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FRENC-PHD - French (PhD)

French and Italian French PHD - Doctor of Philosophy

Program Overview

Pursuing a PhD in French literature and culture at Stanford allows students to explore the many facets of French and Francophone cultures from a literary, historical, philosophical, artistic, and more generally interdisciplinary perspective, drawing it into an active dialogue with contemporary global culture. While receiving a strong foundation in the French and Francophone literary traditions, students are encouraged to contextualize and problematize these texts with coursework in philosophy, political science, anthropology, film and media studies, art history, history of science, and medical humanities. The program is committed to forming PhD graduates capable of teaching French and Francophone literature and culture at all levels but also articulate public intellectuals, able to connect their academic pursuits to real-world problems. 

Free Form Requisites

Degree Requirements

  1. Course work

    A candidate for the Ph.D. degree must complete at least 135 units of graduate-level study. 72 of the 135 units must be taken within the department. Excess course work can be taken at the undergraduate level but may not be used towards the Ph.D. requirements. All course work should be selected in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

    Required Courses:

    Course List



    The Learning and Teaching of Second Languages (must be taken in the first year of studies)



    Professional Workshop


    A minimum of five courses on French literature and culture taught at the graduate level. Three of the required five courses must be taken within the first year.


  2. Elective Courses— Apart from the required courses above, students are granted considerable freedom in structuring a course of study appropriate to their individual needs. During the first year, most course work is done within the French and Italian department, to ensure adequate preparation for the qualifying examination. Students are encouraged to take a variety of courses in order to be exposed to different periods and issues. Students are not allowed to take Independent Study during their first year. In the second and third years, however, the program of study is tailored to the specific interests of the student.

  3. Examinations
    Completion of all department and University examinations.

  4. Dissertation
    Submission and approval of a dissertation. The dissertation may take different formats. The standard format in our field is a monograph comprising five chapters, including the introduction and dissertation. Depending on the topic and approach, other structures may be considered and should be discussed with the advisor as the project develops. In consultation with their advisor, students may elect to submit as a dissertation a collection of 3-4 published, or publishable, articles, together with an introduction.

  5. Teaching
    Teaching is core to the academic and professional training of doctoral students in our program. As such, all students are required to complete 5 quarters of teaching experience regardless of financial support. These teaching experiences must be completed no later than the 4th year of residency in the program. Students need to have completed the teaching requirement before moving on to TGR status.

  6. Language Requirements
    Attaining a native or near-native fluency in French is a requirement to qualify for the Ph.D. degree. Upon entering the program, candidates must contact the Language Center and arrange to take the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) to determine their fluency in French. An advanced level or above must have been reached by the time candidates take their qualifying exam in Autumn Quarter of the second year of study. If a student fails to score in the advanced bracket of the OPI test upon entering, they are tested again at the beginning of the second year. It is the responsibility of the candidates to design a course of study to improve their proficiency in French. Candidates who do not meet the minimum language requirement must discuss their plans to meet this requirement with the Director of Graduate Studies.
    In addition, candidates are required to achieve a high level of proficiency in one additional foreign language, with the language in question to be determined by the student and adviser as a function of the student's area of specialization. Such proficiency may be demonstrated either by completing a graduate seminar in the language in question, or by passing an exam that establishes a third-year or above level of competence in writing, reading, and speaking. In the case of ancient Greek and Latin, a high level of proficiency means a level superior to a second-year collegiate level of proficiency in reading and writing. The second foreign language requirement must be completed by the end of the third year.

  7. Candidacy
    Admission to candidacy is an important decision grounded in an overall assessment of a student’s ability to successfully complete the Ph.D. program. Per University policy, students are expected to complete department qualifying procedures and apply for candidacy by the end of the second year in residence. In reviewing a student for admission to candidacy, the faculty considers a student’s academic progress including but not limited to: advanced language proficiency, coursework, performance on the Qualifying Exam (or Field Exam for those with a waiver of the Qualifying Exam), and successful completion of teaching and research assistantships. A student must also have completed at least 3 units of work with each of 4 Stanford faculty members prior to consideration for candidacy. Students applying to candidacy must provide for their annual review a writing sample in French (or English for French native speakers) corresponding to a paper completed for a course taken at Stanford. In addition to successful completion of department prerequisites, a student is only admitted to candidacy if the faculty makes the judgment that the student has the potential to successfully complete the requirements of the degree program. Candidacy is determined by faculty vote. Failure to advance to candidacy results in the dismissal of the student from the doctoral program. Candidacy is valid for five years and students are required to maintain active candidacy through conferral of the doctoral degree. All requirements for the degree must be completed before candidacy expires. The Department of French and Italian conducts regular reviews of each student’s academic performance, both prior to and following successful admission to candidacy. Failure to make satisfactory progress to degree may result in dismissal from the doctoral program. Additional information about University candidacy policy is available in the Bulletin and GAP.

