grenouille2-spaced 980x120px

The Program

Admission to the Ph.D.

Course Requirements

Foreign Language Requirements

PhD Qualifying Examination

The Dissertation

Coordinated Doctorates ("cotutelles")

The Program

Doctoral candidates in French at Rutgers receive rigorous and broad training in various aspects of French language, literature in and outside France, theory, literary and cultural criticism, and cinema. Doctoral candidates complete 16 courses beyond the bachelor's degree or equivalent; at least eleven of these must be taken at Rutgers. The qualifying examination is designed to develop in-depth knowledge of two subject areas and to provide a head start on doctoral research. Preparation for the qualifying examination allows students to choose a field and design a research topic under the close guidance of advisors.

Candidates in the doctoral program specialize in literary and cultural topics from the Middle Ages to the present. For a list of theses recently defended in the Department and those currently under way, please click here.

Exceptional students may be allowed to pursue a joint doctorate with a French university under a "cotutelle" agreement.

Admission to the Doctoral Program

With an M.A. from Rutgers

Soon after the M.A. oral examination (within ten days), the Examination Committee, in consultation with the Graduate Director, will recommend whether the M.A. recipient may be admitted to the Doctoral Program. In making this recommendation, the Committee will consider the student’s performance on the written examination, the judgment of the oral examiners, and the student’s performance in courses.

The Examination Committee will report on its recommendation at a meeting of the full Graduate Faculty for discussion and confirmation. Students are normally expected to have better than a 3.3 average in order to be admitted to the program; the Graduate School recommends 3.5.

With an M.A. from another University

Students holding an M.A. from another University are admitted to the Doctoral program on a conditional basis; their final status is determined by the French Graduate Faculty after they have completed 12 credits (four courses) at Rutgers.

After completing 12 credits with grades of B or better, these students should complete a Transfer of Credit request so that graduate courses taken at other institutions may be accepted toward the Doctorate at Rutgers (see the Graduate Catalog for procedure). The maximum load of such transferred credits is 15. Credits for a memoir or thesis are usually not transferable.

Students with a strong M.A. in a language and literature other than French may be admitted to the Ph.D. program if their level in French permits it. They may be required to do additional course work in French literature. They may also be allowed, on a case by case basis, to transfer some credits from their M.A. (for example literature courses in English or another language taken at a French or Francophone institution).

back to top

Course Requirements

Doctoral candidates are required to complete 48 credits of work beyond the B.A.

In addition, they are allowed to take three more credits in a field outside of but germane to French (subject to the approval of the Graduate Director).

The total of credits obtained outside the French Graduate Program, including foreign literature courses, should not exceed 12 beyond the B.A. (i.e., for both the M.A. and the Ph.D.).

Credit for graduate work taken at other institutions may be accepted in partial fulfillment of the course requirement (see above, Admission), but in no case (except “cotutelles,” see below) will the doctoral candidate complete less than 33 credits at Rutgers.

Rutgers is a member of the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium (other members include Columbia University, the City University of New York, Fordham University, the New School University, and New York University), and has a long-standing exchange program with Princeton University. These programs allow doctoral-level students to take courses that have no equivalent available at their home institutions with one of the other participants. The explicit prior permission of the Graduate Program Director, as well as the relevant specialist at the home institution, the instructor of the proposed course, and the administrative officers of the Graduate Schools of both institutions, are required. Courses taken through these programs are considered by the Graduate School to represent regular Rutgers credits.

Research Credits

In addition to the 48 credits of course work, 24 credits of research are required for the Ph.D. degree. In principle, research credits (Research in French 701, 702) are not meant to be taken until the Qualifying Examination has been successfully completed. However, students are allowed to register for a maximum of six such credits during the last two semesters before they complete the Examination (i.e., three credits one semester and three credits the other).

back to top

Foreign Language Requirement

Doctoral candidates must demonstrate by examination a reading knowledge of one foreign language in addition to French. This language is usually a Romance language, or either German or Latin, but substitution of a different language on the basis of relevance to projected research is possible. Greater proficiency in that language, proven by either the successful completion of two graduate courses (6 credits) taught in the original language, or by obtaining an A grade in a Rutgers Summer Session foreign language for reading course may replace the language requirement.

