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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 Ph.D. exam process: 
two four-hour written exams and one two-hour oral exam

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.

The Ph.D. Exam will be comprised of two four-hour written exams:

  • The field exam should prepare students to teach and to write a dissertation in an established field within the profession.  The field exam allows students to demonstrate competency and understanding with respect to discussing literary texts within the context of existing and ever-changing critical conversations about the texts and the field.  The field should be constructed in terms of categories generally accepted by the discipline most often demarcated as historical periods. Students should consult with their exam committee when selecting a field area.
  • The specialization exam should give students the opportunity to explore a relatively broad area of interest that does not fall within the traditional configurations of a historical literary field as a means of preparing to write a dissertation and of developing specialized areas of teaching and scholarly competency.  This exam allows students to demonstrate competency and understanding with respect to the particular focus they choose.  In many (but not all) cases, there will be some overlap between the two exam areas. Students should consult with their exam committee when selecting a specialization area.
  • The oral exam allows students both to discuss orally (rather than in written form) ideas relating to both written exam areas and allows them to bring the two areas together as well as to fill in gaps not addressed in the written exams. While directed by questions, ideally the oral exam should take the shape of a scholarly conversation about the texts and areas in question.


In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, students will assemble two committees of at least two faculty members each, one for the field exam and one for the specialization exam. Depending on students’ areas of study, these committees may (but need not) be the same. In consultation with their committees, students will formulate for each exam a reading list of 50 to 100 titles, including both primary and secondary texts. In addition, students will present to their examining committee and then to the Graduate Studies Committee for approval a one-page, single-spaced rationale for the exam areas, which outlines the defining framework of each area, and the connections and/or intersections between the field area and the specialization area.  This rationale should indicate how the lists engage with current scholarship pertaining to both the field and the specialization.

In scheduling the two four-hour written exams, the second written exam must be taken within three months of the first written exam. A two-hour oral exam will follow within three weeks of successful completion of the two written exams. The oral exam will emphasize the relations between the chosen field and specialization. Students who pass both the written and the oral exams may proceed in the program.

Students who fail one or both of the written exams may not proceed to the oral exam but may retake the failed section(s) at a time approved by the Examining Committee, not more than three months from the date of the failed written exam.  Students who fail the oral exam may retake it at a time approved by the Examining Committee, not more than one month from the date of the failed oral exam.  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.


In addition to the above requirements, students must submit a dissertation proposal and then complete a dissertation approved by designated readers in order to obtain a degree. The dissertation must be defended orally and formally accepted by the Dean of the Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

Application Information

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