Program of Study

Program of Study

The aim of our graduate program is to further interest, knowledge, and scholarship relating to Russia and Slavic Central Europe, primarily through the cultural humanities. To this end we urge our students to explore new intellectual paths and approaches, having first provided them with a strong background in the Russian literary tradition, an introduction to major schools of theory, and the opportunity to conduct research abroad.  (Please note that the program in Slavic Linguistics has been discontinued.)

Our students play a central role in the life of the Department in ways that hone their professional skills – teaching language and/or literature, helping select speakers, participating in the dissertation colloquium, and organizing conferences. They also take active part in the profession, presenting papers at national and international conferences and publishing in journals in the field.

Candidates accepted into the program receive full funding (full tuition, health insurance, and living stipend) for five years. As part of this award – and as part of their professional training – students normally teach at least two semesters of literature, language, or both, usually after the general examinations. 

Students are in residence full-time during the first two years, doing course work and preparing for the general examination which usually takes place at the end of the second or the beginning of the third year. Upon passing the examination, students begin work on the dissertation and receive supervised training in undergraduate teaching together with classroom experience. In the fourth year students may opt to conduct dissertation research abroad. The fifth year is spent in residence teaching and completing the dissertation. 

Because we aim to admit only two students into the program each year, we are able to help them design a program of study and develop a research trajectory that accords with individual scholarly needs and interests. Choosing from a wide range of courses, entering students arrange their programs in consultation with the director of graduate studies and faculty advisers. Graduate seminars in our Department cover historical periods (e.g., Russian Realism, Symbolism, Acmeism, Futurism, Soviet and Post-Soviet Literature and Culture), specific authors (e.g., Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak), theoretical approaches to literature (e.g., the Russian critical tradition from Belinsky to the Tartu school and Bakhtin), and core courses in the development of literary genres (the evolution of Russian poetic form; the evolution of Russian prose).   There are also courses designed to enable students to master the basic grammar and to read original texts in Slavic languages other than Russian (e.g. Czech, Polish, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Bulgarian). Seminars offered by other Departments (e.g. Comparative Literature, Music, History, Anthropology, Art History) are often relevant to scholarly interests of our students and we encourage the development of interdisciplinary connections and ideas. Course offerings are augmented by a graduate reading list of both required and recommended works intended to provide students with literacy in the field.  The most recent Graduate School Announcement that provides access to course offerings can be found here.

Please see also: Slavic Program: Year by Year 
Language Skills:

In addition to knowing English and Russian fluently, students must attain a high level of competence in a third language. Two years of good work (B+ or above) in college level language classes satisfy this requirement; however, it can also be satisfied by a rigorous reading exam. For a Slavist at Princeton, the most logical choices for this language would be French, German, BCS, Czech, or Polish; however, other languages will be considered if they are relevant to the student's interests.  The requirements should be satisfied before Generals.

In each of the first two years students take diagnostic tests in the Russian language to evaluate their progress.


The general examination takes place at the end of the second or the beginning of the third year.  Based on material drawn from coursework and the graduate reading list, it consists of a written section followed by an oral exam.

The Department hosts a sharepoint site that contains a student resouces section where past qualifying exams, prospectus, and other information useful to current students are located. Click here. Students can log in with their Princeton University ID and password.

Procedure for the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination:

The Ph.D. qualifying examination is designed to ensure that students have the ability to conduct independent research and to lead them to a productive and interesting dissertation project.

The examination process requires close cooperation between the student and his/her committee (three faculty members chosen by the student). By the summer of their second year, students should develop two fields of inquiry. In consultation with the faculty, they will draw up (and read) a bibliography of approximately 75 items for each of them. The two fields should be sufficiently distinct that the bibliographies do not overlap in a significant way.

Each bibliography should be divided into three parts:

1) Author(s);

The purpose of this area is to provide a thorough knowledge ofprimaryandsecondary sourcesassociated with an author. If the author is Pushkin, the student should not only read his major works, but also major monographs on him (Tomashevsky, Lotman, as well as major Western contributions like Todd and Sandler).

It is fine if a student wants to frame the bibliography around a different type of problem (e.g. the literature of the thaw, the genre of the war film). In this case it is best to choose as “author” one figure who produced important work in the area. “Author” may be construed broadly; it can be a theater or film director as well as a poet or novelist.

