PhD Requirements

The PhD program in English Language, Literature, and Research is designed to permit the full-time student to secure the doctorate in approximately six years; financial support is tied to a series of deadlines which aim at such a schedule.

Course Requirements

Of the 72 credits required for the degree, students are expected to complete a minimum of 42 credits of graded coursework, including ENGL 8800 (Introduction to Literary Research) during the first semester, ENGL 8900 (Pedagogy) during their second semester, ENGL 9995 (Dissertation Seminar) during the sixth semester, and twelve courses at the 5000, 8000, or 9000 level. Students are expected to audit two additional
courses in their third year.

Students must take one course addressing a period of literature before 1700, one addressing a period of literature from 1700 to 1900, and one addressing the history of criticism or literary theory. Audited courses may be used to fulfill the distribution requirements with DGS approval. Many courses fulfilling the distribution requirements can be identified by consulting the second numeral in the course’s SIS number. These numerals designate areas as follows:

0=survey, miscellaneous 
3=18th Century 
4=19th Century  
5= Variable topic
6=Modern and Contemporary 
8=Criticism and Theory 
9=miscellaneous and administrative 

If the second numeral is a 1 or a 2 (eg, 5100, 9250), the course counts for the pre-1700 requirement. If the second numeral is a 3 or a 4, the course counts for the 1700-1900 requirement. Many courses with the second numeral 7 (American) will also count for the 1700-1900 requirement; consult the DGS. If the second numeral is an 8, the course will count for the Criticism and Theory requirement. Other courses, including courses in other departments, may count at the discretion of the DGS.

Among the twelve courses and two audited courses, it is strongly recommended that students enroll in three 9000-level seminars (for which the third-year Dissertation Seminar counts as one). Students specializing in medieval literature are expected to complete a minimum of one course in Old English. All PhD students may petition the DGS to take up to 3 courses outside the English department; those who are members of the Caribbean Interdisciplinary Fellowship program or who are completing 2 or more graduate certificate programs may petition to take up to 4 courses outside. The petition should include details of the course and a brief account of how it will contribute to the student’s developing scholarship.  Petitions to exceed those maximums for substantive academic reasons will also be considered. On submission of this form signed and filled out by our DGS, MA-transfers typically receive credit for 6-8 courses from their previous graduate program. Students who are enrolled in the PhD program, have completed all other requirements for the MA, and have passed at least one half of the PhD oral may apply for the MA degree.

Required Audits

In addition to the fourteen graded courses, all doctoral candidates are required to audit two courses during their third year of study, attending faithfully and meeting all requirements apart from the submission of writing. Course instructors must approve audits in advance and certify satisfactory participation.

Audits may be official or unofficial, at the discretion of the instructor. An official audit will show up on the student’s transcript and on the instructor’s roster. To audit officially, enroll in the class, then email the DGS and Graduate Program Administrator to have the enrollment changed to an audit. An unofficial audit is simply arranged between the student and the instructor, without registration in the course. Whether the audit is official or unofficial, the student must submit the departmental audit form, to be found here.

These two audits or sit-ins may be offered in fulfillment of distribution requirements. In the case where a student wishes to use an audit to fulfill a distribution requirement, they should email the DGS and Graduate Program Administrator to request approval to count the audit toward the distribution requirement. Because audited courses, whether official or unofficial, cannot count toward a distribution requirement in SIS, the DGS will waive the requirement that is to be fulfilled by the audit.

Non-Topical Research Courses

Beginning in the second year, students register for 3-12 hours of Non-Topical Research (NTR) courses (ENGL 9998 / ENGL 9999), for a total of 30 NTR units. These courses do not actually meet like ordinary courses; instead, they are spaces in your schedule for research and writing. The precise course rubric and number of hours varies, but in every case these additional credit hours bring the total per semester up to 12. It is important to register accurately for these hours; please see this page for the correct sequence of NTR courses.



Students are strongly advised to stay current with their work and to complete all courses within the time allotted. With the written agreement of the instructor, however, students may be given a grade of "Incomplete" in one course each semester. According to GSAS policy, outstanding work is expected to be completed by the end of the following semester, after which remaining incompletes automatically default to Fs. Under exceptional circumstances and with the instructor's approval, students may still complete the work and receive a letter grade after that point. Agreements between instructors and students regarding incompletes should include a specific due date and be placed on file with the Graduate Office. Students with more than one incomplete may find their registration blocked by the Graduate School and lose their teaching assignments. One or more Fs may cause the Graduate School to mandate a leave of absence, suspending enrollment and funding. In no case may a student with incomplete coursework sit for the PhD oral examination.


Foreign Language Requirement

The Department requires that the candidate demonstrate either mastery of one foreign language or proficiency in two.

The candidate may demonstrate mastery

  • by achieving passing grades in two semester-long graduate literature courses offered in the foreign language itself (not in translation) and taken at the University of Virginia. Such courses may also be counted toward completion of the course requirements for the PhD in English, if they are approved in advance by the Director of Graduate Studies


  • by passing an examination designed to ascertain the student's ability both to read critical and literary texts in the foreign language (with the aid of a dictionary) and to write discursively in that language.

