Student Resources

Reading List

The reading list below is used in preparation for the written portion of the Second Examination. Learn more about the Second Examination in the Student Handbook below.

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Student Handbook

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The policies and requirements described in this Student Handbook are effective immediately and apply to all students in the French Program. It is the student’s responsibility to be familiar with all material in this Student Handbook, in the Graduate Center Bulletin, and in the Graduate Center Student Handbook. Requests for exemptions from any of the program’s requirements outlined in this Student Handbook may be directed in writing to the Executive Officer, who will review them in consultation with the Executive Committee of the Ph.D. Program in French.

This Student Handbook is subject to revision as program policy is modified. Any petitions for policy change proposed by students or faculty will be approved or disapproved by a majority vote of the members of the Executive Committee of the Ph.D. Program in French.

Students attempting a Ph.D. in French must fulfill six primary requirements: Coursework; First examination (written only); Second Examination (written and oral); Foreign Language Requirement; Dissertation. In addition, students must also complete a Specialization Review, a Dissertation Proposal, and a Dissertation Concilium. These requirements are explained in detail below. Students reach Level II after passing the First Examination, and having completed 45 credits of coursework. Level III is reached after passing the Second Examination (written and oral), and after fulfilling the language requirement. For more information about “levels,” see “Doctoral Levels” and “Advancement to Candidacy” in the Graduate Center Student Handbook. The following calendars outline the course of the Ph.D. in French:

Students without an M.A.
  • Coursework
  • First Examination


  • Coursework
  • Specialization Review (Exam Week/May)


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


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

YEAR 5 (and beyond):

  • Dissertation/writing
  • Concilium
  • Defense 3
Students with an M.A.
  • Coursework
  • First Examination


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


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


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

YEAR 5 (and beyond):

  • Dissertation/writing
  • Concilium
  • Defense

The French Program’s courses follow a 2 credits/4 credit structure across the board, with the sole exceptions of the two first–year mandatory courses, which are both taken for 4 credits. This means students can take any course (except those exclusions listed above) for either two or four credits.

The two credits option requires students to attend, do the readings, participate, and complete any two of the following: oral presentation, midterm exam, small paper/s (total of 10 pages), final exam. They are not expected to write a substantial term paper. For four credits, students complete all the work required by the instructor, including attendance, and they must also write a 20-25 pages final paper.

Credit distribution:

Students are required to take a minimum of 60 credits in course work after the B.A. to qualify for a Ph.D. Students who enter the program with an M.A. degree in French must have their transfer credits individually evaluated: up to 30 credits may be awarded provided the courses correspond to those accepted in the program. 16 of the 60 credits may be taken in other fields and programs approved by the Executive Officer. Students with 27 or more transfer credits must take at least 18 credits in the French Program.

First Year Courses:

French 70010, Techniques of Literary Research, 4 credits. Taught in French. This course is taken during the Fall semester of the first year in the Program and is open only to first-year French doctoral students. The course allows the entering cohort to engage with key theoretical approaches and texts in French studies, to develop analytical writing skills, and to form a cohesive unit through peer mentoring and intellectual exchange. The Techniques of Literary Research course requires the production of one substantial paper on a topic chosen by the student with the instructor’s approval. This paper is framed, researched, and written over the course of the semester.

French 71110, Problems in French Literary History, 4 credits. Taught in French. This course is taken in the Spring semester of the first year. It is open to all students at the Graduate Center whose French proficiency is sufficient to do the course work.

The course addresses the history and development of French literature through primary texts (novels, poems, plays, essays) and critical readings. It requires the production of a short mid-term paper, and of a longer end-of-semester term paper.

Entering students must take the Techniques course and the French Literary History course for 4 credits each during their first year of study. There are no 2-credit options for these mandatory courses.

At the end of each of the two required courses (French 77010 and French 71110), a two hour long in-class exam is given. These two assessments form the First Examination, which is mandated by the CUNY Graduate Center.

Students must have a B average or better for the work done in each of these two courses. The work must be completed on time and the grade for each course turned in before the following semester begins, or the student will not be allowed to continue in the program and registration will be cancelled. If the final grade received in French 77010 and French 71110 is below a B, the student’s continuation in the program will be subject to review by the Executive Committee. The student may be withdrawn from the program if the Executive Committee judges the overall performance to be poor.

