College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Students entering the Ph.D. program in English are expected to have completed a master's degree in English or in a related field of study at an accredited college or university, and to show promise of doing excellent work at the doctoral level. Students who complete a master's degree at WSU must reApply for admission to the Ph.D. program. Ph.D. candidates must demonstrate general competence in two foreign languages or advanced competence in one (see Language Proficiency Requirements, below). All doctoral students are expected to take part actively in planning their own literary and language programs and in meeting deadlines set by the department and by the WSU Graduate School.

The objective of the Ph.D. program – including concentrations either in literature or in rhetoric and composition – is to prepare scholars for employment in a wide variety of post-secondary institutions of learning by providing both generalized and specialized training in literary/cultural theory and criticism, as well as opportunities to develop critical and research skills in literary and intellectual history, rhetorical theory, genre studies, composition studies, pedagogical theory, linguistics, and other related fields. The Ph.D. candidate's course of study is not designed to confront the student with every significant piece of writing in the respective field (i.e., English and American literature or rhetoric and composition). Rather, the coursework aims to produce mature critics and scholars who are widely read in English and American literature, knowledgeable about the methods of systematic scholarship, and competent to function professionally, not only in the modern university, but also in related research institutions such as historical societies, museums, and publishing firms.

1. Program and Course Requirements

A. Program of Study

The Program of Study to be filed with the WSU Graduate School will be formulated in accordance with the following policies:

The program will show up to 27 graded credit hours transferred in from an M.A. program and at least 30 graded credit hours beyond the M.A. This amounts to a total of at least 57 graded credit hours, to which will be added the various ungraded hours accumulated in English 598, English 600, and English 800. (Note: No 300-level English courses can be used for graduate credit in the Ph.D. program, but up to 6 hours of 400-level courses listed in the Graduate Bulletin may be counted.)

Students should begin enrolling in English 800 before all graded coursework is completed, and must have a minimum of 20 hours of 800 credits by the time of graduation. There is no maximum number of hours following completion of the comprehensive and preliminary examinations.

B. Required Graded Seminars

  • English 501 (Seminar in the Methodology of Composition)
  • English 512 (Introduction to Graduate Study)
  • English 590 (Directed Reading; up to 3 credits total)

In addition, students must take at least one course in each of the following historical periods:

  • Pre-Enlightenment (i.e., up to roughly 1700-1750)
  • Enlightenment to the Twentieth Century
  • Twentieth Century to the Present

Students who have already taken graduate seminars in any of these areas may meet with the Director of Graduate Study to see if they may waive one or more of these requirements.

C. Annual Plan

During each fall semester every Ph.D. student must assemble, with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Department Chair, a supervisory committee of three Faculty members to help the student prepare an annual plan. This plan should articulate the student's research and intellectual goals, outline coursework needed to support these goals, and identify intended areas for the qualifying examinations and the dissertation. The chair of the supervisory committee will be the student's principal mentor. All seminars taken to fulfill requirements or to satisfy the total number of graded seminar credits necessary for completion of the program must be approved through the submission of the annual plan to the student's committee and to the Director of Graduate Studies.

The supervisory committee will normally become the dissertation committee. In planning programs, selecting committee members, and choosing examination areas, it is advantageous for students to decide early on what their dissertation topic will be. That topic, construed more broadly as a field of interest and inquiry, will usually become the focus of the Special Area Examination (one of the three written examinations). Subsequently, it will become, along with the dissertation prospectus, the focus of the oral Preliminary Examination. (See Guidelines for Dissertation Planning and Advising.)

D. Annual Report

During the spring semester, each student will be required to submit an annual report which assesses his or her professional activities and progress in the Ph.D. program. An evaluation of the program will be included in this report. Reports should be turned in to the Academic Coordinator; they will then be copied and distributed to all members of the Graduate Studies Committee.

E. English 590: Research in English Studies

English 590 is a graded independent study designed to provide directed research in English studies for individuals (or small groups) in conjunction with one or more Faculty members. Students are normally expected to prepare a bibliography on a specific research field; this should be done with the approval of both the English 590 supervisor and the student's advisor (often this will be the same person).

The student will then read selected works from the bibliography and produce detailed annotations along with an accompanying critical narrative about key issues or significant patterns reflected in the bibliography. Typically the student will meet with the 590 supervisor once a week or once every other week in order to discuss the readings. English 590 is graded and may be taken for 1 credit per semester up to a total of 3 credits altogether. Students will be graded on the following criteria: quality of the annotated bibliography, the critical narrative, and the discussion sessions. For each credit of English 590, students should present at least a one-page bibliography (typed and double-spaced) of key primary and secondary works in the chosen field.

