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Ph.D guidelines in French

The information contained on this page includes the following:
I.        Financial Aid
II.       Courses offered in the French Department and M.A. Exam
III.      Doctor of Philosophy Degree in French
IV.     Additional Policies and Standards
V.      Teaching Requirements
VI.     Awards, Fellowships, and Grants


  • The Teaching Assistantship is a five-year financial package offered to all students entering the PhD program in French. Students do not teach during the first year of study but generally begin teaching during their second year of study. All students are required to teach at least three years (six semesters) during their five-year course of study (see details regarding teaching in section VI below). Students may choose to take a service-free year during the fifth year to complete their dissertation. Any student who wants to leave campus to do research must seek approval from the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • 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 underrepresented backgrounds. Provost’s Graduate Fellowship awards are competitive among applicants to all graduate programs at the university.


The Department of French & Italian does not offer a terminal M.A. degree and does not admit students wishing only to complete a terminal M.A. degree. Students typically earn an M.A. en route to the PhD.

Students are generally required to take all the courses offered in the French department. FR 6030 (Foreign Language Teaching and Methods) is a required course, usually taken in the first semester.  Students are expected to take seminars across the following subject areas: Medieval to Early Modern, 18th-19th centuries, 20th-21st centuries, Francophone studies, and Literary Theory.

Graduate students beginning the program with or without an MA take 14 seminars in FRIT (42 hours of course work)

Elective Courses are taken outside of the department. All elective courses must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Master Examination

M.A. Milestones (Summary for BA students and for non French Studies MA students)

Year One, first semester: Diagnostic Language Exam
Year Two, second semester: M.A. exam (no later than one week before classes begin)
Year Two, second semester:  M.A. awarded, graduate faculty review (if necessary), admission to Ph.D. program (if appropriate)

Students are expected to achieve advanced high level of proficiency according to the ACTFL scale in French by the end of the third year in the program.

The M.A. examination is based on an approved reading list. It must be taken in no later than one week before classes start in the student’s fourth semester of study. The format will be an overnight, take-home, open-book examination to test the student’s ability to read and interpret specific textual passages and to teach literature through thinking about works in a global fashion. The exam will be written and administered by the Director of Graduate Studies. The Director of Graduate Studies will constitute the MA committee from among the members of the Graduate Faculty.

The examination will be evaluated by the MA committee according to two separate criteria: (1) quality of argument, depth and appropriate use of background knowledge, and analytic skills; and (2) linguistic competence and eloquence.

The MA committee can recommend one of the following three outcomes: High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail. In the event of a failing, the graduate faculty of the Department must review and approve the evaluation by the MA committee before notifying the student of the outcome of the examination. The student will be given the option to retake the failed exam.

Graduate Faculty Review

In the event of a Low Pass, by February 1 of the student’s fourth semester in the program, graduate faculty will make a comprehensive review of the individual’s academic work, based on the following evidence: course work, examination results, as well as an evaluation from the language program director in regard to teaching performance (where applicable). Students who show clear evidence of progress will receive the M.A. and be invited to continue toward the Ph.D.  If the student completes the M.A. requirements and passes the M.A. exam but is not admitted to the Ph.D. program, they will earn a terminal M.A. degree at the end of their fourth semester.

M.A. Reading List


Requirements for the PhD degree include a total of 42 credit hours of course work, taken in the Department of French and Italian and in other departments with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

In addition to French and English, doctoral candidates must demonstrate a reading knowledge of an additional language to be determined in consultation with the student’s dissertation adviser. Other regulations governing graduate work are available from the director of graduate studies.

Students are expected to begin to register for research credit no later than their fifth semester of study. Up to 20 credit hours may be taken as research credit.

The Jean and Alexander Heard Library’s rich collection of French materials makes research possible in all periods of French literature. The library’s special collections department also houses the W.T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies, the Pascal Pia collection (nineteenth and twentieth-century literary criticism), the Gilbert Sigaux collection (twentieth-century French literature), and the Wachs collection (eighteenth-century fiction and almanacs).

