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Department of English Language and Literature

Direct-Admission Ph.D. in English: English & American Literature

For this six-year program, the minimum course requirements include 60 credit hours, not more than 12 of which may be taken in Dissertation Preparation. No more than 15 hours may be taken in courses numbered at the 500 and 600 levels.

Years 1-2:

  • One course in American Literature, one in English Literature before 1660, one in English Literature after 1660, and one additional course in the student’s primary area
  • English 700 is recommended and one critical theory course (732, 734, or equivalent) is required
  • Twelve hours of electives, which may include the 3-hour 691-692 pedagogy sequence. (No more than six hours of electives may be taken from outside the department during the student’s total coursework; all such electives must be approved by the Graduate Director or the doctoral committee)
  • Admission to doctoral candidacy at the beginning of the third term (see description of the process below).

Years 3-6:

  • Eighteen hours of electives; course work must include at least two 800-level seminars
  • Twelve hours of Dissertation Preparation (ENGL 899)
  • Reading knowledge of one language other than English (satisfied by passing a reading exam or a 400-level course in literature, not in translation, with a grade of B or better, or a 500-level course in literature, not in translation, with a grade of C or better). Students may also fulfill a language requirement by passing ENGL 701: Old English or ENGL 701: Beowulf and Old English Heroic Verse with a grade of B or better.
  • Written Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination in the primary and secondary field
  • Oral Examination in the primary field
  • Dissertation and Oral Dissertation Defense

Major areas may be chosen from the following literary fields: Medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and 18th-century English literature, 19th-century English literature, 20th–century English literature, Colonial and 19th-century American Literature, and 20th-century American Literature. Unless you minor in Children’s Literature or Rhetoric and Composition or you are completing the certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies (each has an established curriculum, listed below), you must create your own minor field of concentration. Students often minor in a second literary field or in specialized fields such as Linguistics, Comparative Literature, Criticism and Theory, Southern Literature, and History of the Book and Authorship.

To form your minor, you must work with an appropriate faculty member to assemble a specialized reading list and a committee for the minor field exam. Students are strongly encouraged to pursue relevant coursework. All minor fields must be approved by the Graduate Director.

By the beginning of your third term, you must, in consultation with your advisor, fill out the Ph.D. Program of Study form and submit it to the Director of Graduate Studies; students will bring this form to the meeting to determine qualification for doctoral candidacy scheduled with the Graduate Director and major advisor at the start of the third semester. This form must be on file with the Dean of the Graduate School before you will be cleared for graduation. But it will also help you and your advisor direct your progress toward the degree. The Program of Study should be amended periodically to reflect actual courses taken by filing the Adjustment form available through the forms library on the Graduate School’s website.

Admission by the Department of English for graduate study does not mean admission as a candidate in the English and American Literature Ph.D. program.

Students are admitted to doctoral candidacy on the basis of their record and a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies and the major advisor, which students should schedule by the beginning of their third term. Prior to this meeting, the Graduate Director will review the student's class grades with the expectation of at least a 3.0 GPA over the course of the first year of study. The student will come to the meeting with a completed Program of Study form and an accompanying statement (5-6pp.) detailing progress toward dissertation and degree thus far and plans for future study and research. In the event of an unsuccessful review, the student will be put on probation, not be admitted to candidacy, and be required to maintain a 3.5 GPA for each of the following two semesters. Additionally, field faculty will meet at the end of the student's second year in order to make a recommendation to the Graduate Director about the probationary student’s future in the program. The Graduate Director will factor this recommendation and the student’s GPA into a decision about whether the probationary student should be admitted to candidacy at the end of the second year and allowed to continue in the program.

No later than the end of your second year, you should notify the Graduate Director that you have assembled a doctoral committee of three or four professors from the department and one professor from outside the department by obtaining the necessary signatures and filing a Doctoral Committee Appointment Request form available through the forms library on the Graduate School website.  In consultation with this committee, you must devise and file with the Graduate Office a reading list and tentative body of course work. As you progress toward your degree, you will likely need to file an Adjustment to the Program of Study form you completed as part of the process of admission to doctoral candidacy.

 At any time, you may change the composition of your committee by notifying the Graduate Director and any members removed from the committee (letters advising members of their removal should be copied to the Graduate Director) and by revising the aforementioned Doctoral Committee Appointment Request form.

Direct-admit PhD Students are required to take written comprehensive exams in both a major and minor field by the spring of their fourth year in the program. This 72-hour take-home exam will consist of a response to a question in the primary field and another response to a question in the secondary field. The completed exam should not exceed 7500 words in length. 

