Doctor of Philosophy


  • Registration: 2 Extended Residence Units
  • Teaching:
    1 section of University Writing per semester; OR,
    1 section of Literature Humanities per semester; OR, 1 section of other teaching per semester 
  • Dissertation Prospectus: Submitted by November 1
  • First chapter of Dissertation: Submitted by April 1 to qualify for dissertation fellowship in the fifth year
  • Participation in one conference recommended
    Submission of one essay for publication recommended
  • Participation in a relevant doctoral seminar or dissertation group

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  • Registration: 2 Extended Residence Units; or, Matriculation and Facilities
  • Teaching or Dissertation Fellowship:
    1 section of University Writing per semester; OR,
    1 section of Literature Humanities; OR, 1 section of other teaching per semester; OR,
    Dissertation Fellowship
  • Satisfactory Progress on Dissertation:

For students who failed to complete a chapter in year 4, at least two chapters: first chapter submitted and chapter meeting scheduled by September 15th; a second chapter submitted and chapter meeting scheduled by April 1st.  Submission of two chapters will constitute the academic progress needed to qualify for a dissertation fellowship in year 6.


Students on dissertation fellowship in year 5, who already completed at least one chapter in year 4, are expected to draft two additional chapters by the end of year 5, for a total of three drafted chapters by the end of year 5.  Drafts should becompleted and chapter meetings scheduled by Nov. 1 in the fall and April 1 in the spring.

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  • Registration: 2 Extended Residence Units; or, Matriculation and Facilities
  • Teaching or Dissertation Fellowship:
    1 section of University Writing per semester; OR,
    1 section of Literature Humanities; OR,
    1 section of Literary Texts, Critical Methods (ENGL W3011), or other reading in one semester; OR
    Dissertation Fellowship
  • In year 6, the department expects continued progress on the dissertation, which should be substantially completed by the end of
    year 6.
  • Participation in a national conference
    Submission of an essay for publication
  • Participation in a relevant doctoral seminar or dissertation group
  • Dissertation Defense
    Note: for those not defending their dissertation in the sixth year, a Dean's Progress Report must be filed by May 30

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After having completed 6 "residence units" (RU), i.e., 2 semesters of full tuition for 3 years, Ph.D. students may then register for either an "extended residence unit" each semester or a unit of "matriculation and facilities" each semester. These registration units are defined as:

Extended Residence Unit
M.Phil/Ph.D. students who have completed six residence units and either hold a teaching appointment or plan to take courses register for extended residence. Extended residence confers "full-time" status to students, and allows them to take unlimited classes. The cost is covered for students on teaching appointment. If you have questions about what to apply for, please contact the Department Administrator.

Matriculation and Facilities
Advanced M.Phil./Ph.D. students who are neither on a teaching appointment nor are planning to take courses should register for matriculation and fees, "M&F." Students who are dissertation fellows, for instance, should register for M&F. If questions arise about what to apply for, please contact the Department Administrator.
—  M&F F/T: "Full-time" status, no classes.
—  M&F P/T: "Part-time" status, no classes, loans may become payable


Graduate fellowships include tuition for strictly limited coursework after orals. If doctoral Teaching Fellows need more coursework, for example to improve on languages needed for the dissertation, a letter from the DGS may be required to explain why coursework is continuing during the doctoral years. In the summer before taking the Dissertation Fellowship and in the year of the Dissertation Fellowship, tuition for coursework is not provided.

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There are several options for teaching after students have completed the M.Phil. requirements:

University Writing
The Writing Program is associated with the Department of English and Comparative Literature, but is run separately. Consult the University Writing Program webpage for a more detailed description of the program. For about six of the Department's students in their third year of UWP instruction, one semester of University Writing will be replaced with a seminar section of the Department's introductory course, Literary Texts and Critical Methods.

Literary Texts and Critical Methods
This one-semester course is a required introduction to the undergraduate major. Students meet once a week in a seminar session following a single weekly lecture from a faculty member on points of fundamental importance of literary study such as genres and forms, narrative and poetic techniques, and critical traditions. Close attention is paid to developing students' abilities to write papers on literary issues.

Columbia College Core Curriculum
M.Phil. students frequently apply for two-year appointments as preceptors in Literature Humanities, or less frequently in Contemporary Civilization, two-semester course sequences in which Columbia College students undertake intensive study and discussion of some of the most significant texts of Western culture. "Core preceptors," the title given to students who teach Lit Hum and CC sections, must hold the M.Phil. before beginning to teach, but may apply for the Core's two-year commitments in anticipation of holding the M.Phil. in time to take up an appointment if it is offered. Please consult the Core Curriculum website for more details:

Summer Session Courses
M.Phil. students can propose courses to be offered in the Columbia Summer Session. See the Summer Session website for dates and kinds of courses offered: For questions about the application procedure, watch for the fall semester workshop on proposing courses, or ask the Director of Graduate Studies or Department Administrator for more information.

