PhD Degree Requirements

Ph.D. students must complete a minimum of 51 credits. Of these, 38 credits will include Core Courses, courses in a Major Area of Specialization, courses in a Minor Area of Specialization, and a Qualifying Research Project. The remaining 13 credits may be fulfilled through foreign language competencies, independent studies (i.e. to prepare for qualifying examinations), or Dissertator credits. At least 50% of credits (26 of 51 total credits) applied toward the doctorate degree must be from courses designed for graduate work; courses numbered 700 and above or courses numbered 300-699 that assess graduate students separately from undergraduate students generally satisfy this requirement. Students must maintain a 3.3-grade point average to remain in good standing. The Minimum Graduate Residence Requirement for doctorate degrees is 32 credits. Non-dissertator students may enroll for a maximum of 15 credits per term.

1. Pre-Doctoral Preparation Courses (credits vary)

Promising applicants who do not have sufficient educational background may be admitted, under the condition that he or she take pre-doctoral preparation courses; if the student satisfactorily completes a pre-doctoral course with a 3.3 GPA or above, the student may subsequently advance to full doctoral student status. Students will work closely with their major faculty advisor to determine appropriate pre-doctoral preparation courses. Pre-doctoral preparation courses vary by track and may include, but are not limited to, the following courses:

Design History

  • Art / Architecture / Design History Survey (2 courses)
  • Design History or Art History Research Methods (1 course)
  • Design History Research Seminar (1 course)

Environmental Design Research

  • Introductory research methods (2 courses) [1]
  • Introductory statistics course (2 courses) [2]
  • Classical Sociological Theory (SOC 475)

Textile Science

  • Introduction to Mathematical Statistics (STAT 312)
  • Applied Regression Analysis (STAT 333)
  • Statistical Experimental Design for Engineers (STAT 424)
  • Introduction to Theory of Probability (STAT 431)
2. Core Courses (14 - 17 credits)

The PhD Core Course curriculum offers an opportunity for all Design Studies students to establish a foundational knowledge of theories, research methods, and seminars relevant to design research. The core curriculum also includes specialized training in instruction and pedagogy; this is requisite for graduate teaching assistant duties (often a source of doctoral funding) [3], and useful for students who wish to pursue academic careers. The core curriculum also includes an independent study that will facilitate the production of the Qualifying Research Project (see description below).

Prior to doctoral candidacy, all PhD students will be expected to enroll in 14-17 credits distributed among the following Core Courses

  1. INTER-HE 801 Human Ecology Theories and Perspectives (2 credits)
  2. INTER-HE 793 Research Methods (3 credits)
  3. Design Studies Seminar (select one as appropriate) (3 credits)
    1. DS 221 Person-environment Interaction (EDR track only)[4]
    2. DS 920 Seminar in Design History (or independent study; topics may vary) (DH track only)
    3. DS 920 Seminar in New Developments in Textiles (or independent study) (TS track only)
  4. Research Design and Methods (select one as appropriate) (3 credits)
    1. Methods for Design History (select from Dimensions in Material Culture, Architectural History Methods, or Art History Methods) (DH track only)
    2. DS 955 Practical Research Design and Inquiry (EDR track only)
    3. DS 920 Textile Science Research Methods (TS track only)
  5. Graduate Student Instructor Course (2-3 credits)[5]
  6. Qualifying Research Project (3 credits, independent study)
3. Major Area of Specialization (15 credits)

The major area of specialization provides students with an overview of the knowledgebase and seminal research in their concentration field; coursework in the major area will serve as a foundation for the preliminary exam and dissertation. Students are encouraged to take course that are offered both inside and outside the Design Studies Department to develop an interdisciplinary framework for their doctoral research. Students may also benefit from courses offered through CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) traveling scholar program, the academic consortium of twelve major teaching and research universities in the Midwest designed to share specialized courses and resources. [6]

PhD students are expected to develop a strong foundation in research methods. Students in the DH track must take at least one advanced methods courses in applicable areas, such as art history or material culture. Students in the EDR track are encouraged to take advanced research methods courses (e.g., advanced qualitative/quantitative, ethnography, GIS) and advanced statistics courses as their dissertation topic requires. Students in the TS track are expected to develop a strong foundation in chemistry, the fundamentals of plasma chemistry, and plasma processing. Technology and chemistry are an important part of textile science track.

4. Minor Area of Specialization (9 - 12 credits)

All PhD students select a minor area of specialization outside their major area of specialization. The minor area should be distinctive but complementary to student’s major area. The UW-Madison Graduate School policy outlines two possible options regarding minor area of specialization:

  • Option A: requires a minimum of 10 credits in a single disciplinary program (e.g., Art History, Landscape Architecture). Fulfillment of this option requires the approval of the minor program.
  • Option B: requires a minimum of 9 credits in one or more programs forming a coherent topic, and can include course work in the program (e.g., technology-focused virtual reality [7]). Fulfillment of this option requires the approval of the Design Studies program. The distribution of other credits will be approved by the individual student’s PhD committee. [8]

The Design Studies program offers a unique minor area of specialization in Virtual Reality. Students in both the DH and EDR tracks may minor in this field. All PhD students looking to undertake this option must take the Design in Virtual Reality Seminar during the Spring Semester of their first year. The minor provides a technology-focused approach for students looking to develop new Virtual Reality technologies or to utilize Virtual Reality technologies in their research. The School of Human Ecology houses a newly developed Virtual Reality system[9] to which students undertaking this minor will have full access. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to work with other Virtual Reality and simulation environments around the UW-Madison campus. Students looking to undertake the VR technology minor should be familiar with concepts of computer programming and programming languages.

