The PhD in English is designed to be a five-year program requiring 30 hours of coursework. Students select and work closely with a faculty advisory committee to plan a course of professional study and training in their chosen primary and secondary fields. Coursework is meant to provide deep knowledge as well as methodological sophistication.
After students complete coursework in the first two years, they take written and oral comprehensive exams in the third year and write a dissertation in the fourth and fifth years.
PhD General Course Requirements
The PhD candidate will take 30 hours of coursework beyond the MA. Coursework must include:
- At least 18 hours in English at the 8000-level (English 8001, English 8005, English 8095 and 9090 hours do not count toward the 18-hour requirement).
Candidates’ coursework and program of study will be designed to prepare them as competent scholars in the designated fields. All PhD candidates will be required to take:
- English 8005, Introduction to Graduate Studies (a one-hour course in fall semester of the first year in the program)
- English 8010, Theory and Practice of Composition is required in the first semester for students teaching English 1000
- A course in English linguistics focused on the structure of the language (English 7600 or an equivalent graduate course at another institution), on its history (English 7610, English 7200, or an equivalent graduate course at another institution), or on sociolinguistic aspects of English (English 7620 or an equivalent graduate course at another institution)
- A course in literary criticism (English 8050, 8060, 8070, or an equivalent graduate course at another institution)
- English 8020, The Theory and Practice of Teaching in English (for students who want to teach literature classes)
PhD students in the creative writing program are required to take:
- 9 workshop hours at the 8000 level (in at least two genres)
- 6 hours of 8000-level seminars whose content includes in-depth analysis of literary texts. Workshops do not fulfill this requirement. 7000-level courses, or courses outside of the English department may be substituted with the approval of the Director of Creative Writing and the Director of Graduate Studies
A student may elect one English 8095 problems course (a maximum of 3 hours credit), with the prior consent of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), but the credits will not count towards the 18-hour 8000-level course requirement. Students may also take up to 9 hours of coursework outside English in fields related to their programs of study upon the advice and consent of the advisory committee. In general, students with limited backgrounds in related areas (such as history, philosophy, art history) are encouraged to take coursework in such areas, while students with extensive background in other areas (e.g., one whose undergraduate major or MA is in a field other than English) should choose to concentrate coursework within the department.
PhD Sample Timeline
Below is a sample timeline for completing the PhD within five years of funding. Variations to the timeline can be developed in consultation with a student’s advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
Please note that coursework required for the degree must be completed before taking the Comprehensive Exam.
Although the Department of English offers only 5 years of guaranteed funding, the Graduate School allows 5 years after entering the program for students to pass their Comprehensive Exams and 5 additional years for students to defend their dissertations after passing their Comprehensive Exams.
Students who are unable to keep to the 5-year PhD timeline because of extreme circumstances (e.g. disability, medical condition, family emergency) should consider applying for an additional semester of funding (see "Additional Semester of Teaching Policy" form on the right on this page). Students who are registered with Disability Services can apply to the scholarships listed here.
PhD students must fulfill a language requirement to ensure that all students have a familiarity with a language other than English. Students, regardless of specialty, gain substantially by making meaningful connections between their own work and a non-English-speaking culture.
A student may satisfy the language requirement for the PhD in English by one of the following:
- By taking coursework at MU. The student must pass with a grade of B or better an intensive introduction to a language, the two-semester introductory sequence of courses, or one course at or beyond the second semester level in the language chosen.
- By demonstrating to the Director of Graduate Studies that the student has taken courses equivalent to those specified in item #1 at another college or university.
- By demonstrating proficiency through a language test. Language tests will be administered by the department in November and April. Those wishing to take a test must notify the DGS in the semester prior. Those students who submitted a TOEFL score as part of their application to graduate school will be considered to have passed the language requirement.
Upon entering the program, students should work with the DGS or a faculty advisor to plan how they will fulfill the language requirement. Projects and areas of study will require different levels of language proficiency. Students’ committees may recommend that they pursue language study beyond the level required by the department.
Proficiency in English
International students should consult the International Teaching Assistant Program (ITAP) of the Office of Graduate Studies for university and state requirements regarding teaching at the university.
