Practical Guide for Students

This short, practical guide is intended for students in the Ph.D. Program in English. You should also peruse the Graduate Center Student Handbook, which is also available in hard copy from the Office of Student Affairs, room 7301. The information in this Practical Guide is being updated throughout 2022-2023 in order to match changing conditions at the Graduate Center. If something in this guide no longer seems accurate, please alert the EOs and APO in English.

I. Basic Information

Professor Tanya Agathocleous
Acting Co-Executive Officer (EO) and Professor, English

Professor Talia Schaffer
Acting Co-Executive Officer (EO) and Professor, English; Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies

Professor Mario DiGangi
Acting Deputy Executive Officer (DEO) for Admissions and Professor, English; Professor, Global Early Modern Studies

Professor Mary McGlynn
Acting Deputy Executive Officer (DEO) for Placement and Professor, English

Radhika Kashyap
Assistant Program Officer (APO), English

The GC building was formerly the B. Altman department store, and remnants of its Beaux Arts style are still visible in the ornate staircase and elevator of the Mina Rees Library. In 1999 it underwent an award-winning architectural renovation. Building security is excellent — if you ever experience any difficulties, call x7777 or press one of the blue assistance panels located in the hallways. Our cafeterias are currently shut due to the pandemic, but previously we had a cafe located on the first floor and a full cafeteria with a ceiling skylight (through which you can see the tip of the Empire State Building) on the 8th Floor. The 8th floor cafeteria is still open as a workspace.

The English Program's offices are mostly clustered around the lounge, room 4406. There is a Thesis Room (4406.11) which is used for exams and meetings. The lounge features a bank of computers connected to a printer. There are also two scanners for student use. Paper for the printer is provided by the GC as part of the student technology fee. Unfortunately, there is no copier on this floor for student use — please use the copiers in the library. There are also a few printers in the library. You need a GC computer account to use any computer here.

Check  this website often for information about events, courses, faculty information, etc. The GC website is at

All Graduate Center (GC) phone numbers begin 212-817-xxxx. The final four numbers are the extension (e.g., the English Program ext. is "x8315") and can be reached from any GC phone simply by dialing those four numbers. All outside calls made from within the GC must be connected by dialing "9" first.

English Program students may enroll in seminars in other disciplines:

Students may also earn certificates in the following areas:

To learn more, go to and filter by “Certificate” under “Find a Program.”

The Graduate Center is a member of the New York City Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium (including Columbia, Fordham, NYU, New School University, Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, and Princeton) and has a consortial arrangement with General Theological Seminary.

The GC is a member of the university consortium that in part comprises the Folger Shakespeare Institute in Washington, D.C. As a result of this affiliation, Ph.D. students in English are eligible for - and frequent recipients of - funding to participate in Folger Institute Seminars. In the past we have also been part of the Dickens Universe at Santa Cruz, and have been able to send students to its annual program. The English Program is a member of the Association of Departments of English of the Modern Language Association. 

1) Friday Forums and Sponsored Conferences

To ensure that some portion of every week is dedicated to fostering communal intellectual vitality and conviviality, the English Program sponsors Friday Forums, which bring to the GC internationally recognized scholars, writers, and publishers to discuss a wide variety of literary and cultural topics. Some Forums are devoted to special issues of student/faculty concern, such as service and teaching work, financial aid, career paths, curricular changes, and the job market. Forums generally take place at 4 p.m. on Fridays, but many occur in conjunction with all-day conferences and interdisciplinary events. When in person, Forums are followed by a reception with food and wine and provide an opportunity for the English Program community to engage with one another. The Program posts these events on our website and announces them via email and our Slack workspace. The first Forum of the Fall semester is generally an orientation session for new students in the Program, and the last one of each semester, the Winter/Spring Revels, is a party not to be missed.

2) Program Communications (Including Email) and Changes of Address

The Program’s EO sends regular emails to the department listserv with updates about events and issues of immediate interest. The EO may also occasionally send a more official newsletter summarizing information about faculty and student publications, special seminars, grants/fellowships, lectures, and upcoming academic events, including conferences. 

We strongly encourage students to check their GC email frequently, since important notices go out there. If students prefer a different email, they may give that information to the APO. Please make sure to keep the APO updated on changes to email addresses, and to update CUNYfirst and Human Resources if your name, address, or phone number changes. 

3) The English Students' Association (ESA)

The ESA is a student-run organization that seeks to improve living and working conditions in the Program. The ESA provides a forum for student concerns via meetings and its listserv; sponsors a network of student mentors; runs events; organizes the famous end-of-semester Revels; and runs an annual public conference. Graduate students may subscribe to the ESA listserv here

4) The Doctoral and Graduate Students' Council (DGSC) and The Graduate Student Advocate

Students in all programs at the GC have formed the DGSC, which brings their concerns to the administration; lobbies for their interests before the University Student Senate, the CUNY Board of Trustees, the Mayor's Office, and the State Legislature; supports intra- and interprogram student organizations; and provides legal services and funding for cultural activities. The DGSC subsidizes the Advocate, a newspaper published six times annually. The English Program has three representatives on the council. The DGSC is located in Room 5495, in the Robert E. Gilleece Student Center. Phone: ext.: 7888.

5) The CUNY Library System and the New York Public Library

One of the consortial advantages of CUNY is its library system, which houses over six million volumes, 31,000 journal/periodical titles, and many resources available on microform and CD-ROM. Students enrolled at the GC have borrowing privileges at all twenty CUNY libraries, and they may return books, unless they are more than six weeks overdue, at any CUNY college. Renewals of books can be made only at the lending library; fines on overdue books can be paid at any system library (except Bronx Community and Hostos Community colleges and the Law School). 

