1. First- and Second-Year Advising
a. As stated in the “English Department Faculty Guide,” every entering graduate student is assigned a faculty mentor or mentors in advance of their arrival on campus. These pairings can continue through the second year of the program or be changed, depending on individual preferences and faculty leave patterns.
b. Graduate students should be informed before their arrival on campus that they can reach out to their mentors with any questions about the program, their plans for coursework, or life at Yale. Mentors should plan to meet with advisees as early as possible, and no later than the end of the registration period, to confer about course selections and other plans for the academic year. Advisers are expected to reach out at least once more during the term to touch base with their advisees and make themselves available as resources. (The DGS will issue reminders to advisers to contact their advisees before and during each semester.) If this arrangement is not satisfactory—if a student has difficulty getting in touch with an adviser, or if the advising they receive doesn’t meet their needs—the student should contact the DGS for help. A conversation with the DGS about a potential change in advisor is a positive step toward receiving good support, and students will not be penalized for approaching the DGS on this matter. The content of these discussions will be kept confidential.
c. It is always advisable to cultivate relationships with multiple faculty members, and students should feel free to approach other faculty members for conversation about the program, future projects, and graduate student life. Departmentally assigned adviser(s) are not the only faculty eager to get to know and support new graduate students, and other faculty members may end up playing an equally or more important role in students’ time in the program.
d. While not every faculty member with whom a student takes a class will take on a formal role as a mentor or adviser, faculty who lead a graduate class should provide feedback on students’ work throughout the course, including on the final paper. Students should feel empowered to follow up with faculty members about receiving such feedback, and should ask the DGS for assistance if necessary.
e. MA students have the option of writing a faculty-supervised thesis in their second semester. The supervisor may be any member of the ladder faculty with expertise in the area of the proposed thesis and a willingness to provide the necessary supervision—typically, meeting with the student on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to discuss the project, reading and commenting on drafts, and providing a report on the completed thesis. Students interested in writing an MA thesis should approach their proposed supervisors well before the start of the semester in which they will write it—in practice, this usually means in November of the fall semester, to make plans for spring. The DGS can also provide suggestions about likely supervisors and assist students in contacting them.
2. The Teaching Practicum and Observation of Courses
a. All second-year Ph.D. students in the department are required to take English 990 “The Teaching of English.” This course meets weekly as a graduate seminar, but also involves student observation of part of an introductory English course.
b. Ladder faculty may be asked to accept a graduate observer in their course. The graduate student is an observer, for the most part, but will typically teach one or two sessions and may grade all or part of a set of papers or handle individual tutorials. (Any grading or commenting on essays should be done in consultation with the faculty instructor, as a mentoring exercise; the student observer should not be asked to grade or comment on essays independently.) Faculty will sit down with their observers for a discussion about how they typically plan a class session, formulate assignments, and comment on and grade papers. Faculty are expected to offer feedback on the teaching session(s), either in a one-on-one meeting or in a written document.
3. Teaching Fellow Assignments
a. Graduate students in English are assigned to serve as Teaching Fellows (usually in lecture courses, though occasionally in large seminars) in the fall and spring semesters of their third year. Students are informed of the likely course offerings ahead of time and asked to submit a ranked list of preferences; ultimately, however, TF assignments depend on a number of factors beyond the control of the graduate program—including faculty teaching schedules and undergraduate enrollments. But the DGS, DUS, and ADUS work carefully together to ensure whenever possible that every grad student has at least some opportunity to gain teaching experience in a course broadly related to their own interests and expertise. If a student is assigned as a TF in a course beyond their usual field of interest or experience, they should not feel obligated to acquire additional knowledge on their own; the instructor of the course will work to ensure that all TFs are adequately prepared to handle their responsibilities.
