Doctor of Philosophy Program

The doctoral program is designed to prepare students to teach at the college level and conduct research in literature written in English. PhDs trained at Marquette continue to be placed in college-level jobs as well as in allied fields such as publishing, K-12 publishing, educational administration, and nonprofit work. Key takeaways students will gain from our doctoral program are listed in the table below:

Ph.D. Program Highlights

Specifically, the program seeks to develop the following:

  • A comprehensive and intensive knowledge of the literature, with specialization in one area (period, type, or author) of British or American Literature.
  • Knowledge of the textual, editorial, and critical problems and backgrounds of major texts and authors, together with a grounding in the principles of literary criticism.
  • Knowledge of the basic tools and methods of literary and linguistic research and training in their application.
  • Demonstration of this knowledge and ability in a number of advanced papers (ordinarily in graduate seminars), in the qualifying examination, and in a major dissertation evincing power of organization, significant exploration and discovery, and creative insight and imagination.
  • Knowledge of pedagogical problems and the literature thereof, and practical experience in the teaching of literature, rhetoric, and composition.

Credit Requirements

The candidate for the Ph.D. degree must complete 54 hours of course work beyond the B.A., including 24 hours beyond the M.A. In addition, 12 hours of dissertation credit are required. During the student's first semester in the doctoral program, the student prepares a Doctoral Program Planning Form in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. The form lays out a schedule of course work designed to complete the distribution requirements and prepare for the qualifying exam and dissertation.

Curriculum Course Structure


  • Theory and Methods
  • Electives
  • Dissertation Tutorial
  • Dissertation Credits

Theory and Methods requirements (3-6 credits)

  • 6820 Studies in Modern Theory and Practice
  • 6965 Practicum in Teaching Writing (for TAs)

18 credits, 9 of which must be earned in courses at the 6000 level or above.

Dissertation Tutorial 8830 (3 credits)

Dissertation Credits 8999 (12 credits)

Doctoral Qualifying Exam

The Doctoral Qualifying Exam (DQE) consists of an oral examination in which three faculty examiners question the Ph.D. student about the primary and about the contextual/secondary fields of study. The primary field relates directly to a student's proposed dissertation topic, including both primary and secondary texts. The contextual or secondary field, which also encompasses both primary and secondary sources, is selected for its relevance to the primary field. Both grow out of work done in English 8830.

Purpose of DQE

Purpose of exam

The oral DQE provides students the opportunity to:

  • Defend their dissertation proposals
  • Defend their contextual or secondary areas of study

Once the exam is completed, the candidate should be ready to write the dissertation and complete it within 18-24 months.

Scheduling and preparation of exam

Scheduling of Exam

Students are expected to take the DQE in the semester following their completion of 8830. This means the DQE will typically take place fall semester of the third year. When students register for their DQE the faculty advisors should:

To accommodate the individualized exam format and to assist student progress through the program, Ph.D. qualifying exams are typically offered between September 30 and May 15, normally within two months of the student's request to take the exam.

Faculty Committee

  • Composition: The DQE committee is composed of three faculty, chosen by the student in consultation with the faculty advisor who chairs the committee. (The student’s three-person dissertation committee is usually though not always drawn from this group.)
  • Function: Committee members generate questions based on the student's dissertation outline and on the contextual/secondary field bibliography. Prior to the DQE, the faculty advisor collects the questions from committee members and compiles the questions into an exam format, culling out any repetitive questions; the exam is then circulated to all committee members before the exam and serves as a script for the oral DQE exam.

Readiness for Taking the Exam

Students may schedule their DQE if they have met the following requirements:

  • Successfully completed English 8830
  • Obtained DQE committee members' approval for their dissertation outlines and for their contextual/secondary field annotated bibliographies.

Evaluation of exam


The qualifying exam requires a vote of 3-0 or 2-1 to pass. To pass the DQE, students must demonstrate their readiness to write their dissertations by meeting the criteria on the following form, which is to be filled out by the director and submitted to the DGS:


To record the results of the DQE, the advisor/committee must complete the above assessment form, and in addition the following two forms, which likewise must be submitted to the DGS, so they can be processed and sent on to the Graduate School:

Post-Exam Consultation

After the DQE has been graded and the results reported to the Graduate School, students are encouraged to review their performance with their field advisors.

The student should then submit the proposal materials to the graduate school, using the following form: Outline for Dissertation Form. This is also an appropriate time to submit to the graduate school the official form declaring the student's candidacy: Advancement to Candidacy Form.

Registration instructions for post-coursework PhD students

During 8830 (DQE prep course) register for 8830 plus:

  • 9974 if on a fellowship with no teaching
  • 9975 if a TA
  • 9976 if an RA or CFAH intern
  • if self-funded, call Sherri Lex in the registrar’s office for instructions since situations vary (i.e. employee tuition remission, true self-funding, military, etc.)