A student who wishes to appeal a first semester grade is advised to do so immediately after being notified of the grade received. A student cannot continue on to the following semester with a grade below B. All grade appeal procedures are detailed in The Graduate Center Student Handbook.

Students who complete the work for the fall semester but take a leave of absence for the spring semester are required to take Problems in French Literary History the following spring but cannot move to Level II until they have completed that course. This constitutes a serious delay in their work and no such leave of absence can be granted outside of exceptional circumstances.

Period/Area Courses:

The Program expects student coursework to cover a variety of periods and areas. They 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 this requirement 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.

Theory Requirement:

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. Students must also verify with the Executive Officer that the courses they elect in this area do fulfill the theory requirement. In the French Program, courses are considered theoretical if they have 50% or more of required readings that pertain to theory qua theory, as opposed to theoretically informed critical analysis of specific texts.

Language Used in Courses:

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.

Advising on Course Selection:

The Executive Officer (or Deputy Executive Officer as delegated by the Executive Officer) acts as graduate advisor to all students with respect to all academic matters, including course choices and curricular options.


Students should know that the French Program’s overall policy is to discourage incompletes.

All incompletes incurred over the fall or spring semesters of a given academic year must be made up by the end of the second week of the following semester. Students must get prior permission from the professor and the Executive Officer before taking an incomplete for a course. The possibility to make up incompletes is not automatic. In some cases, authorization may be denied.

First-year students must complete all the work for both obligatory courses, in sequence, with a grade of B or better in all parts of the course, including the final exam. Barring exceptional personal circumstances, they cannot withdraw or receive an incomplete in either “Techniques of Literary Research” or “Problems in French Literary History.”

Students with more than two incompletes receive a non-satisfactory progress report from the Graduate Center which is sent for review to the Executive Officer. After the grace period set by the program has lapsed, students wishing to complete a course must secure the agreement of the instructor in writing as well as the authorization of the Executive Officer. After one year, the Vice-President for Student Affairs must sign as well. Faculty members agree to read and grade late work entirely at their discretion, and when they do so, they must notify the Executive Officer.

First Examination:

As mentioned above, the first examination consists of in-class exams given at the end of French 77010 and French 71110, the mandatory courses that are taken during the first year of study. These exams take place in the classroom and are each two hours long. Students must receive a grade of B or better on each final exam. In case of failure, a student must retake and pass the exam before the beginning of the following semester.

Completing the First Examination and 45 credits of course work with a B average or better allows students to move to Level II.

Specialization Review:

In their second year in the program, French doctoral students must participate in a Specialization Review. This review is not an examination, it is a consultation with a group of three faculty members who are conversant with the student’s work. The Executive Officer does not attend the Specialization Review (unless the EO is a member committee)

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. After consultation with the Executive Officer, students convene a panel of three faculty members who specialize in the field or fields which interest them. At least one faculty member must be from the French program. This committee is intended to provide mentoring and guidance for students as they develop their specialization.

Once the committee has been formed, students must send each member a dossier consisting of a five to ten pages position paper describing the student’s intellectual trajectory since entering the program as well as their progress towards a clear area of specialization and a dissertation topic. The dossier also includes a selection of three to five writing samples which are relevant to the student’s area(s) of interest. These can be papers written for courses at the Graduate Center, presentations given at conferences or articles submitted for publication. The faculty members read the dossier and come to the meeting with suggestions on how to achieve the goals the student has formulated. Suggestions might include course work to complete in or outside of the French Program, language skills to acquire, or ways to formulate a topic or series of questions leading to a topic. Faculty members need a minimum of one month to read the dossier, and the meeting itself can be held in French or in English. It is the student’s responsibility to contact their committee and schedule a date for the review. Once it has been chosen, it must be approved by the Executive Officer and communicated to the Assistant Program Officer.

Language requirement:

The foreign language requirement must be fulfilled to move to Level III.

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 an exam administered by the French program; by proving that they passed a similar exam for a MA 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. Requests for substitution of language courses taken elsewhere must be approved by the Executive Officer and by the Registrar.

The language exams given by the French Program are two hours long and a dictionary may be used. Students may translate into French or English. Sample exams are available in the program office. The language exams are given during the first two weeks of the semester and during the exam period on set dates.


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

Second Examination – Written:

The Second Examination - Written is held during the exam period in September or in February following the completion of 60 credits of course work. It 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 taking the Second Examination - Written. Students are expected to cover only one region among the five listed in Francophone Literature. Students should select 12 to 15 texts for each period or area (not including critical readings).

