GDR Student Guide - Basics


GDR Student Guide – Basics

I. Basics
This is a rather informal, but highly important section providing general information and helpful advice.
GDR Resources OnlineBecause the Ph.D. program in Drew’s Graduate Division of Religion is primarily self-directed, students bear great responsibility for becoming familiar with the policies and procedures that govern their progress through the program. The GDR has built a series of web pages, located at, that describe the program and contain the documents and information necessary for successful and efficient completion of the Ph.D. Pay special attention to the resources listed under “Information for Current Students,” where you will find a library of administrative forms, links to the Regulations of the GDR and this guide, in addition to many other resources, including information on locating grant and fellowship funding, and materials to guide your professional development. Visit the site often, as information is updated on a regular basis.

All GDR students are assigned a faculty advisor when they begin at Drew. The student’s first meeting with his or her advisor typically centers on selection of the courses that the student will take during his or her first semester. The advisor’s signature approval is needed for course registration, and also on a great many other forms (both paper and electronic) that the student will need to complete during his or her time at Drew.

Know, however, that you may request to change your advisor. You do this by obtaining and filling out a Request for Change of Advisor form from the GDR Administrative Office, or on the GDR web site (most forms are available online through the GDR site). The form does not ask for the reasons for the requested change, nor does it require the signature of your current advisor. Once you have completed the form, the GDR office submits it to the GDR Chair for approval.

The term “advisor” is also frequently used for the first reader of the student’s Ph.D. dissertation. Because a faculty advisor is often assigned to an entering GDR student on the basis of his or her research interests, that same faculty member may well go on to become the first reader of the dissertation and chair of the dissertation committee. Know, however, that it is possible, and not uncommon, to have a faculty member other than your academic advisor as first reader or director of your dissertation.

Getting to know the “right” faculty
When the time comes to put your dissertation committee together, the onus will be on you to approach the faculty whom you would like to serve on the committee (typically, three faculty for dissertations). Faculty tend to be more receptive to an invitation to serve on a committee issuing from a student whom they have already had in class, and whose academic abilities and interests they consequently know, than one issuing from a student whom they haven’t yet had a chance to get to know. So it is important to take courses with professors whom you think you may eventually want on your committee. Also, taking a course with such a professor will give you a good sense of his or her strengths and weaknesses as a mentor and hence his or her suitability to advise your research.

How long should it take you to complete your Ph.D.?
In recent years, the GDR administration has been cracking down increasingly on students who have been taking too long to get through their degree programs. Most Ph.D. students manage to complete their course work in a timely manner (except when they rack up excessive Incompletes, on which see below). Moving swiftly and steadily through comprehensive exams and dissertation writing, however, requires greater self-motivation and self-discipline, and this is when many students slow down and lose their bearings. Once students begin to bog down, time suddenly begins slipping away with alarming speed and regaining focus can be difficult. The recommended strategy is to treat semesters devoted to comprehensive exam preparation or dissertation writing as much as possible like regular semesters, even though you may have no mentor or advisor breathing down your neck, and to build on the disciplined study habits that, hopefully, you will have developed during your two years of course work. For example, the best strategy for moving swiftly through your dissertation is to approach each chapter as you would a term paper, and not let the size of the overall project paralyze you.

Ph.D. students are allotted seven years to complete the degree. Highly motivated students, however, are regularly able to complete the degree in five years. (Their motivation is often spurred by the fact that occupancy of Drew housing by Ph.D. students is limited to five years!) Ideally, you should aim to finish in five years, and regard the additional two years allowed as a buffer or safety net.

Here is what a typical five-year PhD degree program looks like:

Year One: 18 credits of coursework. Pass first language exam.

Year Two: 18 credits of coursework. Pass second language exam. If possible, also write
comprehensive exam proposals and have them approved, although this could be deferred
to the beginning of Year Three.

Year Three: Pass comprehensive exams. If possible, also write dissertation prospectus
and have it approved, although this could be deferred to the beginning of Year Four.

Year Four: Research and write dissertation.

Year Five: Complete dissertation, successfully defend dissertation, graduate.

For a more detailed outline of a typical five-year program, see the “Detailed Timetable for Earning Ph.D. (full-time)” in Section III, below.

Beware of incompletes!
At times during your course work you may need to request an Incomplete, that is, seek permission from the instructor of a course to submit required work later than the official deadline. The arrangement is formalized by the Incomplete Request Form that the instructor and advisor sign before you deliver it to the office of the Associate Academic Dean. The form usually includes the new deadline that the student and the professor will have negotiated (although there is also an official default deadline of April 15 for Incompletes from the Fall Semester and of October 1 for Incompletes from the Spring Semester). Many professors then promptly forget the new deadline that has been set. That does not mean, however, that the indefinite carrying of Incompletes is without consequences. On November 1 and June 1 each year, Incompletes from the previous spring and fall semesters automatically flip to U (= F) .

