The Department of French and Italian

The Graduate Program in French Studies

The Ph.D. in French Studies at the University of Texas at Austin is a 5-6 year, fully funded program for students who are interested in interdisciplinary work in French and Francophone literature, culture, arts, and media. Drawing on UT’s rich faculty resources across departments and disciplines students work with professors in French, History, Art History, Anthropology, Music, Comparative Literature, Theatre and Dance, Radio/Television/Film, Architecture, and a wide variety of area studies (Women’s and Gender Studies, Medieval Studies, European Studies, etc.).

The program combines course work, independent study, and professional development to prepare students for careers in the academic field of French Studies, broadly defined. The first three years of the Ph.D. program include organized course work within and outside of the department and independent work on a Qualifying Paper. Students will take Comprehensive Exams in three areas of study at the beginning of the fourth year and present a dissertation prospectus by the beginning of the spring semester of the fourth year. This leaves 2.5 years for dissertation work, including research abroad. Students are expected to defend their dissertations by the end of their 6th year in the program.

Students who choose to embark on programs of work culminating in a PhD in six years or less may be eligible for an additional scholarship. Students entering with a BA are eligible for $15,000 for completion of the PhD in four years, $10,000 with PhD in five years and $5,000 with PhD in six years. Those entering with an MA in French Studies or French Linguistics or with significant coursework are eligible for $10,000 for completion of the PhD in four years and $5,000 with PhD in five years.  

Course Distribution Overview

Graduate work in French Studies is designed around three main organizing structures: Historic Periods (P); Literary/Artistic Genres (G); and Theoretical Approaches (T). In the three years of course work in the program, students are expected to gain breadth of exposure in the various areas and begin to develop a depth of knowledge in a specific field, to be further explored during the fourth year in preparation for the Comprehensive Exams. To this end, graduate seminars will carry at least two of the following Area Flags: Period (pre-1700, 1700-1900, or 1900-present) and/or Genre (poetry, the novel, theatre, short story, visual arts, film, etc.) and/or Theoretical Approach (post-colonial studies, gender studies, interdisciplinary studies, media studies, linguistics, cultural studies, hermeneutics, new historicism, etc.).

Thus, a Renaissance poetry course could carry a Period flag (pre-1700) and a Genre flag (poetry); a course on Avant-Garde Fiction and Film could be flagged for Theoretical Approaches (media studies) and Period (1900-present); and Representing Gender in Contes et Nouvelles could carry Genre and Theory flags, etc. All courses will carry at least 2 flags, some may carry 3.

 In the first two years of the program, students should build up a broad knowledge of a wide variety of periods, genres, and approaches to French Studies, and in the third they are encouraged to deepen their exploration of the area (period, genre, and theoretical approach) in which they hope to specialize. Thus, for the MA (first two years of program), students must accumulate 9 flags as follows: 3 different Period flags; 3 different Genre flags; and 3 different Theoretical Approaches flags. (Since all courses carry at least 2 flags, this does not equal 9 courses and students should have no difficulty covering these areas in four semesters.) Students joining the program with an MA in French Studies may count previous course work toward this distribution in consultation with the Graduate Advisor.

In the final year of course work, students are encouraged to focus more specifically on their area of interest for doctoral work and should pursue multiple flags in a single area. Thus, for example, a student planning to write a dissertation on the nineteenth-century novel, would want to have accumulated at least 3 course flags in nineteenth-century and 3 in the novel as well as appropriate course work in Theoretical Approaches both within and outside of the department by the end of the third year. A student planning to write a dissertation on martyrdom and the French Religious Wars would want to have by the end of the third year at least 3 course flags in the pre-1700 period and 3 genre flags (such as theater, historiography, and memoir), as well as appropriate course work in theoretical approaches (new historicism, body politics), and a student planning to write a dissertation on twentieth-century film would want to have at least 3 course flags in twentieth-century and three in film and/or media studies, as well as other appropriate course work in Theoretical Approaches both within and outside the department by the end of the third year. These courses and distributions should be configured in consultation with the student’s faculty mentor as well as the Graduate Advisor. Courses outside of the department may be assigned an Area Flag with the consent of the GA.

Students are encouraged to use their extra-departmental course requirement (2 courses for MA; 1 more for PhD) to further explore and deepen their interdisciplinary knowledge of a period, genre, and theoretical approach. Courses offered by Faculty Affiliates in French Studies may also carry Area Flags.

