Loyola University Chicago

Department of English

The PhD Process


In order to be cleared for undertaking the comprehensive exams and receiving a graduate degree from Loyola University Chicago, all students must take the Responsible Conduct in Research Seminar (RCRS) and pass a short test (P/F). Register through LOCUS to take a session of the seminar, which is offered periodically.

Additionally, to receive a graduate degree from LUC, all students must apply for degree conferral through LOCUS by the deadlines of The Graduate School, which appear in its official announcement emails.

PhD Program of Courses:

Course Descriptions

Students accepted into the PhD program without an MA degree must take the MA Exam at the end of their first year of coursework in the program in order to continue with the degree. The specific course requirements for each PhD program can be found on the following pages:

Medieval and Renaissance Literature

Nineteenth Century Studies

Modern Literature and Culture

After consultation with the Graduate Program Director, students may occasionally opt to take a special independent study course "ENGL 501: Directed Readings," supervised by a faculty member with the approval of the program director. Readings are initiated by the student and course credit is TBD by staff and the GPD. 

Comprehensive Exams:

The next semester after completing coursework, a student will take "ENGL 502: Independent Study for Doctoral Qualification." The course is composed of special readings in the field of the student's specialization under the supervision of a faculty member with the approval of the chair. Normally the director will be the professor with whom the student plans to write the dissertation. Usually the student will have an idea of what topic he or she wishes to explore (i.e. the meaning of female silence in Early Modern plays). 

The written outcome of the course will be a draft of a proposal for the dissertation. The course is graded on a credit/no-credit basis.

On average, the process of studying for comprehensive exams usually takes from 6 months to a year. During this period, students will ideally explore their topic and create a dissertation thesis (i.e. Depictions of silent female characters in Early Modern plays both reassured and intensified male fears of female agency in the public sphere). This thesis should utilize three different fields (i.e. a genre such as Early Modern conduct books and theological tracts/ sermons meant for women, a literary period such as Early Modern dramatic works, and an area of critical theory such as female language and agency).

Fields may be of the following five kinds:

  1. a literary period
  2. an author
  3. a genre
  4. an area of critical theory
  5. composition and rhetorical theory.

Note: A least one field must be in a literary period, and all fields must be of different types, except that two may be periods.

Gradually, a student's dissertation topic will be proposed, defined, and narrowed in consultation with the three (3) faculty members on their comprehensive exams committee, who will most likely go on to serve on the student's dissertation committee, unless the topic of the student's research shifts or necessitates another subject area be explored. Choosing this dissertation committee involves ensuring that these three faculty members are a) available to serve in this capacity, b) have done research and published work that relate to your subject area(s), and c) would like to work with you on your developing topic. Each professor will oversee one of the three different fields, or areas, that the student wishes to explore in this potential dissertation project. 

Note: It is advisable for a student to approach these faculty members and ask them to serve on the comprehensive committee by the last semester of coursework. 

*For examples of book lists and field statements, refer to the sample documents on the EGSA Sakai page. 

A) Book Lists: At the beginning of the comps process, a student should compose three (3) book lists, one for each of the three fields. Lists should be of approximately 30 works each, including primary and secondary reading material. Drawing up a tentative book list for a subject area, before meeting with the professor responsible for mentoring in that area, is advisable; this indicates the extent of the student's preliminary research in the area, while allowing the professor to suggest new or better titles. Next, the student should ensure that each professor approves of the edited book list for their subject area. Finally, the student should submit all three book lists for approval to all three professors, both via email and in print, placing a print copy of all three lists in each professor's mailbox in Crown Center. 

B) Reading: Next the student must read all the books! Comping students often use coffee shops, schedules, note-taking, and other strategies to get the most out of what can feel like a truly immersive experience into a literary era, historical period, and/or a long-running theoretical debate. Taking notes and typing up quotes now (with citations) saves time in the long run and can help focus a student's thesis. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by this barrage of information, a clever student will be hunting for relevant quotes, references, etc. to use in their field statements. Hopefully, after reading through the comps book lists, a student will narrow the scope of their chosen topic and solidify a thesis. This thesis will likely change after further research; at this stage it should be an argument the student can and will support with passages and facts gathered from the books just perused. Stay in touch with your committee as you read for the exam! 

C) Field Statements: As with the three book lists, students will write three field statements, one for each professor/area. Each field statement by itself is intended to demonstrate how much the student has learned about an aspect of the dissertation project. For example, in one field statement the student might sum up the ways in which contemporary pamphlets, books, and sermons laid out cultural expectations for Early Modern female behavior (a genre), while in another the student might outline how female characters (played by male actors) were presented in notable roles as either outspoken or silent in Early Modern drama (for instance, Hermione, A Winter's Tale, Lavinia, Titus Andronicus, Epicoene, Epicoene, or The Silent Woman, Oriana, The Woman Hater, or, The Hungry Courtier), noting departures from the norm or discrepancies in characterization (literary), and in the third the student could engage with the theories of Julie Kristeva, Judith Butler, and other works on female silence to demonstrate possible reception(s) to female speech and the way(s) in which female silence can be interpreted in these plays in spite of the fact that the roles were performed by male actors (area of critical theory).

