Ph.D. Requirements in Russian Literature and Culture

Required Courses

All graduate students are required to take four courses.  RUSS 607: “Topics in Russian Language, Literature, and Culture: From the Origins of East Slavic Writing to the Eighteenth Century” with Professor Harvey Goldblatt is coordinated with the department’s graduate reading list of required works in Russian literature of the period. All students will take an examination in RUSS 607 that will also double as the “Medieval Russian Literature” examination for the doctorate (for more on examinations see below).  RUSS 608:  “Eighteenth-Century Russian Literature” with Professor Bella Grigoryan follows the same pattern as RUSS 607.  Its readings are also coordinated with the department’s graduate reading list of required works in Russian literature.  All students will take an examination in RUSS 608 that will also double as the “Eighteenth-Century Russian Literature” examination for the doctorate.   The other courses that all graduate students are required to take are SLAV 754: “Old Church Slavic,” with Professor Goldblatt, and RUSS 834: “Aspects of Russian Grammar and Teaching Methodologies,” with Dr. Irina Dolgova, which combines pedagogy with the structure of Russian. If possible, SLAV 754 should be taken before RUSS 607.  RUSS 834 should be taken concurrently with or before a graduate student’s first semester of teaching Russian language, typically during the seventh term of study.

Elective Courses

The minimum number of graduate courses for the Ph. D. is sixteen, counting the above four required courses.  Of the remaining twelve, at least two must be taken in nineteenth-century Russian literature and at least two in the twentieth, including poetry and prose or dramatic works. 

Students who have done graduate work elsewhere may petition the Slavic Department for up to four courses credit toward their degree after one year’s residence at Yale. 

A special curriculum may be arranged for students wishing to specialize in medieval Slavic literature and philology.

Minor Field

As part of their program of study, students will also be responsible for developing a minor field of specialization in one of the following: (1) a Western or non-Western literature; (2) film studies; (3) a topic in intellectual history; (4) one of the other arts; (5) another Slavic literature; (6) Slavic linguistics; (7) another discipline relevant to their primary interests in Russian literature.  The student’s minor field of specialization will be determined in consultation with the Director of Graduate Study.  The minor field can be developed most readily through reading courses in the Slavic Department or by taking graduate courses in another department.  Up to two graduate courses in other departments will count toward the sixteen for the doctorate if they are relevant to a student’s program of study.  The successful completion of a course or courses in the student’s minor field taken in another department may double as the departmental examination in the minor (for more on examinations see below). 


The Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations comprise eight parts and will be completed during the third year of study:

  1. Medieval Russian Literature
  2. Russian Literature of the Eighteenth Century
  3.  Minor Field
  4. Nineteenth-Century Prose
  5. Nineteenth-Century Poetry
  6. Twentieth-Century Prose
  7. Twentieth-Century Poetry
  8. Pre-Prospectus Examination

The first two examinations, which will be taken in conjunction with courses offered during the first two years of course work, are on (1) Medieval Russian Literature (RUSS 607), and on (2) Russian Literature of the Eighteenth Century (RUSS 608).  Then, early in the fifth semester of study students will take (3) a 40-minute oral exam in their chosen minor field that will be administered by the DGS and relevant faculty within and/or outside the Department.  This examination will be waived if the student has successfully completed one or two relevant graduate courses in another department.  In October of the third year of study (typically during the second week) students will take two written examinations of two hours each.  The first, to be held on the Monday of the given week, will be on (4) Russian prose and drama of the nineteenth century; the second, held on Friday, will be on (5) Russian nineteenth-century poetry.  Each exam will consist of two or three passages drawn from well-known works of literature that will be identified and that are designated as required on the department’s reading list (which also includes additional works that are recommended but not required). Students will be expected to choose one passage and write an essay on it in which they analyze the text from as many of the following points of view as possible:  versification (if relevant), style, structure, narrative point of view, themes, genre, period, place in the author’s oeuvre and in literary history, comparative context, and critical reception.  The third and fourth written examinations, which will follow the same format, will be held during one week at the end of the students’ fifth semester of study (typically the first week of December).  The third exam, which will be held on Monday, will be on (6) Russian prose and drama of the twentieth century, and the fourth, which will be held on Friday, will be on (7) Russian poetry of the twentieth century.  Each of these four exams will be compiled and graded by two faculty members with expertise in the given century and genres.  After each exam students will be informed as to how they performed. 

After the final written exam, all students will have a (8) one-hour oral “pre-prospectus” exam on a date to be specified by the department near the beginning of their sixth semester (typically, during the first week of February).  This examination will explore issues pertaining to the student’s future dissertation prospectus.  Normally, preparation for the exam will entail a more focused reading of the departmental reading list.  For example, a student who proposes to work on Pasternak would read not only the required and recommended works by Pasternak, but also the required and recommended works by other writers of the twentieth century.   Students will also be expected to explore secondary and theoretical sources outside the reading list that are relevant to their chosen topic.  Preparation for the examination will be done in consultation with two faculty advisors (see below) and students will be required to prepare in advance a 7-10 page text outlining their future dissertation topic, including a discussion of existing scholarship and the way they propose to structure their work.  An annotated bibliography of primary and secondary works pertaining to their dissertation topic should also be appended.   The “pre-prospectus” text will be distributed to all departmental faculty one week prior to the exam and all faculty will attend it.  The aim of this exam is for the student to take an intermediate step toward developing a dissertation prospectus and also to provide the student with feedback from the faculty about the project. 

Please click the link for the departmental reading list:  Reading List

Article in Lieu of Examination

As a possible alternative to one of the four written examinations on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries students may choose to write an article that they will submit for publication to a scholarly journal.  The work will be carried out in consultation with a faculty advisor and will focus on a work or works in either poetry or prose (or drama) of the given century. This article will be due on the date that the exam on the given genre is normally scheduled.  It is expected that the article will be ambitious in its overview and in its conceptualization of the issue(s) being addressed.  The faculty advisor will evaluate the work and will advise the student on publication.


Since the faculty consider teaching to be an integral part of graduate training, all graduate students are expected to teach for a total of four semesters (in the third and fourth years of study). Students are typically assigned to two semesters of language teaching, during which time they are mentored and trained by a lead language lector, and two semesters of literature/culture teaching, for which they run discussion sections for larger-enrollment lecture courses (e.g. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Russian Culture).

Teaching assignments are made according to the following guidelines:

(1) Slavic students in years three and four are given first priority. If they meet the language proficiency requirements outlined by the Graduate School and the Slavic Department, each student is usually offered two semesters as a TF in language courses and two semesters as a TF in literature/culture courses.

(2) For cross-listed courses with pre-arranged agreements with other departments (such as Comparative Literature and History), TF positions may be offered to students in their priority teaching years from these departments.

(3) Any remaining TF positions may be offered to Slavic graduate students, with greater preference given to students in their earlier years.

All TF assignments are contingent on course enrollments, as well as final approval by course instructors and the Graduate School. 

Graduate Student Evaluations

All faculty members will send written evaluations of graduate students’ performances in their courses to the graduate students, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the departmental registrar (Ms. Cheryl Morrison) as soon as all work in a given semester has been evaluated.

General Expectations

Graduate students are expected to use their time efficiently throughout the year to make adequate progress on all departmental requirements, including mastering the reading list, maintaining their proficiency in Russian, and finishing their dissertations by the end of their fifth year of study.

In cases of unsatisfactory academic progress, students will be given warning before being asked to leave the program. Because of confidentiality, faculty cannot share the reasons (personal or academic) for a student’s departure.