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PhD Program

Students in the PhD program have pursued a variety of interests, including:

humor research

General Information

The Ph.D. is the highest degree offered by the English Department. Study for this degree is seen as an independent program which builds upon and complements work done at the M.A. level. Ph.D. students are allowed considerable flexibility within the guidelines of the Graduate School and the English Department. It is assumed that students who embark upon advanced graduate work are committed to both preserving and transmitting the work of previous generations of scholars as well as to developing their own abilities to make scholarly contributions. To qualify for a doctoral degree, the candidate must meet University and Department requirements as to minimum hours of credit (30), residence, foreign language proficiency, and grades (a cumulative GPA no less than 3.0). The candidate must also: pass one written preliminary examination, demonstrate proficiency in a secondary area by either course work or a second written preliminary examination, submit and defend a Dissertation Prospectus, and write and defend a dissertation. Students who have not yet taken the Primary Field Examination may write and defend the Dissertation Prospectus.

Residency and Credit Requirements

At least 1/3 of the courses are to be taken during continuous residence. The Graduate School requires a total of 90 hours. The M.A. degree counts as 30 hours. Ph.D. coursework and 699/699A (research credits) constitute the remaining 60 hours.

Course Requirements

The first step in the Ph.D. program is course work designed to give the student a broad general knowledge upon which to build a specialization. Doctoral students in English are required to take a minimum of thirty graduate credits in English beyond the M.A. program. At least nine of these hours must be in 600-level courses. (Note: 502, 505, and any coursework taken to meet the foreign language requirement are not part of the thirty hour minimum.) No 699's, no audited courses, and no courses taken as satisfactory/unsatisfactory or pass/not pass may be used to satisfy the credit requirement . As long as all other program requirements are met, the Ph.D. student may satisfy the overall course-hour minimum of thirty with any of the 500- and 600-level graduate courses in the department. At the recommendation of their advisory committee, students may take up to six hours of coursework outside the department that will count toward the minimum of thirty hours required on the Plan of Study. Students should expect to enrich their programs and prepare for preliminary examinations by taking additional courses in this department and other departments.

PhD students specializing in ELL may choose ESL as either a primary or secondary area of study.

Foreign Language Requirement

All PhD students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of a foreign language. PhD Students who have satisfied a foreign language requirement as M.A. students need not do so again. PhD students may satisfy the requirement in one of the following ways: (1) by passing the appropriate FLL 605 language course with a grade of B or better; (2) by passing ASL 500 with a grade of B or better; (3) by passing a proficiency examination given by the appropriate department or program at Purdue; (4) by showing evidence of an undergraduate minor in a foreign language; and (5) by being a native speaker of a foreign language deemed acceptable for the student's study by the major professor.

Advisory Committee

Upon admission, PhD program students will be advised by the Director of the Program in English Language and Linguistics until they choose a major professor. After choosing a major professor, they will meet with their assigned advisor at least once in the fall and once in the spring to seek their counsel about, and get their signed approval for, registration in graduate courses. At the start of the third semester of coursework, each student chooses one faculty member who is working in his or her primary field to serve as major professor. The major professor helps the student to select an appropriate secondary field or fields, to choose two other faculty members to serve on the advisory committee, and to work out a Plan of Study, which must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies by October 15th of the second year of residency. The Plan of Study must be accompanied by a Rationale showing that the courses listed on the Plan of Study fulfill the requirements of the program.

Working within basic departmental requirements and guidelines, faculty advisors help students to design a program (including courses, Plan of Study, tutorial conferences, and additional readings in preparation for examinations) that is suited to the individual's interests, abilities, and previous study. The major professor, in conjunction with the whole advisory committee, supervises the student's progress, semester by semester. The advisory committee oversees the student's oral defense of a dissertation prospectus, the writing of the dissertation, and its oral defense. When formal work on the dissertation begins, a fourth member must be added to the advisory committee.

Transfer Credits

With the approval of the student's advisory committee, up to six credits toward the Ph.D. degree may be transferred from an accredited institution and may appear on the Plan of Study. The courses must be appropriate graduate credits, carrying a grade of "B" or better and earned within the last five years, which have not been used to satisfy the requirements of a degree held by the student.

Preliminary Examinations for Primary Area of Study

Course work alone, even when superior, is not adequate preparation for the preliminary examination. Each student is expected to do independent, in-depth study in the area in which he or she has chosen to be examined. PhD students in EL have two options with regard to their Primary Area of Study: an exam or a series of scholarly papers.

