Program Requirements

Students in the Department of Germanic Studies are as a rule admitted to the entire Ph.D. sequence of study. Study towards the M.A. degree, normally completed after the first year, is intended as an introductory period, a time for both faculty and students to decide on the suitability of an extended graduate program. Students entering the Ph.D. program who already hold a master's degree in German or related fields from another institution will take an essay exam at the end of the first year, in which a seminar paper of their choice is submitted to a one-hour discussion with three faculty members.

General Requirements

The program requirements outlined here are further detailed by several separate documents available for download to the right of the main image above and at the bottom of this page.


Following an annual performance review, conducted by faculty during the Spring Quarter, the DGS will provide students individually with written feedback, and address concerns, should there be any. In addition, students will attend an in-person one-on-one meeting convened by the DGS at the beginning of Autumn Quarter, to discuss the course of the coming academic year.

Master's Level Study

The University of Chicago also offers Masters level study in Germanic Studies through the Master of Arts Program in Humanities. In this one-year program, extendable to two years, students build their own curriculum with graduate-level courses in any humanities department (including Germanic Studies) and complete a thesis with a University of Chicago faculty advisor

MA and PhD Examinations

The M.A. Exam

The purpose of the M.A. exam is to test students’ ability to work with concepts central to the discipline, to articulate literary-historical arguments, to discuss significant patterns that extend beyond individual texts, and to articulate how such concepts relate to the interpretation of individual works. Just as importantly, it initiates and gives form to a departmental conversation around the student’s interests that, once started, needs to keep building till the completion of the dissertation.

The examination takes place in the eighth week of Spring Quarter of the student’s first year of graduate study. Its basis is a list of some twenty to twenty-five texts selected by the student in consultation with the three members of the student’s M.A. exam committee. (The committee—consisting of three members of the department’s core faculty—is to be designated by the director of graduate studies in consultation with the student.) This list reflects a category of literary research such as a genre, a period, or a general concept bearing on a mode of writing. Examples of the former might be “The Bourgeois Tragedy” or “Modern Urban Short Prose” or “The Elegy.” Periods can be variously conceived: Enlightenment, Realism, Weimar Republic. General concepts are more abstract categories such as “narrative” or “performance” or “argumentative writing.” Lists could also be organized along thematic lines or in terms of a traditional narrative subject. The point is that the list be designed so as to sustain a process of coherent intellectual inquiry. In addition to the 20-25 primary texts, the list includes a representative cross-section of secondary literature addressing the topic under study.

The examination itself has two components:

a) a take-home written examination, and

b) an oral examination approximately one hour in length.

The take-home component consists of three essays (of two and one half, never more than three double-spaced pages) written in answer to questions devised by the faculty. These questions offer the student an opportunity to demonstrate her/his ability to explore various intellectual issues raised by the list as a whole as well as by specific works on the list. Students will receive these questions on Friday morning of the eighth week of classes and hand in their completed essays by 5:00 p.m. the following Monday. The oral examination is devoted to a critical discussion of the students’ three essays as well as to works included on the list but not addressed in the written part of the examination. It will take place one week after the written exam. Following a forty-minute discussion of the essays, the student and the faculty examination committee will assess the student’s overall progress, including course work. A crucial aspect of the M.A. examination is planning and advising. Students should choose their examiners and have one planning meeting with each examiner by the eighth week of Autumn Quarter. Students should choose examiners and design the lists with a view to the seminars they plan to attend throughout the year. Students must submit their lists for approval at the end of the fourth week of Winter Quarter. Two weeks after submission, they should meet with their examiners to discuss preparation for the exams. During Spring Quarter, students should meet with their examiners twice prior to the exam in order to discuss questions arising from their readings. Of course, throughout the process students are encouraged to discuss questions arising from their readings with other faculty members, both inside and outside the Department of Germanic Studies.

The Ph.D. Exam

The Ph.D. exam is comprised of a four-hour, open-book, written exam and an hour-long oral exam. The exam takes place in the second or third Ph.D. year, as determined by the director of graduate studies, and focuses on a small archive of literary, philosophical, and literary critical works (approximately 50 works) established by the student. This “major field list” should be organized around a broad topic that will in many cases anticipate the larger field within which the dissertation project will be situated. Some examples from previous exams: “Discourses of Madness from Kant to Musil,” “Worldly Provincialism: German Realism 1850-1900,” and “The Aesthetics of Sacrifice in Postwar German Literature and Art.” Works on the list should be grouped into clusters according to categories and questions relevant to the topic. These criteria should be expressly formulated in the list. Students are encouraged to meet with as many faculty members as possible as they work on these materials. In consultation with the director of graduate studies, they should determine an exam committee of three faculty members: An exam chair plus a second faculty member (normally both members of the department) to compose and evaluate the written examination questions, and a third faculty member (from either departmental or resource faculty) to serve as an additional examiner for the oral exam. The exam chair oversees and schedules the exam with the examiners.

