Procedural Guide For Graduate Study in English

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Introduction and the Student’s Responsibility


This guide has been prepared for the use of students and faculty in the Graduate Field of English Language and Literature at Cornell University and should be read in conjunction with the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty, which sets forth the policies governing advanced degree programs throughout the University. Graduate study at Cornell requires each student to work out a program of study in consultation with a Special Committee, selected by the student, from the membership of the Graduate Faculty. This procedure, commonly referred to as “the committee system,” takes the place of uniform course requirements and uniform departmental examinations. It is intended to create a close working relationship between faculty and students and to encourage freedom and flexibility in the design of individual students’ degree programs. Such a system places special demands on the energy and adaptability of both faculty and students, and it requires of each student a high degree of initiative and responsibility.


Student’s Responsibility

It is the responsibility of the candidate to become familiar with the various regulations that apply to his or her program and to satisfy them in the proper way. To assist the candidate, the staff in the Graduate School issues written directions for completing requirements and stands ready to advise.

I. The Special Committee


The Special Committee of a candidate for an MFA consists of two members (occasionally three); that of a candidate for Doctor of Philosophy consists of three (occasionally four). Since the Special Committee is charged with guiding and supervising all of a candidate’s academic work, it is important to establish this committee as soon as possible.

First year students are required to select a temporary chair at the beginning of their first semester. An additional faculty advisor may also be assigned to first-year PhD students. During this period, the advisors will assist the student in beginning the process of forming a Special Committee. A list of English Department graduate field faculty members available for service on Special Committees can be found on the department web site.

PhD Candidates

-The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) will serve as the student’s main academic advisor and Provisional Chair during the first semester of residence.

-A permanent committee should be established by the end of the second semester of study, since the PhD Qualifying Procedure must be completed before the start of the third semester. Minor members may be chosen from related fields outside the department, but the Chair must be in the graduate field of English.

MFA Candidates

-The Director of Creative Writing (DCW) will serve as the student’s main academic advisor and Provisional Chair during the first semester of residence.

A permanent Chair should be selected by the end of the first semester of residence; the minor member(s) should be selected by the end of the second semester.

Joint Candidates

-Candidates in the joint MFA/PhD program construct two committees, one for each degree. A faculty member may serve on both committees, although the Chair of the PhD committee must hold the PhD degree (by Graduate School regulations).

All Candidates

A student may change the membership of the special committee with the approval of all the members of the committee, and notice of such change must be filed with the Graduate School. For MFA students, no change may be made during the three months prior to the B-Examination except by approval of the Dean. For PhD students, no change may be made after passing the A Examination, except with the Dean’s and the Director of Graduate Studies’ approval.

A student whose Chair plans to take a leave should make arrangements for a proxy during the period of the leave.

Fields of Concentration for Major and Minor Subjects and Special Committee Members

The major subject for all PhD graduate students in English is English Language and Literature, with a concentration (chosen by PhD candidates after the Qualifying Procedure) from the following list. Minor subjects may be either English Language and Literature with concentrations from this list, or approved subjects in related fields.

  • 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
  • Creative Writing (this is the major concentration of all MFA candidates and a minor concentration for joint PhD/MFA candidates; it may not be a major subject for PhD candidates)
  • English Linguistics (minor subject only) 

Special Committee Responsibilities

A student’s Special Committee is charged with certain formal responsibilities:

1.     Advising on the student’s choice of courses for each semester.

2.     Recommending at the end of each semester that the student be awarded appropriate residence credit. One “unit of residence” is awarded for a semester’s satisfactory full-time study. Fractions of a unit may be awarded for part-time or not wholly satisfactory study.

3.     Conducting the Qualifying Exam (Q Exam) in the case of a PhD candidate.

4.     Conducting the Admission to Candidacy Examination (A-Exam) in the case of a PhD candidate.

5.     Approving the dissertation / thesis after conducting a formally scheduled final examination (B-Exam).

6.     Recommending the conferral of the degree. This recommendation must be unanimous.

The Committee is expected to meet with the student at least once each semester. Section IV of this Guide describes many of the substantive advisory functions of the Special Committee.


II. Residence and Thesis / Dissertation Requirements

Degree candidates must satisfy certain requirements specified by the Code of Legislation. Relief from these requirements must be sought by petitioning the General Committee of the Graduate School, which does not, as a rule, approve petitions lacking a Special Committee’s endorsement.