b. TF responsibilities typically include: attending all lectures and general class meetings; keeping up with the reading for each class; attending weekly meetings with the instructor and the other TFs, if any; running a weekly discussion section and holding weekly office hours for the students in their section; working with the instructor to devise assignments, quizzes, or exams; grading (and, if appropriate, commenting on) all assignments, quizzes, and exams submitted by the students in their section of the course; and calculating and submitting final grades. They may also teach all or part of a lesson for the entire class, under the supervision of the instructor. According to GSAS guidelines, TFs should not be asked to teach classes at which the instructor is not present (if the instructor needs a substitute for a particular class meeting, the substitute should be a fellow faculty member). They also should not be asked to write assignments or exams on their own or to perform regular administrative work on the instructor’s behalf, such as making photocopies, preparing slides, or providing tech support (for example: occasional requests for assistance with uploading files to Canvas are fine, but delegating all management of a course website to a TF is not).
c. Course instructors are responsible for determining the content and structure of the course, including all formal assignments and deadlines, and for providing consistent mentoring and support to their TFs. They should hold weekly check-ins with their TFs to discuss the progress of the class, brainstorm ideas for section activities or writing assignments, talk over common challenges or shared objectives, and generally keep a close tab on how TFs and their sections are faring. Such support is especially important around grading: TFs should have opportunities to discuss sample essays with the instructor and one another, to arrive at collective norms for grading and commenting, and to talk over especially tricky grading issues. Finally, the instructor for the course should make an appointment to visit each section at least once in order to observe the TF at work. Section visits should be followed by a meeting between the instructor and the TF to debrief and by a short written account from the instructor, which may serve as the basis for future letters of recommendation.
d. Students are encouraged to explore non-academic or academic-adjacent professionalization options early on, as a complement or alternative to the standard teaching appointments. These opportunities exist at the Beinecke, the YCBA, the YUAG, the Lewis Walpole Collection, the Yale Review, and elsewhere on campus, and the department is working with the GSAS Deans Office to simplify and standardize the process for applying to them alongside TF and PTAI positions in years three through six. Faculty should be open to exploring with their students how these alternative professionalization experiences might complement or supplant more usual academic professionalization activities; while faculty are not expected to have expertise in fields other than their own, they should be receptive to students’ own sense of how they might construct a CV or resume throughout their time at Yale while also meeting their academic requirements.
4. Oral Examinations
a. Our Ph.D. oral exams take place in the fall of the third year (or the start of a student’s fifth semester in the program) and test for a broad knowledge of English-language literary history, as well as growing mastery of the student’s chosen field(s) of scholarly inquiry, including primary and secondary materials. The exam consists of questions on five topics, developed by the student in consultation with examiners and subject to approval by the DGS. Examiners must be chosen (and the DGS consulted) by January 31; the lists should be submitted to the DGS by March 31. Students who are on a different calendar due to personal or medical leave should approach the DGS to ascertain the dates by which examiners and lists must be finalized.
b. Graduate students are expected to identify examiners who will work with them to shape the lists in advance of the January 31st deadline. Students should feel free to approach faculty members with whom they have not previously had an opportunity to cultivate a relationship; oral examinations provide a good opportunity to widen your support and mentoring network within the department. Students must select and secure the participation of their examiners by the end of the first week of classes of their 4th semester. The examiner and student should agree on a list of about thirty titles for each field, though the faculty member may suggest other areas for the student’s reading after the exam. (Examples of past oral exam lists in various fields are available for consultation in a “Graduate Student Resources” folder on Box, to which all second-year students will receive access.) Faculty are encouraged to use pre-examination conversations to help prepare the student for a meaningful experience in the exam; the graduate student should schedule at least one meeting with each examiner in the interval between the submission of the exam list and the exam to discuss their progress through the reading. The exam itself is mean to test not just the student’s recall of the assigned texts, but also their ability to make connections among them and fashion arguments in a scholarly exchange. Examiners are also available to meet with students after the exam to debrief and discuss their plans for the dissertation prospectus; students should be sure to schedule such meetings with examiners who might go on to serve on their dissertation committees.
c. The DGS will convene an orals information session in the fall semester. When possible, GSAC will also convene a student-led Orals Tea, which provides an opportunity to receive advising and mentoring from peers.
