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The Ph.D. program in English is designed to develop knowledgeable scholars, critics, and teachers of English literature. Coursework 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) Victorian and Modern British and Irish literature; (2) American studies, cultural and gender/sexuality studies, African American literature, Indigenous literature, and women’s literature; and (3) Early Modern, Restoration, and Eighteenth-Century British and Transatlantic Literature.
The department also offers seminars in critical theory, in the pedagogy of composition, and in creative writing.
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.
Program Learning Objectives
Students who complete the Ph.D. degree program will be able to:
- create original and sustained scholarly work in the field.
- demonstrate expertise in two sub-disciplines through evaluation, analysis, and synthesis of works in the field.
- analyze and synthesize theories on human, gender, and cultural diversity and apply them to cultural materials to create original and creative work in the field.
- write and present effectively to professional audiences about issues in the field.
Candidates for admission to the Ph.D. program in English must meet the requirements for admission to the Graduate School, including language proficiency, found in the Admission section of this Bulletin. 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 a statement of purpose, a transcript or transcripts of previous studies, and a writing sample of approximately 10-20 pages in length.
The GRE requirement is no longer required for applicants to the English Ph.D. program.
For students entering with the B.A., the doctoral program is designed to be a five- to six-year program. These students will complete three years of coursework (six three-credit courses per year), including three hours of directed reading in the second year, and two to three years of directed study and research, successfully completing comprehensive examinations and a dissertation.
For students entering with the M.A., the doctoral program is designed to be a four- to five-year program. These students will complete two years of coursework (six three-credit courses per year), and two to three years of directed study and research, successfully completing qualifying examinations and a dissertation. The Graduate Program Committee may consider a reduction in coursework if extensive additional graduate coursework has previously been completed.
To assure adequate breadth and depth of preparation during doctoral coursework, students must take at least three courses in literary periods prior to 1800 and three in periods after 1800. As preparation for the qualifying examination, doctoral students must take at least two courses in each of their declared primary fields.
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.
Doctoral students are required to achieve a sound reading knowledge of one classical or modern language other than English, 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 coursework. 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 .
In the final semester of coursework, candidates submit a proposed list of fields along with evidence of sufficient coursework 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.
The following literary-historical periods or areas may be used as primary fields for the qualifying examination:
Restoration and Eighteenth-Century British
Twentieth-Century British and Irish
Transatlantic Modernism (British, Irish, American, Anglophone)
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.
Beginning in their final semester of coursework, 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.
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