  8. TGR Status
    Doctoral students who have been admitted to candidacy, completed all required courses and degree requirements other than the University oral exam and the dissertation, completed 135 units, and submitted a Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form, must request Terminal Graduate Registration status to complete their dissertations. Each quarter, all TGR students must enroll in FRENCH 802 TGR Dissertation for zero units, in the appropriate section for their adviser.


Doctoral students in the department must take required courses for a letter grade if available and are expected to earn a grade of 'B+' or better in each course. Any grade of 'B' or below is considered to be less than satisfactory. Grades of 'B' or below are reviewed by faculty: while the grade will stand, the student may be required to revise and resubmit the work associated with that course.


There are three examinations: the qualifying examination, the field examination, and the University oral examination. Students may not take any department or University exam while course work is incomplete.

Qualifying Examination

The first oral examination, which takes place in the week prior to autumn quarter of the second year of study, tests the student's knowledge of language and literature and their aptitude for critical thinking. The examining committee, determined by the Director of French and Italian, schedules the precise exam date and time.

The exam is based on a standard reading list covering major works from all periods of literature in the language(s) of study, from the Middle Ages to present day. The list may be expanded to reflect a student's particular interests, but not abridged. The reading list may be obtained from the Director of Graduate Studies, the student services manager, or by referencing the French and Italian student handbook.

The exam is 90 minutes in length and consists of two parts:

  1. A 20-minute presentation by the candidate on a topic to be determined by the student. This presentation may be given in English or in the language of study and should engage, in a succinct manner, an issue or set of issues of broad relevance to the literary history of the language(s) of study. The presentation must not simply be a text read aloud, but rather must be given from notes. It is meant to be suggestive and not exhaustive, so as to provoke further discussion. You may bring a single letter-sized page of notes, printed in 12-point font, with no full sentences except for quotations; you must hand it in at the end of the exam.

  2. A 70-minute question and answer period in which the examining committee follows up on the candidate's presentation and discusses the reading list with the student. At least part of this portion of the exam takes place in the language(s) of study. The student is expected to demonstrate a solid knowledge of the texts on the reading list and of the basic issues which they raise, as well as a broader sense of the cultural/literary context into which they fit and demonstrate the ability to formulate an original point of view on such texts and contexts.

Students who do not pass the qualifying exam their first time may be placed on probation with limited enrollment and be allowed to retake the exam at the end of Autumn Quarter. Should the student not pass the retake exam, their studies in the Ph.D. program are concluded.

Students already holding an advanced degree in the relevant area may request to be excused from the Qualifying Exam. However, the student must present a formal request for a waiver to the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of autumn quarter of the first year. Such a request must document the course work completed elsewhere and include all relevant reading lists. Only in cases where taking the Qualifying Exam would involve considerable repetition of already completed work is such a waiver likely to be granted.

Field Examination

The second oral examination takes place in the week prior to Autumn Quarter of the third year of study. Students waived from the qualifying exam take the field exam in the week prior to Autumn Quarter of the second year of study. The exam is 100 minutes in length and consists of two parts:

  1. A 20-minute presentation by the student on a topic (a particular literary genre or a broad theoretical, historical, or interdisciplinary question) freely chosen and developed by the individual student working in collaboration with their adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies. The student should design this research project so that it has the focus of an article or a seminar they might teach. The student should discuss the proposed topic with the Director of Graduate Studies before the end of the quarter preceding the quarter in which they plan to take the exam; together they choose a committee of three faculty members with interests close to the proposed topic. In most cases, one of these committee members is the student's adviser. This presentation is followed by a 20-minute discussion.

