Information for Students in Stage II and III (PhD): Literature and Writing Studies

 

Stage II: Course Work and Residence Requirements

As early as possible in Stage II, the candidate is expected to think about selecting a Special Field: an area of specialization consisting of a period or some other generally recognized segment of the discipline. The student is also expected to select a major adviser within this field and, in consultation with the adviser, plan a program of eight or more courses (normally at the 500 level) that will provide the greatest possible strength in the Special Field. Courses may be selected both from the English Department and from related disciplines. At least 64 hours, which may include hours of thesis credit (English 599), must be earned in courses meeting on the Urbana-Champaign campus. After the residence requirement has been fulfilled, a student may petition the Graduate College for permission to register in absentia for thesis credit.

 


The Preliminary (Special Field) Examination (updated 10/12)

PURPOSE

The Special Field Exam and the preparation for it serve as the bridge between coursework and the dissertation. The exam allows students to master the core knowledge appropriate to a specialist in his or her field. Such mastery makes possible productive engagement with other scholars in the field (at lectures, conferences, on e-mail discussion groups, in print, at job interviews). It should insure the ability to teach upper-level survey courses and increasingly specialized courses in the field. It enlarges knowledge of scholarship and publication opportunities. By enabling students to define with increasing precision the original contributions they wish to make to the field of their choice, it lays the groundwork for and sparks momentum toward the dissertation. Constructing the list and the rationale, studying for the exam, and taking it are part of the process of defining a professional identity within the discipline of literary studies, film studies, or writing studies. The exam requirements are designed to achieve this end.

PREPARING TO SUBMIT THE EXAM PROPOSAL

All requirements for the MA must be completed before the Special Field Exam can be taken and most, if not all, of the PhD coursework should be completed. While completing this coursework, students should begin drafting a list and contemplating a proposal by defining their field with increasing precision, identifying their areas of strength and weakness within the field, and filling in gaps in their reading. Students should ask a faculty member, as soon as it seems appropriate to do so, to serve as Director of the Exam Committee and (likely) the Dissertation Committee. In consultation with that Director, they should invite three other faculty members to serve on their committee. It is expected that students will submit a draft proposal to the faculty as they begin reading for the Special Field Exam, and students should plan to take the exam within nine months of completing coursework.

At least three-and-one-half months before the expected date of the Exam, the candidate is required to submit to the Graduate Studies Committee a Special Field Proposal which summarizes the candidate's construction of a Special Field. This Proposal should be shaped in consultation with the Director and the committee members. The Proposal identifies the candidate's field, names a four-member committee (including the Dissertation Director), and proposes a tentative exam date and a format (oral, written, or a combination of the two) for the exam. It includes an extensive list of the works in the field on which the candidate proposes to be examined, and a one-page rationale for the shape of the list which addresses its relationship to the proposed dissertation topic. The Graduate Studies Committee assesses and approves the proposal, sometimes suggesting revisions and/or resubmission.

 

DEFINING THE SPECIAL FIELD: TRADITIONAL AND ALTERNATIVE FIELDS

Traditional Fields in Literature, Film, and Writing Studies
Certain traditional fields in literature, film, and writing studies have the general consent of the Graduate Studies Committee. In literature the usual period divisions including all forms of writing are acceptable, but concentration upon only one genre within one of the usual divisions is not. Single genre fields must have additional breadth of historical coverage. These are not perfect divisions, insofar as certain fields include standard subspecializations (e.g. Romantic and Victorian in the nineteenth century), and other fields overlap centuries (e.g. Medieval and Renaissance). A candidate's rationale may indicate particular emphases within the field--for example, Anglo-Saxon or Middle English in Medieval, the sixteenth or the seventeenth century in Renaissance, the Civil War through 1930 in Later American, the British or American Novel. The field of film assumes a basic knowledge of 20th-century cinematic development and of three modes of film, and of some international movements. Emphases within this field might include Film Theory or Leading Film Genres. Although Writing Studies is understandably less concerned with historical periods, a field such as Literacy Studies might also include an emphasis on Critical Theory or a field such as Writing Assessment might focus on the evaluation of writing across the curriculum programs. A field in many areas of Writing Studies might well include a section on methodology.

