PhD in English


English PhD student sitting on a bench on campus


The PhD in English features areas of strength in American Literature and Culture, British and Postcolonial Studies, Crip/Queer Studies and Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Within each of these areas, students are invited to construct their own specializations and methodologies, ranging from sociohistorical angles to digital humanities and film studies.

Our widely published and renowned faculty in each of these areas closely mentor PhD students from coursework to the final stages of the dissertation.

Application Deadline: January 15


Program Strength Areas

Mt. Rushmore

American Literature and Culture


Painting of a dock with boats and people gathered

British and Postcolonial Studies


LGBTQ Rainbow Flag

Crip/Queer Studies


Student reading an old Shakespeare folio in an archive setting

Medieval and Early Modern Studies




Admissions Requirements

A student entering with an MA in an approved field may be awarded up to 24 credits of advanced standing toward doctoral coursework. PhD students must maintain a minimum grade-point average of 3.5 in order to remain in the program.


Timeline and Funding

In order to facilitate the shift from "student" to "colleague," we match students to appropriate faculty mentors early in the student’s career, and we urge students to develop a dissertation research agenda by the end of the first year of graduate work.

The program normally takes four to five years of full-time study. We expect students to adhere to this timetable and therefore fund them for this length of time, designing a program that will enable them to progress quickly from coursework to dissertation and defense.

Learn more about dissertation guidelines, defense, exams and more in the CCAS Doctoral Student Handbook.


Course Requirements

The following requirements must be fulfilled:

The general requirements stated under Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Programs.

The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Program.


  1. Coursework planned in consultation with the department advisor
  2. A comprehension exam in a language approved by the department
  3. A qualifying examination passed at the beginning of the student’s second year and a field examination passed by the end of the student’s coursework, topics and reading lists for which are designed in consultation with two graduate faculty advisors
  4. A dissertation proposal after the field exam
  5. A dissertation on an approved topic, directed by a member of the department’s graduate faculty, and completed by the end of the fifth year of study.

Each student plans a program of studies in consultation with the department advisor and a committee of the graduate faculty. Students must maintain a grade-point average of at least 3.5.

Requirement Details

Students must have 48 hours (16 seminars) of course work; this includes Independent Study (ENGL 6720) and Advanced Research and Reading (ENGL 8998) courses, which may be repeated for credit with the approval of the DGS.

Students may take up to two courses outside the English Department, in other GW graduate programs, in Consortium Universities with English graduate programs (Georgetown University, American University, the University of Maryland-College Park, and George Mason University), or at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Our seminars are small, thereby encouraging discussion and equal participation.  While requirements vary according to topic and faculty member, typically they culminate in an essay which should meet the standards of publication in a scholarly journal.  Similarly, seminar presentations are modeled on conference papers, and many of our students have turned their coursework into conference presentations and articles.

Students must pass a comprehension exam in a language other than English; the language is selected with the approval of the student’s faculty advisor and/or DGS.  In some cases, faculty advisors may conclude that the student’s research requires two languages. Most language exams are administered by the George Washington University Language Center, which schedules and grades them.  In some cases, the English Department arranges for other evaluators of language proficiency.  

Normally, students complete their language requirement before taking the Qualifying Exam. In any case, students must complete the requirement before being allowed to proceed to the Field Exam.

The Qualifying Exam - an oral examination - is normally taken just before the beginning of the second year (ie at the end of August). All students must identify and approach a faculty advisor before the last day of classes during their first semester in the program in order to sign off on the Faculty Advisor Form. Preparation will follow over the course of the spring and the student will submit the list and rationale along with the Qualifying Exam Form before the beginning of summer (dates vary each year; see GW academic calendar). The exam itself is designed to test a student’s competence as a scholar and a potential teacher within his/her declared concentration (either Medieval and Early Modern Studies, British/Postcolonial, or American Literature and Culture), as well as his/her readiness to continue in the PhD program. Except in the case of extreme hardship, we cannot allow postponement of exams.  Students who fail the exam can take it once more the next time it is offered; students who fail the exam twice are dismissed from the program.

