The PhD Degree
The cross-disciplinary Ph.D. program in East Asian Languages and Civilizations is designed to train graduate students who can teach and conduct independent research in a variety of humanistic disciplines using Chinese, Japanese, Korean and occasionally other languages of East Asia, defined roughly as China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Chinese-speaking Mongolia, Central Asia and Tibet. Before completion of the degree, each student is required to: 1) master the requisite linguistic tools and research methods, 2) demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the history and culture of his or her area of expertise, 3) gain an in-depth expertise in one or more period and/or subject areas, and 4) attain the necessary level of training in his or her humanistic discipline.
While the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations (EALC) does not require a minimum level of Chinese, Japanese or Korean prior to admission, students who have not completed the equivalent of two years of at least one East Asian language before beginning graduate work will be accepted into the graduate program only with provisional or special standing. Sometimes it is advisable for those students to matriculate into an M.A. program rather than begin Ph. D. work while gaining intermediate language skills. Students with questions about language skills should consult a member of the EALC faculty. Applicants must present the results of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and demonstrate proficiency in written and spoken English at the graduate level. Students whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL test. Since admission to the Ph.D. program depends on the GRE and/or TOEFL scores, as well as a student’s grade point average and letters of recommendation, the prerequisite tests should be taken well in advance of application.
Prospective students should familiarize themselves with the areas of expertise of the Penn EALC faculty. In most cases, a student whose interests fall outside the strengths and collective expertise of Penn faculty will not be admitted to the program, regardless of qualifications.
Schedule for Graduate Work and Performance
Entering students are urged to meet each member of the Graduate Group in EALC. These introductions will make it possible to make an informed selection of courses and become more fully acquainted with the strengths and research of the faculty.
As soon as a student matriculates into the University, an advisor will be appointed. The advisor, who may be changed at any time, will serve as the student’s chief mentor. Before the beginning of the third year of residency, in consultation with the advisor, a student should select three areas of inquiry that will form three examination fields. The student should then identify three members of the faculty with whom he can take these exams. If an examiner is not a member of the EALC Graduate Group, the student must have the permission of the Graduate Chair and agreement of the examiner in order to continue in that field.
Each student’s progress is evaluated formally in every class. Faculty also evaluates each student annually. In cases of extraordinary performance or weak performance, a student will receive a letter from the Graduate Chair. A grade of B- should be considered a warning sign. According to the rules of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the grade of Incomplete is acceptable only for six weeks. After that, the student may be subject to penalty.
At the end of the first year students will undergo a review of their academic performance with a committee of department faculty to ensure that they are on track to complete the Ph.D. degree within the normative time frame outlined by the Graduate School.
Comprehensive examinations will normally be taken within one year after a student has completed all coursework (20 cu) and passed the required language examinations. The date of exams should be formally scheduled before the end of the student’s last semester of coursework. “Formally scheduled” means that a letter of intent, stating the proposed fields, examiners, and month of exams, should be sent by the student to the Graduate Chair.
Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, a dissertation committee of at least three persons will be appointed. The chair of the committee will be the student’s advisor. Other members will normally be members of the EALC Graduate Group. This committee may, but need not be, the same as a student’s examination committee. When appropriate, one of the members may be a University faculty member who is not part of the EALC Graduate Group or faculty from another university. A thesis prospectus must be submitted and approved no more than one year after the successful completion of the comprehensive examinations. The optimum time for completion of the Ph. D. from matriculation to defense is five years for students who enter the program without an MA or the equivalent.
Any student who does not progress according to the schedule recommended here must justify why in writing. Otherwise, the student jeopardizes continuation of fellowships or other forms of support. Any student who does not complete the dissertation within six years of the date of passing the qualifying examinations may be asked to re-take one or more qualifying exams in order to verify that he or she has kept up with current knowledge in the field(s) in which exams were taken.
Coursework and Examination Fields
Students must complete a minimum of 20 graduate c.u.’s, that is, courses numbered 400 or above, of which 12 must be taken at the University of Pennsylvania. Up to 8 may be transferred from an accredited graduate program other than one at Penn upon completion of 8 graduate c.u.’s here.
Students should plan their courses of study and examination fields in consultation with their advisors. Every student is expected to meet with his or her advisor at least once every semester, both when enrolled in courses and afterward.
