Graduate Catalog
2020-2021
 
Policies, Procedures, Academic Programs
Graduate School Policies
Graduate Degree and Certificate Requirements
General Degree Requirements for Graduate Students

For a graduate student, the university degree requirements are those identified in the Graduate Catalog (Policies and Procedures) effective for the academic year in which the student files the Plan of Study. If the requirements will change in the coming academic year (cases where the governance system has set new policy to be effective at the beginning of the next academic year), the graduate student may choose, but is not required, to abide by the "new" requirements. For graduate students not enrolled for more than one calendar year, requirements will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis at the time of Readmission.

Scholarly Ethics and Integrity

All graduate students are expected to uphold the Virginia Tech Principles of Community and the Graduate School’s Expectations for Graduate Education as well as the scholarly integrity and research ethics standards of their disciplines. Graduate students must complete degree program requirements for learning about 4 required scholarly ethics and integrity topics plus additional topics relevant to the discipline as follows.

 

Required topics  :

1. Plagiarism and other violations of the Graduate Honor Code

2. Proper use of professional conventions in citation of existing research and scholarship, accurate reporting and ownership of

     findings, and acknowledgement of contributions to the work

3. Ethical standards in teaching, mentoring, and professional activities

4. Available avenues for reporting alleged misconduct

 

Additional topics, as relevant to the discipline  :

1. Appropriate lab procedures and maintenance of lab notebooks and other research documentation

2. Fair use of publications, software, and equipment

3. Appropriate research protocols involving human and animal subjects; Institutional Review Board and/or Institutional Animal Care

    and Use Committee certification

4. Guidelines for maintenance of confidentiality (and, where relevant, anonymity) in research

5. Guidelines for determination of authorship

6. Appropriate grant and contract management, including appropriately asserting personal or program capacities and

    competencies when applying for grants and contracts

7. Discipline‐ or field‐specific professional ethics

Plan of Study

Submission and Approval

Submission and Approval. All graduate students must submit a Plan of Study that meets at least the minimum Graduate School requirements for the designated degree. The Plan of Study must be approved by the student’s Advisor and Advisory Committee, the Graduate Program Director or Department Head, and the Graduate School. All courses on the Plan of Study, including supporting courses, must be taken on a letter grade (A/F) basis except for those courses approved to be graded on a pass-fail (P/F) basis only. Audit courses cannot be included on the Plan of Study. After approval by the student's Advisory Committee and the Graduate Program Director or Department Head, the Plan of Study should be entered and sent electronically to the Graduate School for approval, according to the following schedule.

   Master’s

Master’s: The Plan of Study is due by the end of the second academic semester for all Master's degree students (based on full time enrollment of 12 credits per semester). For the Master of Architecture or Master of Urban and Regional Planning degrees, the Plan of Study is due before 30 credit hours are completed. For Bachelors/Masters students, the Plan of Study is due by the end of the first full semester of graduate study.

   Ph.D.

Ph.D.: The Plan of Study is due by the end of the third academic semester for all doctoral students (based on full time enrollment).

   Ed.D.

Ed.D.: The Plan of Study is due no later than 30 days after the successful completion of the required qualifying examination. The qualifying exam is an Ed.D. requirement, not a Graduate School requirement.

Transfer Courses on the Plan of Study

Transfer Courses on the Plan of Study. No more than 50% of the graded credit hours needed to satisfy the requirements for a Virginia Tech graduate degree may be transferred in from a regionally accredited university. All such credits must have earned grades of "B" or better, have been earned while in good standing in graduate status, and must have been graduate courses (numbered 5000 or higher) at the institution where the student took the courses. Grades of "S" or "P" are not acceptable for transfer credit. All transfer courses must be acceptable to the student’s Advisory Committee and the Graduate Program Director or Department Head. For transfer course work more than five years old, a Justification of 'Old' Course Work form must be filed with the Plan of Study (see below).

Credits from other universities are transferred to a Virginia Tech graduate degree at the time the Plan of Study that includes those courses is approved by the Graduate School. Transferred courses count only as credit hours and are not included in the calculation of the Virginia Tech GPA. Official transcripts are required before transfer course work can be approved for the Plan of Study.

Research, Project and Report, Practicum or Internship credit hours may not be transferred in from another university to meet Virginia Tech graduate degree requirements (i.e., they cannot be included on the Plan of Study). Credits taken while in undergraduate status or for an undergraduate degree cannot be used as transfer credit for a graduate degree.

Justification of ’Old’ Course Work

Justification of ’Old’ Course Work. Academic work, including transfer credit more than five years old at the time the Plan of Study is submitted, requires Justification for inclusion on the plan. The Justification form requires an Advisory Committee explanation of how the committee will insure that the student will update their knowledge for out-of-date courses. The Course Justification Request form is at http://graduateschool.vt.edu/content/dam/graduateschool_vt_edu/GAAPforms/Course_Justification_Request.pdf and some procedural guidelines are at http://graduateschool.vt.edu/academics/graduate-catalog-policies-procedures/justification_of_old_coursework.html Justifications remain valid throughout the degree unless the student is out of enrollment for a period exceeding one calendar year. Justification of “old” course work and review of the Plan of Study occurs at the time of re-admission.