The foreign language examinations are administered by the Language Center and must be passed in advance of the Qualifying Examination. Consult the Language Center for the schedule of these examinations.

Residence Requirement

Doctoral students normally spend at least one academic year of two consecutive terms, excluding Summer Session, as full-time students in residence at the Graduate School.

back to top

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination (Qual) is designed to allow students to gain field specialization beyond the basic coverage afforded by the M.A. Emphasizing depth and focus rather than breadth, it encourages students to develop familiarity with a range of texts and issues as well as to identify those areas of research that will lead directly to the dissertation.

Note: In order to be admitted to the Qualifying Examination, the student must have a grade point average of 3.5 or better.

Administration and Advising

The Qualifying Examination is taken no later than three semesters after completion of the M.A. Students who complete the M.A. in September, for example, will sit for the Qual by no later than January of the following academic year. For those who enter with an M.A., however, the normal expectation is that the Qual be taken at the end of the fourth semester, in May of the second year of study. All foreign language requirements must be completed in advance of the Qualifying Examination.

Decisions on the choice of a Primary and a Complementary Field must be made no fewer than four months in advance of the examination date. Requests to postpone the exam by one session will be considered by the Graduate Program Committee only for absolutely compelling reasons. Any changes in choice of fields must be approved by the Graduate Director.

The Qualifying Examination is to be prepared under faculty supervision. In consultation with the relevant Department faculty and the Graduate Director, the candidate will choose two Qual Advisors among members of the Graduate Faculty in French. The student will have identified one of these as the potential director of Ph.D. research; generally, the student will have taken at least one graduate seminar or independent study with each Qual Advisor.

Primary Field

The Primary Field will be chosen among one of the seven standard literature lists (Middle Ages-20th Century and Literatures in French of Africa, the Americas, and Asia) and Film. It will generally correspond to the student’s intended area of dissertation research. Students must prepare the Primary Field standard reading list in its entirety. Those who enter the program with an M.A. from another institution are furthermore expected to be familiar with the works included on the M.A. portion of the Primary Field standard list.

Complementary Field

The Complementary Field directly supports the student’s Primary Field of research specialization, though in some cases it will represent a distinct area of expertise. The Complementary Field should be grounded in coursework or independent study undertaken with one of the advisors.

In consultation with the Qual Advisors, the student may choose one of four options:

a) genre option. The student reads in their entirety works from one or more genres from a standard list other than that of the Primary Field, supplementing these works with other primary sources and critical works related to the genre under study.

b) historical option. The student selects from a standard list other than that of the Primary Field works corresponding to a historical sub-period or literary movement, supplementing these works with other primary sources and critical works related to the period or movement under study.

c) problem-based option (theory, criticism, interpretation). The student composes a list of primary and/or secondary works that share a common theoretical, critical, or interpretive problematic.

d) film option. The student screens a selection of 50 works chosen from the abridged standard Film list.

With the exception of option (d) film, the Complementary Field list is to be comprised of approximately 20-25 titles. Students will attempt with the help of the Qual Advisors to achieve a balance between primary sources and secondary texts as appropriate.


The Qualifying Examination or Qual is composed of a take-home Written Examination followed within a week to ten days by an Oral Examination. The choice of language for the Written (French or English) is left to the student; the Oral will be conducted in both languages.

Declaration of intent to sit for the Qual should include specification of the language in which the Written Examination will be conducted. No less than one month in advance of the Qual, the student will submit to the Graduate Director for circulation to the Qual Committee the two Field lists along with a one-page statement articulating the presumed relation between the Primary Field, Complementary Field, and projected dissertation research. The Qual Committee is composed of four faculty members. The fourth member may be an outside member.

The Written Examination

The Written Examination is administered in the form of a seventy-two hour take-home. The student will respond to two of three proposed essay questions and is free to consult primary and secondary sources, notes, and dictionaries. Each essay will respond to the question asked by adopting and supporting a coherent position or thesis; it should be well-organized and rich in examples. Students are expected to follow standard MLA guidelines for bibliography and footnoting throughout. The length of each response will be approximately 2,500 words; the text should be double-spaced in a standard 10- or 12-point type. The student will submit a signed and dated copy of the examination to the Department Office within the allotted 72 hours.