5. Identifying a Dissertation Committee
a. Dissertation committees are typically composed of three people. With rare exceptions, committees consist of at least two English Department ladder faculty members, though students pursuing interdisciplinary topics are free to include members of other departments or programs. On occasion, with permission of the DGS, one member of the dissertation committee may be a faculty member at another institution. The graduate student should designate one member of the committee (who is also a member of the English Department faculty) to serve as chair; the chair has special administrative responsibilities, including writing annual Dissertation Progress Reports, but may or may not serve a leadership role on the committee beyond that. Another member of the committee—not the chair—will be slated to serve as an official reader when the graduate student submits their dissertation. Though it is not a formal rule, the expectation in English has been that every dissertation writer, for practical and professional reasons, should have at least one committee member who is a member of the tenured faculty. Students are encouraged to involve untenured ladder faculty on the committee as well, where appropriate, and students may always seek input on any part of their dissertation from faculty not on their committee, either in the Yale English Department or elsewhere.
b. Students should reach out to members of the faculty to secure involvement on their committee shortly after their oral examination, making clear the graduate student’s selection of chair. The selection of a chair does not imply a hierarchy within the Committee, and students should feel free to select the faculty member who will best support them in this role. The DGS can assist students as they give shape to their committees; open communication with other faculty mentors may also be helpful. The student may consult with the chair regarding the constitution of the committee, if this seems appropriate and useful, but such consultation is not required. In selecting committee members, the student should reflect on their experience with faculty members in coursework, colloquia, and other formal and informal mentoring opportunities. Some sense of expertise and compatibility should guide the student’s selection process, but not every member of a committee needs to serve an identical role in relation to the dissertation. For instance, different committee members may have different degrees of proximity to the topic of the dissertation and different areas of specialized knowledge to contribute.
c. The chair will be responsible for completing the adviser portion of the Dissertation Progress Report (DPR) in consultation with the other committee members. All members of the dissertation committee will work closely with the student and be available to discuss the project as it develops. This availability includes both formal chapter conferences (see “First Chapter Conference” and “Subsequent Chapter Conferences”), less formal meetings, substantive written and/or verbal feedback on drafts, and correspondence by email or phone at a frequency agreeable to both the student and the adviser. Navigating this new phase of the program works best when students are in comfortable and consistent dialogue with each of their committee members. Graduate students should feel entitled to reach out to committee members at all stages of the writing process, determine a schedule for draft submission and turnaround that suits their circumstances, and check in with committee members when appropriate. Individual advisers may offer different kinds and quantities of feedback at different stages of the writing process: some advisers welcome the chance to read and respond to early or partial drafts, while others prefer to weigh in with written feedback at a later stage, when a chapter is more fully conceived. So long as the student is happy with the quantity, kind, and consistency of guidance they receive—and none of the committee members feels unduly over-burdened or excluded—such variations are normal and appropriate. If a student isn’t receiving adequate guidance from a particular adviser, they can and should seek the advice of their chair or the DGS.
d. Graduate students are permitted to change the constitution of their committee at any point up to the submission of the dissertation. Reasons for switching advisers may include a faculty departure, irreconcilable differences between adviser and student, change of intellectual focus, or addition of new faculty to the department, among others. In the case of irreconcilable differences, the graduate student should feel empowered to call on the DGS for assistance in mediating a change in committee constitution. The DGS is also available to discuss confidentially any challenges or concerns that arise between a student and their adviser or advisers. In cases in which a student does not feel comfortable approaching the DGS on a particular matter, they may contact the GSAS Dean’s Designees to discuss any issues; conversations with the Dean’s Designees are confidential, and Dean’s Designees can help students brainstorm approaches for opening a departmental conversation. Students should note that Dean’s Designees are mandatory reporters under Title IX guidelines. (See section III of these guidelines for further information.)
6. Dissertation Prospectus
a. The prospectus should be a document of approximately ten to twelve pages with an attached bibliography. It explains what the graduate student’s research topic is, why it’s important, and how the student intends to explore it chapter by chapter. It convinces the reader that the student has thought thoroughly about the topic, considered how it fits in with existing scholarship, and chosen authors and works that are well suited to the inquiry. (Examples of past prospectuses are available for consultation in a “Graduate Student Resources” folder on Box, to which all third-year students will be given access.)