Supporting Courses

Supporting Courses. Supporting courses are those the student's Advisory Committee considers necessary to provide missing background for taking the key courses required for the student's degree program. Courses numbered lower than 4000 can only be used on the Plan of Study as Supporting Courses. All courses listed on the Plan of Study, including Supporting Courses are requirements for the degree and must be completed with a grade of "C" or better. However, supporting courses do not count toward the minimum number of credit hours required for the degree.

Plan of Study Changes

Plan of Study Changes. A Plan of Study Change Form http://graduateschool.vt.edu/content/dam/graduateschool_vt_edu/GAAPforms/Plan_of_Study_Change.pdf     is necessary whenever changes are made to the course work on the Plan of Study. Changes to the Plan of Study must be approved by the student's Advisory Committee, the Department Head or Graduate Program Director and the Graduate School. Once a course on the Plan of Study has been taken for a grade, it must remain on the Plan of Study.

Change of Thesis Option

Change of Thesis Option. A master's degree candidate is allowed to change from the thesis to the non-thesis option (or vice versa) only once. These changes require approval of the Department Head/Graduate Program Director and the Chair of the student's Advisory Committee. Use this form: http://graduateschool.vt.edu/content/dam/graduateschool_vt_edu/GAAPforms/Thesis_Option_Change_Request.pdf. Such changes often require changes in the coursework and Plan of Study.

Grades on Plan of Study Courses

Grades on Plan of Study Courses. All graded courses on the Plan of Study must be taken for a letter grade (A/F) except for those courses offered on a pass/fail (P/F) basis only (for example, Independent Study courses and many seminars are only P/F). Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA or better on the Plan of Study course work. Once a course on the Plan of Study is taken for a grade, it must remain on the Plan of Study.

Repeating Courses on the Plan of Study

Repeating Courses on the Plan of Study. Students are required to repeat any courses on the Plan of Study in which a grade below "C-" has been earned. Courses may not be repeated if a "P" grade is earned or without permission of the Graduate School if a grade of "C-" or better is earned. After a course has been repeated, the grade for the first enrollment will be Repeat Graduate (RG, defined as a "C-" or lower; RP, defined as a grade of "C" or higher when the course was first taken). Only the most recent enrollment in the course will receive a letter grade and be calculated in the GPA.

Graduate Advisory Committees

Committee Functions

The student's Advisory Committee works with the student to design a Plan of Study, approves the Plan of Study, provides advice, conducts required examinations and regularly assesses the student's progress and accomplishments. Advisory Committee members are appointed by the Graduate School on recommendation of the Department Head or Graduate Program Director via submission of a Plan of Study listing the proposed committee Chair ("Major Advisor") and committee members.

Although all members of the Advisory Committee have a role in guiding the student’s program, the Chair of the student’s committee is solely responsible for assuring that supervision of the student’s program is conducted in accordance with the expectations and policies of the university, the Graduate School, and the program’s academic home.  For this reason, only Virginia Tech faculty members are eligible to serve as an Advisory Committee Chair.  In some cases, it may be desirable to appoint a committee Co-Chair, in recognition of that member’s disciplinary expertise or a existing scholarly relationship with the committee Chair; however, there remains but a single Chair (not two Co-Chairs) with authority to direct the student’s program of study.  Examples of committee members for whom a role of Co-Chair may be justified include faculty members from institutions outside of Virginia Tech who maintain an ongoing research collaboration or jointly-funded project with Virginia Tech faculty members who would chair the committees in question.

Committee Composition and Size

Advisory Committees will be composed principally of Virginia Tech-employed Graduate Program faculty members, who have the primary responsibility for the operation and integrity of graduate education programs in their departments, schools, and programs (“academic units”). These individuals are recommended by their academic units to serve as Graduate Program faculty members on the basis of having earned the appropriate terminal degree (or having gained equivalent professional experience), maintaining a record of scholarly productivity, and showing evidence of successful involvement with graduate education within the previous five years. 

Virginia Tech faculty members who meet the three criteria above can serve as Chairs, Co-Chairs, or Members of graduate student advisory committees.  Eligible faculty categories include the Tenured/Tenure-track, Clinical, Extension, Collegiate, Research, and Professor of Practice ranks as defined in the Virginia Tech Faculty Handbook. Virginia Tech faculty members who meet the first two criteria but have not previously had the opportunity to advise or supervise graduate students can, if paired with or mentored by an experienced Virginia Tech faculty member, qualify as Graduate Program faculty and can serve as Chair, Co-Chair, or Member on graduate student Advisory Committees. 