Students are given two hours to complete each question on their exam, which will be administered over the course of one day. The questions will be communicated electronically to students 48 hours prior to their exam date. Students are responsible for notifying the Program Office immediately if they have not received the questions. A one-page outline is allowed for each question. Computers, tablets, and cellular phones are not allowed during the exam.

The written examination is reviewed by three faculty members who are unaware of the name of the student. In the event of a disagreement, a fourth faculty member will read the exam under the same conditions. A single grade will be submitted, and the comments will be available to the students. The most important criterion for passing the examination is relevance of the answer to the question asked. Other criteria concern the structure and strength of the student’s argument, the ways evidence is used to support their claims, and the knowledge their essay demonstrates of each field. The answers may be in French or in English.

A copy of the Reading List for the Second Examination - Written is available in the program office and on the program website. Students are strongly advised to obtain a copy upon arrival in the program and begin working on it immediately. Critical works are included in the Reading List and should be discussed in the answers to the questions posed. The Reading List is meant as a supplement to courses. Sample exam questions are available from the French office.

A student who fails any part of the written exam must take that part again and can take it twice. If a student fails any part of the examination twice, the student may petition the Executive Committee for permission to take it a third time - and present compelling reasons for doing so. If permission is not granted, the student’s matriculation will be terminated. The student has the right to appeal this action. The Graduate Center’s procedures for appealing grades or academic dismissal are detailed in The Graduate Center Student Handbook.

The Second Examination – Oral

The Oral Examination is intended both as a measure of students’ academic progress and as a stepping stone towards the dissertation proposal. Students should begin preparing for it once the written portion of the Second Examination has been completed. The oral exam will last two hours and is to be scheduled during the exam period in May or September (see calendar). The Executive Officer attends the Second Examination - Oral.

After completing the written exam, students should meet with the Executive Officer to formally name their dissertation advisor and discuss the composition of their oral examining committee. In addition to their dissertation advisor, this committee should be made up of two faculty members of the student’s choice and the program’s Executive Officer.

Once the committee has been chosen, students must prepare two things before the exam is given:

- A preliminary bibliography related to the prospective dissertation

The bibliography should be divided into three parts: primary texts (the material at the heart of the dissertation), secondary texts (sources which comment on and frame the primary material), and tertiary texts (works which are relevant to the dissertation’s broader intellectual field and the critical tools it uses). Typically, each section includes 10-20 titles.

Students will prepare this bibliography with their dissertation advisor. They should then consult the two faculty members to discuss the lists as well as the broader dissertation topic. Once the bibliography has been finalized, the student will send it to the members of their examining committee, including the Executive Officer. The student should also send a 250-300-word abstract that summarizes the problem or problems that the bibliography addresses.

- A 15-20 minutes presentation

The student will give this presentation at the outset of their exam. It should 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.

After the presentation, the examining committee will ask questions that relate to what they have just heard, as well as to the lists in general. The oral exam may be in French or in English.

Scheduling this exam can be a lengthy process and should be initiated once the examining committee has been formed. Students should set up the date and time of the exam in conjunction with its members (Doodle Poll or Survey Monkey recommended), and keep in mind that the entire scheduling process takes very close to a semester.

As with the written examination, a student who fails any part of the oral exam must take that part again. The exam may be taken twice. A student who fails any part of the examination twice may petition the Executive Committee for permission to take it a third time and present compelling reasons for doing so. If permission is not granted, the student is required to leave the program, but has the right to appeal. The Graduate Center’s procedures for appealing grades or academic dismissal are detailed in The Graduate Center Student Handbook.


Advancement to candidacy, or Level III, takes place after completing all course work, the First and Second Examinations, and the Language Requirement. The Advancement to Candidacy form will be filed with the Registrar as soon as the student provides the office with a dissertation title and the names of their advisor and readers. The Registrar will send the student notification of advancement to candidacy.


Students are required to present a dissertation proposal limited to 10 pages, not including the bibliography.

The dissertation proposal must include an introduction to the problem or problems that the dissertation addresses. It should state the thesis and how it will be approached. It must provide a review of literature and explain how the student’s approach resembles and differs from the approach of other scholars who have worked on this problem or topic. It must describe the methodological orientation of the dissertation and present a chapter outline, a schedule for completion, and a list of any special needs. If travel is required, the student must specify the reason and the amount of time projected.