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By application, up to four advanced graduate students per year can be appointed to teach an undergraduate seminar (3000 level) of their own design. Apply in fall for the following academic year.

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Because it describes work that you have yet to complete, the dissertation prospectus is an unfamiliar sort of academic genre.  So what should you try to accomplish in this document?

Put most simply, the dissertation prospectus should offer a provisional account of (1) what your argument is, (2) why it matters, and (3) what body of evidence you will draw on to substantiate it.  Your “argument” might be expressed as a focused research question, as a hypothesis, or as a tentative thesis.  In explaining why it matters, you should outline how your dissertation will contribute to, or change, the existing scholarship on the topic.  And in describing a body of evidence, you should indicate which primary and secondary texts are essential to your project.

In addition to these general aims, your prospectus should provide answers to the following questions:

  • Why are you addressing this topic? How does it build upon your previous work and how is your approach, archive, or perspective significant?
  • Do you make use of any special methodological or theoretical perspective? How is it appropriate to your topic and body of evidence?
  • What is the proposed organization of the dissertation?


If these are its intellectual goals, what practical elements should the dissertation prospectus include?

  • A title. Don’t be too cute: it should indicate the topic and emphasis of your project.
  •  The body of the prospectus. This should describe your project, outline its potential interest and scholarly significance, and identify your core objects of study.
  •  A chapter breakdown: write tentative accounts of each chapter, dedicating a page or less to each.
  •  A timeline, outlining what you intend to complete and when.
  •  If applicable, a description of special needs: e.g., do you need to travel or conduct specific archival research, develop new linguistic or technical skills, or use special equipment?
  •  A working bibliography.  Although this might include a few important works you have not yet read, it should mostly represent the research you have done so far.


Your prospectus should be between 1500-3000 words or 7-10 double-spaced pages in length, not counting the tentative schedule, description of special needs, and working bibliography. Longer prospectuses will not be approved.

Prospectus meeting

You should complete a first draft of the prospectus by September 15 of your fourth year and submit it to your dissertation committee to review.  When the student and committee are agreed that the prospectus is in the nearly final draft, the student should take the initiative to schedule a prospectus meeting. This meeting, to be attended by the student and her/his entire committee, should occur not later than October 1.  The purpose of the prospectus meeting is to provide you with a forum for discussion of the dissertation's conception and development. It is not a defense of the prospectus. Rather, it is an occasion for the student to get coordinated feedback before he/she completes a final revision.

Final Stages: Committee Approval, Filing with Department, DGS Approval, Filing with GSAS

Before filing the prospectus with the Department, you need to complete any essential revisions recommended at the prospectus meeting, Next, complete the online Report of the Dissertation Proposal Committee  in  typeface only,  here. Then download and take  it to your  committee members  to sign. Once the form is completed, bring it along with your  prospectus to the Graduate Coordinator Nicole Meily. If one or more of your committee members cannot sign, the printed approval email may be included in the hardcopy packet. The DGS will decide whether to approve it or recommend further revision. You will be notified of the DGS’s decision via email if there is a problem. The department will forward the 'Report' form to GSAS once it is approved. October 25th is the Deadline for filing approved prospectus with the Department.


  • May-September: Independent work on dissertation prospectus, with prospectus workshops in early May and late August.
  • September 15: Final date for first draft to be submitted to dissertation committee
  • October 1: Deadline for prospectus meeting with dissertation committee

 Sample Prospectuses

Several prospectuses have been selected as examples of the genre. They have been chosen from a variety of fields and represent the diversity of methodological and theoretical approaches to doctoral research in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia. 

These prospectuses have been uploaded to a collaboration site for graduate students in Courseworks (ADMN 1069.001 Resources for Graduate Students).  Please request access from the English Department administrator.

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The culminating product of graduate work, the doctoral dissertation is likely to be by far the longest piece of writing a student has ever done, and it becomes the most important piece of evidence on the academic job market, the fullest and most visible expression of a candidate's intellectual values and accomplishments.

It is useful for you to be aware from the outset what a dissertation is not. It is not a book, though it may eventually become one at a subsequent phase: dissertations are typically shorter and more selective in scope than books. Nor is a dissertation the kind of magisterial summing-up that a scholar can try out following the award of tenure-a speculative or deeply personal work addressed essentially to a very general audience, or to oneself, but not focused on any particular audience of intermediate size.

Generally, the dissertation should accomplish two things:
     •  It should address an issue that intrigues you deeply and that gives you an opportunity to work on authors you find compelling and who will repay extended study-not by someone else, but by you.
     •  The dissertation should also demonstrate the various skills that assistant professors in literary studies are expected to have: skill at analysis of literary texts, sophistication in historical and/or theoretical framing of issues, and engagement in an ongoing scholarly conversation concerning important issues of current concern.