Field statements should be between 6-10 pages each, though they can be longer. The approval process is as follows:

  • Firstly, the student will submit each field statements to the professor overseeing that area on the comps committee via email and in print.
  • Secondly, students will need to revise the field statements in light of the professors' comments and criticisms. 
  • Thirdly, students will submit all three field statements to all three professors via email and in print for the approval of their entire comps committee, before setting a date for the written exams and the oral defense. Drafts should be given to the examiners at least six weeks prior to the exam date. 
  • Fourthly, the student must turn in to the GPD the final version of the statement for each field, with a ballot indicating the approval of the examiner for that field, at least four weeks  prior to the beginning of the written exam. 
  • Fifthly, after a comps committee and comping student set a date for the three (3) written exams and oral defense, the student should inform the department secretary via email so that a room at the Department of English can be reserved for the written exams and oral defense. This should be done a month before the beginning date of the written exams.

D) Written Exams: Each written exam relates to one of the field statements and its area, and contains questions written by the professor on your comps committee who is overseeing that field. Questions will relate to the student's overall and particular knowledge of the books on that list, and test the extent of the student's thoughtful engagement with the subject matter of the dissertation project. Usually, the three written exams will take place in the department for a three-hour period within the working hours of 8:30am-5:00pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of one week, respectively, with the oral defense scheduled for the following Monday. A comping student is advised to:

  • show up before the start of each written test to get settled
  • bring the comps books for that list/area
  • bring a sweater in case the room is chilly
  • bring drinks like water and/or coffee.

No internet will be allowed. The student will receive a piece of paper containing the professor's questions, and will write at least two essays in response to two questions over the course of each three-hour written exam. It's a good idea to format each essay in MLA citation style as thoroughly as possible given the time constraints. The test format and number of questions asked will differ depending on each professor's inclination. Most students turn in approximately 8-10 pages for each section of the exam. Once the student's time is up, the student should announce this fact; next, he or she will email the completed answers to the written exam to the department secretary for distribution to the relevant professor. The department secretary should also send a copy of the written exam to the student. 

Note: Though this may seem stressful, the written exams offer a student the chance to address important questions about their research, enabling them to explore the issue through writing. During the day between the exams, the student should relax and focus on self-care. 

E) Oral Comprehensive Exam Defense: Once the written exams have been completed by the student, each professor on the comps committee will read the student's responses to their questions. Then, the professor will prepare further questions to ask the student face-to-face in a two-hour oral examination. Though this might seem like a high-pressure moment, this is probably one of the first times that the student will be in a room with three other people who are all knowledgeable about and interested in the same subject! Therefore, it should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to have an in-depth conversation about the field areas. The student should go over the written questions and answers, preparing to develop, revise or explain them. 

On the day of the oral defense, the student should:

  • dress professionally
  • bring a sweater in case the room is chilly
  • bring drinks like water and/or coffee. 


  • The student is allowed to bring notes to refer to, but the less the student relies on outside materials, the better. It's an oral defense for a reason!
  • The oral defense is administered on a pass/fail basis. A student may receive a Pass, Fail, or Pass "With Distinction" for their performance in the oral defense and comping process.
  • If a student fails, he or she is allowed to retake the written exams and undergo the oral defense once more within one year of the original exam. 

Writing the Dissertation Proposal: 

Now enrolled in ENGL 600: "Dissertation Supervision," the student must begin to draft the dissertation proposal for approval in order be a dissertation candidate, first ascertaining that all members of the comprehensive exams committee are willing to serve as the dissertation committee chair and readers, respectively.

A dissertation in English is an original study that advances our understanding of literature, culture, or critical theory. A dissertation proposal is a research prospectus whose rhetorical purposes are as follows:

  • To define the object of study in the dissertation;
  • To formulate the argument that the author anticipates making;
  • To justify the project on the basis of its significance and originality; and
  • To outline the form that the project will take.

Any dissertation proposal should therefore include the following:

  • A discussion of the project's focus, working hypotheses, and methodology;
  • An overview of recent scholarly work in the field that demonstrates the student's familiarity with that work and shows how the dissertation will differ from or extend it;
  • A chapter-by-chapter summary of the dissertation that anticipates its structure and articulates its tentative argument in some detail; and
  • A selected bibliography.

