P/D/F Option Proposed For Graduate Students At Feb. Faculty Meeting

Professor of Biology Stephen P. Bell presented a motion at Wednesday afternoon’s faculty meeting that would allow graduate students to take subjects on a Pass/D/Fail basis, similar to the option currently available to junior and senior undergraduates. The motion will be discussed and voted upon at the March 19 faculty meeting.

If the proposal is approved, graduate students would be allowed to take one subject per term on a P/D/F basis. The subject’s units would not count towards the total number needed to fulfill degree requirements, but the units would count against any unit restriction a student faces, such as those imposed by teaching assistant and research positions.

As the proposal stands, individual instructors may prevent students from using the P/D/F option in their subjects, and departments may also limit the use of the option.

The motivation for the proposal comes from a growing desire of graduate students to take subjects outside of their primary field of research, Bell said. Currently, graduate students can elect either to receive full grades or listener status. But some students hesitate to take subjects that might hurt their grade point average, especially when they only want to get exposure to a different field, Bell said. And subjects taken with listener status do not show up on transcripts and leave no lasting record that a student took the subject.

Professor Charles H. Stewart III commented that there could be a sunset clause applied to the change, similar to how the Sophomore Exploratory option began as a five year experiment. After five years, the faculty would conduct a formal review to determine whether the P/D/F option was being appropriately used by graduate students, and then decide whether to adopt it formally. Bell also added that a five year review could revisit some of the restrictions currently included in the proposal.

The motion was written in cooperation with Graduate Student Council members and Dean of Graduate Students Steven R. Lerman ’72.

The full text of the motion is available online to people with MIT certificates at