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English Department

Program Guidelines

The following gives an overview of Vanderbilt University's Graduate Program in English. General Procedures and Program Guidelines are described for graduate students, Faculty, and prospective students.

The Department of English offers a Master of Arts , Doctor of Philosophy , and Master of Fine Arts degrees. This page will describe the requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees and it will outline the responsibilities and functions of the Department of English Faculty and graduate students enrolled in the program. 

For information about the M.F.A, see the webpage for the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing

When changes are made in the Graduate Program, usually by vote of the Faculty, all Faculty member and graduate students will be informed in writing by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Revisions to the program are channeled to the Faculty through the Graduate Committee, which is typically composed of the DGS, four members of the Department of English which are appointed by the Chair, and one Graduate Student Representative who is elected by the graduate students in good standing.
Beginning graduate students initially register for classes with the advice and consent of the DGS. However, as soon as possible in their first semester, the DGS will assist each new student with selecting a primary academic adviser. This adviser will make early plans with the student about course selection, language study, long and short range preparation for the Comprehensive Examination, and the Dissertation. As the student's career progresses and decisions are made about areas of concentration and approach, she or she may change advisers and will seek the involvement of other Faculty - eventually establishing a full committee. Students should apprise the DGS if they make changes in their adviser or committee.

Vanderbilt University's Graduate School and the Department of English offer a number of stipends and scholarships, although they are limited and competitive. Most students admitted for graduate studies in English receive some type of fellowship or award. The rare student without financial aid, who subsequently wants to apply for a fellowship must compete with the external pool of new applicants. 

Amounts and conditions for each type of financial aid varies. Please see the DGS for details. Financial awards are paid out on a 12-month schedule. 

Student financial support may be terminated if the Graduate Committee, in its annual review of all Graduate Program participants, finds inadequate progress being made toward the degree (e.g., un-met course or language requirements, one of more "incompletes", poor academic / teaching evaluations).

  • The University Fellowship is given to the first-year graduate student, as a full scholarship involving no departmental duties. Students who enter with the B.A. hold this award for the first year. Students who enter with the M.A. are also awarded a University Fellowship and are not required to teach until their second year of graduate study here at Vanderbilt. Acceptance letters will indicate "Teaching Assistantship" even though the assistantship does not actually begin until the second year.
  • The Teaching Assistantship begins in the second year. Teaching Assistants (TA's) usually teach one section of a variety of 1000-level English courses each semester for a maximum of four years.
  • The Harold Sterling Vanderbilt Scholarship is a five-year "topping-up" award granted in addition to one of the awards mentioned above. This award is given to students entering the doctoral program. Its continuance is contingent upon satisfactory progress toward the degree. Harold Sterling Vanderbilt Scholarship awards are competitive among applicants to all graduate programs at the University.
  • The University Graduate Fellowship is a five-year "topping-up" award granted in addition to one of the awards mentioned above. This award is given to students entering the doctoral program. Its continuance is contingent upon satisfactory progress toward the degree. University Graduate Fellowship awards are competitive among applicants to all graduate programs at the University.
  • The Provost's Graduate Fellowship is a five-year scholarship for students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds.

NOTE: In the beginning of their third year, graduate students in need of extra money or students who have reached their award limit may sometimes, with the authorization of the Chair and the DGS, earn an hourly wage as a grader or research assistant for a Faculty member. Students must consult with the DGS before accepting an offer of research work from ant member of the Faculty.


Vanderbilt University does not offer a terminal M.A. degree. Students typically earn an M.A. en route to the Ph.D. This M.A. is designed to be completed in three semesters by a full-time student. Students who wish to pursue the Ph.D. full time must complete all requirements for the M.A. in order to be eligible to continue on in the program. 

The Department strongly recommends that students interested in continuing for the Ph.D. complete all first semester course work on schedule. Because decisions about financial aid for the second year are made in the spring of the first year, the only evidence of a student's ability will be the fall term grades and evaluations. "Incompletes" at this point could jeopardize a student's future in the Graduate Program. 

By action of the Departmental Faculty, instructors may give "incompletes" only in cases of illenss or unusual personal circumstances, and only with the written approval of the DGS. Candidates who take "incompletes" in their first year of study must resolve those grades before they are eligible to teach in their second year. Failure to do so may result in revocation of teaching salary for the semesters the student remains ineligible.

30 Hours of Course Work:  With permission from the DGS, students may take up to two courses in Departments other than English.