There are no standardized reading lists for the Ph.D. comprehensive exams in literature; instead, you are required to compile your own reading lists in consultation with your committee.  The purpose of these lists is twofold:  these lists should cover the major texts, authors, and debates in your chosen fields of expertise, but they should also reflect your particular interests, investigations, and priorities for your emerging dissertation project.  It is your responsibility to strike this balance between field coverage and dissertation focus.  To do this, you should start consulting with your committee about your reading lists well in advance (ideally a year before you take exams).  No later than three months before you plan to sit the exams, you must secure your committee’s approval for a provisional set of reading lists, which you must then file with the Graduate Office.  By the beginning of the semester in which you plan to sit the exams, you must secure your committee’s approval for your final lists, which you should also submit to the Graduate Office.  Students who have not followed this procedure will not be allowed to sign up for the exams.

Questions for the primary field exam are written and graded by the qualified members of your doctoral committee. Questions for the secondary field exam are solicited from appropriate faculty by a member of the doctoral committee, who also calls on members of that faculty as graders (graders are notified that they are reading minor field exams).

In the semester you plan to take the comprehensive exams, you must sign up with the Graduate Office during the first week of classes. The exams will be offered once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester (usually in the fourth week of each semester and will take place over a weekend—i.e., from Friday at noon until Monday at noon). Students will not be allowed to schedule alternative days or times in which to take the written exams.

To pass each exam, you must receive passing grades on both questions from two of your three readers. To receive a pass with distinction, you must receive grades of pass with distinction from two of your three readers. Should you fail one part of the exam, you will only have to retake that part; if, however, you fail both parts of the exam, you are required to retake the entire exam. You have two opportunities to pass the written exam, and you must retake any failed portion of the exam within one year.

You must take the oral comprehensive examination within one month of the time you are notified that you have passed the written examination. This exam typically lasts from one to two hours. The oral examiners will be the departmental members of your doctoral committee and may also include one faculty member from outside the department. The exam covers only your primary field and will be limited to those texts that appear on your reading list for your major field written comprehensive exam. If you do not pass the oral examination, you must take it again within a year. You have two opportunities to pass this exam.

Within thirty days of passing your oral exam, you must have a dissertation prospectus approved. This is done by submitting the written prospectus to your full committee, including the outside reader, and then discussing it at a meeting with that full committee. The purpose of this meeting is to help you avoid problems in research methodology, scope of the project, etc., during the later stages of the process.

Students should obtain the prospectus defense form from the Graduate English Office, bring it to the prospectus meeting, and obtain the necessary signatures at the end of the meeting. The prospectus defense form together with a brief description of the project should be filed with the Graduate English Office as soon as possible after the meeting.

Your dissertation committee is your doctoral committee in its final form; it includes your dissertation director, at least two specialists in your research area or areas, and one faculty member from an outside department. (English department faculty affiliated with other programs or with joint appointments may not serve as outside readers). The dissertation must be defended orally before the dissertation committee. At least two weeks before the defense is to be held, you must submit the dissertation in its final form, to the director and the rest of the committee. Be sure to consult the Graduate School for current requirements regarding the format of the dissertation as well as for information about electronic submission of the dissertation to the Graduate School.

Each applicant who applies by the first deadline (January 1) and is admitted to this PhD program will be considered for a Graduate Instructional Assistantship ('GIA') in the first year that provides in-state tuition status, a tuition supplement, and a stipend (currently $14,800). In the first year the student should complete the 18 hours of graduate English course work required to hold a Graduate Teaching Assistantship ('GTA') during the second year of study. Potentially renewable for five consecutive years, the Teaching Assistantship comes with the same benefits as the Direct-Admission student's GIAship.

Students awarded an assistantship by the Department of English are expected to

  • carry no incompletes;
  • earn no more than one grade below B during their academic career;
  • perform assigned duties in a satisfactory manner;
  • maintain a GPA of 3.5; and
  • make steady progress toward the degree.
  • Opportunities to present papers at conferences sponsored by USC graduate student organizations and by affiliated programs such as Women's and Gender Studies.
  • Opportunities for financial support to fund paper presentations at other local, regional, national, or international conferences.
  • Opportunities to teach undergraduate literature and writing courses.Eligibility for recognition and awards from The Graduate School (especially for presentations at Graduate Student Day).
  • Opportunities for editorial or other career-advancing internships within the university or outside it.
  • Guidance through the job search by an expert faculty committee, including CV workshops, presentation strategies, and mock interviews.
  • Opportunity to apply for lucrative year-long Bilinski Dissertation Fellowship


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