An MFA candidate must complete 4 units of residence and present an approved thesis, which will be a piece of creative writing. No more than 4 years may intervene between a student’s first registration in the Graduate School and the completion of all requirements for the MFA.

A PhD candidate must complete 6 units of residence, 2 of them after passing the A-Exam, and must present an approved dissertation. Before enrolling for the seventh semester, a student must attempt the A-Exam. No more than 7 years may intervene between a student’s first registration in the Graduate School and the completion of all requirements for the PhD. As with all Graduate School requirements, students may petition for a waiver of this deadline.

A Joint MFA / PhD candidate must fulfill the residence requirements for both degrees. The first four semesters of residence credit count towards both degrees.

The department currently offers no terminal MA program. The MA is awarded as part of progress towards the PhD degree. Students who do not complete the PhD may in some cases earn the MA. See section IV, Qualifiying Exam and Admission to Candidacy Exam.

Leave of Absence and In Absentia Status for Phd and MFA students: In Absentia Status (registered student status)

If a student decides to study outside of Ithaca (at a location greater than 100 miles from campus), while remaining a full-time, registered student, he or she must apply for In Absentia status. For departmental funding purposes, one year registered In Absentia will count as a year in the student’s program

and funding package. Students will be responsible for a tuition charge of $200/term while In Absentia. Students will not receive TA or GA stipends while In Absentia, however 4th year Sage and Summer Fellowships would be available if eligibility requirements are met.

Leaves of Absence (non-registered student status)

Personal Leave: A student who takes a Leave of Absence (LOA) for personal reasons relinquishes access to campus facilities and services that normally accompany student status. For the purposes of determining future department funding eligibility, the funding clock will pause for one year and start again the following year whether or not the student returns to registered status. Student health insurance is available, but students must pay their own SHIP premiums while on leave.

Health Care Leave: A student who takes a Health Care Leave of Absence (HLOA) relinquishes access to campus facilities and services that normally accompany student status. Returning from HLOA within 4 years guarantees that a student will receive the remaining financial support from the original offer of admission. Student health insurance is available while on HLOA and students may petition the department for support with Student Health Insurance premiums.

Additional Leave of Absence notes:

-       When considering an LOA, students are strongly advised to speak with the Director of Graduate Studies and the department Graduate Program Coordinator for funding guarantee determination.

-       When considering a HLOA, students are required to speak with Gannett Health Services, but are also encouraged to speak with the Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life at the Graduate School.

-       MFA graduate students considering any leave should also consult with the Graduate Program Coordinator to determine how future employment as post-graduate lecturers may be affected by a leave.

-       In all Leave of Absence situations, library privileges are possible with payment of fees by registering with the library directly.

III. Courses and Grades

All students must be enrolled for a minimum of 12 credits per semester. If credits fall short with required coursework in any given semester, the Graduate School will enroll students in Graduate Student Research for the remaining credits.

Graduate students may receive graduate credit for courses designated 3000 and upward, depending on their relevance to the students’ needs and special interests. As a rule, graduate credit is not awarded for courses devoted principally to the acquisition of a foreign language, unless that course is offered in the English Department at the 6000-level or above. In general, 3000-level courses are undergraduate surveys; 4000-level courses are more specialized discussion courses designed primarily for undergraduates. Graduate students taking these courses for credit towards their required coursework must arrange with the instructor to conduct research and writing more appropriate to the graduate level. Courses at the 6000-level, designed primarily for graduate students, aim to provide advanced coverage of significant periods, figures, genres, and theoretical issues; 7000-level courses are intensive seminars intended to serve as paradigms of scholarly research or specialized study. English 7940: Directed Study, and English 7950: Group Study, give students the opportunity to enroll for more informal work in areas and on problems of special interest to them. English 7960: Teaching and Research, permits a student to combine a program of reading, supervised by a professor, with participation (including some teaching) in an undergraduate course. Before the beginning of each semester, the department issues a revised semester-list of course offerings and descriptions.

Most graduate courses may be taken either for a letter grade or S/U (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). Courses taken for a letter grade normally require extensive written work—e.g., a long term paper, or a series of shorter papers. Courses taken for S/U may require oral presentations and/or some written work.

With the consent of the instructor or instructors and of the committee, the student may change her or his grading options at any time during the first seven weeks of the semester. After this date changes can only be made by special petition to the Graduate School, and are discouraged. An instructor may permit a student to audit a course, but audited courses are not entered on a student’s official record.

