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Ph.D. in Spanish

Below are the specific requirements to earn a Ph.D. in Spanish. Please also see the timetable to earn the degree and the checklist for course requirements.

Ph.D. in Spanish Requirements

  1. Maintaining good standing in the progress toward the degree
  2. Language requirement
  3. Coursework
  4. M.A. Thesis
  5. Selection of Academic Adviser
  6. Successful Comprehensive Exam
  7. Successful Qualifying Exam
  8. Successful Dissertation Defense

1. Student standing

Students must maintain a B+ average or better every semester in all graduate courses to remain in good standing. Students may request up to a maximum of two Incompletes (I) while enrolled at Vanderbilt and cannot carry an Incomplete (I) for more than one semester. Students must be conscientious classroom instructors and advance toward their degrees in a timely fashion. Students should participate actively in the academic life of the department, attending lectures, presentations, and other activities sponsored by the department. Only students in good standing may take the Comprehensive Exam, submit a dissertation proposal; and take the Qualifying Exam. Good standing is a prerequisite for financial assistance, including summer support, teaching assistantships, and dissertation fellowships.

2. Language requirement

As part of the M.A. students must demonstrate competence in Portuguese by taking PORT 5203 or a more advanced course taught in the target language. Other possibilities for meeting this requirement will be entertained and reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

3. Coursework

The Ph.D. in Spanish requires 63 credit hours of coursework, including the 30 credit hours earned for the M.A. at Vanderbilt.

Required courses (12 hours):

  • SPAN 6010 Literary Analysis and Theory;
  • SLS/SPAN 6030 Foreign Language Learning and Teaching;
  • SPAN 6020 Ibero-Romance Philology (Students entering with a B.A. or Licenciatura should take SPAN 6020 in the 5th semester of residence, if offered; students entering with an M.A. must take 6020 in the 3rd semester of residence, if offered);
  • SPAN 6040 Research and Grant Proposal Writing (Students entering with a B.A. or Licenciatura should take 6040 in the 5th semester of residence, if offered; students entering with an M.A. should take 6040 in the 3rd semester of residence, if offered).

Core courses (36 hours):

A minimum of 36 additional credit hours should be in graduate seminars in Spanish, numbered 7000 and above.  A maximum of 6 credit hours of Independent Study (SPAN 9560, 9660, 9670) may be applied to the Spanish requirements. Each Independent Study must be approved by the DGS upon the submission of a detailed syllabus prepared by the instructor. Note that SPAN 6080, a special graduate course to be used for Comprehensive Exam preparation, does not count toward these required credit hours.

Required minor (9 hours):

There is a mandatory minor for the Ph.D. in Spanish, which consists of a minimum of 9 credit hours. This minor is often Portuguese. After the Comprehensive Exam and within the following academic year, students will send their academic advisor in writing their plan to complete the minor. The academic advisor will assess the coherence and relevance of the minor and send the plan for the minor to the DGS. Some minors are pre-established and do not require prior approval; they must simply be declared. These minors are: 1. the Certificate in Latin American Studies issued by the Center for Latin American Studies, 2. the interdisciplinary minor in Philosophy and Literature; and 3. the Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies, issued by the Program of Women’s and Gender Studies (for details see the Graduate Catalog and contact the director of the program).

Electives (6 hours):

6 additional hours of graduate-level courses in Spanish, Portuguese or another discipline approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

4. M.A. Thesis

See Master of Arts in Spanish.

5. Selection of Academic Adviser

See Master of Arts in Spanish.

6. Comprehensive Exam

A Comprehensive Exam is mandatory for all students (accepted with or without an M.A. from another institution) and will be completed by the end of the fourth semester of residence.


  1. All students must take the Comprehensive Exam no later than the end of their fourth semester of residence.
  2. The Spanish Comprehensive Exam is based on both the Spanish Peninsular and Spanish American literature lists.
  3. Optional Comprehensive Research/Reading course: during their fourth semester, students may take a special graduate course to be used for Comprehensive Exam Preparation (SPAN 6080 Comprehensive Exam Study) for 3 credit hours. The course will not count toward the credit hours needed for completion of the M.A. or Ph.D. degrees. For this course, students will produce, in agreement with their academic advisors a list of works to be read during the semester.


Both parts of the Comprehensive Exam will be taken over spring break. One will cover the Spanish Peninsular list and the other will cover the Spanish American list. The questions for both parts will be sent to the student by 4:00 pm on the Friday before the beginning of Spring Break and the answers to all of the questions must be sent by email to the DGS by 9:00 am of the Monday following the end of Spring Break.

The exam is take-home and open book. The answers to all of the questions are expected to be fully original to each individual student. Examinees are expected to adhere to the Vanderbilt Honor Code: “Vanderbilt University students pursue all academic endeavors with integrity. They conduct themselves honorably, professionally and respectfully in all realms of their studies in order to promote and secure an atmosphere of dignity and trust. The keystone of our honor system is self-regulation, which requires cooperation and support from each member of the University community.”

Part I

  • Identifications with Brief Analysis: Answer six out of eight questions involving identifications and analyses of elements from literary works on the lists. These elements may be a character, a quote, the title of a book, a literary phenomenon, trend or school, among other features of works or literary criticism. The answers may run from one to two pages. At least four of the answers should be in Spanish.

