/or graduate coursework. 
  • Prerequisites
  • Most programs require students to complete any remaining prerequisites within the first year or two in the program.  Students who have questions about the timeline for completion, verifying prerequisites, or waiving prerequisites should discuss these with their Graduate Advisor or Graduate Coordinator.
  • Coursework & GPA
  • Minimum coursework and GPA requirements for each degree objective are identified in the Academic Senate Regulations, but programs may set more rigorous standards for GPA, units, and graduate coursework.  The program's published degree requirements include the requirements and coursework for the degree, and most programs provide a student handbook or checklist to assist in planning the program of study.  New students especially should check-in regularly with their Graduate Coordinator or Graduate Advisor, to ask questions and ensure they are on track.

    In order to be in good academic standing, graduate students must maintain a cumulative and quarter GPA of 3.0+.  See the pages on Academic Standing & Progress for more information about good standing and academic probation.  
  • Foreign Language Requirement
  • Some program degree requirements include demonstration of foreign language comprehension.  Requirements vary by program, but may include taking a foreign language assessment or a passing grade on an upper-division language course.  Students should review their handbook or discuss the requirement with their Graduate Program Coordinator.
  • English Language Requirements (International Students)
  • International graduate students may be required to take an English language course in their first year.  Information about eligibility and the requirements is available through International & Academic English.  International Students who intend to TA must also demonstrate English language ability by graduating from an institution teaching solely in English, through their TOEFL or IELTS score, or by passing an English language exam at UC Davis called the TOEP.  Learn more about the TA/AI language proficiency requirement.  
  • Internships
  • Some programs require or recommend an internship during the pre-candidacy phase.  Programs will provide guidance about the expectations and timelines for internships. 
        •  The Internship and Career Center provides guidance, job-boards, internship fairs, workshops, and group & individual advising specific to your field to help you locate and apply for positions.  
  • Preliminary Exam (Doctoral Students)
  • Many program degree requirements include a preliminary exam for doctoral students to assess their knowledge of the field and ensure they are prepared to continue in a doctoral program.  Typically, preliminary exams are held during the first year.  If required, the program is responsible for offering and evaluating the prelim.  
  • Prepare for the Doctoral Qualifying Examination (Doctoral Students)
  • The last milestone doctoral students must complete before they advance to candidacy is the Qualifying Exam (QE) where you will present your dissertation prospectus and demonstrate your knowledge in the field and your area of specialization.  Review the information on the Doctoral Qualifying Exam page, and discuss the requirements, expectations, and timeline with your advising network.  
  • Other Program Requirements
  • Program degree requirements may include additional requirements not described here, and the program is responsible for communicating these with students.  

Degree Milestones

Pre-Candidacy is when students are introduced to and begin completing degree milestones.  Degree milestones are benchmarks of progress and assessment through a master's or doctoral student's program of study.  Below are the milestones for the Master's Plan I (Thesis), Master's Plan II (Exam/Capstone), and the Doctoral Degree.  Most graduate students aren't familiar with their degree milestones before they begin the program.  To learn more, review the graphics and information on the Graduate Studies website, read your program handbook or the degree requirements included on the Program page, and follow-up with your Graduate Coordinator or Graduate Advisor if you have questions.

Degree Milestone Links

  • Master's Plan I (Thesis)
    Master's Plan I Milestones
  • Master's Plan II (Exam/Capstone)
    Master's Plan II Milestones
  • Doctoral Plan A, B, C
    Doctoral Milestones

Explore Mentorship

Faculty mentors are more than advisors - mentor relationships are long-term supportive connections that promote the academic and professional development of a graduate student.  The pre-candidacy phase provides students an opportunity to learn what they need from a mentor and what is expected as a mentee.  A student's initial faculty mentor may be their Graduate Advisor or their major professor, but students are encouraged to expand their mentorship network as they progress in the program.  Review the Mentoring Resources for Mentees page for information and tools to help you select a mentor, set expectations, and create strong and lasting relationships.

Teaching, Research, and Academic Employment

Many master's and doctoral students work as Academic Student Employees or ASE's (TA/AI/Reader/Tutor) or Graduate Student Researchers (GSR's or RA's) to fund their education and pay the bills, obtain valuable experience towards future employment, and learn more about their research area.  Before beginning a TA position, students must attend TA Orientation.  Programs may also host TA training workshops or a TA class. 

Students should consider joining the Graduate Teaching Community, or utilizing some of the many learning and training opportunities for graduate students hosted by the Center for Educational Effectiveness.  GSR's may be required to attend Lab Safety Training depending on their duties and the materials they use.  Individual labs will conduct project/protocol specific training.  

Designated Emphases & Certificate Programs

Designated Emphases (DE)

Available to doctoral students only

Designated Emphases (DE's) are areas of interdisciplinary specialization, similar to a minor, to which doctoral students may apply.  Doctoral students typically begin DE coursework in their first or second year. DE degree requirements may allow for some of the required coursework to overlap with courses required by the student's major program, but all DE's require students to take additional coursework specific to the area of emphasis.  DE affiliate faculty must serve on both the student's QE and Dissertation committees.  Students may complete more than one DE, but may only apply to DE's with which their major program is affiliated.  Affiliated DE's are listed on the student's program page

Information about each DE and the application process is included on the Designated Emphases page.

Graduate Academic Certificates (GAC/GAUC)

Available to master's and doctoral students

A graduate certificate program is a structured sequence of courses and requirements which focus on a specialty or area of expertise not offered by a regular degree program. Certificate programs are available to enrolled UC Davis master's and doctoral students, and in the case of GAC's, visiting students and direct admits as well.  There are two formats for graduate certificate programs that make use of regular UC Davis courses:

  • UC Graduate Academic Certificate (GAC) 
  • UC Davis Graduate Academic Unit Certificate (GAUC)

A list of available GACs and GAUC's, and contact information for certificate chairs is available on the Graduate Academic Certificates webpage. 

Professional Development

The GradPathways Institute for Professional Development (GPI) is the central resource for graduate student and postdoctoral scholar professional development at UC Davis.  Through innovative navigational and curricular tools, GPI is the best place to start exploring the entire enhanced professional development ecosystem at UC Davis.

GPI provides innovative no-cost programming based on 8 core competencies.  These include: Success and Socialization; Writing and Publishing; Presentation Skills; Teaching and Mentoring; Leadership and Management; Professionalism and Ethics; Career Management; and Wellness and Life Balance.  Programming for each competency is provided through the Institute and in partnership with UC Davis campus units.