Grades given to graduate students in the department will be interpreted as follows:

A+, A                          Distinguished

A-                                Commendable

B+                               Satisfactory

B, B-                            Borderline

C+, C, and below        Unsatisfactory

If a student is unable to complete all the work for a course before the end of the semester in which it is offered, he or she may request a grade of Incomplete (INC) from the instructor. Graduate School policy mandates that all Incompletes be made up within one year of the end of the semester during which the course was taken. To have an INC replaced with a grade or S/U later than one year after the course has ended, the student must submit a Course Enrollment Petition in order for posted grade to be recorded.

A student must complete coursework in a timely manner in order to remain in good academic standing (defined below), and thus to be eligible for continued funding.

  • By March 1st of the first year in residence, all PhD students are expected to have earned at least one letter grade and to have no more than one incomplete outstanding. All MFA students are expected to have completed 2 courses plus the MFA seminar and to have no incompletes outstanding.
  • By March 1st of the second year in residence, PhD students are expected to have completed their Q- exam, to have earned at least three letter grades, and to have no more than two incompletes outstanding. All MFA students are expected to have completed 5 courses plus 3 MFA seminars and have no outstanding incompletes.
  • By March 1st of the third year in residence, PhD students are expected to have no more than two outstanding course credits (of their required twelve).

If a student fails to meet any of these requirements, the student will not be in good academic standing, and will be ineligible for Department and Graduate School funding the following year. These deadlines may be relaxed in the event of student illness or family emergency.

IV. The Programs

General Considerations

Since the areas of knowledge and competence that students emphasize will vary according to their programs of study, such areas can be described here only in broad outline. It is assumed that a student and her or his Special Committee will fashion a program broad enough to provide adequate and appropriate literary training while sufficiently focused to provide necessary specialization in particular fields of literary study.

Knowledge of foreign languages is a central part of any program of literary study. The number and choice of these languages depends on each student’s area(s) of specialization. MFA programs normally require a basic reading knowledge of one foreign language. A minimal expectation for a PhD program would be either a “translating” knowledge of two appropriate languages or a much fuller “literary” knowledge of one; some Special Committees, however, demands more than this minimum. The student should reach agreement with the Special Committee, as early as possible, on any course of formal or informal study that seems necessary, and the means of demonstrating competence in the appropriate languages. These requirements should be met by the time of the A-Exam.

Candidates for Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The MFA Support Package

In the first year appointment will be a Graduate Assistant for both fall and spring terms and assigned as an Editorial Assistant for Epoch magazine, a periodical of contemporary literature published through the Creative Writing Program. As assistant editors at Epoch, the MFA students are involved in all the production aspects of a magazine, including the review of submissions, copyediting, proofreading, maintaining subscription files, promotion and advertising. In addition, they serve as event representatives for major readings in the Creative Writing Program’s reading series. In accordance with the directives of the Graduate School, Graduate Assistantships are 15 hours per week. The assistantship carries a full tuition fellowship.

-       In the first summer the student will receive a stipend for participation in the summer teacher-training program, which is administered by the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. Residence in Ithaca is required to receive this support and training.

-       In the second year the student will be Teaching Assistant (includes a stipend and full tuition fellowship) in the First-Year Writing Program for both fall and spring terms.

-       In the second summer, the student will receive a David L. Picket Thesis Fellowship.

-       All of the above fellowships and assistantships include Student Health Insurance.

All students who have completed the degree work in two consecutive years of residence are eligible to apply for a Lectureship in the English Department for the two academic years following the completion of the degree work. See “Lectureships” and “Leaves” below.

The MFA Program Requirements

Coursework: In the two years of coursework for the degree, an MFA candidate in English is expected to complete 4 MFA Seminar courses, the Advanced Pedagogy Workshop, the Summer Teaching Internship, Writing 7100, and 6 additional one-semester courses for credit, at least four of them in English and American Literature, Comparative Literature, literature in the modern or classical languages, theory, or cultural studies. A detailed timeline of the degree program requirements is included at the end of the Procedural Guide.

Students who wish to take more than the required number of courses while enrolled in the program should discuss their course choices with their special committee chairs.