Final MA requirements are a course on Critical Theory and 398T (Pedagogy). Students are encouraged to take a course in the Theory and Practice of Translation during their first two years, but the requirement may also be fulfilled in the third year. A Qualifying Paper (QP) will be submitted in April of the student’s second year. If the paper receives a Pass or High Pass, the student is accepted into course work for the doctorate. If the paper does not receive a Pass, the student will receive a terminal MA degree.

Language Competency Requirements 

Students are expected to have advanced fluency in written and spoken French when they enter the program. Beyond French, students must also demonstrate competency in Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic, or any other modern language approved by the Graduate Advisor at a fourth semester level. Competency can be demonstrated through course work in the language (at UT or elsewhere) or by passing a translation exam.  When relevant (i.e. for students working in Medieval or Renaissance period), the language requirement may be satisfied with two semesters of Latin or the equivalent. It is strongly advised that students acquire these language skills before beginning graduate study or over the summers. Lower-division language courses will not count toward the degree requirements and will slow the student down in the completion of requirements. The language requirement must be fulfilled before the Comprehensive Exam for the PhD.

Qualifying Paper

At the end of the fourth semester of course work, students entering without previous graduate study in French Studies will write a Qualifying Paper (25 pages long plus bibliography), in which the student investigates a theme, topic, or genre as it is manifested or developed over two possibly non-contiguous centuries. The QP should demonstrate mastery of appropriate theoretical structures and paradigms, analytical skills, knowledge of historical and cultural context, and competence in close textual readings. While it does not commit the student to an eventual dissertation topic, the QP may explore a possible area of inquiry for the doctorate. The essay, which could take the form of a journal article, will be evaluated by the French Studies faculty in terms of its insights, the strength of its writing and argumentation, and its engagement in ongoing scholarship in the relevant field(s) of inquiry. Approaches drawing upon the student’s interdisciplinary work and interests are welcome.

The Qualifying Paper must be an original piece of reflection and cannot be a paper written for a course (no recycling). Nor can it qualify for a Walther Research Award (or be a topic that further pursues a topic developed for such an award). The topic must be approved by the student’s mentor and the Graduate Advisor. However, beyond this initial consultation, the paper should not be read or corrected by any faculty member. It will be turned in by February 1. All French Studies faculty will read the final work and decide in April whether the student should remain in the program. Grades, students’ progress and Qualifying Paper will be the factors taken into account. 

Students who do not successfully pass the QP will receive a terminal Master’s degree.

Portfolio Programs

Students are encouraged to consider adding a Portfolio Program to their degree plan. The Portfolio Program provides opportunities for students to obtain credentials in a cross-disciplinary academic area of inquiry while they are completing the requirements for a master's or doctor's degree in a particular discipline. A Portfolio Program usually consists of four thematically related graduate courses and a research presentation; possible Portfolio Programs of interest might include African and African American Studies; Cultural Studies; Disability Studies; Interdisciplinary European Studies; Study of Religion; and Women’s and Gender Studies. For a complete list and description of all Graduate Portfolio Programs at UT, click here.

Comprehensive Examination

The goal of the Comprehensive Exam is to assess both the breadth and depth of the student’s competency in the fields of French literature, culture, and theory, while also allowing students to further their readings in areas of interest for the dissertation. By the end of the spring semester of year 3, each student will submit reading lists to prepare for exams to be taken no later than October 15 of the fourth year in the program. Typically, students will spend the summer and early fall preparing for the Comps; students entering with an MA may take the Comprehensive Exams on an accelerated schedule with the permission of the GA.

The exams will cover three fields: 1) the works of a major author or group of authors/artists (i.e., the Troubadours, the Pléiade, Racine, Diderot, Proust, Césaire, le nouveau roman, etc.); 2) a theme or topic that can be traced over two centuries (i.e., utopias/dystopias; representations of women; representations of the city; nation and identity; gender and the body; etc.); 3) a diachronic examination of aspects of a genre over at least two centuries: genre here is broadly construed to include film, poetry, the novel, and theatre, but also to include more limited “sub-genres” such as comedy; the epistolary novel; the novel of development; travel narrative; art criticism; the prose poem; documentary films; la nouvelle vague; etc. The individual lists should include both primary and critical texts and can, in part, be conceived in terms of a French Studies course the student might someday teach. These three fields are flexible in nature and can be shaped to accommodate student concentrations and interdisciplinary fields with approval from the graduate adviser. These areas will constitute general background for the dissertation.

In order to be eligible to take the Comprehensive Exam, the student must:

* Establish an examining committee chaired by the French Studies professor most likely to direct the student's dissertation research. Furthermore, the student, in consultation with this chair, seeks 2-3 other professors to serve on the examining committee (of which one may be a faculty member from another program) and obtain signatures from all participating faculty.
* Submit three reading lists to the Graduate Advisor that have been prepared, approved, and signed by the individual professors and the supervising professor. No major changes may be made to the reading lists once they have been approved.

