Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC)
Graduate Programs - PhD Procedures
Students entering the PhD program will be assigned a faculty Adviser
who will supervise the student's program until the Candidacy Examinations
in the 4th year of study have been completed. Sometimes a student's
developing interests may recommend a change of Adviser, but for the
most part students will work with their Advisers until recruiting
a dissertation Supervisor. Students should consult their Adviser as
often as necessary, but at least once per semester. A detailed discussion
of the general procedures of the PhD Program follows, which are also
summarized in a preferred timeline.
Please note, however, that specific programs may have additional requirements
not described here.
Students in the PhD program are required to take twenty course units
(20 c.u.). Students usually take four graded courses a semester, but
may audit or register for five courses, with permission of the Graduate
Group Chair and the School of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean for
Graduate Studies. During the second and third years, when students
are teaching (see below), they typically take three graded courses
a semester. Students should complete course work by the end of their
third year of study, but may do so earlier if transferring courses
from a previous MA program of study, or later, if they go abroad for
field work or advanced language study.
Qualifying Examinations determine whether students may proceed with the PhD. They are administered in the 4th semester at a fixed time for all students in a cohort. Qualifying Exams in most fields (Mesopotamian Civilization, Egyptology, Biblical Studies, Hebrew Literature & Jewish Tradition, and Arabic & Hebrew Literatures) will consist of no more than four exams, with at least one being a language exam.
Qualifying Exams in Arabic and Islamic Studies will consist of three parts. One exam will focus on Arabic Language and Its History. The two remaining exams will be selected from two of the following three groups:
- Pre-modern Arabic Literature
- Modern Arabic Literature
- Pre-modern Middle East history
- Modern Middle East history
- Islamic thought
Students must select their exam fields and draw up their reading
lists in consultation with their Advisers. Results of the Qualifying
Examinations will be conveyed to students within two weeks. Qualifying
Exams are PASS or FAIL.
If a student passes the Qualifying Exams, he/she may continue on
to the PhD and will be required to take an MA, with a thesis or two
revised class papers. Students will have 12 cu’s by the end of the
4th semester and can be awarded the MA in May. Students are
required to complete the MA no later than the summer between their
4th and 5th semesters.
If a student fails the Qualifying Exams, he/she may take a terminal
MA. The terminal MA requires that a student pass one
foreign language examination and submit a thesis or two revised class
papers. Students may register for MA Thesis Preparation for two semesters
at substantially reduced tuition.
RESEARCH LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT
In addition to mastering the languages in which the primary sources
of NELC's PhD programs are written, students are required to pass
examinations demonstrating competence in reading scholarly research
in two modern languages. Competence is defined as the ability to sight-translate
a previously unseen passage(s), with the help of a dictionary, into
acceptable English within a specified time. The length of the passage
and the time limit may vary according to the language involved. The
languages are typically French and German, but the specific languages
required are determined by NELC’s individual programs. The examinations
must be administered by the Graduate Group or, for certain languages,
under other auspices approved by the Graduate Group.
Incoming students who do not yet know the modern languages required
by their program are encouraged to use the summer before matriculating
to study at least one of them. For PhD students who have completed
a year of study, the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences (GAS)
offers reading comprehension courses at no cost in French, German
and several other languages during the first summer session. Enrollment
is limited and students must sign up by a late Spring deadline. However,
it is NELC's exam, not the final exam in those courses, that determines
whether the student has met the requirement.
Students must pass one foreign language proficiency examination by
the beginning of the 3rd semester and one by the beginning of the
5th semester. If they fail to do so, they could be prohibited from
registering and their Fellowship support can be suspended. If a student
repeatedly fails to pass research language examinations, the Graduate
Group may drop him/her from the program for insufficient progress
Teaching is integral to the PhD program. Students typically get training
and practice in pedagogy in a four-semester rotation during their
second and third years. In most cases students will be assigned as
Teaching Assistants in large lecture classes, but may on occasion
serve as Research Assistants for a maximum of two semesters. The four
semester teaching rotation may be interrupted or shifted if, for example,
students go abroad for fieldwork or programs of language-study.