The Graduate Studies Committee has endorsed the following traditional fields in Literature and in Film:

  • Medieval Language and Literature
  • Renaissance Literature
  • Restoration and Eighteenth-century Literature
  • Nineteenth-century British Literature
  • Modern British Literature

  • Early American Literature
  • Later American Literature
  • African American Literature
  • Anglophone Literature (other than British and American)

  • The Novel
  • Poetry

  • Drama
  • Theory and Criticism
  • The English Language

  • Film


The Graduate Studies Committee has endorsed the following traditional fields in Writing Studies:

  • Cognition and Composition
  • Computers and Composition Studies
  • Classical Rhetoric
  • Critical Theory
  • Discourse Processes
  • Gender and Writing
  • Literacy Studies

  • Technical Communication
  • Writing Across the Curriculum
  • Writing in the Disciplines
  • Writing Assessment

 

Alternative Special Fields in Literature, Film, and Writing Studies
Candidates are invited to propose special fields outside the standard list of approved fields. Such alternative special fields, like traditional ones, should be (1) intellectually coherent; (2) comparable in scope with the traditional fields; (3) in accord with job opportunities in the field; and (4) more comprehensive than the dissertation project. If more than one field is included, the number of items will need to be reduced in each of the two fields.

In literature, such fields might overlap traditional historical divisions (e.g., British literature 1880-1960); deal with a genre spanning two or more traditional periods (e.g., the American novel, 1840-1940); span two or more literatures (e.g., American and British modernism); concentrate upon a developing area in which special subdivisions are appropriate (e.g., modern critical theory); or combine two or more disciplines (e.g., nineteenth-century literature and visual culture). In film, an alternative field might combine Film and Literature (e.g., Film and the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation). In Writing Studies, proposed fields may span areas (e.g., Gender, Collaboration, and Technical Communication in the Workplace); may concentrate on an area where subdivisions are appropriate (e.g., the use of portfolios in writing assessment); or may combine two or more disciplines (e.g. African American Literature and Literacy Studies).

THE READING LIST: REQUIREMENTS

The reading list in the Special Field Proposal should:

  1. represent the major texts/films/books and essays in the field along with a generous selection of non-canonical materials and the major strains of scholarship and criticism on those texts.

  2. reflect the candidate's own particular critical orientation, individual strengths, and potential dissertation topic and contributions to the field. Good proposals will express not just a stock conception of the field but will fit--and shape--the candidate's developing professional identity. The list may include a number of items outside of the field proper--historically, generically, even disciplinarily. Lists in film or writing studies might include some literature. Literature, film, or writing studies lists might include theory, history, anthropology, visual art or art history. All lists must be prepared in close consultation with the Director of the Exam Committee.

 

TIMELINE AND DEADLINES FOR SCHEDULING THE EXAM

  1. Proposals for Special Field Examinations must be submitted no later than three-and-one-half months before the anticipated exam date so that they can be revised if necessary and get final approval no less than three months before the exam date. Earlier is better. It is reasonable to aim to submit a proposal six months before the expected exam date.

  2. It is the responsibility of the student, about two months before the exam, to choose a date and a time for the exam in consultation with the Director and Committee members.

  3. Notify Stephanie Shockey in the Graduate Studies Office of this date and time at least a month before the exam so that she can submit the required paperwork to the Graduate College and reserve the seminar room in the Graduate Studies Office. The Graduate College and Graduate Studies Office will send reminders to the candidate and the Committee confirming the exam date and time.

  4. Students who do not sit for this exam by March 15th of their fifth year shall be removed from the program, with exceptions--for illness, for parental leave, for unavoidable problems in constructing or maintaining a faculty committee--to be granted on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Graduate Studies.

