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
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.