Students teaching for the first time are required to participate
in a three-day workshop on teaching and learning, normally held in
the Fall just before classes begin. Penn’s Center for Teaching and
Learning (CTL), which supports teaching with a wide variety of programs
and resources, conducts the workshop. Student teachers are encouraged
to consult CTL’s
Upon completion of twenty course-units students must pass Candidacy
Examinations, demonstrating a broad knowledge of the history, languages,
literatures and culture of their area(s) of concentration.
The Graduate Group’s different subfields have different exam formats
and expectations. For example, in most fields, the Candidacy Exams
are tailored to individual students, but normally consist of 3-5 exams
(and preliminary dissertation proposal) administered over a period
not to exceed two weeks.
In Arabic and Islamic studies, Candidacy Exams consist of three fields:
two to be set in conjunction with the graduate adviser, and one with
another member of the Graduate Group in NELC. Reading lists will be
available for each of the fields selected. Exams are "open-book,"
and are administered individually and electronically. The time allowed
for completion of each of the exams is a period between a Thursday
evening and a Tuesday morning, with all three exams to be completed
within a two month period.
Students should meet with their Adviser to determine the subjects
in which they will be examined and who will write the exams. Once
these are set, students must submit a Candidacy
Examinations Application to the Graduate Group Chair to take the
One week after the results of the Candidacy Exams have been announced
students will meet with their examiners for an oral continuation of
the examination. The oral exam will last an hour or so and is intended
to give examiners the opportunity to probe responses to the written
questions or clarify any problems raised. Examiners will convey the
final results of the Candidacy Exams to the student at the conclusion
of the oral exam. Candidacy Exams are PASS or FAIL. If a student fails
the Candidacy Exams, the Graduate Group will determine whether he/she
may retake the Exams or will be dropped from the program.
Note: University-wide rules stipulate that students must be given
feedback within one month.
Students advance to Candidacy upon
the successful completion of their examinations.
Note: University-wide rules stipulate that the maximum time limit for a student to advance to Candidacy is five years, after which the student will be dropped.
In order for the Graduate Group to keep abreast of students' progress
once they have completed their coursework, the Graduate Division requires
students who have completed their Candidacy Examinations to submit
a progress report by November 15 each year.
The Graduate Division records the report and forwards it to faculty
Advisers and the Graduate Group Chair for evaluation. The Graduate
Group will notify students of any deficiencies or problems by the
middle of January.
Students embark on dissertation research only after admission to
Candidacy, but in practice students ought to begin thinking about
potential dissertation research topics after passing the Qualifying
Exams. After identifying a viable topic and recruiting an appropriate
dissertation Supervisor from among NELC’s Graduate Group faculty to
guide the research, the Candidate prepares a dissertation
proposal, completing a draft within three or four months.
After a semi-final draft of the proposal has been written, the Supervisor,
in consultation with the student, will ask at least two other faculty
to serve on the student's dissertation Committee. They will be involved
in the student's final draft, helping him/her examine issues from
a variety of perspectives. Committee members are normally members
of the NELC’s Graduate Group but, if appropriate, they may be drawn
from other Graduate Groups or from other universities, with the approval
of the Graduate Group Chair.
Once a student’s Committee has approved the proposal, he or she will
present it to the Graduate Group for discussion. Proposals are usually
circulated by email, but may be discussed at faculty meetings, usually
held the last Friday of each month during the Academic Year. The proposal
must be approved no later than end of the 8th semester.
Once the proposal has been approved, the Candidate will be informed
and may proceed officially with dissertation research (aka ‘ABD status’).
Minor changes may be made in the proposal with permission of the Supervisor
but the Candidate may not deviate significantly from the approved
proposal without submitting a new proposal for approval.
