Master Of Philosophy (M. Phil.)


  • Registration: 2 Residence Units
  • Advising: 2 meetings per semester between student and assigned advisor
  • Coursework: ENGL GR6913 Teaching Writing I (R credit) and 6 graded courses (18 credits), with grades of B or higher (one of these courses may be replaced by G6910 Teaching Tutorial for R credit)
    Specific Classes:
  • Teaching Writing (GR6913), Spring Term
  • Voluntary Discussion Section, Fall or Spring Term (GR6910 Teaching Tutorial) -- optional and available to only a few students
  • Seminar Requirement
    • 4 6000-level seminars, 2 per semester
  • Distribution of Classes
    • 1 class from each of the following categories: medieval, early modern, 18th & 19th century, and 20th century. Distribution areas fulfilled in the M.A. year need not be repeated.
  • Certification of Proficiency in a Third Language

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  • Registration: 2 Residence Units 
  • Coursework: in rare cases, any remaining required coursework; additional seminars and lectures as needed to prepare for the orals exam; ENGL GR6914 Teaching Writing II (R credit)
  • Teaching: 1 section of University Writing per semester
  • Orals: Successful completion of the Orals Examination.

    Note: all M.Phil requirements must be completed before the orals exam is taken. If necessary, students who fail to complete M.Phil. requirements in their third year, may, upon obtaining the approval of their examiners and the DGS, take their orals in the fall of their fourth year. The M.Phil. degree is not awarded until all requirements have been fulfilled.
  • The M.Phil. degree: this degree, which includes passing the Orals, confers official standing as a certified doctoral candidate. Although admission into the M.Phil. program is generally seen as constituting candidacy for the Ph.D., the M.Phil. is actually a prerequisite for official acceptance into the doctoral program, and is a terminal degree for students who do not proceed to write a dissertation.

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Students with M.A.s from Columbia University
M.Phil. students should register for two "residence units" (RU), i.e., two semesters of full tuition each year.

Students with M.A.s from outside Columbia University
The first year of the M.Phil. is the first year at Columbia for students who have received full credit for an M.A. elsewhere and who enter directly into our M.Phil. program. As this is the second year of our sequential M.A./M.Phil./Ph.D program, we consider all entering M.Phil. candidates as "second-year" students, even though this may be their first year on our campus. M.Phil. requirements remain the same for continuing and newly-arrived students. Students admitted to the M.Phil. program from another institution should consult the DGS about which courses can be accepted.

These students should also register for two "residence units" (RU), i.e., two
semesters of full tuition each year.

Advising: See "Advising" in the M.A. Degree section

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Teaching Writing (ENGL GR6913y)
This course introduces students to pedagogical as well as practical issues involved in running a section of Columbia University's Undergraduate Writing Program. This course is run through the Undergraduate Writing Center, and is taken for R credit, with no letter grade unless the student chooses to write a research paper.

Teaching Tutorial (ENGL GR6910 x or y)
With the permission of the faculty instructor, some departmental Teaching Fellows may teach voluntary discussion sections attached to (usually large) undergraduate lectures. The course is taken for "R" credit and may count as one of the six courses required for the M.Phil. It may also fulfill a distribution requirement.

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During the first year of the M.Phil., students are expected to complete their distribution requirements. For M.Phil. students, this means taking courses in any of the four categories remaining from the M.A. Year: medieval, early modern, 18th & 19th century, and 20th century. For example, students who take a medieval and 20th-century class to fulfill the M.A. distribution requirement would need to take an early modern and 18th & 19th century class by the end of the first M.Phil. year to fulfill the distribution requirements.

Each year the department draws up a list of courses that fulfill each period requirement. When a course spans two periods, it can count toward whichever period serves as the base for the student's primary written work.

Graduate coursework completed elsewhere can be used to cover distribution requirements as appropriate. M.Phil. students can cross-register for graduate courses at NYU, CUNY, Fordham, Rutgers, Princeton, and SUNY-Stony Brook through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium (IUDC). More information can be found at the the IUDC page on the GSAS website (under Office of Student Services).

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Second Year Teaching
In the second year, students are appointed Departmental Teaching Fellows. Each semester they assist with a large lecture course. For some courses teaching fellows may be asked to lead voluntary discussion sections.

