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PhD Requirements


Programs of study are individually arranged and offer a great deal of flexibility. Approximately half of the student’s course work and individual reading (which generally takes two to three years) will consist of the intensive study of a modern literature from 1750 to the present. The other half will consist of interdisciplinary study in one or more areas, which may include a reasonable amount of creative work. In addition, the student must pass an oral examination and complete an interdisciplinary dissertation. The program also requires reading knowledge in two modern foreign languages. It is recommended that students begin the program with an advanced knowledge of at least one foreign language.  (Download the MTL Handbook here.)

Doctor of Philosophy

A candidate for the Ph.D. degree in Modern Thought and Literature must complete three years (nine quarters) of full-time work, or the equivalent, in graduate study beyond the B.A. degree. They are expected to complete at least 18 courses of graduate work in addition to the dissertation. At least three consecutive quarters of graduate work must be taken at Stanford. Students may spend one year of graduate study abroad.

Requirements for the Ph.D. in Modern Thought and Literature are:

  1. Introductory seminars (334A/B), Concepts of Modernity 1 & 2 (10 units).
  2. Eight courses of advanced work in literary studies in one language. Of the eight courses, at least six must be regularly scheduled courses in literary studies focused on the period from 1750 to the present, of which at least two must be regularly scheduled seminars. Courses in the teaching of composition (English 396, 397), ad hoc graduate seminars (395), research courses (398), and thesis registration (802) may not be counted among these six courses. 396, 397, 399, 802 may not be counted toward these requirements under any circumstances.
  3. Eight courses of advanced work in non-literature departments, the core of which is completion of either a departmental minor or an interdepartmental concentration, typically consisting of six courses. Department minors are available from the departments of Anthropology, Art, Communication, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies, and Sociology (see information in those sections of this bulletin).  Individually designed concentrations may be approved by petition to the director. In addition to the required six courses in a minor or a concentration, two additional courses from non-literature departments are chosen in consultation with each student’s academic adviser. Course restrictions noted above in item 2 also apply.
  4. Qualifying Paper: In the winter quarter of the second year, the student must submit a 25-30 page paper based on a term paper written during the first year.
    Each student is expected to have a topic developed and readers designated at the end of spring quarter of the first year.
  5. Teaching: Teaching, an essential part of the program, is normally undertaken in conjunction with the Department of English and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. Candidates are required to demonstrate competence in teaching.
  6. Language: Students must demonstrate, by the end of the third quarter of the first year, a reading knowledge of one foreign language and, by the beginning of the first quarter of the third year, a reading knowledge of one other foreign language. Reading knowledge means the ability to make a genuine scholarly use of the language: that is, to read prose of ordinary difficulty.
    Students may not take the University oral examination before completion of the foreign language requirement.
  7. Candidacy: at the end of the second year, students apply for candidacy. The following qualifications are required before candidacy can be certified: the earlier submission of a satisfactory qualifying paper; demonstration of a reading knowledge of one foreign language; satisfactory progress in course work; a list of courses applicable to the degree, distinguishing between courses appropriate to the literary component from courses appropriate to the interdisciplinary component; and the submission of a statement outlining the scope and coherence of the interdisciplinary component of the program in relation to the literary component, and noting the relevance of the course work to that program.  At the time of candidacy, students should apply to receive the M.A. in MTL, if they did not receive an M.A. prior to their admission to MTL.
  8. Annual Review: the program and progress of each student must be approved by the Committee-in-Charge at the end of each academic year.
  9. University Oral Examination: this examination, covering the student’s areas of concentration, normally is taken in the third year of graduate study. It is a two-hour oral examination administered by four faculty members specializing in the student’s areas of concentration, and a chair from another department. The exam is based on a substantial reading list prepared by the student in conjunction with the faculty committee and designed to cover the areas of expertise pertinent to the student’s dissertation project.
  10. Colloquium on the Dissertation Proposal: Within one quarter after the University oral examination, the student writes up the dissertation proposal: 15-20 pages with a general description of the project and a chapter breakdown plus a bibliography. The proposal is submitted to the program director and the dissertation committee for approval. After completion of the first chapter of the dissertation, the student sets up a meeting with the dissertation committee for one hour to discuss the work accomplished in the first chapter and plans for completing the rest of the dissertation.
  11. Dissertation: the fourth and fifth years are devoted to the dissertation, which should be a substantial and original contribution acceptable to the Committee on Modern Thought and Literature. The subject is drawn from the literature of specialization and the area of nonliterary studies.


JD/PHD Joint Degree Option

PURPOSE:  The joint degree program provides an opportunity for students to develop deep expertise combining study in Modern Thought and Literature with law, providing strong preparation for academic positions relating to both fields.

FORMAT:  Faculty advisors from both Law and MTL will approve the course of study and participate in the supervision of each student’s joint degree program. Because of the broad intersection between law and the kinds of interdisciplinary inquiry encompassed by MTL, teaching and training of joint degree students will extend broadly across both faculties.

The Law School shall approve courses from the MTL student’s interdisciplinary program of study that may count toward the J.D. degree, and the Program in MTL shall approve courses from the Law School that may count toward the Ph.D. degree in Modern Thought and Literature.  In either case, approval may consist of a list applicable to all joint degree students or may be tailored to each individual student’s program.

APPLICATION:  Students interested in the joint degree program must apply and gain entrance separately to the School of Law and the Ph.D. program in Modern Thought and Literature Interest in the joint degree program should be noted in the applicant’s statement of purpose and may be considered by the admissions committee of each program.  Alternatively, an enrolled student in either program may apply for admission to the other program and for joint degree status in both academic units after commencing study in either program.

SCHEDULE OF REQUIREMENTS:  Students must satisfy the requirements for both the J.D. and the Ph.D. degrees as specified.  The sequencing and schedules for individual joint degree students may vary substantially depending on background, interests, and the guidance of faculty advisors.  Joint degree students may elect to begin their course of study in either the School of Law or the Program in Modern Thought and Literature.  However, whenever a student begins the course of study in Law, the student must be enrolled full time in the Law School for the entire first year curriculum in law.  At all other times, enrollment may be in either academic unit, and students may choose courses from either program regardless of where enrolled.

FUNDING:  All applicants admitted to the MTL Ph.D. are offered the same five-year funding package.  For the School of Law, joint degree students shall be eligible for the same scholarships and grants as students who are not pursuing a joint degree.  This is ideally a six-year program, with MTL providing funding for five of those six years.  (If additional funding is needed to complete the joint-degree program, the student must apply for competitive dissertation grants or other funding).

For more information, please contact Bernadette Meyler (