Proficiency is demonstrated by passing an examination in each language, which is designed to ascertain the student's ability to translate with the aid of a dictionary.

The full foreign language requirement for the PhD must be completed before the student takes the doctoral oral examination. It is strongly recommended that students make plans early in graduate school for any extra study (including remedial or other course work) that may be necessary to meet this requirement. Eligibility for dissertation fellowships depends on completion of all requirements other than the dissertation.

Students may satisfy the language requirement by demonstrating competency in any language relevant to their scholarship. Some foreign language exams (including French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese) are offered according to a regular schedule. For other exams, the DGS and the student collaborate to find an appropriate examiner.

Special Requirements for Medievalists

The faculty strongly encourages study of Latin and other medieval European languages, and it admires the acquisition of further languages from other continents. In this spirit, medievalists are required to pass two exams at either proficiency or mastery level: 1. an exam in Latin, 2. an exam in another language useful to the dissertation work, whether Old English, Old French, Arabic, Old Norse, Middle High German, Greek, or any other chosen in consultation with the faculty chair of the medieval area. A student may choose to substitute a graduate course in the original language and literature for either exam requirement above, so long as a B grade or better is earned.

Oral Examination

The student sits for oral examination in two areas. Detailed discussion of the content and purpose of the exams can be found here. The timeline of exams is as follows:

  • By May 10 of the second year, the student must file examination lists in two areas. The lists must have been approved by faculty approvers in the relevant areas and should be filed with the oral examination form.
  • By August 1 in the summer between the second and third years, the student may file revised examination lists with the graduate office, if needed.
  • By October 30 of the third year, the student must take the two-hour exam, to be conducted by two faculty examiners. The DGS will assign two faculty examiners during the summer between the second and third years, and the Graduate Program Administrator will schedule the exam in consultation with the examinee and the examiners.

Dissertation Prospectus

PhD Committee:  As soon as possible after passing the orals, students secure three faculty members' agreement to serve on a committee for the dissertation project.  In most cases, this committee will consist of one director and two readers.

Preparation:  As part of the ENGL 9995 Dissertation Seminar, and in consultation with the dissertation committee, the candidate spends spring of the third year preparing a prospectus of 5-7 pages, plus an ample bibliography (of which fifteen entries are annotated).  The candidate is advised to think of the prospectus as belonging to the genre of the grant application, with a proposed outline of chapters and a clear statement of the place the proposed work will fill amidst other studies.

Approval of the Prospectus: In exchanges with each member of the dissertation committee, the prospectus is developed and readied for approval. Once the committee is satisfied that the prospectus lays the groundwork for a strong dissertation, the committee and the student meet for a formal defense of the prospectus. During the defense, the student outlines the rationale for the project as a whole and for each of its individual chapters, and the committee offers feedback intended to guide the research and writing of the dissertation. At this time, the committee issues its final approval of the prospectus. The committee and candidate should agree on an explicit plan for review and revision going forward; for example, committee members who are not the director may specify that they will read chapters only after one revision, or that members will take turns with first readings. The final acceptable date for securing all members' approval is June 1 of the third year of study, or in the case of MA transfers to the doctoral program, of the second year of residency. A hard copy of every accepted prospectus with completed prospectus-approval form should be brought to the Graduate Office for filing, also by June 1. Teaching beyond the third year and consideration for dissertation fellowships are contingent on timely submission of an approved prospectus.

Thesis Presentation

In either the second semester of the fourth year or the first semester of the fifth, the student gives a public presentation based on the dissertation to an audience of faculty and graduate students. Presenters should prepare for this event well in advance by consulting with committee members and, if they wish, with the Director of Graduate Studies.
The student may choose from one of two typical formats, in consultation with their advisor:
  • The student may give a talk of 35 minutes in length. A typical talk begins with a concise outline of the project as a whole, followed by an illustrative excerpt taken from a single chapter. There is no pre-circulated paper, and there are no formal respondents.
  • Or, the student may organize a work-in progress group based on a pre-circulated paper of about 30-40 double-spaced pages in length (typically a chapter from the dissertation or a selection from a chapter). For a work-in-progress group, the student should invite two respondents, one a graduate student and one a faculty member. Invitations to scholars from outside the department are encouraged where appropriate. At the event, the student gives a five-minute overview of the paper being discussed. Each respondent then speaks for about five minutes, offering questions and comments. The student can then respond to these responses. General discussion follows. The paper should be sent to the DGS and the Graduate Program Administrator in PDF form at least one week before the event.

Preparing to Submit the Dissertation

After passing the oral examination and making the thesis presentation, the student may submit the dissertation for final approval at any time within the period set by the Graduate School (i.e., seven years from the commencement of graduate studies). If the dissertation has not been completed within this time limit, the student may, with the written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, petition the Dean of the Graduate School for an extension. Deadlines and procedures for applying for a degree and submitting the dissertation, together with a title-page template, may be found on the Graduate School web site, or on a sheet of guidelines which may be obtained from 438 Cabell Hall. Other than the title-page there are no formatting requirements or restrictions; however, students should adhere to traditional physical standards if they wish to purchase bound copies from Printing and Copying Services. Students should also obtain a Final Defense Form and four copies of the Doctoral Thesis Rubric, to be signed by committee members upon the completion of the defense and returned to the English Department graduate secretary.

