Ph.D. Program Description

German Studies at the University of Michigan is one of the most innovative Ph.D. programs in the country, unmatched in our commitment to transdisciplinarity. The department offers a program of study rich in breadth, depth, and disciplinary scope. The graduate program is designed to satisfy a set of core competencies in German Studies. Students are required to take courses from an array of curricular rubrics designed to give them deep exposure to several different subdisciplinary discourses.

The department offers all students in the Ph.D. program a five-year package of full funding support. This comprises a combination of fellowships, graduate student instructor positions, graduate school stipends, and summer funding. In addition, we provide health insurance, an excellent library, and a vibrant atmosphere conducive to sustained intellectual development. The department actively provides assistance in securing additional external and internal grants.

Students are encouraged to satisfy course requirements within the German Department before exploring course options elsewhere. However, students can pursue Graduate Certificates in a number of interdisciplinary areas including LGBTQ Studies, Museum Studies, Screen Arts and Cultures, and Women’s Studies. Joint Ph.D.s in German and another field are possible in principle at the University of Michigan. Such degrees can be negotiated ad hoc at any time after the end of the first semester, if the other discipline agrees to admit the candidate. Several students originally admitted to the Ph.D. in German Studies have succeeded in negotiating such programs over the years, but this possibility cannot be guaranteed in advance.

Required Courses

During their precandidacy stage (first 2-3 years in the program), doctoral students must complete a minimum of 36 credit hours of graded graduate coursework, including 4 credit hours of cognate coursework. Courses elected as visit (audit) do not meet this requirement, nor do any doctoral courses (those designated as 990, etc.) As candidates, students enroll in Ger 995 and are advised to audit or enroll in courses specific to their dissertation topic.

In order to maximize possibilities for an individually tailored curriculum, we have decided to limit the number of required courses. The required courses are:

  1. German 531: Teaching Methods, this course is intended to provide the theoretical and practical foundations for the teaching of German as a foreign language and is required for any Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) teaching in the German language sequence.
  2. German 540: Introduction to German Studies, which must be taken in the Fall term of the first year, and
  3. The German Studies Colloquium, which students must take in the Winter of the first and second year (in addition, they are expected to enroll whenever the student is on campus during years three to five).

German 540 introduces students to the central theoretical and methodological debates in the discipline of German Studies. The German Studies Colloquium serves multiple goals:

  1. a site of interdisciplinary practice and debate;
  2. an opportunity for students to revise a seminar paper for the first year review;
  3. a forum in which more advanced students can present conference and research papers, as well as dissertation chapters;
  4. a framework within which students can explore and prepare presentations on specific topics directly related to conferences and workshops sponsored by the German Studies program;
  5. a forum for professionalization.

The remaining elective graduate courses in the German department fall into three categories. At the end of his/her studies, the student must have chosen at least one class from at least two of these rubrics: Ger 701/02 Textual and Visual Interpretations, Ger 731/32 Cultural and Historical Analysis, and Ger 761/62 Critical Theory and Philosophy.

Preliminary Examination

During the fourth term in the program, each student forms a preliminary examination committee of three members in consultation with the Graduate Chair. The student should at this point designate one of the three members as the committee Chair. The preliminary examination committee may become the core of the student's five-member dissertation committee.

The preliminary exam must be completed by the end of the third year (with exceptions granted for students pursuing a joint PhD degree). It consists of one oral exam and two written examinations based on two comprehensive reading lists devised by the student and approved by the committee. One of the reading lists focuses on the research field linked to the student’s expected dissertation topic; the second reading list focuses on a teaching field. The latter teaching list should be distinct from the research list in terms of period and literary, visual, or theoretical material covered.

The preliminary examination is conducted in three steps:

  1. the oral examination pertaining to the research list (ideally in early September at the beginning of the student’s third year). This examination should result in the formulation of the topic for the research paper to be written subsequently.
  2. the evaluation and discussion of the research paper written during the course of the semester following the oral exam (ideally in early December).
  3. the evaluation and discussion of the model syllabus and rationale pertaining to the teaching list. The student is expected to hand in the syllabus and the rationale by April 1. An oral examination in mid-April of the proposed syllabus follows and officially concludes the preliminary exam.

Each part of the exam will be assigned an individual grade by the prelim committee. The student will advance to candidacy if the committee determines that he or she has passed the first oral examination, and provided that all incompletes have been removed. If the committee determines that the student has not passed one of the three-step exams, the committee may offer the student an opportunity to retake the specific exam portion. Students who fail one or more portions of the exam twice will be asked to leave the graduate program.

In September, after the preliminary examination is completed, students must present a dissertation prospectus to their preliminary examination committee. The student also submits a bibliography, and a detailed schedule for the researching and writing of the dissertation. These materials form the basis for the prospectus defense. The Chair of the committee submits a brief summary of this session, which will be made available to the student.

The final requirement for receipt of the Ph.D. is a successful oral defense of the finished dissertation.

Graduate Mentoring and Advising

We have established multi-layered mentoring procedures that help students to assemble a coherent series of courses and focus their research agendas. Incoming students work with the Graduate Chair in their first and second year to plan their program of courses. Each incoming student is also assigned his or her own mentor. The Graduate Chair and the mentor both assist students in conceiving and carrying out a course of study that balances interdisciplinary inquiry with the appropriate disciplinary depth (including consulting with students regarding their selection of courses inside and outside the department, and useful contacts with faculty in other departments). They also advise students on issues of professional preparation and teaching opportunities.

At the end of the first year, each student undergoes a first year review. The review is based upon a thoroughly revised seminar paper; an oral examination on a negotiated reading list; a five-page statement prepared by the student discussing work in the first year and projecting both future coursework and prelims; and a discussion among the graduate faculty of the student's work in seminars. The Graduate Chair and one additional faculty member of the student’s choice conduct the First Year Review. Perceived strengths and weaknesses will be brought to the attention of the student. In rare instances, weak students will be counseled out of the program.