Feb 17, 2011, 4:10 PM
Post #2053 of 2090
Re: [sarandipidy] NEW! The Creative Writing PhD Blog!
Are the qualifying exams for English and CrWr Ph.D students different in any way (even if the format is similar)? I take it that much of your committee will be your CrWr professors (usually people who identify as writers before they identify as scholars), right? I would think that would create a different dynamic and line of questioning, at least during the oral exam? I'm curious if it works at all differently, because, after all, they are two different degrees and graduates will have different goals and career trajectories.
Great question. First, let me backtrack a bit: qualifying exams vary by program (as spamela's post proves--Utah is known for its flexibility), so I would advise anyone interested in applying to a CW PhD program to pay careful attention to the exam format in each respective program’s grad handbook. I can't emphasize this enough, and if I could go back in time, I would spend more time researching this area, as it seems that many CW’ers never consider the magnitude of qualifying exams; there’s this perception that such a program is just “a few more lit courses” and a creative dissertation. I would argue that, at many places, qualifying exams are more stressful and rigorous than the dissertation, a line of thought that applies to lit folks too (many of my lit friends would agree with me). Finally, if you enter a CW PhD program you should decide on your exam areas in the first semester and try to match coursework with those areas. This is HUGE and will help your studying immensely--if you want to test in Victorian Lit, be sure to take at least one Victorian course ASAP, etc.
Okay, to your specific question: there are usually separate committees for exams and the dissertation. At most places, a CW PhD student has to test in at least two literature areas chaired by a literature faculty member from each area. The CW’er is expected to perform as well on the exam (exams are usually pass/fail) as lit students. These are general qualifying tests for all PhD students, regardless of the student's specialty, and many programs stipulate that all students test in at least two areas OUTSIDE their specialties, since one of the aims of a PhD is to prepare students to balance specialization with breadth, a balance that will likely manifest itself throughout one's career, to varying degrees (esp. in today’s competitive market).
The third (or fourth) area is usually related to the student’s specialty, and is typically chaired by the candidate’s diss. advisor. At some places, this exam is a take-home, while at other places, it’s another sit down. This is the exam component that seems to vary the most according to the program.
Same with the oral, though in that case, the candidate would be dealing with multiple lines of inquiry across fields/areas instead of one. This is another component that tends to vary highly according to the program; some places don’t even have an oral component.
Finally, some programs have a portfolio/take-home format.
However, I don’t know of many CW PhD programs (or any, really) where the candidate isn’t expect to test in at least two areas outside of CW, since one of the major points of the degree is to make CW’ers more versatile academics.
“they are two different degrees and graduates will have different goals and career trajectories.”
I think the “CW” part is often overemphasized. Regardless of one’s specialty at the PhD level in English, at most programs, there is still a common ground of coursework and exams that all students must navigate successfully.
(This post was edited by gcsumfa on Feb 17, 2011, 4:13 PM)