The Ph.D. Program in English
About Our Program
Boston College’s Ph.D. in English offers the opportunity to study with nationally recognized faculty in many periods, authors, and critical and theoretical streams. Candidates have the opportunity to select from a wide range of courses, and proceed through a streamlined series of exams culminating in a dissertation field exam and the writing of the dissertation.
A new assessment of doctoral programs by the National Research Council (NRC) shows BC's English Ph.D. to be an increasingly competitive and well-regarded program. The NRC reviews 5,000 doctorate programs at 222 of the leading research institutions in the United States every decade, and released its latest findings at the end of 2010. The Ph.D. in English achieved impressive results in a number of assessment categories, especially placement rate, funding, and faculty productivity.
Our Student-Faculty Ratio
We have intentionally kept each entering class small–from four to five students each year–in order to encourage extensive faculty/student interaction and mentoring. Guided by full-time faculty of over 41 members, our students receive valuable individual attention during their years with us.
Our Individually Tailored Curriculum
Students design their own field exams in consultation with their faculty advisors. Though we offer a full range of graduate electives each year-about a dozen each semester, including courses in contemporary theory, historical periods in English and American literature, composition (to name just a few) - students are only required to take four Ph.D. seminars, a course in composition theory and pedagogy, and one research colloquium. Otherwise, the content and range of course work is up to you.
Full Funding for Five Years
We offer a tuition remission fellowship plus a stipend for all students for five years, as well as additional funds for scholars in Irish Studies. After the fifth year, all students in the program are also eligible for university-funded dissertation fellowships to support their research. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences also supports graduate student travel to academic conferences.
A Faculty Dedicated to Teaching, Mentoring, and Research
Among our faculty members are scholars who have published many books; contributed articles to leading journals such as PMLA, American Literature, Studies in English Literature, Victorian Studies, ELH, and GLQ, and anthologies such as Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories; won national awards from NEH, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Humanities Center; edited anthologies, collections, editions, and series in feminist theory, religion and literature, post-colonial studies, and psychoanalysis; published prize-winning novels, short stories, creative nonfiction, and poetry in contemporary journals and series; and served as officers for professional organizations such as the MLA and the American Studies Association. The faculty provide close mentoring at all stages, including advising students on selecting courses, helping them publish their work, collaboratively designing exams, serving as teaching mentors, and acting as dissertation supervisors and readers. Every two years, we offer an Advanced Research Colloquium, which trains students in conference submissions, article publication, job market preparation, and dissertation writing.
Resources in the Boston Area
Ph.D. students, like the BC English faculty, participate in many of the rich offerings for graduate community in the Boston area. Aside from the wealth of local archival resources, students and faculty participate in seminars at The Humanities Center at Harvard University; BC’s own Lowell Humanities Series, which brings internationally renowned writers and thinkers to campus; and the wealth of lectures, workshops, conferences, and symposia offered at area colleges and universities. Boston College is also part of a Boston-area consortium that allows students to take graduate courses at Boston University, Brandeis University, and Tufts University. Our students can also take courses at the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies at MIT, an interdisciplinary effort to advance research in women’s studies. Faculty and students of GCWS are drawn from nine Boston-area colleges and universities. Meanwhile, the BC English Department is (with History) the most active contributor to our thriving Irish Studies Program, which publishes the Irish Literary Supplement and offers institutional support to the refereed journal‚ ré|land. And many members of the department contribute to the BC-based journal Religion and the Arts, edited by our own colleague, Professor Dennis Taylor.
Academic Standing and Evaluation of Progress
Doctoral students are subject to annual review of academic progress toward their degrees. Each student is assigned an academic advisor with whom they will meet regularly, and at the end of each academic year, the student is reviewed by both the advisor and the Ph.D. Director to assess and evaluate their performance in coursework, oral exams, and dissertation, as appropriate. A departmental Graduate Policy Committee also assesses student progress and makes recommendations in consultation with the student’s academic advisor. All students are required to take their minor field exam by the spring of their second year, and will normally take their major field exam by the spring of their third year. If a student receives a grade of B- or below, or takes an Incomplete in one or more of their classes, then s/he will come under review by the GPC.
All graduate students are also governed by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Policies and Procedures.
