The Department of English offers a Ph.D. in English (with specializations in composition and rhetoric, English language and linguistics, or literary studies); an MFA in creative writing; and a terminal M.A. in English with a specialization in applied English linguistics. Students enrolled in the literary studies Ph.D. specialization become eligible for an M.A. English degree in the literary studies area when they successfully complete the first-stage doctoral requirements. The literary studies specialization does not offer an M.A. apart from the doctoral program. Students enrolled in the composition and rhetoric track in English must have a master's degree in hand prior to matriculation in the doctoral program.

The doctoral program in the literary studies area offers a rigorous course of study leading to the completion of a doctoral dissertation in any field of English, American, or Anglophone literature and culture, or in any field of literary theory and criticism. The program prepares students for active careers in research and teaching at the university, and combines a sharp focus on conceptual approaches to literary and cultural works with a commitment to broad coverage of the field of Anglophone literature. Graduate seminars taken during the first phases of the doctoral program serve to prepare students to develop research projects for the dissertation. As they progress toward the Ph.D., students are invited to consider interdisciplinary sub-specialties: literary theory and criticism, visual studies, ecocriticism and environmentalism, transnational and global literature, material culture, print culture and book history, digital humanities, disability studies, gender studies, race and ethnic studies, feminist theory, lgbtq literature and queer theory, postcolonial studies. The program provides opportunities for teaching writing and literature and for administrative experience.

The doctoral program in the composition and rhetoric area prepares students for well-rounded careers as scholar-teachers.  This multidisciplinary program with a small faculty-to-student ratio facilitates study in composition theory and practice, rhetoric, literacy, and critical theory.  Opportunities for professional development in teaching, research, and writing program administration are all vital elements of the program.

The English doctoral program in the English language and linguistics area is intended for students with a solid foundation at the master's level in the English language, applied linguistics, and related fields. Through a program of course work and seminars, doctoral students attain advanced knowledge in the core areas of English syntax and phonology and in the applied areas of second language acquisition, discourse analysis, and language variation and change. On reaching the dissertation stage, students pursue individual research in close cooperation with their faculty advisor. In recent years, students have written dissertations on code-switching, critical pedagogy, interactional competence, conversation analysis, syntactic problems in second language acquisition, classroom discourse, and psycholinguistics. Graduates of the program have taken faculty positions at universities throughout the country.

Regarding catalog course listings: graduate seminars in English reflect the faculty's current areas of research and therefore change importantly from year to year. Please consult the department website for more detailed information.

Prospective students should see the program website for funding information.

Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

To make progress toward a graduate degree, students must meet the Graduate School Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress in addition to the requirements of the program.

Doctoral Degrees

Ph.D., with available tracks in composition and rhetoric, English language and linguistics, and literary studies

Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement

Ph.D.–composition and rhetoric track: 51 credits
Ph.D.–English language and linguistics track: 63 credits
Ph.D.–literary studies track: 51 credits

Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement

Ph.D.–all tracks: 32 credits

Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement

At least half of the degree coursework credits must be taken in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.

Prior Coursework Requirements: Graduate Work from Other Institutions

Ph.D.–composition and rhetoric track, and English language and linguistics track: With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

Ph.D.–literary studies track: With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 (typically 3 to 6) credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison Undergraduate

Ph.D.–all tracks: No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison University Special

Ph.D.–all tracks: With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison Special student. coursework earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

Credits per Term Allowed

12 credits

Program-Specific Courses Required

Contact the program for information on any required courses.

Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements

Doctoral students must complete a doctoral minor.

Overall Graduate GPA Requirement


Other Grade Requirements

The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.

Probation Policy

The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.

Assessment and Examinations

Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination after they have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.

Time Constraints

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.

Language Requirements

Contact the program for information on any language requirements.

The department requires an applicant to have a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited institution. Applicants for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees typically demonstrate competence in the fields of English literature or language, American studies, or linguistics, but the department also welcomes applications from superior students who have not had the equivalent of an English major. Such students may be asked to supplement the normal program of study by completing a small number of coverage courses. Applicants for the MFA degree are expected to demonstrate competence and promise in the genre in which they are applying.  MFA students are not necessarily expected to be knowledgeable in the same areas specified for M.A. and Ph.D. applicants. Applicants for the Ph.D. specialization in composition & rhetoric may have bachelors and masters from a variety of fields beyond English but must complete a master's degree or equivalent before beginning the doctoral program.  All graduate degree programs in the department except the MFA normally require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores no more than five years old. International students whose native language is not English are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Knowledge and Skills

  • Articulates research problems, potentials, and limits with respect to theory, knowledge, or practice within the field of study.
  • Formulates ideas, concepts, designs, and/or techniques beyond the current boundaries of knowledge within the field of study.
  • Conducts research according to recognized standards in the field and crafts persuasive and original arguments that make a substantive contribution to the field.
  • Demonstrates breadth as well as depth of knowledge in the field.
  • Advances and articulates the value of contributions of the field of study to society.
  • Communicates complex ideas in a clear and understandable manner.

Professional Conduct

  • Fosters ethical and professional conduct.

Faculty: Professors Levine (chair), Auerbach, Barry, Begam, Bernard-Donals, Bernstein, Bow, Britland, Castronovo, Dharwadker, Ford, Friedman, Guyer, Hill, Johnson, Keller, Kelley, Kercheval, McKenzie, Mitchell, Olaniyan, Ortiz-Robles, Purnell, Raimy, Sherrard-Johnson, Steele, Wallace, Wanner, M. Young, R. Young, Zimmerman; Associate Professors Allewaert, Bearden, Cooper, Foys, Olson, Trotter, Samuels, Valenza, Yu; Assistant Professors Calhoun, Cho, Elsky, Evans, Fawaz, Hussen-Levy, Tanoukhi, Vareschi, Vieira, Zweck