After 8830 register for 8999 for four semesters, including summer, until you have (12) total 8999 credits.  During that time, continue to register in Fall and Spring (but not Summer) for:

  • 9974 if on a fellowship with no teaching
  • 9975 if a TA
  • 9976 if an RA or CFAH intern

After four semesters of 8999, JUST register for the 9xxx numbers that will take you to FT, as follows:

  • 9974 if on a fellowship with no teaching
  • 9975 if a TA
  • 9976 if an RA or CFAH intern
  • 9999 if working remotely, max’d out of fellowship aid (i.e. after 6 years), or self-funded.This costs $100/semester. 


A dissertation stands as the final requirement for the Ph.D. degree. It represents an original and substantive contribution to its field and grows out of sustained thought, research, consultation, and writing, typically taking 18-24 months to complete.

Selecting a dissertation topic

Students are encouraged to begin thinking about their dissertations as early as possible.

  • Use Early Coursework: Students may plan coursework and paper topics to explore possible dissertation topics
  • Solicit Advice: Students may consult with faculty members, who are willing to brainstorm with students about how to frame a dissertation topic as a research question so that it results in a thesis contributing to on-going scholarly conversations.
  • Complete ENGL 8830
  • Complete DQE

Writing the dissertation

When writing the dissertation, students follow the steps below so as to finish their dissertations in a timely fashion and in accordance with the Graduate School's Dissertation Directives.

Select Director:

Students select directors who are knowledgeable in students' chosen fields and who are people with whom students can have a comfortable and productive working relationship. Directors read early drafts of dissertation chapters, determine when chapters are ready to be given to other committee members, and conduct 2-hour oral dissertation defenses, including overseeing completion of required paperwork.

Select Committee Members:

Students, in consultation with directors, set up dissertation committees consisting of the director and two faculty readers. Readers provide feedback on later drafts of dissertation chapters, consult with directors on a dissertation's readiness for defense, and participate in a 2-hour oral dissertation defense.

Submit Dissertation Outline:

The dissertation outline should be written in English 8830 and approved in the DQE. The dissertation outline, which frequently undergoes revision in response to suggestions from the DQE and dissertation committees, should be submitted to the Graduate School no later than a couple months after the DQE has been passed. Although dissertations often diverge from particulars in the dissertation outline, the outline enables students to begin with clear arguments and methods that can serve as a reference for all subsequent efforts on the dissertation.

Consult regularly with Director:

Successful and timely completion of the dissertation within 18-24 months depends on students' sustained work, including remaining in close consultation with directors. At least one formal communication per month is recommended, and more frequent meetings, phone calls, and email exchanges are helpful. In these communications, directors and students discuss students' reading, writing, and general progress. Directors may suggest or require certain avenues of inquiry, set deadlines, and read initial drafts of dissertation chapters. These initial drafts represent students' best current efforts; as such, they are crafted pieces of writing with complete citations, not hastily-composed or casual rough drafts. Directors read the initial drafts in a timely fashion and return them to students with suggestions for revision.

Consult Committee Members:

Directors may seek advice from two readers about initial drafts or wait until initial drafts have been revised. Although readers typically communicate formal responses to students through directors, students should feel free to call on the expertise of the readers at any time. 

Schedule the Dissertation Defense

Once directors and committee members approve dissertations, public defenses may be scheduled.

Defending the dissertation

Students defend their dissertations in a two-hour oral exam. 

Prepare for the Dissertation Defense:

Students plan to undertake their defenses no later than a month prior to graduation. Students are responsible for presenting each member of the committee with a clean copy of the final version in ample time to insure its reading before the scheduled date of the defense.

Pass the Dissertation Defense:

Students defend their dissertations by answering questions posed by committee members about the dissertations' claims, methods, and potential for publication. At the conclusion of defenses, committee members vote on whether to accept the dissertations. To pass, a dissertation must receive a vote of 3-0 or 2-1. Committees may pass a dissertation as is or require minor revisions before students submit final drafts to the Graduate School.

The committee will fill out a Dissertation Assessment Sheet to be handed in to the departmental director of graduate studies. Directors fill out the Dissertation Approval Form.

Faculty and student responsibilities

  • Although faculty directors and readers offer advice and encouragement, students ultimately write their own dissertations. Consequently, the primary responsibility for completing the dissertation rests with students; as such, the dissertation process trains students in the research habits needed for successful academic careers.
  • Even though students have six years beyond the M.A. to complete their coursework, DQE, and dissertations, the department does all it can to insure that students complete their work even faster.
  • The goal of directors and readers has always been to facilitate students' work in ways that produce the best possible dissertations. Our department's record of degree completion and its academic placement attest to the success of faculty and students in achieving this goal.

How to Apply

Apply through Marquette’s graduate application portal after reading through the application instructions. The priority deadline for consideration for financial aid, fellowships, and assistantships is January 15. You’ll need to submit 1) a statement of purpose explaining why you are applying to Marquette’s PhD in English, including a description of your proposed research topic, why you feel you would be a good fit for our department, and your academic interests and career goals; 2) a writing sample, single-authored by the applicant, that represents your best and most recent work in literary or cultural analysis, of no more than 30 pages; and 3) two (ideally three) letters of recommendation from people who know your scholarly work well.