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Graduate Ph.D. Field Examination


[n.b.: this description pertains to cohorts that matriculated in Fall 2012 and after. Earlier cohorts should consult these guidelines.]



By the final day of Fall term of their third year, students take a Field Examination which is meant to give them 1) an intensive knowledge of their teaching and research fields, and 2) a strong basis from which to craft a dissertation prospectus. The Field Exam will be given by a committee of three faculty, who must be members of the Graduate Group and who are chosen, with their agreement, by the student. One of the committee members should be designated chair.

In preparing for the exam, students choose one primary and two contributing fields or areas of specialization. They assemble a reading list of 30 texts for the primary field and 20 texts for each of the contributing fields. The field lists may include primary and secondary sources, and they should be discussed and assembled in close consultation with the student’s Field Exam committee. The primary field is typically organized by historical period, textual genre, and/or geographic area; the contributing fields are typically organized by theoretical tradition, literary or cultural thematic, or critical problematic. Please note: together, the three lists should not contain more than 70 works total.

Each list should be prefaced by a rationale of approximately 250 words. Rationales should be very brief descriptions of each field and should include key questions or problematics to be examined in individual lists as well as the exam as a whole.


Preparation for the Field Exam

By mid-February of the second year, students should choose an exam committee and designate a chair. In conversation with the chair, students develop a draft of the three field lists and rationales to submit to all members of the exam committee by April 15. In response to feedback received by the committee, students should prepare final drafts of titled primary and contributing lists and rationales. These lists and rationales should be signed by all three committee members and submitted to the Graduate Executive Committee (GEC) in early May for evaluation and approval. In their evaluation, the GEC will take into consideration the coherence of each field, the potential relationships among fields, the depth and breadth of each reading list, and the clarity of each rationale. The GEC will approve or request revisions. 

During the summer between the second and third years and November of the Fall term of third year, students should read through their lists, meeting regularly with their committee members to discuss progress, questions, and concerns. It is often helpful—though not required—for the student to compose brief, informal write-ups of key texts or groups of texts during the course of their reading, and to submit those write-ups to the field committee members prior to regular (at least once a month) meetings. This allows students to assemble notes for their Field Exam preparation, and to apprise the committee of their intellectual development during their exam preparation. 

The student and the committee should set dates for 1) the written portion of the exam to take place no later than the last Friday of classes Fall semester, and 2) the oral portion of the exam to take place no later than the final day of Fall semester. As the exam date nears, the chair should go over the parameters of the exam with the student, including the start time and any special instructions agreed on by the committee.


The Exam

Written: The members of the committee will compose four questions for the exam. The exact form of these questions will be determined by the committee, in consultation with the student. One of the questions may take the form of asking the student to describe how he or she would teach one of the fields at the undergraduate level, complete with example of how specific texts would be taught and why. It is strongly recommended—though not required—that committee members solicit potential questions from students in advance, as the process of formulating questions is itself a helpful way of coming to terms with a field. The exam itself will be written over two consecutive days, with 12 hours per day to write. The committee chair, with the help of the Graduate Program Coordinator if necessary, will submit two questions to the student no later than noon on each day of the exam. Students will choose one question per day to answer, and will submit written answers to their committee members and to the Graduate Program Coordinator no more than 12 hours later (for instance, if the student receives the questions at 9am, the answer for that day will be due by 9pm that same day; the process will then repeat the next day). Students may consult books and notes, but each answer must be written during the exam period only; no cutting and pasting of previously drafted material is permitted. Unless the committee stipulates otherwise, exam essays should be no more than 3,500–4,000 words each. Typically, students will spend at most eight hours composing their answers, and devote any remaining time to studying the questions and revising and proofreading the answers.

Oral: Within two weeks of the written exam—and by the last day of Fall term—the chair of the student’s committee must arrange a two-hour meeting with the student and the rest of the committee to discuss her performance on the written exam, to cover any follow-up questions the committee may have for the student, and to discuss the student’s potential dissertation topic. After this meeting, the committee will meet briefly without the student to assign a grade of high pass, pass, or fail. Should a committee decide that a student has not passed the exam, the student may retake the exam with the approval of the committee and the Graduate Chair.

 By the first day of Spring term, a brief report on the student’s performance must be written by the chair of the student’s committee and submitted to the Graduate Chair.


Timeline Summary

•    By April 15 of the second year: secure exam committee and designate chair; submit preliminary draft of field lists and rationales (up to 70 works) to full exam committee.

•    By early May of the second year: submit final draft of field lists and rationales, signed by all three committee members, to the GEC for approval.

•    Summer after second year through Fall of third year: read works on lists and prepare for exams.

•    By October 20 of third year: schedule written portion of the exam.

•    Exact dates will very from year to year, but students should take the written exam between mid-November (no earlier than two Thursdays before Thanksgiving) and last day of Fall classes.

•    Exact dates will vary from year to year, but students should take the oral portion of the exam by the last day of Fall term, and the oral should take place within two weeks of submitting the written portion.

•    By the first day of classes Spring term: the committee chair submits an exam report to the Graduate Chair.

•    Dissertation prospectus workshop begins January of the third year.