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Ph.D. Qualifying Exams

Ph.D. Paper (Area A) and Oral and Written Qualifying Exams (Areas B and C)

The Ph.D. exams require competition of three areas, a research paper (Area A), written qualifying examinations (Areas B and C), and an oral defense of the dissertation proposal.  All areas must be completed after having passed or registered for the 24 hours of required coursework in the department (typically the third year of the program). The DGS and the COGA advisor will make sure that the qualifying exams adhere to the ACA rules.

General timeline

First two semesters/Completion of coursework Period

The student works closely with her or his doctoral advisor in all matters related to course selection and program planning. By the end of the second semester of course work at KU, the student will meet with her or his doctoral advisor to plan her or his exam areas and select two additional Advisory Committee members. Once formed, the student will meet with the Advisory Committee to ensure the fulfillment of all required coursework, supporting languages, and the doctoral minor (see Advisory Committee form. Appendix A, p. 48). In addition, the Advisory Committee and the student will decide on the topics for the written paper (A) and two examinations (B and C):

I.     Paper (Area A): the student will submit a paper that shows critical engagement with a genre (novel, poetry, essay, drama, etc.) or critical/theoretical area (e.g. poetics; performance studies; narrative and narratology; cultural studies; romanticism). This paper can be the continuation/finished form of a project initiated in any of the Ph.D. seminars.

II.   Examination (Area B): Based on a bibliography put together by the student on a specific field, understood as a focus on a specific region (i.e. Caribbean literature) and temporal framework (i.e. Colonial Latin America).

III. Examination (Area C): Based on a bibliography put together by the student on a theoretical framework as it relates to a specific corpus of literary and cultural expression from the Latin American and Peninsular contexts  (i.e. transatlantic studies, circum-Caribbean studies, border studies, reading and readership, etc.).

The committee will ensure that these three areas are complementary but not redundant, and that neither of them is too broad, nor too narrow. The materials from Areas A, B, and C will conform the ‘academic profile’ of the student as an up and coming scholar, and are the foundations for the dissertation work. Thus, it is imperative that the student can articulate how each area complements the others, and how these areas altogether shape the process of inquiry in the fields of literary and cultural studies.

Ph.D. students are required to seek feedback on their paper (Area A) and to work with their principal advisor on preliminary drafts prior to turning the final paper to the full Advisory Committee no later than their last semester of coursework. Students must turn in a draft to the full Ph.D. Advisory Committee by November 1 prior to the Spring Semester exam or by April 1 prior to the Fall Semester exam. Faculty are not expected to provide feedback on Ph.D. papers after the end of the semester prior to the Exam.

Immediately AFTER last semester of coursework

 Both the paper AND examinations are due at the exam period immediately following the last semester of coursework. Note:

-          Students completing coursework in May will be examined and turn in their paper in the second full week of the following Fall semester;

-          Students completing coursework in December will be examined and turn in their paper the second full week of the Spring semester.

Students will turn in the final version of their paper (Area A) on the date that the first Ph.D. written exam is administered.

Area A: Ph.D. Paper

The student will write one substantive, and potentially publishable research essay (10,000-12,000 words) under the supervision of the doctoral advisor and additional members of the Advisory Committee. Ideally, the paper for area A will constitute the basis for a dissertation proposal and possibly even a chapter in the dissertation.

To be accepted towards fulfilment of the Ph.D. requirement, the essay must demonstrate breadth and depth of understanding of the topic in question and a mastery of the relevant critical corpus, in addition to the ability to formulate an original inquiry, and offer a strong thesis. The expectation is that students undergo multiple revisions of their work prior to the final submission.  The Advisory Committee will have sole responsibility over determining whether the paper is a pass or a fail. In addition, if the student fails to turn in the paper at the set timeline, they will receive an F on this Area of the Ph.D. Qualifying exams.

Areas B and C: Written Examinations

These areas include two three-hour written examinations (in Spanish), followed by the oral defense of the Dissertation Proposal.

Written examinations for areas B and C are based on reading lists agreed upon in advanced by the student and the Advisory Committee. The examinations will be given twice a year, to be scheduled the second full week of classes in the Spring and Fall semesters. The dates for these exams will be announced at least four weeks before they are to take place. The Graduate Academic Advisor and Director of Graduate Studies will ensure that the exam adheres to any individual accommodations communicated through the AAC.

