English PhD programs cover all historical periods of American and British literature, as well as critical theory and cultural context. Students enrolled in this program aim to achieve extensive mastery of not only English literature but also highly developed composition and critical thinking skills. Those pursuing a PhD in English typically study English and American literature, foreign languages, literary forms, various approaches in critical thinking, and scholarly methods of study. Candidates also focus on improving their teaching abilities, since most students pursue this doctorate in order to become teachers or professors. The Ph.D. in English is a major commitment of many years of study for prospective teachers, journalists, writers, and editors, as well as public relations, communications, and media professionals.
The curriculum of the PhD program in English is intended to sharpen research, analyzing, and interpreting skills, with a strong emphasis on communication and the written word. Students must learn how to balance critical and creative skills. Although programs vary, students may choose a specialization area within the subject of English, such as film studies, medieval-era literature, or gender-specific literary studies, just to name a few. This doctoral program is not for the part-time scholar, as it usually requires long-term dedication over many years to satisfy the comprehensive course work and formal dissertation necessary to complete the Ph.D.
About Online PhD Programs in English
Considering that the English curriculum can be quite diverse, many schools offer courses that can be counted toward the PhD program in English. Many colleges and universities offer online courses typically included in English doctoral studies. However, only a few colleges offer fully online English Ph.D. degrees, and even these programs still require once-annual minimal campus attendance for a mandatory seminar or workshop. Among the few universities offering a fully online PhD in English is Texas Tech University, which calls their program the online Ph.D. in technical communication and rhetoric. Offering the same program since 1992, TTU is proud to feature identical program course work whether students pursue the doctorate through on-site courses or distance learning. Sample courses are listed below:
- Research Methods in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. This course serves as an introduction to a variety of research methods and methodologies used in composition, research, and technical communication, concentrating predominantly on the last ten years of development in this field.
- Argumentation Theory. Through this class students learn how conclusions can be reached through logical reasoning, including the art of civil debate and persuasion.
- Rhetorical Theory. This course provides an introduction to the scholarly study of rhetoric through the evaluation of rhetorical theory, criticism, and practice.
- Intercultural Communication. Students in this course study ways to identify various definitions and theories of intercultural discourse.
- Teaching Technical and Professional Writing. Through this course, students concentrate on teaching technical and professional writing, learning how to develop course objectives, syllabi, and original teaching techniques.
- Rhetorical Analysis of Text. This course provides a general introduction to the practice of analyzing written texts, covering many methods of rhetorical criticism, as well as the purpose of criticism, the relationship between method and object, the role of theory, the influence of the critic, formal vs. eclectic criticism, adapting methods to serve new contexts, combining methods, the relationship between discourse analysis and rhetorical analysis, and contributing to ongoing scholarly discussions.
Students conclude their doctoral studies with the presentation of their dissertation. For English Ph.D. students, most programs require that they assemble faculty and/or committee members to serve on an advisory board for the dissertation process. Once the student has submitted the dissertation proposal to their committee of advisors and it has been approved, they move forward with their research. The doctorate is awarded only after the dissertation is formally presented, a final academic evaluation has been performed, and advisors can confirm that all scholarly goals and program requirements have been met.
Value and Criticisms of a PhD in English
As of late, there seems to be much debate over the relevance for job-seekers of a Ph.D. in English. Many students wonder if it is worth it to put in so much time and effort when they may find a shortage of jobs in this field after graduation. Perhaps many people are not aware of the many career possibilities this degree can provide, in addition to teaching careers. If most graduates of the English Ph.D. program are hoping to become teachers, and the job market is already over-saturated with qualified applicants, why should prospective students even bother?
Some have a more positive outlook on the benefits of an English doctorate. According to some sources, a doctoral education in English provides a wide variety of practical skills, like writing and speaking clearly, problem-solving, and finding fresh perspectives, for example. An article in the New York Times lists these and other important qualities as attractive qualifications when graduates are looking for a job in this field. Contrary to some arguments that support English Ph.D. curriculum becoming increasingly obsolete, the course work has actually evolved to incorporate additional skills that can be used practically in the professional realm.
Application & Admission Requirements
Admission into a Ph.D. program in English requires several major components, in addition to standard program prerequisites. Ideal candidates for the English Ph.D. have a master’s degree in English or have at least fulfilled all graduate-level courses required to advance to the doctoral level. Most programs also require a minimum GPA, transcripts, writing samples, a statement of interest, and several letters of recommendation. Some may also ask for competency exam scores, as well as conduct an entrance interview or assessment.
Career Options & Job Market
Many people are not aware of the diverse career options that a PhD in English can provide but, in fact, there are lots of options for English doctoral graduates. English doctorates encompass a range of skills that can enable graduates to become writers and authors, teachers, editors, reporters, and public relations managers, among other professions. With a unique skill set, English majors are in-demand in a variety of fields but it seems that teaching in post secondary schools remains the most highly compensated career for English Ph.D. graduates. Most post secondary teachers are required to hold an English Ph.D., and made an annual salary of $62,050 in May 2010, according to the BLS.
Where to Find Information
- U.S. News and World Report This renowned website featuring comprehensive higher education rankings for prospective students outlines some of the best English graduate programs in the country.
- PhD-Survey.org Through surveys and polls of professionals in this field, this website provides insight into the pros and cons of the PhD program.
- Berkeley University of California Department of English As U.S. News and World Report‘s top-rated English Ph.D. program, this school’s English department website features extensive resources for prospective students and news about distinguished alumni.
How to Get Funding
The first step for all Ph.D. students in researching financial aid should be the FAFSA form. Next, English Ph.D. students should seek out possible state funding such as loans, grants, and state scholarships. Finally, students may find a variety of financial aid options specific to their field and offered exclusively by the granting institution. For example, many organizations offer research funding opportunities, grants, or employment opportunities with partnering institutions or businesses for full-time students pursuing an English degree. Work-study agreements, fellowships, and scholarships are usually available through various programs on site.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loan. For those looking to borrow up to $20,500 per year at a 6.8% fixed interest rate, this low-interest loan program is available to Ph.D. students.
- Federal Perkins Loan. For full-time students who can demonstrate their need for financial aid, this loan program distributes an average of $3,500 per academic year with only 5% interest.
- Campus-Based Aid. Most schools offer as many federally-governed financial aid programs as they can to students, while also managing their own campus-based programs, in-house.
- Are you sure you are ready? Make sure you think it through enough to see the big picture clearly. If the positive long-term results do not clearly outweigh the short-term hard work, go back to weighing your options. Don’t shy away from asking other Ph.D. students for their opinions.
- Complete the application first. It takes time just to get to the next step in the process, and it will take more time to complete each step. Getting started is no different. At least begin the application early to make sure you’ve got all your materials ready to submit, and you won’t feel rushed from the get-go.
- Try working instead of studying for a change. Allow yourself to get your bearings in between your last academic experience and your pending doctoral studies by pursuing some work experience instead. Take advantage of the opportunity to gain some professional insight you may not have had the time to find otherwise.
- Organize your financial aid. Squaring away your financial aid is an important step that should be handled as early as possible. The security of knowing how you are going to pay for school is priceless in the long run.