The PhD Program

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Application Process

Objectives and Requirements
Procedures for the Qualifying Examination
Route to PhD Candidacy
Apply for Advancement to Candidacy
The Dissertation
Dissertation Defense
Application for Graduation


Objectives and Requirements

The Ph.D. is primarily a research and specialization degree, culminating in the writing of a dissertation.

To be considered for admission applicants must:

  • Have earned an M.A. degree or have equivalent training;
  • Submit a paper in Spanish produced at the M.A. level;
  • Submit a statement of purpose;
  • Submit three letters of recommendation from academic references;

In addition, non-native speakers of English are required to take the TOEFL examination prior to admittance. Candidates must meet the minimum TOEFL Standards established by the University of Maryland Graduate School (score of 100). For information students should contact the SLLC graduate coordinator.

Students on the "short list" may be interviewed by the Graduate Director in person or by phone.

*Due to deferrals, graduation delays during pandemic, and reductions in available funding, admissions to our graduate programs will be more competitive for Fall 2021. Applicants should note that we are an affirmative action department and that we remain especially interested in recruiting strong African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native American students to our Ph.D. and M.A. programs. 

Prior to admission to candidacy the student must demonstrate/fufill the following:

  • A thorough knowledge of the literary and cultural production in the main area of study;
  • An in-depth knowledge of research tendencies in the field of specialization;
  • At least two courses in the secondary area;
  • A graduate course in the History of the Spanish Language;
  • A minimum of one course in literary theory and/or criticism;
  • A total of 30 credits of coursework (in very exceptional cases, fewer);
  • Reading proficiency in a third language other than Spanish or English, appropriate to the student's field of study.

Qualifying Examination: Procedures and Evaluation

Students who obtained their MA at another institution must take a qualifying examination after their first semester in the PhD program. The goal of the exam is to ensure that students have both the specific field knowledge and the theoretical and/or critical background to continue in the program.

A student must declare her/his intention to take the qualifying examination in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies at least 60 days prior to the examination date, and at this time s/he should select the areas or fields and faculty advisor with whom s/he wants to work in preparation for the qualifying. The exam will be given every January, before the beginning of the spring semester. A committee consisting of two Department faculty members (including the advisor) will meet to evaluate the examination and discuss the student's overall progress in the PhD program.  Written notification of the results will be sent to the student within one month of completing the exam. In the event that the student does not pass the exam, her/his advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies may recommend that the student retake the examination in May. If a student does not pass the retake exam, s/he will not be allowed to continue in the PhD program.

The examination is based on a list of ten (10) primary texts in the fields of Latin American and/or Spanish literature chosen by the student in consultation with her/his faculty advisor. The list of ten books should focus on the student’s specific area of interest, as the purpose of the exam is to evaluate a student’s reading and writing skills as s/he continues to pursue a doctoral degree. The Director of Graduate Studies must receive and approve the list of ten texts as soon as the decision is made. Once the list is approved by the DGS, the student will have a maximum of ten (10) business days to select five (5) books from the list of ten primary texts to prepare for the exam and inform the DGS and her/his faculty advisor of her/his decision. The DGS will then, in consultation with the student, establish the exact date of the examination in January (or May in the event of a retake).

The examination will be formulated by the faculty advisor and will include the following: (a) a close reading of a passage of no more than 500 words from one (1) book from the student’s list of five, which would lead to (b) an extrapolation to a wider set of ideas pertaining to the whole book and/or to the five (5) books selected. The student will receive the examination question by hand at the time of the exam and will have 4 hours to answer it in a room on a computer provided by the Department with no Internet access. The exam will be written in Spanish, with the exception of English for students who are specialized in U.S. Latina/o Studies. No notes or bibliography may be consulted, although a bilingual dictionary may be used.

The exam will be proctored by the Director of Graduate Studies or the SLLC Graduate Coordinator.

Route to PhD Candidacy

After PhD coursework has been completed, students proceed through a pre-candidacy stage consisting of three components: the Comprehensive Examination, the Language Reading (or “Translation”) Exam, and the Dissertation Proposal and Defense.  Following successful completion of these three elements, students are advanced to candidacy, and are considered “ABD” (all but dissertation). 

  1.  Comprehensive Examination 

The Comprehensive Examination consists of three essays written over a span of three weeks.  The essays are based on the courses a student has taken and on reading lists tailored to his or her sub-fields of focus (two in the main area and one in the secondary area). The three reading lists are created in consultation with faculty specialists in the areas of examination.