Third Year Teaching
Having been trained in their second year, M.Phil. students are expected to start teaching one section of University Writing in the fall semester, and another in the spring. The University Writing Program is associated with the English Department, but is run separately. It is located in 310 Philosophy Hall (contact:

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Before scheduling their orals, M.Phil. students must demonstrate proficiency in a third language, by one of the means outlined for Certification of Proficiency in a Second Language in the M.A. year.

Note: "Rapid Reading and Translation" courses (e.g. Spanish 1113, Italian 1204, French 1206) sometimes offer final exams that are identicial to that department's language proficiency exam.  If the department offers this kind of final in Rapid Reading courses, and notifies our Graduate Coordinator of the mark of Pass on the exam, the Rapid Reading final exam mark of Pass satisfies the ENCL language proficiency requirement.


Student who are affiliated with the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society fulfill the M.A. and M.Phil. requirements of their home departments (here English and Comparative Literature); in addition they take the ICLS gateway course G4900 and satisfy a third language certification.

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The doctoral oral examination forms a bridge between the wide-ranging period of formal coursework and the highly focused work of the Ph.D. dissertation. Orals preparation is the primary activity during the third year of the M.A./M.Phil. program (the second M.Phil. year), with the examination ordinarily taken toward the end of that academic year. The year's work should be a time of intellectual synthesis and definition, an opportunity both to explore new material and to deepen familiarity with material previously studied, through independent reading refined by regular conversations with the members of your examining committee.
An orals examination is two hours long, divided among three fields. Collectively, these fields are intended to accomplish three things:

  • to prepare you as a prospective teacher to master a field - defined pragmatically as an area in which jobs are commonly advertised - and to talk about it with a group of examiners;
  • to give you a solid grasp of a distinct but related field beyond your primary field
  • to serve as an exploratory device to help you develop and/or refine a dissertation topic.

The exam takes the following form:




1 hour2

Based on a reading list of about 45-50 books (plus a selective secondary bibliography), this field is intended to resemble an expansive version of a survey course in a commonly taught period, genre, or approach. (See below).



30 minutes1

Based on a reading list of approximately 20-24 books, this field is a more selective survey of material from the period before or after that of the general field, or from another subfield within the general period, or the literature written across the Atlantic or on the Continent during the same period, or a group of theoretical readings.

Related Field


Thesis Field

30 minutes1

Based on a reading list of approximately 20-24 books, this field can provide a first chance to delve into the subject and principal texts of your dissertation topic, if you have a general sense of this topic. If you don't yet have a defined topic in mind, you can offer a cluster of authors whom you anticipate forming the center of your dissertation. If you aren't yet fairly sure about the likely issue or authors, then instead of a thesis field you should do a second "related field," which can center on another historical period, or on a set of theoretical or interdisciplinary readings, or you can build this field around a single author, examined in depth.

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The general field is intended to help set a broad context for dissertation work, and at the same time to prepare you for a job market in which most jobs are advertised in particular "fields," often historically defined, in which hiring committees typically expect candidates to have a broad general knowledge and an ability to teach introductory survey courses.

These fields can be fairly arbitrary constructs, and no one's intellectual profile need be confined to a single field or a single definition of that field, but the general field gives you an opportunity to begin to work out your personal version of the field in which you'll most likely be applying for jobs.

The common general field areas are:

British Literature

Old English (pre-1100), Middle English (1100-1485), Renaissance drama (1560-1640), Sixteenth-Century British (1485-1603), Seventeenth-Century British, Restoration and Eighteenth Century (1660-1799 or 1830), The Romantics and their contemporaries (1783-1830), Victorian (1830-1901), Modern British Literature (1890-1945), Transatlantic Modernism, Contemporary British or Anglophone Literature (1945-present)

American Literature

Early American (1492-1800), Nineteenth-Century American (1800-1900), Modern American (1865-1945), Contemporary American (1945-present), Literature of the Americas, African-American (beginnings to the present), American Studies

Genre & Specialties

History of the novel, Drama, Poetry, Colonial and Post-Colonial Literatures, Irish Studies, Film and media studies, Literary and Cultural Theory, Gender Studies, Women's Studies

History of the novel, Drama, Poetry, Colonial and Post-Colonial Literatures, Irish Studies, Film and media studies, Literary and Cultural Theory, Gender Studies, Women's Studies

Other general field areas can be arranged with approval of the DGS, but ordinarily the general field should be developed under one of the above rubrics. There are, of course, many ways to construct a reading list within one of these fields. The field can best be developed with a dual focus on works and issues. Your list should have a good selection of key texts as well as whatever more individual or even idiosyncratic choices are most important to you personally, and you can usefully arrange your texts under half a dozen rubrics representing the issues of most current debate in the field today, weighting your selection of issues toward the ones that most attract you, but also including other major rubrics that you (and your examiners) feel are specially important.