The application deadline for the Ph.D. Program is January 2. For applications, the general, analytical, and subject sections of the Graduate Record Examination are required. Application forms should be accompanied by a personal statement, a critical writing sample of not more than 20 pages, transcripts and three letters of recommendation, ideally from teachers who have recently evaluated the applicant's work. Requests for applications to the graduate program can be made through our online application page. For further information on the application process, email the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Or you can write to the following address:
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Gasson Hall 108
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
If you have specific questions about the English Department's doctoral program, email Laura Tanner.
Further Information About Our Program
For more specific information about the doctoral program, please consult these program guidelines.
The Overall Program
The small size of our doctoral program enables unusual faculty-student ratios and flexibility in designing programs. Four doctoral seminars, a course in Composition Theory, and an Advanced Research Colloquium are required; the rest of the candidate's work is built around graduate courses, tutorials and directed research. Each student shapes his or her own program to prepare for three sequential oral examinations and a doctoral dissertation.
While the students' programs are planned to meet their own needs and interests, the following descriptions suggest what students programs have looked liked in recent years. In the first and second years of the program, every student takes a Ph.D. seminar each semester (recent topics have included Ecocriticism, The Sublime, Shakespearean Appropriations, Versions of the 18th Century, The Irish-American Atlantic, Bodies and Borders, and Performance and Representation). In addition, students take other graduate electives, or enroll in a tutorial "readings and research" course directed by a faculty member while preparing for an examination. Students may also take graduate courses at Boston University, Tufts University, and Brandeis University. As the dissertation field exam goes forward, many students begin their thesis work during their fifth year.
Recently, the doctoral program has streamlined its exam system to improve 'time to degree.' Students now proceed through a sequence of three examinations: a minor field examination completed before the end of the second year; a major field examination; a dissertation field examination. In collaboration with faculty members, candidates design examinations that will prepare them to work in a variety of periods, genres and literary approaches. Examinations can take a variety of forms: they may focus on teaching, literary theory, a single author or group of authors, a literary genre, or a literary period. Recent exam topics include Medieval Women Writers, Ecocritical Theory, The American Renaissance, Romanticism and Colonialism in the Caribbean Atlantic, The Gothic, a theory exam on the body, and a teaching exam on English Romanticism. The dissertation field exam allows students to explore the area in which their dissertation is likely to take place.
Students must demonstrate an ability to read two foreign languages or a working knowledge and application of one foreign language and its literature. They may demonstrate reading ability through successful performance on two translation examinations in which a short text must be translated adequately (with use of a dictionary) in two hours. They may show more extensive knowledge of one language and its literature by writing a graduate-level critical paper using original texts, or by producing a formal translation of a literary text or essay previously unavailable in English. Language tests from earlier graduate work are commonly accepted for one language. We regularly offer a course on The Art and Craft of Literary Translation, which fulfills the language requirement on its own.
In the second year, students serve as teaching assistants in a survey course of British or American Literature and Culture. In the third and fourth years, students teach a range of courses of their own design, usually First-Year Writing and First-Year Literature Core. In the fourth year, students teach one course in the English major each semester, beginning with an introductory course for sophomores (Studies in Poetry or Studies in Narrative). In the second semester of their fourth year, students have the opportunity to design and teach an elective in their own chosen field.
The Advanced Research and Pedagogy Colloquia
Every other year, an Advanced Research Colloquium is offered for third- and fourth-year students that introduces candidates to the processes of developing papers into conference talks and articles for publication, planning and completing a dissertation and negotiating the job market. Students also work closely with an individually chosen faculty mentor who helps them develop and place a scholarly monograph. Strong placement in recent years testifies to the advantages of such individual guidance. In addition, students design and run a Pedagogy Colloquium to which other teachers are invited over the year. And finally, doctoral students work closely with our M.A. candidates in planning a year-long colloquium featuring faculty talks and graduate student papers.
Prospectus and Defense
Students prepare for their dissertation by working on a third oral examination called a dissertation field exam; then, in consultation with their director and a faculty committee, a prospectus is submitted and approved. An informal defense follows submission and acceptance of the dissertation.
Note: For the precise language of these requirements, consult the BC Catalog.
The Doctoral Student Bulletin Board
Links to accomplishments by our Doctoral students can be found at the Student Bulletin Board.
If you have specific questions about the English Department's doctoral program, email Laura Tanner or write to:
Professor Laura Tanner
Director, Ph.D. Program in English
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467