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Successful completion of the Ph. D. degree in German requires:


Graduate students have a right to periodic evaluations of their academic progress, performance, and professional potential. Students are required to maintain regular contact with their professors for academic consultations throughout the course of their studies at Northwestern and to discuss their progress on seminar papers, articles, and longer research projects.

There are several formal mechanisms in place for assessing student progress over the course of their graduate career. These include, but are not limited to:

First Year Review

At the end of the student’s first year, students will complete a self-evaluation, including a representative course paper from one of the past three quarters, assessing their work and development over the year. The paper, as well as the student’s work to date as a whole, will be reviewed by tenure-line faculty, who will draw up a written report concerning the student’s progress and continuing needs. This report will be sent at the end of the spring quarter to the student, who will discuss it with the Director of Graduate Studies in planning for the forthcoming year.

Qualifying Examinations

The qualifying examinations occur in two stages.

First Qualifying Exam (usually taken in the late summer before the beginning of the second year)

The first qualifying examination is principally concerned with literary works and is selected from a department-created list of canonical texts in the German language from the seventeenth century to the present day. The process of the first exam is as follows:

Second Qualifying Exam (usually taken in the winter quarter of the third year)

The idea behind the second qualifying exam is to provide students with a springboard to the dissertation as well as a knowledge base for college-level teaching in German literature. The exam is based on three independent lists of works developed in consultation with the student’s advisors. Students generally develop three kinds of lists: 1) a list devoted to a particular critical methodology or theoretical issue, 2) a list devoted to a particular period, and 3) a list that anticipates a future dissertation topic, including a focus on one or several authors.

Students will select a qualifying examination committee by the end of the spring quarter of the second year. The names of the three faculty members on the committee are submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the German department, along with a description of the three examination lists. In general, each advisor works with the student to develop a single list, although occasionally the entire committee helps with all three lists.

The exam itself consists of short 12- to 15-page “position papers” written in response to the three questions posed by the respective members of the examination committee. Students have two weeks to write the three papers. (There is no need for bibliographical material or secondary literature.) About a week or two after the submission of the papers, an oral discussion of the essays between the student and the committee members is scheduled, at which point the student is notified whether he or she has passed the exam. If the student does not pass, there is the opportunity to retake the exam in whole or in part, depending on the committee members’ recommendations. The qualifying exam must be passed in full before the beginning of the fall of the student’s fourth year.



(completed during the fall quarter of the fourth year)

After passing the second qualifying examination, the student assembles a dissertation committee composed of a Chair and two other faculty members – which may, but need not be, identical with the second qualifying examination committee – with whom the student begins to prepare and write his or her dissertation prospectus. The prospectus (15-25 pages, not including bibliography) is a preliminary statement of intent and outline of the student’s proposed project. It should generally be conceived in the form and language of a grant proposal and is composed of the following five sections:

The prospectus should be completed by the fifth week of the fall of the student’s fourth year, whereupon it is submitted to the chair and the other members of the student’s dissertation committee. By the end of the fall quarter the student defends the prospectus before his or her dissertation committee, who offer suggestions for proceeding with the research.



(completed before the dissertation defense)

The graduate program in German Literature and Critical Thought strives to provide their doctoral students with the best training and broadest practical experience possible in teaching and research. To this end, knowledge of at least one other language besides German and English is required. The language requirement for the Ph.D. entails:

Both the German language requirement and the third language requirement can be accomplished by one of the following: a) native proficiency; b) completion of a graduate or upper-level undergraduate course taught in the relevant language; c) passing an examination administered by the department; or d) taking an intensive language course (equivalent to two years of college language study).