Thesis: An MFA candidate in English is required to submit for permanent deposit in the University Library two bound copies of a piece of creative writing (such as a novel, a collection of short stories, a full-length play, or a collection of poems) approved by all members of the Special Committee. It is the student’s responsibility to see that the thesis is submitted to the committee in time for reading and possible revision before the relevant Graduate School deadline. Full particulars concerning thesis form and deadlines may be found on the Graduate School web site in the Thesis and Dissertation section. The degree requirements are not complete until the thesis has been filed with the Graduate School and approved by the student’s committee.

Final Examination: Each MFA candidate is required to pass a final examination conducted by the committee members. In English, this examination is oral and approximately an hour in length; it is normally centered on the MFA thesis. This examination must be formally scheduled at the Graduate School seven days in advance and held no later than the candidate’s last month of residence. Before it can be scheduled, a completed draft of the thesis in its proposed final form must be in the hands of the committee.

Candidates for Doctor of Philosophy

The PhD Program Support Package:

Upon admission, each PhD student is awarded a five-year financial support package, which is guaranteed provided the student remains in good academic standing and performs satisfactorily in any assistantship capacity. These five years of support typically consist of two years of Sage Fellowship and three years of Teaching Assistantships as follows:

-       in the first year of the Sage Fellowship is normally taken during the student's first year in the program to support coursework.

-       in the first summer the student will receive a stipend for participation in the summer teacher-training program, which is administered by the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines. Residence in Ithaca is required to receive this support and training.

-       in the second and third years, the student receives Teaching Assistantships.

-       in year four, the second year of Sage Fellowship is available after the student has completed the A- Exam. This supports the writing of a dissertation prospectus and/or initial research and drafting of the dissertation itself.

-       in the fifth year, the student receives a Teaching Assistantship. Some variations on this pattern are possible; however, it is a clear expectation of the program that the first year and the fourth years will be spent on fellowship.

-       Summer support in the form of a Graduate School Fellowship is guaranteed for the first four summers; students must submit an academic plan to the Graduate School.

PhD students are encouraged to apply for special fellowships at Cornell and elsewhere. There are also awards and fellowships available to graduate students in English that recognize excellence in teaching. Current fellowship opportunities and awards are publicized by e-mail. All Cornell graduate students are required to apply for external funding by the end of the fourth year (see below).

PhD students who hold other external or internal fellowships (e.g., Ford, Mellon, Provost's Diversity, etc.) may be required to defer the use of their Sage Fellowship to later semesters.

All PhD students are therefore eligible for a maximum of six semesters on Teaching Assistantships during their five years in the program, except for students who hold other external or internal fellowships. In such cases, the additional fellowship support replaces the Teaching Assistantship option for the semester in which the fellowship is awarded. For all PhD students, teaching support beyond the fifth year may be available, but cannot be guaranteed.

An exception is made to allow holders of multi-year fellowships to gain the year of teaching experience required for the degree, as well as an additional year of teaching. PhD students who receive three-year fellowships will have their support packages revised on a case-by-case basis. External or internal fellowships of less than three years duration do not extend the guaranteed Sage Fellowship and TAship eligibility described here. See Section II above, “Residence and Thesis / Dissertation Requirements,” regarding funding and leaves of absence.

External fellowship application requirement for the Ph.D Candidate

The Graduate School requires all PhD students to apply for external funding by the end of the 4th year. Students should be advised that many of the full-year doctoral fellowships that are available have application deadlines one year prior to the fellowship period, so students should be prepared to submit their fellowship applications at the beginning of the 4th year. To that end, each student should meet with his or her special committee chair in time to discuss the application process and to identify appropriate fellowships.

A list of fellowships appropriate for English PhD candidates is maintained by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Field Assistant(s), and is available on under the course titled Resources: Graduate Students and Lecturers.

Students will be asked to submit a copy of at least one fellowship application along with other documents for their 5th year teaching review. (See section V, Teaching Assistants below.)

The PhD Program Requirements:

Coursework: A PhD student is expected to complete 12 courses for graduate credit (at least 6 for a letter grade), the Advanced Pedagogy Workshop, the Summer Teaching Internship, Writing 7100, and the First Year Colloquium. This may not include courses devoted to the study of foreign languages or the English language. All courses must be completed before taking the A-Exam (see below). In the first year of study, a PhD candidate is normally expected to complete 6 one-semester courses for credit, in addition to the special First-Year Colloquium organized for entering students in the fall. In subsequent years when students are teaching, the standard load is two courses per term for graduate credit. Students are generally advised to take no more than two courses for a letter grade each semester. A detailed timeline of the degree program requirements is included at the end of the Procedural Guide.

