Boston University English PhD

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

PhD Program

Important Note: Owing to the Coronavirus pandemic, the English Department of Boston University is suspending applications to its PhD Program for Fall 2021 admissions. We will continue to accept applications to and enroll students in our one-year MA Program, which begins in Fall 2021. The one-year pause to PhD admissions will enable us to provide additional resources to current doctoral students adversely affected by the pandemic and reflects our commitment to our graduate students’ well-being and success. We regret having to make this decision and will resume accepting PhD applications in the Fall of 2021, with a deadline of January 4, 2022.

The English Department will begin reviewing completed MA applications on January 4, 2021 and will continue to accept them until the March 5, 2021 deadline

Requirements for the PhD

In the PhD Program, students move toward specialization in a particular area of study. The requirements include:

  • Sixteen graduate-level courses, including a required eight courses taken in the first year.
  • A successful review by the Graduate Committee upon completion of the first year.
  • Demonstration of a reading knowledge of one foreign language at an advanced level or two foreign languages at an intermediate level – including one language completed as part of the first year.
  • Completion of a Qualifying Oral Examination
  • Submission and approval of a Dissertation Prospectus
  • Completion and defense of a Ph.D. dissertation

Please note that successful completion of requirements in the first year earns each Ph.D. student an M.A. degree as a matter of course.

Satisfactory Academic Progress for PhD Students

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English guarantee five full years (12 months each) of financial support for PhD students who maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. This support will be in the form of Teaching Fellowships or Graduate Fellowships. All requirements for the doctorate, including dissertation, must be completed within seven years (exceptions require a petition to GRS). A leave of absence of up to two semesters is permitted for appropriate cause.

Given these time constraints, students should work closely with their advisers and dissertation readers to devise an efficient schedule for meeting all benchmarks. Faculty and students share responsibility for adhering closely to this schedule.

The following achievements are required to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress:

Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher, have no more than 2 failing grades (lower than B- or an incomplete grade older than 12 months), and pass qualifying exams and other milestones on the following recommended schedule:

Year 1:      Eight graduate courses – for the M.A. degree / first foreign language requirement.

Year 2:      Continue course work and study toward the completion of the language requirement.

Year 3:     Complete course work and language requirements. In the fall of the third year, students take the pro-seminar (EN794), in which they develop their Qualifying Oral Examination rationale and reading list, and form an oral exam committee.

Year 4:      Fall: Students should take the Qualifying Exam early in the Fall semester.

Spring: Prospectus submitted and dissertation writing begins.

Years 5+: Dissertation.

Additional departmental details regarding all stages of the degree can be found in the graduate handbook

For GRS college policies and general information please see the Graduate Bulletin

Sanjay Krishnan, Director of Graduate Studies

PhD in English

The PhD in English at Boston University provides comprehensive training in all areas of literary studies in English. Coursework is offered in historical periods, individual authors, important literary movements, literary theory, and the history of criticism. Students develop a broad competence in all literary periods while moving to a more specialized knowledge of a single area or topic. World-class scholars lead small seminars, direct individual tutorials, advise independent student research, and provide professional mentorship, preparing students for careers as researchers and teachers in academia and beyond. To enter, at least a bachelor’s degree in English or a closely related field is required.

Learning Outcomes

Students graduating with a PhD in English are expected to:

  • Conduct original, publishable research in the field.
  • Demonstrate a broad knowledge of theory and research across several subdisciplines in the field and speak effectively to professional and lay audiences about issues in these areas.
  • Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of one area of expertise.
  • Follow ethical guidelines for work in the field.
  • Effectively teach undergraduate students.

Course Requirements

To be awarded the PhD, the candidate must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 in both semesters. No grade below a B– will count toward the PhD.

Sixteen semester courses (64 credits) are required for the degree, of which not more than four may be taken in one semester. Course requirements are as follows:

  • At least thirteen courses must be elected from courses numbered 700 or higher. With the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, one directed study course may be elected as one of the required courses.
  • At least one course that focuses primarily on critical theory, critical method, or the history of criticism
  • At least two courses in each of the following categories:
    • Medieval Literature–1660 or History of the Language/Linguistics
    • Literature in English 1660–1860
    • Literature in English 1860–Present

Doctoral students may, with the approval of their advisor, elect two semester courses at the graduate level in related areas. A course elected to fulfill the foreign language requirement may be counted as a related course.

A limited number of courses are offered in Metropolitan College (MET) under the auspices of the Department of English and are approved for graduate credit for students enrolled in the MA and PhD programs. For further information, see the Metropolitan College Bulletin.

Foreign Language Requirement

All students pursuing a PhD degree in English are required to demonstrate either advanced-level proficiency in one language or intermediate-level reading proficiency in two languages. Languages chosen must have relevance to literary studies in English; the Director of Graduate Studies determines which languages are appropriate to fulfill the requirement. The language requirement must be fulfilled before the PhD qualifying oral examination is scheduled.

Intermediate reading proficiency in a language can be demonstrated by passing a written translation test administered by the English department; achieving a score of 530 on the SAT II language test; earning a B or better in a noncredit foreign language reading course for graduate students (GRS LF 621 or equivalent); earning a B or better in a graduate-level (500 or higher) course in foreign literature taught in the literature’s language; or earning a B or better in a graduate-level course in Old English.

Advanced language proficiency can only be demonstrated by achieving a score of 650 on the SAT II language test. A student wishing to fulfill advanced proficiency in a language for which there is no available examination should consult the Director of Graduate Studies.

A student who successfully completes a literature course at the graduate level in a foreign language can count the course toward the 16-course requirement for the PhD.

Qualifying Examination

To be admitted to doctoral candidacy, the student must pass a comprehensive oral examination in a major area of literary study defined by the student in consultation with the advisor. The area chosen for examination is normally related to the student’s anticipated dissertation topic.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair/Program Director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field(s) and demonstrate a mastery of their field(s) of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Any PhD student who has fulfilled the requirements of the master’s degree program, as stated here, can be awarded a master’s degree.

For further information about the graduate program in English, interested students should consult the department’s website or contact the department’s Director of Graduate Studies.

The Graduate Program in English and American Literature at Boston University provides comprehensive training in all areas of English studies. Coursework is offered in historical periods, individual authors, important literary movements, literary theory and the history of criticism, and philology and linguistics. Students develop a broad competence in all literary periods before moving to a more specialized knowledge of a single area or topic.

The MA degree may be completed in two full-time semesters.
The requirements include:

  • Eight graduate-level courses (full-time load = four courses per semester)
  • Demonstration of a reading knowledge of one foreign language
  • Fulfillment of a one-course literary theory/history requirement

No comprehensive exam or thesis is required.

A limited number of partial scholarships are available to MA students.

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