b. In the fall of their third year, after they have passed their oral exams, doctoral students in English will enroll in a prospectus workshop convened by the DGS. (Participation is optional for students in joint programs that offer their own prospectus workshops.) The aim of the workshop is to provide students with a guided framework for developing and drafting their prospectuses, ensuring a well-supported transition from coursework and oral exams to dissertation research. The workshop will include opportunities to discuss the components of a prospectus, strategies for researching, writing, and revising, and a schedule for producing draft versions.
c. All three members of the dissertation committee will also guide the graduate student through writing and revising their prospectus. The chair and the student should determine a preliminary schedule for turning in partial or full drafts of the prospectus to the entire committee. All members of the committee should provide at least one round of written feedback on the prospectus draft in advance of the final due date, typically January 15. In order to allow adequate time for the exchange and incorporation of that feedback, students should give a preliminary draft of the full prospectus to their committee members by the end of the fall semester.
d. The DGS will convene a prospectus information session in the fall semester, at the start of the Prospectus Workshop; all 3rd years are encouraged to attend this meeting, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in the workshop itself. When possible, GSAC will also convene a student-led Prospectus Lunch, which provides an opportunity to receive advising and mentoring from peers.
7. Dissertation Prospectus Conference
a. The completed prospectus will be discussed at the Dissertation Prospectus Conference—typically held on a Friday in February—attended by the student, the dissertation committee, at least one member of the Graduate Studies Committee, and the DGS. Although all members of the committee will provide substantive feedback on the prospectus as submitted, it is understood that the conference itself is a discussion of work in progress, raising questions and offering suggestions for revision. It is not an exam or interview, and students should feel free to ask questions, share doubts, and seek clarification about any aspect of their developing project. Students and advisers should expect that the committee will ask for some revisions to the prospectus and will set a timeline for resubmission and final approval, typically after spring break and no later than the end of the student’s sixth semester in the program. When the student has completed their revisions, they should submit the revised prospectus to the committee, the DGS, and the Department’s Graduate Registrar. The prospectus must be approved by the end of the student’s third year; it is the final requirement for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D.
b. Members of the dissertation committee, the DGS, and the representatives from the GSC are expected to have read the latest draft of the graduate student’s prospectus, and to come to the Prospectus Conference with concrete suggestions for improvement or revision. The student does not need to make any special preparations for the conference, beyond submitting their prospectus by the established due date.
c. In their responses to the prospectus draft, readers contribute their insights into such matters as: the clarity, coherence, and interest of the proposed topic; the effectiveness of its presentation and the logic of its organization; the identification of an archive that is both rich and appropriately bounded; the extent to which the larger stakes of the argument have been discerned and communicated; the potential for aspects of the argument to be more fully developed; the clarity of key terms; relevant sources within or outside the dissertation’s field that may have been overlooked; engagement with other critics, etc.
8. Annual Dissertation Progress Reports
a. The Graduate School requires all students to submit an annual dissertation progress report (DPR), beginning upon admission to candidacy (i.e., no later than the end of the sixth semester) and by May 1st in subsequent years.
b. Students describe briefly what they’ve done in the past year, what they anticipate doing in the next year, and when they expect to finish; committee chairs and the DGS each offer a brief reflection on the student’s progress. The submission of these reports provides an annual opportunity for students, advisers, and the DGS to reflect on what has been achieved, to consider any challenges or difficulties have arisen along the way, and to share hopes, expectations, and needs for the year to come.
9. First and Second Chapter Conferences
a. The department requires that students have a first chapter finished by January of their fourth year; this need not be Chapter One of the dissertation. Students will need to email the DGR a copy of the chapter in the form of a single pdf document, along with a one-page abstract of the dissertation as a whole for the benefit of faculty readers. The chapter submissions are due by the first day of classes. Dissertation committees will meet with students upon completion of their first chapter, normally no later than January 31 of the student’s 4th year. A second chapter conference will be held at the completion of one or more further chapters, normally no later than January 31 of the student’s 5th year, in addition to any other meetings that seem necessary. Please note that the end-of-January dates are meant as final boundaries for work on the first two chapters; students should not feel that they must postpone the submission of each chapter till then. First and second chapter conferences can be scheduled in the fall semesters of the 4th and 5th year, too, or at any point when the student and the committee feel that a draft is ready for and would benefit from collective discussion.
