Doctoral Program

Ph.D. Program Requirements

Table of Contents

  1. Requirements for the Ph.D.
    1. Course work
    2. M.A. Exam and Qualifying Evaluation
    3. Foreign Language Requirement
    4. Ph.D. Examination
    5. Dissertation Proposal
    6. Dissertation
    7. Dissertation Defense
  2. Advising and Evaluation

Requirements for the Ph.D.

The Ph.D. program in Italian Studies (FIGS) is planned as a five-year sequence, designed to streamline the candidate's progress through the degree program and allow stage-by-stage focus as follows:

1. Course work

Years 1-3 (first five semesters) are devoted to coursework. Students will take 4 courses per semester the first year, 3 courses per semester in the second year and in the first semester of the third year, when they will also be developing their portfolio as Teaching Fellows. In the second semester of the third year they will have either the opportunity to co-teach a content-course (upon approval of the Executive Committee) and the regular language course, or to undertake administrative duties, as part of their professional training.

In selecting courses, students should aim for broad coverage of periods and genres, as well as a diversity of methodological approaches. Courses, designed to train students in scholarly skills both written and oral, normally include research papers and in-class reports, explications de texte, and book reviews to prepare for publishing, teaching, and conference presentations. Non-native speakers of English should write at least 50% of their course papers in English and are encouraged to visit the University's Writing Center, located in Bennett Hall 415, to improve their critical reading and writing skills in English.

A total of seventeen (17) graduate courses are required for the Ph.D., to be distributed as follows:

1. The FIGS Proseminar, FIGS 7770, an introduction to graduate life—a course taken in the first semester of the first year.

2. A FIGS anchor course—a content course (topic varies every year) taken in the second semester of the first year.

3. The M.A. Exam Preparation Course, FIGS 5000—taken in the second semester of the student's first year.

4. ITAL 5990 (Teaching and Learning)—a course taken during the first semester of the student's second year to support and implement their service as teaching fellows.

5. A Literary Theory course— taken in the student's first or second year.

6. A minimum of 9 electives in Italian studies is needed (cross-listed courses included). Courses will be chosen in consultation with the Graduate Chair. Depending on their content, courses from other departments may also count, with the approval of the Graduate Chair.

7. Up to 3 courses outside Italian in another field pertinent to the student's area of specialization.

Students are permitted to continue coursework past 17 course units with Graduate Chair approval.


Typical format:

Year 1- Educational Fellow

Fall Semester: 4 courses (including the FIGS proseminar, FIGS 7770)

Spring Semester: 4 courses (including the M.A. exam preparation course (FIGS 5000) and the FIGS anchor course)

M.A. Exam (end of the Spring semester)

Students are strongly encouraged to satisfy one of their language requirements in their first year.


Year 2- Teaching/Research Fellow

Fall Semester: 3 courses (including a Literary Theory course and ITAL 5990)

Spring Semester: 3 courses 


Year 3- Teaching/Research Fellow

PhD exam (beginning of the Fall semester)

Fall Semester: 3 courses

Spring Semester: no mandatory courses

Dissertation proposal

Students should have earned 17 course units by the end of their 3rd year.


Year 4- Educational Fellow

Dissertation research and writing


Year 5- Educational Fellow

Dissertation writing and completion 

Dissertation Defense


2. M.A. Exam and Qualifying Evaluation

At the end of the first year, in order to continue in the program, students must pass an oral M.A. exam, focused on a reading list of 25 titles. Students will attend a course in the second semester of their first year to prepare for the exam. In case a student needs to retake the exam, that will happen at the beginning of their third semester. A student cannot take the M.A. exam more than these two times.

In order to continue in the program, students must pass successfully a qualifying evaluation as well. At the beginning of a student's second year, the faculty will evaluate all aspects of the student's performance during their first year in the program, namely:

a) All written assignments completed for courses (exams and papers)
b) Grades
c) Contribution to class discussion
d) An oral M.A. Exam (based on this reading list). N.B. The exam is both in Italian and English.  

After all the evidence is considered by the graduate faculty, the student will be informed that they have:

  • Passed the evaluation (including the M.A. exam) and are invited to continue studies toward the doctorate. If all the requirements are met, the student will be awarded a Master's degree in December of their second year.
  • Passed the evaluation and are eligible to vie for a terminal Master's degree. A student who is judged eligible to vie for a terminal Master's degree will have the option of leaving the program in December or May of the second year. If the student completes course work successfully, they will be recommended to receive a terminal Master's degree either in December or May, as the case may be.
  • Failed the evaluation and is asked to withdraw from the program at the end of the fall semester.

3. Foreign Language Requirement

A translation exam in two foreign languages appropriate to the student's prospective field of specialization. This determination will be made upon consultation with the Graduate Chair. At least one language exam should be completed by the end of the first year, and both by the end of the third year. Students will not be allowed to sit for their Ph.D. examination until both language requirements have been met.