The Comprehensive Examination is offered three times per year, in January, May, and August. On three consecutive Mondays, the student will receive a question to be answered in essay form, each related to a particular sub-field. These essays will be due by 3:00 p.m. on the Thursday of each respective week.

Sixty days prior to the desired examination start date, the candidate must inform the Director of Graduate Studies as well as the professor assigned to administer the exam of his/her intention to sit for the examination. This notification should be submitted in writing, outlining the areas and sub-fields in which the student will be examined.

Exams will be evaluated by a committee consisting of  two faculty members per subfield.  Where appropriate, and in only one instance per student, the same faculty member may be called upon to evaluate two of the essays.

In the case of an unsuccessful examination, the student’s PhD advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies may recommend that the student sit a second time for the Comprehensive Examination. Continuation in the PhD Program depends on successful outcome of any second attempt.

  1. Language Reading (“Translation”) Examination                                                        

This examination consists of a “for sense” translation from a third language into English or Spanish. The topic of the text will be related to the student's field of specialization. The choice of the language will be determined by its usefulness as a tool for the student's dissertation research. This exam may be repeated once. The student will choose a book or a long article together with a professor qualified to evaluate the third language (the examiner) and then notify the DGS of when the exam is to take place. The examiner will select a passage from the book or long article, which must be between 1000 and 1500 words. The examiner must submit the passage to the DGS for review at least two weeks prior to the exam. The student will have three hours to complete the exam, which will take place on campus and be proctored. Please note that only a printed dictionary (not an electronic source) is allowed to assist with the translation exam. For your information, please note that professors Igel and Lima are authorized to conduct examinations in Portuguese; and professors Naharro and Benito-Vessels are authorized to conduct examinations in French. Any questions about who is qualified to conduct the exam should be directed to the DGS. Please note also that dissertation advisors are not allowed to administer exams to their advisees. The examiner evaluates the exam and communicates the result directly to the DGS, who will then advise the student. The reading exam can be taken at any point prior to advancement to candidacy. 

  1. Dissertation Proposal and Defense

The final stage of the pre-candidacy period is focused on preparation for the writing of the dissertation. In consultation with an advisory committee consisting of the dissertation director and three members of the faculty,  the student will write a dissertation proposal that aims to give a clear sense of the intended corpus of study, intellectual aims, and methodology. The proposal should include a review of the literature, an outline of projected chapters, and a selected bibliography. Proposals should be about 25-30 pages in length and are expected to be completed within four months to one year after the Comprehensive Examination.

The advisory committee and the candidate will then convene for the defense of the proposal. All faculty in the Department are welcome to attend the defense.

Apply for Advancement to Candidacy

Once the student has completed all three requirements of the pre-candidacy period, he/she applies for advancement to candidacy.  See graduate coordinator for administrative assistance.

N.B. Department Benchmarks assume that students will have advanced to candidacy by the end of their third year in the program.

The Dissertation

As stated previously, the Ph.D. is essentially a research degree. This means that course work taken for the Ph.D. is intended as a preparation for the dissertation. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the student identify his/her field of interest as soon as possible. Early in the first semester, students should consult with one or more professors and explore the research possibilities in the field, period, genre, author(s) of his/her particular interest and select an academic advisor accordingly.

Dissertation Defense

When the candidate has completed the dissertation, the Director of Graduate Studies notifies The Graduate School of its completion. The Dean of the Graduate School, upon the recommendation of the Director of Graduate Studies, appoints an Examining Committee for the candidate. This Examining Committee will include four members of the Department and one member from another academic unit who acts as the Graduate Dean's representative. The Committee will be chaired by the dissertation director.

All members of the Examining Committee will read the dissertation in its final form and take part in an oral examination in which the candidate defends his/her findings. Copies of the dissertation must be given to members of the Examining Committee at least ten days before the date set for the oral examination. The Graduate School has established procedures for the Dissertation Examination. For details on these and all other aspects regarding the dissertation, please see the Thesis and Dissertation Forms and Guidelines. In addition, the student must provide the Department with one copy of the final version of his/her dissertation.

Students are expected to defend the dissertation within 4 years of advancing to candidacy.  The Director of Graduate Studies may approve an extension of up to one year in cases of extenuating circumstances.

Application for Graduation

Students must apply for a graduate diploma early in the semester in which they intend to receive their degree. Deadlines are published in the Schedule of Classes.

Note: Once students are done they MUST file an EXIT form with the Graduate School and, if applicable, an address change form.