English, PhD Program

General Information on the PhD:

The PhD requires 54 credits. This includes 48 hours of coursework and 6 credits of dissertation preparation/work.  The 48 hours of coursework include these two required courses: ENG 110 Intro to the Profession and ENG 100 Modern Critical Theories.  In addition, students spend anywhere from one semester to a year in preparation for their Comprehensive Oral Exams (“Comps”).  After successfully completing coursework and then passing the comprehensive oral examination, you will register for ENG 975 (Dissertation Research Seminar) for one semester (3 credits), followed by three semesters of 1-credit ENG 975 (to complete dissertation ideally within 2 years).

Students who come to St. John’s with a M.A. in English or a related degree can apply for “Advanced Standing,” with a maximum of 18 credits applicable to the coursework portion of the PhD. For students who are in the M.A. at St. John’s and are interested in applying for the PhD, students are advised to apply before the MA is completed, in which case the 33 credits of the M.A. at St. John’s then apply to the PhD’s required 48 credits.

It is important to remember that to obtain the PhD degree students must register with SJU every semester continuously. After coursework, the nature of that registration changes over time. Note that student can begin these academic years either in the fall or spring semester. In both cases, summer is excluded; students should be working over the summer on the PhD projects but do not need to be registered.

The usual time from start to finish for the PhD degree is usually the maximum of six years: two years of coursework plus four of Comprehensive Exam preparation and dissertation writing.  Students in extraordinary circumstances can apply for an extension of time after their seventh year, but that extension will be granted at the discretion of the Graduate Dean and the English Department.

In order to graduate with the Ph.D., you must also demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language by passing a department-administered translation exam, or by earning a B or better grade in an advanced college-level language course.

Students should remain is close contact with their primary mentors and dissertation committee at all times about making progress toward completing the degree.  Questions about registration should be directed to the DGS.


The Ph.D. degree requires 48 credits of coursework; some of you may be entering with advanced standing if you previously earned a M.A or MFA (up to a total of 18 credits).  If you’re not aware whether you have advanced standing, please consult with the DGS (Dr. Amy King).

As a Ph.D. student in English, you must take the following two foundational courses:

  • ENG 100 Modern Critical Theories
  • ENG 110 Introduction to the Profession

The program’s flexibility and varied course offerings allow you to select the remainder of your coursework on your own, in consultation with an advisor. The DGS will assign you an advisor at the start of your time in coursework, keying your expressed interests with professors with similar interests. The DGS will also function as a defacto advisor for any student seeking additional guidance.  As a department we encourage you to get to know and start forming relationships with various professors in fields of study that correspond with your intellectual and professional interests.

To satisfy the residency requirement, you must complete 24 credits of coursework within your first two years of study, at which time you’ll meet with the program director to plan your additional progress toward the degree.  Students pursuing the degree on a full-time basis will usually complete the coursework in two years; students pursuing the degree on a part-time basis should consult with the DGS.


First year after coursework = English 105q

After finishing coursework, the “Comps” phase of the degree begins; this consists of independent work guided by three scholars in the fields of study you are focusing on.  During this time should register for “English 105q,” a zero-credit course that indicates you are preparing for your Comps.  You register for 105Q upon successful completion of your coursework; you cannot proceed if you have any INC on your record or if your GPA is below a 3.0

To prepare for the Comprehensive Oral Exams, you put together a committee of three faculty members within the department with whom you’ll assemble a reading list of approximately 25 books and critical essays for each of three oral examination areas. You should approach professors with ideas in mind for lists, and with an eye towards forming your scholarly and professional identity.

For a collection of recently approved Comprehensive Exam lists and Dissertation Prospectuses, please email either the DGS or Lana Umali in the English Department office.

The student compiles the three lists and writes an overall rationale for the Comprehensive Exam, as well as short rationales for each of the three lists.  This list should be attached to the form “Comprehensive Exam Filing Form,” which requires signatures from each of your examiners, and given to the DGS. This ideally happens the semester before you intend to take the exam, or at the latest at the start of the semester when the exam is scheduled.  This list should be a proposed list, but it can be updated; on the day of the exam, the final versions of these lists are resubmitted.