M.A. Thesis:

The student, under the direction of a thesis supervisor, will take an existing paper from a first-year course and re-write it as an article suitable for submission to a scholarly journal. The article does not have to be accepted for publication, but it does need to be professional enough to be ready, in the opinion of the supervisor, for submission. Students should consult with the Graduate School about thesis formatting and regulations. The thesis is due to the DGS's office by June 1st. 

Students who satisfactorily complete the M.A. thesis and 24 hours of course work in their first year become eligible to teach in their second year. NOTE: Failure to complete the M.A. thesis may result in the withholding of TA salary during the terms that the student is unable to teach. After completion of at least 6 additional hours in their third semester, students will be awarded the M.A. At the end of their second year, the Graduate Committee will review the work of the second year students (the thesis, course work, and faculty evaluations) to determine whether to recommend to the faculty that they continue toward the Ph.D.

The Ph.D. is designed to be completed by a full-time student in five years. Financial support is limited to this time period. The Department, therefore, encourages students to begin thinking about their dissertation as soon as possible.

3.1 Course Work

The doctoral student must take a total of 52 hours of course work. After taking 24 hours in their first year, full time Ph.D. students take 20 hours of course work during their second year of study and 8 hours during the fall semester of their third year.  Graduate seminars offer in-depth study of a particular genre, author, historical period, or a special topic.

2000-level undergraduate courses approach material in a more introductory way. Graduate students enrolled in 2000-level courses, in consultation with the course instructor and the DGS, will be expected to do additional work beyond the undergraduate requirements for the course. Please note that not all 2000-level courses are open for graduate credit. For each advising cycle, the DGS will know which 2000-level courses are appropriate for graduate students. Additionally, the DGS must give prior approval before a student may take an English 8150 (Independent Study) course (by signing the Graduate School's "Request for Independent Study" form).

Students are encouraged to take up to two courses outside of the Department of English for graduate credit. A student wishing to take additional hours must petition the Graduate Committee, explaining the usefulness and appropriateness of such courses for his/her plan of study. An unlimited number of courses that are cross-listed with the Department of English may be counted toward the Ph.D.

Independent Study:  Independent studies are defined as one-on-one tutorials in which student and professor agree on a one-semester course of study that includes a reading list and writing assignments. Students may take one such course in their graduate career and have the option to petition the Graduate Committee for a second course. Students wishing to do an independent study must consult with the DGS and the Graduate Assistant in order to fill out the necessary permission forms. 

By action of the Departmental Faculty, instructors may give "incompletes" only in cases of illness or unusual personal circumstances, and only with the written approval of the DGS. First-year candidates who take "incompletes" in their first year of study must resolve those grades before they are eligible to teach in their second year. Failure to do so may result in revocation of teaching salary for the semester/s student remains ineligible. For all students, the accumulation of "i ncompletes"  hinders progress toward the degree and imperils continuance of financial aid. ­

Graduate students are free to suggest seminar topics to the faculty, but because of scheduling deadlines and other exigencies, they should do so at least a year before hoping to find them formally incorporated into the curriculum. The Department of English cannot promise to adopt all suggestions, but will strive to respond positively to the insofar as its resources and commitments will allow. 

3.2 Transfer Credit for Students Admitted with the M.A.

The Department of English does not accept transfer credit for course work completed prior to enrollment at Vanderbilt University.

3.3 The Foreign Language Requirement

Students will be required to take a foreign language translation test as follows:

  • There will be a two-hour time limit. Each student is permitted to have a dictionary with him/her during the translation. Usually only one source may be used for translation. 
  • There is no limit on re-takes. Students may take the exam for the first time whenever they feel ready, preferably in their first year.
  • When possible, members of the Department of English will conduct the tests. When the language requirement is beyond our expertise, the DGS will contact a colleague from another department. 
  • Criteria for passing shall be "correctness" to literal meaning and stylistic character of the original and number of pages translated (quantity completed in the two-hour period).
  • Students are permitted to consult with the faculty member supervising the exam in order to agree upon the genre and historical period of the original and to discuss such issues as dialect and jargon.
  • The foreign language translation test requirement must be fulfilled before the student takes the Comprehensive Examination.
  • Students should notify the DGS’s office before the beginning of the semester if they intend to take a translation test during that semester.  Under ordinary circumstances, tests will be arranged and offered during the first month of each semester. 

3.4 The Comprehensive Examination

NOTE: "Incomplete" grades must be resolved and the foreign language requirement satisfied before a student may take the Comprehensive Examination.