b. The chapter conference is a collaborative, workshop-style occasion, not an exam or evaluation; students should schedule a conference as soon as they feel they have a draft that would benefit from their advisers’ collective input. It may be the first occasion on which a committee and student assemble as a group to discuss a chapter draft, but it should not be the only opportunity for such discussion. New projects require the development of a shared vocabulary and discussion of the researcher’s commitments and aims as they evolve. These discussions are often most productive if they take place in advance of chapter conferences, and students should feel free to request meetings with the committee members (either individually or jointly) at earlier stages in their researching and writing to discuss the progress of their thinking.
c. In the conference, the dissertation committee will discuss the chapter with the student for approximately an hour. At the end of the hour, the student and the committee should decide when it would be most helpful to reconvene and how much of the dissertation should be written and read at that point. The graduate student should file a statement to that effect with the DGR using the chapter conference form. In addition to completing the official chapter conference form, it is expected that all members of the dissertation committee will provide the student—either at, in advance of, or shortly after the conference—with written comments on the chapter, typically a couple of paragraphs. Some advisers may also provide less formal marginal notes on a draft, but such notes are optional and should not take the place of the written response.
d. In their responses, both verbal and written, to a chapter draft, committee members contribute their insights into such matters as: the persuasiveness of overall arguments and of their parts; the effectiveness of organization, presentation, and prose style; the extent to which the larger stakes of an argument have been discerned and communicated; potential for aspects of an argument to be more fully developed; clarity of key terms; relevant sources within or outside the dissertation’s field that may have been overlooked; engagement with other critics, etc.
e. By the end of the conference, students should have a clear sense of next steps, for revision and/or new writing—and should feel free to follow up with their chair or committee to clarify those steps, if necessary. If there are significant divergences in the content of particular advisers’ recommendations, students should also feel free to ask for help from their chair or committee in synthesizing or adjudicating between the various recommendations—such requests are a normal and often necessary part of revising a dissertation, or any piece of scholarly writing!
10. Subsequent Chapter Conferences and Dissertation Feedback
a. After these two formal conferences, further consultations continue to take place between the author and the members of the dissertation committee, individually or collectively, although no documentation of these meetings is required by the department. As the project develops, students may seek input and feedback from additional readers—both peers and mentors, inside and outside the department and the university—but the primary responsibility for detailed, page-by-page response to dissertation chapters remains with the committee. Students should receive at least one set of written comments on each chapter of the dissertation from each member of their committee.
b. In order for a dissertation to proceed to completion on time, advisers must be able to count on receiving drafts in a timely fashion, and students must be able to count on getting timely responses to the work they submit. In general, advisers should read and respond to drafts within a month of receiving them, whether the form of that response is delivered in person or in writing. For their part, students should alert advisers to any necessary changes in the agreed-upon schedule for submitting their work, and should recognize that those changes may make it harder for their advisers to read and respond to their work promptly. Although it isn’t unheard of for either a student or an adviser to require a gentle email nudge as a deadline approaches, both parties should assume responsibility for keeping their part of the process moving smoothly.
11. Dissertation Reports
a. Yale dissertations are submitted at two deadlines a year, one in the middle of each semester. In the English department there is no “dissertation defense.” Instead, dissertations receive three written reports from faculty. One is written by a committee member other than the chair; the other two are written by faculty who are not on the committee. Faculty may be asked to be one of the readers on a dissertation in their general field, or even a closely adjacent field or discipline.
b. The DGS selects the three readers, with input from the dissertation committee chair; dissertation authors are welcome to make suggestions, as well, although the availability of particular readers cannot be guaranteed. If there are serious reasons why a faculty member should not be asked to serve as the reader for a given dissertation—for instance, a personal or professional conflict of interest—either the student or the dissertation chair should communicate that to the DGS in advance, who will make every effort to find a suitable alternative.
c. Readers produce detailed and substantive reports on dissertations, on the model of a reader’s report for a scholarly book manuscript. These reports serve both as a statement of evaluation to the members of the ladder faculty in English, who will use them as a basis for voting whether to accept a dissertation for the PhD, and as a constructive response to the student-author, describing what has been achieved and what might be developed further. The content of a report may be critical, but the tone should be respectful and encouraging throughout. In many cases, readers’ reports on dissertations are of use as graduates revise their projects for publication.
