Department of French and Italian

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Ph. D. Guidelines

Degree offered: French, Doctor of Philosophy

REQUIREMENTS for the Ph.D. degree include a total of 52 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. French 6030 and French 7060 are required as part of the 36 credit hours that make up the M.A. component of the degree. A comprehensive examination, based on a departmental reading list, must be taken no later than before the beginning of classes in student’s fourth semester of study, and students who successfully pass the exam enter the Ph.D. stage.

Requirements for the Ph.D. include 52 credit hours of course work. 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. Students are required to take French 7010 and 6030 during their first year of study. 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 advisor. Other regulations governing graduate work are available from the director of graduate studies.

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 almanachs).

The French department has formal ties to the Université de Provence through its Vanderbilt in France program, McGill University through its Vanderbilt-McGill Initiative, and the Sorbonne through MICEFA.



There are four types of courses offered at the graduate level in French.

Foundation Courses are intended as graduate-level survey courses. These courses ensure that students have been exposed to a selection of major texts in each of the four categories below.

Texts for these courses will be drawn primarily from the M.A. reading list.

  • Medieval and Early Modern (to 1800)
  • Post-Eighteenth Century
  • Theory, Methods and Applied Linguistics
  • Apprenticeship in Undergraduate Teaching

Foundation courses in Medieval/Early Modern and Post 18th-Century may be organized synchronically around a specific century or presented diachronically with a clear thematic focus within the larger time period covered in the broad category. Foundation courses may focus on hexagonal France, Francophone areas, or both.

Courses in Theory, Methods and Second Language Acquisition typically include: French 7060 (Literary Theory), French 7010 (Research Methods), French 7050 (Applied Linguistics), French 8000 (Apprenticeship).

Special Topics Courses are specialized research seminars.

Elective Courses are taken outside of the department. All elective courses must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. For students who have completed the M.A., electives must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and the dissertation director.


36 credit hours of course work as required for the M.A.

16 additional credit hours (4 courses), for a total of 52 credit hours (13 courses)

Required course distribution for Ph.D. (includes courses taken for M.A.)

  • French 6030 (4 credit hours)
  • French 7060 (4 credit hours)
  • 1  Foundations: Medieval/Early Modern (8 credit hours) 2 Foundations: Post 18th-Century (8 credit hours)
  • 2 Special Topics or Interdisciplinary Course (8 credit hours)
  • 5 Additional courses (Foundations, TMS, Special Topics, or Elective)

Total of 72 credit hours, of which at least 52 must be from formal coursework

Ph.D. Milestones (Summary)

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

Year Three, preceding summer: Qualifying Exam preparation

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

Year Three, semester two: Presentation of dissertation proposal eight weeks after passing the qualifying exams. Exams 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 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.

Qualifying Examinations

The Ph.D. qualifying examination consists of two parts: a series of written exam questions and an oral exam centered around the student’s dissertation proposal. The written exams must be completed in the first semester of the student’s third year. The thesis proposal oral exam must be completed at the beginning of the second semester of the student’s third year.

  • Written Examination By the beginning of the student’s third year, the student submits the completed reading list and six proposed examination topics/questions to the dissertation director and then to the qualifying exam committee. The dissertation director uses these questions as a basis for preparing the examination questions, but has the right to modify them, add to them, or discard them. The written examination takes place over two days (not necessarily consecutive) before TA orientation in the student’s first semester of the third year. On each day, the student will have six hours to answer two essay questions. The student may consult any sources s/he chooses. At least one exam must be written in French. These exams may be taken at home.
  • Exam day 1: This part of the exam should reflect a broad understanding of the area in which the student is specializing

    Exam day 2: This part of the exam should reflect a more focused understanding of the student’s area of specialization

The exam is evaluated PASS or FAIL by the doctoral committee by the end of the fourth week of the semester. The dissertation director communicates the result of the exam to the student. If one (or more) of the exam areas is considered weak, the student may be asked to repeat it. The exam committee will decide whether the student will retake the failed portion of the exam or whether a new question will be given. The student must retake the exam within one month of the first try. If the student does not pass again, he or she will be dismissed from the program. Once the student has successfully passed the written examination, the date of the thesis proposal oral exam will be set.

  • Dissertation Proposal In the dissertation proposal, the candidate should clarify the nature of his/her dissertation, demonstrate its relevance, define its methodology, situate it in terms of existing scholarship, and include a tentative breakdown into chapters. The proposal should be 15- 20 pages in length, plus a preliminary bibliography, and should be written in the language of the proposed dissertation (English or French). After consulting with the dissertation director, the proposal is circulated to the members of the qualifying exam committee.
  • Presentation of the Dissertation Proposal
    Eight weeks after passing the qualifying exam, a one-hour session is scheduled for the dissertation proposal. The qualifying exam committee, guided by the dissertation director, participates 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 student passes the dissertation proposal, the official dissertation committee is appointed. 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 qualifying exam committee) will consist of a 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.

    Additional Policies and Standards:

    1.  All funding is contingent on the student’s timely progress toward the M.A. and the Ph.D. 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 (10th) semester. If the dissertation is not completed within three years of taking the qualifying exams, students will be required to reapply to the program and retake the qualifying exams.

    3.  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.

    4.  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.

    5.  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.

    6.  We also expect satisfactory performance in all assigned teaching duties.

    Each student will be formally evaluated by the Teaching Supervisor 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.


    Progress toward degree at a glance

    Sample Student Year 1* Year 2: TA Year 3: TA Year 4: TA or France Year 5: TA
    Fall Med/Em Foundations Post 18th  

    Foundations French 6030


    Diagnostic Language Exam

    [1 week before semester start]

    Med/EM Foundations Special Topics Additional course  

    MA Courses completed

    Elective Research Hours (8)  


    Language Exam

    [1 week before semester start]

    Qualifying Exams

    [No later than end of semester]

    F9999 (0) F9999(0)
    Spring Post-18th Foundations  

    French 7060 Special Topic



    Elective Elective Elective  


    MA Exam

    [1 week before semester start]

    Decision: continuation Appoint committee

    Reading List Approved

    Research Hours (12)  


    Thesis Proposal

    [8 weeks after qualifying exams]

    ABD Status




    F9999 (0)  



    Total Hours 24 48 72 72 72
    Summer Prepare M.A. exam Prepare qualifying exams and language exams Dissertation Dissertation