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English Department

Program Guidelines

The following document gives an overview of the Graduate Program in English.  General Procedures and Program Guidelines are described for graduate students, faculty, and prospective students.

The Vanderbilt University Department of English offers the Master of Arts , the Doctor of Philosophy , and the Master of Fine Arts degrees.  This document describes the requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, and outlines the responsibilities and functions of English Department faculty and graduate students enrolled in the Program. (For information about the MFA, see

When changes are made in the Graduate Program, usually by vote of the faculty, all faculty members and graduate students will be informed in writing by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).  Revisions to the Program are channeled to the full faculty through the Graduate Committee, which is typically composed of the DGS, four members of the Department appointed by the Chair, and one Graduate Student Representative elected by 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 the first semester, the DGS will help each new student select 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 a student’s career progresses and decisions are made about areas of concentration and approach, he 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.


The Vanderbilt Graduate School and the Department of English offer a number of stipends and scholarships.  Such awards are limited and competitive. Most students admitted for graduate study 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 vary; see the DGS for details.  Financial awards are paid out on a twelve-month schedule.

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

1.  The University Fellowship is given to the first-year 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. also are awarded a UF 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; see #2 below.)

2.  The Teaching Assistantship begins in the second year. TAs usually teach one section of a variety of 100-level English courses each semester for a maximum of four years.

 3.  The Harold Stirling 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.  HSV awards are competitive among applicants to all graduate programs in the University.

4.  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.  UGF awards are competitive among applicants to all graduate programs in the University.

5.  The Provost’s Graduate Fellowship is a five-year scholarship for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.         

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


Vanderbilt 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 the 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 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 illness 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 the permission of the DGS, students may take up to two courses in departments other than English.

The student, under the direction of a thesis supervisor, will take an existing paper from a first-year course and rewrite 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 office by June 1. 

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 student is unable to teach.) After completion of at least 6 additional hours in the third semester, students will be awarded the M.A. At the end of the second year, the Graduate Committee will review the work of second year students (the thesis, course work, 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 the full-time student in five years; financial support is limited to this time period.  The Department therefore encourages students to begin thinking about the dissertation as soon as possible.

3.1  Course Work

The doctoral student must take a total of 56 hours of course work: after taking 24 hours in their first year, full-time Ph.D. students take 20 hours of course work during the second year of study and 8 hours during the fall semester of the third year.  Graduate seminars offer in-depth study of a genre, author, historical period, or special topic.  200-level undergraduate courses approach material in a more introductory way; graduate students enrolled in 200-level courses, in consultation with the instruc­tor and the DGS, will be expected to do additional work beyond the under­graduate require­ments for the course.  Not all 200-level courses are open for graduate credit.  For each advising cycle the DGS will know which 200-level courses are appropriate for graduate students. ­Also, the DGS must give prior approval before a student may take an English 350 (Independent Study) course (by signing the Graduate School’s “Request for Independent Study” form). 

Students are encouraged to take up to two courses outside 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 her/his 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. 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 Incompletes 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 should do so at least a year before hoping to find them formally incorporated into the curriculum.  The Department cannot promise to adopt all suggestions, but it will strive to respond positively to them insofar as its resources and commitments 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. 

  3.3  The Foreign Language Requirement

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

1.  There shall be a two‑hour time period.  Each student is permitted to have a dictionary with her/him during the translation.  Usually, only one source shall be used for translation.

2.  No limit on retakes; students can take the exam for the first time whenever they feel ready, preferably in first year.

3.  When possible, members of the English Department will fashion and conduct the tests; when the language required is beyond our expertise, the DGS will contact a colleague in another department. 

4.  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). 

5.  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.

6.  The foreign language translation test requirement must be fulfilled before the student takes the Comprehensive Exam. 

7.  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

“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 exam committee members starting 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 exam committee. Students should work closely with committee members throughout the exam preparation process.

Before the Comprehensive Examination begins, each student must add one additional faculty reader from outside the English Department to the committee.  This fourth committee member (the “outside reader”) reads the Written Examinations, but does not grade them. She or he 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 if needed.

Students must register outside readers with the department before the Written Exam takes place. If the reader is a faculty member at a university other than Vanderbilt, the Graduate School requires the following documents: a copy of the reader’s curriculum vitae, and a brief (one-page) essay from the student, which describes how the reader’s scholarship will contribute to the student’s dissertation-writing process.

