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You are here: Home / Graduate Studies / Graduate Degrees / Ph.D. Program in French and Francophone Studies

Ph.D. Program in French and Francophone Studies


The Department of French and Francophone Studies offers a Ph.D. degree with specializations in civilization and literature as well as a dual degree in French and Women’s Studies. Graduate students accepted into the Department's Ph.D. program are expected to acquire a broad factual and theoretical background in French Studies, advanced proficiency in oral and writing skills, and a thorough grasp of research and teaching methodologies. Students select one specialization and may add other subspecialties.


Students interested in the Ph.D. program in French may apply for admission directly into one of the three specializations or under general status with the specialization to be determined after arrival at Penn State. No admissions preference is given to either category of students; all prospective students are judged according to the admissions criteria outlined in the handbook the student receives when he or she begins graduate studies in French at Penn State.



Students admitted with a declared field of interest are assigned to a graduate advisor in that specialization. Students who enter under general status are assigned to one of the Co-Directors of Graduate Studies.

It is the responsibility of students to make contact with their advisor as quickly as possible after arrival at Penn State, if not before. The purpose of this first meeting is for the student and advisor to become acquainted and to discuss the student's general academic goals.

In a subsequent meeting, the advisor and the student determine a long-range academic plan (see Appendix B for advising forms) that includes credits transferred from other institutions, course work to be completed at Penn State, plans for the fulfillment of the foreign language requirements, projected examination dates, and a projected date for dissertation completion.

Each student should meet with his or her advisor at least once every semester. In general, students and their advisors establish academic plans that permit progress toward the degree in a timely and intellectually appropriate fashion.

It is the student's responsibility to check all policies, procedures, and deadlines established by the Graduate School. It is assumed that students take on the responsibility for their educational progress, both academic and administrative.


Students must earn a minimum of 30 to 36 credits (or equivalent) beyond the Master's degree in French. Occasionally, the acceleration of course work is possible where a student has a significant academic background in a designated area. Acceleration should be requested by the student's advisor in consultation with the student's graduate committee. Acceleration requires the approval of the director of graduate studies and the department head. Candidates whose prior training does not include courses prerequisite to one of the doctoral specializations are required to complete such courses.

A maximum of 12 credits may be earned in teaching methodology (French 581) and in supervised teaching (French 602). Such credits are supplementary to the 30 to 36 credits required for a doctoral specialization, except in applied linguistics where FR 581 is required for the specialization.

The Chair of the Committee responsible for the specialization, in consultation with other members of the Graduate Faculty and the Department Head, evaluates the graduate training and teaching experience completed at other institutions. A record of any credit to be transferred or of course equivalencies is placed in the candidate's file, with a copy to the candidate. Waiver of any coursework can only be granted with the approval of the advisor, the instructor of the course being waived, and the Department Head.

All students are required to take the Pro-Seminar in French Studies, FR 501, within the first two years of entering the program whether at the M.A. or the Ph.D. level.  (The Pro-Seminar is offered every other year.)  Doctoral students who are preparing for the job market are required to take the Pro-Seminar a second time.

All ABD students are required to audit one 3-credit French and Francophone Studies graduate seminar course each semester.  During the semester of the student’s dissertation release the student may choose whether or not to audit a course.  If the student’s advisor, the director of graduate studies and the department head are in agreement, an ABD student may audit one course offered by another department, if the course is directly related to the thesis topic.

Ph.D. Foreign Language Requirement

The foreign language requirement at the doctoral level is designed to provide students with a skill that will aid them in research and in securing employment. When choosing a language or languages to study, it is recommended that students consult with their advisors about their potential field of doctoral research. The department feels that the majority of students would profit most from four-skill proficiency in another language. However, some students would benefit most from a reading knowledge of two languages (for example, students planning to specialize in Medieval literature might choose Latin and German).

Students must choose one of the following two options:

(1) Satisfy the 4-skills language requirement for the Ph.D. by passing with a grade of B or better in one of the following courses: Spanish 100, Spanish 110, German 301, or Italian 302 (all 5th semester courses); Russian 204 or 214, or Latin 100 (4th semester courses); or Arabic 3, Swahili 3, Chinese 3, or Japanese 3 (3rd semester courses).  Students with advanced knowledge of an ancient language that is pertinent to their area of research may be examined through other means.