Given the survey function of the general field, unless you're doing a genre-specific field, it's important for your list to show a genuine engagement with the various literary genres most important to the field in question. Your dissertation may well end up focusing entirely on the novel, or the drama, or lyric poetry, but hiring committees will expect you to have an active familiarity with a broad generic range within any given historical period.

One thing to keep in mind in preparing orals lists is that the tremendous expansion of the literary canon in recent decades has not led to a pure leveling in which all authors have a comparable presence in a field. Every field tends to have a group of key authors who are constantly discussed - some of them traditional "major authors" and some new entrants into prominence - and hiring committees will likely expect you to have a good familiarity with most such authors in your field, even if your own dissertation focuses largely or entirely on less-discussed people. Even newly emergent fields like postcolonial studies organize themselves in part around ongoing discussion of a cluster of central figures such as Rushdie and Coetzee, and it's a good idea for orals lists to take this fact into account. At the same time, your lists should reflect your personal inclinations and concerns, and will likely include a mix of much-discussed and less-discussed writers.

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Please note that all other requirements for the M.Phil. must be completed before orals may be taken. Any exceptions require approval by the DGS.

Second Year


Organization Meeting of DGS with all second-year students


Conversations with prospective examiners and DGS, drafting lists

May 30

Submit 2 copies of the Orals Proposal for DGS approval with the cover sheet, signed by the four examiners
Third year

September 15

Last Date to submit Orals Proposal for DGS approval


Pre-Oral Examination; when arranging the pre-oral, give one of your general-field examiners the Pre-Oral form


Oral Examinations.

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The basis of orals work is the orals proposal, which should be developed during the spring of the second year (first M.Phil. year) and given in to the department for approval by the end of May. If necessary, final work can be done on the proposal over the summer, and it can be submitted in September of the third year.


Elements of the Orals Proposal


1) 1-2 paragraphs laying out the overall logic of the three fields. Since this description comes at the beginning of study for the orals, it will inevitably be tentative, suggesting questions for exploration, advancing hypotheses rather than conclusions. At the same time, each field and its description should be sufficiently developed to justify the selection of primary texts.

2) General Field
     •  Full list of primary works
     •  Selected secondary works
     •  Short rationale for the selections

3) Related Field
     •  Full list of primary works
     •  Selected secondary works
     •  Short rationale for the selections

4) Thesis Field, or, Second Related Field
     •  Full list of primary works
     •  Selected secondary works
     •  Short rationale for the selections

Orals lists will ordinarily include a mix of works you've never read and of familiar works you want to return to. Doing 80 brand-new works would be overwhelming, while repeating only familiar works misses the opportunity to extend your range during this year of work. As a rule of thumb, perhaps half the works on your list should be ones you've already read, half new to you.

In formulating proposals, students may consult samples available in the Department's files and at the link below for Sample Reading Lists.

Submit two copies of your proposal with one copy of the cover sheet signed by the four examiners.

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For some students, it may be perfectly obvious whom to ask to serve as examiners, but other students find it takes time and careful thought to work out the best committee. In the early stages of the development of the orals proposal, there is often a mutual interaction or biofeedback between evolving topics and the makeup of the committee. Unless you're clear from the outset what you want to do and with whom you want to work, a good first step is to come and talk to the DGS in the winter of the second year; the DGS is an ideal person with whom to discuss tentative ideas and potential examiners. It's then appropriate to go to potential examiners and sound them out. For each potential examiner, it can be helpful to bring in a page listing a few key issues you're thinking about and some of the texts you expect to want to include. This initial conversation can be framed in exploratory terms, if you're not yet sure whether this is the topic (and the examiner) for you; it's quite common for students to contemplate a few topics and to speak to half a dozen potential examiners before settling into a final set of topics and examiners.