Students in the TS Track should develop expertise in both technology and chemistry. Students have the opportunity to develop a minor in the emerging field of technical textiles. If a distributed minor is desired, students must take a minimum of 6 credits in technology and 6 credits in chemistry (12 credits total).

5. Qualifying Research Project (3 credits, counts as Core Course)

The Qualifying Research Project is part of the Core Course requirements for every PhD student, and must be completed prior to preliminary exams. [10] The Qualifying Research Project provides students with an opportunity to conduct independent research in their area of specialization in preparation for their dissertation. While limited in scope, the project should be comparable to the final dissertation in terms of its intellectual tone and quality. The project could be a self-contained research paper that could later be incorporated into one of chapters in the final dissertation, building theoretical model for the dissertation, or proposal and conduct of pilot study for their final dissertation. Students are encouraged to disseminate the project broadly, in the format of conference papers or published journal articles in their respective fields.

The Qualifying Research Project may be based on work completed as part of any UW graduate seminar. Students often enroll in an independent study with their major advisor to complete this project. The project must be submitted to and approved by student’s major advisor; the project must receive a passing grade in order for the student to sit for the Preliminary Examination.

6. Preliminary Exam

All PhD students sit for a Preliminary Examination after satisfactorily completing coursework and the Qualifying Research Project. The exam is intended to demonstrate the students’ broad knowledge in the field of design, and specialized expertise in both a major and a minor area. Students must pass the Preliminary Examination before submitting a dissertation proposal, and before advancing to Dissertator status.

7. Research and Thesis

Students with Dissertator status are expected to enroll for 3 credits directly related to dissertation research or production . These credits are generally research and thesis credits, independent studies, or required seminars; they must be at the 300 level or above. Three credits is the minimum credit load per semester for dissertators during each of the fall and spring semesters; this is considered a full time load. Dissertators must register for 3 credits each semester until the Ph.D. thesis is filed.

8. Foreign Language Requirements

Foreign language proficiency may be required for students in the Design History track; if their Major or Minor Areas or dissertation requires work in a language other than English. Students in EDR Track may be required to fulfill the foreign language requirement if the student’s research involves the use of a language other than English. Competency may be acquired independently or through structured coursework and is assessed through examination. Exams must be taken before students advance to Dissertator status.

[1]Choose one from: INTER-HE 793 Research Methods; HDFS 425 Research Methods in Human Development and Family Studies; C&E SOC/SOC 357: Methods of Sociological Inquiry; or other equivalent courses

[2]Choose one from: STAT 201: Principles of Statistics (224, 324); STAT 301: Introduction to Statistical Methods; STAT 302: Accelerated Introduction of Statistical Methods; STAT 371: Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences; PSYCH 210 Basic Statistics for Psychology

[3] A student who is assigned to a teaching assistantship at the time of admission may take the course(s) during their first semester while fulfilling teaching assistant duties.

[4] This requirement is pending the new joint hire with the Landscape Architecture Department and the new course offered through the new person. Higher course number is necessary. May need to be replaced with independent study.

[5] Choose from

[6] The Committee on Institutional Cooperation, established in 1958, is the academic consortium of twelve major teaching and research universities in the Midwest, including the eleven members of the Big Ten Athletic Conference and the University of Chicago. Its programs and activities extend to all aspects of university activity except intercollegiate athletics. Member Institutions include Indiana University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Traveling Scholar Program enables doctoral-level students at any CIC university to take advantage of educational opportunities–specialized courses, unique library collections, unusual laboratories–at any other CIC university without change in registration or increase in tuition.

For more detailed information including eligibility criteria, conditions of enrollment, and application, visit,

[7] VR technology focused minor

Require during the first semester: DS 501: Design in Virtual Reality.
CS/Psych-770 Human-Computer Interaction (3 cr)
DS 501 Wearable Computing (3 cr)
CS 679 Computer Game Technology (3 cr)
CS 559 Computer Graphics (3 cr)
CS 777 Computer Animation (3 cr)
CS 838 Advanced Modeling and Simulation (3 cr)
CS 838 Advanced Graphics (3 cr)
CS 838 Visualization (3 cr)

[8] The Graduate School’s minimum course requirements for the minor include:

  • An average GPA of 3.00 on all minor course work;
  • Course work must be graduate level (the equivalent of UW-Madison courses 300 level or above; no audits or pass/fail);
  • Maximum 3 credits of independent study (e.g., 699, 799, 899, 999);
  • Research and thesis cannot be used to satisfy the minor (e.g., 790, 890, 990);
  • No more than 5 credits of coursework completed more than 5 years prior to admission to the Ph.D.; course work taken 10 years ago or more may not be used.
  • Design Studies Ph.D. students may still opt for either Option A (e.g., if they want their transcript to reflect expertise in a specific discipline) or Option B. Option B minors will be approved by the student’s doctoral committee.


[10] MS degree without thesis option, after the completion of this project or after the prelim if a student wants to exit the program