The entrance to the GC's Mina Rees Library is on the first floor and is only open to CUNY students. An on-line public access catalog (CUNY+) permits users to determine the location and circulation status of nearly every book and periodical held by CUNY. Students and faculty can search CUNY+ from within any CUNY library, from many department and program offices, via the Mina Rees Library Web site, and from home. The site explains the library's hours and borrowing policy, hosts multiple full-text and citation databases and has many useful links and other services; it also provides interactive forms for making Interlibrary Loan (ILL) requests, renewing GC books, asking reference questions, and requesting library instruction. ILL arrangements make it possible to obtain material held in other collections throughout North America and the world. (When their research requires it, CUNY students and faculty may gain on-site access to collections at any of over 250 libraries in the New York City area using the "METRO card." Access is temporarily limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. For more information about visiting a specific library, inquire at the GC Library.)

One of the greatest storehouses of information and research material anywhere is the Humanities and Social Sciences Library of The New York Public Library (NYPL), located just ten minutes north of the GC, on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Faculty and students at the GC may secure a place to work in the Wertheim Study, located on the second floor of the NYPL where they are able to get material specially delivered to them, to keep most books on a designated reserve shelf for one month, and to enjoy a private place to study. If interested, students can apply for access to the Wertheim Study and other Research Study Rooms on the NYPL website. GC Students can also take advantage of increased borrowing privileges at the NYPL research libraries, and can register for this by bringing their GC ID to the library. Any member of the public has access to the noncirculating resources of NYPL; users can discover more about its abundant holdings by searching on-site catalogs (for material acquired before 1971) or Research Catalog (an on-line public access catalog for material added to the collection after 1971). Through the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MarLI), students also have access to resources that are uniquely available at Columbia University’s Butler Library and NYU Libraries. Information about all branches of the NYPL is available here.

Please note that Brooklyn ( and Queens ( have independent public library systems.

II. Proceeding Toward the Ph.D. in English

Students in the Ph.D. Program in English complete the following requirements in earning their doctoral degrees:

  • 60 credits of coursework (with grades of B or better), no more than 25 of which may be transferred from another graduate institution
  • A single required course: ENGL 70000, Introduction to Doctoral Studies in English (prior to Fall 2013, English 79500, Theory & Practice of Literary Scholarship)
  • Evidence of proficiency of one language other than English
  • The first exam, taken after the first year
  • The second exam, the orals, taken after coursework is completed
  • A dissertation prospectus, submitted within six months after the orals
  • A dissertation, followed by a dissertation defense.

Each of these requirements is explained more fully below.

There are usually approximately 15 courses offered each semester in the department. Course descriptions for each semester are posted on the Program's Web site. New students will be registered by the APO and EO at their orientation session in August. Continuing students who are enrolled can  sign up online for courses during the initial registration period, which lasts  about four weeks (usually in December and January for the Spring Semester, and in May and June for the Fall Semester), so long as there are no holds on their records. (If students have holds, they should speak to the Satisfactory Progress Officer.)  We encourage students to avoid the fee for late registration by making every effort to register on time. 

In planning their coursework, students will want to refer to the department’s course descriptions. The course list is also posted on CUNYFirst. The current semester's schedule and most up-to-date courses can also be found in CUNY's Dynamic Course Schedule

To register online, go to and click on Portal, then "CUNYfirst." To log in to CUNY First, use your full email address, which should have your name plus a number and then You will have a CUNY First password that is different from your email password. Students can change their registration during the add/drop period which extends through the third week of every semester.

Courses in the Ph.D. Program in English - including the practicum for new teaching interns - may be taken for 4, 3, or 2 credits. The amount of work varies depending on the number of credits and the professor will tell students what work is required for each level. A student who signs up for 2 credits will get a pass/fail grade and will do only some of the required coursework. Signing up for a 3-credit option generally requires most but not all of the required coursework. The 2- and 3-credit options allow students to explore courses without taking on an overly heavy workload. Students with a BA can take a maximum of three 2-credit courses, while students with a MA can take two 2-credit courses.

Students must take a minimum of seven credits per semester to maintain full-time status. Students must complete a minimum of 60 credits of approved course work (including transfer credit) for the Ph.D. degree, maintaining an average grade of B or better (this means a B average over the whole transcript). Once 60 credits have been completed, students may continue to take classes for credit if they wish as long as they are at Level I or II. However, students at any level can audit classes, either officially signing up as auditors or simply sitting in on the class with the professor’s permission.

While students are expected to take most of their seminars within the English Program, they should take advantage of the range of exciting courses in other programs. In the past, our students have benefited from courses in:

  • Departments including Art History; Classics; Comparative Literature; Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures; Philosophy; Theater  
  • Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) Concentrations in Advanced Social Research, Cognitive Science, European Union Studies, Fashion Studies, Food Studies, Language and Literacy, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Lesbian/Gay/Queer Studies, Psychology of Political Behavior, Public Policy and Urban Studies, Twentieth-Century Studies, Urban Health and Society;
  • Certificate programs in Africana Studies, American Studies, Critical Theory, Data Science, Demography, Film Studies, Global Early Modern Studies, Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, Medieval Studies, Philosophy, and Women’s and Gender Studies. 

Students interested in earning a certificate in one of these Programs while working toward the Ph.D. in English should be in contact with these Programs.