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A typical dissertation these days runs between 250 and 300 pages, divided into four or five chapters, often with a short conclusion following the final full-scale chapter. There is no set minimum or maximum length, but anything below about 225 pages will likely look insubstantial in comparison to others, while anything over 350 pages may suggest a lack of proportion and control of the topic, and would probably take too long to write. For guidelines on formatting, students should consult the GSAS Dissertation Office website (

The goal should be to have a full draft of the dissertation completed by October 1 of the sixth year (fifth M.Phil. year). This will enable you to spend the fall of that year on the job search, and to assure interviewers in December that your work is complete apart from some minor revision and the actual defense.

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Helping guide you through the process of writing the dissertation is
your dissertation committee, a group of three faculty members.  One
member is designated the dissertation Sponsor.  The Sponsor must be a
faculty member of the English Department, is directly responsible for
overseeing your schedule, and ensures that regular chapter meetings
take place, although the responsibility for scheduling those meetings
lies with the student. Your faculty Sponsor is also responsible for
filling out departmental and GSAS progress reports.  The other two
members are the Second and Third Reader, faculty members from inside
or outside the department who each act as full advisors. All three
committee members should review your draft prospectus and will need to
sign off on the final version of the prospectus.

As you contemplate potential committee members, you should talk over
your ideas with the DGS to help you decide what combination of people
will be most useful to you in terms of specific knowledge as well as
of general approach and interaction. The dissertation Sponsor is
responsible for the composition of the defense committee: the three
members of the student's departmental committee plus two examiners who
are typically from other departments. In special circumstances,
examiners may be faculty from other universities, in which case the
potential examiner's curriculum vitae must be sent to the Graduate
Coordinator for submission to the Dissertations Office for Dean's

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The department strongly encourages students to take advantage of our customary practice of having the entire dissertation committee convene to discuss each completely drafted dissertation chapter.  These meetings have the advantage of providing students with coordinated feedback on each dissertation chapter. 

It is the student's responsibility to contact faculty to schedule these meetings, which usually take place in the office of a dissertation committee member.  Typically students email faculty members a draft of a chapter and at that time also begin the process of scheduling a chapter meeting.  (Some faculty may request hard copies of chapter drafts.)  When scheduling meetings, keep in mind that faculty typically take two to six weeks to read drafts of chapters.  Students should consult committee members and the DGS about any significant divergences from this timetable.  Committees vary in terms of how polished they want drafts to be, so seek explicit instruction from your committee members about their expectations.

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The following dates should be kept in mind:




September 15
(4th Year)

Submit first draft of prospectus to dissertation committee

October 1
(4th Year)

Prospectus meeting: 45-minute conversation with at least two prospective dissertation committee members to discuss a draft prospectus.

November 1
(4th Year)

Prospectus should be submitted by November 1.

February 15
(4th Year)

One dissertation chapter must be drafted and submitted by February 15 to qualify for a dissertation fellowship in the fifth year.

May 15
(4th Year)

One-hour conversation with your dissertation committee, discussing the first chapter or the progress towards its completion. The office will keep track and make sure that the meeting is being held; the DGS will receive a brief email report from the committee's Sponsor.

1 Time/ Semester

Visit each of your three committee members. You can be in contact via email if direct meetings are not possible. Faculty will return chapters within two weeks.

1-2 pm
all semester

Time reserved for meetings with committee members. Notify the M.Phil. Coordinator when you have completed a chapter and circulated it. Only one formal meeting is required per chapter.


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If you haven't done so already, you should begin to be active in the wider scholarly discussion beyond campus. This can be done in two ways: through conference participation and through publication of articles and book reviews. These modes of professional interaction are invaluable, but spending too much time working on articles or preparing conference presentations can impede the completion of your dissertation-a hindrance that offers only a marginal benefit. One article and one or two conference presentations per year will amply serve the purpose.

Conference Participation
The department provides some funding to help cover the cost of conference travel for people presenting papers. These funds are available to students in the fourth year and beyond. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences provides additional funds for post-orals students. To receive such funds, you need to give the Graduate Coordinator a one-page description of your paper, a copy of the letter of acceptance from the conference organizer, and a budget of expected expenses (car rentals, hotel reservations, etc). Please pay attention to the deadlines that are posted for receiving funding. Reimbursements are processed when original receipts are submitted to the department's financial assistant. Departmental funds for travel to conferences are subject to availability.  In order to make awards available to the greatest number of students possible, priority in making awards will be in inverse proportion to previous support:  the more money you have previously received for conference travel, the lower your priority will be for receiving a new award in any given year.