The bibliography must include primary sources and useful critical works. It must be prepared according to MLA guidelines. The Program Office keeps examples of proposals that have been approved and that their authors have agreed to share: these can be requested for consultation.

The proposal must be presented following completion of the Second Examination - Oral (see calendar above). The proposal is first submitted to the dissertation advisor. When the proposal is considered acceptable, it is presented to a committee of two readers chosen by the student in consultation with the dissertation advisor and the Executive Officer. The two readers must be given at least one month to read the proposal and render an opinion.

Readers may be included from appropriate fields outside the program, but they should be on the CUNY doctoral faculty unless exceptional circumstances warrant the presence of an outside reader. All such exceptions are to be approved by the Executive Officer.

The proposal is evaluated according to the same standard as the dissertation itself: it can be accepted, accepted with minor revisions accepted with major revisions, or not accepted. When there is divided opinion, the Executive Officer renders a final decision. The approval of the proposal must take place within four weeks.


Once the proposal is accepted, students consult with their advisor and the Executive Officer in order to form a dissertation committee composed of the advisor, the EO, and two readers who may be, but need not be, the same as the readers of their proposal. Once the committee’s composition is approved, the Executive Officer signs the Dissertation Committee form.


When students begin writing their dissertation, they should consult the dissertation office website:

The dissertation may be written in either French or English, but the language chosen must be approved by the director and the committee.

The Ph.D. Program in French requires that the dissertation be a minimum of 150 double- spaced pages (Times New Roman point 12); the recommended length is between 175 and 200 pages. Students can go over this length, but cannot be compelled to do so.

Students submit their chapters to their advisor for corrections and comments. They may not send a copy of their work to their readers until their advisor has approved it.

Research with Human Participants:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requires the Graduate Center’s Committee on the Protection of Human Subjects to review students’ research design for compliance with human subjects regulations. This requirement is mandated by federal law and is given further impetus by the ethical standards set by professional societies and those of The Graduate Center. Any research that involves human participants must be approved by the Committee on the Protection of Human Subjects prior to starting the research. For information, please consult the Director of Sponsored Research website:

Dissertation Proposal Clearance: Human Participants Form

All students who have advanced to Level III after September 1, 1999, should submit a Dissertation Proposal Clearance: Human Participants Form in the Office for Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP). This requirement includes students from all programs, whether or not their research involves human participants. This form becomes part of the student’s file in the Registrar’s Office.

A student will not be able to deposit the dissertation unless this form is on file.


Once the proposal has been approved, students must begin the writing process, and provide their advisor with their chapters in a timely fashion. Students should remain in regular contact with their advisor. Failure to produce written work will result in the grade of NRP, No Record of Progress. The matriculation of a Level III student who receives three consecutive grades of NRP will be terminated.


Once the dissertation is underway, students must schedule their Concilium, a formal meeting with their dissertation advisor and both readers. The Concilium is to be held 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. The Executive Officer does not attend the Concilium (unless the EO is a member of the dissertation committee) A brief report by the dissertation advisor follows the Concilium, detailing its conclusions, and is sent to the student, the committee members, and the Executive Officer.


The dissertation defense takes place only after the student’s advisor has notified the Executive Officer that the dissertation is ready to be forwarded to the readers in preparation for the defense. When the advisor considers the dissertation near completion, the student should initiate the scheduling of the defense. Within at least one month of the estimated defense date, and once the dissertation advisor has approved its final form for defense, the student must provide all readers with a clean copy, by attachment or in paper form, according to the individual reader’s preference.

Readers must have a minimum one month to read and review the dissertation. If during the reading, readers find major problems with the dissertation and deem that it is not ready for approval, they should notify the student, the advisor, and the Executive Officer ahead of the scheduled defense.


Dissertations that have been informally approved by the readers (as described above) must be submitted four weeks before the defense. It is at that point that the Executive Officer also receives a copy. The oral defense must be scheduled with the Executive Officer at least one month before the proposed date. The Executive Officer will be present at the defense.

The defense is approximately two hours long and includes an initial fifteen-minute presentation of the dissertation in either English or French, depending on the language in which the dissertation is written. At a defense, students answer questions and “defend” the methods, scholarship, and conclusions of their work.

The dissertation can be accepted, accepted with minor revisions, accepted with major revisions, or not accepted. When there is divided opinion, the Executive Officer renders a final decision.