All students in the Program must take in their first year of enrollment a course in research and critical methodology: ENGL 70000, Introduction to Doctoral Studies in English (formerly ENGL 79500 "Theory and Practice of Literary Studies) for 4 credits. The 2-credit Pass ("P") grade option does not apply to this course.

Sometimes a student develops a strong interest in a particular topic that is not represented in our coursework, and in such cases the student can undertake an independent study course (AIR) with a faculty member. The student needs to ask a faculty member to direct this course, and the two will decide together on the appropriate readings, the number of meetings, and the assignments. There is a cap on the number of such courses, so the student will need to check that the program has enough credits to accommodate it. The student must then write a description of the course, explaining why it can be done only in the format of an independent study. The faculty member who will direct the independent study must sign off on the description and the rationale. The request, accompanied by the description and rationale, should be submitted to the Executive Officer by the first day of registration for the following semester. The EO will make the final determination as to which proposals will be approved.

Students who have completed their course requirements, the oral exam, and begun preliminary work on a thesis may find it helpful to enroll in the "Dissertation Workshop" (English 91000), which is offered (for zero credits) each semester. The workshop is led by a professor with considerable experience in directing dissertations. Students prepare and read each others' work (including drafts of the dissertation prospectus), as well as discuss the job market and other career paths. The department may also offer a job workshop to support students as they apply for academic jobs.  

The English Program will accept a maximum of 25 credits earned in another graduate program toward the 60 credits required for the Ph.D. The following restrictions apply to these transfer credits:

  • The course(s) must have been completed with a grade of B or higher;
  • The course(s) must have been taken in English literature (courses in creative or professional writing are not acceptable for transfer credit) or in areas of study that the Program deems directly relevant to a Ph.D. in English   
  • The course(s) must be comparable to courses offered by the GC English Program.
  • The course(s) must be recorded on an official transcript

The Academic Program Officer evaluates each first year student's work in another graduate program and notifies the department about how many credits can be accepted (usually before the end of the student’s first year in the program). If the student is still in an MA program when applying, the student will need to submit an updated official transcript so that all their coursework can be evaluated. The student may also be asked to show the syllabus or course description to help determine what the course covered.

The following grades (and quality point values) may be given to students at the GC:








4.0 (not 4.3)







































































To remain in the English Program, students must maintain at least a B average.

The following grades may be given in particular circumstances:








 A P or an F must be assigned in any course taken for 2, rather than 4, credits.






 Satisfactory progress



 A grade that can be assigned only for students who enroll in English 90000 ("Dissertation Supervision"), and only when the supervisor has seen evidence of a student's continuing progress on a dissertation during the semester. This means that the dissertation supervisor has seen some kind of writing that semester. If the student has not written anything that semester, supervisors may give a grade of "NRP" [No Record of Progress]).






 No grade recorded



 This appears if no course grade has been received by the Registrar. When the student graduates, the grade on the transcript changes to a P (pass).









 See below.









 A grade that is assigned by the Registrar on the final grade roster for a student who has registered as an auditor for a seminar, with the professor's approval.






 Withdrawal without academic penalty



 A grade that is assigned by the Registrar on the final grade roster for a student who has appropriately requested a withdrawal between the fourth and the tenth week of the semester.


The following restrictions apply:

  • A grade of P can be awarded at most three times.
  • A grade of W cannot be given to a student who withdraws after the tenth week of the semester without the written permission of the course instructor, the EO, and the Vice President for Student Affairs

Students who are unable to complete their work for a course within the allotted time period may request a grade of incomplete ("INC") from the faculty member. The Registrar puts a hold on the registration of any student who has more than two grades of incomplete, and the English Program's Satisfactory Progress Officer oversees all such student records. Courses in which an unresolved incomplete grade is recorded do not count toward the 60 credits required for the degree (or the 45 credits required to advance to Level II). Students with multiple incompletes are in jeopardy of losing financial aid - both from the GC and from the Program. A student with too many INCs will trigger a Satisfactory Progress warning from the Graduate Center, which means that the situation needs to be repaired in order to continue in the program. Graduate Students who receive an Incomplete (INC grade) during the Fall 2021 semester or later must fulfill their academic obligation within one calendar year of the end of the semester in which the grade of Incomplete is given. Incomplete grades unresolved in the above-mentioned time period will become FIN (Failure from Incomplete) grades in the student record and may not be changed thereafter.

The Graduate Center will inform the program’s Student Progress Officer if students run into trouble completing the requirements for the degree. Satisfactory Progress requires the student to: 

  • Pass the First ("Comprehensive") Examination after the first year of study in the Program and before the completion of 45 credits of coursework (including transfer credits);   
  • Maintain a B average in coursework;   
  • Pass the Second ("Orals") Examination within one year after completing all course work and before the end of 10 semesters of matriculation;   
  • Complete coursework for grades; a student should not get three or more grades of incomplete ("INC") or two grades of no record of progress ("NRP")   
  • Complete  the Ph.D. within eight years from the time of first registration for students who enter with a baccalaureate degree alone, or seven years from the time of first registration for students who matriculate after completing a master's degree.    

The student’s life experiences, including medical, familial, and work responsibilities, obviously affect progress, and if conditions have made it impossible for the student to move at the expected rate, the student should work with the Student Progress Officer and advisor to create a new plan so as to stay in the Program. 

