Joint MFA / PhD Program

Overview

Admission to our Joint MFA/PhD degree program remains on hold. We encourage you to consider applying to either the MFA or PhD program, if you would like to be considered for admission. Thank you for understanding.

The Joint MFA / PhD Program is a unique opportunity for students to earn an MFA in creative writing and then complete scholarly research for a PhD in English language and literature. This program offers intensive study with distinguished faculty committed to creative and intellectual achievement and offers a fuller integration of literature courses and writing workshops.

Each year one or two students may be admitted to the Joint MFA / PhD Program, exploring a fuller integration of literature courses and writing workshops and fulfilling the requirements of both the MFA and PhD programs.

In their first four semesters in residence, joint candidates are expected to complete four writing workshops and four or five PhD seminars for credit, all of which apply to the PhD course requirement of twelve courses (of which six must be taken for a letter grade). The Q-exam is expected to be taken before the beginning of the third term. The program of any doctoral candidate’s formal and informal study, whatever his or her particular interests, should be comprehensive enough to ensure familiarity with:

  • The authors and works that have been the most influential in determining the course of English, American and related literatures
  • The theory and criticism of literature, and the relations between literature and other disciplines
  • Concerns and tools of literary and cultural history such as textual criticism, study of genre, source, and influence as well as wider issues of cultural production and historical and social contexts that bear on literature

Aside from their creative writing genre of fiction or poetry, areas in which students may have major or minor concentrations include African-American literature, American literature to 1865, American literature after 1865, American studies (a joint program with the field of history), colonial and postcolonial literatures, cultural studies, dramatic literature, English poetry, the English Renaissance to 1660, lesbian, bisexual and gay literary studies, literary criticism and theory, the nineteenth century, Old and Middle English, prose fiction, the Restoration and the eighteenth century, the twentieth century, women's literature  and creative writing (the major concentration for all MFA candidates).

By the time a doctoral candidate enters the fourth semester of graduate study, the special committee must decide whether he or she is qualified to proceed toward the PhD. Students are required to pass their Advancement to Candidacy Examination before their fourth year of study, prior to the dissertation. At the end of their fourth semester, candidates submit an MFA thesis and receive the MFA degree. They then complete the remaining course requirements for the PhD and write a final scholarly dissertation.

Special Committee

Every graduate student selects a special committee of faculty advisors who work intensively with the student in selecting courses and preparing and revising the dissertation. The MFA committee for joint degree candidates should be comprised of at least two Cornell creative writing faculty members: a chair and one minor member and may include one additional member from the field. The PhD Committee is comprised of at least three Cornell faculty members: a chair, and typically two minor members usually from the English department but very often representing an interdisciplinary field. The university system of special committees allows students to design their own courses of study within a broad framework established by the department, and it encourages a close working relationship between professors and students, promoting freedom and flexibility in the pursuit of the graduate degree. The special committee for each student guides and supervises all academic work and assesses progress in a series of meetings with the students.

Teaching

At Cornell, teaching is considered an integral part of training in academia. The field requires a carefully supervised teaching experience of at least one year for every doctoral candidate as part of the program requirements. The joint candidate typically teaches in their second, third and fifth years in the program. The Department of English, in conjunction with the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, offers excellent training for beginning teachers and varied and interesting teaching in the university-wide First-Year Writing Program. The courses are writing-intensive and may fall under such general rubrics as “Portraits of the Self,” “American Literature and Culture,” “Shakespeare,” and “Cultural Studies,” among others. A graduate student may also serve as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate lecture course taught by a member of the Department of English.

Language Requirements

Each student and special committee will decide what work in a foreign language is most appropriate for a student’s graduate program and scholarly interests. Some students’ doctoral programs require extensive knowledge of a single foreign language and literature; others require reading ability in two or more foreign languages. A student may be asked to demonstrate competence in foreign languages by presenting the undergraduate record, taking additional courses in foreign languages and literature, or translating and discussing documents related to the student’s work. Students are also normally expected to provide evidence of having studied the English language through courses in Old English, the history of the English language, grammatical analysis or the application of linguistic study to metrics or to literary criticism. Several departments at Cornell offer pertinent courses in such subjects as descriptive linguistics, psycholinguistics and the philosophy of language.

Funding

All Joint MFA / PhD degree candidates are guaranteed five-years of funding (including a stipend, a full tuition fellowship, and student health insurance):

  • A first-year non-teaching fellowship
  • Two years of  teaching assistantships
  • A fourth-year non-teaching fellowship for the dissertation writing year
  • A fifth-year teaching assistantship
  • Summer support for four years, including a first-year summer teaching assistantship, linked to a teachers’ training program at the Knight Institute. Summer residency in Ithaca is required.

Students have also successfully competed for Buttrick-Crippen Fellowship, Society for the Humanities Fellowships, American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), Shin Yong’Jin Graduate Fellowships, Provost’s Diversity Fellowships, fellowships in recognition of excellence in teaching and grants from the Graduate School to help with the cost of travel to scholarly conferences and research collections.

Admission & Application Procedures

PLEASE NOTE: Admission to our Joint MFA/PhD degree program remains on hold. We encourage you to consider applying to either the MFA or PhD program, if you would like to be considered for admission. Thank you for understanding.

For Further Information

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