Students should plan their examination fields with professional goals in mind. Thus even though the three examination fields will be tailored to the specific interests of each student, it is in a student’s best interest that the exams demonstrate breadth or credentials that will help in gaining employment. Sample examination fields are: Chinese Buddhism of the Tang and Song periods; Vernacular literature of Ming-Qing China; Chinese thought up to the Han dynasty; Heian literature; Popular culture in Japan; Archaeology of Central Asia through the Tang dynasty; Buddhist texts of a given time period. It is also often advisable for a student to develop one field in the methodology of a discipline, such as folklore, ethnomusicology, comparative literature, or linguistics.
Every Ph.D. student must reach a level of expertise necessary to do research in primary sources in one East Asian language and basic skills for secondary-source research in the second East Asian language. These standards are necessary for dissertation research and will be required for teaching and research after the dissertation. In practical terms, this means that a student will have taken the highest-level courses offered in the modern and classical tracks of one East Asian language, or will have received equivalent training elsewhere, and will have taken three years or the equivalent of Japanese or Korean (for students focusing on China) or two years of classical Chinese (for students focusing on Japan). Research in seminars will serve as one demonstration of a student’s level of expertise and readiness to conduct research in primary and secondary source materials in East Asian languages. Students, in addition, must pass a reading examination in a European language, usually French, German, or Russian, other than English before the comprehensive exams can be administered. Most students will need to take Sinological Methods or Japanese Bibliography. Students should expect to master all languages necessary for their chosen dissertation topic and future research goals, such as Sanskrit, Uighur, Sogdian, or Tibetan.
The First-Year Review Process
The Ph.D. degree represents a considerable investment of time, energy, and resources on the part of the student and the department. As a way of ensuring that students are getting the most out of the program and making reasonable progress to the degree, the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations requires students to undergo a first-year review. The three-part review process involves:
1) Submission of a portfolio accompanied by a cover letter written by the student’s primary advisor
2) An oral interview and reading examination with the First Year Review Committee
3) Committee’s recommendation for the student to pass into the second year, to pass on probation, or to fail and exit the program
1. The Portfolio. In the second semester of the first year, a Ph.D. student will submit a portfolio of all written work completed (or near completion) for seminars taken that academic year. The portfolio will include seminar papers for which the student has received a grade as well as drafts of spring semester papers. Along with the portfolio, students should solicit a short letter of support from their primary supervisor attesting to their preparation and progress to degree.
2. The Oral Interview. The short oral interview is an opportunity
for students to describe in narrative form how they are progressing to their degree
and how their research project is developing. Committee members may ask
questions about portfolio submissions, the envisioned dissertation topic,
incomplete seminar papers, conference presentations, or professional
development. Committee members may also use this opportunity to provide verbal
feedback on otherwise non-graded or informally assessed aspects of life in the
academy (professionalism, scholarly communication, and reliability).
The interview may also include a very short reading examination in a primary research language. In most cases, the reading exam will involve translating or summarizing about one page of an appropriate text that has been selected in consultation with the student’s primary advisor.
In cases where seminar papers included significant work with primary or secondary sources in an Asian language, the reading examination requirement can be waived.
3. Outcomes. The first-year review is primarily designed to confirm that students are on progress to degree, but it is also an opportunity for the department to indicate to students that they may need to make adjustments to maximize their long-term success.
After the review, a student will:
1) Pass and move directly on to the second year and preparation for candidacy exams
2) Pass, but on probationary status (see below)
3) Fail and exit the program
A student who is placed on
probation should take it as an indication that the faculty has serious concerns
about his or her ability to complete the Ph.D. within normative time. The
probation period (see below) will provide the student with sufficient opportunity
to work with his or her advisor in addressing the concerns raised by the
faculty at the time of the review.
Failure of the first-year review and dismissal from the program happen only in the most extreme circumstances. However, the department reserves the right to make this decision in cases where a student’s ability to flourish in the program or in the academy is in serious question because of poor academic performance, documented cases of chronic unreliability, or a demonstrated inability to communicate effectively in a scholarly and professional manner.
Probation status exists to protect students and faculty alike. The probation period lasts for one semester, and is designed to give students a chance to work with their primary supervisor on shoring up any potential shortcomings that may militate against their ability to finish the degree in normative time. Incidents that may serve as triggers for probation status include, but are not limited to, the following: maintaining multiple “incomplete” grades or maintaining an “incomplete” for longer than a couple of weeks past the end of the semester; receiving multiple seminar grades below A-; failure of the reading exam at the oral interview; or failure to communicate in a scholarly and/or professional manner at the oral interview.
