Ph.D. Program

Click here for the Handbook for Graduate Study in English.  This document includes departmental policies and procedures concerned with graduate study.

The Berkeley English Department offers a wide-ranging Ph.D. program, engaging in all historical periods of British and American literature, Anglophone literature, and critical and cultural theory. The program aims to assure that students gain a broad knowledge of literature in English as well as the highly-developed skills in scholarship and criticism necessary to do solid and innovative work in their chosen specialized fields.

Please note that the department does not offer a Master’s Degree program or a degree program in Creative Writing. Students can, however, petition for an M.A. in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing upon completion of the Ph.D. course requirements (one of which must be a graduate writing workshop) and submission of a body of creative work.

Students interested in combining a Ph.D. in English with studies in another discipline may pursue Designated Emphases or Concurrent Degrees in a number of different fields

Normative time to complete the program is six years. The first two years are devoted to fulfilling the course and language requirements. The third year is spent preparing for and taking the Ph.D. oral qualifying examination. The fourth through sixth years are devoted to researching and writing the prospectus and dissertation.


The general goal of the first two years is to assure that the students have a broad and varied knowledge of the fields of British and American literature in their historical dimensions, and are also familiar with a wide range of literary forms, critical approaches, and scholarly methods. Students will complete twelve courses distributed as follows:

  • 1) English 200, “Problems in the Study of Literature”
  • 2) Medieval through 16th-Century
  • 3) 17th- through 18th-Century
  • 4) 19th-Century
  • 5) 20th-Century
  • 6) a course organized in terms other than chronological coverage.
  • 7-12) Elective courses.

(A thirteenth required course in pedagogy can be taken later.) Students who have done prior graduate course work may transfer up to three courses for credit toward the 12-course requirement. Up to five of the 12 courses may be taken in other departments.


Students must demonstrate either proficiency in two foreign languages or advanced knowledge in one foreign language before the qualifying examination. There are no "canonical languages" in the department. Rather, each specifies which languages are to count, how they relate to the student's intellectual interests, and on which level knowledge is to be demonstrated. "Proficiency" is understood as the ability to translate (with a dictionary) a passage of about 300 words into idiomatic English prose in ninety minutes. The proficiency requirement may also be satisfied by completing one upper-division or graduate literature course in a foreign language. The advanced knowledge requirement is satisfied by completing two or three literature courses in the language with a grade of "B" or better.

At the end of the second year each student’s record is reviewed in its entirety to determine whether or not he or she is able and ready to proceed to the qualifying exam and the more specialized phase of the program.

The Qualifying Examination

Students are expected to take the qualifying examination within one year after completing course and language requirements. The qualifying exam is oral and is conducted by a committee of five faculty members. The exam lasts approximately two hours and consists of three parts: two comprehensive historical fields and a third field which explores a topic in preparation for the dissertation. The exam is meant both as a culmination of course work and as a test of readiness for the dissertation.

The Prospectus and Dissertation

The prospectus consists of an essay and bibliography setting forth the nature of the research project, its relation to existing scholarship and criticism on the subject, and its anticipated value. Each candidate must have a prospectus conference with the members of their committee and the Graduate Chair to discuss the issues outlined in the proposal and to give final approval to the project. The prospectus should be approved within one or two semesters following the qualifying exam.

The dissertation is the culmination of the student's graduate career and is expected to be a substantial and original work of scholarship or criticism. Students within normative time complete the dissertation in their fourth through sixth years.