English, Doctor of Arts

48 Credits
St. John's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Queens Campus


The Department of English at St. John's University features a distinguished faculty and a diverse array of courses.

The department hosts thriving undergraduate and graduate programs, including the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), the Bachelor of Arts / Master of Arts (B.A./M.A.), Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Arts (D.A.).

Please follow the The SJU English Department Blog for the most current descriptions of our courses and upcoming events, as well as faculty bios, office hours, departmental publications, departmental forms, and advertisements for jobs and internships.

Each semester, the Queens campus offers approximately twenty-five upper-level courses for the undergraduate major, and eight courses for the graduate programs. The department also offers approximately sixty core literature and honors classes each semester on the Queens campus. The Staten Island campus offers approximately ten upper-level B.A. courses per semester, and about twenty courses in expository writing and core English literature.

The English department sponsors an active intellectual life. There are several colloquia a year, in addition to lectures by department faculty. Details about upcoming events can be found on the Blog.

For descriptions of recent student and faculty achievements, see also the English Department Newsletter.

The English department’s graduate students founded a literary journal in 2003: The St. John's Humanities Review. The journal features book reviews, essays, and interviews by contributors on campus and from around the world. 

The department also supports a literary journal of student poetry and fiction, Sequoya.

Directed by the English Department's Derek Owens, St. John’s Institute for Writing Studies also provides rich resources for English students. Associate Professor Harry Denny directs the University Writing Center, which hires qualified graduate and undergraduate students as writing tutors.

For students interested in using their B.A. toward graduate education, the department has recently placed its students in top graduate English programs such as Brown, Columbia, SUNY Buffalo, and the CUNY Grad Center. Students who major in English develop very strong skills in reading comprehension and writing and acquire powerful habits of analytic thought, which is why most law students prepare for their future careers as English majors. Because almost every field of employment is in need of people who can read and write with skill, an English major or minor is a valuable asset.

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D.A. Entrance Requirements

  1. Applicants must present verification of their completion of a bachelor's degree, with a minimum of 24 credits in English or American literature.
  2. Applicants must possess at least a cumulative G.P.A. of 3.0 and a 3.5 in English courses.
  3. Applicants must submit acceptable scores for the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test. The subject GRE Test is not required.
  4. Applicants with an M.A. or M.F.A. in English will receive advanced standing, as determined by the Department's Admissions Committee and the Dean.
  5. Applicants must submit three letters of recommendation, two of which need to be academic letters attesting to the applicant's work as a student. Applicants must also submit a recent sample of written work, as well as a personal statement detailing the student's professional goals.

Graduate Admission Information
Robert Medrano, Director
Office of Graduate Admission

Comprehensive Exams for the D.A.

The comprehensive exam is a closed-book, written test on three general research areas selected by the student.  These research areas should represent broad fields of study within the discipline of English, fields that represent the student’s primary professional interests as a scholar and teacher.  The purpose of the exam is to demonstrate sufficiently comprehensive knowledge of three fields to begin dissertation research.  

The comprehensive exam, which D.A. students take within one year after finishing their graduate coursework, proceeds in several stages:

  1. The student first plans three fields of study and asks three English faculty to serve as mentors on his or her comprehensive exam committee.  Each of the three faculty mentors would represent one of the proposed fields.  Fields of study may be based on graduate courses that the student has taken, or they may represent other areas of research that the student wants to study in preparation for the dissertation.  Students should begin this process of defining their fields and committees prior to completing their coursework.
  2. The student then organizes reading lists for each field in consultation with the mentors who represent the individual fields.  These lists should include primary and secondary sources that are most important to the field.  Each list should have at least 20 titles, but the exact number depends on the field and the mentor’s judgment of what would constitute sufficiently comprehensive knowledge of this field.                 
  3. As the student completes the reading lists, he or she writes a 2-5 page rationale that explains the reason for selecting the fields and reading lists as well as the relationship between the three fields.
  4. Finally, students prepare for the exam through consultation with their mentors and discussion of possible exam questions. Students should have a fair idea what sorts of questions they will be answering on the exam, even though the faculty mentors have final authority to choose the questions.

After the student’s comprehensive exam plan has been approved by each committee member, he or she needs to register for the exams through the graduate school.  The deadlines for registration, which occur during the first month of each semester, are posted in the academic calendar of the Graduate Bulletin.  The exam is administered and scheduled, however, through the English Department.  Prior to registration for the exam, the student should submit the English D.A. Comprehensive Exam approval form, with the signatures of each committee member, as well as a copy of the approved reading lists and rationale to the English Director of Graduate Studies.  The student should also indicate the dates in which he or she plans to take the exam at this time. 

The exam itself is divided into three sessions of three hours each.   Each session will examine one of the fields of study, based on the reading lists the student has created.  For each session, students will have three hours to respond to at least two essay questions.  The exam tests students’ ability to a) demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of their fields; b) defend a thesis in writing; c) move clearly and cogently between general questions and specific texts; and d) relate their interests to the major intellectual and critical frameworks in their fields.

How to Organize the Reading Lists:
There is no single paradigm for the comprehensive exams lists, which depend on the nature of the fields and the student’s interests.  While the three fields should prepare students for more specialized dissertation research, they represent more general areas of study than dissertation subtopics.  A good starting place for a field would be a graduate course that a student has taken.  The reading list for the course then would be expanded to represent a greater degree of expertise in this field.  Students can also define fields that are not directly related to courses they have taken, especially if they have a clear idea of what their dissertation topic will be.  Possible fields include but are not limited to areas of cultural studies, literary studies, pedadogy, theory, and writing studies. 

