Learning Outcomes

  • Students will acquire widespread knowledge of numerous periods of literary history, both British and American, canonical and non-canonical, and enhance the ability to critically read and interrelate a wide range of texts, and to explicate orally and in writing major literary works in their cultural contexts from early to more recent periods of literary history.
  • Students will learn various scholarly and critical approaches, traditional and contemporary, to literature in order to enter into learned discussions, analysis, and the interpretation of literature in its cultural and literary contexts.
  • Students will write a dissertation that is an extended scholarly and critical treatment of a topic, that includes reference to previous major commentary, and that advances new ideas and insights.
  • Students will attend and participate in departmental colloquia involving faculty and graduate students in order to better understand and participate in the profession, and to develop rapport with faculty members in order to select and work in areas of specialization. Students will manifest skills of an entry-level faculty member in the Department of English of a college or university, these skills to include teaching, research, and service to the institution.
  • Students will develop techniques and insights of a skillful, knowledgeable teacher of literature and writing.

Requirements for the
Ph.D. Degree


Students must take a minimum of 27 credit hours of coursework beyond the M.A. degree, excluding dissertation credits (usually 10 courses, including two 1½ credit courses). Exceptions are made for graduates of the department’s MA program, who take 24 credits hours of coursework.

  • Students must take a minimum of 6 credits, and no more than 9 credits, per semester for the first year and a half.
  • In years 1 and 2 of the Ph.D. program students will usually take eight 3 credit courses (distributed over 3-4 semesters) and two 1½ credit courses.
  • 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.
  • In year 2 of coursework students may take an optional 1.5 credit Independent Exam Reading course.
  • Teaching Fellows who have no prior teaching experience are required to complete a graduate level Teaching College Writing course or participate in a one-semester teaching-preparation program overseen by the Director of First-Year Writing. In addition, Teaching Fellows with no previous experience will co-teach with a mentor in their first semester.
  • 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.

Courses are required in the following areas on the graduate level (these course requirements cannot be fulfilled by 1½  credit courses):

  • Two courses from the earlier literary periods dealing with two different national literatures (British Literature prior to 1800, American Literature prior to 1900, or other courses as designated).
  • Two courses from the later periods dealing with two different national literatures (British Literature after 1800, American Literature after 1900, or other courses as designated).

Note: 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 substantially by the course).

Additional requirements:

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

Language Requirement

Students whose course of work would benefit from reading knowledge of a foreign language are invited to enroll in a “language for research” sequence in lieu of one 3-credit course in ENGL, bringing their course of study to a minimum of 26 credits (as versus the standard 27, excluding dissertation credits). French for Research and German for Research are offered in alternating years. Each sequence lasts two semesters: 1 credit in the fall and 1 credit in the spring.

Comprehensive Examination


The Ph.D. comprehensive exams form a crucial stage in a doctoral student’s development into an independent scholar and teacher, marking an endpoint to course work and a transition to more specialized research and writing in the dissertation.  The Ph.D. exam process (which includes conceptualizing the exam areas, compiling the exam lists, preparing for the exams, and, of course, taking the exams, two written and one oral) provides an opportunity not just for synthesis of a significant body of primary and secondary material related to the student’s interests but for development of the student’s own perceptions and critical judgment.  Successful completion of the Ph.D. exams should provide a solid foundation for the dissertation and for teaching undergraduate courses in the student’s field.  The exam areas, and reading lists of texts to be included in each exam, are designed by the student, in consultation with the exam committee, to meet the student’s perceived needs; exam reading lists, which are approved by the graduate studies committee, should be representative rather than exhaustive. 

Students will ideally take their exams in the fall of their third year of Ph.D. work but no later than the spring semester of their third year. 

Overview and Rationale

The doctoral exam in English is a comprehensive exam with two major stages: a field exam and a specialized project. The field exam is designed to give students a broad and comprehensive knowledge of a literary historical period, including a broad sketch of the critical landscape on that period. The specialized project allows students to immerse themselves in a topic of interest related to their field of study. This stage of the exam is designed to help students identify, map, and situate themselves within an existing critical conversation and to equip them with the critical tools and practices necessary to conduct a larger project on a narrow topic of interest.