The Qualifying Exam satisfies a Graduate School requirement. The student and advisor should decide on a proposed Plan of Study (D-2 form) to be discussed and approved at the meeting by the doctoral committee. The doctoral committee is composed of at least three faculty members from the English department and at least one faculty member from a department other than English.
Students may use this meeting to shape their fields of study or their lists for the Comprehensive Exam, but this is not required to pass the exam.
Students are encouraged to take the Qualifying Exam by the end of their first year, but may take the exam at the beginning of the second year, if they need more time to compose their doctoral committees. Regardless of the timing of the exam, all students should discuss a plan for fulfilling degree requirements with their advisors and/or with the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of their first year.
The Qualifying Exam must be a formal meeting, scheduled by the committee chair, with at least three of the four members present. The outside faculty member need not be involved in this meeting, but all four members of the committee must sign the D-1 form. The student is responsible for preparing the forms and bringing them to the meeting.
After all required coursework has been completed, PhD students must take the comprehensive examination. This exam consists of a written section and a two-and-a-half-hour oral exam.
Students will choose a faculty committee consisting of at least four members of the MU graduate faculty: a chair, two additional department members, and an external member from another department. In consultation with their committees, students will specify reading lists made up of one major field, one minor field, and one field in criticism and theory.
The major field list should reflect the student’s area of scholarly specialization and take into account the student’s interests and intellectual, pedagogical, and/or professional fields.
The minor field list should be a more narrowly focused secondary specialization (for instance, a student with a major list in African-American literature might have a minor list in twentieth-century American fiction, or one studying Romanticism might have a minor list in transatlantic colonial literature), a genre or sub-genre (creative nonfiction, the sonnet, etc.), or an area of thematic focus (Transcendentalism, nature poetry, etc.).
The criticism and theory list should enhance students’ understanding of critical conversations surrounding the works on their major and minor list and can also be used to develop a separate area of specialization in theory that is anticipated to be useful for the dissertation.
All three lists together should comprise approximately 100-120 book length works or the equivalent in scholarly articles or works in other media (as decided in consultation with the committee), with the major list roughly equivalent in size to the combined minor and criticism/theory lists.
The written section of the comprehensive exam is comprised of one essay, intended to prepare students for the dissertation. The essay would prepare creative writing students for the critical introduction and/or the creative dissertation. Although the written exam is submitted to the committee prior to the oral exam, it is expected that students will complete their reading of works on all three lists before turning in the final draft of the written exam. The order of this process is crucial, as this reading may well shape a student’s plans for the dissertation and hence inform the topic and substance of the written exam.
The essay will identify and summarize the critical conversation(s) in which a student’s individual dissertation work will participate. This essay may have, but does not require, an original argument. In consultation with their committee members, students are encouraged to shape their written exam to best serve their research needs. The essay must be 15-20 pages, not counting additional materials such as bibliography, illustrations, or charts (which should be placed in an appendix). While the essay should refer to both primary and secondary sources from students’ lists, students may also use other sources relevant to their projected dissertation.
Students will submit two drafts to their committee members: a first draft and a final written exam. The first draft must be submitted for written or oral feedback on how to proceed with revisions at least four weeks and no more than sixteen weeks before turning in the final written exam. The committee will evaluate each version of the essay for range and depth of coverage, specificity of references to the works discussed, theoretical grasp of the material, effective synthesis of important approaches or debates, and clarity of organization and style. Once the final written exam has been submitted, committee members will use these criteria to vote on whether the student has passed the written portion of the exam. To proceed to the oral exam, students must receive no more than one vote of “fail” or “abstain.”
At least one month prior to the submission of the final written exam, students should communicate with committee members, alerting committee members to the date the final written exam will be submitted. The advisor should consult with committee members to schedule a tentative date and time for the oral portion of the exam. The oral portion of the exam should take place at least two weeks and no more than one month after the final written exam has been submitted. The advisor should inform the Graduate Secretary of the time and place scheduled for the oral examination.