Ideally, at least a couple of your examiners will be people you think of as likely dissertation committee members (dissertations have three primary committee members). The actual dissertation committee, however, need not be drawn purely from the orals committee.

Ordinarily at least two of the four orals examiners should be tenured members of the department, but junior and senior faculty alike can be asked to serve on orals committees, as can adjunct faculty and faculty from other departments at Columbia.

At times, a faculty member from outside Columbia is asked and agrees to serve, though the department doesn't have funds to compensate such service. Such arrangements are most often made when a student has been working with someone off-campus (often in courses taken through the Consortium); if you have a working relationship with such a person and want to ask, it's fine to do so, though you should be aware that this is a special favor and not press the matter if you sense any hesitation on the part of someone outside the university.

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Faculty who are on leave will ordinarily be ready to work with you regardless, and will be available to meet with you periodically, even if they aren't otherwise holding office hours. The situation can be more complicated if the examiner will actually be out of town while on leave. If an examiner is away for one semester, it may be most effective to hold off primary work on that field until the examiner's return; on the other hand, especially if the examiner is away for a year, it is perfectly possible to be in steady contact via e-mail.

As you first arrange your orals fields, you should ask your examiners if they'll be away during the period of your orals preparation, as well as during the likely time of the orals examination itself. Though leaves won't ordinarily interfere with the process (faculty who are away on leave often come back a couple of times specifically for orals and defenses), it's best to discuss the question directly, so that you and your prospective examiner can work out a mutually agreeable plan of work and of contact. If necessary, it can be better to find a different examiner than to go ahead with someone who won't be able to give you proper feedback, or whose absence would seriously delay the taking of the orals. In such cases, it's clearly best to work this out up front, rather than become locked into an unproductive situation. In those rare cases when a desired examiner is unavailable, that person will certainly understand the logic of your getting the orals done with someone else, and once back from leave will still be available for dissertation work thereafter.

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Orals Discussion Groups
Students studying for orals often find it helpful to create informal discussion groups with members of their cohort and field.  These groups usually form when students are preparing orals proposals, and continue to meet once or twice a month until exams are completed to discuss readings.  It is also helpful for students studying for orals to speak with those who have recently passed them; one way to facilitate this is to have orals groups invite fourth-year students to their first meetings of the fall semester.

Mandatory meeting with Examiners, and written work.

Committee members must plan to meet with their students during the orals year. In the spring before the orals year, when the student is preparing his/her lists and rationales,x these plans for meeting and writing must be discussed and confirmed by advisors and students. If a faculty member will be away that year, the plan for how to communicate should be established in advance.


Major field advisors must meet with the student at least four times over the course of the third year (this can be divided between the two major field faculty). Each minor field advisor must meet with the student at least two times over the course of the third year. It is expected that for each of these meetings the student will produce written reports, as specified by the advisors. Before the final such meeting, the written report should have a more comprehensive character, specifics of which should be negotiated with the advisor.

Reading by Yourself
     •  organize your time so that you have a good chunk of prime work time every day for your orals preparation, and not allow teaching or other work to expand to fill your time.
     •  be very selective about taking any further courses; one course a semester can provide a nice break from orals study, particularly if it relates directly to your orals work (perhaps in the form of the teacher as well as the syllabus); but you should resist the temptation to keep adding on courses for their own sake. Your orals lists themselves are your primary coursework for the third year.
     •  take notes! Ideally, a page or two for each work you read-your own reflections, a few key quotes, perhaps a listing of characters' names or of specific incidents you want to remember, a couple of important points raised by any secondary reading you've done that relates to the work in question. A binder with such notes is much easier to review at the year's end than your marginalia scattered through the thousands of pages of the books themselves. If you've studied a given work for a graduate class, you may be able to use existing notes and only review that work fairly rapidly. You should try to have almost all of your reading for all three fields completed by the time of your pre-oral, even though the pre-oral deals only with the general field, and plan to spend the final two weeks before the orals date reviewing your notes.