(2) Achieve a reading proficiency in two foreign languages, ancient or modern, equivalent to the 12th-credit level (e.g. German 1, 2, and 3). Reading proficiency may be validated by a transcript of college courses completed with a grade of A or B at the intermediate level, a statement from a Penn State foreign language department validating the proficiency, or a satisfactory score on a standardized test (e.g., a score of 500 or better on the ETS Graduate Reading Exam). Reading knowledge in one language counted for the M.A. degree may count as one of the languages for the Ph.D.

A native language (other than English or French) may be used as one of the languages to fulfill the language requirement for the Ph.D. when it is pertinent to the area of doctoral research. The bearing of the native language on the research interests will be determined by the advisor in consultation with a director of graduate studies and/or another member of the faculty.

Note: The foreign language requirement must be completed prior to the scheduling of the Comprehensive Examination.

Ph.D. English Competency Requirement

The Graduate School requires that all students (international and domestic) demonstrate proficiency in English. English language proficiency may be demonstrated by presenting a conference paper, or by successful completion of French 581 or another graduate course taught in English. Proof of English language proficiency must be provided before the scheduling of the Comprehensive Examination. Please check with our Department’s Graduate Staff Assistant to verify completion of this requirement.

Ph.D. Committee and Examinations

All doctoral students must pass a Candidacy examination and aComprehensiveexamination.

Candidacy Examination

The Candidacy Examination takes place during the second semester after admission to the Ph.D. program and must be completed at least four weeks before classes end. If the Candidacy Examination is delayed beyond the second semester, a provisional one-semester teaching contract will be issued during the second year of study and the contract will not be renewed until the examination has been passed.

In the event that a student fails the Candidacy Examination, the committee may approve the student to retake the examination. Whenever possible, students taking the Candidacy Exam for the second time will have the same examination committee as they had for their first exam. Failure to pass the exam a second time results in the termination of the student’s French graduate studies at Penn State.

Selection of Exam Committee

At the beginning of the semester of the exam, the candidate chooses a French faculty member to serve as the Chair of the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam. With the help of the Chair, two additional members who are knowledgeable about the student’s field of specialization are selected and asked to serve on the committee. When appropriate, a fourth committee member from another department may serve in a consultative capacity. 

Format of the Exam

Please see the area of your specialty in the handbook for the format.

Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Examination consists of a series of content intensive examinations and the Doctoral Thesis Proposal.

After a student's coursework has been completed and the foreign language and English proficiency requirements have been met, the series of content-intensive examinations is scheduled (normally after two years of post-Master's study). Candidates may request to see sample questions of examinations on file in the department office.  This part of the examination consists of two parts: 1) a written examination and 2) an oral examination. You can find the examination procedures described in the Handbook under the specialization of your studies. The time frame of the exams may be extended if the candidate has chosen to take the written examination immediately prior to a holiday or vacation period.  The student must pass the written examination before proceeding to the oral examination. In case of failure of the written exams, the oral exam is cancelled. Written and oral examinations in one specialization may be repeated only once. Failure to pass either of the exams a second time results in the termination of the student from the program.

On the first day of the written examination the student will submit his or her Doctoral Thesis Proposal, which will be defended no later than two weeks after the Comprehensive Oral Examination.  If the student fails the written or oral portion of the Comprehensive Exam the Doctoral Thesis Proposal defense will be cancelled.

The candidate selects a Committee Chair (who may or may not be the same chair as for the Candidacy Exam Committee) among available faculty with primary teaching responsibilities in the specialization. A four or five-member Doctoral Committee will then be constituted, including one external member (a Penn State Graduate Faculty member from another department). A Doctoral Committee Signature Page will need to be completed and approved by the Graduate School. The student will need to complete and sign the form, ask each of his or her committee members to sign the form, submit the form to the graduate staff assistant for signature by the department head and submission to the Graduate School for approval.

Guidelines for the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination

Responsibilities of the student

  • Prepare reading list drafts several months in advance of the examination.
  • Meet with the committee chair to discuss the list, come to agreement on what is appropriate for the student's interests, the expectations of the concentration, and the doctoral degree program.
  • Arrange dates for the examination after consultation with the committee chair and the graduate staff assistant.
  • Arrange with the graduate staff assistant to check the computer equipment two days prior to the exam.
  • Arrive on time for each exam.
  • Alert the graduate staff assistant immediately if there are any problems with the computer or the room.

