See the Graduate Handbook for details about the PhD degree requirements. 


During the first three years in the program, students take a variety of graduate seminars, including a required Seminar in Pedagogy and core courses from two of the departmental programs that are part of the PhD (Composition, Film, and Literature).  All students take a one-credit practicum, Introduction to Graduate Study. The remainder of the courses needed to complete the PhD may be taken from a range of course offerings in areas such as early modern literature, postcolonial literature, world cinema, eighteenth- and nineteeth-century British literature, rhetoric and composition, US literature from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, literacy and pedagogy, British and US modernisms, children’s literature.   

Language Requirement

PhD candidates must demonstrate significant acquaintance with one or more languages other than English.

Normally this requirement is fulfilled through reading knowledge of two languages, undertaking further study of one language, or by beginning a new language. Language requirements must be fulfilled before a student takes the PhD project examinations, described below.

PhD Project

At the end of the third year, students develop a critical project that functions as the comprehensive examination required to achieve doctoral candidacy. This project defines an area of study sufficiently broad in scope to suggest a range of long-term intellectual goals that build on previous coursework and prepare them for more focused dissertation work. For example, past projects have brought together nineteenth-century fiction and feminist nationalism, popular film and the history of sexuality, literacy and literary history, globality and the Irish Renaissance, Indian cinema and global media, composition studies and Foucaultian critique, and Renaissance prose and the history of Protestantism.

The first phase of the project involves a project proposal, a 5-page document with bibliography developed in consultation with a student-formed project committee. Students must meet with their committees to have their project proposals approved and to launch the project phase. 

In the project phase, students write two substantial project papers about important dimensions of their topic.  The culmination of the project phase is a set of written and oral examinations designed to assess students’ work so far and help them look toward their dissertation work.  Students also have the opportunity to present their work from the project phase at a departmental Projects Forum.

The overarching goals of the PhD project are to prepare students for the broadly informed yet in-depth inquiry required of a dissertation, and to facilitate participation in the critical intellectual activity of English studies.

Dissertation Prospectus

After students have passed their project examinations, they will register for Independent Study credits in order to write a prospectus for the dissertation. The student should choose a dissertation director and a committee at this time. Once a dissertation committee has been formed, the students submit a formal dissertation prospectus to the commitee for approval.


Once students have had their dissertation prospectus passed and have been admitted to doctoral candidacy, they should begin the work of researching and writing the dissertation. Normally students will complete the dissertation during the fifth and sixth years in the program. Review Pitt's Graduate Studies web site for more information.