Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy for a PhD in Film and Visual Studies consists of three components:  a qualifying paper, a written general examination, and an oral examination. The examinations are designed to test the students' mastery of their scholarly fields and their ability to write a dissertation. They will normally take place together in March after spring break of the third year of study, and will be supervised by an Examination Committee appointed each year from members of the FVS Graduate Committee. The timing of the general exam is meant to encourage students to take the exam as a cohort. Individually scheduled exams will be discouraged.

Qualifying paper

The qualifying paper is required of all students, including students who have completed a master's thesis elsewhere. It is ordinarily developed from a seminar paper, research paper, or portion of a master's thesis. It is about 5,000 to 10,000 words, including notes. The paper should demonstrate the student's independence of thinking and research, ability to use primary source materials, and proficiency in writing and presentation.  Following close consultation with their field advisors, students at the beginning of their third term of residence will submit to the DGS the proposed topic of the paper and a timetable for its completion. The paper should be submitted two weeks before the general examination.  A student may request that a master's thesis written for another institution be substituted in lieu of a qualifying paper; this request must be approved by the DGS and two members of the Film Studies Graduate Committee.

General examination

Preparing for the examination 

The general examination tests students' knowledge of film, media, and visual culture in three areas: history, theory and aesthetics, and a special topic of the student’s choice (e. g., performance, animation, sound art). By mid-March of their second year, students select a faculty reader to supervise preparation in each of these areas. Ordinarily, history and theory readers will be members of the Graduate Committee; the special topic reader may but need not be. The three readers constitute the committee, and will administer the written and oral components of the examination. One of them will serve as chair of the committee. This will be often, but not necessarily, the student's dissertation adviser. In addition to the reading lists (which must be approved in advance by the three readers), students are expected to be familiar with a wide range of films as well as the history of film and audio-visual media generally. Suggested viewing lists are available on the Film and Visual Studies Reading and Filmography Lists page.

Scheduling the examination

Students are required to select their three readers and finalize the theory and history lists by May 30th of the second year. The special topic list should be finalized with the special topic adviser by September 30th of the third year. Ordinarily, the written examination takes place in mid-March, the week after spring break of the third year, and the oral examination a week after the written examination in late March, early April.

The written examination (three days)

Students will be asked to respond to questions prepared by the readers; they are ordinarily given at least three essay questions for each section from which they choose one. The first day of the written exam covers the history section of the exam. The second day of the written exam covers the theory and aesthetics section of the exam. The third day is devoted to the special topics section. Students will receive the questions each day at 9 a.m. and will be given a quiet place in which to work; they will submit their essay by noon. Normal standards regarding originality and citation apply; please see the GSAS Handbook for information regarding these standards.

Oral examination (two hours)

Students will be asked to review, clarify, and defend arguments presented in the written examinations. Candidates should also expect to present and discuss preliminary ideas and research for their proposed thesis topic. Students whose performance on the examination is not satisfactory will be given one opportunity to repeat all or a portion of the examinations.