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 design their course of study from a wide range of courses, proceeding through a series of exams that culminate in a prospectus exam and the writing of the dissertation.
The small size of our doctoral program allows for an unusual level of access to faculty and flexibility in designing programs. Only four doctoral seminars, a course in Composition Theory, and an Advanced Research Colloquium are required; the rest of the Ph.D. candidate's work is built around graduate courses, tutorials, and directed research. Each candidate shapes his or her own program to prepare for three sequential oral examinations and a doctoral dissertation.
All Ph.D. candidates are guaranteed to receive full-tuition scholarships and competitive stipends for five years. The stipend for 2023-24 is $30,000.
We intentionally keep each entering class to four to five candidates to encourage extensive faculty/student interaction and mentoring.
Candidates design their own field exams in consultation with their faculty advisors, and choose from a full range of graduate electives each year.
Dedicated to Teaching, Mentoring, and Research
The scholars who make up our graduate faculty have published prize-winning novels, short stories, creative nonfiction, and poetry; contributed articles to leading journals such as PMLA, American Literature, Studies in English Literature, Victorian Studies, Composition Studies, ELH, and GLQ; and been anthologized in Best American Essays and Best American Short Stories. They have won national awards from the 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; and served as officers for professional organizations such as the MLA and the American Studies Association.
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 ("World Literature" in the Age of Globalization, Queer Theory and the Novel, Issues and Methods in American Studies, and Victorian Inequality to name some recent examples). 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 prospectus exam goes forward many students begin their dissertation work during their fifth year.
Candidates 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.
In the second year candidates serve as teaching assistants in a course in British or American literature. In the third year, students usually teach First-Year Writing Seminar and Literature Core. In the fourth year candidates teach one English Core course and one elective in their own chosen field that they design.
Examinations and the Dissertation
Candidates proceed through a sequence of three examinations: a minor field examination completed before the end of the second year; a major field examination completed before the end of the third year; a dissertation prospectus 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 serves as the official approval process for the dissertation prospectus.
An informal and celebratory defense follows submission and acceptance of the dissertation.
Academic Standing and Evaluation of Progress
Doctoral candidates are subject to annual review of academic progress toward their degrees. Each candidate is assigned an academic advisor with whom they will meet regularly and at the end of each academic year, the candidate 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. All candidates 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.
All graduate students are also governed by the Graduate School of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Policies and Procedures.
Resources in the Boston Area
Resources in the Boston Area
Ph.D. candidates have access to the rich offerings for graduate students in the Boston area. Aside from the wealth of local archival resources, candidates participate in seminars at The Humanities Center at Harvard University and in BC’s own Lowell Humanities Series, which brings internationally renowned writers and thinkers to campus. They can also take part in a wealth of courses, lectures, workshops, conferences, and symposia offered at area colleges and universities.
How to Apply
The application deadline for the Ph.D. program is January 2. The GRE is not 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 current work in the proposed field or area of focus.