Students entering the program with an MA in English or a related field may petition the DGS to receive up to three course credits towards the PhD.

Qualifying Procedure (Q Exam): During the first year students normally devote considerable time to filling out their knowledge of the field. This process may involve one or more of the following activities: reading important works of literature; gaining a broader knowledge of criticism and theory; exploring areas of study not included in the traditional canon. Before the beginning of the third semester, the student and the Special Committee will meet formally to consider the student’s readiness to proceed toward the PhD.

Though traditionally known as the “qualifying exam,” in most cases this procedure is diagnostic in nature. In earlier, less formal meetings (at least one of which will include the Special Committee as a whole) the committee will review the student's general knowledge of the field, normally on the basis of a document prepared by the student outlining his or her previous training, and including a list of authors, periods, genres, and areas studied. With this list as a basis, the committee will suggest further readings. The preliminary meetings should take place before the end of the second semester, to allow the student time for the necessary reading.

The committee will also review the Cornell courses the student has taken and plans to take, consider a substantial piece of writing the student has produced for a graduate course, and help the student generate a short list of readings which will provide a basis for discussion at the qualifying exam proper. Composing the short list is an important part of the Q exam procedure, and should be a collaborative effort of student and committee. The list should include ten or twelve titles (these may include parts of longer works or groups of shorter ones). Throughout the procedure the committee will keep in mind the breadth of the student’s preparation, and the composition of the short list should be seen as an opportunity for students to engage types of literature the student may not have studied previously.

The Q exam itself normally consists of a mixture of questioning by the committee and presentation by the student; the exact format will be determined by each committee in consultation with the student. At the conclusion of the exam the committee offers the student its assessment of her or his progress in developing the knowledge and skills necessary for a PhD in English, and makes recommendations for further study. At this time the committee should also decide how the language requirement is to be satisfied, or whether it has been satisfied already. (For further information, see the document “You and Your Q.”)

Committee chairs must report the results of Q exams to the DGS, along with information about the language requirement. These should be submitted on the department Q-exam form, which is available on the department web page.

A candidate who does not complete the qualification procedure or who decides for other reasons to leave the graduate program after one or two years may be able to obtain an MA degree by writing a Master’s thesis and satisfactorily completing an appropriate program of study. Please consult the Director of Graduate Studies.

Definitive Selection of Major and Minor Subjects: After qualifying, a candidate typically chooses a major concentration representing the area of primary interest and confirms or modifies the choice of one or two minors. The composition of the Special Committee, which is to conduct the A-Exam, will naturally reflect these choices.

Candidates in English are permitted (and in some cases encouraged) to select one or both minors from related fields. For example, a student majoring in the English Renaissance may wish to select as a minor a concentration in Classics or Romance Studies, while a student majoring in the nineteenth century may choose a concentration in Philosophy or History. Special Committees are urged to flexibly interpret the approved major and minor subject-listings so as to accommodate their students’ individual interests

Admission to Candidacy Examination (A-Exam): This examination has both oral and written components, and serves the two functions of consolidating the student’s knowledge in major and minor fields and preparing her or him to write a dissertation. Graduate School regulations require that students complete the A-Exam before the beginning of their seventh semester. Students should consult with their committee members and meet with the committee as a whole to discuss topics, bibliographies, and the format of the examination by the end of the fifth semester. All required coursework must be completed (and grades submitted by the instructor) before the examination is formally scheduled with the Graduate School (see below).

The written portions consist of three separate responses to questions formulated by committee members in consultation with the student, at least two of which entail broad surveys of and engagements with issues in the major and minor fields. The written responses need be no more than 4,000 words each and need not be polished essays. The special committee members, in consultation with the student, agree beforehand on the form and length of each written response. The committee may specify a composition time of a few hours, a full day, or up to ten days of work on an individual response. The normal assumption is that shorter time limits are most appropriate for this examination.

The oral portion, which must take place no more than two weeks after all three written answers have been given to the committee, is normally about two hours in length, and must be formally scheduled at the Graduate School seven days in advance. In addition to discussing the written responses, the committee and the student use the oral exam to look towards the dissertation, exploring ways to proceed with research and writing, and establishing a framework for the writing and submission of a prospectus. The student should meet with the committee chair within a week of the oral exam to review suggestions raised during the oral exam.

For more information on the A-Exam, including sample exam formats, consult the document, “Hey, It’s Your A.”

