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Doctor of Philosophy

All PhD students are supported by assistantships and tuition waivers. We also offer research assistantships, dissertation fellowships, and funding for travel and research. For important information on PhD policies and procedures, please consult the English Graduate Student Handbook.

Program Requirements

he PhD in English requires 96 credit hours, which includes 36 hours (or four full semesters) of coursework. This total can be achieved through full-time registration for five academic years (fall and spring) plus two six-week summer terms at some point(s) during those years.

Once students are done with their coursework, they register for research hours (ENGL 691) as they work toward preliminary examinations and work on the dissertation.  Graduate assistants must remain registered full time (9 hours).

By the end of the second year, PhD students should have their committee established and have filed a degree plan with the OGAPS Degree Plan System.  The degree plan must be approved before the student can advance to preliminary exams.  OGAPS requires that the degree plan be approved 90 days before the preliminary exam.  Students must also get their preliminary exam lists approved by all committee members and by the Director of Graduate Studies at least 30 days before the exam.

Required Coursework

To fulfill degree requirements, Ph.D. coursework must include ENGL 602: First-Year Seminar and ENGL 603: Bibliography and Research Methods (if the student has taken no comparable course at the M.A. level). Students must also fulfill 12 hours of distribution requirements. Distribution requirements are as follows:

  • One course in any literature, pre-1800
  • One course in any literature, 1800-the present
  • One course in theory (of any kind, including linguistics and rhetoric)
  • One course organized around concepts, issues, or themes (as opposed to courses organized primarily according to chronological period)

Courses in each distribution area are offered every semester. A single course is often eligible to satisfy more than one of the distribution requirements, in which case a student has the choice of which one it will fulfill for him or her. Ph.D. students entering with an M.A. will normally have already met some of these requirements during their M.A. work; this is certified case-by-case at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies. All distribution requirements must be fulfilled prior to or concurrently with the student’s First-Year Review process, which occurs in the third semester.

PhD students must demonstrate competency in a minimum of one foreign language or pursue an alternative competency. Find out more about the Language Requirement.

Recommended Coursework

All Ph.D. students should take ENGL 695: Publication and Professionalization  (3 credit hours) in the spring of the third year. All those who intend to pursue an academic career should take the ENGL 681:Placement Seminar (1 credit hour) in the spring prior to their entry into the job market; on the 5-year schedule to degree, this means the spring of the fourth year. ENGL 697: Pedagogy is offered each fall. This course is not a degree requirement but must be taken in order to hold a teaching assistantship if the student has not already had a comparable course at the M.A. level. It is taken prior to or concurrently with the first semester of teaching.

Neither 681 nor 695 can count toward the the 36 hours of coursework; they can, however, be put on the degree plan in lieu of the same number of 691 hours (1 for 681 and 3 for 695).

No more than 6 coursework credit hours in other departments, and ordinarily no more than 6 hours of ENGL 685: Directed Studies, can be counted toward the total coursework hours. Exceptions to the Directed Studies limitation may be made and certified by the Director of Graduate Studies.

PhD students cannot take undergraduate courses without permission from the Graduate Director, the Undergraduate Director, and the Instructor.  Only 400-level courses are eligible, and those will only be approved if the student can establish that no graduate courses in a similar area are ever offered.  In general, PhD students are discouraged from taking undergraduate courses.

Graduate Certificates: Ph.D. students can opt to earn Graduate Certificates inWomen’s and Gender Studies, Film Studies, Africana Studies, and Digital Humanities. Interested students should consult their advisor and the director of the relevant program.

Beyond Coursework

  • The preliminary exam should be taken in the fall of the third year.
  • The prospectus should be filed by the spring of the third year.
  • Students should take the Publication course (695) in the third or fourth year. 695 should only be taken after students have completed their 36 hours of coursework.
  • Students should take Placement (681) in spring of the fourth year, in preparation for going on the market the following fall.
  • PhD funding expires in the fifth year, so the student should defend the dissertation no later than summer of the fifth year.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary exam is taken in the fall of the third year. Students will prepare reading lists, in consultation with an advisory committee, toward the end of the second year, in order to start reading and studying in the summer.



The prelim has two parts:  2-hour field exam; a 72-hour take-home exam on the student’s area of focus. The two parts of the exam should be scheduled for the same semester (the fall of the third year).

Together the readings lists should include 70-90 texts; a minimum of 45 texts need to be on the field list. No text should be included on both lists. The field list should be constructed with an eye to the type of job the student plans to seek; the focus list should be constructed with an eye to the dissertation project.  The focus list should not be a second field list; it needs to be tailored to the dissertation project. The lists must be headed by a 1000-word rationale for the student’s choices of texts.

