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Department of English & Language Arts

The Doctor of Philosophy in English

Program Overview

Committed to exploring new methods of inquiry, cultivating creative scholarship, and producing usable knowledge, Morgan State University provides a vibrant home for students and scholars interested in better understanding how people learn, what they learn, and what that learning ultimately means for themselves and their communities. Our small, selective PhD program in English offers training in all traditional fields of literary study, as well as in multicultural and gender studies, language and professional writing, creative writing, film and screenwriting, visual and digital storytelling, rhetoric and composition, and other theoretical and interdisciplinary fields that cross national and chronological boundaries.

As one of only two doctoral programs in English at an HBCU, we are deeply grounded in recognizing how the rich, distinguished, and exciting culture of the Black experience continues to influence our present realities. Indeed, the Black presence is so ubiquitous that studying this presence in its forms and consequences is an ethically-responsible educational necessity to counter long-time hegemonic narratives that have decentered the Black experience. The English doctoral program at Morgan State thus emphasizes an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and comparative curriculum of the histories, literatures, visual cultures, and politics of people of African descent around the world, especially the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. A key component of our mission is to interrogate the meanings and dimensions of slavery and colonialism, and their continuing political, social, and cultural implications and to emphasize Black diasporic literature and culture.

The flexibility of our doctoral program allows students to shape their exam areas and dissertation research to fit and reflect their unique areas of scholarly interest.


To be eligible for admission to the Doctor of Philosophy program in English, an applicant must:
• Have earned a Master's degree in English or in a closely related discipline from a regionally accredited college or university (Advanced Track) or a Bachelor's degree in English or a closely related field from a regionally accredited college or university (Standard Track). Students entering the program without an MA degree must complete 48 credit hours beyond the BA to earn their PhD degree.
• Have earned a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or better in their Master's program. Applicants with only a Bachelor's degree who are applying for the Standard Track must have earned a cumulative GPA of 3.5 in their undergraduate coursework. Post-bachelor's undergraduate credits cannot be used to enhance GPA for admission to graduate study.
• Submit an application for admission (online) to the School of Graduate Studies.
• Submit a Statement of Purpose regarding the applicant's academic and professional plans and the reasons for selecting Morgan State University.
• Submit a recent resumé or curriculum vita.
• Submit copies of transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate coursework. Official copies of these documents must be submitted directly to the School of Graduate Studies by the previous university or college before an applicant can be officially admitted.
• Use the online application system to arrange for three letters of recommendation to be placed with the application. These letters should be from individuals who can speak to the applicant's ability for graduate study.
• Submit an academic writing sample of 15-20 pages that showcases the applicant's analytical and writing abilities and readiness to begin doctoral level work.
• Submit, if applying for the Creative Writing concentration, a creative sample of 10-15 pages.
• Submit, if applying for the Film and Visual Storytelling concentration, an overview of the applicant's experience and accomplishments in the field.

Application Deadline: The PhD program application deadline is May 1 for domestic students and April 1 for international students. The Department of English only grants admission into the doctoral program for Fall semesters.

Areas of Concentration

Our faculty members have strengths in a variety of areas including American and British literature and literary theory, African American literature, Black diasporic and Caribbean literature, postcolonial and multicultural literatures, feminist literature and poetics, gender and sexuality studies, popular culture, rhetoric and composition, technical writing, linguistics, creative writing, screenwriting and visual/digital storytelling, and American cinema and film theory. The majority of our courses weave in our program's emphasis on the Black Diaspora.

Our doctoral program in English offers the following fields of study:

  • British and American Literature & Literary Theory  
  • Creative Writing
  • Film and Visual Storytelling
  • Multicultural and Gender Studies
  • Professional, Technical, and Expository Writing

Students will identify a Major Field and a Minor Field of the areas listed above.

General Requirements

Candidates for the English doctoral degree must complete a minimum of thirty-six (36) academic credit hours (Advanced Track) or forty-eight (48) academic credit hours (Standard track), fulfill course requirements according to their selected Major and Minor fields of study, evidence proficiency in one foreign language, pass a written comprehensive examination, pass an oral exam, and submit an acceptably-written dissertation.

Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 for all graduate courses attempted at MSU. Students whose GPA falls below the minimum 3.0 for two consecutive semesters will be dismissed from the program. A course assigned a grade of C or lower cannot be used to fulfill degree requirements.

Full-time is nine (9) credit hours per semester; however, students must remain enrolled for a minimum of three (3) credit hours in Fall and Spring semesters until the completion of their program and the awarding of the degree, unless a leave of absence has been granted by the School of Graduate Studies. Failure to maintain continuous enrollment may result in dismissal from the program.

All courses required for the Ph.D. degree program must be taken at Morgan unless the student receives approval from the School of Graduate Studies to transfer courses completed at another university. A maximum of 6 credits hours (two courses) of transfer credits can be applied toward the Morgan degree.

