A A Email Print Share

Ph.D. in English Literature

Course Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree (Effective Fall 2009)

•  All students must take a minimum of 27 credit hours of course work beyond the M.A. degree, excluding dissertation credits.

1.   Students will take 27 credits (10 courses, including two 1½  credit courses) which will allow for flexible scheduling of courses.

2.   Students must take a minimum of 6 credits, and no more than 9 credits, per semester for the first year and a half.

3.  In years 1 and 2 of the Ph.D. program students will take eight 3 credit courses (distributed over 3-4 semesters) and two 1½ credit courses (one per semester).  Note that a 1½ credit course entails taking a regular course but without the formal writing assignments or papers; in these classes students are responsible for attending, reading, participating in discussions, and completing any assigned presentations or informal reading journals. 1½ credit courses are Pass/Fail.

4.   One summer course can be taken between a student’s first and second year, reducing the number of courses taken during the Spring of the student’s second year of coursework ideally to one Independent Exam Reading course.

5.  In year 2 of coursework students may take an optional 3 credit Independent Exam Reading course.

• Teaching Fellows who have no prior teaching experience are required to complete a one credit graduate level Teaching College Writing course in addition to the required 27 credit hours.

• Students who have not taken a comparable course in an M.A. program may be encouraged to take English 500—Aims and Methods of Literary Scholarship.

• English 566—Literary Theory—or a comparable 3 credit general theory course at the graduate level is required of all students.

• All students must complete a 600-level graduate seminar.

• Courses are required in the following four general areas on the graduate level: British Literature prior to 1800, British Literature after 1800, American Literature prior to 1900, American Literature after 1900 (with the Graduate Director’s approval, a course extending beyond a single, specific historical period may fulfill an area requirement as long as the area is covered by the course). These course requirements cannot be fulfilled by 1½  credit courses.

• At least one course in the student’s primary field/historical period must be taken at Duquesne on the graduate level.

• Students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of one foreign language.  This requirement must be met prior to taking comprehensive examinations.

 Ph.D. Time Line


The doctoral exam in English is a comprehensive exam with two major stages: a field exam and a specialized project.

Stage One consists of a Field Exam, culminating in an exam with both a written and oral component that emphasizes the ability to make broad connections, to synthesize material readily, and to survey the critical landscape of the field at hand. The Field encompasses comprehensive coverage of a broad historically situated established field within Literary Studies. The process of configuring the field and creating a reading list involves a generative process that may develop and evolve up until the time of the exam in consultation with the examining committee (final reading lists aim to include 50-75 texts, depending on length of individual texts).

1. The student will form a committee of at least three faculty members interested in the broad field of the student's interest, with one of the committee members serving as convener (committee members could be added or removed during the exam process if deemed necessary).

2. The student will work to configure her/his field of study in conversation with the members of the committee in individual discussions and at least one full formal committee meeting during which a date for the exam would be determined (although the student's vision of the field could continue to evolve).

3. In consultation with the committee, the student will develop a "goal" reading list that will be subject to revision during the reading process.

4. The student will meet with the full committee approximately two weeks before the exam is scheduled to submit the final reading list, note key areas of interest, and ask questions about the exam structure or advice about test taking strategies.

5. The student will take a four-hour written exam, followed by an oral component lasting approximately one to one and a half hour scheduled within two weeks of the written exam.

Stage Two consists of a Specialized Project that would evolve from the reading and thinking performed during Stage One, serve as a bridge to the dissertation proposal and/or dissertation, and allow students to explore in depth the critical/theoretical conversations surrounding a topic of interest. This specialized project will culminate in a 20-30 page well-researched paper, followed by an oral component focused on the paper.

1. The student will identify a topic of interest within her/his chosen field from Stage One and generate a list of questions addressing key issues of interest to the student as well as existing critical conversations around that the topic within the field.

2. The student will meet with the full committee (the committee could be altered if needed at this stage) to develop and focus these questions as well as to generate the beginnings of a working bibliography of critical and theoretical texts. A due date for the essay paper would be determined.

3. The student will continue to generate a working bibliography in consultation with the committee (aiming for 20-40 critical and theoretical texts) and begin to write the paper.

4. The paper will explain the topic of interest and provide a critical mapping of the conversations and frameworks within which the topic resides; situate the student's own ideas vis-à-vis the existing scholarly conversations, including an evaluation of what the student's ideas would contribute to those conversations; explore the directions that the student might take her/his ideas; and connect those ideas to texts or clusters of texts of interest to the student.

5. A meeting of the full committee will be scheduled two weeks after the paper's due date to discuss the written paper.

Students will ideally take their exams at the beginning of their third year of Ph.D. work but no later than the spring semester of their third year. Candidates are eligible for exams after the following requirements have been met:

• Completion of course requirements

• Completion of foreign language requirement

• Approval of rationale and reading lists

The McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts requires that students pass all Ph.D. exams within two years of the completion of coursework. If a student encounters difficulties in making this deadline, exceptions may be granted in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the English Department. Students who pass both stages of the exam process may proceed in the program.

Students who fail either section of the exam may have the possibility of re-taking the exam within three months of the initial exam date.

Ordinarily, a student retaking any written or oral exam who fails it a second time will be dismissed from the program, according to the policy of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts. Exceptions may be made to these policies in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the English Department.


To complete their Ph.D., all students must complete a doctoral dissertation, a book-length project that makes an original contribution to a field of scholarship. Dissertations can be interpretive, critical, or historical. A dissertation can be an edited edition of a primary text but must also include an extended discussion of the text's history and the editorial choices made that shows an engagement with theories of editing. Students assemble a dissertation committee consisting of a director and two readers. The dissertation must be defended in front of the committee, approved by the department and dean, and presented to a public audience

Application Information

Fellowships & Financial Aid