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Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences

The Ph.D. Program in English

english department

Application Information

The application deadline for the Ph.D. program is January 2. 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, E-mail the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

If you have specific questions about the English department's doctoral program, E-mail Marjorie Howes.

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 approaches. Candidates choose from a wide range of courses and proceed through a streamlined series of exams culminating in a dissertation prospective exam and the writing of the dissertation.

A recent 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 - four or five students each year–in order to encourage extensive faculty/student interaction and mentoring. Guided by a full-time faculty of over 41 members, our students receive valuable individual attention at each stage.

Our Individually Tailored Curriculum

Students design their own field exams in consultation with their faculty advisors. 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 Pedagogy and an Advanced Research Colloquium are required. The rest of your course work is up to you, and 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.

Full Funding for Five Years

We offer a tuition remission fellowship plus a stipend for all students for five years. After the fifth year all students in the program are also eligible to apply 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 are leading scholars in a wide range of fields. Faculty publish books and articles with top notch institutions, are active in various professional organizations, and compete successfully for national awards and fellowships. 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 regularly 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, and Tufts. Our students can also take courses at the interdisciplinary Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies at MIT. The BC English department is (with History) the most active contributor to our thriving Irish Studies program, which offers institutional support to the refereed journal‚ Eire-Ireland. And many members of the department contribute to the BC-based journal Religion and the Arts, edited by our own colleague, Professor James Najarian.

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 his or her 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 exams by the Spring of their second year, and will normally take their major field exams 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 class, 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.


We offer a full range of graduate courses. While students' programs are planned to meet their own needs and interests, the following descriptions suggest what some programs have looked liked in recent years. In the first and second years 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, and Brandeis.

Examinations and Dissertation

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 prospective 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 prospectus exam focuses on the prospectus and its bibliography. The examiners are normally people who would serve as readers of the dissertation. The prospectus exam is organized like other exams but will be graded pass/fail. The preparation for the dissertaion prospectus exam should take no longer than that of a minor field exam, and the exam itself should last a maximum of 90 minutes. The exam's objectives are limited to the prospectus and its dissertation project. It is understood that the prospectus will neccessarily be reformulated as the dissertation is written.

The dissertation prospectus exam and the approval of the prospectus constitute formal acceptance of the disseration topic and the establishment of a committee of readers. At this point, the student is officially ABD and is eligible for dissertation support.

An informal defense follows submission and acceptance of the dissertation.

Language Requirements

Students must demonstrate an ability to read two foreign languages or a working knowledge 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 an English Department course. In the third and fourth years students teach a range of courses of their own arrangement, usually First-Year Writing and First-Year Literature Core. In the fourth year students teach one English Core course and one elective in their own chosen field that they design.

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 article. 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.

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 E-mail Marjorie Howes or write to:

Professor Marjorie Howes
Director, Ph.D. Program in English
English Department - Connolly House
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Mass. 02467

Candidates are assured of full tuition scholarships and stipends for five years.

Online Application

Financial Aid

Program Guidelines



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