Ph.D. in Literature

Professor Mike Ziser leading discussionStudents gain advanced knowledge of literature from the British Middle Ages and colonial America to global/postcolonial and U.S. contemporary, as well as knowledge of literary analysis; literature and science; literature and environment; literary theory; translation; and gender studies. They graduate with the qualitative and quantitative skills necessary for professional research and teaching in English.  There is an option to complete an MA in literature, but it is not a stand-alone program

Admissions / Online Application


Funding Your Ph.D.

All students admitted to the PhD program are guaranteed five years of funding in the form of Teaching Assistant positions during the first two years and an Associate Instructor position the following three.  These appointments provide a partial tuition waiver and monthly salary.  A limited amount of Graduate Student Researcher positions are available each year where students assist faculty with various projects.

First year nonresident students receive a supplemental tuition fellowship.  Second year students who come to Davis from out of state are expected to establish residency during their first year.

International student are also subject to nonresident supplemental tuition (NRST).  We will pay the NRST for a total of three quarters during the first year.  Within that time period, payment of the NRST is dependent on making progress in the program.  Assuming students make normal progress their NRST is waived after the first year.  If they fail to pass the qualifying examination and do not advance to candidacy by the end of their third year, the NRST will return to them and will be responsible for paying this fee.

Departmental funds are also available, such as the Miller Travel Fund, for students to attend conferences, interviews and conduct research.  Additional progress-based and summer language and travel fellowship stipends are awarded with funding allocated to us by Graduate Studies.

The UC Davis Humanities Institute offers fellowships students can apply for to fund their projects.  Admitted students are also considered for University-wide fellowships.

PhD Program Requirements

Degree requirements for the Ph.D. program include 50 units of coursework, foreign language proficiency, preliminary and qualifying examinations, and a dissertation. In addition, there are also opportunities for students to pursue a Designated Emphasis and gain teaching experience.

Coursework Requirements

2 Core Courses (8 units)

  • English 200: Introduction to Graduate Studies (taken as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory)
  • One survey course in literary theory (Critical Theory 200A or 200C taken for a grade).

1 Workshop (2 units)

  • English 288: Prospectus Workshop (taken as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory); students may petition to complete this course independently with a Prospectus Adviser.

10 Graduate-level Seminars (40 units)

  • All courses must be taken for a grade.
  • Five courses must satisfy the breadth requirement (see below).
  • Five courses will be comprised of electives (see below).
  • At the discretion of the instructor and with the Graduate Adviser's approval, students may count one undergraduate 100-level course as one of their ten literature courses.
  • Aside from ENL 200, no course graded Satisfactory-Unsatisfactory may count as one of the twelve required seminars. Independent and group studies may not be taken for a grade.

13 Total Graduate Courses (50 units; 11 courses must be taken for a grade)  

Additionally, students who enter the PhD program without a MA degree may request instructions for completing the optional MA en route to the PhD degree.

Breadth Requirement

The breadth requirement must be fulfilled by coursework in the Department of English or coursework taught by English Department faculty. Five courses (of the total 40 units above) will satisfy this requirement. Students must complete two Earlier National courses, and two Later National courses, and one Focus course. At least one of the four National courses must be in the "other" tradition (i.e., a student may not do all four National courses in British literature, or all four in American literature). Students must also complete one focus course.

The focus may be fulfilled in one of two ways: 

1) Either a course will be explicitly designated as a focus course


2) Students may arrange with the professor to write a paper with one of the focuses listed below:

Earlier National Courses
British, pre-1800; American, pre-1865

Later National Courses
British, post-1800; American, post-1865

Focus Courses
Genre; Identity; Other National; Method; Theory

Faculty and/or the Graduate Advisor may choose to designate a course as fulfilling more than one category, but students may use the course to fulfill only one requirement. For instance, a student could use a course on women in Early Modern literature to satisfy the Earlier National (British) requirement, or the Focus (Identity) requirement, but not both. A student could use a course on Dickens and Twain to satisfy the Later National (British) requirement or the Later National (American) requirement, but not both.

Elective Requirement

The elective requirement can be fulfilled by coursework inside or outside the English Department. Five elective courses will satisfy degree requirements. With the approval of the Graduate Adviser, students may also enroll in a graduate class at another University of California campus through the Intercampus Exchange Program.

Course Waiver and Course Relief

Students who enter the Ph.D. program with MA coursework from another institution may petition the Graduate Adviser for Course Waiver for up to three of the twelve required seminars; each approved petition will reduce the number of required courses by one. Students may not reduce their coursework to fewer than nine seminars.

Students holding the MA may also petition the Graduate Adviser for course relief for up to five of the breadth requirements; each approved petition allows the student to substitute elective courses. ENL 200 may not be waived or relieved.

For each waiver or relief request, students must submit to the English Graduate Office a Course Waiver or Relief Request form (available in the office) along with the syllabus from the course and the student's seminar paper.