Department Heads/Chairs or Graduate Program Directors may nominate faculty members in their academic units for Graduate Program Faculty status by submitting the form at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdmnzEYr6e48l2kspRNp-j76l_7q9N5KQmgs-sRJNlc7ZNfXw/viewform?edit_requested=true.  (As of March 1, 2021, we are processing Graduate Committee Service Approval request forms exclusively via the Google form linked above, retiring the pdf form used previously.  A downloadable guide to completing the online request form can be found here.)

A student pursuing a Master’s degree must have an Advisory Committee composed of at least three members with qualifications described above, e.g., the appropriate terminal degree (Master's degree or higher). In some instances, it is appropriate to have fewer (minimum of 1) faculty members serving on the Advisory Committee when students are pursuing a coursework-only degree (e.g., MBA). Departments offering coursework-only degrees can petition the Commission on Graduate and Professional Studies and Policies for approval to reduce the size of the committee.  Doctoral candidates must have an Advisory Committee of at least four members with the qualifications described above. The student should also refer to the departmental policies and procedures document for any guidelines for graduate advisory committee service or composition specific to their department or program.

In addition to members of the Graduate Program faculty, other individuals can be appointed to serve as Members or as Co-Chairs under certain circumstances as noted under Committee Functions above, on graduate student Advisory Committees.  This category includes retired or Emeritus Virginia Tech faculty members, Virginia Tech employees (e.g., Research Scientists, Administrative/Professional Faculty, Instructors), and non-Virginia Tech-employed individuals including Adjunct Faculty, who are qualified by terminal degree/professional experience and scholarly productivity and who, by inclusion, can provide specific expertise to enrich the student’s program.  Recommendation that such an individual be appointed to serve on a graduate student’s Advisory Committee is made by the student’s home academic unit using the form linked above and approved by the Graduate School.

Identification of Committee Members

Selection of an individual student’s Advisory Committee membership, drawn from the Virginia Tech Graduate Program faculty and, if desired, approved non-Graduate Program faculty individuals, is performed jointly by the student and their Major Advisor and approved by the Graduate Program Director of the student’s home academic unit when the student's Plan of Study is prepared.  Graduate Program faculty members must constitute at least two-thirds of the minimum committee membership (e.g., at least two of the three members for master’s degrees and at least three of the four members for doctoral degrees).

Once the minimum committee membership total has been satisfied as described, individuals not meeting the criteria of degree/experience credentials, scholarly achievement, and graduate education experience may be added as additional Members of a student’s committee if, in the view of the student’s home academic unit, that individual can provide specific expertise to enrich the student’s program.  Approval of these individuals for service is likewise recommended via the form identified above.

In selecting members of their Advisory Committees, students and their committee Chairs should take pains to avoid situations that might create conflicts of interest for the student or be impacted by coercive relationships among the committee members or between the student and committee members.  It is of paramount importance that all committee members be free to evaluate the student’s work based on its academic merit alone.

Composition of the student’s Advisory Committee is communicated by the Graduate Program Director to the Graduate School in the form of the student’s Plan of Study, on which all committee members are signatories. 

Additional considerations

Faculty members are not permitted to serve as Advisor or committee member for family members (spouse or dependent immediate family member), nor for individuals with whom they have a close personal relationship, such as partner or extended family member, or a close professional relationship such as business associate or supervisor.  A faculty member with a significant financial interest in a company may not serve as Chair of an Advisory Committee for either a student funded through a university-sponsored project supported by the faculty member's company or a student employed directly by the faculty member's company. The faculty member with the conflict may serve as Co-Chair or committee member. If another Chair is appointed, that faculty member must be of equal or greater rank, must have no involvement with the sponsoring company, and must not be subject to undue influence by the faculty-owner. See Policy 13010 for a complete description of the disclosures and protections required in such instances.

Graduate students (including those Virginia Tech employees who are pursuing graduate degrees) may not serve on a graduate Advisory and/or Examining Committees.  Post-doctoral scholars or other advanced degree holders who have earned their graduate degrees at Virginia Tech will not be approved for service on Advisory Committees of students with whom they overlapped as students.

See also Eligibility of Faculty/Staff for Graduate Degrees (https://secure.graduateschool.vt.edu/graduate_catalog/policies.htm?policy=002d14432c654287012c6542e3720084) for a description of steps needed to document the delineation of employment duties from degree-seeking research work.

Changes in a Student's Advisory Committee

Changes in a student's Advisory Committee will be granted only on approval of all committee members (new and old) and on recommendation by the Department Head or Graduate Program Director (http://graduateschool.vt.edu/content/dam/graduateschool_vt_edu/GAAPforms/Change_of_Committee-Advisor.pdf).  In the case that one or more members does not approve the change in the membership of the Advisory Committee, an appeal may be made by either the student or a faculty member to the Department Head.  If the Department Head considers the appeal to have merit, he/she may then ask the Graduate School for an exception to all members signing the form.

If the Chair of an Advisory Committee leaves the university or retires during the student's degree program, the department should consult with the Dean's Office in the Graduate School to determine the most appropriate continuing committee composition for advising of the student to degree completion.