The Oral Examination

The Oral Examination takes place seven to ten days after submission of the Written Examination. It begins with a discussion of the essays submitted for the Written Examination and moves from there onto an open interrogation and discussion of the works on the lists for both the Primary and Complementary Fields.

The purpose of the exam is to assess depth of familiarity with the chosen works and the ability to draw connections between them in a coherent and insightful way. It is not a quiz: questions will focus on matters relevant to the meaning of the works or concepts being discussed, and will require elaborate answers. Students should demonstrate serious personal knowledge of primary texts and their literary and historical contexts, as well as familiarity with the major critical issues and supporting bibliography, and the ability to articulate significant theoretical concepts and use them effectively.

Note: when Film is chosen either as a Primary or as a Complementary Field, the oral examination component will include, in addition to general discussion of the works on the list, the projection of one or more film clips for analysis and comment.

A student may be asked to retake one or more parts of the examination. One retry is allowed, ordinarily within six to eight weeks, and in any case no later than the subsequent exam session.

The examinee must bring to the Oral Examination the completed Application for Admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D. Degree (available in the Department) for committee signature. The Application will be signed by the Graduate Director and returned to the Graduate School where it will be kept on file. (At the time of the dissertation defense, the student must obtain the form from the Graduate School Office and submit it to the Graduate Director so that the results of the defense may be recorded.)

Upon successful completion of the Qualifying Examination, the student turns to the preparation of the dissertation proposal.

The Dissertation

Students should always be alert to possible subjects and discuss these possibilities with faculty members who might be interested in them. As explained above, by the time the Qualifying Examination has been completed, the student will have identified a research field and possible topic. During the subsequent preparation of the Dissertation Proposal, the student will establish a formal relationship with a Director and other faculty members in the appropriate areas of expertise, who will form the Dissertation Committee. No fewer than two, but no more than four months after successful completion of the Qualifying Examination, the dissertation proposal will be submitted to the Committee.

  • The Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Director must be a full member of the French Graduate Faculty. The Graduate Director, upon the advice of the Dissertation Director and in consultation with the student, will formally appoint the other three members of the thesis committee: two members of the French Graduate faculty, either associate or full (at least one of which will have been already involved in the student’s work and exam); and an “outside” reader from another department at Rutgers or from another university. When the “outside” reader is from outside Rutgers, the Graduate Director will forward to the Dean of the Graduate School a résumé of his or her qualifications. The Dean will then formally appoint the outside reader.

Substitutions in committee membership, once it has been formed, are the responsibility of the Graduate Director and will occur only if a member is unable to serve or if a student’s dissertation topic changes, requiring a new dissertation director and/or modification of the committee. If the Dissertation Director or any other member of the committee leaves Rutgers, s/he may continue to serve on the committee with the approval of the Graduate Director. In cases other than these, approval for a change in committee membership rests with the Dean of the Graduate School, as required by Graduate School regulations.

  • Dissertation proposal and proposal defense

The proposal will comprise the following elements:

1)     a ten-page description of the projected research, describing the corpus, methodology, key terms of analysis and shape of the argument;
2)     a one- to two-page outline, with projected subdivisions and/or chapter headings;
3)     a preliminary bibliography.

Preparation of the bibliography should involve exchanges with the Dissertation Director and at least one other member of the Dissertation Committee. In no case will the bibliography be dictated by advisors: it is as much the student’s work as the proposal itself. The bibliography, which the student may choose to annotate in part or in whole, should reflect and document the present progress and future orientation of the student’s research.

The Dissertation Committee and the candidate will convene for the dissertation proposal defense no later than two weeks after submission of the proposal. The student will deliver a ten- to fifteen-minute oral presentation on the proposed research, followed by collective discussion and a question and answer period. The time period allotted for proposal defense will be one hour.

In the event that the committee does not approve the dissertation proposal, the student will have one month to complete specified changes and to resubmit.

back to top

  • Development of the dissertation
The student should aim to complete at least one chapter of the dissertation within six months to a year after the proposal defense. The first chapter will be read and evaluated by the full Committee. The Director will notify the other members of the Committee when subsequent chapters have been completed, and the student will transmit those chapters to the other readers if they wish. The Committee will agree to give ample and early warning of any reservations concerning the student’s progress and must specify in writing the changes required for thesis acceptance. Should disagreement arise within the Committee during the development of the dissertation, the matter will be referred to the Graduate Program Committee for a decision. The completed doctoral dissertation must be read by the entire Committee and approved by the Director and at least two other members of the Committee.