Students will set their exam committees early in the spring semester of Year Two of graduate study, and must register their committees with the department by 31 March 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 her or his committee members, will define the fields for the exam.  These fields may be organized historically, generically, theoretically, or in other ways that reflect a coherent argument. 

At least one of the fields must cover an historical period.

The department does not impose numerical requirements on reading lists; the length of each list will be determined through consultation between the student and her or his exam committee members. Major lists tend to fall between 75 and 100 texts; minor lists tend to fall between 50 and 75. However, there has always been considerable variation, depending on the field and the student. Each student should have an early discussion with her or his exam committee members—in the spring of Year Two, before submission of preliminary lists—that sets target numbers. 

A note concerning the third, “minor” list:  the minor list generally supplements the two major lists, and this can work in a number of ways. The list sometimes provides context by taking the study of a particular issue, movement, or genre back or forward historically; it sometimes concentrates on a subgenre, 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 her or his committee members about the most effective way to use this third list. 

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

Preliminary fields and lists must be approved by committee members and submitted to the department by 31 May of Year Two of graduate study.

Preparation for the Examination

The summer after Year Two will be dedicated to reading from the examination lists. 

During the fall of Year Three, 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 her or his committee members. Meetings should begin no later than September of Year Three.

Students will read most or all of the material on their preliminary lists during the summer after Year Two. In the fall of Year Three, they 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 the processes 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 Year Three will thus be dedicated to organizing lists into levels of priority, re-reading as particular emphases and connections develop, and learning the relationship 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 office by 15 December of Year Three of graduate study.

In Year Three, 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; 2) to develop a subset of each list, representing both teaching and research priorities, on which the Written Examination will focus. 

The exam 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 Year Three; 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 Year Three. 

The Written Examination

The Written Examination, focused on the first tier of each list, must be completed in March of Year Three of graduate study.

The examination will begin at 4:00 p.m. 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.


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 s/he will submit a Preliminary Dissertation Abstract to the committee no later than September 15th; sit for the oral examination no later than October 1, and submit the Final Dissertation Proposal no later than November 15th.

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 Year Three of graduate study. (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, Year Three

The Oral Examination may engage the Written Examination, but will give priority to the dissertation project, as represented both in the Preliminary Dissertation Abstract and in the student’s development of research priorities during preparation for and 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 English Department readers, and a reader from outside 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 advisor/advisors 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 15 June of Year 3 of graduate study.

The Final Dissertation Proposal will 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 committee members are away from Vanderbilt, consultation and revision may take place via email.

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. Those signatures indicate the advisors’ approval of the proposal as presented.

After submitting the Final Dissertation Proposal, each student will begin a dissertation chapter, to be completed in draft by the end of the summer. Students should confer closely with their committee about which chapter to write first. Students will thus enter Year Four fully prepared 1) to apply for dissertation-year fellowships (both internal and external) and other research grants; 2) to submit a chapter for the Robert Manson Myers First Chapter Award; 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 the 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, 2nd 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 the suggestion of the director(s), the work itself must be the student’s own. The dissertation should demonstrate 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 after 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 the English Department, should be kept informed of dissertation progress at every stage, and called upon for counsel whenever a need arises. The student should also be aware of schedules 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 the work as it progresses, especially to the dissertation director, for comment and correction.

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 on the student. The Department strongly recommends that the final draft of the dissertation be in the hands of the readers at least one month before the anticipated date for the defense. The English Department is not obliged to schedule a dissertation defense with less than 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, 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 are 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).  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 least three weeks prior to the conference (absolutely no exceptions).  These forms can be obtained from the DGS assistant.

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

The following awards are bestowed each year (most in the spring) by the English Department for outstanding graduate student work. 

The Edgar Hill Duncan Award is given to the graduate student whose entire career has shown the highest standards of achievement and promise for the future. The DGS solicits nominations of fifth-year 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 Exam, and teaching, as well as conference participation, publication, and service.

The Thomas Daniel Young Award is given for excellence in classroom teaching by a graduate student.  Nomination is made by the Graduate Committee and recommendation of the full faculty. 

The John M. Aden Award is given for excellence in graduate student writing.  Students are nominated by members of the faculty, and submit nominated papers to the Graduate Committee.  After the authors’ names are removed, the Committee reads the nominated papers and delivers its recommen­dation to the full faculty.

