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Graduate Program

Letter from the Graduate Chair

To All Current and Prospective Graduate Students:

Welcome to the virtual home of the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in English at the University of Pennsylvania. On these pages, prospective as well as current students will find detailed information about graduate study in English at Penn.

The English Department offers full-time M.A. and Ph.D. programs. Comprehensive in their range of specializations, these programs are intellectually dynamic and rigorous. Our M.A. program offers students a solid foundation in the professional study of literature and culture, and our Ph.D. program prepares students for full participation in the profession as scholars and teachers of English and American literature, broadly conceived. Roughly 60 graduate students enjoy close interaction with over 30 internationally renowned faculty members who teach and publish on a large number of historical periods and theoretical and methodological specializations. Many of our faculty work across traditional period and disciplinary divides, and we encourage our students to bring similar innovation and creativity to their own research and teaching.

Our departmental culture reflects our commitment to fostering an environment that is at once challenging, inclusive, and supportive. We recognize that successful establishment in our profession requires more than taking courses, passing exams, writing a dissertation, attending conferences, and publishing articles: it also involves taking an active and valued role in an intellectual and social community of the English department, as well as other programs and departments across campus. Accordingly, we consider our graduate students full members of the department. We nurture an array of reading and discussion groups that bring together faculty and graduate students throughout the year; we host numerous departmental lectures by cutting-edge scholars; we encourage graduate students to take leading roles in planning conferences and symposia; and we include graduate students in a range of departmental dinners, parties, and other social events. We also support and value our Graduate English Association, which acts as a forum for graduates to provide one another advice and support, organize workshops helping one another through all stages of the program, discuss graduate concerns and initiatives, and plan numerous social events (I hear there is even a graduate student prom each spring ... ). Because most of our Ph.D. students plan to become professors, we provide extensive pedagogical training and mentorship. All Ph.D. students teach at least three semesters while working toward their degrees. Second-year English Ph.D. students assist professors with teaching and grading undergraduate courses and take a semester-long Pedagogy seminar; fourth-year English Ph.D. students design and teach a Junior Research Seminar in their own field of specialization and attend a required series of pedagogy workshops. In addition to these official requirements, Ph.D. students have numerous opportunities to assist with and teach courses at Penn and beyond, and each year we offers many specialized teaching workshops led by professors and graduate students.

We also recognize the importance of financial support in a program as demanding as ours. To this end, all of our admitted Ph.D. students are awarded an identical five-year guaranteed funding package, which gives students a generous yearly stipend and covers all tuition, fees, and health insurance. In addition, Ph.D. students receive many travel grants for conference presentations and archival research, and Penn offers numerous competitive sixth-year funding opportunities. Regrettably, no financial aid is available for our Master's students, whether in the form of fellowships, research assistantships, or teaching assistantships.

In the last year of the Ph.D. program, most students apply for academic jobs, and the Penn English Department provides extensive support and assistance and to students at this stage. We are proud of our placement record, which is among the highest in the country: our Ph.D. students go on to thrive in tenure-track positions at a range of public and private colleges and universities. We also support students who seek opportunities beyond academia. We are proud of our recent Ph.D.s. who have become business consultants at McKinsey, chosen careers in library services and the publishing industry, and taken teaching positions at the secondary level, to name just a few of the alternate paths Penn graduates have taken.

Graduate school is full of many surprises, but there is one thing you can be sure of: your time in our department will be one of intellectual growth and excitement, and by the end you will have made an original and important contribution to your field of scholarly expertise. I cannot promise you that earning an English Ph.D. will be an entirely smooth or invariably pleasurable process: the work required is difficult and at times daunting. But I can promise you that we at Penn will do everything we can to support you as you work toward this exciting and uniquely rewarding goal and prepare for a brilliant and successful career beyond graduate school.

Sincerely yours,

Melissa E. Sanchez
Associate Professor and Graduate Chair
Department of English
University of Pennsylvania

Graduate Teaching Awards

Our graduate students are regularly recognized as excellent teachers. See right for a few recent winners, or view a full list of our award winners.

  • Dianne Mitchell

    Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching by Graduate Students

  • Laura Soderberg

    Critical Writing Teaching Fellowship