Degree Requirements

  • Total of 42 formal coursework credit hours (14 courses for two years at FRIT: 4/4 first year AND 3/3 second year)
  • Total of 72 credit hours for the PhD degree: post-course work hours (8999) and ABD research hours (9999) of which at least 42 must be from formal coursework

Ph.D. Milestones (Summary)

Year Two, semester two: Student admitted to PhD program. Selection of the dissertation director.  In consultation with the dissertation director, PhD exam committee established. Areas of specialization and reading list approved by dissertation director and submitted to the PhD. exam committee (no later than finals week).

Year Three, preceding summer: PhD Exam (qualifying exam) preparation

Year Three, semester one: PhD Exam, language reading exam or coursework completed. At her/his discretion, the dissertation director may alter the exam schedule. However, exams and proposals must be completed no later than the end of the third year (end of April).

Year Three, semester two: Presentation of dissertation proposal eight weeks after passing the PhD exam. Exam and proposal must all be completed no later than the end of the third academic year. ABD status

Year Four: Dissertation

Year Five: Dissertation and job search

Reading Knowledge of an Additional Language

In addition to French and English, candidates must demonstrate a reading knowledge of an additional language, to be determined in consultation with the student’s dissertation advisor. Students may demonstrate this knowledge either by receiving a B+ or higher in a 200-level literature course in the language or by a test to show ability to do research in the foreign language.

The language test will consist of a passage in the target language consisting of two or three paragraphs taken from an academic article, which may or may not be directly related to the student’s area of specialization. The student will translate the passage into English, writing by hand with the use of a bilingual dictionary. The exam will take place in the department, with no computer, and last two hours.

The translation should demonstrate that the student has sufficient understanding of the target language for research purposes. This means that the translation should represent both the content and, to a certain degree, the style of the passage that is being translated.

Students must complete the language requirement by the fifth semester of study.

Choice of Specialization, PhD Exam Committee and Reading List

After completing the M.A. exam in the fourth semester of study, the student is expected to identify an area of specialization (including, but not limited to, the subject of the dissertation) and in consultation with the dissertation director an appropriate exam committee is chosen. This committee should consist of four faculty members of which three must be from the department.

During the fourth semester, the student prepares an extensive reading list on this area of specialization, in consultation with the dissertation director and the qualifying exam committee. The list must be sufficient to cover a major time period and must emphasize two components:

  •       Historical, cultural, and theoretical backgrounds pertinent to the student’s projected dissertation.
  •       Primary and secondary texts pertinent to the individual’s area of specialization.

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 dissertation director and exam committee members. These lists tend to fall between 50 and 75 texts. 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 dissertation director and exam committee members—in the fourth semester before submission of preliminary lists—that sets target numbers.

PhD Qualifying Examinations and Dissertation Proposal

The PhD exam will be taken no later than the last week of February of the third year (or the 6th semester), upon completion of course work.  Students entering the program with an MA from another institution may choose to take the exam earlier.   The PhD exam and dissertation proposal should be successfully completed before the student embarks on a year abroad.

Based on the reading list that the student submits to the director and committee at least three weeks prior to the exam, the dissertation director, with direct input from the students and in consultation with the committee, will prepare a series of questions designed to test the student’s knowledge of the area of expertise, the major debates and the theoretical issues at stake in the field (not directly related to the dissertation topic itself).  The student will have 48 hours to address two questions in English in a take-home essay with a length of 15-20 pages.  The committee will evaluate the exam and render a pass-fail decision.  If the exam committee determines that the exam (or a portion of the exam) is unsatisfactory, it can ask the student to retake the exam (or a portion of it) within one month of the first try.  If the committee still does not find the exam satisfactory the student will not be advanced to PhD status but can be granted an MA degree.  Once the student has successfully passed the written examination, the date of the presentation of the dissertation proposal can be set.