The Comprehensive Examination consists of three elements:

1.   The written examination

2.   The preliminary dissertation proposal

3.   The oral examination

The Examination Committee:  Students should begin thinking about possible examination committee members in their first semester. The committee, composed of three English Department Faculty members, needs to be set by Spring of the second year. Students will work with these committee members to develop lists of readings for the examination. Decisions concerning fields and reading lists must be approved by the student's Examination Committee. Students should work closely with committee members throughout the examination preparation process. 

Before the Comprehensive Examinations begin, each student must add one additional Faculty reader from outside of the Department of English to the Committee. This fourth Committee Member (the "outside reader") reads the Written Examinations, but does not grade them. He/she participates in the Oral Examination, serves on the Dissertation Committee, and participates in the Dissertation Defense. Students should consult with their Committee Members about the most appropriate Faculty member to fill this role. The DGS can also offer advice, as needed. 

Students must register "outside readers" with the Department before the Written Examination takes place. If the reader is a Faculty member at a university other than Vanderbilt, the Graduate School requires the following documents: (1) a copy of the reader's Curriculum Vitae, and (2) a brief essay from the student, which describes how the reader's scholarship will contribute to the student's dissertation-writing process.

Students will set their Examination Committees early in the Spring semester of their second year of graduate school and they must register their committees the the Department by March 31 of that year. Registration forms will be made available in early March. 

The Examination Fields:  The Written Examination covers two major fields and one minor field. Each candidate, in consultation with his/her Committee Members, will define the field for the Examination. These fields may be organized historically, generically, theoretically, or in other ways that reflect a coherent argument. At least one field must cover a historical period. 

The Department does not impose numerical requirement on reading lists. the length of each list will be determined through consultation between the student and his/her Examination Committee members. Majors lists tend to fall between 75-100 texts; minor lists tend to fall between 50-75. However, there has always been considerable variation, depending on the field and the student. 

Each student should have an early discussion with his/her Examination Committee members - in the Spring of their second year, before submission of preliminary lists - that sets these target numbers.

A note concerning the third minor list:  The minor list generally supplements the two major lists. This can work in a number of ways. The list sometimes provides context by taking the study of a particular issue, movement, or genre backward or forward historically. It sometimes concentrates on a sub-genre, development, debate, or other focal group of texts. It sometimes assembles texts - theoretical, historical, or otherwise methodological - that the student and committee members anticipate will provide an analytic structure for the dissertation. The Department recommends that each student schedule an early discussion with his/her Committee Members about the most effective ways to utilize this third list.

The three fields and the reading lists are subject to the approval, first, of the candidate's Committee, then the Department of English's Graduate Committee.

The preliminary fields and lists must be approved by committee members and submitted to the Department by May 31 of the second year of graduate school.

Preparation for the Examination:  The summer after the second year will be dedicated to reading from the Examination lists. 

During the fall of the third year, students will meet regularly with their committee members to discuss priorities for professionalization - encompassing both general field expertise and specific preparation for the dissertation - and to develop a subset of each list that best represents those priorities. 

Each student will set a meeting schedule in consultation with his/her Committee Members. These meetings should begin no later than September of the third year.

Students will read most / all of the material on their preliminary lists during the summer after their second year. In the fall of the third year, the student will therefore be in a position to identify texts of greater and lesser importance to their preparation for exams and to provide a rationale to their Committee Members. Committee Members have discretion to intervene in the assignment of priority. 

Each exam list will be divided into two tiers of priority through this process of continued reading and regular consultation. Narrowing the focus of exams from the breadth represented by preliminary lists will follow from informed, shared decisions on the part of Committee Members and students. 

The Fall of the student's third year will, thus, be dedicated to organizing lists into levels of priority, re-reading as particular emphasis and connections develop, and learning the relationships between a general field of knowledge and a particular intervention in that field. 

Final lists, with a two-tiered structure - texts of primary and secondary significance in the student's preparation for the Examination - MUST be approved by Committee Members and submitted to the DGS's office by December 15th of the student's third year of graduate school.

In the third year, the shared project of the Committee Members and the student is twofold: (1) to make certain that the student has a strong knowledge of her or his fields of study; and (2) to develop a subset of each list, representing both teaching and research priorities, on which the Written Examination will focus. 

The Examination, thus, emphasizes the importance of a broad grounding in each field, while also beginning the transition from general reading to targeted research.

