Oct 03, 2023  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024

English and American Literature (PhD)

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Application deadline: December 1

Students may earn the PhD in English by successfully completing a common set of requirements while pursuing individual interests. The program prepares students for research and teaching in all areas of literary and cultural study.

All students must complete ENGL 501 in the first semester and take two-thirds of their total seminar units in the English Department. Research may address any aspect of literature in English, including cultural and media studies; race and gender studies; Early Modern literature; Postcolonial Literatures; and aesthetic theory, among others.

Graduate Curriculum and Unit Requirements

The curriculum is divided into 500-level foundation courses and 600-level advanced courses. The 500-level courses offer fundamental work in theory and literary history. The 600-level courses feature advanced studies in theory, core requirements in film and literature, interdisciplinary studies, transhistorical studies in genres and sub-genres, individual writers, gender studies, multicultural literatures and societies, and special topics. Although students will normally take 500-level courses before the screening procedure (see “Screening Procedure”) and 600-level courses thereafter, they may, after consultation with their advisers, be permitted to take 600-level courses in the first semesters of their graduate training.

Occasionally students who lack adequate undergraduate training in any given area may be required by the graduate director to enroll in appropriate 400-level courses.

The student's course work must total at least 64 units. No more than 8 units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation and no more than four units of 790 Research may count toward the 64 units. A maximum of 12 transfer units, approved by the graduate director, is allowed toward the 64 units minimum required by the PhD (See Transfer of Credit.)


The student will be assigned a faculty mentor in the first semester of the graduate program and will be encouraged in subsequent semesters to begin putting together an informal qualifying exam committee. The makeup of the qualifying exam committee may change as the interests of the student change. The faculty mentor and informal qualifying exam committee will assist the student in planning a program of study appropriate to the student's interests leading to the screening procedure.

Screening Procedure

In the semester immediately following the completion of 20 units of courses, the students will be screened. Passing this procedure is prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. The faculty mentor will write a report summarizing the student's course work, grades and instructor comments. The graduate studies committee will consider the student's record and determine if he or she is qualified to go on to the PhD. On successful completion of screening, the student may apply for the transfer of graduate credit from other institutions, up to a maximum of 12 units.

Qualifying Exam Committee

Immediately following successful completion of the screening procedure, the student will begin forming a five-member qualifying exam committee, including a chair and three other members from the English Department who are in the student's areas of interest and an outside member from another PhD-granting department. The committee must be in place and approved by the Graduate School at the time the student chooses a dissertation topic, writes the dissertation prospectus and schedules a qualifying examination.

Field Examinations

In the semester following the completion of courses, and before submission of the dissertation prospectus, the student must take the field examinations. These are take-home essays in three broad fields preparatory to the dissertation. The fields are chosen and the questions developed by the student in consultation with a committee of three examiners chosen by the student. The field examinations may be repeated once in the semester immediately following an unsuccessful attempt. The committee may ask the student to retake one, two or all three fields.

Qualifying Examination

Following completion of course work and the field examinations, the student must sit for a qualifying examination, at a time mutually agreed upon by the student and the qualifying exam committee. This is an examination given in the subject of the student's proposed dissertation research. No less than one month before the qualifying examination, the student will submit to the qualifying exam committee a dissertation prospectus. The prospectus, it is understood, will not be a polished book proposal, but at a minimum it should display a strong knowledge of the subject; survey relevant secondary material and other contexts crucial to the dissertation; and present a workable plan of attack as well as a reasonably sophisticated understanding of the theoretical assumptions involved in the subject.

The qualifying examination will consist of both written and oral portions. It will focus on the dissertation area and its contexts with the specific format and content of the examination being negotiated among the student and all members of the examination committee. Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, the student proceeds to the writing of the doctoral dissertation.


The final stage of the program is the submission of a book-length dissertation that makes an original and substantial contribution to its field of study. Dissertations being written in the department are now richly varied, and this diversity is encouraged.

Foreign Language

PhD students are required to demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language. This may be demonstrated by completing a course in the literature of that language at the 400 or 500 level (with a grade of B [3.0] or better), or by passing a foreign language exam that tests proficiency in reading comprehension and translation. PhD students may also be required to demonstrate proficiency in additional languages, as determined by the qualifying exam committee in view of the student's proposed field of research.

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