The Department of French and Italian

The Graduate Program in French Studies

Our program aims to train scholars of French literature and culture who intend to pursue a career in academic research and teaching in universities and colleges. The graduate degree program in French Studies combines substantial course work in French literature and culture; our goal is to provide the student with a broad overview of his/her field as well as a professional specialization within that field, thus training students to be effective teachers and productive scholars of French language, literature, and culture. Furthermore, the program strongly encourages interdisciplinary study through seminar work and close collaboration with faculty in affiliated areas (History, Art History, European Studies, Comparative Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, etc.). Toward this end, the Department maintains an exchange relationship with ENS Lyon for which applications are due March 1 - April 30 for the following year. By completing up to three years of required course work, doctoral students should acquire a comprehensive knowledge of French literature, history, and culture; in working closely with faculty during their fourth year in preparing for Comprehensive Exam, they should start to define their fields of specialization as independent scholars. A Qualifying Paper at the end of the second year will demonstrate mastery of appropriate theoretical structures and paradigms, analytical skills, knowledge of historical and cultural context, and competence in close textual readings. The Comprehensive Exam, taken in the fourth year, will demonstrate the student’s mastery of more specialized fields and genres in three areas. After defending a dissertation prospectus at the end of the fourth year, students may conduct doctoral research in France or a Francophone country relating directly to their topic.

The graduate program in French Studies is a PhD program. The MA degree may be obtained en passant to the PhD at the end of the second year of course work provided a student has earned a sufficient number of credits and has maintained the minimum grade point average required by the Graduate School.

Students are expected to take courses that provide a thorough understanding of the history and critical theories of French literature and culture. To this end, they will take a minimum of three courses (9 hours) per semester for their three years of course work, and 10 hours their first semester, which includes a one-hour Proseminar. The first two years will include 11 required courses:

• A one-hour Proseminar

• One course => Early Modern Identities: National/Social/Authorial/Gendered 

• One course => Revolutions: Knowledge/Representation/Gender/Society 

• One course => Modernisms: Emergent Media/Social Bodies in Conflict/Tradition VS Avant-garde 

• One course => African/Caribbean Studies: Resistance/verbal, visual and musical intertwinements /postcolonial and palimpsestic displacements 

• One course => Interdisciplinary course: Entrelacs des formes artistiques. This course will be a sequence of courses, which develop a general theme (such as justice/human rights/”contestation”; the development and impact of the image; déambulations (errance) et découvertes du monde; regard sur soi/regard sur l’autre; etc.) through different art forms (film, literature, painting, architecture, etc.). 

• One course => FR 398T: Supervised Teaching in French

• Two courses => Outside the department (student’s choice according to academic interests and with Graduate Advisor approval)

• One course => Critical Theory: taught in the Comparative Literature program or other departments with Graduate Advisor’s consent

• One course => Linguistic/Literary studies

Students entering with no previous graduate studyin French Studies will take an additional 2 semesters of coursework (18 hours) that can come from fields and areas best suited to the student’s scholarly orientation; a minimum of two courses must be taken within the French Department, but the remaining four may be taken in related departments. Thus, for example, a student working in medieval literature might take a Medieval Studies course in English or History, an Art History course in medieval manuscripts, or medieval music to complement her work in French medieval literature and culture. A second course in critical theory or critical approaches to literature/culture (as offered by Comparative Literature, Women’s and Gender Studies, etc.) is strongly advised.

Students entering with an MA from a comparable graduate program in French Studies will take up to two years of course work including the proseminar, FR 398T, and a critical theory course if they have not already taken similar courses.

Coursework Policies:

Credit/No Credit. Students may take no more than two graduate courses on a CR/NC basis, neither of which can count for any core or area degree requirement.
Incompletes. If a graduate student receives the symbol X in a course, the student must complete the course requirements by the last class day in his or her next long session semester of enrollment. If the deadline is not met, the symbol X is converted to the symbol I (permanent incomplete). Students with an I on their record become ineligible for funding reappointment.
Courses outside the Department. Students should plan to take 5-7 courses in related disciplines. Note that University rules require that at least two graduate courses be taken outside the Department of French and Italian.

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. By the end of the spring semester of year 3 (typically year 2 for students entering with an MA in French Studies), each student will submit reading lists to prepare for exams to be taken no later than the 12th class day of the spring semester of year 4 (typically year 3 for students entering with an MA in French Studies). The exams will cover three fields: 1) the works of a major author or group of authors (i.e., the Troubadours, the Pléiade, 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 obtains 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 Comprehensive Exam preparation courses. 

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 end of the eighth semester, 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.  


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
During the fifth year, 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 two 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