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Four weeks before the scheduled date of the orals, the candidate takes a written pre-oral examination based on the general field. The purpose of the pre-oral is to show that the candidate is prepared to have a fruitful discussion of the texts and issues defined in the major field, and to give the examiners an opportunity to provide feedback on final preparation. Above all, it gives candidates the opportunity to organize their thinking about large amounts of reading within meaningful rubrics and in written form, to combine synthetic overviews with well-chosen examples, and to obtain practice formulating their ideas under pressure.    Each major-field examiner will propose two questions; the candidate will choose one question from each examiner. Candidates will have 48 hours (though they may take less time) to answer the two questions, writing approximately 7-10 pages per question, double-spaced, 12 point font.   Responsibility for scheduling the pre-oral lies with the candidate.   

Upon review of the pre-oral, the examiners certify to the office that the candidate is ready to go ahead with the orals as scheduled.  Once informed that they have passed the pre-oral written examination, students should provide both of their minor list examiners with copies of both essays at least one week prior to the date of the oral exam.

There are two grades for the pre-oral, Pass and Fail. In the event that the grade is Fail, the examiners may  propose a new timetable for both the pre-oral and the orals themselves. A student who fails a second pre-oral must petition the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) for permission to make a third attempt.

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The Theory behind the Exam
While much of the work of the orals lies in the reading and the conversation that lead up to the examination, the orals examination itself is an important event. It is an opportunity for the student to do several things: to demonstrate some mastery of her field and related areas; to give a sense of how she approaches the field; to articulate the primary animating questions and ideas she is considering as a beginning of her dissertation; to be an interloculator with the questioners and with the authors she has been reading; and to show that she is ready to enter into the final stage of the Ph.D. program, where she will be expected to undertake independent scholarship and to be come an active participant in the discipline. 

Pass, Low Pass, or Fail

There are three possible marks.  Candidates receiving Pass who have fulfilled all other M.Phil. requirements are awarded the M.Phil. degree and proceed to the doctoral program. Candidates receiving Fail are not awarded the M.Phil. and are not permitted to re-take the orals or advance to the doctoral program. Candidates receiving Low Pass are eligible to receive the M.Phil degree. Candidates receiving a Low Pass may petition their committees within three working days if they want to re-take the oral examination; if granted approval, candidates must re-take the exam within one month of the first oral examination. A candidate who fails a second orals must petition the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) for permission to make a third attempt.


Adjusting the List before the Exam
If there are a few works on your lists that you haven't managed to get to by the time the orals date approaches, it would be prudent to raise this with the relevant examiner(s); it can usually be agreed to leave such works to the side, unless your examiners feel that too much material hasn't yet been covered and the orals should be postponed. In either event, you should determine this in advance, rather than at the examination itself.

You should have this in mind as you do your orals preparation: what possible topics and approaches are starting to open up? A fairly definite idea may crystallize during the period of orals preparation, but even if not, by the day of the orals you'll likely have some general ideas that you can test out, or an area and group of authors of interest. The conversation may also carry forward issues raised in your field discussions during the preceding two hours. You should ideally emerge from this conversation with a sense of the next steps you need to take in refining your ideas.

Process of the Exam

The pre-oral written exam has been eliminated.

The orals may be taken as early as Febraury 1 but no later than April 15th of the third year.

The orals examination ordinarily begins with the general field, then proceeds to the related field, and then to the thesis field, or second related field. The examiners take the primary or even exclusive role in discussion of their field, but may also speak up during other fields than their own. You should bring your orals lists with you but not plan on taking notes, as the focus should be directly on the conversation.

At the conclusion of the two-hour examination, there will be a short recess while your examiners assess the exam. On your return to the room, following the likely result of a Pass, you will then have a twenty-minute preliminary conversation with your examiners about your proposed or possible dissertation. When you've had a formal "thesis field" with a primary examiner, this further conversation will give the other examiners a fuller chance to offer comments and suggestions; if you've offered two related fields rather than a thesis field, this conversation will give you an opportunity to set out some tentative ideas for the dissertation.

Within four weeks of the successful oral exam, the student must produce a short (3-5) page pre-prospectus, in which s/he gives a preliminary view of the dissertation plan. This assignment is not graded but will be read by all four oral committee members, who are expected to give prompt feedback so that the student can quickly proceed to work on the prospectus.

Final version of the prospectus is due September 30th of the fourth year.

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