Usually this “Comps” preparation process takes two semesters, or a semester and a summer; students must prepare for a minimum of one semester.  At the end of the reading period students will undergo an oral comprehensive examination administered by your committee, which will allow you to demonstrate your mastery in these areas in preparation for your dissertation.

Generally, students should plan on taking the Comps in the spring before they begin ENG 975 in the fall, or in the first few weeks of the fall term when they begin ENG 975. You should also plan on taking your language exam by the end of this period.  

Please note, the course “105Q” satisfies the full-time equivalency requirements for purposes of deferring loans; students need to submit an “Advanced Standing” form for this purpose (Fee = roughly $100 / semester) with the Graduate office.

ABD (“All but Dissertation”) PHASE OF THE PhD

The dissertation for the advanced degree requires original thinking and research.  When you get to that stage of the program, you’ll select a topic that will enable you to apply your knowledge of English, advanced research skills, and critical thinking skills to an original problem in contemporary scholarship, criticism, pedagogy, or the profession in general.  You will convene a committee of three professors (you may also have an outside examiner, who can be a 4th reader) and you will write a prospectus, while proposes the work that will be done in the dissertation.  When the prospectus has been approved by your committee, you will receive signatures from your committee members and that form will be filed with the English department and the Graduate Office.

After you have written your dissertation, you will have to defend it orally with your committee. It will then be submitted to and approved by the Dean.

Second year after coursework = 975 Seminar

The Dissertation Writing Workshop is now a one-semester course (ENG 975, 3 credits), meeting once per week (usually Mon or Tues 5 – 7 pm) and counting for 3 credits per semester.  Students should aim to get their dissertation prospectus approved and start writing the first chapter during this semester.

The tuition for ENG 975 Dissertation Workshop is usually (but not always) paid for by the department’s University Doctor of Arts Fellowships (UDAFs), for which you need to apply. Students must fill out the application for these fellowships before the semesters in which they take this course.  

Since 975 (3 credit) is offered only in the fall, we suggest that students either take their oral exams in early September (and start 975 at the same time) or in the spring semester (and start 975 the following fall).

2nd semester of second year and Third year after coursework and beyond = 1 credit of 975 / Semester

After ENG 975 (3 credit) is finished, students register for ENG 975 (1 credit) until they finish their dissertation. This registration must be continuous unless the student is on leave (“Maintaining Matriculation”).

STUDENTS MUST HAVE 6 CREDITS OF DISSERTATION WORK, and the department hopes to be able to offer UDAF support for three semesters after 3-credit 975. Otherwise, note that 1-credit of dissertation work is 1200$/semester.  

Note:  Students who have scheduled a Dissertation Defense during the first two weeks of a given semester may generally have the tuition waived for that semester, registering for “maintaining matriculation” (100$) rather than ENG 975 (1 credit).

Defense of Dissertation:

The defense is scheduled when the mentor of the dissertation determines that the work has reached the level of what s/he, as an authority in the field, determines to be acceptable. That judgment is based on the mentor’s determination that it is original thinking and research; this is an issue of judgment, one that speaks to the “apprenticeship” aspect of the PhD.  Each of your committee members will read and give you feedback on individual chapters; committees can work differently, with some members weighing in less often than the mentor, while other committees will work more collaboratively.  Ideally, committees will meet once a semester, or at least convene via email to lay out the expectations for reading your work.  When the mentor indicates that the committee is comfortable with your submitting a final reader’s copy to the group, and setting a defense date, you will do so, paying attention to various firm deadlines that are set each year by the Graduate Office.  

It is useful to keep in mind that deadlines for defenses are usually quite a bit in advance of the degree (for instance, November 3rd 2017 is the deadline for a January 2017 degree; or April 6th for a May degree).  Degrees are conferred in September, January, and May.  Students who defend the exam in the first weeks of a new semester can sometimes register for “maintaining matriculation” for that semester rather than ENG 975.

Final copies of dissertations must be submitted to the Dean’s Office, which will forward it to the library for approval (correct form etc), after revisions have been made after the defense.  The proper formatting of the dissertation is essential lest your dissertation be rejected by the library; please be sure to consult the Doctoral Dissertation Handout when you are preparing your dissertation for final submission.


Director of Graduate Studies:

Dr. Amy King, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of English
St. John Hall, Room B-40 #11