The second-tier lists remain important: they will continue to provide context for discussions between student and committee members, and will contribute to the student’s credentials as a scholar and a teacher in her or his fields.

Students will meet regularly with their Committee Members throughout their third year; Committee Members will thus have every opportunity to evaluate the depth and breadth of a student’s preparation in each field. By placing this emphasis on the process of guided preparation, the Department gives Exam Committees scope to ensure that each student is prepared as a scholar and a teacher in her or his fields.

If Committee Members have reservations about a student’s preparation for the Written Examination, they may decide, as a group, not to let the Written Examination go forward. If this occurs, the student must take the Written Examination by the last day of classes in their third year. 

The Written Examination:

The Written Examination, focused on the first tier of each list, must be completed in March of the third year of graduate school.

The examination will begin at 4:00 p.m. on the Thursday before Spring Break, and will be completed by 9:00 a.m. on the Monday after Spring Break.

Students will choose to answer one from three questions in each examination area and should write a conference-length paper (2500 words) for each of the three exam questions answered. The department expects that these exam essays will show research skill and acumen, strong critical familiarity with both primary and secondary texts, and the ability to state and sustain a critical argument. The writing the student submits to the department for the exam answers must be original writing for that exam.

Each student will pick up the exam in the DGS office, and return the completed exam by email preferably as an e-mail attachment in WORD to the Graduate Assistant.  By the end of the day, each student must also return the printed exam questions to the office.

Post-Examination Meetings:   After the Written Examination, each student will schedule formal meetings with all members of her or his committee.  These discussions will address strengths and weaknesses of the exam, as well as areas for further development.

Postponements:   In the interest of equity, postponements (usually only until the following semester) are very rarely granted, and only in cases of unusual hardship.  A request for postponement must be made in writing to the Graduate Committee.  Failure to take the examination on schedule without an authorized deferral is prima facie evidence of unsatisfactory progress toward the degree, and is likely to result in the termination of financial aid. 

Retake Policy:   If a student fails all or part of the Written Examination, the student will have one opportunity to retake the examination before the beginning of teacher training in the fall semester.  Failure of all or part of the retake will result in dismissal from the Graduate Program. If the student passes the retake he/she will submit a Preliminary Dissertation Abstract to the committee no later than September 15; sit for the oral examination no later than October 1, and submit the Final Dissertation Proposal no later than November 15.

The Preliminary Dissertation Abstract:   The Preliminary Dissertation Abstract (10 pages) must be approved by committee members and submitted to the department by 15 April of the third year of graduate school. (Note that this abstract may be revised and resubmitted to committee between 15 April deadline and the Oral Examination date.)

This should be a preliminary abstract that presents the student’s dissertation project in the most precise terms available at this stage.

The student will draw on the experiences of focusing the exam lists and writing the exam essays, linking the abstract closely to the development of ideas fostered by those earlier stages of the process.

The abstract will concentrate on argument, intervention in the field, research plans, and methodology. Although a list of chapters may be appended, the abstract should not be dominated by detailed chapter descriptions.

The abstract has two purposes:

1.   To distill the student's plans for the Dissertation.

2.   To provide a focal point for the Oral Examination. 

The Oral Examination:  If the student passes the Written Examination, the two-hour Oral Examination will take place during the first two weeks of May in the third year.

The Oral Examination may engage the Written Examination, but will give priority to the Dissertation project, as represented in the Preliminary Dissertation Abstract and in the student's development of research priorities during preparation for an completion of the Written Examination. The Oral Examination will thus accelerate momentum toward the Final Dissertation Proposal and toward the Dissertation itself.

Each student will meet with her or his committee members after the Written Examination has been graded, and will discuss any issues or problems related to the exam. All such discussions must take place before the Oral Examination. 

If Committee Members do not find these discussions satisfactory, they may decide, as a group, not to let the Oral Examination go forward. If this occurs, the student must petition to take the exam at a later date, by which date the student must obtain the committee members’ consent to proceed. The date will be specified in the petition, and the petition must be approved by the exam committee and by the Graduate Committee. If the student does not take and pass the exam by the set date, the Department will allow one retake of the Oral Examination before the student loses her or his standing in the Graduate Program (see below).

Retake Policy:  If a student fails the Oral Examination, the student will be allowed one retake. Failure of the retake will result in dismissal from the Graduate Program. 

The Dissertation Committee:  Although the basic structure of the Dissertation Committee includes a Director, two additional Department of English "readers", and a "reader" from outside of the Department, the Department recommends two Co-Directors rather than a single Director, insofar as experience shows that two heads are better than one. 