This requirement may be satisfied one of two ways:

  1. A reading examination in a modern language, which will consist of a translation of two texts (about thirty to thirty-five lines each) drawn from literary/cultural/historical criticism (two hours with a dictionary). Reading exams are offered twice a year, once in October and once in March. The dates will be announced by the Graduate Coordinator.
  2. Successful completion of a summer course for reading knowledge, offered tuition free by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences during the first summer session of each year. Reading courses are usually given in French, German, and Spanish. Students are expected to complete all course assignments and pass the final exam in order to fulfill the language requirement. 

Students specializing in Medieval or Renaissance studies need to fulfill a Latin requirement as one of their two languages. The Latin requirement may be fulfilled one of two ways:

  1. Successful completion of a one-semester Latin course, in which the student has fulfilled all course requirements such as tests, quizzes, and homework assignments. The student will need to produce a letter from his or her instructor that attests to satisfactory performance in the course.
  2. A translation exam in Latin, which will consist of one passage by a classical author and one passage by a Medieval/Renaissance author.

4. Ph.D. Examination

In order to be admitted to candidacy, students must pass successfully, at the beginning of their third year, a Ph.D. examination, divided in two parts, written and oral. The exam is based on a Ph.D. Reading List, which consists of the comprehensive general list that is customized (20-25 texts) for the century relating to the student's chosen specialized field:

a. Written Examination

A three-part exam to be administered on a take-home basis as follows:

Part I: Middle Ages
Part II: Renaissance/Baroque 
Part III: Contemporary/Cinema

Students will answer one question for each part of the exam (there will be three questions per part from which to choose). Two parts of the exam must be written in Italian, and the remaining part in English, or two parts in English and one part in Italian. Normally students will receive via email the titles for the exam on Friday morning at 9:00 AM, and will send by email the completed exam by 9:00 AM the following Monday. The exam must be submitted electronically, and students will be allowed to consult whatever sources they may deem necessary.

b. Oral Examination

The oral examination, to take place no more than two weeks after the written, will be conducted by the standing faculty in Italian Studies. Committee members may review aspects of the written exam in their questioning, and they will test the student's general knowledge of Italian literature and culture, across the historical spectrum from Duecento to early 2000s (including cinema and theater), as represented by the Ph.D. Reading List. The exam will take up to two hours.

5. Dissertation Proposal

Following successful fulfillment of the Ph.D. Examination, the candidate will shape a dissertation project and writing schedule. A Dissertation Chair and a Dissertation Committee will be chosen through a selection process involving the candidate, the FIGS Graduate Chair, and the Italian faculty. The committee will consist of faculty members and at least 2 of which have to belong to the Graduate group. Whatever the composition of their Committee, all students are encouraged to consult informally and widely with the faculty beyond the Committee, both inside and outside the department. In consultation with the Committee, the candidate will prepare a draft of the dissertation proposal, which will serve as the basis for an informal oral presentation of the dissertation topic to the Italian faculty in the Spring of their third year.

6. Dissertation

The presentation of a dissertation is the final requirement for the Ph.D. The dissertation must represent the organized result of an investigation into some area or aspect of literature or culture that was previously unknown or at least insufficiently explored. Candidates must be thoroughly acquainted with all University regulations governing the writing and presentation of a dissertation, and should refer to the Doctoral Dissertation Manual. (Copies are available at the Graduate Division, 3401 Walnut Street, Suite 322A, or from the Graduate Coordinator.)

7. Dissertation Defense

A public, oral presentation of the dissertation will take place during the semester in which the student will graduate. The defense is open to all members of the University community. The defense will include both a short presentation given by the student and an oral examination of the thesis material.


2. Advising and Evaluation

Upon entering the graduate program in Italian, each student will be advised by the FIGS Graduate Chair, who will meet with students in an official capacity once during the fall semester and once during the spring semester to discuss course registration and general progress toward the degree. Students are from the beginning encouraged to consult other faculty members as well and take a maximum number of courses with fullest possible historical coverage of Italian literature and cultural traditions. When a general area of concentration is identified as a possible source of a dissertation topic, the appropriate professor will become the student's principal adviser and, normally, the dissertation supervisor.

Early in the fall semester of each year, the faculty will meet to review students' overall performance in the program with respect to grades, class participation, quality of written material, and teaching. Because the faculty does not wish to encourage any student who may not be able to complete the degree with distinction, students who have not shown adequate command of oral and/or written Italian, have failed a course, have a grade point average lower than 3.5, or have generally performed below expectations may be: placed on departmental probation, asked to finish the requirements for a terminal M.A., or asked to leave the program. All students, new and continuing, are encouraged to discuss informally and at any time their progress with their Graduate Chair and their teachers.