Should I apply to the MA or the PhD program?

If you wish to earn a PhD eventually, you should probably apply to the PhD program. Here are some reasons to apply to the MA program instead:

  • You want only an MA

  • You want a PhD but you intend to earn it elsewhere.

  • You have reason to doubt that your record will earn you admission to the PhD program. An MA program can be a good place to strengthen an academic record with a view to gaining admission to a PhD program.

Is it possible to transfer from the MA to the PhD program?

It is very difficult. MA students who wish to enter the PhD program must apply on the same basis as students holding the MA from other universities. Since our PhD program is small (see next item), this process is very competitive.

How big is the graduate program?

We currently admit ten PhD students each year. We also have a terminal MA program which varies in size, but in general about doubles the overall size of the graduate program in literature.

What does a PhD candidate do each year?

The following summary omits many details. For a complete explanation of degree requirements, visit Current Students. Students who already hold an MA will usually begin in "Year 2," though the details of each student's program must be worked out with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Year 1:
Take ENGL 8800, Introduction to Literary Research, as a fourth first-term course; otherwise, take three graded courses each semester. Some students choose to perform some light duty (about 100 hours per semester) in paid positions, either grading for a course or assisting a faculty member with research.

Year 2:
Take three graded courses each semester. Complete the foreign language requirement ("mastery" of one language or "proficiency" in two) by the end of this year or the beginning of the next. Take three graded courses in the fall, including the ENGL 8900: Pedagogy Seminar.  In the spring, take three graded courses.  Teach one section of the first-year writing course each semester.  Plan for PhD oral exams.

Year 3:
Audit one course each semester. Take the PhD oral exam, ordinarily by the end of fall term. In the spring, attend ENGL 9995, a seminar for dissertation writers. Form a dissertation committee and prepare a dissertation prospectus to be approved by June 1. Supervised by a faculty member, teach discussion sections each semester for one of the big undergraduate surveys of English and American Literature, in Southern Literature, or in Shakespeare. Over the summer, begin writing the dissertation

Year 4:
Write more of the dissertation. (Target one or more chapters completed each semester). Teach two courses. Most students teach one writing course and one literature course. The literature course is either two discussion sections of a large class or one self-designed section of an introductory literature class. In the spring of this year or the fall of the next, give a talk to the department based on dissertation research.

Year 5:
Continue to write the dissertation, with the support of full fellowship funding. The fifth year is free of teaching obligations. If it has not be done yet, give a talk to the department based on dissertation research by the end of the fall semester. Students who are making sufficient progress begin to seek academic employment.

Years 6 and following:
Students continuing to write the dissertation receive support from dissertation fellowships and/or teaching. Those students whose fellowship applications are accepted by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences receive Sixth-Year Dissertation Fellowships, providing financial support, tuition, and fees. These fellowships require teaching the equivalent of one course per semester. Some students receive dissertation fellowships granted by institutions and foundations outside the University of Virginia. Other students teach two to four classes per year, paid by the course and providing tuition remission, fees, and single-person health insurance coverage.

How long does it take to get a doctoral degree?

A recent MLA survey found that the average time to degree in U.S. PhD programs in English is 8.2 years. At UVa, students typically finish their doctoral requirements in 7 years or less.

What kind of support does the department offer with placement and where do UVA graduates find jobs?

In a difficult job market, the department of English at the University of Virginia has maintained a very solid placement record—click HERE to see our results over the last decade.  We are committed to ensuring that our graduate students present themselves as effectively as possible in their quest for employment in academia and in a broad range of careers.  A good number of our PhDs have moved on to exciting positions by no means limited to tenure track assistant professorships. Our assistance does not, incidentally, end when students have received the PhD; the Director of Graduate Placement continues to work with people in temporary or visiting positions.

For all PhD students—whether they are interested in eventually applying for tenure track positions, post-doctoral fellowships, positions in educational administration or in university libraries, or in fields such as editing, publishing, media, consulting, business, government, humanities institutions, or elsewhere in the non-profit sector—our department and the larger institution offer the following resources:

  • Advice and mentorship from the moment you enter the program (students should keep a careful eye out for our informational sessions on how to start preparing for the job market at a quite early stage in the program). 
  • A faculty member who serves as Director of Graduate Placement. The “Job Coach” assists students in drafting the complex application materials now needed for academic positions and guides them through every stage of the job search—offering detailed advice on each aspect of the application process, scheduling mock interviews, briefing job finalists on the challenges of the campus visit, and advising on negotiations after the receipt of a job offer. 
  • An active commitment to expanding career horizons for our PhD students.  From their first days in the UVA English department, students will encounter discussion and events about the many pathways open to those with advanced training in literary scholarship and teaching and the choices one might make along the way to help realize various possibilities.  Some might choose to take advantage of our local expertise and resources in the Digital Humanities (earn a DH certificate on the way to the PhD!); others might look to our courses for the training of secondary-school teachers; others might seek internships at organizations within the university or the Charlottesville area through PhD Plus (see below); still others might gravitate toward departmental mentorship in the thriving career field of Rhetoric and Composition.  Both GESA (the Graduate English Students’ Association) and the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Emily Ogden, can help students think towards new career possibilities. 
  • PhD Plus, a University of Virginia-wide initiative, sponsored by the Provost's Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, to prepare PhD students and Postdoctoral scholars across all disciplines for long-term career success.  Its internships, events, mentoring resources and various liaisons help to develop, in the program’s own words, “versatile academics who are deeply engaged with society’s needs to become influential professionals in every sector and field.”  You can find out more about PhD Plus at https://phdplus.virginia.edu/about-phd-plus
  • UVA’s Career Services office, offering a full range of advising and consulting services to graduate students as well as undergraduates.
  • The university also sponsors several competitive one-year lectureships (with full benefits) at UVA for recent English PhDs; these offer jobseekers the opportunity to hone their application profile.

The current Placement Director is Rebecca Rush.

How much financial support does UVA provide?

As of fall 2019, PhD students entering the program will receive a financial package consisting of tuition, fees, one-person health-insurance coverage, and annual living support of $30,000. This award, made up of fellowships and teaching-assistantships, will be maintained up to a total of five years contingent on satisfactory academic performance. Standard teaching responsibilities for a doctoral student in English involve teaching two courses per year across years 2-4 of the program (with no teaching in years 1 and 5); fellowship funds beyond teaching wages complete the support we are presently offering for years 1-5, with some annual funding for conference travel and additional dissertation-year funding awarded if and as our resources permit. Students in their sixth year and beyond, who continue to make good progress toward the degree, are eligible for a select number of sixth-year dissertation fellowships and for teaching when such assignments are available. 

A few merit fellowships are available on a competitive basis: all applicants to the PhD program are automatically considered for these.