Oct 02, 2023  
2016-2017 Graduate Bulletin 
2016-2017 Graduate Bulletin [ARCHIVED BULLETIN]

English Language & Literature, Ph.D.

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The Ph.D. program in English is designed to develop knowledgeable scholars, critics, and teachers of English literature. Course work is offered and dissertations directed in the full range of subjects defined by our faculty’s expertise and by our internationally renowned archival holdings of manuscripts and books in McFarlin Library. Specific clusters of study that carry the advantage of faculty depth and the potential for original research are: (1) 20th-century literature - Modern and Contemporary British, Irish, and American literatures; (2) 19th-century literature - ante-bellum and post-Civil War literature, British and European Romanticism, Victorian literature; and (3) American studies, cultural and gender studies, African American literature, and women’s literature. Seminars are also offered in Early Modern and 18th-century literature, in critical theory, in the pedagogy of composition, and in the creative writing of fiction and poetry. The doctoral program is administered by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Program Committee. All members of the Faculty of English participate as instructors and on student committees.


The doctoral program requires a minimum of 72 credit hours beyond the baccalaureate. Candidates must hold either the B.A. or the M.A. degree in English or a closely related field from an accredited college or university to apply. All applicants must present acceptable scores on the General Tests of the Graduate Record Examination, a detailed personal statement, and a writing sample of approximately 10- 20 pages in length.

Residence Requirements

The minimum period in which the Ph.D. degree can be earned is two full academic years of study. The student must spend at least two consecutive semesters in residence as a full-time student in work toward the doctorate.

Course Requirements

The doctoral program is designed to be a five-year program for students entering with the B.A.; such students will complete 54 hours of course work (including 3 hours of Directed Reading in the second year) and at least 18 hours of directed study and dissertation research. For students entering with the M.A., the program requires between 18 and 36 hours of course work to be followed by 24 hours of directed study and dissertation research. In the latter case, the precise requirements for course work are established by the Graduate Program Committee as part of the admission process.

To assure adequate breadth and depth of preparation during doctoral course work, at least three courses in literary periods prior to 1800 and three in periods after 1800 are required. As preparation for the Qualifying Examination, doctoral students must take at least two courses in each of their declared primary fields.

Language Requirements

Doctoral students are required to achieve a sound reading knowledge of one classical or modern language, as demonstrated by passing a translation test set by program faculty. Students must propose for approval the language on which they intend to be examined. The standard is a capacity to translate accurately a representative critical or scholarly passage with some bearing on the student’s field of interest. The requirement should be met as early as possible in a student’s career and must be fulfilled prior to taking the qualifying examination.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is taken at the end of the first semester following the completion of required course work. It consists of three elements: 1) a statement of research interests, 2) written exams in two declared fields, and 3) a 60-minute oral exam. During exam preparation, candidates enroll in a minimum of 9 hours of ENGL 8791-9 Qualifying Exam Preparation .

Literary-Historical Periods

The following literary-historical periods or areas may be used as primary fields for the Qualifying Examination:

Restoration and Eighteenth-Century British
Nineteenth-Century British
Twentieth-Century British and Irish
Transatlantic Modernism (British, Irish, American, Anglophone)
Contemporary Anglophone
Early American
Nineteenth-Century American
Twentieth-Century American
Contemporary American


In the final semester of course work, candidates submit a proposed list of fields along with evidence of sufficient course work in those fields to the Director of Graduate Studies, and, in consultation with the Director, select a committee consisting of three faculty members chosen on the basis of relevant expertise. The committee is formally responsible for defining the candidate’s fields of study, for overseeing the qualifying preparation, and for assessing the examination. Students should compile reading lists for each of the fields in consultation with faculty advisors. Students and their advisors may establish clear emphases in the chosen fields. The reading lists should not substantially overlap with each other.


The examination process begins with the submission of the statement of research interests that will in most cases consist of one or more important questions that fall within the two fields. Within ten days, the candidate then sits for two written exams lasting four hours each given within the course of a week. Within two weeks following the end of the written exam, the student’s qualifying exam committee convenes a one-hour oral exam that covers both the written portion of the exams and the statement of research interests.

Grading of the examination is pass/fail. Competence is understood to consist in mastery of recognized primary texts, a broad knowledge of historical context, and familiarity with current critical issues in the two primary fields. Students passing the examination are invited to proceed directly to the preparation of a dissertation prospectus. Candidates failing the examination are offered one opportunity to repeat in the succeeding term. Failing to pass the examination a second time will lead to the termination of doctoral candidacy.

Prospectus and Dissertation

Upon successful completion of doctoral examinations, students propose a dissertation topic to a member of the English faculty. When an initial proposal is agreed upon, director and student request that two other faculty members join to constitute the dissertation committee. The topic, title, committee membership, and a brief abstract are then submitted to the Graduate Program Committee for approval. Once the topic and committee are approved, the student then prepares a dissertation prospectus under the guidance of the dissertation committee. The prospectus is a statement of proposed aims and objectives for a dissertation based in the areas of the qualifying examinations. In practice, it should include 10-15 pages stating the subject matter and thesis of the proposed project, outlining its organization, and explaining its worth to the field. An extensively detailed bibliography of primary and secondary works should accompany it. Students with a clear sense of their dissertation project should complete their prospectus in the semester following the Qualifying Examinations.

Ordinarily the committee then meets collectively with the student to discuss the penultimate draft of the prospectus and advise the student on the completion of the project. After each committee member, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair have accepted the prospectus, the Director of Graduate Studies recommends that the student be admitted to candidacy. The student may not be admitted to candidacy unless each committee member, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair have approved the prospectus.

Annual Review

Beginning in their final semester of course work, all doctoral students will be reviewed annually by the Graduate Committee. The purpose of this review is to assure that students are making good progress to the degree and to provide students with candid feedback from the faculty about their performance, indicating both their strengths and their opportunities for improvement. Based on these reviews, the Graduate Committee will make one of several recommendations which might include: approval to continue work in the Ph.D. program; an expression of concern about the current progress toward the degree that contains recommendations for improving a candidate’s standing; or a recommendation of dismissal.

Spring Colloquium

Each spring, the Director of Graduate Studies will convene a departmental colloquium at which all candidates at the dissertation proposal stage and beyond will be asked to present a portion of their research in a conference-style setting. Participation can be waived by the Graduate Director if this presents an unusual hardship.

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