Required Courses

All doctoral students are required to complete successfully the following five courses:

ENGL 501: Methods and Materials of Research in Literature and Writing
ENGL 551: Modern Literary Criticism
ENGL 561: Introduction to Linguistics
ENGL 610: Teaching College Composition & Research
ENGL 998: Dissertation Seminar

The student will complete the remainder of their coursework in their Major and Minor Fields, according to the track they follow (Advanced or Standard). The student can choose elective courses from any of the Major and Minor fields to complete the remainder of the required credit hours.

Foreign Language Proficiency
To fulfill their program requirements, all doctoral students (Advanced and Standard Track) must demonstrate a working knowledge of a foreign language that is not their native language. Students must fulfill the foreign language requirement prior to taking the doctoral written comprehensive examinations. The language should be appropriate for their research, pedagogical interest, or Major Field of study. Students may satisfy the foreign language requirement in one of the following manners:

Option I: Pass a foreign language proficiency examination.

Option II: Enroll in and earn a grade of "C" or higher in the second course of the intermediate level of a foreign language course sequence (e.g., FREN 204) at an accredited college or university. (Note: Graduate financial aid may not be applied toward undergraduate courses.)

Option III: Complete an approved study abroad program (minimum of six weeks), which includes formal enrollment in the study of a foreign language with evaluation of performance by authorized faculty of an accredited institution. The study abroad program can be completed during the doctoral program or within three years prior to beginning the program.

Option IV: Students may request to document equivalent competency in the foreign language in ways not specified above; however, documentation of equivalent competency must be approved by the student's dissertation committee Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Reading Lists

Students, in conjunction with their dissertation committee, will create two reading lists, of 75-100 texts per list. The first reading list will include texts that represent the broad area of interest (focused on teaching and/or scholarship) for the student. The second list will reflect the student's tailored research area and will serve as a springboard for dissertation research and writing. The lists should be complementary but not duplicative. The lists will serve as the basis of both the students' comprehensive written exams and the primary research for their dissertation.

Doctoral Comprehensive Exam

The doctoral written comprehensive examination is created, administered, and assessed by the student's dissertation committee. The exams are taken on two consecutive days, with six testing hours on each day. Students who do not pass all sections of the exam within two attempts will be dismissed from the program.

Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus should be roughly 45-70 pages in length, and after any required revisions, often serves as the introduction to the dissertation. Students must complete a dissertation appropriate to the Major Field in which they have completed their coursework and program requirements. The length of the dissertation varies based on the focus of the project.

Oral Examination

After the student's dissertation committee approves the prospectus in written form, the student must then pass a one-hour oral defense of the prospectus (the oral examination), administered and assessed by the student's dissertation committee. After successful completion of the oral exam, the student is admitted into Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree.


The dissertation must be appropriate to the Major Field of study in which the student has completed coursework and program requirements. The length of the dissertation varies based on the focus of the project.

Creative Dissertation

While most PhD candidates in the Department of English write dissertations of a traditional, research-oriented nature, a student who has chosen the Creative Writing or Film and Visual Storytelling concentration as the Major Field may choose to write a creative dissertation, which may take the form of a novel, a novella, a book-length collection of short fiction or collection of poetry, creative non-fiction, or a hybrid/experimental form (including but not limited to digital/new media, performance/performativity/screen play, the lyric essay).

In addition to the "creative" part of the dissertation, such a dissertation must also contain a substantial scholarly introduction that frames the creative text and/or locates the work in its literary and historical contexts. This introduction will demonstrate the correspondence between the candidate's academic studies and the creative project. The precise nature of the scholarly research component should be determined by the candidate in consultation with the student's dissertation committee and the Director of Graduate Studies. Students wishing to undertake such a dissertation must declare the Creative Writing or Film and Visual Storytelling concentration as their Major Field and must complete all departmental requirements demanded for the research-oriented doctoral degree.

Timeline to Degree & Sufficient Progress

Students must defend their dissertation and complete their degree within seven years of entering the Doctoral program. If the student is not progressing satisfactorily toward the completion of their degree, the Department's Director of Graduate Studies may recommend to the School of Graduate Studies that the student be dismissed from the program. The decision to dismiss will be made only with the advice and consent of the majority of the members of the Departmental Graduate Committee.

Graduate Assistantships

The Department of English and Language Arts offers a limited number of Graduate Assistantships (in Teaching and in Research), awarded on a competitive basis. Students who are accepted into the doctoral program will be invited to submit a Request to be Considered for a Graduate Assistantship. GA positions are renewable for multiple years and include up to 9 credit hours per semester of tuition and a stipend. They do not include student fees. Prospective students who would like to be considered for a Graduate Assistantship should apply to the program by February 1.

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