1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

PhD Requirements

The PhD program in English Language, Literature, and Research is designed to permit the full-time student to secure the doctorate in approximately six years; financial support is tied to a series of deadlines which aim at such a schedule.

Course Requirements

Fourteen graded courses (at the 5000, 8000, or 9000 level) are required for the PhD in English. These must include ENCR 8100 (Introduction to Literary Research), a third-semester Pedagogy Seminar, and, in preparation for writing the dissertation, ENGL 9995 (Dissertation Seminar). In selecting the remaining eleven courses, students should keep in mind the following distribution requirements: one course in MD or RN, one course in EC or NC, and one course in the history of criticism or literary theory. (On submission of this form signed and filled out by our DGS, MA-transfers typically receive credit for 6-8 courses from their previous graduate program.) Students who are enrolled in the PhD program, have completed all other requirements for the MA, and have passed at least one half of the PhD oral may apply for the MA degree.

Required Audits or Sit-Ins

In addition to the fourteen graded courses, all doctoral candidates are required to audit or sit-in on two courses during their third year of study, attending faithfully and meeting all requirements apart from the submission of major essays; course instructors must approve audit or sit-in status in advance and certify satisfactory participation. (See this page for the working distinction between authorized sit-ins and audits.) These two audits or sit-ins may be offered in fulfillment of distribution requirements.

Non-Topical Research Courses

Beginning in the second year, students register for 3-12 hours of Non-Topical Research (NTR) courses ENGL 9998 / ENGL 9999), for a total of 30 NTR units. The precise course rubric and number of hours varies, but in every case these additional credit hours bring the total per semester up to 12. It is important to register accurately for these hours; please see the chart of MA/PhD enrollment patterns for the correct sequence of NTR courses.


Students are strongly advised to stay current with their work and to complete all courses within the time allotted. With the written agreement of the instructor, however, students may be given a grade of "Incomplete" in one course each semester. According to GSAS policy, outstanding work must then be completed by the end of the following semester, after which remaining incompletes automatically default to permanent Fs. Agreements between instructors and students regarding incompletes should include a specific due date and be placed on file with the Graduate Office. Students with one or more F's may find their registration blocked by the Graduate School and lose their teaching assignments. One or more Fs may also cause the Graduate School to suspend a student's funding. In no case may a student with incomplete coursework sit for the PhD oral examination.

Foreign Language Requirement

The Department requires that the candidate demonstrate either mastery of one foreign language or proficiency in two.

The candidate may demonstrate mastery

  • by achieving passing grades in two semester-long graduate literature courses offered in the foreign language itself (not in translation) and taken at the University of Virginia . Such courses may also be counted toward completion of the course requirements for the PhD in English, if they are approved in advance by the Director of Graduate Studies


  • by passing a two-hour examination designed to ascertain the student's ability both to read critical and literary texts in the foreign language (with the aid of a dictionary) and to write discursively in that language.

Proficiency is demonstrated by passing a ninety-minute examination in each language, which is designed to ascertain the student's ability to translate prose with the aid of a dictionary.

The full foreign language requirement for the PhD must be completed before the student takes the doctoral oral examination. It is strongly recommended that students make plans early in graduate school for any extra study (including remedial or other course work) that may be necessary to meet this requirement. Eligibility for dissertation fellowships depends on completion of all requirements other than the dissertation.

Special Requirements for Medievalists

Preparation for writing a dissertation in medieval literature requires at least one course in Old English. The faculty strongly encourages study of Latin and other medieval European languages, and it admires the acquisition of further languages from other continents. In this spirit, medievalists are required to pass two exams at either proficiency or mastery level: 1. an exam in Latin, 2. an exam in another language useful to the dissertation work, whether Old French, Arabic, Old Norse, Middle High German, Greek, or any other chosen in consultation with the faculty chair of the medieval area. A student may choose to substitute a graduate course in the original language and literature for either exam requirement above, so long as a B grade or better is earned.

Oral Examination

The candidate should secure a copy of the application form for the oral examination either from this website or from the Graduate Office. This form should be filed initially by May 1 of the second year to indicate the two areas for examination. Then, in consultation with faculty and after a summer's directed reading, the student should compile balanced and comprehensive reading lists consisting of about forty-six works in each of two areas: historical Period and additional research and teaching Field.  Since the period list is intended to consolidate general mastery, it ought not to be narrowly tailored in line with particular thesis plans.  The reading lists must be approved by the appropriate faculty members and submitted by September 15, together with the application form, to the Director of Graduate Studies, who assigns two faculty examiners. The Graduate Office will then contact the examiners to arrange a two-hour exam, typically late in the fall of the third year. Students are responsible for informing examiners and the Graduate Office of minor emendations in the lists.

