PhD Literature Program Requirements

Courses | Languages | Preliminary Exams | Dissertation | Teaching


There is a minimum requirement of 30 hours beyond the master's degree (earned here or elsewhere), of which no more than 15 hours can be at the 500 level. To meet University requirements, doctoral students must have 48 credit hours. This means that 18 credit hours earned at the master's level must be formally transferred and applied to the requirements for the doctoral degree. Only credit earned during the six-year period preceding admission to the doctoral program may be considered for transfer. If a student's master's degree is more than six years old at admission, therefore, that student may have to complete up to 18 additional hours of coursework. Doctoral students whose work at the master's level does not meet the course distribution requirements of the department's MA program may be required to complete those distribution requirements with courses taken toward the PhD in addition to coursework. Twenty-four hours of dissertation research is required.

To be formally admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree, all students must receive a pass in EN 637, Workshop in Academic Writing, which will normally be taken in the final year of coursework.

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The foreign language requirement may be satisfied by one of the following options:

  • A reading knowledge of two foreign languages: This reading knowledge can be demonstrated by either of the following: (a) the certification of at least a "B" average or the equivalent in two years of study of a single foreign language completed, as either an undergraduate or graduate student, within five years of admission to the PhD program; or (b) passing the foreign language reading examination prepared by the Department of Modern Languages and Classics. The language used to satisfy the MA language requirement — whether gained here or at another school — can satisfy one of the languages required for the PhD program. Students who are not native speakers of English may use their native language as one of the two required languages.
  • Advanced proficiency in one foreign language: Advanced proficiency can be demonstrated by (a) an undergraduate major in the language completed within five years of admission to the PhD program; (b) the certification of at least a "B" in two advanced literature courses (400-level or higher) taught in the foreign language. Students who are not native speakers of English may use their native language to fulfill this requirement.

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Preliminary Exams

After finishing coursework, the student must be formally admitted to candidacy for the degree. To meet this requirement, each student must pass a written preliminary examination, and engage with his or her dissertation committee in a one-hour conference concerning the dissertation prospectus. The written preliminary examination will be given at a date agreed upon by the student and his or her examination committee in consultation with the director of graduate studies. The oral conference concerning the dissertation prospectus can be scheduled after the student passes the written examination, when the student and dissertation director agree that the prospectus is ready (date to be arranged by the student in consultation with the graduate studies director and the dissertation committee). The examination and conference will be governed by the following guidelines:

A. Written preliminary examination: The PhD preliminary examination is a written exam of four hours in duration that requires the student to demonstrate, in the subfield of the dissertation, a depth of knowledge appropriate to an expert in that subfield.  A list of approved subfields and a process for proposing alternative subfields shall be provided to the student.  Under the direction of his or her preliminary examination committee chair, who will likely also serve as dissertation director, and subject to the approval of the full exam committee,

  • The examinee will be responsible for constructing and demonstrating mastery over a reading list of approximately 100 primary and 30 secondary texts in the appropriate subfield; and,
  • The examinee will write approximately twelve questions, from which the committee will choose a subset (usually no less than two and no more than four), to be revealed to and answered by the examinee during the four-hour examination period.

Exams will be closed book and closed note. Once the exam is completed, the student’s committee will read all responses, talk collectively about them, and then, on the basis of consensus whenever possible, and on the basis of a majority that must include the chair if consensus is unreachable, assign the examinee a final grade of Distinction, Pass, or Fail.

View the step-by-step protocols for implementing the preliminary exam.

B. Dissertation prospectus conference: The conference concerning the dissertation prospectus will be a one-hour discussion between the student and his or her dissertation committee. Generally, that committee will be composed of the dissertation director, plus three other faculty members from the department and one graduate faculty member from outside the department.

The conference will focus on both the soundness of the prospectus and the student's readiness to undertake the research and writing of the dissertation. The purpose of the conference is to help the student begin the writing of the dissertation, to identify areas of potential difficulty, and to prepare the student for the project that lies ahead.

Once the written preliminary examination has been passed and the dissertation prospectus conference completed, the student and his or her dissertation committee must complete an application to candidacy and submit it to the Graduate School. The graduate studies director will notify the Graduate School that the written preliminary examination has been passed and the dissertation prospectus conference completed.

View the step-by-step protocols for organizing the prospectus conference.

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Once the prospectus conference is completed, then the student may proceed to the dissertation. The dissertation defense consists of an oral defense of the dissertation before four English department faculty members (including the director) and an external faculty member. Normally, the members of this committee are those faculty members who formed the dissertation prospectus conference committee. They will be appointed by the director of graduate studies in consultation with the student, who will have a clear understanding with the faculty members involved of whether they will be able to read the dissertation and conduct the final oral examination during summer months or during sabbatical leave if necessary. Faculty members have the prerogative to serve on a committee when they are not teaching; it is the student's responsibility to schedule investigation, writing, and examination in time periods acceptable to members of the committee. All five members of the dissertation committee must have time to read and analyze the dissertation before the oral examination on the dissertation; final approval of the dissertation must be received at least six weeks before graduation.

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All candidates for the PhD degree are required to have college or university teaching experience in English composition or literature. Teaching assistants in all programs must enroll in EN 533:534 Teaching College English during their first year of service.

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