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 4-credit 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 4-credit 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.

Advanced proficiency is demonstrated by a placement test administered by a foreign language program at BU. Intermediate proficiency in a foreign language can be demonstrated by scoring in the “intermediate” range on a BU-administered placement test, passing a noncredit graduate reading course in an appropriate foreign language, or receiving a B or better in a graduate-level literature course taught in a foreign language. Note that courses taken for credit cannot be taken as a fifth course in any semester. The foreign language requirement may also be satisfied by receiving at least a B in a graduate-level course in Old English, if and when it is offered (Old English courses also count toward the courses required for the degree).

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.