Ph.D. in English requirements

The Department of English offers two areas of emphasis within its doctoral program:

Students in each emphasis design their specific programs of study following departmental guidelines and in consultation with their advisory committees. Specializations are available in a variety of fields within each emphasis.

Applicants to the Ph.D. program must have a Master's degree in English or its equivalent from an accredited college or university, an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 and a cumulative graduate GPA of at least 3.5. Potential applicants without a Master of Arts in English should talk with the Director of Graduate Studies to determine whether their graduate work in a related field is comparable to that expected.

Ph.D. admissions are entirely separate from M.A. admissions. Completing the Master's degree program at the University of Nevada, Reno does not ensure admission to the doctoral program.

The following general requirements apply in all emphases within the Ph.D. English program, except where clearly stated in the specific descriptions that follow.

Time limit

All requirements must be satisfied during the eight calendar years immediately preceding the granting of the degree.

Advisory committee

As soon as practical and in consultation with the director of graduate studies, a student should choose an advisory committee and complete a program of study. The graduate program in English emphasizes a close working relationship between the student and his or her advisory committee. Advisory committees for doctoral students consist of a chair and two other members of the graduate faculty of the Department of English and two members from the graduate faculty in other departments.


A Ph.D. degree requires an absolute minimum of six semesters of full-time work beyond the baccalaureate degree, of which at least two successive semesters (excluding summer sessions) are to be spent in full-time residence at the University of Nevada, Reno. (Full-time residence requires a minimum of nine credits per semester. Teaching assistants taking at least six credits per semester also are considered to be in full-time residence.)

Continuous registration

Graduate School regulations require graduate students to maintain continuous registration of at least three credit hours per semester to remain active in the pursuit of a degree. This means that students studying for comprehensive exams or writing dissertations must, even if they are not in residence, register for at least three credit hours (usually English 799) each semester (summers excluded) until they graduate.

Total credits

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must complete a minimum of 73 graduate credits, including at least 49 credits in course work and 24 dissertation credits beyond the baccalaureate degree. Students are required to take at least eight courses in residence, for a minimum of 24 credits. No more than four credits of English 736 Internship and three credits of English 791 Special Topics (independent study) may be counted toward the degree. Except in the case of required internships, independent study and internship credits may not be used to fulfill course requirements but may be counted for the total number of credits for degrees.

Transfer credits

A maximum of 24 credits in graduate courses with grades of B or higher may be transferred from another university and applied toward requirements for the Ph.D. A master's degree in English from another university can thus transfer as 24 credits, at most. Transfer credit requests must be approved by the student's committee chair, the director of graduate studies and the Graduate School. Whether courses taken elsewhere may substitute for specific course requirements at Nevada will be determined by the graduate studies director and/or the student's advisory committee.

Seminar requirement

Exclusive of dissertation credits, a total of 31 credits, at least 19 of which are beyond the master's degree, is required in courses numbered 700 or above.

Foreign language requirement

Students may meet the foreign language requirement in one of two ways:

  • Competency in one foreign language other than English
  • Course work in linguistics and the nature of language

The choice of languages or linguistics course work is left to the student in consultation with his or her advisory committee; preference should go to those languages that would prove most useful to the student over a lifetime of reading and research.

Competence in a language is defined as completion of the equivalent of four semesters of college-level work in the language with a grade of C or better in the final semester or as completion of the second semester of a sophomore reading course with a grade of B or better. The requirement is considered satisfied when a college transcript shows such a grade in the appropriate final course (whether the earlier courses are shown or not), or when the student has passed at the appropriate level a test administered by the Department of World Languages and Literatures. As an alternative to the foreign language requirement, the student's advisory committee may allow her or him to substitute a three-semester sequence of specified graduate courses in linguistics, language and language-related topics from other disciplines, such as psychology or anthropology.

Written comprehensive examination

After completing course work and the foreign language requirement, the Ph.D. student must pass a comprehensive examination, consisting of a written test and an oral review. The student's advisory committee is responsible for the evaluation of the exam. Graduate School regulations stipulate that if more than one negative vote is cast, the examination is failed. If this happens, the student may be allowed to repeat specific areas of the exam or the entire exam. However, no part may be re-taken more than once and three months must elapse between attempts. A student may appeal a decision to the Department of English graduate committee. In such a case, the graduate committee may review the examination, but it can offer only an opinion. The final decision remains with the student's advisory committee.

In order to register for ENG 795 (comprehensive exam), a student must have met the following requirements:

  • Filed a completed program of study with the Graduate School
  • Completed all course work toward the degree for the Ph.D.
  • Met the foreign language requirement for the student's degree and area of emphasis
  • Met with the student's committee chair to work out plans for completing the written and oral portions of the exams
  • Returned the "approval to register for comprehensive exams" form, completed to the Department of English office before the end of registration.

Oral comprehensive examination

After passing the written exam, the student must also pass an oral examination, administered by his or her advisory committee and lasting about two hours. The oral exam will review the written exam and - in the rhetoric and composition emphasis - the student's writing portfolio. As with the written examination, a failed oral exam may be re-taken only once. Students who have completed all the course work, finished the foreign language requirement and passed both the comprehensive written and oral exams are formally admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. The student must register for ENG 795, Comprehensive Examination, one credit, the semester he or she will be completing the oral exam.


Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must present a dissertation that makes a significant scholarly or critical contribution to knowledge. A dissertation prospectus must be submitted to and approved by the candidate's advisory committee before work begins on the dissertation. Typically this prospectus will include a bibliography and an extensive description of contents. Since the dissertation requires close and constant supervision by the chair of the advisory committee, the candidate should develop the dissertation in residence. When considerable progress has already been make, the candidate may be permitted to complete the dissertation elsewhere, under such arrangements as his or her advisory committee may specify and the Graduate Dean approves. In the process of working on the dissertation, each candidate must register for at least 24 dissertation credits under ENG 799.

Documentation and bibliography should follow the current MLA style manual. Students doing research involving human subjects must check with the Office of Research Integrity in Ross Hall regarding necessary protocols and review procedures.

Dissertation defense (final oral examination)

After the dissertation has been accepted by the candidate's advisory committee, an oral examination specifically covering the dissertation and related topics will be administered. The student must pass this oral exam with not more than one dissenting vote of his advisory committee. The oral exam may be repeated once, but at least three months must elapse between attempts.


The student is responsible for knowing the degree requirements and for submitting all Graduate School forms on time. Early in their graduate careers, students should become familiar with the most important forms: the graduate credit transfer evaluation request, the program of study, the admission to candidacy/comprehensive examination report, the application for graduation and the notice of completion. The application for graduation is available on the Graduate School's website.