The lists:

  • The field list. This list should contain major works in the student’s primary research and teaching area—for example, the history and theory of rhetoric; early modern literature; 20thcentury transnational literature, etc. This list should include all the works that the student and committee agree are important for anyone specializing in this field.The list can be divided into sub-areas if the student and the committee deem this useful. In addition to primary texts, the field list should also include at least five secondary works that reflect the current state of the field and/or major works in the history of that field.
  • The focus list. This list should contain works in what the student considers his or her special area—for example, representations of violence in modernist literature; gender and embodiment in medieval literature; race and ethnicity in contemporary American fiction; digital rhetorics and contemporary media theory. The list can be divided into sub-areas if the student and the committee deem this useful. This list must include the primary texts the student thinks she might discuss in her dissertation. Unlike in the old system, this list should not be a second field list. It is more like a dissertation reading list.

The exam:

  • Two-hour oral field exam. Prior to the oral exam, the committee members should confer (in person or electronically) about what types of questions each committee member would like to ask.  The student will not be provided with questions in advance, although individual faculty members might decide to discuss possible questions with the student in advance. Students can bring the field reading list to the exam, but no other materials. At the conclusion of the exam, the student will leave the room while the committee deliberates and determines whether the student’s knowledge of his or her field warrants moving on to the focus exam; the committee will then inform the student of the result. If the committee rules that the student’s performance on the oral is inadequate, a second oral will be scheduled. Students who fail the second oral will be asked to leave the program.
    • This exam is about coverage of the student’s major teaching field, and the expectation is that the student will be able to demonstrate knowledge of allof the works on this list.
    • Because there is no written component of the exam, evaluation will be based on student performance during the oral exam. The expectation is that the student can adequately answer all questions posed, can clearly articulate an account of the field, and can talk about all of the works on the list.
    • A passing performance on the field exam means that the student is fully enough grounded in the field to move on to the focus exam.
  • 72-hour take-home focus exam. Prior to the exam, the committee members will discuss (either in person or electronically) what kinds of questions should be posed to the student for the focus exam. The student will be given the written questions, and asked to answer two (of however many choices the committee would like to offer). The take-home exam in its entirety should be no longer than 20 pages, double-spaced, and should be considered an open-book, open-notes exam. The committee will read the written exam, and will send comments to the student, through the chair of the committee within two weeks of the completion of the exam. After hearing from the chair of the committee, students should follow up with each committee member after receiving feedback.
    • Students will answer two questions over a 72 hour period. The expectation is that students will spend some time refining, as well as drafting, the answers.
    • Careful editing and proofreading are expected.
    • Answers should reflect an intellectual engagement in the issues at the heart of the questions, and should not simply report on what the texts on the list have to say about those issues. In other words, answers should present an argument.
    • Students should provide full citations for all texts referenced, in MLA style.
    • While the field and focus lists are separate, students can draw on texts from the field list in answering questions on the focus exam.

After both parts of the exam are complete and committee members have sent comments on the focus exam to the chair of the committee, the results of the exam will be reported to OGAPS. If more than one person on the committee feels that the written portion of the exam does not warrant a pass, the committee will need to convene to discuss whether the exam, overall, qualifies as a pass.


  • The oral field exam should enable the student to discuss a greater number of works on the field list than is possible in the 4-hour written exam we currently have. Students should be able to articulate the big questions that preoccupy the field, as well as be able to talk in some specific detail about individual texts (both primary and secondary). This format will prepare students for job interviews and on-campus presentations, where questions are not provided ahead of time and the candidate must be able to answer a wide range of questions.
  • The take-home focus exam should enable the student to start working through some ideas that will be developed more fully in the dissertation. The take-home exam will not produce a draft of the prospectus, but it should give the student an opportunity to grapple with some specific questions about the special topic and, ideally, point the way toward that dissertation prospectus.

Prospectus and Dissertation

The prospectus should be 6-8 pages, plus a full bibliography. The prospectus should lay out the rationale for the dissertation project, clearly identify the research questions the dissertation will pursue, and indicate how the dissertation will contribute to a field or fields. It should also include brief descriptions of individual chapters, and identify the main texts to be considered in each. A full bibliography will substitute for a review of the literature.

The prospectus must be approved by the student’s committee in a 90-minute prospectus defense, which must be scheduled in the spring of the third year. Once the committee has signed off on the prospectus, the student will file it with OGAPS and, thus, advance to candidacy.

When a student is ready to schedule the prospectus defense, he or she meets with the graduate office to fill out the requisite paperwork and to get instructions on which documents must be downloaded from OGAPS, filled out, and brought to the defense.

Within one calendar year of the approval of the dissertation prospectus, (that is, no later than spring of the fourth year), the student will give a ten-minute presentation on the dissertation project to an audience of faculty and graduate students. The graduate office will organize one symposium for all 4th year students to present at one time.

The dissertation is a substantial work of original scholarship written under the close supervision of the Advisory Committee, particularly the chair. Dissertations must follow the guidelines in the Thesis Manual. Address questions to the Thesis Office.

Students can write a traditional dissertation, composed of individual chapters, and introduction, and conclusion. But students can also propose and carry out alternative forms for the dissertation (with the approval of the committee). Two models for these alternatives include a written dissertation supplemented by a digital project of some kind; and a suite of articles prefaced by an introduction.

We are at present not offering the option to write a Creative Dissertation to incoming students, as the Creative Writing track in the department is being redesigned.