Students, moreover, are encouraged to think creatively about the structures of their Committees, and to seek out the best combinations of resources for their scholarship. A Committee, for instance, may include four English Department "readers", rather than three; it may include two "outside readers", rather than one. (“outside readers” refers either to a faculty member from another Vanderbilt department or College, or to a faculty from another institution. Students should always consult with their primary adviser/advisers before inviting outside members to their committee.) Students should draw extensively on the guidance and expertise of all Committee Members during the drafting process.

Except in unusual cases, which must be approved through a petition process, the Graduate School requires that each Dissertation Committee include at least three English Department faculty members, and limits total dissertation committee size to five faculty members.

3.5  The Final Dissertation Proposal 

The Final Dissertation Proposal must be approved by Committee Members and submitted to the Department by June 15 of the third year of Graduate School.

The Final Dissertation Proposal shall include both an overview of the project - argument, intervention in the field, research plans, and analytic methodology - and a description of each chapter.

All Committee Members will advise the student on the Final Dissertation Proposal. If the student and/or the Committee Members are away from Vanderbilt, consultation and revisions may take place via e-mail. 

The Final Dissertation Proposal must be submitted to the Department with a cover sheet signed by two Faculty Members - either the project's Co-Directors or its Director and "second reader". These signatures indicate the Adviser's approval of the proposal as presented.

After submitting the Final Dissertation Proposal, each student will begin a dissertation chapter to be completed in draft form by the end of the summer. Students should confer closely with their Committee about which chapter to write first. Students will, thus, enter their fourth year fully prepared (1) to apply for dissertation-year fellowships [both internal & external] and other research grants, (2) to submit a chapter for the Robert Manson Myers First Chapter Award, and (3) to participate in Project Publish. 

3.6  The Dissertation

By regulation of the Graduate School, a student has four years, after passing the Comprehensive Examination, to complete their dissertation. During this time, a student must maintain continuous registration with the Graduate School - even if not in residence here (a minimal fee is charged each term). A student who does not finish the dissertation within the allotted time may apply to the Dean of the Graduate School for an extension of eligibility. 

Writing a dissertation is of course the most demanding project a doctoral candidate undertakes, and possible dissertation topics should be somewhere on the student’s mind from the outset of the graduate career. Students produce a considerable amount of scholarly writing during course work; when appropriate, some that writing can, usually with extensive revision, be incorporated into the dissertation. Many past dissertations can be accessed through the library:

In general the English Department considers the dissertation to be a book-length thesis of original scholarship that will be evaluated according to the following criteria: freshness of contribution to existing scholarship and/or theory; quality of critical insight; both range and depth of scholarship; soundness and appropriateness of method; organization and style. A good dissertation should constitute a significant step toward the writing of a publishable book. (On the transition from dissertation to book, one good source is William Germano,  From Dissertation to Book , 2 nd  ed. [2013].) There are no rigid, quantitative guidelines, but the Department does operate on the basis of certain expectations and assumptions:

  1. Unique authorship. The dissertation must represent the independent work of the student. That is, while the original idea can be a suggestion of the Director(s), the work itself must be the student's own. The dissertation should demonstrate a breadth of familiarity with the scholarship in the field, a well-defined and sharply focused approach to a problem in that field, a high level of effectiveness in scholarly discussion, and clear potential for the candidate's independent research in the field post Graduate School.
  2. Sustained argument. The Department will not approve a proposal for a collection of essays on various literary topics. 
  3. In general, the standard length for the dissertation corresponds to the published scholarly or critical book in the field - usually 250-350 pages in typescript. 
  4. Although in the distant past proposals for scholarly editions have been accepted, doctoral candidates should know that in today’s entry-level job market, such projects are unlikely to attract favorable attention. This is unfortunate insofar as we all rely on good texts to do our work, but the production of a scholarly edition is best done as a second book. Anyone interested in editing should devote serious attention to scope and methodology, and to questions of publication rights for the materials assembled.
  5. The Department encourages students to publish in professional journals prior to the dissertation, and welcomes the inclusion of previously published work.
  6. The Department does not accept doctoral dissertations in creative writing (i.e., collections of poems, short stories, a novel, a play).