While normally written in English, the thesis may, under certain circumstances, be written in French. In all cases, however, the abstract – a summary of the main findings of the thesis in fewer than 350 words – must be in English. The form of the thesis must conform to the specifications in the pamphlet Style Guide for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation, available at the Graduate School office.
  • Research Credits and Progress Reports
Once they are admitted to candidacy (i.e., after having successfully completed the Qualifying Examination), students must register for research credits each semester until they complete their dissertations. Even after 24 credits have been completed, students writing a dissertation must continue to register for a minimum of three research credits per semester if on campus, one research credit per semester if not on campus. The maximum load of research credits is 12 per term.

The Dissertation Director is required to assign a grade of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory for each semester in which the candidate is registered for research credit. To receive a grade of Satisfactory, the dissertation student must submit to his/her Director by November 30 and April 30 a brief written factual statement of progress during the term; the Director in turn will send the student’s statement, along with a written comment and grade, to the Graduate Director by the first day of the final examination period in December and May. The Graduate Director will submit the grade and place the Director’s report in the student’s file. The student is responsible for transmitting the semester progress report to the Director; without it no grade of Satisfactory will be filed.

As is the case with course work, registration for research credits must be continuous in order to avoid a substantial reinstatement fee. A student who is unable to work on his/her dissertation in a given semester for extreme and compelling reasons (e.g., serious illness) may ask the Graduate Director for permission to register for Matriculation Continued, subject to the approval of the Graduate School.
  • Defense
The final public oral examination is a defense of the dissertation. All members of the Committee should be present. If one member must be absent for some very compelling reason, s/he will conduct a private defense by telephone and, prior to the public defense, inform the Graduate Director in writing that the dissertation is acceptable. Once the thesis has been accepted by the committee, it must be submitted to the Graduate School (a copy will remain in the French Department office) for certification, along with signed title pages, an abstract of no more than 350 words, and a number of other documents. Please consult the Graduate School website for details on the submission and certification process, which is complex and has stringent deadlines. 
  • Diploma Application Form
The form is to be obtained at the Graduate School and filed with the Registrar by specific deadlines for diplomas dated in May, October, and January. Please consult the Graduate School website for details.

Time Limit

The normal maximum for the Ph.D. is seven years from the time of the first registration in the Graduate School. Consult the Catalog for conditions and procedures for the granting of extensions. These limits are monitored annually.

back to top

Coordinated Doctorates (“Cotutelles”)

“Cotutelle” conventions, passed between French universities and their foreign counterparts, allow French and foreign students alike to obtain a Doctoral degree in each country, for the same dissertation, written under the guidance of two co-Directors, with a minimum of one year spent in the “other” country.

Under such conventions (which are negotiated and passed by Rutgers on an individual basis, on behalf of a particular student, with a particular French university), our Department may either welcome a “Doctorat”-level student from a French institution to its Ph.D. program, or send one of its own students to France to earn a “Doctorat” along with a Ph.D.

A “cotutelle” student from a French university may be admitted through the usual admission procedure after completing a Master II and in no case later than the first year of thesis registration at the French university. S/he will be expected to take five courses at Rutgers during the year of study. At the beginning of the residency, the student will make a public presentation of his/her research topic. At the conclusion of the year in residence the “cotutelle” student will present to a three-person Committee for discussion a 20-page paper and accompanying bibliography based on the research accomplished. At least two members of the Committee will be members of the Department. Conversely, a student from Rutgers may start a “cotutelle” after completing the Qualifying Examination and beginning work on the dissertation. S/he will have to spend a year at a French university and fulfill whatever requirements that university may have which will be outlined in advance by the convention protocol, which has to be approved by both institutions.

In both cases, the procedure should be launched for compelling intellectual reasons, after extensive personal consultation with the two potential co-Directors, whose agreement (on the terms of the exchange as well as on the topic and content of the dissertation project) is an absolute prerequisite.

Students interested in the idea of a “cotutelle” should approach the Graduate Director, as well as the potential Dissertation Director (on the Rutgers side), as early as possible, preferably before taking their Qualifying Examination.

back to top