PhD Courses and Requirements

PhD in English and American Literature

The department requires all graduate students to take thirteen courses, including:

  • at least two courses in literature before 1780
  • at least two courses in literature after 1780
  • Introduction to Graduate Studies
  • Practicum in Teaching Writing

The timetable for those entering the graduate program is as follows:

Year 1

  • Fall semester: three electives and the Introduction to Graduate Study.
  • Spring semester: three electives. No teaching in either semester.
  • At the end of the Spring semester: First-year review by the Graduate Committee
  • Summer after the first year: language study, if needed. Begin reading toward a major field

Year 2

  • Fall semester: three electives
  • Spring semester: three electives. No teaching in either semester. Declaration of the major field and selection of the major field advisor at the end of the spring semester.
  • At the end of the Spring semester: Second Year Review by the Graduate Committee
  • Summer after the second year: further language study, if needed. The minimum language requirement should be fulfilled by the end of the summer after year 2. Reading for major field

Year 3

  • Fall Semester: Students begin to serve as Assistant to Instructors in undergraduate English Department literature courses or in courses in other programs such as American Culture Studies, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Film and Media Studies, or they may teach a section of Writing I.
  • Spring semester: Students continue reading in their major field, working toward a finalized and personalized list of primary and secondary sources. They serve again as assistant to instructor in one university course.

Year 4

  • Fall semester: Students take the Practicum in the Teaching of Composition and teach one section of Writing I.
  • Spring semester: Students teaching one section of College Writing and take their major field exam by early March. By the end of the Spring semester all students will submit a dissertation prospectus and participate in a follow-up interview with their dissertation committee and two members of the Graduate Committee.

Year 5

  • Fall and Spring semesters: Students work on the dissertation and teach or assist in one course each semester. 

Year 6

  • Students complete and defend their dissertation by April; students do not teach in their sixth year.

Foreign Language Requirement

The English Department requires a minimum of competency in one foreign language, ancient or modern, for all doctoral candidates. “Competency” is understood as a basic comprehension of the grammar, structure, and core vocabulary of a language. Native speakers of another language or students who have had two full years of undergraduate language study with a grade average of B+ or better will be considered to have satisfied the competency requirement. Other students may demonstrate competency either by taking an introductory reading course designed for graduate students or by passing a translation exam administered by the appropriate language department.

Given the academic demands of Years 1 and 2, introductory language courses are usually best taken during the summer after the first or second year of graduate study. All graduate students who do not enter the doctoral program having already satisfied the competency requirement may expect funding for one summer language course whether or not it is directly related to their proposed field. Students may elect to take additional summer language courses, but to be eligible for full funding such courses must be field-related. Students may also take languages courses (on a fully funded basis) during the academic year.

The minimum competency requirement is precisely that: a minimum. Students working in certain historical periods or pursuing particular dissertation topics may need to build upon basic competency in depth (by studying a single language further) and/or in breadth (by studying multiple languages). In some cases, additional language study might be pursued in the 3rd and/or the 4th year as the requirements of a student’s field or dissertation topic come into greater focus. The degree of language study appropriate in a particular case will be determined by the student and his or her advisor according to what is judged necessary or desirable for the student’s professional development as a scholar and teacher. 

Combined Ph.D. Program in English and Comparative Literature

This course of study requires the same breadth and depth of training in English that is required for the doctorate in the English Department. However, students who pursue the combined degree with Comparative Literature also achieve advanced knowledge of other literatures. This breadth enhances the sophistication of their scholarly explorations and distinguishes candidates as they enter the job market.

Language Requirements

Reading knowledge of one foreign language, ancient or modern. 


Normally, Ph.D. candidates in the combined programs enroll in the Mentored Teaching Experience for three or six units in Comparative Literature, and as many units in the major language as are normally required for a Ph.D. in that literature. In order to be qualified as a Mentored Teacher in a language department, students will be required to take the relevant course in language pedagogy. Courses taught in Comparative Literature will be monitored by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Study Abroad

Students are encouraged to spend time abroad either for language study or research or both. Extended periods of study may be supported from by University grants or by funds from external sources, such as Fulbright fellowships and grants from the US and other governments. Through its faculty and graduate programs, Washington University has a wide range of connections in universities, research institutes, and libraries abroad who can assist our students in locating archival and other materials, as well as scholars who can offer guidance in their research.

Course Work

All courses must be at the 400 level or above. Students will take courses in two literatures and Comparative Literature, in accordance with this general outline:

  • 48 units in English, including the Introduction to Graduate Studies and the distribution requirements for the Ph.D. in English. A minimum of 24 units will be taken at Washington University, and the rest may be transferred from an M.A. program elsewhere.
  • 12 units in Comparative Literature seminars or core courses, including Comparative Literature 402 (the Comparative Literature Methodology course).
  • 12 units in literature courses in one or more languages other than the major literature. This requirement may take one of two forms: either 12 units in the literature of one language other than English, and a reading knowledge of one additional language; or 12 units comprised of a combination of literature courses in languages other than English (e.g., 6 units in French and 6 units in Spanish) at the 400 level or above.


Rhiannon Amato
Campus Box 1122
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
Phone: 314-935-5120