The Field Exam prepares students for advanced scholarship in their chosen area of specialization, with an eye to their possible dissertation topic. It is taken when students have completed course work. Students must inform the English office and the DGS of their intention to take the exam at least three months in advance. All students must also identify and approach a faculty advisor before this date in order to sign off on the Field Exam form. Students who fail the exam can take it once more the next time it is offered; students who fail the exam twice are dismissed from the program.

The dissertation prospectus follows naturally from the Field Exam, and is produced in consultation with the student’s dissertation committee consisting of a Director and two readers. Students must identify and approach faculty members who will serve in these capacities in order to sign off on the relevant Dissertation Prospectus Form. Students normally submit the prospectus, signed by the committee, to the DGS during the same semester as the Field Exam. Submission is followed by a defense, which consists of an oral discussion of the prospectus by the dissertation committee, as well as the other faculty and graduate students in the concentration.

The dissertation is normally written in two years. All students, having successfully defended the Dissertation Prospectus, must secure the continued advising agreement of faculty advisors by having them sign off on the Dissertation Committee Form. We expect that dissertation-writing students will meet regularly with their Director and Readers. A schedule of meetings should be set up early in the dissertation stage, as should a schedule outlining when portions will be submitted and returned with comments. In the event that a student’s dissertation is co-directed by multiple faculty members, there must still be two readers in addition to the directors.

In order to graduate in May, students must defend by end of March; to graduate in August, students must defend by the end of May; to graduate in December, students must defend by the end of October. This means that a final draft of the dissertation must be submitted to the examining committee at least six weeks before the defense, with the approval of the dissertation committee. The defense is conducted by the three faculty members on the student’s dissertation committee, joined by one other member of the English Department and an evaluator outside the Department.  The final, revised draft of the thesis is submitted electronically.

For more details see English Department Graduate Handbook, updated Fall 2015 (PDF).

Program FAQs

While we recognize the difficulty of economic demands on all students, we also feel strongly that it is not possible to hold a full-time job and seriously pursue the rigorous nature of doctoral work at the same time.  All our PhD students hold Graduate Assistantships and/or Teaching Assistantships in order to hone the skills of instruction, public speaking, and writing crucial to success in any area of professional life. Some of our MA students also hold part-time jobs. However, in general, these additional workloads are approved based on their ability to feed an individual student’s future goals and immediate research interests. We expect that active participation in a vibrant departmental culture will engage student perspectives and believe that each student’s contribution depends upon their ability to keep an active presence in the program throughout their graduate degree work.

We do not post job placement rates on our website because such statistics do not capture the fit between areas of study and diversity of professional objectives. Our program is able to tailor students as critical thinkers able to engage with pressing issues of social justice. These perspectives verse students in the lively nature of the literary past by delving into continuing questions of concern addressed in historical traditions of thought, genre conventions and expressive modes of experimentation, canonical and minority literatures, theoretical engagements with questions of social organization, exclusion, and alternatively productive systems of participation, as well as popular, philosophical, and literary mediums of communication. We believe the development of this diversity of interests and specificities of talent provide the foundation for success in any professional field seeking individuals who are independent thinkers attempting to improve the world and/or their immediate communities.

College guidelines allow graduate students to take up to 2 courses outside of her/his degree-granting department (and students are encouraged to take these courses at nearby universities as well).  Courses taken outside of departmental offerings are usually on the basis of the fact that some aspect of a key expertise for a student’s research may otherwise go unfulfilled. All areas of the GW graduate curriculum are available for outside credit consideration as we promote not only interdisciplinary work but also the development of disciplines that are not exclusively literary in focus. We emphasize in particular the work of literature understood within its specific historical, cultural, material, philosophical, and genre contexts.

We accept PhD students to whom we can offer a full funding package for five years provided they make good progress in our program. Additionally, there are opportunities within and without the university to procure additional funding pertinent to one’s research interests (many of these are available to MA students as well).  We encourage and support students in these efforts and also routinely identify such opportunities on our email and website communications networks.  Because DC is a hub of government, funding opportunities exist in a variety of areas potentially relevant to student research interests.