Part II

  • Literary analysis in English: Answer one of two questions requiring literary analysis. This short essay should be written in English (four to five pages).Literary analysis in Spanish: Answer one of two questions with a longer essay written in Spanish (six to eight pages).

Comprehensive Exam committee

The Comprehensive Exam committee will be formed by three faculty members: the student’s academic advisor (chosen by the student during the third semester of study) and two other faculty members chosen by the DGS. If the student’s academic advisor is not available, a substitute member will be chosen by the DGS in consultation with the graduate student being examined. The Comprehensive Exam committee is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the Comprehensive Exam, and has the final say on the outcome of the exam. Exams will be made available to all Faculty members of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese upon request.

Possible outcomes of the Comprehensive Exam:

  • Pass with distinction and admission to the Ph.D. program.
  • Pass with admission to the Ph.D. program.
  • Fail with the automatic possibility of retaking the exam. The exam can only be retaken once. The retake will take place during the week immediately following the official final exam period of the same semester when the first exam is taken. The student will have one week to take the new exam under the same conditions as described above. The retake will be evaluated by the original committee. The outcome of the retake will be determined by the committee and will be final. The graduate student can opt out of retaking the exam, choosing instead to leave the program.

Possible outcomes of the retake of the Comprehensive Exam:

  • Pass with distinction and admission to the Ph.D. program.
  • Pass and admission to the Ph.D. program.
  • Fail and dismissal from the program.

7. Qualifying Exam


  1. There are two reading lists for the Qualifying Exam: the Period List and the Specialized Research List.
  2. The Period List consists of primary and secondary works in all genres from a particular period that is directly related to the dissertation topic.
  3. The Specialized Research List consists of works based on the dissertation topic. The dissertation and resulting list may be organized around a genre, an issue, a theme, or any combination of these elements, as well as around a particular theoretical problem. The list should include primary works as well as theoretical, historical, and critical works. It may, as deemed necessary by the doctoral committee, include works from different periods, from both sides of the Atlantic, and from Africa, Asia, or any other part of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world. Accompanying the Specialized Research List should be a two-page statement that explains and justifies it in relation to the dissertation topic and proposal.
  4. Each list consists of approximately 30 to 50 books, as well as complementary chapters of books, articles, and specific works of literature, theory, and criticism. Each list should be compiled by the student in consultation with his or her advisor and committee.
  5. The final proposal for the dissertation (including bibliography), approved by the student’s advisor, should be submitted to the dissertation committee and the DGS one month prior to the Qualifying Exam.
  6. The dissertation committee will consist of three faculty members from the department and one outside member chosen by the student in consultation with his or her advisor. The student must appoint the dissertation committee in the semester prior to the Qualifying Exam. After securing the agreement and permission of all parties involved, the student must provide the DGS with a list of the faculty members who will serve on the committee and indicate who will serve as committee chair.

Qualifying Exam format

  1. Written portion: The written exam will be designed by the student’s academic advisor and agreed upon in advance by the entire committee. It will be divided into two sections: one based on the Period List and the other on the Specialized Research List and the Proposal. The student will answer 3 of the 4 questions in each section. Each essay answer must be from 10 to 15 pages long (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point) and must demonstrate dedicated work and sophisticated thinking, and reflect the student’s readiness to begin work on the dissertation. Twelve days will be allotted for this exam. The dissertation advisor will distribute copies of the written exam to each member of the committee and the DGS.
  2. Oral portion: Five to fifteen days after the satisfactory completion of the written exam, the student will take an oral exam. During this oral exam, the student will present the dissertation proposal, discuss it with the committee, and answer questions regarding the written exam. The main purpose of the oral exam is: 1) to strengthen the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of the proposal; 2) to discuss the material and content of the proposed dissertation; and 3) to define both a plan and a timetable for the completion of the dissertation.

Qualifying Exam outcomes

Possible outcomes of the Qualifying Exam:

  • Pass with distinction and Candidacy for the Ph.D
  • Pass and Candidacy for the Ph.D.
  • Depending on the nature of the failure, the student may be asked to repeat either part or all of the exam. If the exam shows that the student is unlikely to be successful in future exams, he or she may not be given the option of additional testing.

8. Dissertation Defense

Students are required to attend an oral defense of their dissertation. The Department strongly recommends that the final draft of the dissertation be in the hands of the “readers” at least one month prior to the anticipated date for the defense. The student, in consultation with the DGS, the advisor and with the members of the Dissertation Committee, will schedule an oral defense of the dissertation after the Dissertation Committee has received it. The form to request a date for the defense must be signed by the DGS and delivered to the Graduate School at least two weeks in advance.


  1. Transfer credit from other institutions may not exceed 15 hours.
  2. No undergraduate courses in Spanish may be transferred.

Time limit

  • The Graduate School requires that the Qualifying Exam be taken within four years of admission to the Ph.D. program.
  • The Graduate School also requires that the dissertation be completed within four years after the student has been admitted to Candidate status (successful completion of Qualifying Exam).
  • The department considers these time limits to be reasonable and will not grant extensions except for compelling reasons related to issues of health.