On the agreed upon date, the student should submit the final version of the written exam to the Graduate Secretary, who will distribute the exam to the student’s committee. Exams submitted to the Graduate Secretary that are either under or over the required page length will not be sent to committee members, but will be referred to the Director of Graduate Study. Within two weeks of receiving a copy of the exam, committee members will submit evaluations discussing strengths and weaknesses of the essay to the Graduate Studies Secretary, who will forward them to the student and also place copies in the student's file. If the student does not pass the written exam, the oral examination date will be cancelled and the committee will offer advice on rewriting and resubmitting the essay.
University rules require that students are enrolled during the term in which they take their oral exam (to be administered only when MU is officially in session). The oral exam must be completed at least seven months before the defense of the dissertation. See https://gradstudies.missouri.edu/current-students/doctoral
The oral section of the comprehensive exam is designed to test a student’s knowledge of the teaching and research fields represented by their reading lists. Students should be prepared both to answer focused questions about individual works and to speak broadly about the connections among them. Students should send final copies of their lists to their committee members at least two weeks before the oral exams.
The oral exam will be scheduled for two and half hours and will consist of:
- Two hours of questions, with format and time allotted to committee members arranged beforehand by the chair of the student's committee
- Fifteen minutes during which the committee deliberates about the exam
- Fifteen minutes during which the committee informs the student whether he or she has passed or failed, and discusses the exam with the student. The student may also use this time to schedule follow up meetings with each committee member so that they can discuss the student’s movement toward the prospectus.
Within one week of the oral exam, the chair of the committee is responsible for writing a brief document (up to one page) discussing the exam-- things the student did well on, and things that might be improved upon. The chair must give a copy of this document to the Graduate Secretary, who will forward it to the student and place a copy in the student's file.
In order to pass the student must receive no more than one vote of “fail” or “abstain” on the oral exam. Students who fail the oral examination will be allowed to retake it, but cannot do so sooner than 12 weeks after, or later than the end of the semester following the initial examination. If the student passes the oral examination, all members of the committee must sign the D-3 form. The chair of the committee is responsible for submitting the D-3 form to the graduate studies office, and the form must be filed with the graduate school within two weeks after the final completion of the exams. Per graduate school rules, failure to pass two comprehensive examinations automatically prevents candidacy.
Full-Time Status and Continuous Enrollment
While studying for the Comprehensive Exams and after completing required coursework, students may elect to take English 9090: Dissertation Hours in order to maintain Full Time status (Full Time status according to the Graduate School is 9 hours before a student advances to ABD status). English 9090 may be taken before completion of coursework only with permission of the DGS.
After students complete their Comprehensive Exams, candidacy for the doctoral degree is maintained by enrolling in two credit hours in the fall and spring semesters and one credit in the summer semester up to and including the term in which the dissertation is defended. Failure to enroll continuously in 9090 Research hours (or alternatively, in the 8006 Professional Writing Workshop or Job Market Workshop) until the doctoral degree is awarded terminates candidacy. Guidelines for continuous enrollment can be found on the Office of Graduate Studies website.
Dissertation and Defense
As soon as possible after passing the comprehensive examination, a candidate should explore a dissertation topic under the guidance of the student’s adviser. Candidates must formally present and describe the topic in a prospectus of no more than fifteen pages (excluding bibliography). For the student to remain in good standing, the prospectus and a signed Dissertation Prospectus Approval Form (posted to the right on this page) must be submitted to the Graduate Studies Office within three months of a successful oral defense of the Comprehensive Examination or first two weeks of the semester following. In the event revisions are requested by the committee, the advisor will keep the signed form until revisions are made and then submit the form to the office.The advisor should schedule the prospectus conference.
The prospectus should contain five elements:
- The state of current scholarship in the relevant fields
- The nature of the dissertation’s intervention in current scholarship
- A description of method
- A description of the materials—that is, the objects/archives studied and consulted
- A short bibliography
In the case of students writing creative dissertations, the prospectus should primarily describe the critical introduction (see “Creative Dissertation” below); ten pages is a good goal here.
The prospectus should be drafted in consultation with the adviser. Once drafted, it will be the subject of the Prospectus Conference, a meeting of the dissertation committee (outside member optional) covering the student’s ideas and research plans, including schedule. If a majority of the student’s committee doesn’t approve the prospectus, suggestions for revision will be made and the student will submit the revised prospectus only to the adviser; for this reason, students should schedule their meeting with enough time to revise and meet the deadline.
