The Doctor of Philosophy Degree in English

Note: A complete copy of the English Department's Programs and Policies for Graduate Study can be downloaded in English Department's Programs and Policies for Graduate Study (.pdf) format.


The Doctor of Philosophy in English is a professional degree designed primarily for those planning on or already engaged in careers as teachers and writers in four-year colleges and universities. The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy in English can be completed in four years of full-time academic work (or the equivalent over a longer period) beyond the baccalaureate degree. For those entering with a Master's degree or its equivalent, the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree can be completed in three years of full-time academic work (or the equivalent over a longer period). A longer period may, however, prove necessary for some students. Two semesters of full-time work in residence are required. 

English doctoral students are also eligible to pursue a Graduate Certificate in Teaching Writing.  For more information, click here.

Requirements for Admission

In addition to meeting the general University requirements for admission to doctoral study, an applicant should present an undergraduate preparation in the liberal arts with a major in English. Applicants with preparation in other fields, however, may be considered. All applicants must submit the results of the Graduate Record Examination General Test, 15 to 20 pages of critical writing and, where it is appropriate to the applicant’s interests, 15 to 20 pages of creative writing.

Students are admitted to the Ph.D. program for the Fall semester only. All applicants should have completed applications to the Office of Gradate Admissions by January 15. Those students who plan to pursue the degree part-time or who for any other reasons do not wish to be considered for doctoral funding in the form of a Teaching Assistantship, should clearly indicate your preference in the application. For more details, see "Admissions Information".

Program of Study

The program of study, planned with the Director of Graduate Studies in English, is directed toward the student's interests and specific career objectives. It consists of the following:

Advanced Standing

A student may apply for up to 30 hours of previous graduate credit in English, of which no more than 8 may come from previous writing workshops, toward the 72-credit hour requirement in the Doctor of Philosophy program. Courses presented for advanced standing are subject to all the requirements and restrictions described in the University’s Graduate Bulletin.


All students must accumulate a minimum of 72 credits, distributed as follows: required courses (16 credits), courses in an area of concentration (at least 16 credits); and elective courses (at least 8 credits outside of chosen concentration). At least 60 of the 72 hours must be taken in English; up to 12 hours may be taken in a “supporting field” (see below).

Required Courses

Four courses (16 credits) are required of all students:

  • ENG 710 Textual Studies I: Survey;
  • ENG 720 Textual Studies II;
  • ENG 770 Teaching Writing and Literature; and
  • ENG 771 Practicum in Teaching Writing and Literature.

Courses in a Concentration

At least four courses (16 credits) must be taken in one of the following areas of concentration:

Literature, Modernity, and the Contemporary

This concentration provides a dual framework for considering the history of literature: the study of texts’ singular or innovative relation to the past—a measure of their modernity—as well as the exploration of their complex, sometimes contentious, relation to other discourses of the same historical moment—a measure of their contemporaneity. This double perspective can apply to Europe even before the advent of the so-called “early modern” period during the Renaissance, charting a history of various modernities or modernisms, but it can also serve as the occasion to investigate the limits of considering any literature “modern” or “contemporaneous.” This concentration includes a broad range of courses investigating problems of periodization or genre, questions about aesthetics or creativity, and issues concerning literary form, the history of authorship and readership, and the teaching of literature.

Writing Practices: Poetics, Rhetorics, Technologies

This concentration combines the disciplined practice of writing with a rigorous course of study in the formal, institutional, and material frameworks for understanding that practice. The area provides coursework in creative writing, including poetry, fiction, nonfiction prose, drama, and hypertext, as well as in various kinds of persuasive and argumentative writing. It also examines these writing practices in the context of poetics, rhetoric, technology, and performance as frameworks that are both productive and analytic. The study of poetics and rhetoric therefore provides the basis for shaping a writer’s own aesthetic or persuasive discourses as well as for reading and analyzing them. The technological or material framework serves both to comprehend the history of text production (whether illustrated manuscript, printed page, filmic cell, or digital image) and to test the limits of “written” communication through bodily performance or new media. These poetic, rhetorical, technological, and performative elements also pose diverse intellectual and disciplinary perspectives for studying the teaching of writing in its various forms.