Students who wish to interrupt their doctoral study may be granted leaves of absence (LOA) for up to a total of four semesters. Students should apply for a leave at least two weeks before the first day of classes for the semester in which they wish to be on leave.. The LOA request goes to the EO, who forwards it to the Registrar to approve it. If students have unfinished financial or other business, the LOA will not go through; the request has to be cleared by the Office of Financial Aid, the Mina Rees Library, the Bursar, the Business Office, and (if applicable) the Offices of International Students and Residence Life. During the period of the leave, no changes in academic status - including the scheduling or taking of any of the required examinations, moving from one tuition level to another, applying for an en-route degree, advancing to candidacy, and defending a dissertation - can occur. Students who are not United States citizens should check with the Office of International Students to ensure that a leave of absence does not affect their visa status.

The Office of the Registrar automatically generates registration materials for returning students based on the period of time stipulated for the leave of absence.

Students who voluntarily withdraw from the Program must Request a Withdrawal to the EO. Withdrawals must be cleared by the Office of Financial Aid, the Mina Rees Library, the Bursar, the Business Office, and (if applicable) the Offices of International Students and Residence Life. To return to the Program, a student applies for readmission. Students who have been withdrawn from the program for four years or less fill out an Application for Readmission. Students who have been withdrawn from the program for more than four years will have to submit the application and have it reviewed by the Executive Committee, which will rule on whether the student is likely to perform at the appropriate academic level. 

Information regarding proportionate tuition refund appears each semester in the GC Student Handbook. The Office of Financial Aid has details regarding the repayment of federal loans when an individual's status as a student changes. Students should familiarize themselves with these fiscal schedules if they are considering withdrawing from the Program. To avoid full tuition liability for a particular semester, for example, they must withdraw before the end of the third week of classes for that semester.

Students enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in English may apply for an en-route Master's degree, and we strongly recommend that; it is easy to do and it gives students a terminal degree that can qualify them for multiple careers should they decide not to finish the Ph.D. 

Students who want to do the en-route MA must have completed 45 credit hours with a grade of B or above, passed the First Exam, and received a B or better in “Introduction to Doctoral Studies.” Any course with a P/F option can not be counted toward 45 credit hours.  Please note that students already holding an M.A. may not use their transfer credits toward the 45 required for an en-route master’s degree. Students who have done master’s-level graduate work (but did not receive a master’s degree) may use up to 12 transfer credits as part of the 45 credits required for the en-route M.A. degree.  Students must also be registered for the current semester and have no outstanding financial liability to the university.  

If the student qualifies, they should talk to a faculty member about revising a seminar paper written in a course in order to make it into an MA thesis (about 20 pages long). Usually the MA thesis supervisor will be the one in whose course the student originally wrote the paper. The student also chooses another faculty member to serve as a reader. Once students have completed the paper/project and it is deemed acceptable by both the supervisor and reader, they fill-in the en-route MA approval form and have the supervisor and reader sign it, and submit it along with the paper to the APO for Program approval at least one week prior to the filing deadlines. The APO will submit the application for an en-route MA to the Office of the Registrar on behalf of the student. 

An e-Permit is CUNY's online application for students to obtain permission to register and attend classes at another CUNY institution. Please note that an e-Permit does NOT automatically register a student for the approved course or guarantee enrollment at the host school.

Graduate Center students who are approved to take CUNY course(s) at another CUNY institution must submit their request via CUNYFirst.

All students who are approved to take an e-Permit at another CUNY school will be enrolled for a "PERM" course for the number of credits they will be taking at the host institution. Please keep in mind that the "PERM" course is on the student’s record for billing purposes only. It is the student’s responsibility to complete registration at the host school via CUNYFirst. Your host institution will notify you via email of your registration date and time.

The Consortium helps to unite graduate students at seven New York area universities by enabling them to take courses at any institution within the consortium, which is made up of Columbia University (including Teachers College), Fordham University, New School University, New York University, Princeton University, Rutgers University (New Brunswick campus) and SUNY - Stony Brook. Students may also take courses at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture. Participants are subject to the academic regulations of the host institution - including its calendar, grading system, and academic honor system - but they pay tuition to their home institution. These requirements apply:

  • The student must have completed one year of study at the home institution
  • Courses for which a student registers should not normally be available at the home institution   
  • A student's cross registration must be approved by the appropriate offices at the home and host institutions    
  • A student must register at both the home and the host institution

Students who want to register for courses through the consortium should first try to contact the professor teaching the course, or at least the department, to make sure the course is indeed open. Students complete an Inter-University Doctoral Consortium Registration (IUDC) Form . Students must complete all sections of the IUDC form except the Home and Host School Coordinator fields, and Host Instructor signature before submitting the form to Once the request has been reviewed, students will be notified of their approval status, via email, as well as what steps to take next. Students will be required to reach out to the host campus IUDC Coordinator and host instructor to obtain signatures. Students will have until the 3rd week of classes to submit their completed form back to the Registrar. Students who drop a course at a host consortium institution must notify both institutions and follow the appropriate instructions for withdrawing.

Students affiliated with the Medieval Studies Certificate Program may register for seminars in the doctoral program at General Theological Seminary, where they also have access to the library. They should see the Coordinator of the Medieval Studies Certificate Program.

III. Negotiating the Principal Hurdles

Students are not required to meet the language requirement within a fixed number of years, but they must do so before they may advance to candidacy and, thus, achieve Level III status. Therefore, students are encouraged to meet the language requirement in their first 3 years.

