Curriculum and Degree Information

The Ph.D. Program in French at the CUNY Graduate Center offers an innovative combination of traditional training in French and Francophone Literatures with interdisciplinary curricular options.

The following is a general overview of the requirements of the Ph.D. Please see the French Program Student Handbook for detailed requirements, policies and processes.

Upon completion of the program, students should have completed or be able to do the following:

  • Demonstrate, through course papers, qualifying written and orals examinations, taken both in French and English, a general knowledge of the field of French and Francophone literature, of its history, main problems and developments, and connections across periods.
  • Be able to formulate and articulate, in French and English, the main concepts of French studies, both in oral and written form.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the most important schools of thought in the history of literary criticism, as well as theoretical and critical texts relevant to French studies today.
  • Be skilled in critically employing methodologies based on theories of literature and concepts of French studies to literary as well as non-literary French and Francophone texts and phenomena.
  • Identify and develop a field of specialization, as well as a sub-field and/or interdisciplinary focus.
  • Conduct research with primary sources; be familiar with the major repositories of such sources in their field and sub-field of specialization.
  • Research and produce an original work of scholarship in the form of a 250 page long dissertation that expands on, or challenges existing scholarship in the field.
  • Show evidence of public scholarly activity in the form of papers presented at conferences, and publications in scientific journals.
  • Be qualified and trained to teach French language at all levels, as well as prepared to teach, both in French and English, undergraduate content-centered courses on French and Francophone literature and culture.

Path to Degree

The timelines below are a guide to expected progress toward the Ph.D. in French. The degree is designed to be completed in 5 years.

Academic Year One

  • Coursework
  • First Examination

Academic Year Two

  • Coursework
  • Specialization Review (Exam Week/May)

Academic Year Three

  • Coursework
  • Second Examination - Written (Second week of Spring Semester/February)
  • Language Requirement (Exam Week/May – or Exemption)

Academic Year Four

  • Second Examination - Oral (Second week of Fall Semester/September)
  • Proposal (December 1st)
  • Research/writing

Academic Year Five (and beyond)

  • Dissertation/writing
  • Concilium
  • Defense 3

Academic Year One

  • Coursework
  • First Examination

Academic Year Two

  • Coursework
  • Specialization Review (Exam Week/December)
  • Language Requirement (Exam Week/May - or Exemption)

Academic Year Three

  • Second Examination - Written (Second week of Fall Semester/September)
  • Second Examination - Oral (Exam Week/May)

Academic Year Four

  • Proposal (Second week of Fall Semester/September)
  • Research
  • Dissertation/writing

Academic Year Five (and beyond)

  • Dissertation/writing
  • Concilium
  • Defense

Course Requirements

The Ph.D. Program in French requires 60 credits of approved graduate work beyond the bachelor's degree. Students entering the program with a Master's degree may be able to transfer a maximum of 30 credits earned through corresponding courses, with Executive Office approval.

Courses offered by the program can be taken for either 2 or 4 credits at the student's discretion, with the exception of the required first year courses. Courses taken for 4 credits will require a substantial term paper in addition to all assignments, exams, and other requirements of the 2-credit course.

Entering students must take the following two courses during their first year of study. Both courses are taught in French, and must be taken for 4 credits each, for a total of 8 credits.

  • Fall: French 70010 Techniques of Literary Research

  • Spring: French 71110 Problems in French Literary History

Students must have a B average or better for the work done in each of these two courses in order to advance in the program.

Learn more about these courses in the Student Handbook »

Coursework after the required first year courses is expected to cover a variety of periods and areas. Students must complete one course each in four out of the following five categories:

  1. Medieval and Sixteenth Century
  2. Seventeenth Century and Eighteenth Century
  3. Nineteenth Century
  4. Twentieth Century and Twenty First Century
  5. Francophone

One, but not all, of these requirements can be completed with courses taken at the MA level or higher that are eligible for transfer credit. A minimum of three of these courses must be completed at the Graduate Center. At least two of these four courses must be taken for four credits. Exceptions can be granted by the Executive Officer.

All students must complete a total of 6 credits of theory beyond the Techniques of Literary Research course. They may take the courses in the French Program or in another program at the Graduate Center, subject to approval by the Executive Officer.

Learn more about this requirement in the Student Handbook »

Language Competency

In courses taught in French, students in French must write seminar papers and exams in French. In courses taught in English, the seminar paper and exams will be written in English. For courses that are cross-listed with other departments, the language in which work is written will be determined by the instructor.

In addition to mastering French and English, students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least one more modern language of demonstrable pertinence to their fields of specialization. If they are early modernists and medievalists, students must demonstrate a basic proficiency in Latin.

Students can fulfill the language requirement in several ways:

  • by passing a 2-hour exam administered by the French program
  • by proving that they passed a similar exam for an M.A. foreign language requirement within five years of entering the program
  • by completing a CUNY Graduate Center Reading course
  • by completing a modern foreign language sequence up to and including an intermediate-level course at a CUNY College
  • by demonstrating equivalent training at a previous institution
  • by providing proof of native fluency in a modern language

Assessments and Examinations

The First Examination consists of in-class written exams given at the end of French 77010 and French 71110, the required first year courses. Students must receive a grade of B or better on each final exam to advance in the program.

Learn more about the First Examination in the Student Handbook »

In their second year in the program, French doctoral students must participate in a Specialization Review. The purpose of the review is to help students either assess their progress in a field of specialization or formulate one if it has yet to be selected.

This review is conducted as a consultation with a committee of three faculty members who are conversant with the student’s work and provide mentoring and guidance for students as they develop their specialization.

Learn more about the Specialization Review in the Student Handbook »

The Second Examination consists of two components: a written examination and an oral examination.

The Written Examination consists of three questions related to specific periods/areas in French literature. Students choose two periods they wish to discuss from the four they are expected to cover during course work. The third area is Francophone literature, and it is mandatory for all students.

The Oral Examination is intended both as a measure of students’ academic progress and as a stepping stone towards the dissertation proposal. Students prepare a bibliography related to their prospective dissertation topic in consultation with their dissertation advisor, and give a 15-20 minute presentation to their examining committee to draw the sections of the bibliography together and explain how they relate to the field which the student plans to explore in their dissertation. In doing so, it should provide an initial formulation of ideas the student will develop in their dissertation proposal.

Learn more about the Second Examination in the Student Handbook »

The single most important project one accomplishes in graduate school is the dissertation, for it is this original study that defines one as a scholar in the early years of a career. Thus the other requirements of the program are geared to preparing the student for dissertation research and writing.

Students should plan to develop a dissertation proposal after passing the Second Exam, and must complete both a written dissertation and an oral defense.

Students also participate in a Dissertation Concilium, a formal meeting with their dissertation advisor and both readers after the advisor has approved two chapters of the dissertation. It is meant to provide an opportunity to discuss the project’s progress, its scholarly content, and its style.

Learn more about the Dissertation in the Student Handbook »