The Dissertation Committee, including one Faculty member from outside of the Department of English, should be kept informed of the progress of the dissertation at every stage and called upon for counsel whenever a need arises. The student should also be aware of schedule set by the Department and the Graduate School each term for submission of a final dissertation draft to the committee and a final copy to the Graduate School. Lectureship deadlines must also be kept in mind. Students should keep each member of the committee informed of the progress of the dissertation and are generally encouraged to submit portions of their work as it progresses, especially to the dissertation director for comments and corrections.

Students are required to attend a defense of their dissertation. This requirement will be waived by the Graduate Committee only if attendance would create significant hardship to the student. The Department strongly recommends that the final draft of the dissertation by in the hands of the "readers" at least one month prior to the anticipated date for defense. The Department of English is not obligated to schedule a dissertation defense with less then a two-month notice. The DGS will schedule an oral defense of the dissertation once the Reading Committee has approved it.

3.7  Awards, Fellowships and Grants

Dissertation Enhancement Grants:  Each Fall and Spring, the Graduate School offers Dissertation Enhancement Grants, which are special awards designed to assist dissertation research. These awards are used most often to meet travel expenses for research projects. Any student whose Dissertation Proposal has been accepted by the Graduate Committee may compete for one of these awards. Further information may be obtained from the DGS or from the Graduate School.

Travel Grants:  Offered by the Graduate School to support students presenting research at professional conferences. Each graduate student is eligible to receive one grant per year (for domestic travel only). If a student receives an award for international travel he/she must forego applying for a Travel Grant for the following year. To apply for a grant, the student should submit a completed application form to the DGS for approval at last three weeks prior to the conference - absolutely no exceptions! These forms may be obtained from the DGS's assistant, Donna Caplan

NOTE:  If a special opportunity arises and a student has already drawn the Graduate School Travel Grant, for which he/she is eligible that year, a special Department of English Travel Grant may be available. See the DGS for more information.

The following awards are bestowed each year (most often in the Spring) by the Department of English for outstanding graduate student work:

  • The Edgar Hill Duncan Award - awarded to the graduate student who has demonstrated the highest standards of achievement and promise for the future. The DGS solicits nominations of fifth-year graduate students from the Faculty and the Graduate Committee evaluates the nominees. The evaluation process takes into account nominating letters from the students' Dissertation Committee, course work, performance on the Comprehensive Examination, teaching, as well as conference participation, publication(s), and service.
  • The Thomas Daniel Young Award - awarded for excellence in classroom teaching by a graduate student. Nomination is made by the Graduate Committee and recommendations from the Faculty.
  • The John M. Aden Award - awarded for writing by a graduate student. Students are nominated by members of the Faculty and they submit their nominated papers to the Graduate Committee. After the authors' names are removed, the Committee reads the papers and delivers its recommendation to the Faculty.
  • The Robert Manson Myers First Chapter Award - funded by Vanderbilt Alumni and author Robert Manson Myers and awarded to a maximum of two graduate students on the basis of first chapters of their dissertations. First-year dissertation writers will submit a chapter to the graduate committee in early December (specific deadlines announced annually). The chapter can be any chapter from the dissertation; it need not be the first chapter in either sequence or chronology. The  Robert Manson Myers Dissertation Award  will be given to the fifth-year graduate student producing what the Graduate Committee deems the year’s most distinguished dissertation.  All those meeting the graduate school deadline for August graduation in their fifth year will be eligible for the award.
  • The Rose Alley Press Awards - funded by the Vanderbilt Department of English alumni, David Horowitz, to recognize significant accomplishment in any area. Recognition is determined in consultation with graduate Faculty at a year-end meeting.
  • The Martha Rivers Ingram Fellowship - a one-year fellowship, awarded to a fifth-year graduate student candidate of exceptional promise. It will provide a full years' release from teaching in the fifth year and a small research and travel stipend. No application is necessary. All fourth year graduate students in good standing are eligible. 
  • Dissertation Year Fellowships - awarded at the discretion of the DGS and the Department Chair to fifth-year graduate school students who are making outstanding progress. It provides relief from teaching for one or two semesters.

NOTE:  The Graduate Committee and/or the Department of English may decide, in any or all of these competitions, to split awards / award no award for the year.

The Robert Penn Warren Center has a fellowship competition every early Spring. Fourth-year students on-track to a fifth-year Spring defense are eligible to apply in January of their fourth year. These awards are designed to support innovation and excellence in graduate student research. These residential awards offer graduate students in the humanities and the social sciences in the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University a service-free year of support to enable full-time work on the dissertation.   