12. On the Job Market
a. Students should discuss their career hopes and plans with their advisers early on, from the start of the dissertation-writing process, and take those plans into account when making decisions about the content and form of their research and writing, what pieces of the project to submit for publication (and where and when to do so), and when to begin the process of applying for jobs, post-docs, fellowships, and other positions.
b. At present, only one-third of graduate students who matriculate in Humanities programs end up in tenure-track positions within five years of their degree. Given that fact, and the likely ongoing contraction of the academic job market in years to come, successful graduate advising requires—and should enable, promote, and recognize—diverse and expansive notions of success itself, whether in traditional professorial appointments or, as is more likely the case, not. In practical terms, this means that students committed to seeking academic jobs should be prepared by their advisers for the rigors and uncertainties of that process, encouraged to be honest and compassionate with themselves about the toll it can take, and offered ample support in navigating it. As importantly, both students and their advisers should maintain openness to imagining and pursuing other satisfying outcomes for post-doctoral work and life, seeking additional guidance as necessary from the Office of Career Strategy, qualified program alumni, and others. Whether academic or non-academic, job searches are subject to many individual considerations, including personal preference, family relationships, geographic restrictions, and economic necessity, and so the decision to pursue or not to pursue a particular job or kind of job must belong to individual students, although advisers may weigh in with suggestions or advice.
c. Students should alert the members of their committee well in advance of their decision to embark on an academic job search—no later than August of the year in which they plan to submit applications—so that the committee members have time to discuss the available options, assist with the preparation of job materials, and prepare their own letters of recommendation. In addition to the members of their dissertation committees, students going on the academic job market will be guided through the process of writing application materials, preparing for interviews and campus visits, and weighing eventual job offers by the department’s Job Placement Officers. The JPOs will provide formal feedback on a candidate’s job materials, though students should also seek feedback from other faculty advisers. The JPOs will convene a meeting for prospective job seekers in the spring of each year, as well as meeting collectively and individually with job-seekers throughout the application season. Traditionally, that season has followed a predictable course from September through March or April of the academic year, but it is increasingly common for job postings to appear at any time. The JPOs and faculty advisers are aware that students may need additional help at intervals throughout the year; students should still strive, as much as possible, to give ample advance notice of application deadlines.
d. The department is working on developing and strengthening its resources for students seeking jobs in areas such as editing and publishing; secondary school teaching; libraries, museums, and archives; and university administration. A significant number of English Graduate Program alumni are employed in such fields, and the DGS, JPOs, and faculty advisers can all help to connect current students with alumni contacts. As faculty assist in connecting students with employment and professional networks, they should keep in mind that students from different backgrounds will have different levels of familiarity with profession-specific “networking” practices. Faculty members who can provide support in this regard may wish to begin conversations with advisees about some of the norms and expectations for navigating these networks and connections.
13. Post Degree Completion
a. Advising relationships and graduated students’ professional involvement in the department may continue beyond completion of degree requirements. Faculty advisers are encouraged to continue to provide advice on matters including publishing, public engagement, career advancement, and sustaining and creating professional networks. Faculty advisers are expected to continue to write references for their former students in a timely manner.
b. For their part, alums of the graduate program may serve as mentors to current students, by speaking at colloquia, presenting on career panels, and serving as contacts at their new places of work and study. The department maintains a regularly updated list of alumni contacts and, with permission, may publicize their academic and professional achievements.
14. Wellbeing and Personal Development
a. Advisers and students should speak openly about students’ individual career and personal goals, and advisers should support students to set reasonable boundaries, establish nourishing work-life balances, and take formal vacation.
b. Faculty and students should practice empathy and compassion, recognizing that changes in individual circumstances may render an adviser or student unable to meet particular expectations for limited periods of time. Open communication should be the norm in these situations.
c. Faculty should support students as they propose and explore new methodologies and areas of research as well as new personal and professional endeavors. Faculty and students should be open and honest about the things they do and do not know and what they can or cannot provide, seeking guidance or support from outside where necessary.