Students must demonstrate language proficiency in one language besides English in any of five ways:

  1. Students may take and pass one of the English Program's regularly administered translations examinations in French, German, Ancient Greek, Italian, Classical Latin, Medieval Latin, and Spanish. Members of the Program's Languages and Comprehensive Examination Committee prepare tests in each of these languages; they are given three times a year (in August, January, and May). The examination dates are announced via email. Students are asked to sign up for an exam in the Program Office at least three weeks before the test date. Each examination lasts two hours and consists of a written passage of approximately 350 words. Students may use a paper dictionary, which is the only translation aid that may be used or brought into the examination room.    
  2. Students may enroll in the Graduate Center Language Reading Program (LRP), taking an intensive reading course - either Level One or Two - and earning a course (not final examination) grade of at least B. The LRP schedules several courses in various languages throughout the year. There is a separate tuition fee for the LRP. Students who must fulfill requirements in an ancient language should also consider the Latin/Greek Institute (LGI), an eleven-week summer program of total immersion, which includes instruction in language and literature.    
  3. Students may demonstrate that they have passed a foreign language reading requirement in another graduate program within five years of matriculating in the English Program; they should present appropriate documentation - such as a transcript - to the APO.
  4. As well as foreign languages, students may demonstrate proficiency in a specialized language or symbol system, the study of which would be outside the usual parameters of English literary scholarship. Examples of such a language might include coding, musicology, or neuroscientific discourse. A student who chooses this option will be expected to demonstrate proficiency in the specialized  language at a level equivalent to the proficiency we require in a foreign language, and it must have direct and demonstrable relevance to the student’s dissertation research. Students interested in this option complete an application to be submitted to the EO.
  5. If the student has a first language that is not English, that language is assumed to fulfill the language requirement. Please request a language requirement waiver from the APO.

First Exam or Portfolio Exam

The First Exam no longer functions as an “exam” per se, but rather has an advisory function and is geared toward helping guide students’ relation to their developing work and ideas. Students will submit work to the APO in preparation for a joint conversation about that work with two faculty members. Submitted materials are to be drawn from the work students did in their first year. It does not have to be what students consider to be their ‘best’ work, but rather the work they want to continue to think about and would most benefit from discussing. 

The student submits materials between 15-30 pages in total, comprising either two shorter objects or one longer one. Possibilities include but are not limited to the following: syllabus, conference paper, writing for non-academic audiences, article, seminar paper, or essay for potential use toward en-route MA. Please note that creative writing is excluded. 

Students includes, with their selected work, a framing statement for the material they submit (no longer than 500 words) to help guide the conversation in the directions they feel would be most helpful. The statement might include explanation as to why they have chosen to submit particular material, or discussion of the origins and aims of the work; it should be sure to identify questions and concerns the student has regarding the work under consideration.

Students will be assigned two faculty members, and it is the student’s responsibility to reach out to the faculty to schedule the conversation.. The conversation must take place in the first two weeks of the semester to ensure that the P/F grade can be transmitted to Radika Kashyap several days in advance of the “last day for level changes” deadline, to ensure she can transmit passes to the registrar (fails are not conveyed to the registrar). 

The First Examination is an hour long: 45 minutes for conversation followed by 15 minutes reserved for completing a form that acts as guidance for students (e.g. "encouraged student to develop archival research; to embed into XYZ discourses; to study Urdu") and also formally indicating that the student has passed.

The criteria for the passing grade is on-time submission, completion, and the scheduling and attending of the 1-hour joint meeting with two faculty members. 

Second Exam or Oral Exam

Students more thoroughly demonstrate their powers of discernment, analysis, and eloquence on the Second Examination, commonly referred to as "Orals." To read the Learning Goals of the Second Exam, click here.

This is a two-hour examination in three fields, administered by a committee of three professors. Usually the professors are in the English department, but professors from other departments at the Graduate Center can be appointed to the student’s orals committee as long as the director is from English. Students take the Second Examination within one year of completing all their course work and meeting other Program requirements.

In planning for the Second Examination, students should:

  1. Decide upon three fields of inquiry. A field list may be organized around a genre, a historical period, a major author or set of authors, or a theoretical approach. Ideally a list should have 20-30 sources on it. If it is a theoretical or critical list, it is usually a mix of classic foundational texts and contemporary cutting-edge work. If it has primary and secondary sources, the list will usually have about 20 primary and 10 secondary sources.                                                                                                                    There are three basic approaches to organizing orals lists. Some students use the orals as a way of filling in gaps in their knowledge of a crucial theoretical or literary field. Students who aren’t yet sure of their dissertation topics simply choose three fields that intrigue them and use the orals process to figure out their real commitments. Students who already know their dissertation topic can use the orals to do advance background research. 
  2. Choose an advisor for the orals committee. This person need not be the same one you use as your dissertation advisor (in fact, you can change your whole committee for the dissertation should you wish). The advisor chairs the orals committee, keeps time, and signs the forms. The advisor can help you find two other examiners. 
  3. Work with your three faculty members to refine drafts of your lists. You will also have to write a rationale (no more than 300 words) explaining why you have chosen these fields. 
  4. Each examiner must approve his or her field list and sign the contract. Your orals chair should see all three lists and the rationale before signing off. The completed lists, rationale and signed Second Examination Contract must be submitted to the Assistant Program Officer at least six weeks before the examination date. The Executive Officer will contact the student if there is any problem with the lists. The candidate also decides the sequence of examiners in the oral exam itself.
  5. At the orals, the candidate begins by giving a short statement, perhaps 2-5 minutes, about how they perceive the relation among these three fields and what they’ve learned by doing this work. After that, each professor gets nominally about 40 minutes (but it is usually 30-35 in practice) to ask questions. Sometimes the whole committee will chime in for a discussion, but it is more usual for members to respect each other’s time and stay quiet until it is their turn. 
  6. Students may bring refreshments into the room, a way to write down notes, and copies of the lists. Usually no other materials are allowed, but accommodations may be made if necessary for candidates with particular needs.
  7. About five minutes before the end of the 2-hour exam, the committee sends the candidate out of the room briefly to confer about the performance and decide on the grade (pass or fail), and then bring the student in to convey the results of the assessment. 
  8. A student who fails the examination, or one part of it, must retake the relevant section(s) with the same field lists and examiner(s). Students who wish to make any changes must secure the approval of the Executive Officer. 

