The Iowa doctoral program emphasizes individual initiative, careful choice, and creativity. With
the exception of Introduction to Graduate Study, no specific course or sequence of courses is required.
Instead, all students are encouraged to design a program that combines the breadth required to
teach survey courses with the focus that enables the student to make significant scholarly
contributions to his or her areas of specialization, even before the completion of the degree. In
planning your course of study, it is important to remember that in the past decade economic
constraints have led many colleges and universities to seek broadly-trained, critically-informed
job candidates, candidates prepared to teach and publish in amply defined fields of study. The Iowa
PhD program's distribution, seminar, and foreign language requirements are intended to equip
students for a lifetime of literary study. They are also designed to prepare students for future
careers, whether they choose to work in academia or in a nonacademic setting.
In an initial conference with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), you will fill out a "Course
Record" form that identifies the historical and critical areas in which you have completed academic
work, as well as your preparation in foreign languages and any previous graduate courses that will
transfer. (The maximum number of transfer credits accepted from other institutions is 18 semester
hours [s. h.]). You will be encouraged to sample advanced course work in most historical areas, in
criticism, and in theory before committing to a specific field of concentration. The goals of this
initial conference are three: to identify areas in which substantial course work has been completed
and areas which still need exploration, to review your preparation in foreign languages, and to
make tentative long-term plans in view of your specific professional goals. This initial conference
should also prepare the DGS to be of help to you through your first semesters at Iowa.
A key to a student’s success in the program is the relationships she or he develops with professors
and mentors. Just as students have different habits of mind, intellectual passions, and career
aspirations, faculty have different styles of mentoring, advising, and teaching. Your goal should
be to find a mentor (or mentors) who is a good match for the way you like to think, write, and
learn. The English Department works to facilitate those relationships by giving students a chance
to meet and interact with the faculty outside the classroom in the many social events, lectures,
and colloquia that take place throughout the year. When you are ready to identify one or another
area as your field of concentration, it will be time to ask a faculty member in that area to serve
as your interim adviser. This adviser will help you plan the rest of your course work, prepare for
Admission to Candidacy, and begin preparation for your Comprehensive Examination. Although the
timing varies, most students are ready to ask a faculty member to serve as their interim adviser
sometime between the end of the second semester and the middle of the fourth semester of doctoral
study. Availability of individual faculty members depends on research interests, teaching
schedules, and current advising load, but you are most likely to find a successful match with a
professor from whom you have taken at least one course. After a faculty member has agreed to serve
as your adviser, you should register this commitment with the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC).
Because academic interests and career goals shift for students and faculty alike, this commitment
is an "interim" one: the faculty member who helps you make the professional choices that shape the
middle years of doctoral study may or may not continue to guide you through your dissertation. The
"Course Record" form in your file will help you make course choices in relation to your
professional objectives and will help the Director of Graduate Studies understand your progress
toward the degree. As you approach the Comprehensive Examination, introductory graduate survey
courses will yield to more advanced work in your field of concentration, and, in at least three
cases, to seminars.
Each student needs to create a coherent individual plan of study. There is no department blueprint,
though it is imperative that you design a course of study which can feasibly be completed within
your funded years. While students who have had broad undergraduate and/or MA training in the
literatures of various periods and in criticism and theory will be ready to begin to develop their
field of concentration early, students who have had little training in literature and literary
theory should sample a broad selection of courses before they commit to a particular field of
concentration. In the first year of course work, students are advised to select courses both to
fill gaps in their training and to develop their major interests.
ENGL:6000-level: Reading courses at this level provide broad coverage of a period, movement, theme,
foundational figure, or other component of the discipline. Some offerings satisfy historical
distribution requirements; others introduce students to a related body of primary texts, criticism,
and/or theory serving as groundwork for more specialized study at the ENGL:7000-level. Writing
assignments are varied, limited in scope (adding up to about 3000-5000 words), and may include
annotated bibliographies, short conference papers, book reviews, project proposals, etc.
ENGL: 7000-level: Courses at this level are designated as "seminars" and offer the most specialized
work available in the curriculum. Whether they address periods, topics, authors, genres, issues, or
theories, seminars always engage the most important and recent developments in a field of study. It
is useful for students to have taken lower-level work in the same or a related area.
Enrollment is limited and students participate actively through oral presentations and other ways
of sharing new expertise. To prepare students to make original contributions of their own, seminars
provide training and experience in the skills needed for scholarly research and writing. Course
work culminates in a 25-30-page paper (7500-9000 words) aimed at publication and potentially
leading toward the dissertation.
Independent studies: PhD students should not enroll in independent studies prior to beginning
preparation for the Comprehensive Exam except during the summer term; any exceptions during the
regular academic year must be preapproved by the DGS on a case-by-case basis.
