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 theory, literary analysis, and interdisciplinary methods.  The course of study balances coverage of national literary traditions with innovative methods and topics such as literature and science; literature and environment; translation; gender and sexuality studies; and race studies.  Students graduate with the qualitative and quantitative skills necessary for professional research and teaching in English, or demonstrated skill in creative writing for careers as professional writers.  There is an option to complete an MA in literature, but it is not a stand-alone program.

Admissions / Online Application

Ph.D. Program Requirements

Degree requirements for the Ph.D. program (links to more details) include 50 units of coursework with at least 44 units taken for a letter grade, proficiency in one foreign language proficiency before degree conferral, 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).
  • Students may count one undergraduate 100-level course as one of their ten required 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 Ph.D. program without a MA degree may request instructions for completing the optional MA en route to the Ph.D. degree.

Foreign Language Requirement

The English Ph.D. requires a reading knowledge of one foreign language before completing the degree; it is not an admissions requirement.  This could be satisfied through previous or current coursework or an exam.  Any of the following demonstrates proficiency:

  • Completion within the past eight years of 3 semester-length, or 4 quarter-length courses in a foreign language at the undergraduate level.  Students must earn a passing grade, but courses may be taken on a Pass/No Pass basis.

  • Students may take the Placement Test offered by the UC Davis Language Center, testing out of the language at the intermediate level.

  • A Pass in the language exam offered in the English Department at the beginning of Fall or Spring quarter each year.

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 Period courses, and two Later Period courses, and one Focus course. 

The breadth requirements may be fulfilled in one of two ways: 
1) Either a course will be explicitly designated as a period or Focus course
2) Students may arrange with the professor to write a paper with one of the focuses listed below:
Earlier Period Courses
pre-1800; or pre-1865 if the course focus is on American literature

Later Period Courses
post-1800; or post-1865 if the course focus is on American literature

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 Period requirement, or the Focus (Identity) requirement, but not both.  A student could use a course on Cold War Drama to satisfy the Later Period requirement or the Focus (Genre) requirement, but not both.

Electives Requirement

The electives requirement can be fulfilled by actual offered seminars inside or outside the English Department.  Five elective courses will satisfy degree requirements.  UWP 390 is acceptable as one of the electives.  Also, be aware 299s are ungraded but still count towards overall units.  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 a Course Waiver 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 an 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

Graduate students may participate in a Designated Emphasis (DE), a specialization that might include a new method of inquiry or an important field of application which is related to two or more existing Ph.D. programs.

The DE is awarded in conjunction with the Ph.D. degree and is signified by a transcript notation; for example, “Ph.D. in Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Native American Studies.”  

More information.

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.  Three faculty members conduct the oral examination, 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

  • Four of five Elective Requirements

  • 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

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
  • Disability Studies
  • Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities
  • Feminisms
  • Film Studies
  • Marxism
  • Media Technologies
  • Performance Studies
  • Poetics
  • Postcolonial Theory
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Queer Feminisms
  • 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 "Preliminary 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 happens 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's Box site.  If the student has elected a designated emphasis (DE), materials from that field should also be incorporated into the Qualifying Exam reading list.

Qualifying Examination Committee 
The student, in consultation with his/her Prospectus Adviser and, if needed, the Graduate Adviser, nominates four faculty to serve on the Qualifying Examination Committee: 

  • the three proposed Dissertation Committee members 
  • one member must be from outside the English graduate program (this may be a member of the Dissertation Committee). 

It is still possible to petition graduate studies for an additional (fifth) examiner by including an explanation with the QE application.

These nominations are submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies for formal appointment in accordance with Graduate Council policy.  The QE Committee is responsible for administering the QE.  Neither the “Prospectus Adviser” nor the Dissertation Director (in many, though not all, cases these will be same) may be the chair of the QE Committee. 

Students doing a designated emphasis (DE) must include one faculty member affiliated with the DE on both their qualifying and dissertation committee.  DE paperwork must be approved before the QE application is submitted.

Graduate Studies prefers to receive all relevant paperwork 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 should file and submit (1) the “Qualifying Examination Application” form to Graduate Studies, (2) Prospectus sign off sheet (signed by all 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 receives an Application for Advancement to Candidacy form.  After completely filled out with the required signatures, and the candidacy fee is paid either at the Cashier’s Office or online, the Graduate Program Coordinator must submit these to Graduate Studies.


Exam Accommodations

If you are disabled, you are entitled to accommodations for all requirements of the program you’re enrolled in, a process formally handled by the Student Disability Center.  We recommend starting the process of coordinating with the SDC early in your graduate school journey, as it can take time for the Center to process information.  We will work with the SDC to implement your accommodations for your exams.  Please indicate your need for accommodations to us as soon as possible, so we can include the Center in our exam scheduling process.  Please notify us by the fourth week of the quarter in which you intend to sit the exam.


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 dissertation committee must app.  Additional details