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Additional Information

Overview of the Dissertation Process

St. John’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dissertation regulations and forms are available through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences home page.  The link to “Graduate School Forms” provides detailed information about dissertation procedures and deadlines as well as the necessary approval forms for each stage of the dissertation.   See especially “Doctoral Dissertation Procedures” for an overview of Graduate School expectations.  

The dissertation process begins after the student completes the comprehensive exams.  Students should register for English 975: Doctor of Arts Research each semester after they have taken their comprehensive exams, until they have defended the dissertation.  All D.A. students are required to register for at least two semesters (6 credits) of English 975.  Within one year after completing the comprehensive exams, students should define their dissertation committee and complete a prospectus of their dissertation to submit to the English Department Chair and Associate Dean of the Graduate School for approval.

Students begin the dissertation process by defining their research topic and asking a St. John’s English faculty member to serve as the mentor for the dissertation.  The mentor is usually a faculty member with whom the student has already studied, but the most important consideration is the mentor’s scholarly expertise, as he or she guides the student in his or her dissertation research.  The student then asks two additional faculty members to serve on his or her dissertation committee.  Again, scholarly expertise is important in the selection of prospective readers, but so is the student’s working relationship with the faculty members.  The dissertation committee may be comprised of the same faculty who served on the student’s comprehensive exam committee, but this is not necessary.

While the dissertation is a critical, research-based project, it may include discursive approaches beyond traditional scholarly writing, subject to the approval of the student’s dissertation committee.         

The Dissertation Prospectus
The first stage of writing the dissertation is the completion of a 5-10 page prospectus, with a bibliography of research materials.  While the prospectus should reflect the research that the student has begun for the dissertation, its primary purpose is to describe the plan for the dissertation.  In writing the prospectus, students should:        

  •  Introduce the topic to non-specialists
  •  Explain why the project is important
  • Sketch the specific argument, or the questions that the research will ask
  • Describe the research accomplished so far, and research yet to do
  • Give a brief sketch of what each chapter seeks to accomplish

The bibliography should list as comprehensively as possible the primary and secondary sources that the student has studied and plans to study for the dissertation.  When the prospectus is approved by the student’s dissertation committee, the student needs to fill out Form 1 (“Approval Form for Doctoral Dissertation Research”) and request signatures from each committee member and the English Department chair.   The student can then proceed to complete his or her research and write the dissertation.

Completing the Dissertation
Because the dissertation is a lengthy project (usually 150 pages or longer), the overall time of completion depends on how much time the student can commit to research and writing.  While working on the dissertation, the student should consult with his or her mentor on a regular basis and with the entire dissertation committee at least once a year.  The purpose for regular consultation with the mentor is to ensure that the student is making sufficient progress on the dissertation.  

When the dissertation mentor agrees that the draft is ready for readers, the student sends copies to the readers and gets their signatures for Form 2 (“Reader's Copies Receipt”).  Students should submit this form at least four months before they would like to graduate.  This allows time for the readers to respond to the draft, revisions to be made, and the appropriate papers to be processed.

Students also need to give their readers copies of Form 3 (“Professor's Report to the Dean on Reader's Copy") with the drafts.  When the readers approve of the draft, and think the student is ready to defend, they sign Form 3, which states that they have read the draft and approve it for the dissertation defense.

The Dissertation Defense
The dissertation defense consists of the student’s brief overview of the dissertation, followed by a question-and-answer session about the dissertation with the student’s committee.  These questions usually cover the philosophy, structure, execution, and implications of the dissertation.  The defense, which lasts one to two hours, is open to guests of the student and to the entire university community.

When everyone is ready for the defense, students need to contact their readers and mentor to find a two-hour period when everyone can meet for the defense.  Once the day and time have been agreed upon, the mentor submits Form 4 (“Formal Notice of Final Doctoral Defense”) with the signatures from the readers, to schedule the defense.

After receiving Form 4, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School sends Form 5 (“Ballot—Formal Doctoral Defense”) and Form 6 (“Report of Oral Doctoral Defense to the Dean”) directly to the mentor. These forms are filled out after the defense.

There are three outcomes for the defense: 1) approved as presented, 2) approved with revision, 3) failed.  If readers require revisions, they must certify that these revisions have been made by signing Form 7 (“Submission of Editorial Copy of Doctoral Dissertation”).

Depositing the Dissertation
After the dissertation is successfully defended and readers are satisfied with the text, the student submits Form 7 (“Submission of Editorial Copy of Doctoral Dissertation”) with one copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences office.  It is then sent to an editor for copyediting.  Once the edited copy is returned, the student finalizes the changes and submits two copies of the edited version with Form 8 (“Receipt of Final Copies of Doctoral Dissertation”) to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for binding.  The school keeps one of these copies, and the student gets the other.

Detailed Graduate School procedures for the final stages of the dissertation, including formatting requirements and required forms and fees, can be found in the St. John’s College Graduate School of Arts and Sciences “Doctoral Dissertation Procedures.”

The English D.A. dissertation (or “research essay”) is an extensive research project that demonstrates the student’s expertise in a specific area of inquiry within cultural studies, literary studies, pedagogy, theory, and/or writing studies.  As the final project within the doctoral program, the dissertation represents not only the student’s most accomplished work, but also his or her chosen field(s) of scholarly expertise.


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Success Story

Associate Professor of English
Humanities Creates a “New Generation of Doers,” Declares Staten Island Professor