The Graduate School can authorize special committees to supervise master's or doctoral programs for students whose needs cannot be met within an established program. Students must first be accepted into a graduate-degree-granting program and establish one semester of full-time graduate work at UW–Madison, and then the faculty advisor should submit a proposal for a special committee degree. Students should check with the Graduate School and the individual faculty member with whom they are interested in working.
Special graduate committee degrees are one-of-a-kind degrees built around unique needs of individual students that cannot be satisfied by approved programs (e.g., by existing major program/minor combinations, joint degrees, distributed minors, and so on) and may permit individual degrees in new and emerging fields or combinations of disciplines. A higher degree of independence is required on the part of the student, since easily available guidance provided by programs is often more difficult to obtain, and there is not the usual collegial group of students in closely related research and coursework.
The master's and doctoral special graduate committee guidelines are:
- Prospective students who may have an interest in a special graduate committee degree should apply to the degree program that is closest to their program interest.
- Upon receipt of an application on which a prospective student has expressed interest in a special graduate committee degree, the program will follow all relevant program admission requirements.
- Students may not be admitted directly to a special graduate committee degree program. They must be accepted for admission by an established department or program and be attending classes at UW–Madison before a proposal for a special graduate committee degree will be considered by the Graduate School.
- The department or program admitting the student must be prepared to see the student through an established degree program. No commitments are made to provide a special graduate committee degree until after the student is enrolled and the proposal for the special degree and the student's ability at the graduate level have been evaluated and approved.
- The student's advisor authors and submits the special graduate committee degree proposal on behalf of the student as early in the student's program as possible. Proposals submitted after a substantial portion of the program has been completed will not be accepted. Doctoral proposals must be submitted by the end of the first year of graduate work. Master's proposals must be submitted after the equivalent of the first full-time semester of graduate work. The proposal should consist of the following elements:
- The reasons the special graduate committee program is needed and an explanation of why the student's needs cannot be met within existing programs.
- The exact title of the proposed degree program (which should be brief and descriptive).
- The proposed course and seminar program of graduate work on this campus. Include the course title, program, course number, credits, grade, and semester taken/to be taken.
- Any specific requirements of the dissertation or thesis (language, equipment, etc.).
- The nature and scope of preliminary examinations for the doctoral degree, or the examination procedure for the master's degree.
- The nature of the dissertation or thesis (general subject area).
- The names of the faculty members who, in addition to the advisor, are willing to share the responsibility of supervising the student's program. Including the advisor, the doctoral degree requires five members (including four UW–Madison graduate faculty members), and the master's degree requires three members (including two UW–Madison graduate faculty members). Approval signatures of the committee members are required on the proposal.
- The Graduate School will carefully review proposals to determine whether or not the program can be carried out within an established department or program, joint degrees, appropriate use of minors, or other available mechanisms. The suitability and degree of commitment of the committee for the proposed program will be examined.
- The chairperson of the committee (usually the advisor) should be a member of the program to which the student originally had been admitted. That program should remain the keeper of the student's records and should make all appropriate nominations for financial aid.
- The Graduate School is concerned about maintaining active participation by all members of special degree committees in the ongoing program of the student and asks the individual members of the committee to assume program responsibilities provided institutionally in a conventional program. Faculty members who are willing to serve on these committees should be prepared to participate fully in all aspects of the student's program from the beginning, especially where they must provide the necessary expertise in their particular areas of interest.