The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to prepare students to write the best possible dissertation as quickly and effectively as possible, and to equip them with the advanced knowledge and skills for the job market in their chosen field. It can be taken either in French or in English.
In the course of their second year, and certainly by their second-year review, students should identify their future research field, make progress with formulating their research topic (or problématique), and select a secondary field on which they intend to focus as a teaching field. They should also have decided on a third list that will complement their research topic (for example, from the perspective of literary history, cross-cultural comparison, or methodology).
Compilation of reading lists for these fields should be in hand. Students should consult a faculty member about each of their three lists; these three faculty will be the examiners of the Qualifying Exam and subsequently constitute the student’s provisional PhD committee. Each list should comprise primary and secondary works and be approximately 35-40 works in length.
The research topic list. When designing this list, students should address questions or problems posed by the area of inquiry they plan to pursue in their eventual dissertation. Some of the work involved in compiling this list may be done in a course of Independent Study. Sample special field topics include Literature of the Algerian War; Theorizing the Exotic; Préciosité.
The teaching field list might cover a wider historical range, for example: the Lyric "I" (Middle
Ages/Renaissance), Women's Writing (17th/18th), the Idea of Nature (18th/19th), Politics and the Novel (19th/20th), Language and Identity (20th/Francophone), Psychoanalysis and Literature, etc. It need not necessarily include the same historical period as the research field.
The third list is to be envisaged as contextualizing the research topic from one of a number of standpoints. For some students, it will be most useful to undertake a transversal study of their chosen topic across several centuries (e.g. the Recueil from the Middle Ages to the present). For others, a broadly methodological or theoretical course of reading will prove most useful (e.g. deconstruction, feminism). For yet others, the most fruitful topic might be one that offers a comparative purchase on their research topic, e.g. the literature of another culture or another art form in the same period. It might be helpful to think of this third list as a means of situating or contextualizing the main research field.
During the summer before their third year students should finalize their lists with the help of their three committee members. All three lists should be approved and signed by their committee and submitted to the DGS.
The written examination is taken during the January term of the student’s third year and the oral follows as soon as practicable thereafter. Students unable to take the exam at the prescribed time may petition the DGS for a deferment.
The written exam consists of three take-home essay questions, the answers (one per list, not longer than 5000 words each) to be written over a period of ten days (that is, a period of 10 times 24 hours, typically extending over 9 full and 2 partial calendar days). A choice of questions will be provided by the relevant committee member for each list.
The oral exam. The examiners will examine the student on their written answers and on the wider reading lists. Students will be expected to demonstrate extensive and precise knowledge of primary texts and significant secondary literature on their three lists, and to be at ease thinking about the issues which they raise.
Students may receive a grade of pass, honors, or fail on the Qualifying Examination. Students failing all or part of the exam may take it a second, and final, time.