Defense of the Dissertation

The student should leave ample time (no less than three weeks) between submission of the dissertation to committee members and the date of the defense. Scheduled by the candidate, the one-hour defense involves the three English department members of the dissertation committee and one “outside” member from another department at the University of Virginia, who acts as a representative of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Typically, the "outside" member will not have been significantly involved in the development of the dissertation and will be recruited to the defense committee a couple of months before the defense itself. The director of the dissertation serves as chair. At the defense, students are asked to explain the central arguments and theoretical underpinnings of their project, to identify its contributions to the field, and to answer questions posed by the four committee members. Should the candidate fail the defense, the Department will reject the dissertation until it has been appropriately revised and the thesis successfully defended at a later date. After successfully defending the dissertation, the student completes any necessary revisions and uploads the dissertation to the University Library's digital depository, known as LIBRA, by the deadline imposed by GSAS


Schedule of Progress

Here we describe the standard schedule of progress for doctoral students (revised schedule, effective spring 2018). Failure to meet the deadlines may result in the suspension of a student's financial support (fellowship and/or teaching). A student in most cases may resume that support after a year if the requirement has been met in the meantime.

  • First year. Take four graded courses each semester. Students must take ENGL 8800 in the fall and ENGL 8900 (Pedagogy Seminar) in the spring. Students should concentrate on fulfilling distribution requirements, while also taking courses in an area of specialization. Students who have not yet met the foreign language requirement should make plans for any necessary language study and schedule any necessary exams.

  • Second year. Take two graded courses in the fall and three in the spring. Students should enroll for a total of 12 hours each semester, consisting of NTR (Non-Topical Research) hours along with hours of graded courses. Students should complete the distribution requirements. PhD students in this year normally teach first-year writing courses. By the end of the fourth semester, students should complete the language requirement and identify two areas for their oral exam.

  • Third year. Fall : Sit in on one graduate-level course (form provided) and register for twelve hours of the NTR course ENGL 9998; submit approved oral exam lists by September 15, and schedule the oral exam, typically for the latter half of the fall semester. Students should make every effort to take the exam before enrolling in the Dissertation Seminar in the spring, so as not to impede dissertation work. Students who do not take the examination before the end of this academic year will risk losing fellowship and teaching support for the next. Students who fail one or both sections of the exam will not have their support suspended, but must be re-examined in the failed area(s), typically before the spring break. PhD students in this year normally assist in one of the large undergraduate lecture courses (surveys, Shakespeare, or The Literature of the South).  Spring: Take ENGL 9995 (the Dissertation Seminar), sit in on one graduate-level course (form provided), and register for nine hours of ENGL 9998. Teach one course. During the third year, students form a dissertation committee (director and two readers), with a view to having a 5-7 page prospectus with annotated bibliography approved by June 1.

  • Fourth year. Fall:  Register for twelve hours of NTR course ENGL 9998. Students become eligible to design their own introductory literature seminar (ENGL 2500s).  Subject to departmental needs, fourth-year students and third-year transfer-students may opt to teach both of their courses during one semester of the year (either fall or spring), freeing up either the fall or spring semester for full-time dissertation work. Spring: Register for twelve hours of NTR course ENGL 9999. Students should continue work on the dissertation and consider going on the academic job market in the following fall-term. A standard expectation is that every student will have a full chapter of the dissertation complete by the end of fourth year; even earlier completion will aid further progress and put students in better position to seek supplementary grants. Students give a dissertation presentation, a formal talk based on the dissertation, to an audience of students and faculty either in the spring of the fourth year or the fall of the fifth year.

  • Fifth year. Register each semester for twelve hours of ENGL 9999.  Students receive a non-teaching dissertation fellowship for the year. Students who did not deliver the dissertation presentation during the fourth year must do so by the end of fall semester. Those successful on the job market during this year should make every effort to complete the dissertation and defend it. Consult the GSAS website for the final deadline for uploading the dissertation to the University Library's digital depository (LIBRA) during the semester you intend to graduate. 

  • Sixth year and following. Students who are making satisfactory progress on the dissertation are generally offered teaching assignments with wages (but no fellowship support) in the sixth year; depending on availability, students may be awarded teaching assignments in the seventh year. Select students receive Dissertation Completion Fellowships, which carry a reduced teaching load to facilitate dissertation writing. Each year, the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the English Department fund the Shannon Fellowship: a one-year teaching lectureship awarded to a newly minted Virginia PhD in English with faculty status and benefits. In addition, the English Department awards a number of preceptorships, which are full-time teaching positons with benefits, to recent graduates of the doctoral program. 

Job Placement

Placement and support information for jobseekers in the English Department can be found here.

Enrollment Options and Leave of Absence

Please see the webpage of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for information.


The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only.  The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at