Ph.D. Examination, Bibliography and Dissertation


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. 

Diagnostic Tests in Russian

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.

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.