For more detailed information about the Oral Exam, please refer to the student-authored Organizing the Orals.

Students who have passed the Second Exam, fulfilled their language requirement, and completed at least 60 credits of coursework should e-mail the APO with EMPLID, tentative title of the dissertation, expected date of completion, advisor's name, and tentative committee members. The student will move to  Level III once this paperwork has gone through. 

1) Choosing and Working with a Dissertation Supervisor

One of the most important choices a student in a doctoral program makes is that of a dissertation supervisor (the advisor). This person must be in the English department, and does not have to be the same person as the orals chair. To choose your advisor, you should think about personal as well as professional issues. The person you choose should obviously be an expert in the subject you want to write about, able to direct you to new research and resources, and should be well respected in your field. However, it’s also crucial that you and your advisor have compatible personalities, and that you are clear with your advisor about what you hope for in this relationship - and pick someone who can fulfill what you’re looking for. Some students want strict deadlines, some want flexibility. Some students want a hands-on advisor, some want more freedom. In making this choice, it’s a good idea to get advice from faculty you trust and especially from other graduate students in the program to find out what kind of reputation has accrued to the faculty you’re considering. Whoever you work with, however, you’re sure to want someone who reads your work carefully, fairly, and reliably fast, someone who is responsive to queries within a reasonable time, and someone who will advocate for you effectively on your career path. If your chosen advisor fails to do these things, and does not improve when you ask, you should feel free to switch to a new advisor. 

All of this advice holds true when seeking committee members as well (most people have two readers along with the advisor), but with the proviso that you will want your readers to have expertise in different areas affecting your dissertation, so that they can provide a wide range of help. The readers are usually in English, but you may ask people in other departments to serve. Some students with particularly specialized projects require committee members from institutions other than the Graduate Center, and in that case, the outside member usually serves as an extra, fourth member. If the outside member wants to be one of the core three members, that person should be appointed as an adjunct faculty member at the GC so as to participate in GC administrative requirements. This is a nominal appointment and carries no other weight beyond the student’s committee. More commonly, the outside member simply agrees to do the work because they are particularly interested in the student’s project, remains the ‘extra’ person, and has no official role.  

Students are free to ask anyone to serve, and faculty members are free to accept or to decline the request. Keep in mind that if a faculty member says no, it may be for reasons unrelated to the student; that person may be overtaxed, about to go on leave, or lack expertise in the dissertation’s topic.

Usually, student and advisor will have established a good working relationship before the dissertation has taken much shape; the supervisor may well have been the chair of the Second ("Orals") Examination Committee, the chief reader of the prospectus, and a long-standing adviser. The process of writing a dissertation may lead a student to alter an original understanding with an advisor, however; in such cases it may seem mutually wise for the student to seek a different supervisor.

2) The Dissertation Prospectus and Its Approval

The dissertation prospectus is due within six months after passing the orals exam. It cannot be longer than ten pages, although the bibliography that accompanies it can be of any length. The prospectus should provide a compact, concise blueprint for a dissertation by including:

  • An introduction that lays out the proposed project in the context of the field, showing why this constitutes an important or intriguing intervention. The introduction should show the project’s theoretical basis and demonstrate that the student knows the relevant criticism in the field.
  • Brief chapter summaries, usually about a paragraph long. While the actual dissertation chapters will almost certainly diverge from this early plan, the chapter summaries indicate that the student has planned out the project and enable readers to understand its components and judge whether it is something that the student can complete in good time. 
  • Students who intend to apply for a dissertation-year fellowship from The Graduate Center should submit the prospectus, approved by their supervisor, to the English Program Office by early November so that there will be adequate time for its review (and possible revision) before the dissertation-year fellowship deadline.

Students should keep in mind that the dissertation prospectus is merely an administrative requirement, not a binding contract. It is designed to be helpful. It is intended to make sure that you are embarking on this major project with due preparation, and to give you some useful advice as you begin. Moreover, the act of writing out the prospectus can be beneficial because it makes you articulate your vision in the form of a concrete plan. You will also use this document over and over again, copying it for applications, pasting it into letters. In short, the prospectus is valuable, but don’t spend years agonizing over it. Your actual dissertation is almost certainly going to look very different from this initial plan, and that’s perfectly fine. 

If you would like help with the prospectus, you may want to take English 91000 ("Dissertation Workshop").

Share the drafts with your advisor, and when the two of you agree that it’s ready for submission, email it to the APO along with the completed Prospectus Review Form.The prospectus is read by your two committee members (other than your advisor) and an outside reader from the English department appointed by the Executive Officer. Readers have four  weeks within which to make their reports. 

