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PhD Degree Requirements

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Grad Students standing on deck of 18th C ship replica

Pictured: Graduate students visiting the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia to learn about the oceanic life represented by authors like Jane Austen, Olaudah Equiano, and Charles Dickens. 

The PhD English is comprised of the following components: 

1. Coursework

2. Qualifying Exam

3. Specialty Exam 

4. Language/Skills Assessment

5. Teaching Portfolio

6. Doctoral Project 

To view specific requirements and timeline-to-degree details, please see the Graduate Student Handbook. 

Learn more about how to apply here.


We offer a range of graduate courses with an emphasis on our particular areas of strength:  Race and Ethnicity Studies, Material Culture Studies, Environmental Humanities, and Writing Studies. Students are encouraged to think and work against traditional geographical, historical, and disciplinary boundaries. Many of our students pursue Graduate Certificates in Museum Studies in addition to their PhD, and some take elective courses in departments such as History and Art History. Our program prides itself on innovative and interdisciplinary coursework where students learn diverse methodologies and engage regularly with cultural institutions. Our seminars aren't  bound by the classroom and faculty frequently bring in guest lecturers. Check out our current and past coursework here.

Required Coursework: 

Students entering with a B.A. are required to take 15 courses (45 credit hours), including the Introduction to Literary Theory, Composition Theory and the Teaching of Writing, and the one-credit Introduction to Graduate Studies in English.

Students entering with a M.A.  must take 10 courses (30 credit hours) and may be required to take ENGL600 (Introduction to Graduate Study in English) and ENGL684 (Introduction to Literary Theory) if they have not already had such courses. M.A. transfers who are Teaching Assistants are required to take Composition Theory and the Teaching of Writing in order to teach ENGL110. 

Qualifying Exam

In Spring of the 2nd year, all students are required to take a Qualifying Exam to continue in the program. 

The exam consists of:

1) a revision of one of a student's seminar papers that demonstrates their ability to write and revise a scholarly argument

2) an oral examination in which the student demonstrates their familiarity with the essential texts of their chosen field.

A field can be constituted as a historical period, national literature, genre, or other broad framework that the student wishes to continue to study.

Students may not continue in the PhD program if they do not successfully complete the Qualifying Exam. At the end of the 2nd year, students may submit a Portfolio to be considered for an MA English. 

Specialty Exam

​In order to advance to Candidacy-status (ABD), the Specialty Exam must be taken at the conclusion of the 6th semester of PhD work. 

All students are required to pass a Specialty Exam consisting of two parts: 

(1) a 20-page bibliographical essay

(2) a 90-minute oral field examination

Language/Skills Requirements

Student analyzing manuscript item

​Pictured: Graduate student reading a manuscript journal in the J. Welles Henderson archive in Philadelphia. Students are encouraged to learn skills such as paleography, which can help them decipher historical manuscripts. 

All Ph.D. students are required to demonstrate either (1) an ability to read and work in one language other than English; or (2) the acquisition of a skill or body of knowledge important to the student's doctoral project. 

Students may fulfill the language requirement in one of the following ways:

• Pass a comprehension examination administered by the English Department 

• Submit evidence of completion of an intermediate college-level language course in which the students have received a grade of at least a B during their undergraduate education

Students who did not complete undergraduate coursework in a language other than English and for whom a second-language would not be valuable to their research field may consider the "skills" option. The "skills" option may take many forms, such as relevant work experience, volunteer service, or coursework at the University of Delaware or elsewhere directly related to the doctoral project. In the past, students have fulfilled this requirement through the acquisition of skills such as: statistical analysis, digital humanities projects, and paleography. 

Students are required to submit a formal proposal to the graduate committee explaining in detail how their skill will contribute to their scholarly, intellectual, and professional development. 

The language/skills requirement must be fulfilled in order for a PhD student to move to candidacy status.

Teaching Portfolio

Most of our students serve as Teaching Assistants throughout their time in the program. Students' teaching is monitored by the Director of Composition over the course of their teaching career in the program. Students are given substantial mentorship in teaching, opportunities to shadow professors, and professional training in theory and pedagogy. Our teaching assistants also participate in peer-to-peer observations, receive student evaluations, and observational feedback from exceptional faculty in writing studies. Students submit a teaching portfolio in their 3rd year that is reviewed by the Director of Composition and the Director of Graduate Studies.  Teaching portfolios include the following: 

1) A 250-500 word statement of teaching philosophy

2) Sample syllabi and sample assignments

3) A direct observation report

4) A summary of and reflection on numerical teaching evaluations

5) A letter of support from at least one faculty member other than the student's faculty advisor

Disseration or Doctoral Project

The Proposal

Before being admitted to formal candidacy, students prepare a doctoral project proposal in consultation with their project director and second reader (tenure-track faculty members). Proposals are reviewed and evaluated by the Graduate Committee. Students may be asked to revise a resubmit. If the proposal is accepted (and all other requirements are met), the student will be recommended for PhD Candidacy. The proposal should be a thorough document, including a statement of the subject, its exigency and audience, a survey of the significant primary and secondary materials, and an outline of the sections or chapters (in the case of a traditional dissertation or monograph).

The Project

Our program recognizes the importance of supporting a variety of career goals and innovative research. The doctoral project can take any number of forms including a traditional dissertation (monograph), a digital or public humanities project, a new edition of a text, a series of thematically related essays, or an interdisciplinary project. 

Regardless of the form that it takes, the project should draw on the student's training and coursework to incorporate the skills of textual interpretation and/or formal analysis to explore a specific cultural, political, or social question.  

We invite students to develop new kinds of projects that will serve them in a variety of possible careers upon completion of the Ph.D. (see Appendix G of the Graduate Handbook).

Upon completion, and in accordance with the university requirements, students will defend the doctoral project. The defense will be a 90-120 minute discussion with the student's committee members of the major methodological, conceptual, literary historical, and formal questions addressed by the project. The defense will be open to the public.

​Our students also seek out teaching opportunities in the public humanities. Pictured: Megan O'Donnell on a paid speaking engagement for the Marple Public Library 

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  • Department of English
  • 203 Memorial Hall
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • University of Delaware
  • Phone: 302-831-2361