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    University of Memphis
  Nov 18, 2017
2017-2018 Graduate Catalog

English: Writing and Language Studies, (PhD)

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PhD in English: Writing and Language Studies Degree Program

The PhD in English is designed to prepare scholars in widely recognized fields of English, as well as to prepare advanced writing specialists in the fields of business and industry. The structure of the program provides for four related concentrations (Composition Studies, Professional Writing, Applied Linguistics, Literary and Cultural Studies) that offer students the professional flexibility that comes with competencies acquired through preparation in a broadly integrative discipline.


The following are required for admission to the PhD program in English for all applicants, whether applying with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

  1. Fulfillment of University requirements for admission to the Graduate School.
  2. Official undergraduate and graduate transcript(s) sent to Graduate Admissions.
  3. A competitive GRE verbal score. In addition, international students for whom English is not their first language typically submit a score of 575 or above on paper (or computer equivalent) on the TOEFL exam.
  4. A bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited college or university in the United States, usually with a major or a strong minor in English, or the equivalent of one of these degrees in another country.
  5. Minimum undergraduate and graduate grade point average of 3.25 is expected.
  6. Evidence of competence in writing in English as evidenced by a statement of purpose and a sample of the applicant’s best work.
  7. Three letters of recommendation, preferably from college/university professors of English or comparable disciplines.
  8. Program Admission: We normally evaluate applicants for the PhD program once each year in January for admission in the Fall semester. Although the Graduate Studies Committee may consider the application of a promising student at other times, January 15 is the deadline by which we must receive all the application materials of anyone who wishes to be considered for an assistantship for the following academic year.

Retention Requirements

Upon entering the PhD program, a student chooses an advisor in his or her concentration. The advisor will monitor the student’s progress towards completion of the degree. Each semester, the Graduate Studies Committee will examine the academic progress of all students for retention in the program. If a student receives either two C’s, one D, or one F grade in any English graduate level course, that student will be subject to review and could be dismissed from the program. In order to remain in good standing, all graduate students must maintain a 3.0 average in English Department courses. Students who are on academic probation for two consecutive semesters will not be allowed to continue in the program.

Graduation Requirements

General Requirements

  1. A minimum of 72 hours of graduate credit beyond the bachelor’s degree is required. At least 60 hours of credit must be equivalent to 7000-level coursework or higher.
  2. Students entering the PhD program with a master’s degree may count up to 33 hours of graduate credit toward the 72 hours needed for the PhD. Only graduate hours that were not used for a previous graduate degree and that do not exceed university time restrictions can be transferred. Credit previously earned at another institution must be presented for evaluation not later than the end of the student’s second semester of enrollment.
  3. Master’s level courses will be examined on an individual basis for applicability to the program. Students with a master’s degree must complete at least 39 hours of graduate coursework beyond that master’s degree.
  4. No more than 9 hours granted for dissertation work may be used to attain the required 72 hours for the PhD.

Residency Requirements

The student must complete two successive terms full-time (excluding summer sessions) to fulfill residency requirements.

Core Requirements

Students must take 12 hours in English courses outside of their concentration or focus area, plus 3 hours in English Studies Colloquium

Concentration Requirements (Beyond Core Requirements)

Composition Studies Concentration

PhD students pursuing a concentration in Composition Studies must complete a 12-hour breadth requirement consisting of

Professional Writing Studies Concentration

PhD students pursuing a concentration in Professional Writing Studies must complete a 12-hour breadth requirement consisting of

Applied Linguistics Concentration

PhD students pursuing a concentration in Applied Linguistics must complete a 12-hour breadth requirement consisting of

Literary and Cultural Studies Concentration

PhD students pursuing a concentration in Literary and Cultural Studies will choose a focus area from the following:

  • Medieval and Early Modern Literature and Culture
  • 18th c. and 19th c. Literature and Culture
  • Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture
  • African-American Literature and Culture
  • Individual Option (defined by student in consultation with advisor)

Students must complete a 12-hour breadth requirement consisting of 3 hours of course work in each of the first four focal areas; 9 hours in theory and methodology (including 3 hours in 7000/8000, and 6 hours from:

Other Requirements


PhD students in Literary and Cultural Studies are required to take 12 hours of electives; PhD students in other concentrations are required to take 15 hours; courses may be taken outside the department in consultation with advisor.

