PhD in Literature and Criticism: Philosophy and Objectives

  • The IUP doctoral program in Literature and Criticism develops students’ abilities to examine literature critically, to teach literature effectively, and to make professional contributions in the field.

    Research is an important element of the program, and we try to develop and sharpen students’ research techniques. We emphasize the role of theory in understanding literature, and ask students to apply theory to their teaching and research. Our primary aim is to train students in the most sophisticated kinds of theoretical and practical knowledge of the changing nature of the profession of English studies, but our unique mission is to assure that such knowledge and experience contributes to their lives as teachers as well as scholars. In short, pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching are just as important as the requisite skills for carrying out specialized disciplinary research.

    Program Objectives

    1. Students should have a broad, general command of the major authors and movement in British, American, and other literature.
    2. Students should understand critical theories, develop an informed view of the history of English studies as a dynamically changing field, and prepare to make professional contributions to the discipline.
    3. Students should learn strategies for applying critical theory to teaching literature.
    4. Students should learn research, writing, and editing methods and related skills.
    5. Seminars and mentoring should create an environment that supports and encourages research and scholarship among faculty and students.

    Program History

    Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral program in English began in 1967. In the early 1970s, we found our focus. We defined our primary goal as working with mid-career teachers at community and four-year-colleges who wished to return to school for their doctorates. A Rhetoric and Linguistics Program (now Composition and TESOL) was developed for students whose primary work was teaching composition or communication skills, while the Literature and Criticism Program emphasized a generalist approach. Changes in the profession, including shifts in the canon and a new role for theory, led us to restructure the Literature and Criticism Program in 1987. We now emphasize critical theory, the role of the critic in the transmission of a literary work, and the teaching of literary and cultural studies.

    Most university Ph.D. programs in literature unequivocally emphasize the training of literary scholars whose career trajectory is aimed at highly specialized scholarly positions in similar research universities. In contrast to all those institutions, the IUP Literature and Criticism program aims to integrate teaching and scholarship and to provide broad, generalist preparation as well as knowledge of specialized fields. We have been successful in this mission because we have met the needs of many current teachers who occupy positions as adjunct faculty members, and, in many cases, tenure-track faculty members, who have already earned an M.A., but who need the Ph.D. for professional advancement. Since their careers will involve teaching as much if not more than scholarship, our students appreciate the teacher/scholar mission of our program. Perhaps more importantly, we have developed a reputation among the kinds of schools seeking teacher/scholars that our students make fine colleagues because of their integration of teaching and research and their generalist preparation. There is considerable evidence to document these claims: IUP is always ranked in the top ten universities for the number of Ph.D. degrees produced in English (most recently, first three in the country [MLA data, 2006]); and we have one of the highest rates of placement of our students (97 percent) of any English Ph.D. program in the country.

    Our current curriculum reinforces the student’s understanding of literature’s historical, cultural, and intellectual contexts. The Special Literatures section mirrors the acceptance of new literatures in the canon. The focus on scholarly skills in the seminars and mentoring relationships with professors assure that students will acquire a professional competence in literature and critical theory. Our students now come from a wider range of backgrounds than previously. About one-third are already-employed faculty members who make use of our summers-only residency program to complete their coursework; another third are international students, many with sponsorship from their home universities or governments; and the final third come to us with fairly recent master’s degrees. Our main objective with all our students is now, as it has been, to help them become excellent teachers, fine researchers, and active members of their profession.


    By the second semester of attendance, each new doctoral student in Literature and Criticism will choose or be assigned a faculty mentor to provide guidance through the program and advice on becoming professionally active. The mentor may, for example, help a student propose a paper for conference presentation or prepare an article for submission to a scholarly journal.

    Scholarly Journals and Research Centers

    Indiana University of Pennsylvania sponsors two journals edited by Graduate Literature faculty members: Studies in the Humanities, edited by Thomas Slater, and Works and Days, edited by David Downing. Members of our program are active in scholarly publishing in the areas of interdisciplinary humanistic studies, applied critical theory, and special literatures, the chief emphases in our program. Graduate students in Literature may become involved in work on these journals as graduate assistants.

    Doctoral Student Profile

    Appendix A, Literature Dissertations: 2005-2010, illustrates the past and current research emphases within the program. According to the most recent M.L.A. survey (2006), Indiana University of Pennsylvania was the largest doctoral producer of Ph.D. degrees in English in the United States, in terms of numbers of graduates, and the largest program in Pennsylvania. More than two hundred students are currently active in our doctoral and M.A. Literature programs. The majority of our doctoral students are employed as English teachers at two- or four-year colleges and universities, with others in secondary education. Students represent every region of the United States and many other countries around the world.