It should be emphasized that the focus on a single author in the qualifying exam does not mean that dissertation topics should revolve around a single author.

2) Context:

The context should be largely historical and literary. In addition to the knowledge of primary works and secondary works specifically relating to the chosen author, the student must demonstrate familiarity with the broader context of this author’s work (e.g. historical period, stylistic movement, ideological framework, contemporary like-minded authors, other authors that influenced him/her, etc.). For instance, if the author is Lermontov, the context would be Romanticism, for Andrei Belyi, the context would be the Symbolist movement, for Aleksandr Fadeev the context would be Socialist Realism, for Andrei Tarkovsky the movement could be the Thaw, for Dostoevsky the context would be Realism (i.e. Tolstoy, Turgenev, Goncharov as well as scholarship devoted to these writers).

3) Approach (theory and method):

This area, the student is expected to demonstrate knowledge of one or more methodological and interpretative approaches useful to understanding the author. The approach may cover a philosophical tradition (e.g. Existentialism or Feminism), a literary “theory” (e.g. Formalism or Deconstruction), a specific field of theoretical knowledge (e.g. Critical Theory of the body or Film Theory) or an aesthetic doctrine (e.g. Classicism, Avant-Garde or Postmodernism). The student should show an understanding of the history of the chosen field of inquiry as well as an awareness of the current state of the scholarship. If the author is Belyi, for example, the approach might include works on the European Avant-Garde in which Belyi is not mentioned, but which use an approach that could constructively be applied to understanding Belyi’s work.


Exam Questions

For each bibliography, the candidate formulates four research questions, two concerning author and context and two concerning author and approach. From these, the examination committee chooses two questions. The candidate is given one week for each critical essay, which should be approximately 3000 words (footnotes and bibliography excluded).


The exam for the first bibliography should take place early in the fifth semester; the exam for the second bibliography should take place towards the end of that same semester. Each exam is followed (ordinarily one week later) by a one-hour oral discussion. Among other things, this discussion should consider the feasibility of either essay to serve as the basis of a dissertation chapter.

Dissertation Prospectus

After the exams are over, the student chooses a dissertation advisor (ordinarily — though not necessarily — one of the committee members). In consultation with the advisor, the student prepares a dissertation prospectus (which, on the basis of the earlier bibliographies and the work already undertaken, should not take more than a week or two). This should allow sufficient time for the student to produce a first dissertation chapter in the sixth semester.

Dissertation and Final Public Oral Defense:

The dissertation, an in-depth study on a subject that can be treated in 150 to 200 pages. Dissertation students work closely with their advisers and participate in an on-going dissertation colloquium. Once the dissertation has been read and approved, its author defends it publicly in the presence of faculty, other informed or interested scholars, graduate students, family, and friends, demonstrating mastery of the subject and effectiveness in oral discourse.

Applicants to our program should have a firm foundation in the Russian language (the equivalent of at least three years of college Russian) and be completely fluent in English. They should also have a general knowledge of the Russian literary tradition and its major writers and works. We strongly encourage prospective students to contact the Department and if at all possible to come to campus to meet the faculty. To arrange a visit, please e-mail the Office Manager Ms. Kate Fischer. 

Additional information relating to admission to Princeton University is posted on the Graduate School's website.
Both web (the preferred method) and paper applications are available on-line.

Successful candidates receive a stipend of full tuition and fees together with a five-year fellowship that includes summer salary.

All Princeton graduate students have access to the resources of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, In our Department students who have passed their general examinations receive supervised training in undergraduate teaching and have the opportunity to gain classroom experience by teaching elementary or intermediate languages courses and precepting (leading discussion sections in) larger nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature survey courses. which offers workshops and training sessions related to all aspects of the academic career.

Students are eligible for funding to travel to national conferences to present papers. Fourth- year students who go abroad to do dissertation research are encouraged to apply for non-Princeton fellowships.

Princeton is a lovely small town conveniently situated approximately mid-way between New York City and Philadelphia. Information on housing, including graduate dorm rooms and apartments can be obtained from the Housing Office

If you have any questions that are not covered by material posted on the Slavic Department or the Graduate School websites, please contact Kate Fischer, our Office Manager or the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Ilya Vinitsky.