  • Each reader sends at least a paragraph of feedback, indicating that the prospectus is:
    • acceptable as submitted;    
    • in need of minor revision;   
    • in need of major revision; or   
    • unacceptable   
  • The Executive Officer reviews the reports, adjudicates divided or mixed opinions, and sends the student the results of the review.
  • If the prospectus is accepted, the student is free to begin the dissertation. . 
  • If major revisions are called for:
    • Changes must be completed and a revised prospectus submitted within one semester.   
    • The new prospectus is re-read only by the objecting committee member(s). The student submits the new prospectus to the Assistant Program Officer, who asks for and collects the new report.
  • If the prospectus is found unacceptable, the student revises it and submits a new version.

3) Progress on the Dissertation, the Dissertation Review form, and Appropriate Registration

At the dissertation level, Level III, students register each semester for English 90000 ("Dissertation Supervision") under their advisor’s name. To get a “satisfactory progress” grade ("SP") in this course, students must submit written work – ideally a draft of at least part of a  chapter – each term. If a student does not submit writing, the advisor may give a grade of “NRP,” “no progress reported,” which alerts the program that the student may be having trouble. Two “NRP” grades generates a “Satisfactory Progress” report, thereby alerting the Dean of Students, EO, and the Student Progress Officer. This is not a punitive situation, but simply a way for the English department to make sure we can intervene in time to keep students on track. When a student graduates, the NRP grade changes to a P. Once a student receives a “Satisfactory Progress” report, that student must talk to the advisor and the Student Progress Officer to agree on a plan for the future. This usually takes the form of an explanation of the delay plus a written timeline for the remaining part of the dissertation.  

The student consults with the members of the committee to decide the level of their involvement. Usually the advisor works closely with the dissertating student, reading drafts along the way, but the other committee members can take a range of roles. They may a) read drafts too; b) read only finished chapters; c) read only the finished chapters that pertain to that reader’s area of expertise; d) read the whole dissertation for the first time right before the defense. A common arrangement is to have one committee member who reads finished chapters and one who reads the whole dissertation at the end. This gives the dissertator a range of reactions: an advisor who is intimately involved in the process, a reader who can help assess how individual chapters turn out; and a reader who can see it as a whole, understanding the relation of the different parts. However, it is best for the student and committee members to discuss this and work out their own arrangements to everyone’s satisfaction. 

Committee members ought to read dissertation work thoroughly and fairly, and ought to get it back to the student reasonably soon, ideally within a month, barring special circumstances. If committee members are unresponsive, students need to discuss their expectations. If the faculty member is unwilling or unable to be more responsive, the student would be well advised to switch to another advisor. 

Students schedule a meeting of their full committee annually, usually around the date of the approval of the prospectus. This is a valuable meeting and students are entitled to it, so we encourage them to set it up. It is a chance for the whole committee to confer on the student’s achievements, iron out any disagreements about how the dissertation should proceed, and agree on plans for the future.

4) Clearance for Human Participants in Dissertation Research

All students whose research involves human participants must receive approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) by submitting the required forms in the IRB Manager. Students can determine if their research requires IRB approval through the Determination of Human Subjects Research Checklist. If IRB approval is required, further instructions for setting up an account with the IRB Manager and completing the forms are on the Human Research Protection Program homepage

5) The Dissertation: Defense and Depositing

Once the dissertation has been completed and the advisor agrees that it is in good enough condition to hold the dissertation defense, the student schedules the Third Examination: the defense. This is an oral exam lasting an hour, in which the student answers questions from the committee members. The student should inform the APO of the defense date and time, committee members, and dissertation title at least one month in advance.

The defense is generally a fairly informal conversation, a celebration of the fact that the student has completed the dissertation and a chance to think about where the project might go next. While observers are technically allowed, most faculty members strongly discourage it, since the presence of an audience militates against honest conversation. At the end of the defense, the committee members fill out a form to designate whether the dissertation is: 

  • Acceptable as presented (the work is then submitted to the executive officer for final approval);   
  • Acceptable with minor corrections (after making these changes, the student presents the document to the supervisor and the executive officer for final approval); or
  • In need of more substantial revision (after making these changes, the student must secure the three readers' full approval of the re-worked dissertation text before it can be given to the executive officer).    

Once the dissertation has been approved, the APO submits a Report of Final Examination to the Provost. Students who pass this hurdle have completed all academic requirements for the Ph.D. degree. Now they need to deposit the dissertation with the library. Information about depositing, including formatting, can be found on the Library's website.

Students who hope to have their degree conferred by a specific date (at the Commencement ceremony in late May/early June, for example) should take into account the fact that the dissertation will probably require some amendment after the defense.

6) Dissertation Prizes

The English Program awards a number of different dissertation prizes. Students are nominated by faculty, and once the student is nominated, the APO will request a copy of the dissertation for review by the Prize Committee. Prizes are usually announced at the end of May and presented at the end-of-semester celebration. 

The Job Search Officer helps students explore and apply for various careers, academic and non-academic alike. Please see the Job Search website. The Job Search Officer also oversees a number of workshops and informational events to help students with their job search, including mock interviews and practice job talks. Students are also strongly encouraged to make use of the Graduate Center's Office of Career Planning and Professional Development.

IV. Financial Aid and Teaching Internships

Since 2014, all students admitted to English have been awarded a five-year funding package. This package means that in your first year, you will act as a research assistant to a faculty member; in your second to fourth years, you will teach at one of the CUNY colleges, and in your fifth year, you will have a fellowship. 