The prospectus must be completed for the student to begin writing, but it is also important because it usually forms the basis of grant applications and dissertation descriptions when the student goes on the job market. It is of long-term use to have a prospectus on file early, even though it is understood that the dissertation may change during research and writing.
Two types of dissertations are written for our program: the scholarly dissertation and the creative dissertation.
The scholarly PhD Dissertation is a work of original scholarship in a recognizable field covered by departmental expertise. Most dissertations in English are between 200 and 350 pages and combine an original argument with research into the field you explore. By the end of the process of researching and writing the dissertation, the successful student will be one of a few world experts in the field addressed. Therefore topics should be specific enough to allow students to stake a claim to expertise, while broad enough to speak to the general field in which the dissertation is placed. The dissertation becomes the central document upon which you build your academic reputation. At best, it will be ready to go as a book project. Chapters of your dissertation will likely serve as writing samples on the academic job market and might be revised into publications either before or after you have defended it and received your PhD. The dissertation itself will be read by the student’s adviser and a minimum of three other readers (for students entering in the fall of 2005 or later; earlier students must have committees of at least five faculty members). One member of the committee must be a member of a department other than English. In the process of research and writing, some students work closely with an entire committee; others focus on the responses of their primary adviser to preliminary work.
PhD candidates in Creative Writing generally write a creative PhD dissertation, which may take the form of a collection of poetry, a novel, a novella, a book-length collection of short stories, or a book-length work of creative non-fiction. To exercise this option, the candidate must have taken 9-12 hours of creative writing seminars as part of the PhD coursework. In addition to the creative part of the dissertation, the candidate will compose a Critical Introduction, which is an article-length and rigorous critical essay that substantively engages the candidate’s areas of critical interest.
By the rules of the Office of Graduate Studies, seven months must elapse between a student's successfully passing the PhD Comprehensive Examination and submitting the PhD dissertation.
Defense usually occurs within a month of submission to the committee of an acceptable dissertation. Committee members prepare questions in advance and the defense consists of a conversation regarding the scholarship and writing of the dissertation. The defense is customarily a celebratory occasion. But committee members can—and sometimes do—ask challenging questions that undercut specific and general issues in the project. Students have a chance to incorporate suggestions from the defense into the final document submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies. Therefore it is useful to schedule the defense some weeks before the final deadline for submission to the Office of Graduate Studies in the term in which the student wishes to graduate. For the dissertation to be successfully defended, the committee must vote to pass it with no more than one abstaining or dissenting vote. If the dissertation is not passed, the student can revise in accordance with suggestions and resubmit.
The advisor will schedule two and half hours for the defense. It will consist of: two hours of questions and conversation, fifteen minutes during which the committee deliberates about the exam, and fifteen minutes during which the committee discusses the outcome and any revisions to be incorporated into the final copy turned in to the Graduate School.
PhD students may elect to invite people outside of their committees to attend their defenses. The student and advisor should agree on whether the audience can be present for the whole defense or just the opening portion. The audience may not be present for committee deliberations from which the PhD candidate is excluded. Audience members may observe but cannot ask questions, give comments, or reduce the allotted time for committee questioning in any way. Recording or livestreaming the defense is not permitted.