Students preparing to take their Comprehensive Exam will typically enroll in 9 hours of conference courses in the fall semester. 

The Comprehensive Exam will consist of a two-hour oral examination conducted by three to four faculty members. One of the faculty members conducting the exam may come from another program. Students who do not successfully pass the Comps may retake them at the end of the following semester. Only one retake is allowed.


After passing the comprehensive exam, the student, working with the dissertation adviser, will write a dissertation prospectus of a length agreed upon with the dissertation committee (generally from 15-25 pages). The prospectus should be a carefully argued written presentation of the basis for the student’s dissertation research. It should explain the significance of the project in relation to work in the field, justify the research methodology or approach, and set forth the texts to be examined and the critical questions to be addressed. This should be followed by brief summaries of each chapter. The prospectus should demonstrate the student’s ability to undertake research on a topic within the context of current scholarship and critical methodologies, and give evidence of the student’s breadth of knowledge and potential for future success as a scholar.

By the beginning of the spring semester of the 4th year (no later than January 30), the dissertation prospectus must be presented in written form and orally defended to the student’s dissertation committee. Once the prospectus is successfully defended, students will be admitted to doctoral candidacy and begin working on the dissertation.

For more information about prospectus procedures, please click here.

Doctoral Candidacy

When the student has fulfilled all PhD coursework and foreign language requirements, has passed the Comprehensive Examination, defended the prospectus, and chosen a dissertation director and a supervising committee of at least three other faculty members, then he or she will file for doctoral candidacy with the Graduate School and begin registering for the dissertation course. The student must fill out the Graduate School candidacy form online.  After submitted, the application will require approval from the director, the Graduate Adviser, the Graduate Studies Committee Chair of the Program, and the Graduate Dean. Please refer to the Graduate Catalog for all rules governing progress and completion of the dissertation.

Research Year

Following the Prospectus Defense, students will normally spend one to two semesters doing research in France or a Francophone country directly related to their dissertation field. This research abroad may take place at a different point in the student’s career with the approval of his/her advisor. 


It is expected that the dissertation will make a substantial contribution to existing scholarship in the field. The Graduate School requires that dissertations be written in English, unless special permission is granted prior to undertaking the project. Progress on the dissertation is regularly monitored. The dissertation must be completed and defended within a total of 2.5 years after admission to candidacy. If it is not, the student's case will be reviewed by the Graduate Studies Committee.

Dissertation defense

The supervisory committee is responsible for approving the dissertation, which the student defends in an oral examination between one and two hours in length. This examination is conducted by the committee (at least four of its members must attend) and is open to the university community. The defense covers the dissertation, the general field of the dissertation, and other parts of the student's program, as determined by the committee. Forms are available from the Graduate School both to apply for the granting of the PhD and to request the official scheduling of the defense (called the "Final Oral"). The dissertation committee should be given at least one month to read the dissertation before the “Final Oral.” The student should arrange with the Graduate Coordinator to arrange a date, time, and place to conduct the defense.

Satisfactory Progress

All students must make satisfactory progress toward their degree goals in order to continue in the program toward the PhD Satisfactory progress is defined as follows:

• A minimum 3.7 grade point average for those with Walther, Pre-Emptive, or Continuing scholarships and a minimum 3.4 grade point average for all other students.

• A minimum average of 3.5 out of 5 for “quality of instructor” on the student generated Course Instructor Survey (CIS) and a satisfactory rating from the supervisor of lower division instruction for AIs.

• The completion of all coursework, foreign language requirements, and examinations by the end of the fourth year of the program.

• The successful defense of the dissertation research proposal before a properly established supervisory committee within six months of the completion of the comprehensive exams.

• The demonstrated potential to conduct sustained and innovative independent research, deemed relevant to the discipline.

Termination from the program:

Progress will be measured not only in terms of objective grades, but also by feedback from faculty and statements by the students themselves via their annual progress report. The Graduate Studies Committee will continually evaluate each student for evidence of his/her potential to complete the Doctor of Philosophy. Should a student’s scholarly progress in the program be deemed unsatisfactory for continuation, the student may receive a terminal MA degree after four or more semesters of coursework, as long as he/she completes degree requirements and maintains the minimum average grade point average of 3.0 required by the Graduate School.

  • Department of French and Italian

    University of Texas at Austin
    201 W 21st Street STOP B7600
    HRH 2.114A
    Austin, TX 78712-1800