 Responsibilities of the committee chair

  • Circulate the reading list to other members of the committee and solicit suggestions, either directly or via the graduate staff assistant.
  • In consultation with the student, make the final decision on the reading list.
  • Solicit questions from committee members, either directly or via the graduate staff assistant.
  • Prepare the examination and submit the final version for all the exams to the graduate staff assistant two days before the first examination is scheduled to take place. Indicate the order in which the examinations are to be taken, the title of the exam, and the student’s primary area (when appropriate).
  • Arrange with the graduate staff assistant to be on call during the exam or designate a substitute to be on call to advise on how to solve any problems that may arise.
  • Read and evaluate the answers to the questions as well as the evaluations of the members of the committee.
  • Supervise the oral examination.
  • Report to the student the results of both the written and the oral examinations.

Responsibilities of the committee

  • Prepare questions no less than two weeks prior to the first examination date.
  • Read the answers to the questions no less than two weeks after the last examination date and give evaluations of the written exam to the chair at least three days before the oral examination.
  • Participate in the oral examination.
  • Advise the committee chair on whether or not the student has passed the examination, or should take additional courses, or re-take part or all of the examination.

Responsibilities of the graduate staff assistant:

  • Notify the Graduate School of the date for the oral exam.
  • Prepare copies of the examination questions in accordance with what the advisor has submitted.
  • Reserve a room for the examination.
  • Install or have installed a computer in the room at least two days in advance of the examination.
  • Check to see if the computer is working properly.
  • Arrange for the student to check the computer two days before the first examination.
  • Ask the committee chair to approve the final version of the exam.
  • Give the exam questions to the student on the day that each exam is scheduled.
  • Call the committee chair or a previously designated substitute (graduate director or head of the department) for advice if problems occur during the administration of the examination.
  • Collect and distribute copies of the answers to the committee and the student.

Responsibilities of the graduate director and/or department head

  • Check with the graduate staff assistant each day that an examination is being administered to see if there are any problems.
  • Resolve any problems that may occur during the preparation, administration, or evaluation of the examination.

Doctoral Thesis Proposal

Following the successful completion of the Oral Examination, within two weeks, candidates will defend the thesis proposal which was submitted to the committee on the first day of the Written Examination.

Guidelines for Thesis Proposal

Lengths indicated for each section of the dissertation proposal are suggested, not required.

  • Question or Problem. State in a paragraph the question you propose to answer or the problem you will solve with your dissertation.
  • Project. State in a paragraph the project you plan to undertake to provide those answers.
  • Background. What is the broader context for the research question? What is the significance of this topic? What has been done so far by others and how is your project going to improve, extend, or controvert past research? (2-3 pages).
  • Approach and methodology. How will you go about the research? What are the methods and materials that will be central to your project? What kinds of archival, library, field, or classroom research will you need to do? What kinds of research authorizations or clearances will you need to obtain? What problems do you anticipate? (2-3 pages).
  • Outcome. What do you expect the outcome of your project to be? Who will be interested in the results of your research? (1-2 pages).
  • Bibliography. List the relevant books and articles (minimum of two pages).

Optional: If you have a clear idea of the structure of your project, you may also provide an outline of the chapters.

The thesis proposal may be approved in writing alone. A meeting of the student and the entire committee is strongly recommended. The Graduate School also recommends that the student and his or her committee meet each year while the thesis is being written.

Continuous Registration Requirement after Comprehensive Exam is Completed

The semester after students pass the comprehensive examination, they must register continuously for each fall and spring semester until the Ph.D. thesis is accepted and approved by the doctoral committee. Students can maintain registration by registering for credits the usual way or by registering for the non-credit FR 601. Students must file their bill to complete their registration.

Students may take FR 601 plus up to 3 additional credits of audit by paying only the thesis fee. Students wishing to take more than 3 additional credits of course work must register for FR 600 or 611. We recommend that students register for 601 and work full-time on thesis preparation. This is the least expensive option and, for international students, this insures full-time status. Students must file their bill to complete their registration.

The Thesis Committee

The Doctoral Committee approved by the Graduate School at the time of the student’s comprehensive exam will serve as members of the thesis committee. In the event that the student, in consultation with the advisor, wishes to change the Doctoral Committee, a new Committee Signature Page will need to be submitted to the Graduate School (all members would be listed, but only new committee members would need to sign).

Students and their advisors should keep in mind the possibility of including a distinguished faculty member from another institution to serve as a special member of the Doctoral Committee. After approval by the Graduate School, the special member must participate in the defense (Final Oral Examination) either physically or by video or telephone. The special member may be invited to Penn State during the fall or spring semester to participate in the defense as long as funds are available for her or him to give a public lecture and/or to give talks in graduate seminars.