Beyond the financial aid package, financial assistance to students in the Ph.D. Program in English comes in primarily two forms: fellowships and loans. All fellowships and other forms of financial assistance require a student to register full time each semester and to make satisfactory academic progress. For more information on the range of financial assistance available at the GC, see

The Office of Financial Aid website contains information about additional sources of funding.To apply for Federal Aid (Work-Study or Loans), follow the instructions provided by the Office of Financial Aid.To apply for an English Program Dissertation Fellowship, see section “C” below.

Students in the English Program are assigned to one of the CUNY colleges for teaching in years 2-4. In the fall of your first year, the DEO will solicit a CV and send it to the colleges, which will then generate a list of which students they’d like to employ. The DEO will also ask you for a list of your preferred colleges. It is the college’s preferences that determine placement, although we do try to give people one of their top choices whenever possible. However, inevitably, some will get placed at a college they did not want because the college very much wanted them. When thinking about your list, please be creative; for instance, consider colleges that are geographically more out-of-the-way, because they may have more teaching opportunities, and colleges that are geographically convenient even if you might not have wanted them at first. The DEO will inform you about constraints (for instance, Hunter will only accept students with MAs). In your first year or two of teaching, you’ll almost certainly be doing introductory composition courses, but as you gain more experience, you may well be assigned to upper-level courses, including literature electives. The English Program does not want you to exhaust yourself in teaching, so we prefer it if you only do the assigned college teaching, but we understand that many students already have relationships with local colleges when they enter the Program and we can discuss continued adjuncting commitments on a case-by-case basis.  New teachers take a practicum, where an experienced instructor coaches them through their teaching. 

1) The Practicum (ENGL 79000 ["Teaching College English"])

Most CUNY colleges have a practicum that is tailored to that campus' student body and composition philosophy. It is taught by a composition specialist at that college. Participants discuss theories of teaching composition and their actual experiences. Readings and course requirements vary, but all students are trained in writing pedagogy. The practicum carries four credits which count toward the Ph.D. degree (letter grades are assigned). It is a requirement for all students in the English Program who are first-time instructors at a CUNY college. Students who accept a teaching position at a second CUNY college are not expected to enroll in a second practicum.

For budgetary reasons, practicum courses are offered only during the Fall Semester. Students should take this into consideration because, without formal pedagogical training, they will find it harder to get a job. Thus, teaching for the first time within CUNY during a spring semester or a summer session is generally not an option.

2) Adjunct Teaching 

As a GCF, a student can teach one course per semester as an adjunct for additional money. Adjunct openings are often advertised on the listserv. Most students in the English program find that teaching two courses per semester, in addition to their responsibilities taking classes, preparing for exams, or writing a dissertation, keeps them very busy.

After your five year fellowship, you may teach as many as three courses totaling no more than nine credit hours at one CUNY college; you may also teach one course, for no more than six credit hours, at a second CUNY college.  For adjunct pay rates, please refer to the PSC website. Adjuncts who teach at least six credit hours within CUNY for each of two consecutive semesters are eligible, after the second semester, for health insurance benefits. 

The five-year funding package provided by the English department does not usually cover the whole dissertation-writing process, and therefore students need to find funding for their 6th year and beyond. In the English department, we try to facilitate this funding by matching students with job opportunities within the Graduate Center itself (students might serve as College Assistants or work in the Registrar’s office, for instance), by nominating students for fellowships (WAC Fellowship, the Futures Initiative, the New Media Lab, the CUNY Academy, the Leon Levy Center for Biography, and the Art Science Connect Fellowships), and by helping students apply for grants from other sources, including the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the American Association for University Women (AAUW), the Institute for Citizens & Scholars (which oversees the Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowship), the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Some funding sources outside CUNY set earlier deadlines for the receipt of applications and hence for a student's advancement to candidacy (October 27 for Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, and 15 November for the AAUW and Newcombe Fellowships, for example).

1. Dissertation Fellowships from The Graduate Center. Level III students who have made substantial progress in their thesis research and who are entering their final year of doctoral study are the most successful competitors for dissertation-year fellowships from the Graduate Center. These highly competitive, GC-wide fellowships provide support ranging from $5000 to $25000. These fellowships are administered through the Office of the Provost (Room 8113; (212) 817-7200; ). Each award is given for one year and cannot be renewed. When they apply for a fellowship, students must be registered (or on an approved leave of absence) and must be officially advanced to candidacy. During the time of the fellowship, they must be a registered student.  They should also carefully read application instructions that describe what must be submitted by the deadline. The following elements are required for the application package:

  • Application cover sheet 
  • Statement of applicability for special focus awards (if applicable, see award descriptions for details) 
  • 9-page proposal 
  • 1-page bibliography 
  • 2-page CV 
  • Graduate Center Transcript (unofficial student copy is sufficient)
  • One letter of reference to be submitted via email by your advisor

2. Dissertation Fellowships from the Ph.D. Program in English. The English Program earmarks funding each year for Level III students who have an approved dissertation prospectus on file. The "Application for the Ph.D. Program in English Dissertation Year Fellowship" includes:

  • an application form for dissertation-year funding, which is available from the English Program Office
  • a dissertation plan or prospectus (this may be identical to the one submitted to the Office of the Provost with an application for a Dissertation Fellowship from The Graduate Center)
  • a letter of recommendation, to be emailed to the APO by the deadline. 
  • a curriculum vitae (this item is suggested but not required).

Appendix: Two Sample Schedules for Meeting the Requirements for the Ph.D. in English

Sample schedules are available for Students with B.A. only and Students with M.A. on the Path to Degree page.