PhD Requirements

The Program admits candidates for study leading to the Ph.D. only. Students may obtain an M.A. in the course of their work for the Ph.D. or, in exceptional cases, as a terminal degree. There are six components to the Ph.D. program: a language examination, course work, a major research paper, the qualifying examination, the Ph.D. prospectus, and the dissertation.

Satisfactory Academic Progress

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the American and New England Studies Program guarantee five full years (12 months each) of financial support for students who maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress. This support will be in the form of Teaching Fellowships, Research Assistantships 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, but the leave period counts towards the seven-year time limit. Given these time constraints, students should work closely with their dissertation readers to devise an efficient schedule for research, writing and revision. Faculty and students share responsibility for adhering closely to this schedule.

The following achievements are required to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress:

  1. Maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  2. Have no more than 2 failing grades (lower than B- or an incomplete grade older than 12 months)
  3. Pass qualifying exams and other milestones on the recommended schedule specified under the listed PhD Requirements.

Following is a general optimal timetable:

End of first year

  • Completion of the core courses AM735 and AM736
  • Pass Language Exam

By the end of the third semester

  • Completion of all coursework for post-MA students
  • Approval of Major Research Paper for post-MA students

By the end of the fifth semester

  • Completion of all coursework for post-BA students
  • Approval of Major Research Paper for post-BA students

By the end of the third year

  • Pass Oral Qualifying Exams
  • Submit approved Dissertation Prospectus

Guidelines and specific deadlines for completion of the dissertation are described below.

Language Examination

Students must demonstrate reading competence in a single modern foreign language. This can be accomplished in one of the following ways: through an examination given by the Program, by earning a score of 570 in the Graduate Student Foreign Language standardized exam, or by successfully completing a language reading course numbered 621 offered through the Graduate School. Advisers recommend that students fulfill their language requirement by the end of their first year in residence. Completing the language requirement is a prerequisite for the Qualifying Examination or earning an M.A. degree.

Course Work

There are two required courses: AM 735 (Studies in American Culture) and AM 736 (The Literature of American Studies). Students entering the program with a B.A. degree take sixteen courses over a period of four to six semesters, with eight courses at the 700 level or higher, and all other courses at the 500 level or higher. Students entering with an M.A. degree take eight courses over two or three semesters with four courses at the 700 level or higher and all other courses at the 500 level or higher. Students may not take more than four and one-half courses for degree credit in any one semester, and those taking more than two directed studies in any academic year must have approval from the program director.

Credit Transfers: Students entering with a B.A. degree may petition for transfer of credit up to four courses; those entering with an M.A. degree cannot transfer course credits from another university. Petitions for transfer of credit must be approved by the director and the Graduate School.

Incompletes: Some students request a grade of Incomplete from their instructors in order to have additional time to complete a term paper or other assignment in an appropriate manner. Faculty should set deadlines for the submission of such work. Any work to finish an incomplete must be done by the end of the next semester. Please note that long-standing incompletes will disqualify students from receiving financial aid.

Major Research Paper

(click through for a pdf of the Major Paper Approval Page)

Once their coursework is complete, students submit a major research paper undertaken at Boston University. This must be done before they can sit for the Qualifying Examination or receive a master’s degree.

In general, the major research paper may present preliminary inquiry into a topic related to the doctoral dissertation, but it is not required to do so. Each paper must be approved by a first and a second reader from different disciplines. If, for example, the paper is written for a seminar, the first reader would be the professor teaching the course. Papers accepted for coursework do not automatically satisfy this requirement, and each paper should be revised in accordance with the first reader’s suggestions before being passed on to the second reader. The second reader will be selected by the program director in consultation with the first reader. Once the paper has been passed by both readers, it will be sent to the program director for final approval.

The paper should be at least 25 pages in length excluding notes and bibliography. It should be written in polished prose, with a clearly defined thesis and line of argument based, at least in part, on primary source materials. It should be interdisciplinary in scope and also demonstrate engagement with historiography and other relevant scholarship on the topic.

Qualifying Examination

(click through for a pdf of the PhD Qualifying Orals Exam Form)

To be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, a student must pass a two-hour oral Qualifying Examination. Students often take this examination in the semester after their last course work. For post B.A. students this is their fifth semester, while post M.A. students take it in their third semester. Qualifying examinations generally are administered prior to the end of classes each semester.

Early in their careers students begin the initial preparation for this examination. Students choose courses and make personal contacts with faculty members while keeping their qualifying examinations in mind. Students should have identified their examination fields by the time they complete course work, and then undertake intensive reading in those fields under faculty direction. Each examination is unique because it tests the knowledge of a specific student. All examinations must conform to certain conventions and requirements.

General Character: The examination is conducted orally in one major and two minor fields. There should be four faculty present: two faculty examiners for the major field and one each for the two minor fields. The examination in the major field takes one hour; each of the minor fields takes one half hour.