ORAL PRESENTATION OF THE DISSERTATION RESEARCH PROPOSAL
PhD Candidates may opt to make a public presentation on their dissertation
research in their 9th or 10th semester. Presentations will normally
be scheduled during the Reading Days at the end of the semester. The
Graduate Group see such a presentation as an opportunity for the students
to get constructive feedback from a wide rage of Graduate Group faculty,
with varying research interests, at an early stage in their research.
Such feedback will hopefully help refine research objectives and methodologies.
The presentation is really an opportunity for a collegial discussion
of the research being pursued. After consulting with his or her Supervisor,
the student should request the Graduate Group Chair to schedule a
forum for this oral presentation.
WRITING THE DISSERTATION
It is expected that all written submissions will be lucid and will
follow a style appropriate to the discipline. Students may ask their
Adviser to recommend a particular manual of style and dissertation
manuals, which deal with issues specific to dissertations and give
advice on research, writing, and various other steps in the dissertation
process. Students who have difficulties in expressing their thoughts
clearly ought to consult with Penn's
Writing Center . The Candidate is also responsible for obtaining
Graduate Division instructions concerning the proper format for
the dissertation. These should be followed in any draft presented
to the Supervisor or Committee. During this period in the candidate's
graduate career, the student remains responsible for keeping informed
of all changes in regulations and schedules issued by NELC’s Graduate
Group and Graduate Arts and Sciences.
No one procedure is suggested or recommended for successful dissertation
writing. Usually drafts of chapters or sections are submitted first
to the Supervisor and once he or she is satisfied to the Committee.
Should a conflict arise between members of the Committee regarding
certain research issues, it is the responsibility of the Supervisor
to mediate the conflict and give direction to the Candidate. If conflict
persists, the Graduate Group faculty will be responsible for the resolution
of the conflict. The Candidate is responsible for maintaining close
contact with his or her Supervisor throughout the research and writing
process. At the very least, the candidate should submit an annual
report to the Supervisor detailing his or her progress. The Supervisor
will share the report with the Committee and the Graduate Group Chair.
SUBMISSION AND DEFENSE OF DISSERTATION
Within the first two weeks of the semester in which a PhD Candidate
expects to graduate, he/she shall submit the final draft of the dissertation
to the Supervisor and Committee. This draft must be in proper order
and complete except for the indices (if any), which need not be supplied
until after a successful defense. At the same time the candidate must
apply to The
Graduate Division for a degree and make certain that he or she
has fulfilled all the requirements.
After the Committee has read and approved the final draft, the Supervisor
will request the Graduate Group Chair to schedule a Dissertation Defense.
Defenses are held only during the Academic Year, which officially
ends with Commencement in mid-May. Two copies of the draft must be
submitted to the NELC Office at least three weeks prior to the scheduled
defense, so that there is ample time for the Graduate Group faculty
dissertation to read it over. The defense is held before the entire
Graduate Group and such invited guests or other members of the university
community as the Graduate Group Chair may invite, including graduate
students. If the defense is successful, the dissertation may be accepted
as submitted or it may be accepted subject to certain minor corrections
or major revisions. The needed corrections and revisions shall be
completed to the satisfaction of the Candidate's Committee without
necessitating a review by the entire Graduate Group. The Candidate’s
Supervisor will inform the Graduate Group Chair that the Committee
has approved the dissertation.
If the defense is not successful, the Candidate will be informed
either that the dissertation may be resubmitted for another defense
after major revisions are made or that the rejection is final.
If the defense is successful, the Graduate Group Chair will designate a second date for submission to the candidate's dissertation Supervisor of two copies of the final version of the dissertation together with indices. After the final version is checked by the Supervisor to see that it is in proper form, it will be signed by the dissertation Supervisor and the Graduate Group chair and then returned to the candidate for submission to the Graduate School.
NELC’s Graduate Group is in compliance with the University’s general rules and regulations regarding graduate education.
Should discrepancies arise, the University’s rules and regulations supersede the Graduate Group’s rules and procedures.