PhD in English

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At Notre Dame, the Ph.D. program in English prepares students to enter the academic profession. Our program is flexible and dynamic, while structured enough to help students to move smoothly towards dissertation projects.

The Ph.D. program begins with course work designed to ensure that students gain a comprehensive knowledge of literary criticism and British and American literature. Students then begin preparing for examinations through a combination of classroom courses, individualized reading courses, and independent study.

In the third year, students take written and oral exams in their major field of specialization, a secondary field, and literary theory and methodology. The exams are structured to ensure that students acquire in-depth knowledge of these three fields and a thorough preparation for writing the dissertation as well as for future teaching. The literary theory and methodology component helps students establish the core methods and problems of the dissertation project.

After exams, students participate in area seminars, which focus on student research and facilitate close work between faculty and advanced graduate students. In year four or five, students take “Writing for the Profession,” a one semester practicum on forms of professional writing such as grant applications, teaching portfolios, and article writing. Students take a practicum on the job market in the fall semester of the job search. The program requires approximately two years of course work (quicker if enter with an MA) and takes five to six years to complete.

We invite you to learn more about Notre Dame's innovative 5+1 postdoctoral fellowship program, which incentivizes Ph.D. students to finish their dissertations earlier while also offering space to explore careers outside the academy. 

Program of Study

The following overview assumes a student entering with no previous graduate school experience; students who enter with an M.A. can choose to begin with the second year of the program. For all students in the program, year one and year five are service free.

Year 1: Course Work

  • Service: No service work required in first year
  • Fall: 3 seminars plus "Introduction to the Profession" practicum; 4 seminars if not enrolled in the teaching practicum
  • Spring: 3 seminars plus Teaching practicum
  • Summer: Address language training if necessary; Revise seminar paper for publication; Read area coverage list and begin refining research interests.

Year 2: Course Work and Qualifying Exam Preparation

  • Service: Teach one section per semester in the University's Writing and Rhetoric Program
  • Fall: Students take 3 seminars
  • Spring: Students not transferring coursework from a previous graduate program take 3 seminars; Students entering with an MA who have transferred previous coursework for credit begin to study for exams.
  • Summer: Remaining students finalize their exam committee & lists in consultation with advisor.  Begin reading for exams.  Consult with graduate school staff about external funding opportunities for dissertation research.

Year 3: Qualifying Exams, and Dissertation Prospectus

  • Service: Students can work as an Editorial Assistant with a journal or as a Teaching Assistant with a faculty member.  Students are encouraged to propose an independently designed and taught literature course at least one semester in year 3 or year 4.
  • Fall: Advanced students take Qualifying Exams.
  • Spring: Remaining students take Qualifying Exams; Advanced students begin writing dissertation prospectus.
  • Summer: Remaining students arrange dissertation committee, write dissertation prospectus.  Explore external funding opportunities for dissertation research.

Year 4: Dissertation Prospectus Defense and Dissertation Writing

  • Service: Students can work as an Editorial Assistant with a journal or as a Teaching Assistant with a faculty member.  Students are encouraged to propose an independently designed and taught literature course at least one semester in year 3 or year 4. 
  • Fall: Dissertation Prospectus Defense must be completed during the first four weeks of this semester.  Apply for external dissertation year fellowships.
  • Spring: Dissertation director must approve one complete chapter of the dissertation within four months of the prospectus defense; Take "Writing for the Profession" practicum to develop a piece of the dissertation for publication.  Apply for external dissertation year fellowships.
  • Summer: dissertation writing; advanced summer study seminars; begin drafting applications for external dissertation funding.

Year 5: Dissertation Writing

  • Service: No service in the final year of dissertation writing
  • Fall: Take practicum on navigating the job market.  Advanced students apply for jobs and postdoctoral opportunities.
  • Spring: Complete full draft of dissertation and defend by August of year five.  Advanced students apply for jobs and postdoctoral opportunities.
  • Summer: Defend dissertation.

Year 6: Postdoctoral Fellowship

All graduate students defending their dissertations within five years of entering the program receive a guaranteed sixth year of funding at a higher rate than their previous year's stipend.

  • Service: Teaching one course per semester or performing other comparable service that will enhance professional profile.
  • Apply for jobs, teaching fellowships, postdoctoral positions.
  • Continue to conduct research, revise research for publication, and follow the research plan you hope to pursue as an academic.

Course Requirements

42 credit hours of classroom courses, including:

  • Introduction to Graduate Study
  • One course in each of the following historical periods: Medieval, 16th & 17th Centuries, 18th & 19th Centuries, 20th and 21st Centuries
  • One course in American or British outside of specialty

Foreign Language Requirement

Students must demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages or fluency in one, as appropriate to the dissertation field. Students can demonstrate proficiency through advanced coursework in the language or by taking exams offered by the foreign language departments. Students can demonstrate fluency by taking an upper-level or graduate course in which all readings, discussion, and written work are in the foreign language.

Qualifying Examinations

Written examinations, followed by a ninety minute oral exam on area of specialty.  The exam committee is made up of a chair and three examiners.

Candidacy Examination

An oral examination on the proposal for the dissertation and a sample chapter. The committee for the candidacy exams as well as for the dissertation is made up of a chair (or, in certain circumstances, two co-directors) and two readers.


A work of literary criticism demonstrating the student’s readiness to participate fully in the profession as a scholar and literary critic.