Designated Emphasis

Students may pursue a Designated Emphasis (minor) in any of eight interdisciplinary areas: Critical Theory, Feminist Theory and Research, Native American Studies, Social Theory and Comparative History, Studies in Performance and Practice, African American and African Studies, Writing, Rhetoric and Composition, and Classics and Classical Receptions. More information may be found here.

Preliminary Examination

In the Spring Quarter of the second year or Fall Quarter of the third year of graduate study, students take a Preliminary Examination in two historical fields and one focus field. The examination, conducted orally, is set by three faculty members, each representing one of the fields. Prior to taking the Preliminary Examination, students must have completed the following:

Introduction to Graduate Studies (ENL200) Survey of Literary Theory (CRI200A or CRI200C) Four of five Breadth Requirements (5th course may be taken after preliminary exam); Four of five Elective Requirements (5th course may be taken after the preliminary exam); One foreign language at the intermediate level or all course work toward the intensive level except the graduate course with a paper written in the foreign language. (2nd language requirement may be completed after the preliminary exam.)


Additionally, students select one focus field. A student may devise her/his own focus list in collaboration with two faculty members or, as is more common, choose one from among the following:

  • Critical Theory          
  • Environmental Studies
  • Feminisms
  • Film Studies
  • Marxism
  • Media Technologies
  • Performance Studies
  • Poetics
  • Postcolonial Theory
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Queer Theories
  • Race and Ethnicity Studies
  • Science and Literature
  • Science Fiction

English 299 (Independent Study) is ordinarily used the quarters before the Preliminary Examination to prepare for the oral  examination and is graded Satisfactory-Unsatisfactory. Students may register for ENL 299 under the Graduate Advisor or a faculty member in the field of their exam for the quarter(s) they intend to study.

In the event that the student does not pass the exam, the exam chair will report the decision to the Graduate Adviser, who will work with the committee to decide whether the student should be given a chance to retake the exam (no less than six months later) or whether the student should be dismissed from the program. The Graduate Adviser will report this final decision to the student within 72 hours of the exam’s conclusion.

Any remaining requirements after taking the Preliminary Examination must be completed before scheduling the Qualifying Examination.

Students will select two historical fields from among the following list. Students who would like to do non-consecutive historical fields need to get prior approval from the Graduate Adviser.  These lists and additional helpful documents can be accessed via our box folder "Prelimiary Exam" in the English Graduate Program file.

  • 20th Century British

  • American Antebellum, 1800-1865

  • American Indian Literature, 1768-present

  • American Literature Early 20th c., 1900-1945

  • American Literature, Later 19th-c., 1865-1914

  • American Literature, Later 20th c., 1945-present

  • Early American to 1800 - Colonial

  • English 16th-c. Literature from 1485-1603 

  • English 17th-c. Literature from 1604-1675

  • English Later Restoration & 18th-c

  • Middle English

  • Old English (Anglo-Saxon)

  • Postcolonial Literature, July 2019

  • Romanticism

  • Victorian

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination may be taken as early as the spring of the third year and should be taken no later than the spring of the fourth year. The reading list for this exam, which is conducted orally, is constructed by the student in consultation with his or her three-person dissertation committee. When making their lists, students may consult the standard lists for preliminary exams available on the department SmartSite. If the student is doing a designated emphasis (DE), materials from that field should also be incorporated into the Qualifying Exam reading list.

Five faculty members serve on the Qualifying Exam: the three members of the dissertation committee; a department faculty member from outside the student's main field; and one faculty member from outside the department. Students doing a designated emphasis (DE) must include one faculty member affiliated with the DE on both their qualifying and dissertation committee.

Graduate Studies prefers to receive all relevant papework 60 days prior to the exam, but there is not a firm deadline. By the end of the second week of the quarter a student intends to take the Qualifying Exam, graduate students shoule file and submit (1) the “Qualifying Examination Application” form to Graduate Studies, (2) Prospectus sign off sheet (signed by all 3 members of the committee) and (3) the Prospectus and Reading list. If a student is taking the Qualifying Exam early in the quarter, they must remember to submit these documents at last 8 weeks before the exam.

The bibliography of the prospectus will normally overlap substantially with the Qualifying Exam reading list. The exam will focus on the Prospectus and the Qualifying Exam reading list.

Upon successful completion of the examinations, the student is given an "Application for Advancement to Candidacy" form by the examining committee chair. When it is filled out and signed by the DGS and major professor, the student pays the candidacy fee at the cashier’s office and files the form with Graduate Studies.


The dissertation must be an original work of scholarship and/or interpretation. It may be critical, bibliographical, historical, or biographical in its subject. Students work with a dissertation director and consult with two official readers as well as with other faculty knowledgeable about the project. The final draft must be approved by the dissertation committee. More information may be found here