Upon passing the A-Exam, a doctoral candidate will be awarded the MA without presenting a thesis. If a student fails the A-Exam, three months must elapse before a second attempt is made. A student who does not pass the A-Exam may be awarded the MA on completion of a thesis of 35 pages or more, and an oral examination by the student’s Special Committee. For more information, consult the Director of Graduate Studies.

Dissertation: A candidate who has passed the A-Exam is expected to concentrate on a major piece of independent research. If a student’s interests have changed in such a way that to no longer coincide with those of the members of the Special Committee, she or he may add a member to the committee to direct the dissertation or else petition the General Committee of the Graduate School for permission to reconstitute the committee. The department also encourages dissertation students to participate in dissertation-writing groups and workshops.

After completing the A-Exam, the student is required to prepare a dissertation prospectus of 10-15 pages in length. Within six months of completing the A-Exam, and in no case later than the end of the seventh semester, candidates present a draft of their prospectus to their special committee. Candidates should submit the draft at least two weeks before meeting with the committee to discuss it. A form signed by all committee members indicating their approval of the final prospectus, along with a copy of the prospectus itself, should be submitted to the office of the Director of Graduate Studies by the beginning of the eighth semester. The plans set forth in the prospectus may be modified as the candidate's research and writing proceed; however, significant changes of focus and structure should be approved by the committee.

A dissertation prospectus workshop, English 7920, is occasionally offered in the Fall to assist students in the preparation of a prospectus. Students in the workshop typically will be in their seventh semester in the program, but students ready to begin writing at an earlier stage in the program also are encouraged to enroll.

It is ultimately the candidate’s responsibility to complete a dissertation satisfactory to all members of the committee; and to this end she or he should consult regularly with them – in particular the chair – to discuss its progress. The candidate should plan to devote from one to two years to the dissertation, typically the fourth and fifth years.

Final Examination (B-Exam): The B-Exam is an oral examination on the general subject that usually includes detailed discussion of the dissertation itself, together with suggestions for revision. Two terms of residence credit are required after the A-Exam before the candidate may pass the Final Examination. A completed draft of the dissertation must be submitted to all members of the Special Committee sixty days in advance of the exam to allow adequate time for reading. The candidate also should allow adequate time for possible revision before the relevant Graduate School filing deadline. The exam must be formally scheduled at the Graduate School at least seven days in advance and is conducted by the candidate’s Special Committee. The committee may request changes in the draft before approving a final version to be filed with the Graduate School. Students have sixty days after the B-Exam to file with the Graduate School the final approved draft of the dissertation. After that date, a late filing fee will be incurred.

Filing of the Dissertation: When approved by the Special Committee, the dissertation must be typed in accordance with Graduate School specifications. Full particulars concerning dissertation form and deadlines may be found on the Graduate School web site in the Thesis and Dissertation section. The degree requirements are not complete until the dissertation has been filed with the Graduate School and approved by the student’s committee.

Teaching Experience: The field requires a carefully supervised teaching experience of at least one year for every doctoral candidate as part of the training for the degree. Normally part of this teaching takes place under the aegis of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, which administers the First-Year Writing Seminars that all Cornell undergraduates are required to take. The John S. Knight Institute sponsors summer and fall workshops in the teaching of writing for all new instructors of First-Year Writing Seminars. Whether serving as teaching assistants in courses taught by faculty members or teaching their own First-Year

Writing Seminars, graduate students work closely with a faculty course leader who oversees and advises them in matters of grading and pedagogy.

V. Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Assistantships, Readerships, and Lectureships

Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Assistantships, Readerships, and Lectureships

Teaching Assistantships for the following academic year are assigned to eligible students during the spring semester on the basis of the teaching application form which is made available in February. Typically, in the summer before their first assignment as a Teaching Assistant, both PhD and MFA students participate in a teaching internship program, which provides the summer stipend for this first summer. This program takes place during the Cornell Six-Week Summer Session which commences in mid-June.

The department maintains files of student evaluations and faculty accounts of each graduate student’s teaching; these are a resource for the teaching review, and also for job letters and teaching dossiers.

PhD Student 5th year Teaching Review and Eligibility for 6th-year funding

By January 15, 5th-year PhD students should submit a dossier containing the following materials to Vicky Brevetti:

-       A very brief cover letter confirming your wish to be reviewed and stating the number of years you have been in residence in the PhD program

-       Syllabi and any other teaching materials you consider appropriate (sample assignments, writing hand- outs, etc.)