ENGL: 3000-4000 level: In most cases, PhD students should not enroll in ENGL:3000-4999 courses,
which rarely offer the same level of training or group interaction as is found in graduate English
courses. But in certain situations, a PhD student may have legitimate reasons to enroll in a
ENGL:3000-4999 course. For example, the student may want to work with a faculty member with whom
s/he would otherwise be unable to study or to work in an area that is not covered in the graduate
curriculum. In those situations, the student must receive the professor’s express permission to
take the course for graduate credit, and the student and the professor must agree to a modified set
of course assignments that will make the course suitable for graduate-level study. The student must
also complete a form (available online Graduate Webforms) to receive approval for the course.
PhD students must complete 54 s. h. in graded courses at the 3000-level or above. Of those, at
least 30 s. h. must be in English courses at the 5000-level or above prior to coming up for comps.
(That leaves the possibility of 24 additional s. h. in graded courses at the 3000-level or above
which may be taken in other departments or in English.) After finishing those 54 s. h. in graded
courses, students take 6 s. h. of independent study courses with the directors of their Comprehensive Exam
areas (see the section on Comprehensive Examinations below). Once they pass their Comprehensive Exams,
students must be continuously enrolled in the independent study course ENGL:7999 during the
semesters that they are working on their prospectuses and dissertations. Their cumulative hours in
ENGL: 7999 bring students to the 72 s. h. that the Graduate College requires of all PhD students.
The field of English is characterized by lively debate that has, in recent years, challenged many
of the traditional assumptions of literary studies. What is "literary" about a "literary period"?
What is the relationship between definitions of "literariness" and issues of class, gender, race,
sexuality, and ethnicity? How can literary critics address writings not traditionally considered
"literary"--for example, diaries, sermons, historical and legal documents, slogans, or songs? What
principles govern the act of literary interpretation? What constitutes "meaning" in literature?
Questions as fundamental as these indicate that graduate studies is not simply a time to master a
required body of knowledge but also a time to explore issues under intense professional scrutiny.
A coherent individual course of study can take many forms. The following possibilities are meant to
suggest rather than to limit inquiry:
Study of a historical period: The concentration of longest standing at Iowa is the study of the
intellectual backgrounds, formal strategies, traditions, and interconnections of writings from a
specific period of English and/or American literature.
Special area study: It is also possible to concentrate in areas that cross or elude historical
periods, such as the study of a genre, a body of literary theory, or the literature(s) of a
particular region or ethnicity.
Cultural study & analysis: At Iowa, much of what we teach could be called cultural studies.
Cultural studies is an interdisciplinary field that combines literary study with sociological
analysis. It is based on the assumption that forms of cultural production like arts, ideologies,
and institutions must be examined in relation to one another and in relation to social and
historical structures. If you are interested, say, in popular culture, media, or in the relations
between literature and material production, you may want to work in cultural studies for your
course of study.
Nonfiction studies: Iowa's special commitment to nonfiction writing (which includes an MFA degree
in the writing of nonfiction) also provides opportunities for doctoral study of literary
nonfiction. Work in nonfiction for a special area may focus on a wide range of topics and
subtopics, such as stylistics, or theories of the essay, or the twentieth-century American essay,
or the nature of self-representation in autobiography and memoir, or the politics of confession in
Book studies: At Iowa, students with an interest in book studies have the rare opportunity of
working with a number of scholars who have made important contributions to the field. Book studies
scholars study the history of the book as a cultural form, how texts are published and marketed,
and how they circulate among communities of readers. Many students choose to take courses in the
University’s Center for the Book, which offers a Graduate Certificate in the book arts, studies,
Digital humanities: The digital humanities are another established strength at Iowa that students
may wish to explore as a concentration. Through coursework with faculty with expertise in the field
and support from the University’s Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio, students can pursue a wide
range of digital projects in literary and cultural studies.
Course work toward the PhD taken outside the English Department is an important part of graduate
work at Iowa. Your adviser will be able to recommend relevant courses in other departments. Consult
with the DGS if you have doubts about whether courses outside English and its related programs can
be accepted toward the doctorate. In all cases where the educational relevance to an individual
program is clear, they will receive serious consideration.
The PhD in English is designed to have students complete the degree in approximately six years for
those entering with a BA and five years for those entering with an MA in English. A full-time
course load is 9 s.h. (usually three courses), although a registration of 6 s. h. is permitted if you currently hold
at least a one-third time appointment as a teaching or research assistant. To remain eligible for
financial aid, students who have not yet taken the Comprehensive Examination must complete a
minimum of 15 s. h. per academic year (the tally may include a summer of your choosing on either
side). If you are receiving loans through the University's Office of Student Financial Aid or if
you are a foreign student with "full- time" status requirements for your visa, you should be aware
of relevant external standards for "normal progress" toward the degree. Departmental financial aid
for students in good standing normally lasts for six years for those incoming with a BA and five years
for those incoming with an MA.