The Robert Manson Myers First Chapter Award is funded by Vanderbilt alumni and author Robert Manson Myers, and awarded to up to two students on the basis of the 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.

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

The Rose Alley Press Awards, funded by Vanderbilt English Department alumni David Horowitz, to recognize significant accomplishment in any area. Recognitions determined in consultation with graduate faculty at year-end meeting.

The Martha Rivers Ingram Fellowship is a one year fellowship awarded to a fifth-year candidate of exceptional promise. It will provide a full year’s release from teaching in year five and a small research/travel stipend. No application necessary; all fourth year students in good standing are eligible.

Dissertation Year Fellowships may be awarded at the discretion of DGS and Department chair to fifth year students who are making outstanding progress to provide relief from teaching for one or two semesters.

The Robert Penn Warren Center has a fellowship competition early every 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 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 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 Bs (or worse) in graduate work in English Department 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 or 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 379 and 399 will be assigned S/U grades. According to Graduate College policy, “One U grade requires consultation between the student and the research advisor; a second U grade triggers a locally defined program-level intervention process involving (at least) the student, the research advisor, 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.”

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.

12 hours course work (3 courses)
Spring12 hours course work (3 courses)
M.A. Thesis 

12 hours course work (3 courses)  -- TA
Spring:   8 hours course work (2 courses) --TA
During the 2 course semester, register also for 0 hours “non-candidate” research, English 379 (a bookkeeping measure to maintain full-time status)
Note:  Students may opt for Fall: 2 courses; Spring: 3 courses and must inform DGS of choice.

8 hours course work (2 courses) --TA
0 hours “non-candidate” research, English 379 (to maintain full-time status)
Ph.D. Course Work Complete (52 Hours)
Spring9 hours “non-candidate” research, English 379 -- TA
Written Comprehensive Exam
Dissertation Proposal and Oral Exam

6 hours dissertation research, English 399  --  TA
Spring5 hours dissertation research, English 399 -- TA
Total Credit Hours:  72

0 hours dissertation research, English 399 --  TA  (Write Dissertation)
Spring0 hours dissertation research, English 399 -- TA  (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.


Part-time status is rarely allowed in the English Department.  It is primarily reserved for those students whose financial obligations cannot be met by a Department, College, or University award.  Students intending to attend 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.


The Graduate Committee occasionally approves leaves 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 approve or disapprove 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 in advance of plans to re-enter or extend the leave, or to 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 January 15 of plans for the following fall.  For a Fall semester leave, the Committee needs to know by 1 December; for a Spring semester leave, by 1 April.  The early dates for notification are primarily for budgetary reasons.


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

The Graduate Committee considers and presents to the full faculty proposals for new graduate courses; considers requests for leaves of absence; considers petitions for variances from stated regulations; serves as the admissions committee for applicants to the Graduate Program; judges and recommends nominees for the various awards listed above; discusses, formulates, and presents to the full faculty recommendations for changes in the Graduate Program; considers appeals from individual graduate students in matters relating to Comprehensive Examinations; considers and comments on dissertation proposals; conducts all business that concerns the nature and function of the Graduate Program in the English Department.


In general, the duties of the DGS are liaison between the English Department and the Graduate School, and between individual graduate students or groups of graduate students and the Graduate School (if such a service is needed); the monitoring of each graduate student’s “progress toward the degree”; scheduling and administration of Comprehensive Examinat­ions; mediator in conflicts between graduate students and faculty, when such a role is requested by either side; acting as clearinghouse and, if needed, ar­bitrator for graduate course offerings.


Each year, beginning in mid-September, the Modern Language Association publishes a Job Information List (JIL) on the MLA website. Available as an electronic database or as printable PDF files, the JIL is free to all MLA members; the department also subscribes, and graduate students can access the list using the departmental subscription. The JIL is the recognized professional source for announcements of 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 or language, by geographic region, by key words or phrases in a job description (e.g., “women’s studies,” “Romanticism,” or “drama”), and by rank.

The English Department 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 typically are handled electronically these days. The dossier 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.


Every graduate student has a password-protected connection to the Vanderbilt central computer network, which offers access to e-mail, the Internet and the World Wide Web, among other facilities.  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.


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.


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

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

 Revised January 2015