Even one grade of U on a graduate student’s transcript can drag his or her GPA down below the required grade point average. Once that happens, the student appears on the radar of the Committee on Academic Standing and his or her case is reviewed. If a student is carrying what the committee deems “excessive Incompletes”—which may be as few as two or three—from semester to semester, the committee may (and now frequently does) place the student on a mandatory leave of absence. That itself can trigger still further problems. In particular, students are not entitled to university housing during leaves of absence, and, by federal regulation, are required to begin repayment on student loans. Carrying Incompletes beyond their deadlines, then, can quickly become a slippery slope, and once one has begun to slide it can be very difficult to recover.

Watch Your Language(s)!
Ph.D. students in the GDR are required to pass exams demonstrating their ability to read scholarly languages relevant to their fields of study. The regulations stipulate that full-time Ph.D. students cannot begin their second year of course work without having satisfied at least one of these language requirements, and cannot be approved to take comprehensive exams until they have satisfied both requirements.

In the past the regulation about passing one language before beginning the second year of course work was not strictly enforced, but the GDR administration now takes a tougher line on it. It is very much in your own interest, however, to ensure that you have fulfilled both language requirements by the time you begin your fifth semester in the doctoral program. Otherwise, most or all of your third year may be taken up with language study when it should be taken up with comprehensive exams, and you may well end up having added an extra year unnecessarily to your program.

Study buddies
Develop a study buddy network! The university doesn’t have a ready-made “support network” for grad students—you have to create you own. Creating a network of classmates can be one of the best things you do here at Drew, and not just while you’re in course work: study buddies can be especially valuable when studying languages or preparing for comp exams. Find people with whom you can meet on a regular basis throughout your degree program to share ideas, anxieties, and hopes, to give and receive emotional and academic support, and to get away from the books once in awhile for dinner or a drink. Talk to classmates, find out who lives near you, and make time to attend Area events and other GDR events as a way to meet other people in and outside your academic Area. You may think it is impossible to make time for a social life while trying to get through a Ph.D. program in five years (or even seven), but trying to do it without a social support network and study buddies is even harder.

What is the Academic Standing Committee?
This is the Theological School committee that impinges most directly on the lives of GDR students. The committee (the name of which is abbreviated as ASC) is chaired by the Associate Academic Dean, and its membership also includes the GDR Chair, the University Registrar, three faculty members, a TS student representative, and a GDR student representative. Many of the petition forms that you will fill out as a GDR student will need the final approval of ASC. Examples of such forms include petitions to take a tutorial or for a time extension to your studies. The committee also monitors the academic progress of GDR students. In addition to its monthly meetings during the semester, ASC meets in January and June for an extended end-of-semester review of student progress. Students who have fallen below the required minimum GPA, or are carrying excessive Incompletes, or have exceeded the time allotted for the completion of their program, or are progressing too slowly through their program (for example, are taking too long to complete their comprehensive exams) are discussed individually, and often at length, by the committee. Following these end-of-semester reviews, a flurry of letters goes out from ASC placing students on probation, or terminal probation, or issuing other ultimatums, or placing students on a mandatory leave of absence, or withdrawing students from the GDR altogether. In short, although you will need to deal with ASC during your time at Drew, you want to keep those dealings to a minimum!

Advice from the Financial Aid Office
A common form students overlook is the financial aid supplemental form. They are mailed to returning students’ home addresses every January with a letter that says the financial aid deadline each year is April 1st. Students can also pick one up in the Financial Aid office or have it mailed to them upon request. These forms are also available on the Drew website.

The supplemental form allows a student’s financial aid package to be based on what the student intends to register for in the next academic year (the financial aid package is adjusted after the add/drop period if necessary). If a student is receiving a scholarship, he or she will not receive it until the supplement is completed. Scholarships are applied to their financial aid when students are in course work and dissertation semester(s). There is no scholarship for maintaining matriculation semesters.

Full time status is 9 or more credit hours per semester or maintaining matriculation full time (all of the registration requirements are listed on the Registrar’s Website). Anything less than 9 credits is part time; there is also a maintaining matriculation part time status. In order to receive Federal financial aid, a student must be registered for at least 6 credits per semester and/or maintaining matriculation FULL TIME. Again, scholarships are not applied to a student’s financial aid package if he or she is in maintaining matriculation status.

Student Account Refund Information
Many graduate students rely on financial aid funds to pay regular expenses during the academic year. Student loans and stipends granted as part of Drew University Financial Aid Awards are deposited directly into student accounts, and are issued in two disbursements, one at the beginning of each semester. These funds are not, however, released to students until each semester’s enrollment status is verified through an enrollment audit performed by the Office of Financial Assistance. Such refunds, which are not made automatically, must be requested via e-mail addressed to the Drew University Business Office ( These requests can be made no earlier than one week after the completion of add/drop.