Composition and Approval: Each student should submit an Approval Form to the Program Director at least two months before the exam is scheduled to occur. This form lists the members of the examination committee and defines the character and scope of the major and minor fields and examiners before the student sits for the examination. The examination committee consists of four persons, and two of these must have expertise in the student’s major field. These committee members must be members of the Graduate School Faculty at Boston University, either by regular or special appointment. The program director may sit as an ex officio member of the committee. The examination committee may postpone the exam if it believes the candidate is not adequately prepared.

Definition of Major Field: Students consult with their examining faculty to define their major fields. The Program Director reviews and approves all proposals. The major field must be covered in full historical depth, and with an awareness of global contexts. Major fields include American arts, history, literature, and media.

Character of the Minor Fields: Students consult with their examining faculty to define their minor fields. The Program Director reviews and approves all proposals. One minor field must be in a discipline different from that of the major, and both minor fields may be in other disciplines. Students may devise one minor in the same discipline as their major, but confined to a particular theme, area, medium, problem, or time period. In these cases, the minor field must be presented in great depth and defined so as to be distinct from the material in the major field.

Performance: At the conclusion of the Qualifying examination, without the student present, the chair polls the committee on the student’s performance. The student must perform satisfactorily in all fields, the major and both minors, and satisfy all examiners, in order to receive a grade of PASS. If a student fails, the student may take a second examination at a date decided by the examination committee and the Director.

Dissertation Prospectus

(click through for a pdf of the Dissertation Prospectus Approval Page)

Four months after they successfully complete their qualifying exams, students present a dissertation prospectus for approval by the first and second reader. The prospectus is 20 double-spaced pages maximum (excluding bibliography) and briefly explores three aspects of the dissertation topic: previous scholarship on the subject, techniques and methods to be employed and documentary or other sources to be consulted. Before a prospectus is submitted to the program director for final approval, it must be approved and signed by the first and second readers of the dissertation. Dissertation readers must be members of the Graduate School Faculty of Boston University, either by regular or special appointment. Once approved, a copy of the prospectus is filed in the American Studies Program Office and the original is forwarded to the Graduate School Records Office. Students can also examine previously approved American Studies prospectuses in the Program Office by special permission.

The Dissertation

(click through for a pdf of the Dissertation Defense Abstract Approval Form)

(click through for a pdf of the Schedule of the Final Oral Exam Form)

The Application to Graduate: Students must file an application to graduate with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Office for the semester in which they intend to defend their dissertation. Deadlines vary, but typically the application for January graduation is due November 1; for May graduation the deadline is February 1; for September graduation the deadline is July 1.

The Dissertation Committee: The dissertation is written under the supervision of the first and second readers who approved the prospectus. It is the responsibility of the student and the first reader to assemble the Dissertation Defense Committee, which consists of at least five members: the first and second readers, the examining chair (who cannot be a reader), and at least two additional committee members. In some instances, students may have a third reader on their committee and one additional committee member. A maximum of six committee members is allowed. Students should finalize their additional committee members approximately two months prior to the defense. They must be members of the Graduate School Faculty of Boston University, either by regular or special appointment.

The manuscript should be given to the first and second reader at least six weeks before the defense. After all revisions have been made for the readers, the final version of the manuscript should be given to all other committee members at least four weeks before the defense.

Preparing the Manuscript: Click here for a pdf-version of “A Guide for the Writers of Dissertations and Theses,” which presents information on preparing the manuscript. This guide can also be provided by the Graduate School upon request. Students are required to schedule appointments with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Records office to review the manuscript before and after the defense. The Records office must approve the format of the manuscript before it can be filed with Mugar Library.

The Dissertation Defense Abstract: At least three weeks prior to the defense, students must submit a defense abstract of no more than 350 words to the Records office. Prior to submission, the abstract must be read and approved by the first reader and the program director. The student will be notified of the approval of the abstract or if revisions are required. Upon final approval by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Final Oral Examination may be scheduled. Copies of the Abstract Approval form are in the AMNESP office and the Records office. Students must file the original form and abstract with the Records office and give one copy of the form and the abstract to the AMNESP office.

Scheduling the Final Oral Examination: It is the responsibility of the student and the first reader to schedule the defense. At least two weeks prior to the defense, students must file a Schedule of the Final Oral Examination with the Records Office, with the approval of the program director. Two copies of the approved abstract must accompany the scheduling form, which is submitted to the Records office. Students must also file one copy of the form with the AMNESP office.

The Final Oral Examination: The defense usually lasts for one hour. The examining chair will receive the final paperwork from the Records office approximately one week prior to the defense. The first reader, second reader, and the examining chair should all sign the “Signature Page.” All committee members and the Program Director sign the “Report of Examinations” form. The examining chair is responsible for collecting all signatures and returning the forms to the AMNESP office.