The PhD Degree

Photo Of Chinese Hongtudazhan

The cross-disciplinary PhD 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, Mongolian, and occasionally other languages of East Asia, defined roughly as China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and Inner Asia. 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 their area of expertise; 3) gain an in-depth expertise in one or more periods and/or subject areas; and 4) attain the necessary level of training in their humanistic discipline.

While the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations (EALC) does not require a minimum level of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Mongolian prior to admission, students who do not have sufficient language skills may be required to take remedial language without credit. Successful students generally have at the very least two years or equivalent of at least one East Asian language. 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 PhD 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. Click here for more details on application requirements.

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.

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 will serve as the student’s chief mentor. On the rare occasion that a student's academic interests change, the student may change their advisor with permission from the Graduate Chair. 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 they 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.

Candidacy examinations will normally be taken within one year after a student has completed all coursework (20 c.u.) 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 Candidacy 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 PhD 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 they have kept up with current knowledge in the field(s) in which exams were taken.

Students must complete a minimum of twenty (20) graduate c.u., that is, courses numbered 5000 or above, of which twelve (12) must be taken at the University of Pennsylvania. With approval from their advisor and upon completion of eight (8) graduate c.u., up to eight (8) credits may be transferred from an accredited graduate program other than one at Penn.

In addition, there are two non-course requirements:

1) Successful completion of a translation exam in a European language.  These are typically French or German, but other languages may be pre-approved based on the field of the candidate.

2) Pedagological training.  Students will serve as teaching assistants for 4 semesters during their program.  Most often, this occurs in the student's second and third years, but may be delayed due to study abroad or outside fellowship opportunities.

Students should plan their courses of study and examination fields in consultation with their advisors. Every student is expected to meet with their advisor at least once every semester, both when enrolled in courses and afterward. Upon completion of coursework, students will be asked to supply regular progress reports by the Graduate Coordinator. Failure to respond in a timely fashion may be grounds for dismissal.

See the Graduate Catalog for a list of core requirements for 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;

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 PhD 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.

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 their ability to complete the PhD within normative time. The probation period (see below) will provide the student with sufficient opportunity to work with their 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.

In cases where student performance has caused serious concern about their fitness for a PhD, the department may choose to place that student on probation. In such a case, the department will be committed to helping 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.

Students facing medical or personal issues may request a leave of absence. 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 Graduate Chair to ensure that they are on track. A decision of termination is final.

In order to take Candidacy exams, a student must have completed twenty (20) c.u. 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 or other Asian research language requirement. 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.

The Candidacy exams consist of three parts, and the first two must be completed within a two-week period:

1)      Three written field exams. Each of these open-book exams is to be completed within one day (24 hours).

2)      A research exam given by the student’s primary advisor. The student will have three days (72 hours) to complete the exam using any available sources.

3)      An oral exam. The student will meet with all members of the examination committee for a detailed discussion of the student’s answers to the written exam questions (both field exams and the research exam). Most oral exams will last approximately two hours, and should be scheduled within a reasonable timeframe after all written exams are completed.

In the event of failure, the faculty will decide whether the examination may be repeated, in what form, and after what period of time, within the guidelines set forth in the Graduate Catalog. 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 five to seven pages in length, not 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. Samples of accepted proposals are available in the EALC office.

Only after three readers have approved a complete draft will the defense be scheduled. An electronic copy of the draft must then be submitted to the EALC office at least three weeks before the defense so that all Graduate Group members have the opportunity to read the dissertation. The defense must be attended by at least three members of the Graduate Group. 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 proofreading and adhering to University requirements. An index is preferred but not required. Sometimes final changes will have to be made as a result of the defense. The student should assume the dissertation will be available through Pro-Quest.