After the successful completion the PhD exam, and no later than the first week of April of the third year, the student should submit the dissertation proposal to the director, who, upon approval, will distribute it to the PhD committee. The dissertation proposal should state with precision the primary argument of the dissertation and situate the argument in terms of existing scholarship.  It should also include a preliminary outline of chapters. The proposal should be approximately 15-20 pages in length, plus a preliminary but substantive bibliography, and should be written in the language of the proposed dissertation (English or French).

At least two weeks after the dissertation proposal is sent to the PhD committee, a 1.5-hour session will be reserved for the student to present the dissertation proposal to the committee.  The committee and dissertation director participate in a discussion with the student, asking clarifying questions and offering suggestions.  At the end of the session, the exam committee deliberates and determines if the candidate’s proposal is acceptable. Then the dissertation director communicates the result of the discussion to the student.  If the committee finds aspects of the proposal or the presentation unsatisfactory, the student can be asked to prepare another presentation to address these areas.  The dissertation must be approved by the committee before the student can advance to ABD status.

Dissertation Committee and Defense

If the student passes the dissertation proposal, the official dissertation committee is appointed after consultation with the dissertation director. If the student does not pass the proposal, they will have up to two months to rework the proposal and to sit for a second oral exam. If the student does not pass the second exam, she or he may be dismissed from the program.

This official dissertation committee (which is not necessarily the same as the PhD exam committee) will consist of four faculty members: the dissertation director from within the department, two other department graduate faculty, and an outside reader. While the director is responsible for guiding the student through the dissertation process, it is understood that all members of the committee will be consulted on a regular basis and will have an opportunity to provide substantive feedback on the student’s work.

Committee members must receive the final version of the thesis at least 6 weeks before the intended defense date. No official defense date will be set until all committee members have had at least 2 weeks to review the final version of thesis and concur that the student is ready to defend.

All degree requirements must have been met (credit hours, course distribution, language exam) before the Graduate School will allow a defense date to be scheduled.


  1. All funding is contingent on the student’s timely progress toward the M.A. and the PhD as well as effective teaching in the classroom (if applicable). Failure to do one or both may result in dismissal from the program.
  2. Students are expected to complete the dissertation by the end of the tenth semester. If the dissertation is not completed within three years of taking the PhD exam, students will be required to reapply to the program and retake the PhD exam. In the event of difficulty or lack of progress towards the degree (behind schedule, for instance), graduate students will be formally reviewed once a year, by February 1, by the graduate faculty.
  • The Director of Graduate Studies will prepare a summary of the student’s progress, which will include: the student’s coursework, exams, teaching evaluations, progress to degree, and relevant discussions with the Director of Graduate Studies. Department graduate faculty will review these reports and offer substantive directions to the student, which will be communicated to the student by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • If the graduate faculty has substantial concerns, the student will be placed on probation with written notification of their status sent to the Graduate School and the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. If these concerns are not addressed to the satisfaction of the department by the next review period (or earlier as indicated), the student on probation may be removed from the program.
  1. Continuation of funding is contingent first and foremost on performance in coursework, exams, and the student’s timely progress toward degree. Students are required to maintain a B average or better over the course of their studies. However, if a student receives two or more B- ‘s in any given semester, she or he will be placed on immediate probation. Failure to earn all B’s or better in the following semester will result in the student’s removal from the program.  Students enrolled in research credits (French 9999) who receive a grade of “unsatisfactory” will be placed on immediate probation. Any additional “unsatisfactory” will result in the student’s dismissal from the program.
  2. By action of the graduate faculty, professors 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.
  3. We also expect satisfactory performance in all assigned teaching duties. Each student will be formally evaluated by the Teaching Supervisor or the French Language Program Director at least once a semester. In cases of teaching deficiencies, the student will work closely with the Teaching Supervisor to remedy any problems. A student may be placed on probation if the teaching deficiencies are considered substantial. The student will have one semester to remedy the problem(s). If the problems are not remedied after one semester, the student on probation will be dismissed from the program.
  1. Graduate students might consider doing Maymesters in their second and/or third years. However, the number of three Maymesters is the limit any one student could do since students’ priority should be writing and research. We are unlikely to approve any activities in the student’s fourth and fifth year.