If a student has urgent need of funds to pay basic expenses (e.g., rent, groceries, medical expenses) before the stated timeline, a request for exceptional consideration can be made to the Business Office, also through e-mail (, addressed to the attention of the Bursar, Kelley Parsons. Such requests must identify a specific need and specify an amount less than the total of the student’s credit balance.

For detailed information about credit refunds and student loans, follow these Business Office links:

A Note on the Granting of the M.Phil., Enrollment Status, and Financial Aid
After the University awards the M.Phil. degree, the University Registrar must report completion of the degree to the U.S. Department of Education. For students receiving federal student aid and who are continuing on to completion of the Ph.D., the report of degree completion may place student loans in repayment status. When this occurs, the student immediately should contact the University Registrar in order to ensure prompt reporting of continued enrollment status. Individual circumstances may also warrant communication with the lender, as some lenders require direct receipt of enrollment certification. Degrees awarded in May most commonly present difficulty, as December and August degrees are followed by the automatic reporting of enrollment status that occurs at the beginning of each semester. In all cases, however, students should remain vigilant about the status of their enrollment and loan deferral.

These links provide further information regarding whom to contact and which procedures to follow:


Be “present”
Some GDR students are rarely to be seen on campus other than in class, and once they have completed course work may vanish altogether for long stretches of time. Other students are active in Area seminars, attend public lectures hosted by the GDR, participate in the annual Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium, attend GDR social events, and are active in the GDR Student Association. Know that most faculty will be keenly aware of which category you fit into! Students who are involved in many facets of GDR life enjoy a far richer experience at Drew than students who are minimally present.

Using library resources for research

The Theological Librarian is happy to meet with GDR students and is able to help them in many ways, especially with compiling bibliographies.

You can recall books that have been checked out online. If a book you want is checked out, click on “Place a hold” in the complete record, and the book will be recalled after the borrower has had it for thirty days. For more detailed information, check the web site.  For general information, visit the home page of the Rose Memorial Library.

When you’re searching through WorldCat and you see something that would aid your research, click on “Borrow this book from another library” (it’s in red), and submit your request to the Drew interlibrary loan office, without having to copy the details of the book into a form.

Retrieve electronic copies of articles more quickly. When you’re searching library databases and see an article that looks interesting, click on “Search for article” to open another window that tells you if Drew has electronic access to that item, and often provides a direct link to it if we do. Find more information on this service here.

The Writing Center is for grad students too!

The Writing Center is intended for all levels of writers, and for those whose first language is English as well as those for whom it is a second language. If, as a writer, you struggle with grammar, syntax, and the challenge of setting forth your argument in standard academic prose generally, going over your writing with one of the center’s consultants may prove very helpful.

The challenge from the consultant’s side will be that the subject matter of your writing will be unfamiliar, but he or she should be able to help you with the mechanics of the writing process nonetheless. Located in Brothers College Chapel, the Writing Center is open Mon-Thurs 11:00a.m—5:00p.m. and Tues/Thurs 6:00p.m.—8:00p.m. Friday hours are 10:00a.m.—3:00p.m., only during the last three weeks of each semester. Schedule an appointment with the center by following the instructions on their web site.

Writing help for GDR students for whom English is a second language is also available in the Theological School from the office of the ESOL Coordinator (Seminary Hall B011; ext. 3397). This office provides excellent service but is frequently overburdened, so it is important to contact it well before the deadline for your work.

Presenting Conference Papers

If you are scheduled to present a paper at a conference, or are merely planning to submit an abstract to an AAR or SBL program unit in response to its “Call for Papers,” be sure to confer first with your advisor and other faculty mentors. You are representing Drew when you engage in such activities, and you need to ensure that the quality of your work is as high as it should be. You want your mentors to feel pride, not embarrassment, when you deliver a paper. If your Area has a colloquium, seize the opportunity to present your paper-in-progress to it, if possible, so as to obtain critical feedback. With regard to submitting an abstract, remember that many Drew faculty serve on steering committees for AAR or SBL program units, and if a faculty member in your immediate field of study first encounters your abstract in the batch sent to him or her for review, he or she may feel disrespected.

Your destiny is in your own hands

While there are many extremely helpful people ready to be at your service here at Drew, ultimately it is your own responsibility to make sure that all forms, petitions, proposals, etc. be submitted in the correct form and on time. Act as your own best advocate. For example, don’t rely on your advisor or the GDR office to tell you when to turn in important paperwork such as comprehensive exam petitions and proposals. Know what is required of you and make sure you submit it on time and that it is received. Follow up and get confirmation that what you have sent (whether by hard copy or electronically) has actually arrived. Stay in touch with your advisor throughout your program.

We’re all in this together

Being a student usually means having to think on your feet and perform well under pressure with too little sleep and too little time to adequately prepare. What may or may not surprise you is that faculty and staff frequently work under very similar pressures. In other words, we are all stressed and all only human and, as such, we all have our bad days. Learn patience and practice kindness, with yourself and others.