New Grad Student Page (For Simon's Eyes Only)

Reasons to Pursue a PhD in German at the University of Pennsylvania


The Faculty. And by faculty we mean the standing faculty, the visiting faculty, and the affiliate faculty. This is where it all starts. Penn’s eight standing faculty members in German and Germanic studies are leaders in the field. Here are just a few facts about them:

  • Faculty hold leadership positions in the profession. Among them you’ll find the past president of the Goethe Society of North America, the senior editor of the journal Word & Image, the vice president of the Society for German Renaissance and Baroque Literature, a founding member of the Center for Research on the Enlightenment in Potsdam, and that’s just a sample.
  • Faculty regularly publish exciting work—since 2011, the standing faculty have published more than 11 books and more than fifty articles on topics in German literature, gender, film, interarts, German-Jewish studies, German-American history, translation, Yiddish poetry, material culture, and more. Check out faculty web pages for more details.
  • Faculty maintain close relationships with institutions and colleagues in Germany and the rest of Europe and regularly call on them to help graduate students begin to build their own international network.
  • Faculty have been awarded multiple fellowships and prizes from the most prestigious institutions, among them: Guggenheim, ACLS, NEH, NEA and Humboldt-Foundation.

You’d expect no less from an Ivy League university. But would you also expect this? The standing faculty in German and Germanic studies are renowned at Penn for being stellar teachers and mentors. Five of our faculty have been awarded top teaching awards by the University. All of our faculty are as committed to teaching as they are to their research. In fact, at Penn faculty research and graduate education go hand in hand.


Grad student culture. This is one of the most amazing things about our program: our graduate students maintain an outstanding ethos of mutual support. Every year, new students are welcomed by more advanced students and inducted into the finer points of graduate study. When first years prepare for their oral exam, advanced students spend hours coaching them and organize a mock exam. When advanced students give a practice job talk, everyone shows up and offers constructive advice and encouragement. The cohesion among our graduate students is phenomenal. This is something you can’t take for granted. But our graduate students have nailed it.


How graduate students and faculty interact. You’re a graduate student with us for five to six years. The quality and intensity of the interactions between faculty and graduate students matter a lot. Our graduate students tell us that one of the things that sets us apart is the amount of scholarly and professional collaboration grad students and faculty enjoy, whether it’s an independent study, planning conferences, co-editing a volume, managing a lecture series, serving on a committee, or coming together monthly for the graduate student-faculty colloquium. Our graduate students are full-fledged partners. We run our program and department with a commitment to transparency and fairness. And the result of all these experiences is that our graduate students feel completely invested in our department. It’s a win-win for everyone.


Commitment to the whole range of German literature plus . . . We believe in literature from its beginnings to the present. That’s why we have faculty who specialize and teach courses in medieval, early modern, enlightenment, classicism, romanticism, the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But don’t think of us as a “coverage” program! This is not coverage. We’re interdisciplinarians engaged in cutting edge research in multiple fields. There are exciting things to be discovered in all periods of literary and cultural history. What guides us is the passion of our focus. We delve into literary and cultural history and come out with a much deeper understanding of things. You’ll have a much better grasp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries if you have grappled with earlier periods as well. And that’s just the half of it. We encourage our graduate students to become rigorous interdisciplinarians themselves. You are encouraged to take courses in other departments; join interdisciplinary faculty/graduate student seminars and workshops; pursue a graduate certificate in cinema studies, in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, or in Russian literature, culture and history. We have a professor of Yiddish literature among our standing faculty and remarkable strengths in German-Jewish studies. Check out the amazing depth of our affiliate faculty. We have stellar scholars working on German materials in so many fields. The bottom line is that we want you to distinguish yourself as a scholar of German literature plus . . .


What else distinguishes our program from others? Absolutely phenomenal pedagogical training and mentoring by an incredible team, led by one of the best in the field of German second language acquisition. Her name is Christina Frei. The deans at Penn call her the Executive Director of Language Instruction in the School of Arts and Sciences. But she is our colleague and she has set up a spectacularly successful basic language program in conjunction with a fully articulated and carefully mentored graduate student teaching experience. At Penn you will receive a thorough practical training in language pedagogy and instructional technology. We’re learner-centered and content-driven. You teach in your second and third years only, leaving you free to focus on your dissertation in years four and five. Your experience includes teaching your own sections of basic German (through the second year) and teaming up with a professor to teach a content course in translation. You’ll develop an online teaching portfolio, a statement of teaching philosophy, and be mentored by the best. There will be a letter of recommendation in your file that will set you apart from all the candidates for the jobs you apply for. We know this is true, both from our alumni and the colleagues who hired them. As one of our alumni said in her first semester of teaching at a liberal arts college: “Thank you a hundred times to Christina Frei for the amazing training she gives us.” Your experience teaching Penn undergrads under Christina’s mentorship will be one of the most rewarding things you do.