Standard teaching duties

  •       Beginning in their second year, graduate students in French typically teach one course per semester of elementary or intermediate French language / culture for three of their five years of study. They are considered “instructors of record” with full classroom responsibility.  Graduate students are typically granted a service-free year during their fifth years of study.

Residence Requirement

  •       Graduate students are required to be in residence at Vanderbilt during their first service-free year of study.
  •         Graduate students are required to be in residence for a minimum of 4 years.

Oversight and mentoring of graduate teaching assistants

  • All graduate students in French participate in a departmental 3-day pre-teaching orientation workshop each fall; this orientation is closely coordinated with the TA orientation hosted by the Center for Teaching.
  • All graduate students in French are required to take Second Language Studies (SLS) 6030, Learning and Teaching Second/Foreign Languages. Offered every fall, this course is taught by a faculty member with expertise in second language acquisition and pedagogy. This course includes a theoretical overview of the field as well as an in-depth initiation into current teaching practice. Students typically take this course during the fall semester of their first year of study; students who have a service-free first year may opt to take it when they begin teaching in their second year of study.
  • Graduate teaching assistants work closely with the French Language Program Director (LPD).  The LPD prepares all course materials – syllabi, tests, assessment rubrics, etc. – and meets with the graduate teaching assistants weekly to discuss issues related to teaching approaches and classroom management.
  • The LPD observes the teaching assistants at least twice during each semester of their first year and offers detailed feedback. These observations are designed to mentor novice teachers and to ensure that the undergraduate students are getting the best possible learning experience.
  • Further observations are scheduled when a graduate teaching assistant needs additional mentoring. Once the graduate teaching assistants feel comfortable with their teaching performance, other faculty members in French are encouraged to observe them.
  • Each year, the LPD names an advanced PhD student with an excellent teaching record to serve as Assistant Course Coordinator. The ACC helps with the fall orientation, general oversight, and observations. The ACC typically works 2-3 hours per week and receives a modest stipend.
  • All graduate teaching assistants are strongly encouraged to observe each other regularly and share best practices.

Opportunities for additional teaching experience

  • The graduate program in French includes an apprenticeship opportunity for students interested in teaching an upper-level literature / culture class in their third year. Students work closely with a graduate faculty member and teach several units of the course.
  • All graduate students are encouraged to participate in the various professional development opportunities offered by the Center for Teaching and by the Center for Second Language Studies (CSLS).
  • All graduate students are encouraged to enroll in the Graduate Certificate in Second Language Studies. The courses and co-curricular programming offered through this certificate engage graduate students in critical reflection about current research in second language acquisition and foreign language teaching, ultimately enhancing their ability to develop as teachers and succeed in a competitive job market.


  •  Dissertation Enhancement Grants: Each Fall, 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 their Ph.D. program may compete for one of these awards. These grants are designed for PhD Students with outstanding potential to accelerate progress on their research adding depth or breadth to their research. They are granted on a competitive basis.  Further information may be obtained from the DGS or from the Graduate School.
  • Travel Grants:Students are encouraged to present their research at major regional, national, and international conferences. After completing at least one academic year at Vanderbilt, students may apply for a travel grant from the Graduate School for up to $500 per budget year (July 1-June 30) for domestic or international travel. Students are allowed a total of three travel grants during their entire tenure at Vanderbilt.
  • 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 the 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 and the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University a service free year of support to enable fulltime work on the dissertation.
  • Summer Research Award: Early each spring semester doctoral students in good standing, making satisfactory progress toward the degree may apply for the College of Arts and Science Summer Research Award. The successful application 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.
  • Summer Language Training Grant: Each spring semester the Dean’s office provides a number of grants of up to $5,000 each to doctoral students who wish to enroll in language training courses during the summer. These grants are intended to enable students to proceed to candidacy, and/or complete their dissertation research in a timely manner.