Students who do not pass Areas B and/or C will be able to retake either one or both during the semester immediately following the first attempt. A student may not take any part of the comprehensive written examination for areas B or C more than three times.

Examination questions will be written for the student by at least two Advisory Committee members, who may solicit input from other faculty members with expertise in a specific area. The student’s advisor will provice the graduate committee with the questions for the exam during the first week of the semester. All members of the Advisory Committee will proof-read and approve the questions. Once the written exam is completed, the Advisory Committee will have sole responsibility for its assessment. The chair of the Advisory Committee must communicate in writing the results of each examination process to the director of Graduate Studies, who will in turn communicate in writing with the student; these letters constitute a record of the written examination process and are placed in the student’s academic file as evidence of progress toward the degree.

Policy on Postponement of the Written Ph.D. Written Examinations

If a student signs up for the Ph.D. Examination for a subsequent semester and does not take the Examinations on the scheduled dates, and/or fails to present the Examination paper, the student will fail the relevant portions of the Examination. Students are encouraged to work with their committees to set realistic exam dates. In strenuous circumstances, students may petition for an alternate date. If such a petition is granted, the student will be allowed to postpone the Examination with no penalty. Unusual circumstances include serious medical conditions, family emergencies, and sudden changes in the composition of the Department faculty.

Although students retain their legal right to petition for any reason, failure to make sufficient progress on a paper in the months prior to a scheduled exam does not in itself qualify as an “unusual circumstance.” A petition should explain the justification for postponement in detail and be accompanied by appropriate documentation, including a letter of endorsement from the Chair of the student’s examination committee. Since unusual circumstances can arise quite suddenly, the Graduate Committee cannot set a firm deadline for petitions. A student should act expeditiously, however, if considering such a request, in order to allow sufficient time for the Advisor and the Committee to consider it. If a student has petitioned to postpone the examination once and is unprepared to take it the following semester, it is recommended that he or she take a leave of absence from the Ph.D. program.

Oral Defense of the Dissertation Prospectus

After the student has passed all three written components of the examination (Areas A, B, and C), the Director of Graduate Studies will request the KU Office of Graduate Affairs to schedule the defense of the dissertation prospectus. This requirement must take place during the same semester as the written portions of the Comprehensive Examination, and at least two weeks following notification to the Office of Graduate Affairs. Failure to complete the oral defense within that time period could require repetition and successful completion of all components of the written examination.

Oral Examination Committee

The examination committee will consist of five members, including the members of the student's Graduate Advisory Committee, an additional faculty representative from the Department, and one faculty from outside the Department. The expected dissertation director chairs this committee. In addition, all members of the senior staff are invited to participate in the examination.

Content and Assessment

For the oral examination, students must prepare a dissertation prospectus (approximately 12-15 pages). This narrative should:

- Outline the central question towards the formulation of a solid thesis.

- Explain the choice of primary sources (literary works, cultural expression) under analysis,

- Offer a theoretical framework and reflection on methodology.

- Situate the proposed research within previous scholarship.

- Provide a general outline of the dissertation.

- Include a bibliography that further shows the candidate’s dialogue with other theoretical and critical works on the subject.

The members of the oral examination committee will receive copies of the dissertation prospectus at least ten days prior to the scheduled examination date. The oral examination will focus on the proposal, but its larger purpose is to assure that the candidate has adequate control of the general field of the dissertation. Thus, the committee may wish to follow up in some of the weaker areas of the written examinations, or probe further aspects related to the dissertation not covered in the written examinations. The candidates will be expected to consult with their committees to ascertain if there are any specific areas needing special attention.

At the oral examination, questions may be asked by any member of the senior staff, but the decision to pass or fail the candidate is made by the oral exam committee (consisting on five graduate faculty; one an external member to the department). According to the regulations of the KU Office of Graduate Affairs, if the student fails the comprehensive examination in any of its areas (written -areas A, B, C- and/or oral) it may be repeated on the recommendation of the department, but under no circumstances may it be taken more than three times. And it may not be repeated until at least ninety days have elapsed since the last unsuccessful attempt. Normally, a student would repeat the oral examination before the end of the semester following the semester in which the previous oral examination was given. After the student passes this examination, his/her status, as far as the KU Office of Graduate Affairs is concerned, is changed from that of Ph.D. aspirant to that of a candidate for the Ph.D.

If the student changes the dissertation topic after this examination has been successfully completed, a new dissertation proposal must be prepared and approved by the student's dissertation committee and by the department's Graduate Studies Committee.


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