Cultural, Transcultural, and Global Studies

This concentration engages the multiple, changeable, and sometimes volatile elements of a broad range of cultural texts, particularly by employing a variety of interpretive strategies that have emerged in English studies. Work in this area recognizes that the study of culture in English is transnational, particularly given the intellectual pressures of colonialism, postcolonialism, and Anglophone literatures. In accounting for the shifting historical realities of global culture, this concentration also promotes the study of the effects of globalization, cross-cultural exchange, class relations, and the formation of cultural identity on discourse broadly conceived. Courses in this concentration include topics such as class, gender, race, and sexuality; the public sphere, popular culture, and pedagogy as cultural practice; trans-Atlantic, comparative, and diaspora studies.

Theoretical Constructs

Reading and writing in the discipline of English now demand a measure of reflexive awareness of the conditions that make the interpretation of texts possible, as reflected in various perspectives that include poesis, semiosis, ideology, mimesis, and performativity. Courses in this concentration inquire into the history and dynamics of the aesthetic categories that shape interpretation, consider the relation of experience (literary, aesthetic, social, pedagogical, or other) to conceptual explanation, and examine the relation of such concepts to history. They invite students to consider the differences and interfaces among interpretive frameworks and strategies, to inquire about the tensions and dislocations in texts, or to probe the social relations that inform reading, writing, and teaching. Some courses focus broadly and comparatively; others address particular problems, traditions, and theories, or investigate emerging approaches.

Elective Courses

At least two courses (8 credits) must be taken outside the area of concentration

Coursework in Supporting Field(s)

Students may take up to 12 of their (minimum) 72 credits in a related field or fields. Under this option, students must seek approval from the Director of Graduate Studies to take courses in other departments that support but also extend their work in English. Expertise developed in a supporting field must be incorporated into doctoral examination areas.

Foreign Language Requirement

Students can fulfill the foreign language requirement in one of two ways:

  1. Demonstrate reading-level competence in two foreign languages by 1) earning a C or better for two years (or the equivalent) of undergraduate-level study; 2) earning a B or better in a graduate-level foreign language reading course (or the equivalent); or 3) satisfactorily passing a reading examination administered by the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.
  2. Demonstrate fluency in one foreign language by 1) earning a C or better for four years (or the equivalent) of undergraduate-level study; 2) earning a B or better in a graduate-level foreign language course that requires substantial written assignments (e.g., essays, reports, or exams) submitted in the language being studied; or 3) satisfactorily passing a fluency-level examination administered by the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

Note: Foreign students whose native language is not English can meet the requirement by demonstrating reading-level competence in one language other than English or their native tongue.

Qualifying Examination

After the student completes formal coursework, including both the Practicum in English Studies and the English Internship, he or she must pass a written and oral examination on a specific area of study. Designed in consultation with an examination committee approved by the Director of Graduate Studies in English, and directed toward the critical, scholarly, or creative project the student plans to pursue in the dissertation, the examination has three parts: Part I situates the project methodologically, focusing on how the student will explore his or her chosen subject matter; Part II situates it topically, in terms of a recognized field or content area of English Studies; while Part III focuses on the intersection of Parts I and II, and is based in particular on a draft prospectus of the dissertation the student aims to undertake.

Admission to Candidacy

Students are nominated by the department for doctoral candidacy as soon as all program requirements except the dissertation are satisfactorily completed. A student must be admitted to candidacy at least one regular session before submitting a dissertation.


Students are allowed considerable latitude with regard to the dissertation’s form and focus. Dissertations may take such forms as critical argument, fiction, poetry, reports of empirical research, or drama; they may also feature some mixture of these. They may focus on the imaginary, the theoretical, the historical, the interpretive, the pedagogical, or the linguistic.

The dissertation will ordinarily grow out of the student's coursework and even more directly out of the qualifying examination, and is designed so that the student can complete it within the academic year following that examination.

Writing the Dissertation

Once the committee has been formally constituted, the student begins work on a draft of the dissertation. The committee chair is charged with being accessible to the student, and with establishing and maintaining the protocols governing the student-committee relationship: setting deadlines for the submission and return of drafts, coordinating the committee members’ responses, compiling all relevant correspondence, calling meetings of the group, and so on. The student is charged with keeping the director informed of his/her progress.