-       A dissertation abstract and any completed dissertation chapters

-       A list of fellowships to which you have applied as well as a copy of as least one fellowship application and, IF you applied for jobs this year, a copy of your job letter, CV, and abstract

-       A brief advisory letter from your special committee chair of a least one paragraph commenting on the merits of your dissertation and its state of completion. The advisory letter can be sent directly to Vicky Brevetti

Priority for 6th year funding will go to those students who have:

-       Written a strong fellowship or grant application for external funding

-       Submitted at least two completed chapters (not in draft) of their dissertations

-       Demonstrated a solid commitment to their teaching

Readerships are part-time paid commitments (of no more than 100 hours a semester). These are supplementary opportunities, and are not available as a primary means of graduate student support. Readers assist faculty members with grading papers and/or leading discussion sections for undergraduate lecture courses. Applications for Readerships will be solicited by the Administrative Director in the week before the start of each semester.

Lectureships are paid teaching positions that require the student to terminate their registered student status; lectureships provide access to the Cornell employee health plan and confer employee benefits. Lecturers may not hold any student fellowships or any student employment positions simultaneously with the lectureship appointment. In all cases, theses and/or dissertations must be filed by the end of the first term of lectureship.


MFA program degree recipients who will have completed two consecutive years of residence and have defended their theses may apply to continue to teach as Lecturers for up to two years. Such appointments will be made only after a substantive review of the applicant’s academic status and performance as a teacher. To be eligible, applicants should submit the following by April 15:

-       A brief letter requesting a teaching review and Lecturer appointment or reappointment

-       Teaching materials (which include syllabi, in-class writing projects, sample assignments for example

-       First-Year Writing Seminar student evaluations (on file in the Chair’s office)

-       Other course evaluations

-       Teaching review letter (confidential letters from course leaders who have observed the student’s teaching and are on file in the Chair’s office)

Joint-degree candidates who have completed both B exams by the end of the 6th year are eligible to request employment as lecturers for a 7th and final year, provided department funding is available and provided evidence is shown of having sought employment elsewhere.

PhD students who will have completed their degree requirements by the end of the fifth year, and who have applied for fellowships, may also apply to continue teaching for another year as Lecturers. The number of lectureships varies from year to year and is not guaranteed. Such an appointment will be made only after a substantive review of the applicant’s academic status and performance as a teacher; students applying for the lectureship should submit the same materials required for the fifth-year review.

VI. The Graduate Admissions and Review Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies

The Graduate Admissions and Review Committee consists of five or more members of the Graduate Faculty of the Field of English, including the Director of Graduate Studies. Its chief responsibilities are the admission of applicants to the graduate programs in English, and the review and adjudication of cases in which students are failing to make satisfactory progress through the program. The Director of Graduate Studies, who chairs the Committee and represents the long-range interests of the graduate programs, is responsible for the day-to- day operation of the Office of Graduate Studies in English and acts as an advisor to students and the Provisional Chair for entering students. The Director of Creative Writing acts in an advisory capacity to MFA students.

VII. The Graduate Policy and Curriculum Committee

This standing committee of the department, which is made up of 4 members of the Graduate Faculty 3 PhD and 1 MFA graduate students in English, with the DGS as an ex officio member, provides a formal mechanism for the exchange of ideas between faculty and students. The Committee’s principal responsibility is to transmit to the English Graduate Faculty its advice on matters of policy affecting the graduate programs within the Field. Student members of the Committee also arrange informal orientation sessions for new graduate students.

VIII. Reading Groups and other Extracurricular Activities

The concept of “residence” comprehends more than attending seminars and writing papers. An important part of one’s education comes from informal contacts and extracurricular discussions. Every year there are several social gatherings, formal and informal, sponsored by the department. The department also encourages attendance at public lectures, readings, and conferences, and participation in reading groups and independent study groups with or without a faculty advisor. Graduate students can organize lectures, conferences, readings, workshops and other events on their own. Funds for this purpose are available from a variety of sources.

Faculty hiring committees traditionally include one or two graduate students members, typically drawn from relevant students in the field who have passed their A-Exams and are not on the job market themselves. For more information on the work of hiring committees, and the procedures for selection of student members, please consult the memo on Hiring Committees.

For further policies, please see the Graduate School’s Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty at For other current student resources, please see the course page titled Resources:  Graduate Student and Lecturers