  2. A 60-minute discussion of a reading list, assembled by the student, which covers about a century of writing. The reading list should include works in all genres relevant to the period covered and should be around two single-spaced pages in length. The list may well include critical and scholarly works or texts from outside the traditional domain of literary studies in the chosen tradition (such as film, philosophy, other literary traditions), but such coverage should be regarded as supplemental except in rare instances where the Director and faculty advisers have agreed to define these materials as the student's field. Students are required to discuss the reading list for the examination with the Director of Graduate Studies and with members of their committee during the quarter preceding the examination. A final reading list must be submitted to the committee no later than two weeks preceding the examination. Each member of the committee is assigned a 20-minute period to question the candidate on the reading list and its intellectual-historical implications. The aim of these questions is to establish the student's credentials as a specialist in the period of their choosing, so the core of the reading list must be made up of texts that are essential to any specialist. It follows that reading lists must not focus on the narrow area of the student's research interest. The tendency to bias reading lists towards the dissertation topic, be it an author or a genre, does not cancel the obligation to cover the major figures and genres. It is understandable that some students, by their third year, have become so deeply committed to their work toward the dissertation that they wish to use the preparation period for the examination as part of their dissertation research. Certainly, some of the exam work may prove relevant, but students should also remember that the examination is the central means of certifying their expertise in a literary period.

The University Oral Examination

This examination takes the form of a dissertation proposal defense. It is to be taken no later than Spring Quarter of the student's third year. Students must have completed all course work and language requirements before the quarter in which they take the University oral examination. One quarter prior to the University oral examination, students must schedule the exam date and time as well as work with their primary adviser to obtain an outside chair for the examination.

Two weeks before the exam, the student must submit to the committee a 25-35 page proposal, which must contain the following parts:

  1. a clear presentation of the student's central thesis

  2. a synthetic overview of the dissertation

  3. a description of the methodology that is used in the dissertation

  4. an in-depth discussion of current secondary sources on the topic.

The student must also append a bibliography, but this does not take the place of number 4. The proposal must be prepared in close consultation with the dissertation director during the months preceding the exam.

The exam committee consists of four members, in addition to a committee chair from outside the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, whose principal functions are to keep track of time and to call on the four members of the committee who question the candidate on the talk and on the reading list.

After a 20-minute presentation on the part of the candidate, each member of the committee (apart from the committee chair) questions the student for 20 minutes. At the end of the hour and forty minutes, the faculty readers vote on the outcome of the exam. If the outcome is favorable, (four out of five votes in favor of the student passing), the student is free to proceed with work on the dissertation. If the proposal is found to be unsatisfactory, the dissertation readers may ask the student to revise and resubmit the dissertation prospectus and to schedule a second exam. A student who fails a second time will be released from the Ph.D. program and awarded a terminal M.A. degree.


Given the interdisciplinary nature of the Ph.D. programs and the opportunity they afford each student to create an individualized program of study, regular consultation with an adviser is of the utmost importance. The adviser for all entering graduate students is the Director of Graduate Studies, whose responsibility it is to assist students with their course planning and to keep a running check on progress in completing the course, teaching, and language requirements. By the end of the second year of study, each student should have chosen a faculty adviser whose expertise is appropriate to their own area of research and interests.

Yearly Review

The faculty provide students with timely and constructive feedback on their progress toward the Ph.D. In order to evaluate students' progress and to identify potential problem areas, the department's faculty reviews the academic progress of each student at the end of the academic year. The yearly reviews are primarily intended to identify developing problems that could impede progress. In most cases, students are simply given constructive feedback, but if more serious concerns warrant, a student may be placed on probation with specific guidelines for addressing the problems detected. Possible outcomes of the yearly review include (1) continuation of the student in good standing, or (2) placing the student on probation, with specific guidelines for the period on probation and the steps to be taken in order to be returned to good standing. For students on probation at this point (or at any other subsequent points), possible outcomes of a review include: (1) restoration to good standing; (2) continued probation, again with guidelines for necessary remedial steps; or (3) termination from the program. Students leaving the program at the end of the first or second year are usually allowed to complete the requirements to receive an M.A. degree, if this does not involve additional residency or financial support.

Ph.D. Minor for Graduate Students in French or Italian

The Ph.D. may be combined with a minor in a related field, including Comparative Literature, Linguistics, Modern Thought and Literature, Art History, History, Music, Philosophy, and Spanish. Ph.D. candidates in French may minor in Italian, and vice versa. Students interested in a minor should design their course of study with their advisor(s).

Ph.D. Minor in French Literature

The department offers a minor in French Literature. The requirement for a minor in French is completion of 24 units of graduate course work in the French section. Interested students should consult the Director of Graduate Studies.