Satisfactory Progress:

The program holds its students to Graduate Center Satisfactory Progress Rules. It highly discourages incompletes in anything but exceptional circumstances, and even then expects students to limit their number to two. A student with three incompletes will not be registered for the following semester. A student with four incompletes will be asked to withdraw from the program.

Students are expected to complete all aspects of the degree within eight years. Students who exceed the time limits for taking orals, drafting a dissertation proposal, or writing a dissertation will be instructed to withdraw from the program.

The matriculation of a Level III student who receives three consecutive grades of NPR will be terminated. Students who are in danger of being dropped from the French Program for academic reasons, such as non-compliance with Satisfactory Progress Rules or failing examinations are entitled to appeal their dismissal. The Graduate Center’s procedures for appealing grades or academic dismissal are detailed in The Graduate Center Student Handbook.


Students who have withdrawn or been dropped from the Program may apply for readmission to the Admissions Committee, which reviews all readmission applications. All decisions of the Admissions Committee are final and may not be appealed.

Students applying for readmission must submit a personal statement to the Admissions Committee detailing their academic goals. If readmission is approved, the student then files a readmission form with the Registrar.

Readmitted students have no guarantee of financial support. Only students who apply for admission and are accepted as a part of a first-year cohort are eligible for a full Graduate Center fellowship.

Given the variety of individual situations, students who wish to re-enroll in the Program should consult the Executive Officer before applying.

Students who take 60 credits of coursework at the Graduate Center may elect to earn 15 of those credits through the CUNY/Paris Exchange. The Executive Officer must first approve all courses for credit taken abroad to ensure their consistency with the French Program’s policies and standards.

If transfer credits are accepted from another institution, students must still take a minimum of 30 credits in residence at the Graduate Center. Thus, in this case, courses taken in Paris through the CUNY/Paris Exchange do not count among the 30 credits taken at the Graduate Center above the master’s level. Students may take more credits in the Exchange program, but no credit will be given for them.

All students begin to teach one course per semester in their second year, through the teaching portion of their Graduate Center Fellowship. By the end of their first year, they will know to which CUNY campus they have been assigned. Many students seek additional employment as adjunct instructors in the CUNY colleges, especially after their first year of teaching.

Doctoral students teaching as adjunct instructors in the CUNY system are eligible for tuition remission after teaching five consecutive years (or ten consecutive semesters) at the same college.

In-state tuition charges for the sixth year of doctoral studies are now contractually guaranteed for all Ph.D. students who are employed by CUNY.

The Ph.D. Program in French regularly holds teaching development workshops which complement the teaching development opportunities that are available through the Graduate Center’s Teaching and Learning Center.

The French Program organizes lectures throughout the academic year. Students help with arrangements for these lectures and are expected to make every effort to attend.

Two student representatives to the Program’s Executive Committee are elected by currently registered students annually. Both attend the French Executive Committee meetings and represent the students at these meetings. Students who have any particular topics that they want presented at the French Executive Committee should contact the Executive Officer or their student representatives. A student representative is also elected to the Doctoral Students’ Council (1-year term) and to the Graduate Council (2-year term).

Students are also elected to serve on standing committees (Admissions, Curriculum, Elections, Membership) and regularly invited to serve on ad hoc committees.

Master of Philosophy - The Graduate Center awards the Master of Philosophy degree (M. Phil.) on request. An application form for the Master of Philosophy degree will be made available to Ph.D. students by the Office of the Registrar upon their advancement to candidacy.

Master’s Degree “En Route” - The master’s degree may be awarded by certain senior CUNY colleges to currently enrolled doctoral students who have fulfilled specific requirements. These requirements include a minimum of 45 credits with an average grade of B, successful completion of the First Examination, and the foreign language examination, plus submission of a major research paper. Work on the research paper is done under the supervision of a faculty member from or approved by the senior college. The paper is then submitted to one of the senior colleges for approval. The senior college awards the master’s degree. Further information may be obtained from the Registrar.

The institute, founded in 1980, is named for the late Henri Peyre, internationally renowned scholar and critic, who served for many years as Distinguished Professor and Executive Officer of the Ph.D. Program in French at the Graduate Center.

The purpose of the institute is to promote the study and knowledge of French and Francophone literatures and cultures by offering seminars, colloquia and conferences on current topics in languages, literature, philosophy, politics, art, theatre, film, and music.

For more information, see the website or contact the Director of the Henri Peyre French Institute.

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