For the past two years, my email signature has read “Graduate Student” instead of the slightly more illustrious “Doctoral Candidate”. Every program has slightly different hoops to jump through in order to reach this distinction. In the Darwinian Sciences at UChicago, it’s a Dissertation Proposal Hearing- where one tries to convince their faculty committee that they are capable of carrying out a 3+ year independent research project. Students form these committees themselves by choosing faculty with expertise pertaining to their dissertation research, so that they may act as resources as well as qualified judges.
Check out my written proposal and the presentation I gave on May 21- I’d love comments on either!