Literature Program

Exam and Dissertation

PhD Preliminary Exam

The PhD preliminary examination is a written exam of four hours in duration that requires the student to demonstrate, in the subfield of the dissertation, a depth of knowledge appropriate to an expert in that subfield.  A list of approved subfields and a process for proposing alternative subfields shall be provided to the student.  Under the direction of his or her preliminary examination committee chair, who will likely also serve as dissertation director, and subject to the approval of the full exam committee,

  • The examinee will be responsible for constructing and demonstrating mastery over a reading list of approximately 100 primary and 30 secondary texts in the appropriate subfield; and,
  • The examinee will write approximately twelve questions, from which the committee will choose a subset (usually no less than two and no more than four), to be revealed to and answered by the examinee during the four-hour examination period.

Exams will be closed book and closed note. Once the exam is completed, the student’s committee will read all responses, talk collectively about them, and then, on the basis of consensus whenever possible, and on the basis of a majority that must include the chair if consensus is unreachable, assign the examinee a final grade of Distinction, Pass, or Fail.

Dissertation Prospectus Conference

This is a one-hour discussion of the dissertation prospectus between the student and his or her dissertation committee. The conference will focus on the soundness of the prospectus and the student’s readiness to undertake the research and writing of the dissertation. The purpose of the conference is to help the student begin the writing of the dissertation, to identify areas of potential difficulty, and to prepare the student for the project that lies ahead.

  • Select a faculty member with whom you are comfortable working and who is a specialist in the area of your dissertation. Ask that person if s/he is willing to direct your dissertation.
  • In consultation with your dissertation director, and when you know the focus of your dissertation, select four other committee members (one of whom must be from another department of college) to serve as readers of your dissertation and as your examiners.
  • Ask those other four professors if they are willing to serve on your dissertation committee. Discuss with these professors who wants to see what when. There are no hard and fast rules for such negotiations. With some members of your committee, you may want to work closely; they may wish to see multiple drafts of individual chapters throughout the writing of the dissertation; others may only wish to see a completed version before your defense. Make sure that you’ve reached a mutually agreeable working relationship with your committee.
  • Work with your director to prepare a draft of your prospectus-about 10-20 pages plus a working bibliography-that you both agree is ready to go to your entire committee.
  • Submit the prospectus to your committee, who may ask for revisions or suggest additional readings.
  • Once the prospectus has been approved for the conference by your dissertation committee, poll the members of the committee concerning available times and dates for the dissertation prospectus conference.
  • Provide the Director of Graduate Studies with a copy of the prospectus and ask the Graduate Studies Coordinator (Jennifer Fuqua) to schedule a room for the conference. Please give her a week’s notice.

For more information, see the Graduate School’s A Student Guide to Preparing Electronic Theses and Dissertations.