Five weeks prior to the exam, each student will submit to the exam committee and to the director of graduate studies a final draft of the list. As noted, the list should be organized by way of the categories and questions that indicate what the students considers to be the salient issues animating the different clusters of texts. Faculty will use this list as a guide in preparing the exam. Within two weeks of the exam, the full committee will meet with the student for an hour- long discussion that will encompass the exam and plans for the dissertation. Students should then begin work on their dissertation proposals. The final proposal is due no later than one quarter (not including summer) after passing the Ph.D. exam.

For further details regarding the Ph.D. exams, including a detailed timeline, please consult the Program Completion Plan.


Constitution and Responsibilities

The Dissertation Committee is to be constituted within three weeks following successful completion of the Qualifying Examination. Notification of the Committee membership is made to both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Department Coordinator. Typically, the Dissertation Committee consists of a Director and two Readers; the roles of Director and Reader are distinct. The Director is the primary advisor in consultation with whom the candidate develops the overall direction of the dissertation as well as the details of its execution. In short, the Director has the primary advisory role and closely monitors the production of the dissertation to ensure its timely completion and its qualification as a genuine contribution to scholarship. Readers, by contrast, have a primarily “inspirational” role; they Are “resources” for the doctoral student and their primary task is to suggest concepts, connections, and archives that might further the project as well as to call attention to potential problems. A consequence of this distinction of roles is a division of labor in the evaluation of chapter drafts. Chapter drafts are always read first and thoroughly commented on by the Director. All revisions called for by the Director are to be completed before the chapter drafts are submitted – now in nearly final form – to the Readers. Readers, then, receive substantially complete chapter drafts. Their task is limited to the identification of errors or lacunae that may have been overlooked as well as the suggestion of minor additions (e.g., useful references, comparisons, clarifications).

The Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal, consisting of 15 pages (and a bibliography), should be problem-driven and question-oriented, and should contextualize the project within relevant scholarly debates. It ought not attempt to predict the final conclusions of the project before the research is fully under way. Instead, it should seek to divide the project into subordinate questions and to rank the parts of the project in terms of priority. It should include a preliminary bibliography and a potential chapter structure, and also indicate a rough timetable for the research and writing of the dissertation. The student will discuss the project in a proposal defense with the dissertation committee, to be scheduled in consultation with the primary advisor and the departmental administrator. This will usually be done one quarter (not including summer) after the Ph.D. examination. Students must file copies of their exam lists and proposal with the department administrator. Typically, proposals will accomplish the following:

   1. Characterize the topic or problem,

   2. Indicate knowledge of previous work on the topic or problem,

   3. Sketch the proposed methodology,

   4. Suggest what the dissertation will contribute to the field,

   5. Outline the proposed chapters, and

   6. Provide a working bibliography.

These are meant as general guidelines. A dissertation proposal that significantly deviates from these guidelines should be carefully considered and justified.

Meetings of the Dissertation Committee

A first meeting of the Dissertation Committee with the candidate occurs for the discussion and evaluation of the Dissertation Proposal. If the Proposal, a description of the dissertation project including an outline of the chapters and a working bibliography, is deemed acceptable by the Committee, the student is “advanced to candidacy.” Advancement to Candidacy should occur no later than Winter Quarter of the fourth year (Spring Quarter of the third year for students who have entered with an M.A. degree). Furthermore, the Committee should collectively meet with the candidate at least twice per academic year. These meetings provide an opportunity for an exchange of ideas bearing on the development of the dissertation as it has taken shape in the course of research and writing. It is the responsibility of the Director (perhaps with the aid of the Department Coordinator) to arrange these meetings, typically in Fall and Spring quarters.

Joint Direction

Doctoral students may find it useful to have two directors. This is often the case when students are pursuing a joint Ph.D. degree, in which case there will typically be a Co-Director from each Department or Division. But joint directors can also be useful when a dissertation topic bridges two areas of specialization each represented by different members of the faculty. In cases of joint Directorship, there should be an explicit understanding among the Directors and student involved as to the expectations for advisement. It is also highly recommended that just one of the two Directors assume the responsibility for calling meetings throughout.

Submission of Chapter Drafts

As indicated above, chapter drafts are first submitted to the Director. Only when all alterations (expansions, clarifications, editorial changes, etc.) have been made, are chapter drafts submitted to the Readers. In all cases, chapter drafts are to be returned with comments to candidates within thirty days. In order to guarantee timely response to submitted chapter drafts, candidates should notify the Department Coordinator upon submission. The Coordinator will then send out a three-week alert reminding Director and Reader that the thirty-day deadline is approaching. If the one-month period has passed without response, the Department Coordinator will notify the Department Chair and DGS.   

