Saint Louis University

Established in 1963, the doctoral program in American Studies is the oldest of the department's various degree programs. The Ph.D. is the terminal research degree in American Studies. The pursuit of the doctorate is an intensive process of acquiring the breadth and depth sufficient to produce an original contribution to the field. It is a pursuit that requires a high degree of flexibility in the curriculum, substantial self-motivation on the part of the student, and strong mentorship by the faculty. While the doctorate is increasingly the requisite degree for careers with substantial professional responsibility, it is at root a stamp of qualification for research. Thus, the doctorate prepares students for rigorous work in fields that require a foundation in research, writing, analysis, information organization, administration, grant writing, and program development.

The faculty in American Studies recognizes that the doctorate alone does not prepare students for professional work. For this reason, we work closely with students to develop a professional plan, and to build into the Ph.D. a range of experiences relevant to each student's interest. Such training includes media and technology workshops, teaching certificates, museum internships, non-profit management courses, and leadership development.

Full-time Ph.D. students in the Department of American Studies normally receive four years of fully funded support in the form of graduate assistantships, which provide financial assistance in the form of tuition waivers and living stipends in exchange for ongoing research, teaching, or other work as assigned by department faculty. Students holding assistantships are expected to make constant, significant progress toward the fulfillment of their requirements, including completing their course work, language requirement, and comprehensive examinations, during this time period.

Course Requirements

66–69 credit hours beyond the B.A., including:

ASTD 5000: Perspectives in American Studies (3 credits)
ASTD 5900: The Practice of American Studies (3 credits)
ASTD 6100: Dissertation Colloquium (3 credits)
ASTD 6990: Dissertation Research (12 credits)

Students entering with M.A. degrees may be able to count much of their prior coursework toward these hours. No more than 6 credits may be taken outside of American Studies.

Language Requirement

The language requirement is fulfilled by a 4000-level course in translation or literature, or successful completion of a translation exam.

Qualifying Exam

At the end of their second semester of coursework, all graduate students take a three-hour qualifying exam to demonstrate their growing knowledge of the field. The exam consists of essay questions provided by American Studies course instructors. Students must answer two of the questions: one covering material from ASTD 5000, and the other chosen from questions about materials covered classes taken during the first-year semester when ASTD 5000 was not offered.

Comprehensive Exams

Written Exam

After completing the qualifying exam, students create a three-person committee (one chair and two additional faculty readers). Working closely with the committee members, students develop two papers: one literature review, and one portfolio paper.

The literature review is based in extensive reading in three subject areas.

The portfolio paper is generally a revised and expanded version of a seminar paper, written as a publishable article. Both should be connected to the area of future dissertation research, and demonstrate extensive knowledge in the student's fields.

Oral Exam

After the three-person committee has accepted final drafts of the written exam, the student schedules a 90-minute oral exam. In general, full-time students aim to take their oral exams at the end of their third year. Funded students must complete the comprehensive exam within one calendar year of completing coursework.

Registration during Exams

In order to maintain enrollment during the exams process, students must register for ASTD 6950, using the section number of their committee chair. This is a 0-credit course, which can be taken no more than twice. Students must complete their comprehensive exams during the second semester when they are registered. A Pass/Fail grade is assigned for this course each semester it is taken, regardless of whether the exam has been completed. Course requirements include meeting with the committee chair at least twice per semester; arranging to do this is the student's responsibility.

M.A. Degree

Upon successful completion of the comprehensive exams, students may receive a M.A. Please consult with the Office of Graduate Education for requirements to file for the M.A. degree.


After students successfully complete the comprehensive exams and all other requirements, the Office of Graduate Education advances them to candidacy.

Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation Proposal Defense

Students must submit a dissertation proposal by the end of the second semester following the successful completion of their comprehensive exams, using the template provided by the department. After the three-person committee has accepted the final version of the proposal, the student schedules a one-hour oral defense of the proposal before the student's committee and additional faculty. Proposal defenses are typically scheduled for one to two days per semester, and are open to the public. Upon successful completion of the proposal defense, the dissertation proposal is put on file with the department.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

Students write their dissertations working closely with their committee. When the student and committee agree that the dissertation is satisfactory, the student schedules a one-hour public defense of the dissertation. Students must submit the final version of the dissertation to their committee at least two weeks before their defense date. In order to obtain a degree in the Spring semester, dissertations should be submitted by February. For Fall semester, dissertations should be submitted by October.

Registration during the Dissertation

A student researching and writing her or his dissertation registers for ASTD 6990: Dissertation Research, using the section number of his or her committee chair. The course is graded as IP (In Progress) or U (Unsatisfactory) until the semester within which the student graduates, when the grade will be S (Satisfactory). Course requirements include meeting with the dissertation advisor at least once during the semester; arranging to do so is the student's responsibility. The Office of Graduate Education requires that students take at least 12 credits of Dissertation Research during their course of study. Since tuition must be paid for these credits, it is recommended that funded students enroll in their 12 credits of Dissertation Research during the years when they have funding. After these 12 credits are accrued, students may continue to enroll for ASTD 6990 for 0 credits, unless they have received an extension of time to degree.

Extension of Time to Degree

Any student who has received an extension of time to degree to complete the dissertation must enroll in ASTD 6990 for one credit for each extension granted. The department will only approve petitions for extension to time to degree in exceptional circumstances and for students who have successfully defended their dissertation proposals and are working on their dissertations. For more information on petitioning for extensions, and the limitations on these petitions, consult the Office of Graduate Education.

Annual Graduate Student Review

The Office of Graduate Education requires all SLU master's and doctoral students to undergo an annual review of their progress to degree. In American Studies, students will complete a self-evaluation every year, and submit it to the department's administrative secretary by January 31. If January 31 falls on a weekend or University holiday, the self-evaluation document will instead be due on the University's next regular business day. The student will then meet with their advisor to discuss this self-evaluation and their progress in general. This form, along with a meeting report (signed by both student and advisor), will be filed with the department. Click here to access the Ph.D. self-evaluation form.

Students will receive a copy of these documents. A summary report of the results of annual reviews for all graduate students in the department will be submitted to the Associate Dean for Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Sciences by April 1.


If the graduate student's advisor and the department chair have become significantly concerned about the student's progress and/or performance, a formal warning will be issued to the student. The warning will document (1) the area(s) of concern, (2) the corrective action that must be taken by the student, (3) the resources available to offer the student help and support, and (4) the possible outcomes if the student meets or fails to meet the requirements for corrective action. The student will be asked to meet with their advisor to discuss this warning.

Sample Degree Plan

A sample degree plan for a full-time Ph.D. student looks as follows—this will vary based on course credit granted for M.A. degrees and course offerings:

Year One

Fall: 6 credits of coursework
ASTD 5000 (3 credits)

Spring: 9 credits of coursework
Qualifying Exam

Year Two

Fall: 9 credits of coursework

Spring: 9 credits of coursework

Year Three

Fall: 6 credits of coursework
ASTD 6100 (3 credits)

Spring: 6 credits of coursework
ASTD 5900 (3 credits)
ASTD 6950 (0 credits)

Year Four

Fall: ASTD 6950 (0 credits)
ASTD 6990 (6 credits)
Comprehensive Exams

Spring: ASTD 6990 (6 credits)
Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation Proposal Defense

Years Five and Beyond

Fall: ASTD 6990 (0 credits)

Spring: ASTD 6990 (0 credits)
Dissertation Defense


Click here to access the 2016–17 Department of American Studies Graduate Student Handbook