All doctoral students must take at least 1 credit of English 590, but no more than 3 credits total are allowed. English 590 is not intended to be a substitute for a viable graduate seminar.

II. Comprehensive Examinations and Dissertation

The examinations for the Ph.D. are divided into three stages: (1) Qualifying Examinations (devised, scheduled, and administered with the English Department by the student's supervisory committee); (2) a Preliminary Examination (an oral examination scheduled with the cooperation of the WSU Graduate School following successful completion of the Qualifying Examinations; and (3) a Final Examination (an oral examination focused on the doctoral dissertation, scheduled in cooperation with the WSU Graduate School and held only after the readers of the dissertation have approved it for an oral defense).

The Qualifying Examinations and Preliminary Examination are offered after coursework is finished or during the semester in which the final coursework is being completed. The examinations aim at the integration of the student's previous experience and study into consistent, mature understanding and expression suitable for advanced teaching, research, and writing in the chosen areas of study.

A. Qualifying Examinations

1. Exam Areas: Literature

The Qualifying Examinations for doctoral students in literature will consist of three take-Home exams in the following three broad areas:

(a) Historical Periods – choose one of the following:

  • Medieval to 1485 1485 to 1600 (including the works of Shakespeare)
  • Seventeenth-century British literature (excluding Shakespeare)
  • Eighteenth-century British
  • British Romantic and Victorian to 1885
  • Modern British to 1945
  • Contemporary British
  • Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-century American
  • Nineteenth-century American to 1865
  • American literature 1865-1945
  • Contemporary American

Note: all historical period exams should be based on a range of canonical and non-canonical primary texts, as well as on key secondary studies.

(b) Choose either a second historical period, or a genre such as lyric poetry, drama, the novel, the short story, prose non-fiction, etc., or a defined field within literary theory such as gender study, postcolonial theory, Marxist theory, race and ethnicity study, etc.

(c) Special Area. In general, the special area consists of a literary, historical, or cultural topic whose study is necessary for the student's successful completion of the dissertation.

2. Exam Areas: Rhetoric and Composition

The Qualifying Examinations for doctoral students in rhetoric and composition will consist of three take-Home exams in the following three broad areas:

(a) Rhetoric and Composition Areas – chose one of the following:

Classical rhetoric (sophistic, philosophical, technical)
Ciceronian rhetoric (including the Rhetorica ad Herrenium)
Medieval rhetoric (including the Second Sophistic of Byzantium)
Renaissance rhetoric (to Peter Ramus)
Modern/Contemporary rhetoric (Eighteenth-century to the present)
Composition theory and history (including research and classroom applications)

(b) Choose either a second rhetoric and composition area from the list above, or a literary historical period as outlined in the previous section on Comprehensive Examinations for doctoral students in literature, or a defined field within literary theory (also as outlined in the previous section).

(c) Special Area. In general, the special area consists of a theoretical, historical, or cultural topic whose study is necessary for the student's successful completion of the dissertation.

3. Preparing for the Qualifying Examinations

All doctoral students are expected to work closely with their supervisory committees as they prepare for their exams. One or more of the three Faculty members on each supervisory committee must work in fields directly relevant to the student's exam areas and dissertation topic. Students should recognize that the formation of such committees will depend upon the availability of appropriate Faculty members and the limitations of their workloads; students may need to readjust their plans if particular people cannot serve. Committees are reviewed and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair when annual plans and program forms are submitted and revised.

At the beginning of the semester before the exams are taken, each student will have completed a bibliography for each section of the exam and submitted these bibliographies to the members of his or her supervisory committee. The committee will read them, offer suggestions for revision, and finally approve these bibliographies by mid-semester (roughly October 15 or March 15). The chair of the supervisory committee is responsible for seeing that this happens. Once the bibliographies are approved, the student will submit a copy of these materials to the Director of Graduate Studies, along with a cover sheet signed by all members of the supervisory committee. For the Special Area exam, a narrative providing the rationale for the bibliography must also be submitted; normally this narrative will be about 4-5 pages long.

To ensure fairness, the following guidelines must be observed:

  • There should be no significant overlap between the topics of the three written examinations.
  • Each bibliography must be between four and six pages in length (typed and double-spaced); and each must contain key primary and secondary texts.
  • The Special Area exam must be considered necessary preparation for writing a high-quality dissertation, providing the student with theoretical, thematic, or topical grounding within which to locate the narrower dissertation project. The special area should not be construed as an introduction or individual chapter of the dissertation, but rather as an essential research stage prior to the composition of the dissertation. The bibliography submitted for the Special Area exam must be accompanied by a rationale of 4-5 double-spaced pages explaining the intellectual coherence of the area and the reasons for the specific bibliographic selections. The rationale should also include an initial section summarizing the special area's content and scope, along with a final section describing the area's relationship to the student's projected dissertation. Topical divisions are recommended for the accompanying bibliography. Sample special area proposals are available for inspection in the office of the Academic Coordinator.

