PhD Examinations


Successful completion of the preliminary written examinations and defense of the dissertation prospectus for admittance to the thesis stage.


The Ph.D. preliminary examination committee generally consists of four faculty members, three of whom must be members of the Slavic department. (Please see the Graduate College requirements for details on how the Ph.D. committee should be constituted.) All members of the committee prepare and read the written examinations and pose questions at the oral examinations.


The preliminary written examinations consist of two four-hour exams, covering the student’s major and minor fields, focusing on the area of specialization to be pursued in the dissertation. The norm for the Ph.D. written exams shall be in the range of one or two questions to be answered in four hours. For any section on the exam, there will normally be a choice of questions from which the examinee selects one to answer. The chair of the examination committee and the committee have discretion on this matter. The examinations are comprehensive, testing the student’s critical abilities and familiarity with subject matter and methodology. The exams serve to indicate whether the student has adequate preparation and ability to carry out independent scholarly research and teaching.

1st. The major field examination focuses on the student’s area of specialization and includes literature / film / visual arts, critical theory, and secondary source materials that pertain to but also expand on the student’s dissertation topic. Students are expected to include coverage of the field that goes beyond their particular research topic. Thus, a specialization in Silver Age poetry, for example, would include 19C and 20C Russian poetry, as well as literary theory and secondary sources on specific poets and movements. The field should be defined in consultation with the Ph.D. examination committee. This exam is intended to test both the student’s comprehensive knowledge and prepare them for writing their dissertation proposal.

2nd. The minor field examination focuses on an area of research supplementary to the student’s major area of concentration. Possible minor fields include but are not limited to study in another Slavic or regional literature and culture, including Yiddish-language literature; Jewish studies; the visual and performing arts; critical theory; gender studies; cinema and related media; philosophy; history. This exam is intended to situate the student’s comprehensive knowledge and specialization within the broader framework of comparative or theoretical studies. Coursework in the minor field may be fulfilled by a graduate minor / certificate from another unit, but the minor field exam should be tailored to Slavic studies.

Procedure: A Ph.D. examination committee is established in consultation with the main faculty advisor who will be directing your Ph.D. dissertation. This faculty advisor will chair the Ph.D. committee and will be responsible for assembling the exam with input from the committee. The Ph.D. exam committee and the Ph.D. dissertation committee will largely overlap, but might not include exactly the same members. In some rare cases, the chair of the Ph.D. committee will be different from the dissertation director.

A reading list for each examination is established by the student in consultation with the appropriate members of the Ph.D. preliminary examination committee. The student is responsible for scheduling each exam at least 4 weeks in advance of the date of the exam (a scheduling form available through Graduate Services). The finalized reading list for each exam should be sent to the entire committee at least 4 weeks before the exam’s date.

The grading of written examinations is on a high pass/ pass/ low pass/ fail basis. A guide to approaching exam questions is available on the departmental website. The exam will be graded by the end of two weeks following the exam. In case of a failure on a part of the examination, the committee will decide whether the student shall be permitted to repeat that part, but no part may be repeated more than once. In the case of poor performance on the exam more generally, the committee may decide to test the material concerned further during the oral prospectus defense.


The Ph.D. dissertation committee generally consists of four faculty members, one of whom will direct the dissertation. Two of the members must be Slavic department faculty and at least one an outside member. (Please see the Graduate College requirements for details on how the Ph.D. committee should be constituted.) This committee may be the same as the Ph.D. preliminary exam committee.


Following the completion of written exams, the student meets with the Ph.D. dissertation committee to examine the dissertation prospectus. The prospectus is a dissertation proposal 10-15 pages in length, including a statement of purpose and method, contribution to the field, a chapter outline, and a bibliography. A more detailed guide to writing a dissertation prospectus is available on the departmental website. At least two weeks in advance of the meeting and with the approval of the dissertation advisor, the student should present the Ph.D. dissertation committee with a complete prospectus. The defense is two hours long and serves to examine the scholarly value of the proposal and to refine the project. The committee may also follow up on the written exams to further test the student’s knowledge of the national literature and the related fields of specialization. Upon successful completion of the prospectus defense, the student is admitted to candidacy for the thesis stage.

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