The department elects to put students on probation as a way of expressing concern, not as a punitive measure. Students who are on probation should seek advice from the faculty about how they can rectify any shortcomings and get back on track for normative time to degree. In most cases, the probation status will be lifted upon the satisfactory completion of a particular task or set of tasks such as removing lingering incompletes or passing a reading exam.L
The department is committed to helping students through the probation period, but a student may have difficulty addressing departmental concerns. The probation committee will review those concerns at the end of the probation period. In situations where a student is judged not to have addressed academic problems in a satisfactory manner, the student will be terminated from the program.
Probation status is separate from temporary leaves of absence for medical or personal reasons, which exist to protect students who are experiencing unanticipated challenges related to physical or mental health that unduly affect their academic work. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the Graduate School’s resources for wellness early so that they are aware of the various options available to them.
A student will be asked to exit the program only as a last resort. Students are strongly encouraged to meet regularly with their primary supervisor and the director of graduate studies to ensure that they are on track. A decision of termination is final.
The Candidacy Examinations
In order to take the comprehensive examination, a student must have completed 20 c.u.’s of coursework, have no “incompletes” on the transcript, have demonstrated the necessary level of preparation in two East Asian languages, and have passed the European language examination. In addition, a student must have written two seminar papers of high quality. The student’s advisor should notify the Graduate Chair that papers meeting this standard have been completed before the student is allowed to petition to take the examinations.
Normally, all the examinations will be written. In special circumstances, a student may petition for an oral exam in one or more of the fields. Oral exams must be presided over by at least two members of the Graduate Group and will last approximately one-and-a-half hours. In addition to the three field exams, the student must demonstrate that he/she has achieved the linguistic and research skill to do dissertation work. This component may take the form of a separate written research examination or may be incorporated into one or more of the three field exams.
The specific scheduling of comprehensive exams will vary from student to student depending on concentration and examiners. In the Chinese concentration, it is usual for exams to take place during a specified two-week period; field exams are allotted three hours each and the research exam has a deadline of seventy-two hours. In the Japanese concentration, students are typically given all three of their field exams at one time, and are allotted two weeks to complete and return all three. Each examination will be graded “pass” or “fail,” and in certain cases, “pass with distinction.” In the event of failure, the faculty will decide whether the examination may be repeated, in what form, and after what period, within the guidelines set forth in the Graduate Bulletin. Additional work may be required before the student is allowed to retake the examination.
Only after successful completion of all exams should a student embark on dissertation research. The first step in the preparation of the dissertation is a proposal. This proposal, usually 5-7 pages in length, including bibliography, should include a summary of previous scholarship on the subject, the candidate’s proposed original contribution, outline of the whole projected dissertation, and a preliminary bibliography. Included on the cover sheet should be the names of three people in the field of the dissertation who are capable of serving as readers. The candidate should already have talked to each of them about the dissertation and each should have already agreed to be a reader. It is fine for one or even two readers to be outside the department or the university. However, if this is the case, the student must also have discussed the choice of readers with the main thesis advisor. Only in rare instances will the primary dissertation advisor not be a member of the EALC Graduate Group. Samples of accepted proposals are available in the EALC office.
No one method is suggested or recommended for successful dissertation writing. Usually drafts of chapters or sections are submitted first to the advisor, who then often suggests substantial additional research or rewriting of each section. Usually, partial drafts are read only by the principal advisor. A complete draft of the dissertation is normally given to the second reader only after the advisor is satisfied with such a draft that has incorporated his or her suggestions. If the second reader is satisfied with the draft, or after the second reader’s suggestions are addressed or incorporated, the dissertation is given to the third or other additional readers. It is usual for each reader to make suggestions or raise issues that must be incorporated or addressed by the dissertation writer.
Only after three readers have approved a complete draft will the defense be scheduled. Two copies of the draft must then be submitted to the EALC office. The defense must occur at least three weeks after submission of the complete draft so that all Graduate Group members have the opportunity to read the dissertation. The defense will be attended by at least three members of the Graduate Group and all members of the Group are invited.
Upon successful defense of the dissertation, a student is responsible for preparing the dissertation in the required format, carefully proofread and adhering to University requirements. Sometimes final changes will have to be made as a result of the defense. The student should assume the dissertation will be microfilmed. The advisor should have agreed upon the extent to which and manner in which uncommon or non-Western orthographic symbols and illustrations are included before the dissertation is submitted to the Department and University. The dissertation also must be indexed prior to submission. The final step is to make an appointment for submission of the dissertation to the Graduate School of Art and Sciences. Students should be aware of this final necessary step, because it is sometimes difficult to get an appointment in the weeks before graduation.