 

PRELIMINARY (SPECIAL FIELD) EXAMINATION AND PRELIMINARY (SPECIAL FIELD) EXAMINATION COMMITTEE:

The examination is one of the Graduate College requirements for completion of Stage II of graduate study. An examination that is solely oral should be a minimum of two hours. No maximum is specified.

  • Preliminary examinations may be oral or written or both, depending on the unit's policy, and generally evaluate the student's overall and specific knowledge in the field.
  • Preliminary examinations also usually include an oral presentation to review the feasibility and appropriateness of a student's dissertation research proposal.
  • The doctoral degree program prescribes the scope, format and procedures associated with the examination, including the composition of the committee. The program must clearly communicate information about the format and rules (e.g., closed-book) to all students in advance.
  • The process for selection of committee chairs varies by unit, but the chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. At the department’s discretion a co-chair may be appointed. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair. The role of the committee chair is described below.
  • The student, committee chair, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for all oral components of the examination (i.e., presence by video or teleconference is not acceptable). If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present.
  • All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate via teleconference or other electronic communication media during the examination, deliberation and results determination of all oral components of the examination.

Registration: Students must be enrolled for the entire academic term in which the preliminary exam occurs. See chapter VII.B. for details.

Membership Requirements:

  • The preliminary examination committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
    • Departments may request the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members who make a significant contribution as voting members of the committee. The dean of the Graduate College must approve, in advance, individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty who will serve as voting members of the committee. To request the approval of a non-Graduate Faculty member to vote, a curriculum vitae for the individual and a justification from the chair of the committee must accompany the request for appointment of the doctoral committee, and the individual must have an earned terminal degree in their field of study.
    • The tenure requirement can be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period following their resignation or retirement, according to the Policy on Graduate Faculty Membership.
    • If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members must be members of the Graduate Faculty.
  • Non-voting members may be appointed but are rare on preliminary examination committees.

Members may be in other fields in the English Department or in other departments.

A student may change Directors or Committee members at any time in the process. This should be done only after careful deliberation. It must be discussed first with the Director and consultation with other appropriate faculty is advisable. Changes of Director will need to be approved in writing by the Director of Graduate Studies. Any changes in committee members should be reported to the Graduate Studies Office. A student who changes fields after the Special Field Exam will have to take another Special Field Exam to demonstrate mastery of the new field. This may take place concurrently with the Dissertation Defense.

Having passed the Preliminary Examination, the candidate will be in Stage III.

For additional information, see Part II of “The Special Field Examination” handout entitled “Procedures and Suggestions," which is available along with Part I in the Graduate Studies Office. Sample Special Field proposals including rationales and reading lists and lists of special field questions are on file there as well.

 


Stage III: The Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

Selection of a dissertation topic will, inevitably, coincide with the preparation for the Preliminary Examination, and discussion of the topic may form some small part of the Examination. Stage III--the researching and writing of the dissertation--is carried out independently, in regular consultation with the Dissertation Director and other members of the Committee. This process generally takes two and a half years and often longer.

 

PHD DISSERTATION PROSPECTUS REQUIREMENT FOR STAGE III GRADUATE STUDENTS IN LITERATURE AND WRITING STUDIES

Adopted April 2006

No more than four months following the successful completion of the Preliminary Examination, Stage III graduate students must file a prospectus for the doctoral dissertation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Its text should be developed by each student in consultation with the dissertation director, and must be approved and signed by him or her as well as by all three secondary dissertation committee members before submission. Unlike in the case of the Special Field proposal, the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Studies Committee will not formally evaluate the content of the prospectus. To submit this document to the Director with all the necessary signatures, then, is to have it accepted.

Format of the Prospectus
The dissertation prospectus should take the form of a succinct, double-spaced document of five to ten pages in 12-point font. It should contain the following standard items in the following standard order:

  1. A provisional dissertation title;
  2. A direct statement of the overall argument and of the novel contribution this argument makes to relevant research;
  3. A provisional chapter-by-chapter outline.

