English Language and Literature, Ph.D. (Ithaca)
Field of Study
The doctoral program in English Language and Literature offers two degree options for the prospective applicant: the Ph.D. and the Joint M.F.A./Ph.D. The department enrolls about 12 new students each year in the Ph.D. including one or two of those students admitted into the joint program. Our small size allows us to offer a generous financial support package, details of which are outlined on our department website. At the same time, we have a large and diverse graduate faculty with competence in a wide range of literary, theoretical, and cultural fields. The program is extremely flexible in regard to such matters as course selection, the design of examinations, and the election of minor subjects of concentration outside the department. English Ph.D. students pursuing interdisciplinary research may include on their Special Committees faculty members from related fields such as Comparative Literature, Romance Studies, German Studies, History, Classics, Women's Studies, Linguistics, Theatre and Performing Arts, Government, Philosophy, and Film and Video Studies.
The Ph.D. candidate is normally expected to complete six or seven one-semester courses for credit in the first year of residence and a total of six or seven more in the second and third years. The program of any doctoral candidate's formal and informal study, whatever his or her particular interests, should be comprehensive enough to ensure familiarity with the authors and works that have been the most influential in determining the course of English, American, and related literatures; the theory and criticism of literature; the relations between literature and other disciplines; and concerns and tools of literary and cultural history such as textual criticism, study of genre, source, and influence, as well as wider issues of cultural production and historical and social contexts that bear on literature.
The Special Committee. Every student selects a Special Committee of three faculty who will be responsible for providing the student with a great deal of individual attention. The University system of Special Committees allows students to design their own courses of study within a broad framework laid down by the department, and it encourages a close working relationship between professors and students, promoting freedom and flexibility in the pursuit of the graduate degree. The student's Special Committee guides and supervises all academic work and assesses progress at a series of meetings with the student.
Teaching. Teaching is considered an integral part of training for the profession. The Field requires a carefully supervised teaching experience of at least one year for every doctoral candidate as part of the training for the degree. The Department of English, in conjunction with the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, offers excellent training for beginning teachers and varied and interesting teaching within the university-wide First-Year Writing Program. Graduate students are assigned to writing courses under such general rubrics as "Portraits of the Self," "American Literature and Culture," "The Mystery in the Story," "Shakespeare," and "Cultural Studies," among others. Serving as a Teaching Assistant for a lecture course taught by a member of the Department of English faculty is another way graduate students participate in the teaching of undergraduates.
Concentrations by Subject
- African American literature
- American literature after 1865
- American literature to 1865
- American studies
- colonial and postcolonial literatures
- cultural studies
- dramatic literature
- English poetry
- lesbian, bisexual, and gay literary studies
- literary criticism and theory
- Old and Middle English
- prose fiction
- the English Renaissance to 1660
- the nineteenth century
- the Restoration and the eighteenth century
- the twentieth century
- women's literature
Application Requirements and Deadlines
Dec. 15 (Fall term admission only)
(includes Graduate School Requirements)
The application must be submitted online. Detailed requirement summaries for applicants are available for download from the graduate pages of the English Department web site.
- Application and fee
- Statement of Purpose
- Three letters of recommendation (four letters required for Joint MFA/PhD applicants)
- TOEFL or IELTS (International applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language)
- GRE General Test (reported directly from ETS)
- GRE Subject Test in English Language and Literature (reported directly from ETS)
- Critical Writing Sample
- Creative Writing Sample (required for Joint MFA/PhD applicants only)
The Cornell Department of English is committed to diversity in terms of critical and theoretical approaches to the study of English literature. The areas of expertise professed by its faculty and explored by its graduate students represent the full spectrum of professional sub-fields, and interdisciplinary affiliations further extend the department’s intellectual and creative engagement. A distinguishing feature of the Cornell PhD program in English is its reliance on a system of Special Committees, which allows students to develop their own courses of study within a broad framework established by the department. Graduate students work closely with faculty committees to determine a highly flexible course of study, to set individually devised qualifying exams, and to determine additional work in foreign languages. This system encourages a close working relationship between professors and students, promoting freedom and flexibility in the pursuit of the graduate degree. Students in the English PhD program also receive extensive teacher training. After the first year in the program, students typically teach seminars in the university-wide First-year Writing Program, an experience which prepares them to design and teach courses in creative writing, literature, and cultural studies to a range of students, including agriculture and engineering majors as well as students in the humanities and social sciences. The combination of an individualized curriculum and rich teaching experience positions our students to be extremely competitive on the job market, and qualifies them to pursue work in a variety of creative fields.