    Dissertation Prospectus

    PhD Committee:  As soon as possible after passing the orals, students secure three faculty members' agreement to serve on a committee for the dissertation project.  In most cases, this committee will consist of one director and two readers.

    Preparation:  As part of the ENGL 9995 Dissertation Seminar, and in consultation with the dissertation committee, the candidate spends spring of the third year preparing a prospectus of 5-7 pages, plus an ample bibliography (of which fifteen entries are annotated).  The candidate is advised to think of the prospectus as belonging to the genre of the grant application, with a proposed outline of chapters and a clear statement of the place the proposed work will fill amidst other studies.

    Approval of the Prospectus: In exchanges with each member of the dissertation committee, the prospectus is rejected, sent back for revisions, or finally approved.  At this time the committee and candidate should agree on an explicit plan for review and revision going forward; for example, committee members who are not the director may specify that they will read chapters only after one revision, or that members will take turns with first readings. A good target-date for securing committee approval is May or June of the student's third year, with October 1 the final acceptable date for securing all members' approval; a hard copy of every accepted prospectus with completed prospectus-approval form should be brought to the Graduate Office for filing, also by Oct. 1. Teaching beyond the fourth year and consideration for dissertation fellowships are contingent on timely submission of an approved prospectus.

    Thesis Presentation

    Within one calendar year of the approval of the dissertation prospectus, the student gives a forty-minute talk based on the dissertation to an audience of faculty and graduate students. A typical presentation begins with a concise outline of the project as a whole, followed by an illustrative excerpt taken from a single chapter. The talk is followed by a question and answer period. Neither an examination nor a defense, this is an occasion for students to share their scholarship in a formal venue, to obtain more varied reaction to it than their committee can provide, and to practice the kind of presentation usually demanded by a job talk. Presenters should prepare for this event well in advance by consulting with committee members and, if they wish, with the Director of Graduate Studies.

    Preparing to Submit the Dissertation

    After passing the oral examination and making the thesis presentation, the student may submit the dissertation for final approval at any time within the period set by the Graduate School (i.e., seven years from the commencement of graduate studies). If the dissertation has not been completed within this time limit, the student may, with the written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, petition the Dean of the Graduate School for an extension. In form, the dissertation should observe the stipulations of The MLA Style Manual, current edition. Deadlines and procedures for applying for a degree and submitting the dissertation, together with a sample title-page, may be found on the Graduate School web site, or on a sheet of guidelines which may be obtained from 438 Cabell Hall. Students should also obtain a Final Defense Form and four copies of the Doctoral Thesis Rubric, to be signed by committee members upon the completion of the defense and returned to the English Department graduate secretary.

    Defense of the Dissertation

    The student should leave ample time (no less than three weeks) between submission of the dissertation and the date of the defense. Scheduled by the candidate, the one-hour defense involves the three English department members of the dissertation committee and one “outside” member from another department at the University of Virginia . The director of the dissertation serves as chair. At the defense, students are asked to explain the central arguments and theoretical underpinnings of their project, to identify its contributions to the field, and to answer questions posed by the four committee members. Should the candidate fail either oral or written examination, the Department will reject the dissertation until it has been appropriately revised and the thesis successfully defended at a later date.

    Schedule of Progress

    Here we describe the standard schedule of progress for doctoral students (revised schedule, effective fall 2013). Failure to meet the deadlines may result in the suspension of a student's financial support (fellowship and/or teaching). A student in most cases may resume that support after a year if the requirement has been met in the meantime.

    • First year. Take three specified-content courses in both semesters, in addition to ENCR 8100 in the fall. Full-time students should enroll for a total of 12 hours each semester, consisting of NTR (Non-Topical Research) hours along with hours of specified-content courses; typically a second-term first-year student will enroll for 3 specified-content courses of 3 hours apiece and 3 hours of an NTR "course," which in other terms may involve more hours. Students should concentrate on fulfilling distribution requirements, while also contemplating the eventual choice of an area of specialization. Students who have not yet met the foreign language requirement should make plans for any necessary language study.