For instructions on filing your dissertation, see:
Dissertations in Progress (updated: 2/24/2020)
"The Nymphs Reply: Nympholepsy, Nature, and Hellenophilia in Nineteenth Century Anglophone Literature" (critical) and Phytophilia (creative)
Co-Directors: Alexandra Socarides and Aliki Barnstone
"Fanfiction, Medieval Romance, and the Erotics of Shame"
Director: Lee Manion
"Pockets in Print"
Director: Elizabeth Chang
"'the back-and-forth form': Epistolary Mediation in Late Medieval English Literature"
Director: Emma Lipton
Director: Anand Prahlad
"The Inevitable: Withdrawn"
Director: Julija Sukys
"The First Inch of a Saguaro"
Director: Trudy Lewis
"'One Foot on the Other Side': Suicideality and Contemporary African Diaspora Fiction"
Director: Christopher Okonkwo
"Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Subversive Female Body
Director: Stephen Karian
"The Genre Turn in Contemporary American Fiction: A Poetics of Post-Postmodernism"
Director: Samuel Cohen
"Book of Assassins"
Director: Trudy Lewis
"As Many Roast Bones As You Need"
Director: Aliki Barnstone
"Anti-Calvinist? Ceremonial Conformity and Laudian Writing, Reconsidered (c.1590-1678)"
Director: Anne Myers
"Transitional Spaces, Transnational Narratives, and Representation: Muslimness in Contemporary Literary Imaginations"
Director: Karen Piper
"Negotiating the Writing Classroom"
Director: Martha Townsend
"Transient Occupation of Wilderness in the Stories, Beliefs, and Practices of River Runners in Idaho"
Director: Elaine Lawless (emeritus)
"Through a Red Place"
Director: Aliki Barnstone
Director: Trudy Lewis
Brian E. Rodriguez
"Beautiful Phantoms: Literature, Political Economy, and Biopolitics from 1780-1855"
Director: Noah Heringman
"Women of Early Medieval England: Agents of Political and Religious Power"
"Getting Beyond the Truthiness: Reading Memoirs Analytically"
Director: Samuel Cohen
"Occupy, Blockade, Circulate: Narrating Community in 21st Century Crisis Fiction"
Director: Samuel Cohen
"All I Wanted" (creative dissertation) & "On Poetry" (critical dissertation)
Director: Aliki Barnstone
Gregory Allendorf (PhD 2019) “Bottle Fly”
London Brickley (PhD 2019) “Science Frictions: Science, Folklore, and ‘The Future’”
Emilee Howland-Davis (PhD 2019) “Magical Safe Spaces: The Role of Literature in Medieval and Early Modern Magic”
Kate Kelley (PhD 2019) “Policing the Boundaries of Whiteness: Monsters Made in the USA”
Lawrence Loiseau (PhD 2019) “A Lacanian Reply to Marx: The Necessity of Topology in the Formation of the Social”
Teresa Mildbrodt (PhD 2019) “Sharp Things, or the Silver Lines are Not Scars”
William Moore (PhD 2019) “Brain Catalogue”
Bradley Smith (PhD 2018) “Canon”
Joseph D. Smith (PhD 2019) “Worried Notes: Poems”
Jessie Adolph (PhD 2018) “Dee-Jay Drop that ‘Deadbeat’: Hip-Hop’s Remix of Fatherhood Narratives”
Khem Aryal (PhD 2015) “Rewriting the Creative: Toward a Happenings Theory of Creative Compositions” (critical); “The Last Monarchist:Stories from Nepal” (creative)
Dorothy Atuhura (PhD 2018) “Documenting ‘Harm’: Mediated Representations of Gendered Bodylore from Sub-Saharan Africa”
Constance Bailey (PhD 2015) “It Takes a Village: Twentieth Century Black Women’s Fiction and the Spiritual Apprenticeship Narrative”
Allison Balaskovits (PhD 2015) “Magic for Unlucky Girls:Stories”
Anne Barngrover (PhD 2016) “Brazen Creature”
Toby Beeny (PhD 2018) “Ecclesiastical Advice Literature in Anglo-Saxon England”
Colin Beineke (PhD 2018) “Assembling Comics: The House Style and Legacy of RAW Books and Graphics”
Deanna Benjamin (PhD 2018) “The Education of a Gambler’s Daughter”
Julie Christenson (PhD 2018) “Interpretive Cultures and Anglo-Saxon Texts”
Corinna Cook (PhD 2018) “Leavetakings”
Andrew Darr (PhD 2018) “Masculinity in Early Modern English Revenge Drama and City Comedy”
Joanna Eleftheriou (PhD 2015) “This Way Back: Essays from Cyprus”
Lauren Fath (PhD 2015) “My Hands, Remembering”
Marissa Fugate (PhD 2016) “Midnight’s Children: The Adolescent Body in the Age of Nations”