General Remark

The production of a dissertation is a complicated process involving at least four parties (Candidate, Director, Readers) and it is in everyone’s interest that this process runs smoothly. It is therefore crucially important for candidates to remain in regular touch with all members of the Dissertation Committee, especially with the Director. Everyone should be apprised of the candidate’s progress. Moreover, it is important, especially for the Director, to make clear what her expectations are regarding the frequency of progress reports, the level of “polish” required for drafts to be read, and any other factors that play into the cooperation. Readers should also be aware of both the responsibilities and the limitations of their role. Finally, everyone should cooperate in addressing tasks in a timely fashion and keeping the process moving swiftly toward completion.

Genres of Writing

In preparation of their academic careers, students will need to develop expertise in a number of different genres of writing. These include, e.g., longer research papers; interpretive essays; conference papers; response papers or reading diary; short book reviews; review essays; Forschungsberichte; take-home exams. In order to ensure that students have a chance to gain some practice in these different formats and have time to complete assignments in a timely fashion, students will be required to write a total of three research papers during their course work (one during the M.A. year; two during the two post-M.A. years). A research paper (20-25 pages) should include a reasonably comprehensive survey of the relevant literature on the chosen topic. Students will inform the instructor of the seminar no later than 5th week if they plan to write their research paper in that seminar. The deadline for submission of the research paper is 4 weeks after the end of the quarter in which the seminar is conducted. If students wish to write additional research papers under the same conditions, this is, of course, permitted and welcome; such papers might well become the basis of later publications or dissertation chapters. Students should also inform the Director of Graduate Studies about the classes for which they intend to write research papers. All choices of genre must be approved by the instructor of the seminar.


Incomplete Policy within the Department

In general, in the Germanic Studies Department, papers are due on the date assigned by the instructor of the course. These dates allow the instructor to enter a letter grade by the deadlines set by the Registrar. Instructors have the option of offering an extension of four weeks beyond the due date during which time no grade will be entered. At that point, if the paper has still not been turned in, a grade of “I” is entered on the student’s transcript. Although this “I” is permanent, the student still has a chance to earn a letter grade for the course. This window closes for all courses of a given academic year at the end of the summer quarter. The classes in which students write research papers have a modified schedule. If students do not turn in the research paper by the deadline, i.e., four weeks after the end of the quarter in which the seminar is conducted, they get an additional four weeks. Students who accumulate three permanent Incompletes (“I”) without additional letter grade will automatically be placed on probation.

Incomplete and Registered Coursework Policy: Incomplete coursework and a grade of "I"

For various reasons, students may find themselves unable to complete their coursework by the end of the quarter and may need to make formal arrangements with the instructor to take a grade of "I," Incomplete, in that class.

If the instructor agrees to grant a grade of "I" to reflect that the coursework is incomplete, the instructor will indicate in writing what work remains to be completed, the deadline to complete the outstanding work, and what the grade will be if the student fails to complete that work by the deadline.

A grade of "I" cannot be carried from one academic year into the next academic year. If no specific deadline for the coursework to be completed is set by the course instructor, the default deadline for completion of the work is the official start of the autumn quarter of the next academic year.  The course instructor is expected to evaluate the completed work as quickly as feasible upon receipt. After the work has been completed and when a quality grade is submitted with the Office of the Registrar before the start of the autumn quarter of the next academic year, no intervening “I” will be recorded.

If the work is not completed by the deadline set by the instructor or by the start of the autumn quarter of the next academic year, a grade of “UW” will be recorded. A “UW” indicates an “Unofficial Withdrawal” and bears no point value and does not confer credit. Students may be required to take a new course to fulfill the given program requirement.

Additionally, a student may choose not to complete the coursework for a given class for a variety of reasons. In this instance, a student may formally request from the instructor prior to the end of the quarter, a grade of “R,” which means “Registered” or “Audit.” This status has no point value and does not confer credit. Grades of “R” are either assigned by the instructor or arranged in advance by the student via the registration process. Instructors are not required to grant a grade of "R” if requested outside of the registration process. Students may be required to take a new course to fulfill the given program requirement.

This policy conforms to other divisional and university requirements.

Academic Standing

Students are expected to progress through the program according to the schedule laid out in the Program Completion Plans found on our departmental website (one for students coming in with an M.A., one for students coming in with a B.A.). Successful progress constitutes “good academic standing.” Student progress will be assessed on a regular basis by the DGS in consultation with departmental faculty. Failure to maintain good academic standing may result in academic probation or dismissal from the program depending on the unmet expectations as articulated in the Plan.

Students will be allowed to carry a maximum of three incompletes into the summer of any given year. Failure to complete all outstanding coursework satisfactorily by the end of the summer quarter will result in the incomplete grades changing to “unofficial withdrawal” grades, and may result in academic probation or dismissal from the program following review by the departmental faculty to assess the student’s record.

If placed on academic probation, the student must develop a plan of action with the DGS to satisfy outstanding program requirements. This will include the required expectations to return to good academic standing and a timeline for completion of those requirements. Failure to meet the expectations in accordance with the timeline as outlined in the probationary plan, may result in dismissal from the program.