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Department of English
PhD in English


Erich Nunn

Erich Nunn

Associate Professor

Director of Graduate Studies

The Auburn University doctoral program in English offers a literature track and a composition and rhetoric track. Our program provides rigorous scholarly and pedagogical training for the emerging intellectual leaders and stewards of English studies. At this level, our graduate faculty works with a select group of PhD students to develop their own critical analysis of American and English literature, from the traditional canons to Anglophone, Irish, trans-Atlantic, African-American, and Southern literatures and cultures, and rhetoric and composition.

As a select group of advanced students aiming at careers as teachers and researchers at the college and university level, English doctoral students are scrupulously trained and carefully mentored to develop the specific linguistic, aesthetic, philosophical, and historical skills relevant to their chosen field and specialization; and to think and write with precision, insight, and imagination.

Students and faculty work in tandem to develop advanced student research projects that examine important issues in the field. All doctoral candidates in English are encouraged to pursue substantial research while remaining mindful of the innovative and interdisciplinary currents that have reshaped the field of English studies over the past several decades.

We see our doctoral students as 21st-century scholar-teachers who are trained to assume two broad intellectual responsibilities: to serve as tradition bearers for the study of important literary works, and to explore horizons of innovation in the theory and practice of English studies. Our doctoral students are encouraged to appreciate rhetorical and literary expression and to explore the myriad ways knowledge is produced and disseminated in the historical and contemporary social sphere.


PhD Coursework

The PhD in English requires a minimum of 60 semester hours beyond the BA, including 10 hours of research and dissertation (ENGL 8990). Students may transfer up to 30 hours from a previously awarded master’s degree with the approval of the advisory committee and the dean of the Graduate School; such transfer credit must fall within the time limits of the degree. At least 21 semester hours must be completed as a graduate student at Auburn University. A maximum of four hours of research and thesis from a completed master’s program may be counted. 

PhD students scheduled to teach courses in composition and core literature should meet with both the Director of Composition and the Director of Core Literature in advance of the beginning of their teaching semester. We also recommend that first-year PhD students sit in on ENGL 7940, a one-credit hour practicum designed to prepare first-year master’s students for teaching core literature and composition courses in college. While attending the practicum is not required for PhD students, first-year graduate students may find useful tools for teaching core courses at Auburn.

Literature PhD student transcripts will be checked to ensure that students have engaged with the following areas, issues, and approaches by the end of their coursework:

  • A minimum of three courses in major area
  • Genre Study, Author Study or Comparative Literature course
  • Pre-1800 Literature
  • Post-1800 Literature
  • American Literature
  • British Literature
  • Literary Theory
  • Rhetoric, Composition Theory
  • Coursework in special areas (technology and culture, globalism, sustainability, diversity) or other interdisciplinary work

Composition and Rhetoric PhD student transcripts will be checked to ensure that students have engaged with the following areas, issues, and approaches by the end of their coursework:

  • A minimum of four courses in rhetoric and composition, which must include ENGL 7040, 7050, 7090, and 7300
  • Two courses in technical and professional communication
  • One course in critical and/or literary theory
  • One course in special areas (diversity, technology and culture, globalism, sustainability) or other interdisciplinary work
  • Two electives

PhD Foreign Language Requirement

The PhD student must demonstrate reading proficiency in two foreign languages or advanced proficiency in one. Students may satisfy this requirement in French, German, Italian, Latin, Russian, Spanish, or any other language approved by the director of graduate studies.

The language requirement can be filled in three ways:

  • By earning, within the last five years, at least a B in two undergraduate courses taught in a foreign language.
  • By taking a foreign language efficiency exam offered by the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures.
  • By taking a 3-hour pass/fail reading proficiency exam given by Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Students can prove advanced proficiency in one of two ways:

  • By earning a B in a graduate-level literature course offered in a foreign language.
  • By passing a foreign language proficiency exam without use of a dictionary.

General Doctoral Examination

A general examination, often called the "preliminary examination," is required of all PhD students. Taken at the completion of coursework and after the student has met the foreign language requirement, it consists of written and oral testing by the student’s advisory committee or by an examination committee designated by the student’s academic program in the student’s major and minor. The general oral examination should be conducted immediately after the successful completion of the written examination.

Dissertation Prospectus

Within three calendar months after passing the oral phase of their General Doctoral Examination, all doctoral students receiving financial aid through the department must submit an approved 4-7-page dissertation prospectus to the DGS. Each prospectus should (1) describe the proposed topic, (2) specify the methods for developing the topic, and (3) succinctly survey the main primary and secondary materials to be used.


The dissertation is to be a contribution to knowledge in one or more of the three areas presented for that examination, and it should be defended within four years after passing the preliminary exams. The research and writing of the dissertation should be principally directed by the chair of the student's advisory committee, with the assistance of the other members of the committee. Other faculty members with expertise in the dissertation area may be added to the student's advisory committee at the dissertation phase. When the student has completed a full draft of the dissertation and has secured its approval by the entire advisory committee, the dissertation should be submitted to the Graduate School.

Final Examination/Dissertation Defense

The PhD in English requires a two-hour oral examination administered by the student's advisory committee, with the participation of the outside reader, who represents the Graduate School. Any member of the University's graduate faculty may also attend. At the discretion of the committee, this examination may include not only the dissertation but also the student's major and minor areas of preparation. Approval of the student's final examination performance by the advisory committee must be unanimous.

Duration of the PhD Program

The Department of English expects most PhD students to satisfy all degree requirements within four or five calendar years of their initial enrollment as doctoral students. All PhD students are expected to have passed their General Doctoral Examinations and submitted an approved dissertation prospectus within the first four years.


Erich Nunn

Erich Nunn

Associate Professor

Director of Graduate Studies