Department of English

Doctoral Program

Brown's doctoral program in English offers professional training in literary criticism, critical theory, intellectual history, and all aspects of research and pedagogy in the humanities.

We promote the analysis of imaginative forms, cultural logics, and literary and visual rhetorics across the Anglophone world.  Our students are encouraged to think outside traditional conceptions of the discipline of literary studies, and often work with a diverse range of faculty, departments, and centers at Brown. Partner units include the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, the Pembroke Center, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the Center for Contemporary South Asia, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and the Departments of Modern Culture and Media, Comparative Literature, History, American Studies, Africana Studies, Literary Arts, French Studies, German Studies, Hispanic Studies, Brazilian and Portuguese Studies, the History of Art and Architecture, and Music.


The first two years of the doctoral program are devoted to course work and the fulfillment of the foreign language requirement. We expect graduate students to take the Qualifying Examination by the end of the third year. Their remaining time in the program is given to the writing of the dissertation. We expect this project to involve research and to demonstrate the potential to become a book or series of articles during the early years of the student’s career as a college or university professor.


Brown’s doctoral program trains graduate students to become teachers as well as researchers. Thus we require that, with some exceptions, our students teach for three years as assistants to members of the English Department faculty and as instructors of sections of ENGL0900 (formerly ENGL0110) Critical Reading and Writing I: The Academic Essay, and ENGL0200 Seminars in Writing, Literatures, and Cultures. This teaching begins in the second year of the program. As part of their course work all students are required to take ENGL2950 Seminar in Pedagogy and Composition Theory. To help develop their teaching skills, we assign students to a variety of teaching positions, from assistant in a large course to instructor of a virtually autonomous workshop. We are convinced that the intellectual relationship between teaching and research is one that stands a college or university teacher in good stead for the duration of his or her career, and we try to establish this relationship early on by assigning graduate students, whenever possible, to teach courses related to their general area of research, and to work with faculty who may serve as appropriate mentors.

Course Requirements

Thirteen Courses

Candidates for the Ph.D. are required to take a minimum of thirteen courses. These courses are typically distributed as follows:

  • Six courses in the first year (one of which is the required Proseminar*)
  • Five in the second year. ENGL2950 Seminar in Pedagogy and Composition Theory is taken by all students during their second year of graduate studies.
  • Two in the third year. The two courses taken in the third year can be independent studies designed to help students prepare for the qualifying exam.

Among the thirteen courses, students must take one in each of the following areas:

  1. Medieval and Early Modern Literatures and Cultures
  2. Enlightenment and the Rise of National Literatures and Cultures
  3. Modern and Contemporary Literatures and Cultures

Graduate students are also required to take one course during their first year of study that focuses on race and empire, which can also satisfy one of the three area requirements listed above.

*First-year graduate students are required to take ENGL2210. This Proseminar aims to familiarize students with contemporary critical debates and stances in the wider discipline, engage with current methodologies, theories, and analytical tensions and address issues of professionalization as they relate to the first years of graduate work.

Foreign Language

Foreign language competence and courses in particular areas of specialization are required.

Ph.D. candidates can satisfy the language requirement by demonstrating an ability to use a foreign language in their scholarly and critical work. The department offers its own language exams. Students may ordinarily choose any language  appropriate to their research interests, but some fields within English and American literature have specific requirements.

Professionalization Seminars

Throughout the year, the Department plans a series of seminars that address a variety of timely academic topics that are meant to enhance the students' professional development, as well as expose them to important elements of an academic career. The seminars are usually led by faculty members, and the topics are determined each year by the Graduate Committee. Students in all years are strongly recommended to attend the professionalization seminars since they are a constitutive part of graduate formation.

Learn about Professional Development

Masters from Another Institution

In their second year at Brown, students who already have an A.M. (or M.A.) in English or graduate credit from another institution may transfer up to one year’s coursework toward the requirements for the Ph.D. at the discretion of the department.

Qualifying Examination

The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to certify your mastery of the scholarly field in which you have chosen to specialize. It consists of two components:

  1. Written Component—an essay of approximately 20 pages representing your best scholarly work to date and submitted to your committee by September 15 of your third year, and
  2. Oral Examination—the oral exam is given by a committee of three faculty members chosen by the candidate; it lasts approximately two hours. The exam is taken by April 15 of the third year. The foreign language requirement must be completed in order to take the exam. See the Graduate Student Handbook for detailed guidelines.


The dissertation is a substantial work of criticism and scholarship that makes a contribution to professionally recognized areas of literary study. The dissertation process begins when the candidate’s proposal and first chapter are approved by a committee in his or her field and accepted by the Director of Graduate Studies. It concludes when the completed dissertation is presented to a committee of three faculty members, including the dissertation director, and successfully defended in discussion with the committee and other interested members of the department.

See Past Dissertation Topics

Financial Assistance

The University offers incoming graduate students six years of guaranteed financial support, including a stipend, tuition remission, a health services fee, and a health insurance subsidy. Students are supported by a fellowship in the first year. In years two, three, five, and six, students are supported by a teaching assistantship, and in year four by a dissertation fellowship. Financial support is contingent upon students remaining in good standing in the program and making good progress toward the doctoral degree.

Applications & Deadlines

Applications must be submitted electronically via the Graduate School's website.

  • The deadline for applications is December 15, 2023.
  • The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general and subject tests are not required.
  • Application materials should not be sent directly to the English Department.

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