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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, Film, Television, and Media, and Women’s and Gender 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 3 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

The prelims focus on research by way of a three-step sequence: a comprehensive exam (early September of third year), a prelim seminar (taken in the fall term of the third year), and a topics paper (Winter of third year). Second, the minor is disaggregated from the prelim examination and can take a variety of forms. Instead of an obligatory teaching-exam, students can now choose from a number of options to fulfill their minor requirement: a subfield-minor, certificate programs, internships, and academic projects. Most of the work on the minor will take place in years 4-6, though certificate students may start some of the relevant course work before the prelims. 

The Third Year:  Comps and Prelim Structure

Comprehensive Exam:
The comps take place in early September and are based on three seminars students attend during their first two years, one of them being 540. Students select the seminars in early April and work on their exams over the summer. Students must then respond to one of two questions distributed for each seminar, for a total of 3x1 exam answers. Answers take the form of relatively short essays (7-10 pages each). 

The comps are backward-looking and are meant to provide students with an opportunity to revisit material they have explored during their course-work up to that point. They are also intended to ensure some historical and methodological coverage. While it is likely that one of the chosen seminars overlaps with the student's future research field, the engagement with three syllabi counters any tendency towards hyper-specialization.

Fall of Third Year:
By September 15, students identify the subfield that is most relevant to their research project. (Examples of subfields are: museum studies, translation studies, film studies, intellectual history, 19th-century literature and culture, German-Jewish culture, sexuality and gender studies, etc.). To help with the identification and definition of subfields, faculty will create subfield lists that contain relevant primary and critical material related to the field. These lists are meant to provide guidance and can and should be supplemented by the student in collaboration with his/her committee. Students spend the Fall working on their reading lists while attending a 1-credit Prelim Seminar.

Subfield lists provide orientation and offer a good transition from the more generalist comprehensive exams to the specialized research project. They thus aid students in gradually defining their research projects. Moreover, the historical breadth built into the subfield list ensures that students situate their projects in a broader historical perspective. Moreover, subfield lists offer a good compromise between traditional conceptions of the canon, which our department rejects, and the interdisciplinary work that defines our approach to German Studies. 

A mandatory Prelim Seminar has several advantages: (a) The collaborative character of the seminar reduces the solitude and isolation that many students experience during the prelim phase; (b) since different students select different subfields, the Prelim seminar encourages them to remain engaged with various developments in the field; (c) the seminar provides an excellent venue to experiment with diverse forms of writing (annotated bibliography, book review, short essays, blogs, digital map-making, etc.). Engaging with these varied and circumscribed writing tasks while communicating their ideas and findings to peers, rather than exclusively to their committees, reduces writing anxiety and incorporates an element of playfulness and experimentation into this potentially paralyzing phase of the prelims. For this reason, the Prelim Seminar should not culminate in an exam or final paper.

Winter of Third Year:
By January 15, students submit a short research proposal that outlines the subject of their topics paper. The proposal, which should be under five pages, should articulate research questions and identify the relevant literature to be addressed in the topics paper. The topics paper is due on April 15. It should be a substantial piece of writing of about 35-40 pages that may also double as a draft for a future dissertation chapter. The discussion of the topics paper takes the form of an exam and will take place during the second half of April.

Having worked on their subfields for at least four months, students should be able to articulate their research questions by early January. Given the guidance they have received from both the committee and the Prelim Seminar instructor, they should also be able to produce, over the course of the semester, a substantial piece of writing that documents their ability to begin dissertation work. The topics paper and its discussion should thus take the form of an exam in which faculty evaluate students’ readiness to proceed to the dissertation stage.  

Secondary Qualifications: Subfield Minor, Certificates, Internships, Academic Projects
This prelim structure provides students with the opportunity to choose from a number of secondary specializations.

One option is to complete a SUBFIELD-MINOR. In this scenario, students work with a faculty member by way of an independent study, to gain expertise in a subfield that differs from their research-related subfield. Work on this secondary subfield yields a minor credential issued by the department and takes place between years 4-6.

A second option is to gain a minor by completing the requirements of an external CERTFICATE PROGRAM.  Depending on the structure of the certificate program, work on the certificate-minor may begin prior to the prelims and continue into the student’s last year as a Ph.D. student.

A third option is a PROJECT-oriented minor: Students may produce a translation, complete a digital project related to the field of German Studies, or produce other kinds of creative work. As with the subfield-minor, projects are supervised by a faculty member and accompanied by an independent study course.

Students interested in gaining more expertise in teaching can select a TEACHING-MINOR similar to the one we currently offer, ideally in combination with a TEACHING CERTIFICATE.

Finally, students interested in careers outside academia may embark on an INTERNSHIP that will be financially supported by Rackham or the department. Following their internship, and as part of their internship certification, students must submit a reflective report on their experiences.

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. It is essential for incoming students to be exposed to faculty and scholarly issues being taught in the German Department at the beginning of their graduate work. Students are therefore strongly encouraged to take as many courses with core German Studies faculty as possible in their first two years. The Director of Graduate Studies and mentor will 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.