Examination Requirements

Qualifying Examinations

Students entering without a master’s degree in English or 30 hours of appropriate graduate work, as determined by the Graduate Coordinator, must take a qualifying examination the semester after accumulating 30 hours of graduate work through graduate transfer credit and/or graduate courses completed at The University of Memphis. Qualifying examinations are designed to ascertain that the range of knowledge is appropriate at this level. These written exams will be tailored to the individual student’s course of study. The Graduate Coordinator will appoint an appropriate committee with expertise in the course of study. The qualifying exams are equivalent to the MA comprehensive exams. The MA comprehensive exams test the student’s course work; however, the MA comprehensive exams in Composition Studies and Professional Writing also include a reading list. Examinations are graded high pass, pass, or fail. Students who pass the exam will be allowed to advance to doctoral-level study. However, a student who fails one section of the qualifying examination will be given one opportunity during the same semester or not later than the following semester to retake that section with a different question. A student who fails more than one exam question will be given an opportunity to take a different exam no later than the following semester.

MA en route

Students entering without a master’s degree in English will be awarded an MA degree at the completion of the qualifying exam and 33 hours of appropriate work.

Comprehensive Examinations

After completing the rest of their required courses, after satisfying their language and/or research requirement, and before they begin writing their dissertations, students must pass comprehensive examinations in accordance with concentration guidelines. The student must first form a comprehensive exam committee. The Ph.D. comprehensive exam committee for both the written and oral exams will consist of a minimum of four faculty members. The student will choose an advisor from his / her concentration who will be the chair of the committee. There will be three written comprehensive exams and one oral exam.

One Four-Hour Proctored Written Exam

One four-hour proctored written exam will cover the Ph.D. student’s concentration. The objective of this exam is to demonstrate that the student has a command of 75-100 seminal texts, in his or her concentration, that are not, for the most part, included in the reading list for exam # 2. This list will be determined by each committee.

A Second Proctored Four-Hour Written Exam

A second proctored four-hour written exam will allow students to demonstrate that they have enough background / reading knowledge to qualify them to teach upper division and graduate courses in the student’s chosen area of specialization within the concentration. This area will be determined by the student in conjunction with his or her committee. The student will develop the reading list in conjunction with his or her advisor and / or committee, and the reading list for this portion of this exam will consist of between 50-75 texts (i.e., books, book chapters, and / or articles).

A Third Written Exam

A third written exam, a take-home exam, must consist of 3,500-5,000 words that test the student’s command of his or her knowledge of his or her proposed dissertation area. The objective of this exam is for the student to demonstrate that he or she has enough background / reading knowledge and an ability to write a sophisticated essay concerning a literature review of the student’s prospective dissertation area. This essay will cite at least 20-25 texts. The take-home exam should take no more than seven (7) days to complete. To allow time to study for the exams, students should take their first written exam within two semesters after completing all Ph.D. coursework (including the foreign language requirements). Students could then take one exam per week over three weeks. A student will have a maximum of two months to complete all of the comprehensive exams.

After the Written Exams

After the written exams have been completed and graded, there will be a two-hour oral exam based upon the written exams.

A Student Who Fails One Section of the Comprehensive Examination

A student who fails one section of the comprehensive examination will be given one opportunity during the same semester or not later than the following semester to retake that section. A student who fails more than one section of the exam will be given an opportunity to take a different exam (with all new questions) no later than the following semester. A student who fails the second comprehensive exam will be dismissed from the program.

Language Requirements

Applied Linguistics and Literary and Cultural Studies

Students in Applied Linguistics and Literary and Cultural Studies must demonstrate a reading knowledge of two foreign languages or fluency in one foreign language. Appropriate languages must be approved by the student’s advisor and the graduate coordinator as relevant to the student’s course of study.

Composition and Professional Writing

Students in Composition and Professional Writing must demonstrate competency with at least one research tool or analytic specialty, which must be directly relevant to the individual student’s dissertation work and projected short-term professional goals. These tools or analytical specialties include a demonstrated level of competency in two foreign languages, fluency in one foreign language, or competency in one foreign language plus mastery of qualitative, quantitative, or historical research methodologies, or demonstrated competency with appropriate computer programs. See “Options for Fulfilling the Foreign Language Requirement,” available from the department.

Dissertation Requirements

Advisory Committee

The student is responsible for choosing an advisory committee composed of at least four members of the graduate faculty best qualified to help him or her conduct research for the dissertation. If the student’s research requires expertise in a discipline outside the Department of English, the student, in consultation with his or her advisory committee chair, may ask up to one faculty member outside the Department of English to be part of the committee.

Research Proposal

When the student has passed the comprehensive examinations and has done extensive preliminary research, he or she must present and defend a research proposal before the advisory committee. That defense will be open to the entire academic community. The student must give a copy of the proposal to all committee members at least two weeks before the scheduled meeting. The advisory committee must approve the proposal before the student may proceed with the dissertation. NOTE: Students should familiarize themselves with the Thesis/Dissertation Preparation Guide before starting to write.


The dissertation committee will schedule a defense of the completed dissertation. Both the chair of the advisory committee and the candidate must ensure adequate consultation with members of the dissertation committee well in advance of the defense date.

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