Chair and the Thesis Advisor

The thesis advisor is normally the chair of the doctoral committee. The thesis chair is an officially appointed position recognized by the Graduate School on all official paper work. The chair must be a graduate faculty member with an appointment (not a courtesy appointment) in French.

In some circumstances, a student may wish to recognize a different individual as the thesis advisor, bearing in mind that this person has no official designation other than “committee member” of the thesis. This might be the case, for instance, if a faculty member with whom the student had worked closely leaves the university. The student may wish to informally recognize this faculty member as his/her “advisor” but the committee chair must still be from within the department. In the case where a student has a separate thesis chair and a thesis advisor, it is generally the advisor who the student invites as a faculty escort to graduation. In sum, the thesis chair is the officially recognized person in charge of a student’s thesis. An advisor is often an academic mentor who, is some circumstances, is unable to serve as a committee chair. Again, in most cases, the thesis advisor is also the chair of the doctoral committee.

It is possible for a student to arrange a committee with co-chairs. In this case, one person is designated as chair and the other as co-chair, at the student’s discretion.

The Ph.D. Thesis

The thesis (also called “Ph.D. or Doctoral Dissertation”) is a formal demonstration of a student’s ability to conduct high-quality research that poses significant questions and proposes new approaches, implications, and insights. It should represent the culmination of work as a student and, at the same time, demonstrate a student’s expertise to colleagues and peers.

Chapters of the thesis should be submitted to the advisor as they are written. Committee members may prefer to read the thesis chapter by chapter or they may wish to review only the full draft version. This should be decided in consultation between the student and the committee members, preferably at a meeting with the full committee. Both the thesis advisor and the student are responsible for ensuring the completion of a draft of the thesis and for adequate consultation with all committee members well in advance of the oral examination.

Each member of the committee will make any suggestions he or she may have within two weeks of receiving the completed draft. If, at the end of these two weeks, no committee members request major revisions to the thesis (editing suggestions do not qualify), the final oral examination date may be set. The request for examination must be submitted to the dean of the Graduate School for approval at least three weeks prior to the date of the exam.

The Thesis Guide

Students should consult the Graduate School Thesis Guide for the thesis format. This guide, available online, through the Thesis Office or in Pattee Library, contains complete and updated information regarding the thesis format, preparation, appendices, etc. The Graduate School also provides special thesis formatting templates for use on word-processing systems: http://cac.psu.edu/psuthesi/.

Normally, the thesis defense may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed after the completion of the Comprehensive Examination, although the dean of the Graduate School may grant a waiver in some cases.

The final oral exam must take place ten weeks before the end of the Semester. Please check the calendar of deadlines posted every semester by the Graduate School.

The Final Oral Examination (“Thesis Defense”)

Major revisions of the thesis should be completed before the final oral examination is scheduled. The dissertation should be in its final draft, with notes, bibliography, tables, figures, appendices, etc. at the time of the oral examination; both the content and style should be correct by the time this final draft is in the hands of the doctoral committee. The thesis defense is scheduled after the thesis director’s(s) approval. Other members of the doctoral committee are expected to have at least two weeks in which to read the final draft of the manuscript. Although additional editorial modifications may be needed after the completion of the defense, the manuscript submitted to all readers must be seen as a "final" copy ready for submission to the Graduate School. Candidates must observe manuscript conventions prescribed by the Graduate School (see "Thesis Information Bulletin"). The Department of French and Francophone Studies accepts editing procedures recommended by the Modern Language Association. 

Note that the thesis defense is open to the public. However, the audience may not participate in the examination of the student.
The final oral examination (thesis defense) is administered and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. It consists of an oral presentation of the thesis and a period of questions and responses. These will relate mostly to the thesis, but may cover the whole program of study, since one of the purposes of the final oral examination is to assess a student’s scholarly attainments. The portion of the examination in which the thesis is presented is open to the public.

At least three members of the doctoral committee (including the advisor or chair) must be physically present at the final oral examination. The graduate student must be physically present. No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via video. A request for exceptions must be submitted to the Graduate School for approval at least three weeks prior to the date of the exam.

A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing. The results are communicated to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services by the program director.

If a candidate fails, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether another examination may be taken.

When a period of more than six years has elapsed between the passing of the comprehensive exam and the completion of the program, the student is required to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination will be scheduled.

Submission of Bound Copy of Thesis

Students are required to submit a bound copy of the thesis to the Department of French and Francophone Studies. This should be done within three weeks after their final submission to the Thesis Office.