4. Exam Procedures

All Ph.D. students will be examined at the same time, one examination period being set aside during each semester of the academic year. Students are required to be on campus during this period. The examination will be administered by the supervisory committee, with the committee chair taking responsibility for ensuring that questions are submitted to the Academic Coordinator a few days in advance of the exam. The committee chair will also report the results of the exam both to the student and to the Director of Graduate Studies.

The three take-Home exams will be administered over a set period of time each semester, usually during the fifth, sixth, and seventh weeks of the term. Students will normally pick up the exam questions on Friday morning and submit written responses the following Friday. After the three week-long examinations are finished, the student will submit a dissertation prospectus (about 12-16 pages) as a basis for the Preliminary (oral) examination. This prospectus must be submitted three weeks before the exam. The prospectus normally consists of a 6-8 page proposal, including chapter summations, plus a working bibliography (6-8 pages). If all three take-Home examination grades are "pass," the Preliminary Examination is scheduled according to departmental and university guidelines.

A candidate failing any one portion of the Qualifying Examination may later schedule a partial retake; if two or all three examinations are failed, the candidate must completely retake all portions of the exam. No Preliminary Examination will be scheduled until the candidate passes all three portions of the Qualifying Examination. If a candidate who retakes the examinations fails any part (qualifying or preliminary examinations), the supervisory committee and the Director of Graduate Studies will meet as a review committee to rule on whether the candidate should be terminated from the program.

B. Oral Preliminary Examination

The supervisory committee conducts the Oral Preliminary Examination. It concerns the dissertation prospectus (see above) and its relation to the Special Area topic, and it also reviews anything from the Qualifying Examinations that deserves further scrutiny. The oral exam is a conversation among colleagues in which the student has a chance to discuss his or her dissertation project and to ask as well as answer questions.

By the principle of coherence noted above, a candidate changing plans after the examinations – proposing a dissertation in a field where he or she has not been examined – must submit for approval to the supervisory committee an explanation of how he or she will become qualified to write in the new field.

C. The Dissertation

Having passed the Qualifying and Preliminary Examination, the doctoral student is advanced to candidacy. It is to be understood that passing the examinations does not constitute approval of the dissertation project per se, but rather of the candidate's readiness and ability to undertake such a project in a given field. A final version of the dissertation prospectus, which might differ significantly from that submitted for the Preliminary Examination, may be required by the candidate's dissertation committee if the chair and the other members so determine.

The candidate will prepare a dissertation under the supervision of this dissertation committee, which consists of at least three Faculty members selected with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Department Chair. Normally the membership of this committee will be the same as that of the student's supervisory committee, but it can be changed after the exams if necessary.

D. The Final Examination (Dissertation Oral Defense)

The WSU Graduate School requires the completion and defense of the dissertation within three years from the date of the Preliminary Examination. After the completion of the dissertation, an oral defense is conducted by the members of the candidate's dissertation committee. Other Faculty members, both within and without the English Department, are invited to attend. This Final Examination is intended not only to be a defense of the claims and arguments of the dissertation but also to serve as a forum for discussing the student's professional development, achievement, and future academic and intellectual goals. It functions additionally as a welcome to the profession. Voting is carried out by the members of the dissertation committee, with the committee chair supervising. The candidate is expected to deposit the dissertation in the English Department five working days before the Final Examination. If the candidate passes the examination, the dissertation in its final form, with corrections or alterations as mandated by the committee, must be delivered to the WSU Graduate School within five working days.

E. Dissertation Extensions

When a dissertation has not been defended within three years from the date of a candidate's successful completion of the doctoral Qualifying Examination, the candidate must initiate a request for a dissertation extension. The candidate asks the chair of his or her committee to write a letter to the Director of Graduate Studies, who then forwards this letter, along with a corroborating request, to the WSU Graduate School. First extensions (for another calendar year) are normally granted as a matter of course. Second extensions are more difficult to obtain; they often involve detailed petitions and, in some cases, a full departmental vote. Students are strongly encouraged not to place themselves in a position where they need to seek a second extension. In rare circumstances, students will sometimes be allowed a third extension. But the WSU Graduate School allows no possibility of dissertation extensions beyond this point.


Department of English, PO Box 645020, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-5020, 509-335-2581, Contact Us