The College of Arts and Science confers the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for which the Department is permitted to nominate two Teaching Assis­tants. Nominations come to the Graduate Committee from several sources, including the graduate students themselves. The Department’s nominees compete with Teaching Assistants from all of the graduate depart­ments in the College.  There is a cash award, and acknowledgment at a meeting of the Faculty of the College of Arts and Science.  

Early each spring semester doctoral students in good standing making satisfactory progress toward the degree may apply for College of Arts and Sciences Summer Research Award. The successful applicant will have spent no longer than four years in the degree program as of the spring semester preceding the award.  Students apply through the Graduate School.

3.8  Grades and Progress Toward the Degree

Grades: Students are expected to earn a grade of B or better in all courses . Grades lower than a C are not computed toward fulfillment of the 24-hour requirement by the Graduate School. Students who receive a C in any course taken for Graduate School credit will be expected to discuss the grade and their future in the Program with the DGS.

Any student earning two Cs and/or 4 B's (or worse) in graduate work in Department of English courses at Vanderbilt will be advised to consider resignation from the program. The B- mark represents an instructor’s serious reservations about the student’s capacity for/dedication to graduate work, and the concurrence of a second or third instructor in the assessment should be interpreted as authoritative discouragement.

With the consent of the Graduate Committee, the DGS will invite any student with two Cs and/or 4 Bs to consider withdrawal and the Graduate Committee will take due notice of records only marginally better than that in its distribution of financial aid.

Students enrolling in English 8999 and English 9999 will be assigned S/U grades. According to Graduate College policy:

One U grade requires consultation between the student and the research adviser; a second U grade triggers a locally defined program-level intervention process involving (at least) the student, the research adviser, the student’s thesis or dissertation committee and the DGS; and a third U grade leads to de-matriculation. These steps are triggered by the accumulation of U grades, not simply U grades in succession. Each U represents approximately one-half of one academic year of unsatisfactory progress. No credit hours are awarded for an enrollment that earns a grade of U.


Progress Toward the Degree:  

The following schedule should be followed unless the student applies for and receives a specified leave-of-absence. Graduate seminars in English each earn four hours of credit.

First Year:

  • Fall Semester:  12 hours of course work (3 courses)
  • Spring Semester:  12 hours of course work (3 courses)
  • M.A. Thesis 

Second Year:

  • Fall Semester:  12 hours of course work (3 courses) - T.A. 
  • Spring Semester:  8 hours of course work (2 courses) - T.A. (during this semester, the student must also register for 0 hours English 8999 - Non-Candidate Research, a bookkeeping measure to maintain full-time status.)

Note: Students must inform the DGS if they plan to opt for 2 courses in the Fall and 3 courses in the Spring.

Third Year:

  • Fall Semester:  8 hours of course work (2 courses) - T.A. (during this semester, the student must also register for 0 hours English 9999 in order to maintain full-time status.); Ph.D. Course Work Complete - 52 hours
  • Spring Semester:  9 hours "non-candidate" research - English 8999 - T.A.;  Written Comprehensive Examination;  Dissertation Proposal and Oral Examination.

Fourth Year:

  • Fall Semester:  6 hours dissertation research; English 9999 - T.A. 
  • Spring Semester:  5 hours dissertation research; English 9999 - T.A. 
  • Total credit hours: 72

Fifth Year:

  • Fall Semester:  0 hours dissertation research; English 9999 - T.A. (write dissertation)
  • Spring Semester:  0 hours dissertation research; English 9999 - T.A. (write dissertation)

NOTE: After completing Ph.D. course work, a student may request additional teaching sections if they are available. The dissertation must be completed in the eighth semester, that is, four years after the student has passed the Comprehensive Examination. The Department, of course, urges earlier completion if possible -  ideally in the fifth year.

At the conclusion of academic year, the Graduate Committee, with the advice of faculty teaching graduate seminars in that semester, evaluates the progress of each graduate student. These evaluations may result in a variety of recommendations (e.g., continued progress toward the degree, academic probation, discontinuation of financial aid, dismissal from the Program).

IV.  Part-Time Status

Part-time status is rarely allowed in the Department of English. It is primarily reserved for students whose financial obligations cannot be met by a Department, College, or University award. Students intending to attend graduate school on a part-time-basis must inform the DGS upon application to the Program. Part-time students must complete all requirements for the degree within six years of beginning the program. 

V.  Leaves of Absence

The Graduate Committee will occasionally approve a leave of absence from the Program for medical or personal reasons. Students seeking a leave must do so in writing to the Graduate Committee - explaining the reason(s) for the request. The Graduate Committee will either approve or disapprove of the request, forwarding it to the Graduate School. Only the Graduate School is empowered to grant leaves of absence. 