Resources. Penn puts its money where its students are. Starting with the generous five-year fellowship package (currently $25,142.00 per year, full tuition, health insurance, and three years of summer support at $4,150.00 per summer), which we offer all admitted students, we stand by you with resources you can hardly imagine. Travel to a conference, an archive. Work on another language. Use the remarkable resources of the Penn libraries and special collections. Learn what it takes to do digital humanities. Take courses with distinguished guest professors. Follow up with sixth year fellowships or apply for Penn-reserved Fulbright and DAAD fellowships. We realize that graduate study requires some sacrifices, but Penn goes to considerable lengths to recognize your legitimate needs as a young academic professional.


Summer opportunities. In addition to the three years of summer support every grad student is entitled to, our Jusserand Fund is dedicated to supporting student travel to Europe in the summer. Over the last five years, the Department has established special relationships with the three major archives in Germany: Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach, the Stiftung Weimarer Klassik in Weimar and the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. Advanced Penn grad students participate in three-week long special summer intensive workshops at one of these major German archives. These workshops offer training in the practice of philology, as well as an opportunity to explore the holdings for material pertinent to students’ dissertation projects. In addition to these workshops, Penn grad students have held internships at German museums, participated in specialized courses, and taken intensive language courses in Germany, France, and Italy.


Professionalization, Preparedness, and Placement. From the beginning of your studies at Penn, the faculty and the department offer guidance and structure for your transformation into a professional academic. Every year we celebrate the publishing and conference successes of our students. Our students present at major, regional and international conferences such as the MLA (Modern Language Association), the GSA (German Studies Association), WIG (Women in German), and publish in journals such as Daphnis, German Quarterly, Goethe Yearbook, The Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, and Seminar. Side-by-side collaboration with faculty and other graduate students in all aspects of academic life assures that our graduates are ready to assume positions of leadership at their next institution. Students profit from pedagogy and professionalization workshops, close career-related mentoring, mock interviews, and practice job talks. Our success shows in our placement record. Students who have taken our exams and written dissertations with our faculty have gone on to take positions in German departments at University of British Columbia, Gettysburg College, Hunter College New York, University of Kentucky, University of Michigan, Michigan State, NYU, University of North Carolina, University of Notre Dame, Randolf-Macon College, Stanford, Swarthmore and Byrn Mawr.


The German language and language überhaupt. Don’t laugh! Many graduate programs in German conduct their business almost entirely in English. We firmly believe that near-native fluency is a reasonable and necessary goal for our graduate students. That is why we always make sure that some of our seminars are taught in German every semester and that students have an opportunity to develop a scholarly style in German and in English. And that is why we make sure that first year students have every chance to improve their German during the academic year and in the summer. You need to be confident in your German when you teach in a Penn classroom in your second year. And we know that your fluency will make a difference when it comes time to apply for jobs. Don’t forget, we also offer Dutch, Swedish and Yiddish.


And finally, there’s Philadelphia. Penn is an urban university in a major northeastern city. Surrounded by a variety of vibrant neighborhoods within convenient range of campus, students can live affordably and enjoy theater, music, art, festivals, cinema, local markets, and a spectacular local food scene from trucks, to farmers markets to innovative restaurants. Philadelphia is home to major museums, archives and historical buildings—faculty regularly partner with many of them (for example, the German Society of Pennsylvania, the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Slought Foundation, and many more). Fairmount Park snakes its way through the city and is larger than Central Park! Many students and professors take advantage of the increasing network of urban bike paths or use Philadelphia’s extensive public transportation system. For $10 to $20 or even less, you can get to New York City and Washington, DC and back. Penn's proximity to a number of universities (Princeton, Rutgers, NYU, Columbia and Johns Hopkins, not to mention Drexel and Temple) makes participating in inter-institutional colloquia, going to conferences and other events, inviting speakers to Penn, and taking the occasional seminar quite easy. All of these features make the "life" component of "grad life" very pleasant indeed.