The text of a proposal should generally be 2,500-3,000 words (or 8-10 double-spaced pages) in length; the bibliography is expected to contribute another 2-3 pages. Proposals that are significantly longer or shorter are to be discouraged. MLA style guidelines should be followed throughout the proposal, including the bibliography.

While dissertation proposals should benefit their authors (in fellowship competitions, on the academic job market, and in the drafting of the dissertation itself), they remain exploratory documents rather than conclusive accounts of the dissertation project. As the dissertation evolves, neither the student nor the committee should expect rigid adherence to the approved proposal. With the committee's approval, the student may have reason to add, drop, or significantly alter the content of a chapter. The project's thesis itself may change if the student's investigation warrants a rethinking of the original hypotheses. It is not necessary for a new proposal to be submitted under such circumstances unless the project changes so significantly that the dissertation is no longer recognizable as the project that was approved.

The writing of a dissertation proposal should be conceived as a finite process meant to jump-start the drafting of the dissertation itself, rather than as the production of a definitive and perfectly achieved statement. A proposal is important but entirely instrumental, and it should be accorded the time and labor appropriate to something useful that will soon be left behind.

For a student to remain in good standing, his or her proposal must be approved by the dissertation committee within six months after the completion of the PhD Qualifying Examination. The forms for the process are completed electronically through GSPS. The student's committee must first be constituted using the Graduate School's Dissertation Committee Recommendation form. Next, the Ballot for the Approval of a Dissertation Proposal must be signed electronically by all three readers. Finally, an abstract of the approved proposal, together with a copy of the Dissertation Proposal form, must be submitted to the Graduate School via GSPS. Once a PhD student has submitted the dissertation proposal through GSPS to The Graduate School, each member of the committee has approved it via email link (sent from GSPS), and the Graduate School has approved it, the student is a PhD candidate and may begin the dissertation writing process. 

Writing the Dissertation: 

At this point, the candidate will be enrolled in ENGL 610: "Doctoral Study." Throughout the process of drafting and submitting chapters, it is advisable for a PhD candidate to meet frequently with the members of their dissertation committee, especially the professor serving as chair. Generally, writing a dissertation generally takes 1-2 years with a total of 3-5 chapters, in addition to the introduction and conclusion. Typically, each chapter can be anywhere from 35-50 pages, though this may vary depending on your committee's preferences.

Note: Undergoing the week-long Dissertation Boot Camp offered by the Graduate School in the summer can help the candidate write the nucleus of at least one chapter and form good writing/scheduling habits. 

If a candidate focuses on structuring and outlining each chapter, keeps to self-imposed writing deadlines, and submission deadlines advised by the dissertation committee, the dissertation will be written sooner rather than being prolonged. Having writing partners in the program, such as other PhD candidates, to peer review your work and keep you accountable, can also be beneficial. Recall that to receive a graduate degree from Loyola University Chicago, the candidate must apply for degree conferral through LOCUS by The Graduate School's deadlines, which appear in its official announcement emails. This is in addition to the format check following the oral dissertation defense.

The Oral Dissertation Defense:

After the dissertation committee has approved of the PhD candidate's completed dissertation, they and the candidate must set a date for the oral defense. The candidate should contact the department secretary to reserve a space for the defense. Generally, a candidate delivering the oral defense of his or her dissertation will construct a brief, clear, and engaging PowerPoint presentation and read a short excerpt from the introduction and at least one or two of the chapters of the completed dissertation. The oral presentation part of the defense commonly lasts 30 minutes, so a candidate should not read a paper that is longer than 15 pages. Following this, the dissertation committee will ask the candidate questions about the dissertation's topic, scope, and purpose, followed by general audience questions. After withdrawing to consult, the dissertation committee will return and announce whether the PhD candidate has passed the defense or not. 


  • The oral defense is administered on a pass/fail basis. A PhD candidate may receive a Pass, Fail, or Pass "With Distinction" for their performance in the oral dissertation defense.
  • The candidate should print out the approval ballot for the text and oral dissertation defense and bring this to the oral defense for the use of the dissertation committee. After the defense, the dissertation committee will generally sign this approval ballot, and the GPD will submit it to the Graduate School to confirm the candidate's eligibility for degree conferral. 

Formatting the Dissertation: 

After passing the oral defense and completing the dissertation in its finalized form, the candidate should format and submit a full electronic draft of the manuscript to the Graduate School's electronic submission website by the deadline for the fall, summer, or spring semester degree conferral. There are several ways that the candidate can find support and advice throughout this time-consuming process, such as the two info sessions on dissertation/thesis formatting offered by the Graduate School each semester. 

Note: For detailed instructions regarding the entire process, see the Graduate School's "Dissertation/Thesis Formatting" page.