The Graduate Committee, in endorsing a request for leave, will require that the student notify the Department and the Graduate School well of advance of their plans to re-enter, extend the leave, or withdraw from the Program. In practical terms, this means that for leaves of one Fall-to-Fall academic year, the Committee must be notified by December 1 of plans for the following Fall. For a Spring semester leave, by April 1. The early dates for notification are primarily for budgetary reasons. 

VI.  The Graduate Committee

The Graduate Committee is typically composed of five members of the Department of English Faculty, appointed each year (or continued) by the Department Chair. One member of the Graduate Committee serves as the Director of Graduate Studies. 

The Graduate Committee considers and presents to the full Faculty proposals for new graduate courses; they consider requests for leaves of absence; they consider petitions for variances from stated regulations; they serve as the admissions committee for applicants to the Graduate Program; they judge and recommend nominees for the various awards and fellowships listed above; they discuss formulate, and present to the full Faculty recommendations for changes to the Graduate Program; they consider appeals from individual graduate students on matters pertaining to Comprehensive Examinations; they consider and comment on dissertation proposals; and they conduct all business that concerns the nature and function of the Graduate Program in the Department of English. 

VII.  The Director of Graduate Studies (the DGS)

In general, the duties of the DGS a to serve as a liaison between the Department of English and the Graduate School as well as between the individual graduate student/groups of students and the Graduate School (as needed). The DGS also monitors each graduate student's progress toward the degree; schedules and administers the Comprehensive Examinations; mediates conflicts between graduate students and Faculty, when such a role is needed by either side; and acts as an arbitrator of graduate course offerings.

VIII.  Finding a Job

Each year, beginning in mid-September, the Modern Language Association publishes a "Job Information List" (JIL) on the MLA website, which is available as en electronic database or as a printable .pdf file. The JIL is free to all MLA members, although the Department also subscribes and therefore graduate students may access the list using the Departmental subscription. 

The JIL is the recognized professional source for announcements for full-time Faculty positions available in the fields of English and foreign languages in North American colleges and universities. The database allows job-seekers to search by field, language, geographic region, key words / phrases in a job description (e.g., "women's studies", "romanticism", "drama"), and by rank.

The Department of English Placement Officer will help guide students through the application process, from the drafting of application letters to conducting practice interviews and practice job talks. Dossiers are typically handled electronically these days, but it should include a curriculum vitae  and at least four letters of recommendation. Other documents, such as award citations, might also be included. Periodically, students should update their dossier. Members of the faculty, especially committee members, are happy to work with students on the format and content of the  c.v.   Graduate students are urged to participate in the various workshops and practice sessions run by the Placement Officer. Students should also discuss the job search with as many members of the faculty as possible.

Most English departments now require a completed and approved dissertation from each job applicant, and publications have become increasingly important for successful applications. It is, there­fore, advisable to consider each seminar paper as an opportunity to contribute to an ongoing conversation in hopes, ideally, of publishing a revised version before going on the job market.  Students should also apply for post-doctoral fellowships simultaneously with the job search.  The MLA has a non-academic job-finding service for English Ph.D.s.  Although this service is still limited, students may wish to investigate it if interested in non-academic options.

IX.  Computing Resources

Every graduate student has a password-protected connection to the Vanderbilt University central computer network, which offers access to e-mail, the Internet and the World Wide Web.  For further information, the student is advised to contact the Information Technology Services (ITS) office.  Additional computing support can be obtained from the Microcomputer Lab in Garland Hall.

X.  Departmentally-Sponsored Graduate Resources

The annual Rheney Lecture is a series of events organized by graduate students. The intention of the endowed lecture is to enable students to invite a prominent, early-career scholar who not only can talk about his or her research but also advise graduate students about career development. Each year, EGSA nominates a slate of two to three potential Rheney lecturers, and after consulting with the Chair and DGS as well as other faculty, proffers an invitation. The Rheney Speakers typically visit for two days, give a public lecture on their current research, and conduct one to two additional smaller sessions with graduate students on a range of subjects concerning professionalization and career, in addition to attending various social occasions with the students.

XI.  Mail and Professionalism 

All graduate students should check and respond to their departmental e-mail daily and their mailboxes (on the fourth floor of Benson Science Hall) at least twice a week.

The Departmental address is:   VU Station B #351654, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37235-1654

Revised January 2015