Your orals examiners and dissertation advisors are excellent resources for advice on what professional organizations to join; by the fourth or fifth year, every graduate student should become a member of one or two relevant leading professional organizations. Even if you are not giving a paper, it's a good idea to begin attending their annual meetings. Apart from such annual meetings, special-topic conferences are constantly issuing calls for papers; PMLA and the MLA Newsletter list many such calls, and the Graduate Coordinator maintains a folder of fliers that come to the department.

Publication is highly desirable-in moderation-and is most useful when you're able to turn an existing draft (seminar paper or dissertation chapter) into an article. Seminar papers will often need to be expanded somewhat, while dissertation chapters will need to be cut down. The MLA Guide to Periodicals gives a very useful listing of journals and their requirements on length and format.

Consult with your advisors about sending out submissions and have them read drafts of articles before submitting them. An article should be sent to one journal at a time, and should be accompanied by a short cover letter on English Department letterhead. 

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Dissertation Fellowship
The department makes available to all students who have completed the M.Phil. degree a full year of funding in either their fifth or sixth year in the program-funding free from any teaching obligation. Students are expected to use this "free year" to make significant progress on their dissertation, aiming to have a full draft of it done by the end of the year. Students must have completed their prospectus and one chapter to be eligible to take the dissertation fellowship. Note:  Effective 2012, students applying for a 6th-year dissertation fellowship must have drafted at least two chapters of the dissertation.  Drafts must be at least 40 pages

GSAS requires students to apply for external funding for their fifth and sixth years. A list of fellowships can be found on the GSAS website at

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During the extended period of dissertation work, it is important to keep in contact with other students as well as your advisors. To this end, the department sponsors several dissertation seminars; you are strongly encouraged to attend the seminar of most use to you, beginning in the fall of your fourth year.

Dissertation Groups
Most of the areas in the department conduct dissertation seminars throughout the year. These seminars meet between 3-4 times a semester and are not for credit. Since students and faculty usually attend, these groups are invaluable ways of getting a great deal of input from colleagues other than your advisors on work in progress. 

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The culminating rite of passage of graduate study, the defense should be, and usually is, a very satisfying experience. Your three advisors are now joined by two outside committee members who can read your work with fresh eyes, and if all goes well, the defense will be a congenial two-hour discussion from which you emerge with a new sense of how your work looks to a variety of serious readers and where you might take it next.

Defense Preparation
Applications for defense, available from 107 Low Library or the GSAS website, should be filed with the department at least 3 months before your anticipated defense date. This provides ample time for your Sponsor to contact the prospective outside committee members and for all relevant information to be sent to the dissertation office.

After doing this, the main thing you can do to insure a successful defense is to make sure your three primary advisors feel that your dissertation is complete and ready to defend. After seeing the final version you intend to distribute, your committee Sponsor must formally certify to the department that it is ready to defend. Once you distribute the dissertation to the five members making up your defense committee-at least one month in advance of the defense date-you then contact the defense coordinator in Low Library; the coordinator will officially set the time, date, and location of the defense.

The registration requirement for the dissertation defense depends on the date of distribution, not on the date of the actual defense. If you distribute before the first day of classes of the new semester, you do not have to re-register.

At the Defense
Bring a copy of your dissertation and a notepad to your defense. Unlike the orals examination, which is purely focused on discussion, the dissertation defense is geared towards helping you think critically about your project, and it is recommended that you take notes to that end.

The two-hour defense ordinarily begins with the Sponsor of your committee inviting you to spend five minutes or so describing the genesis of your project, your thoughts on what you've achieved, and your plans for future developments. The examiners then take turns giving comments and asking questions for 15-20 minutes each. You are then excused for a few minutes while the examiners confer, and then you are brought back in to the room for the result. Your examiners may give you back their copy of your dissertation, if they've made comments in the margins, or may have already made all of their comments in the defense.

Defense Results
Dissertations can receive the following grades:
— PASS (minor revisions): Correction of typos, and any fine-tuning the committee may suggest. This is the result in the great majority of cases, and usually involves just a few days' work at most.
— INCOMPLETE (major revisions): Substantial work still to be done within a specified period of time. At the end of that time, a subcommittee of three examiners must read and approve the revised version.
— FAIL: It rarely, if ever, happens that a dissertation whose advisors have approved it for defense receives a failing grade.

Dissertations that pass with minor revisions can also be granted Distinction, if all five examiners agree. Only 10% of dissertations are to receive the grade of Distinction. Following the award of a Pass with minor revisions, the candidate has six months to complete any final revisions and deposit the dissertation at the dissertation office in Low Library. A schedule is set each year for the last date to deposit in time for an October, May, or January degree. Even if you have not actually deposited the dissertation by the time of Commencement, you should be sure to come to the graduate Convocation and share in the champagne and strawberries that follow.

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