Field Exam

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 should include approximately 50-75 texts, comprising both primary and secondary sources (a suggested ratio is 25% secondary to 75% primary texts, depending on the length of individual texts).

  1. The student will choose a convener and form a committee of at least three faculty members. In discussions with the committee the student will formulate a major "field" and a series of initial questions and issues he/she would like to focus on during the exam process. It is recommended that this committee be consistent throughout the process of both stages of the exam; however, a committee member may be added at the specialization stage if needed.
  2. The student will submit a one-page statement of interest, which describes his/her main field of study along with a series of questions and issues she/he would like to focus on during the exam process as a whole. A list of texts for the field exam should be submitted with this document. This "goal" reading list can be revised during the reading process.
  3. The student will set up a meeting with his/her committee members to discuss the field exam. The student should circulate his/her statement of interest and preliminary list of texts before this meeting. During this meeting a date for the exam will be determined.
  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 takes a four-hour written field exam. The committee will provide the student with feedback on the exam within a week, including a decision on whether the exam was passed or failed.
  6. Once a student has passed the written exam, the student and committee should schedule an oral exam, lasting 1-1 ½ hours, within three weeks following the written exam. A student must pass the written exam to schedule the oral exam. Upon successful completion of the oral exam, the student proceeds to Stage 2, the Specialized Project.

Specialization Project

Stage Two consists of a Specialized Project that is designed to explore in depth the critical and theoretical conversations surrounding a topic of interest to the student within their field or in a closely related subfield. This specialized project will culminate in a 20-30 page well-researched paper, followed by an oral discussion with the committee focused on the paper. While there is no necessity of a direct development from specialized project to dissertation proposal, the specialized project is designed to 1) deepen a student's knowledge in the potential area of the dissertation and allow students to begin focusing the area and issues on which they are interested in working for the dissertation, and 2) equip students with the critical tools and practices they will need to prepare a dissertation proposal.

The student will identify a topic of interest within or closely related to their chosen field from Stage One and generate a list of 4-6 guiding questions addressing key issues of interest to the student and to existing critical conversations around that topic. Depending on the student's critical interests, the topic of interest might be contained within the field or it might extend beyond the field's historical/national boundaries. For example, if a student's field exam focused on Modernism, her specialized project might focus around questions related to visual art applicable within the field's historical boundaries, or it might extend beyond the field, for instance, to consider literary connections with women painters of the 19th and 20th centuries or with photography of war.

  1. 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 primary, critical, and/or theoretical texts. The student should come to this meeting with a list of 4-6 guiding questions as well as a working bibliography of primary, critical, and/or theoretical texts that the student has identified as important to the guiding questions and critical conversation(s). During this meeting, a due date for the essay should be determined.
  2. The student will continue to generate a working bibliography in consultation with the committee and begin to write the paper. The final bibliography, to be submitted with the paper, should aim for 20-40 texts that have been either cited in the paper or consulted during research for the paper.
  3. The paper will identify and explain the topic of interest and provide a critical mapping of the scholarly conversations and frameworks within which the topic resides. Having identified and synthesized existing critical conversation(s), the student will then situate their own ideas vis-à-vis this existing scholarly dialogue and evaluate how their ideas would contribute to these conversations. The paper will explore the directions in which the student might take his/her ideas and connect those ideas to primary texts or clusters of texts of interest to the student. Note: while the student is welcome to continue having conversations with the members of the committee while working on the project, the members of the committee should not read drafts of the project in advance of submission of the final project.
  4. A meeting of the full committee will be scheduled two weeks after the paper's due date to discuss the written paper, provided the committee agrees that specialization paper has passed. This discussion is not an oral exam, but an opportunity for the committee to discuss the ideas in the specialization project and next steps with the student. 

Students are strongly recommended to complete exams and specialization projects by the end of their third year. All exams and specialization projects MUST be completed by the Fall of the student's fourth year of the program, by the date specified on that semester's University Academic Calendar for completion of doctoral exams and submission of thesis/dissertation projects (usually mid to late November).

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.

If the student fails the field exam they may be allowed to take it a second time. If the student fails the field exam twice they will be asked to leave the program.

If the student fails the specialization project he/she may have the opportunity to revise the paper upon recommendation by the committee.

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.