A student may not submit a previously published work as a dissertation. While the dissertation may include elements of a student’s previously published work, the bulk of it should consist of work undertaken during the student’s tenure in the graduate program in English. In all instances, the dissertation committee is the final arbiter of whether and how any of the student’s published material can be included in the dissertation.

The student will be responsible for securing the rights to any published work that appears in the dissertation.

The Creative Dissertation Option

Our program allows for innovative approaches in the writing of a creative dissertation that reflect the structural richness and diversity of its four concentrations. Such a dissertation may take the form of a work of poetry, fiction, drama or translation— although these traditional classifications can be exceeded by work that straddles or breaks down genres and introduces new procedures and new media. A dissertation could thus include, for example, combinations of prose, poetry and visual art, investigations of hypertext and multi-media, or aspects of performance art.

A dissertation of this kind is not just an exercise in craft but an act of research involving processes and procedures germane to and interfacing with creative and scholarly endeavors. It is thus not confined only to the Writing Practices concentration, but can draw on and connect to one or several of the other three concentrations, namely, Literature, Modernity, and the Contemporary; Cultural, Transcultural, and Global Studies, and Theoretical Constructs. In all cases of a creative dissertation the student will thus be required to provide a framework of a theoretical nature for his or her creative work. This frame can take the shape of a lengthy introduction, a parallel ongoing commentary on the poetics of the work, or whatever other form of meta-writing creates a successful and innovative integration with the other parts of the dissertation.

Formal Submission, Final Approval, and Public Presentation of the Dissertation

When the student and committee chair believe the final version of the dissertation is complete, the student submits it to the committee; a majority of the committee, including the chair, must approve the dissertation for it to pass. Once approval is confirmed, the committee chair will arrange for a dissertation colloquium as a last step in the degree program. The chair will set up a colloquium lasting up to two hours, inviting faculty, staff, and students from the English Department, members of other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the university and community at large to attend. Before the colloquium, in consultation with the degree candidate, the dissertation committee will choose an additional faculty member from inside or outside the English Department to read the dissertation and participate in the colloquium discussion.

The colloquium will have the following format: the candidate will first make a 15- to 20-minute presentation outlining the dissertation project’s general thesis or aims, while also highlighting in detail at least one specific example of how those aims were accomplished. Next, the dissertation committee, in conjunction with the additional faculty member, will conduct a rigorous discussion with the candidate for up to one hour, covering issues such as the project’s underlying concepts, its critical, historical, or theoretical premises, its aesthetic aims or generic framework, and its prospects for being turned into a publishable manuscript. As a third stage of the colloquium, the discussion will then open out to include the others attending the event who have questions and comments regarding the project or the candidate’s presentation. This will be a conversation lasting at least 15 minutes that includes the degree candidate, the committee members, and the other attendees.

After the colloquium, the committee members will return to the Ph.D. candidate their copies of the dissertation draft, providing the student with marginal notes or stylistic suggestions for a final revision of the dissertation manuscript before submission to the university. These changes should be considered relatively minor in preparing the manuscript for its final version.

In cases where fulfilling this requirement poses an extreme hardship (e.g., an international student having difficulty obtaining a visa from U.S. Immigration in order to be on campus), the student can apply to the Graduate Advisory Committee to make alternative arrangements for completion of the degree.

The committee must submit the final copy of the dissertation and a properly signed transmittal form to the Department for a final review by the Department Chair and/or the Director of Graduate Studies. Dissertations for degrees to be conferred in May must be thus submitted to the English Department’s Director of Graduate Studies by April 15; those for degrees to be conferred in August by July 15; and those for degrees to be conferred in December by November 15.

Continuous Required Registration

University regulations require that all doctoral students register for at least 3 graduate credits each fall and spring session until they complete their examinations. Thereafter doctoral students need only register for 1 dissertation credit until they receive their degree.

A One-Year Required Curriculum Cycle

The offering of required courses for the M.A. and Ph.D. programs follows roughly the following semester schedule. There may be occasional departures from this plan when staffing considerations necessitate them.

Fall Semester

ENG 500 - Textual Practices I
ENG 710 - Textual Studies I: Survey
ENG 771 - Practicum in English Studies

Spring Semester

ENG 500 - Textual Practices I
ENG 720 - Textual Studies II
ENG 770 - Teaching Writing and Literature