Exam Option

Students will complete a two-part examination, allowing for different scholarly approaches and treatments. The two parts are (1) A 24-hour take-home examination designed by the examining committee (in this case, the EL faculty) to test breadth of knowledge in the primary area of study and (2) A 7-day take-home essay (about 15 pages plus documentation) designed to test the student's ability to develop and argue a more specialized topic or issue within the examination area. When signing up for the examination, each student will submit to the Director of Graduate Studies two sub-areas within the examination area. The examining committee will create directives for the 7-day take-home essay based on these sub-areas. All take-home examinations will bear the following sentence: "The Department expects that the graduate student will have no help with the writing of this essay." The Committee will evaluate the two parts of the examination together, giving approximately equal weight to each part in arriving at a single grade. Grades on primary area examinations are reported to all examinees in writing at the same time by the Director of Graduate Studies. Results will be reported within ten working days of the last scheduled examination. All examinees--passing or failing--may request a conference over their examinations. Such requests should be made within two weeks of the report of examination results. Examination grades may not be appealed beyond the examination committee. An examinee who has failed an examination may take that examination (both parts) a second time. An examinee who has failed an examination may not switch to another examination area. An examinee who fails a secondary area exam may not switch to the four-course option and may not switch the secondary exam area. A student who fails a preliminary examination and wishes to retake it is expected to do so during the next Preliminary Examination Period. A student must retake an examination within one calendar year.

Each preliminary examination is written and graded by a departmental committee of three graduate faculty area specialists appointed by the Head. Faculty members of the examination meet to discuss the individual parts of the exam and to determine an overall grade (High Pass, Pass, Fail).

Successful examinees have found the following practices helpful in preparing for prelims: taking courses in the relevant area(s), reviewing materials from these courses, looking at past exams, consulting faculty in the area(s), requesting copies of bibliographies and tests for surveys and seminars, reading faculty publications, writing sample responses for willing faculty members to evaluate, consulting students who have completed prelims, and forming study groups. Departmental examinations or "prelims" are given twice each year, usually in August and March. Students must sign up for them during the semester before the examination, and must have filed a Plan of Study prior to signing up.

Paper Option

Examinees selecting this option will write four, 20-page (5000-word) papers over the period of one calendar year. In each of these papers, they will be asked to explore and analyze current scholarship in one of the core areas of the discipline (phonetics/phonology; morphology/syntax; semantics/pragmatics; historical linguistics or history of the English language) and, if able and inclined, to consider the implications of this scholarship for their particular areas of academic interest. These papers are seen as new projects, not as immediate extensions or revisions of course papers.

Students can begin the examination process at the beginning of any semester (that is, fall, spring, or summer), but will need to sign up for the examination and have completed and filed a plan of study the semester before starting. They are also expected to be very near or at the end of their coursework when signing up for the examination.

In the semester in which examinees plan to begin the examination, they must (by the end of the fourth week of that semester) contact and consult with the examination committee chair to map out a strategy for completing the examination and, subsequently, contact and meet with the examination committee members to negotiate the focus and scope of their paper topics. At the end of the fourth week of this semester, the clock will begin; that is, examinees will have, from that point in time, one calendar year to complete their papers. Examinees must complete all four papers in this time. Not completing one or more of the papers will result in a failing grade for the entire examination.

Grading: Each paper will be equally weighted. A grade of Pass or Fail will be awarded to each paper and to the examination overall.

Dissertation Prospectus

After satisfying the requirements for the primary and secondary areas of study, the student, in consultation with the dissertation committee, will determine the steps necessary to undertake the preparation of a written Dissertation Prospectus. The Prospectus is a 10-15 page (plus bibliography) document that describes, as fully as is then possible, the student's project. It should include a survey of existing literature in the project's area to show a need for the proposed study. This leads to a statement of the problem, a rationale or explanation of the method of exploring the problem, an outline or plan of chapter headings, and a projected schedule for the completion of drafts of each part. Students should consult advisory committee members while drafting the Prospectus and should submit the final version to the advisory committee at least one week before the oral defense of the Prospectus.

The oral examination based on the Prospectus may be taken during the semester when the student will have completed all required courses for the secondary area. At least ten days before the exam is to be given, the advisory committee will complete Graduate School Form 8, "Request for Appointment of Examining Committee." After the advisory committee has administered and graded the Defense, it will report the results to the Graduate English Office on Graduate School Form 10, "Report of Preliminary Examination."

Under normal circumstances, all three faculty advisors shall be physically present for the prospectus defense. It is recommended that the fourth member of the dissertation committee be present as well. Under extraordinary circumstances, one member of the advisory committee may participate in the defense by telephone (conference call).

Successful completion of this stage will admit students to candidacy for the Ph.D.


A Ph.D. dissertation is an extended scholarly work that makes a substantial contribution to the understanding of its subject. A dissertation is the final product not only of the student's academic career in which all that he/she has learned is brought to bear, but also of a concentrated program of specific reading in background materials and primary works, as these have been determined by the candidate and his/her committee. The choice of a subject for the dissertation is the responsibility of the candidate; he/she will carry out the research for and the writing of the dissertation under the guidance of his/her committee. Since the dissertation is probably a longer and more complex work than anything the candidate has so far done, there may be false starts in the initial stages and serious problems with the writing, and these may necessitate additional research, redefining of the thesis topic, and frequent revisions before the final version of the dissertation is approved by the student's committee for the Graduate School. The Ph.D. dissertation should be thought of as a demonstration of the candidate's ability to do scholarly research and to present the results in a professionally acceptable way. It is also preparation for the candidate's career as a productive scholar and teacher.