Lianuska Guiterrez (PhD 2015) “And the Wood Doll Arose and Told, I’m a Real”
Ryan Habermeyer (PhD 2017) “Babbler: A Novel”
Rachel Hanson (PhD 2016) “Dislocations”
Stephen Haynie (PhD 2018) “Escalations: Stories”
Brianne Jaquette (PhD 2015) “The Locomotive and the Tree: Industrial Pittsburgh’s Late Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture”
Sarah Johnson (PhD 2017) “Mr. Boswell Peels an Orange”
Jennifer Julian (PhD 2017) “I’m Here, I’m listening: Short Stories”
Ruth Knezevich (PhD 2015) “Narrative as Archive: Ethno-Historical Paratexts in British Literature, 1760-1830”
Patrick Lane (PhD 2016) “Medieval Death Trip”
Miranda Mattingly (PhD 2016) “A Circuit of Haunting Pictures: Theorizing the Space of Readership in ‘Condition of England’ Literature and the Periodical Press, 1845-1889”
Elizabeth McConaghy (PhD 2015) “Migrations”
LaTanya McQueen (PhD 2017) “When the Evening Comes” (fiction); “And It Begins Like This” (nonfiction)
Juliette Paul (PhD 2015) “Transatlantic Geographies of Faith in the Long Eighteenth Century”
Kavita Pillai (PhD 2018) “The Refashioning of Fundamentalist Nostalgia in the Age of Globalization: Charting the Rise of the Right Wing via Textual Trends”
Nick Potter (PhD 2018) “Big Gorgeous Jazz Machine”
Nick Robinson (PhD 2016) “Our Family Walks”
Eric Russell (PhD 2016) “Nature, Materiality, and Human Agency in the Literature of the Great Lakes, 1790-1853”
Travis Scholl (PhD 2018) “Of the Burning”
Eric O. Scott (PhD 2018) “The Pagan’s Progress, or, The Invention of Pilgrimage”
Carli Sinclair (PhD 2018) “‘This Land is My Land’: Authority and Landscape in American Women’s Nonfiction, 1843-1903”
Magi Smith (PhD 2016) “The Drama of Dissent: Pamphleterring Culture and Performative Protestantism:1650-1795”
Gregory Specter (PhD 2014) “Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Circulation of Texts”
Jennifer Spitulnik (PhD 2015) “No People Like #ShowPeople: Broadway Performers”
Christopher Strelluf (PhD 2015) “We Have Such a Normal, Non-Accented Voice’: A Sociophoentic Study of English in Kansas City
Raymond Summerville (PhD 2016) “The Fetishization of Firearms in African‐American Folklore and Culture”
Chun Ye (PhD 2016) “HAO”
Jihun Yoo (PhD 2015) “The Frontier Myth and The Frontier Thesis Contemporary Genre Fiction”
Jonas Cope (PhD 2012), “The Dissolution of Character in Late Romantic British Literature” directed by Noah Heringman. Cope is currently Assistant Professor of English at California State University-Sacramento.
Luke Gibbs (PhD 2013), “Great Britain and Latin America: The Romantics and the Informal Empire,” directed by Noah Heringman. Gibbs is currently Associate Professor of English at Evangel University.
Erin Wilson (PhD 2012), “Somatic Subjects: The Pathological Path to Victorian Womanhood,” directed by Nancy West. Wilson is currently Visiting Affiliate Assistant Professor at Loyola University, Maryland
Caitlin Kelley (PhD 2013), “Private Devotion, Public Textuality: The British Novel from Defoe to Hardy,” directed by Devoney Looser (now at ASU). Kelley is currently a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Karen Laird (PhD 2011), “Melodrama’s Afterlife: Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, and The Woman in White from the Victorian Stage to the Silent Screen,” directed by Nancy West. Laird is currently an instructor at the University of Salford (UK).
Juliette Paul (PhD 2015), “Transatlantic Geographies of Faith in the Long Eighteenth Century,” directed by Noah Heringman. Paul is currently Assistant Professor of English at Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN.
Angela Rehbein (PhD 2011), “Domesticating the Empire: Women Writers and Colonial Discourse in Late Eighteenth-Century British Literature,” directed by Devoney Looser (ASU). Rehbein is currently Assistant Professor of English at West Liberty University.
Alison Rutledge (PhD 2014), “Impressions and Characters: Travel Writing and Narration in the Novel, 1840-1920,” directed by Elizabeth Chang. Rutledge is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College (MO).