It is understood that the completed dissertation will almost certainly evolve away from some features of the prospectus, and a student will not be required to submit a new version to his or her committee and the Director of Graduate Studies unless the dissertation director determines that the topic has dramatically changed. In any case, the prospectus requirement is meant to encourage an intelligent running start to the dissertation by insuring that all faculty readers have given their advice and consent to a substantial elaboration of the student's initial design. Failure to file the prospectus within four months of the date of the Special Field exam will not result in expulsion from the program, but may, as with multiple EX grades, lead to a reduction in teaching assistantship or fellowship support.

 

FINAL EXAMINATION (DISSERATION DEFENSE)

The final requirement of the PhD program is the Dissertation Defense, a two-hour examination conducted by the candidate’s Dissertation Committee. The candidate must inform the Graduate Studies office of his or her intention to undertake the defense and distribute copies of the dissertation to the committee well in advance of the defense date. The text of the dissertation submitted for the defense must be complete, with full documentation, and carefully proofread. An opportunity will be provided, however, for the incorporation of changes suggested by the Committee before the final copies are submitted to the Graduate College. Members of the Committee who ask for significant revision may withhold their signatures of approval until satisfied that the revisions have been made satisfactorily. In addition, candidates in Writing Studies will arrange to deliver a public lecture on the dissertation to faculty and students in the Center for Writing Studies well in advance of the candidate's dissertation defense. Dissertations must be formatted according to the Graduate College publication “Instructions for Preparation of Theses” and departmental guidelines. Several English Department dissertations are available for reading in the seminar room in the Graduate Studies Office.

Final Examination and Final Examination Committee

Format:

  • Students must adhere to departmental procedures or requirements. These procedures and requirements must be clearly communicated to all students in advance of the exam.
  • The process for selection of committee chairs varies by unit, but the chair must be a member of the Graduate Faculty. At the department’s discretion a co-chair may be appointed. If appointed, a co-chair must meet all the requirements that apply to the chair. The role of the committee chair is described below.
  • Committee members should be chosen for their expertise in the student's research area, but may also be chosen to give diversity in viewpoint, methodology, or academic discipline. The faculty of a department may establish procedures or requirements for introducing diversity in the membership of the final examination committee (e.g., by including members from more than one sub-discipline within the department, from other departments, or from other institutions).
  • The committee chair, defending student, and at least one additional voting member of the committee must be physically present for the entire duration of the final examination. If the committee has more than one chair, all chairs must be physically present; in these cases, no additional voting member is required to be physically present.
  • All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate via teleconference or other electronic communication media for the entire duration of the final examination, and the deliberation and determination of the result.
  • As a crucial milestone in a student’s doctoral experience at Illinois, as well as a significant event within the campus scholarly community, the final examination should take place on campus.
  • Final examinations are oral and open to the public.

Registration: Students must be enrolled for the entire academic term in which the final exam occurs. See chapter VII.B. for details.

Second Preliminary Exam: If more than five years elapse between a doctoral student's preliminary and final examinations, the student is required to demonstrate that his or her broad knowledge of the field is current by passing a second preliminary examination (see Time Limits in chapter VII.E. for details).

Membership Requirements:

  • The final examination committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
    • Departments may request the inclusion of non-Graduate Faculty members who make a significant contribution as voting members of the committee. The dean of the Graduate College must approve, in advance, individuals who are not members of the Graduate Faculty who will serve as voting members of the committee. To request the approval of a non-Graduate Faculty member to vote, a curriculum vitae for the individual and a justification from the chair of the committee must accompany the request for appointment of the doctoral committee, and the individual must have earned a terminal degree in their field of study.
    • The tenure requirement can be met by term members of the Graduate Faculty who retired or resigned with tenure for a period following their resignation or retirement, according to the Policy on Graduate Faculty Membership.
    • If there are more than four voting members on the committee, at least half of the voting members must be members of the Graduate Faculty.
  • Upon departmental request, the dean of the Graduate College may also appoint non-voting members to doctoral committees. Non-voting members do not need to be present at the final examination.
  • The student's dissertation adviser (i.e., director of research) need not be the chair of the committee. Co-directors of research are acceptable.

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