    • Second year. Take three courses in both semesters (and register each semester for NTR course ENGL 9998). Students should complete the distribution requirements. PhD students in this year normally teach writing courses in conjunction with a required pedagogy seminar.  By the end of the fourth semester, students should complete the language requirement and identify two areas for their oral exam.

    • Third year. Fall : Sit in on one graduate-level course (form provided) and register for twelve hours of NTR course ENGL 9998; submit approved oral exam lists by October 1, and schedule the oral for late fall. Students who do not take the examination before the end of this academic year will risk losing fellowship and teaching support for the next. Students who fail one or both sections of the exam will not have their support suspended, but must be re-examined in the failed area(s), typically before the spring break.  PhD students in this year normally assist in one of the large undergraduate lecture courses (surveys, Shakespeare or The Literature of the South.  Spring: Take ENGL 9995 (the Dissertation Seminar), sit in on one graduate-level course (form provided), and register for nine hours of ENGL 9998. Teach one course. During the third year, students form a dissertation committee (director and two readers), with a view to having an approved 5-7 page prospectus with annotated bibliography, ideally by May or June, and at latest by Oct. 1 of the student's fourth year.

    • Fourth year. Fall: By Oct. 1 at latest, students need their dissertation prospectus approved by a chosen dissertation committee.  Register for twelve hours of NTR course ENGL 9998. Students become eligible to design their own introductory literature seminar (ENLT).  Subject to departmental needs, fourth-year students and third-year transfer-students may teach two courses in the fall semester to free the spring for work on the dissertation.  For bookkeeping reasons, students must teach at least one course in the fall of the fourth year.  Spring: Register for twelve hours of NTR course ENGL 9999.  Students should continue work on the dissertation and consider going on the academic job market in the following fall-term. A standard expectation is that every student will have a full chapter of the dissertation complete by the end of fourth year; even earlier completion will aid further progress and put students in better position to seek supplementary grants.

    • Fifth year. Register each semester for twelve hours of ENGL 9999.  Students receive a non-teaching dissertation fellowship for the year. Within approximately one year of having an approved prospectus, students give a formal talk based on the dissertation for an audience of students and faculty. Successful job applicants should make every effort to complete the dissertation and defend it.  For a May graduation, the dissertation must be defended and submitted to the Graduate School in final form by May 1.

    • Sixth year and following. Students who are making satisfactory progress on the dissertation are generally offered teaching assignments (but no fellowship support) in the sixth year; depending on availability, students may be awarded teaching assignments in the seventh year.  Each year, the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the English Department fund the Shannon Fellowship: a one-year teaching lectureship awarded to a newly minted Virginia PhD in English with faculty status and benefits.

    Job Placement

    Academic Placement: In the spring before the academic year in which they expect to finish their dissertations, doctoral candidates who plan to pursue academic careers should begin preparing to enter the job market. The departmental Placement Director works with job candidates to assemble their dossiers, compose their letters of application, and prepare a representative sample of their writing for prospective employers. Such preliminary work should be completed by the end of September, when the Modern Language Association's Job Information List appears. Later in the year, the Placement Director helps candidates to prepare for interviews, which are normally conducted at the MLA convention in December. (The Department offers grants of $150 to defray the expenses of job candidates who have secured MLA interviews.)

    Non-academic placement: Few academics can remember a time when every recipient of the PhD could expect to find a job in a college or university. The increasing economic stress under which higher education now labors means that some degree recipients may ultimately work outside the academy--for example, in publishing, in secondary education, in public service, in the information industry, and indeed in all fields where the ability to gather and analyze information and present the results in clearly written form is highly valued. A number of PhD candidates now make work in such fields their first choice. For those who do, the Modern Language Association can assist with various resources, including job counseling at the annual convention. University Career Services is also available to help University of Virginia graduate students with non-academic placement.

    Leave of Absence

    The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences does not recognize leave of absence for a student.  If a student needs time away from the program, the student is encouraged to register as a non-resident in order to preserve continuous eligibility for the resumption of studies.  Students should discuss the need for time away from the program with the Director of Graduate Studies before making a decision, as they may forfeit the fellowship and teaching support that have been earmarked for them during the originally offered term of doctoral study.

    The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at http://records.ureg.virginia.edu/index.php.