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FILM AND VISUAL STUDIES PhD HARVARD UNIVERSITY
FILM AND VISUAL STUDIES ACADEMIC REQUIREMENTS
The Graduate Program in Film and Visual Studies leads to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). This is a research degree whose core emphasis is the theory and history of moving images in relation to the visual arts.
The Program will not admit candidates for a terminal AM degree. Students may apply for a master’s degree after advancing to PhD candidacy by satisfactorily completing their coursework and exams as indicated below. A master’s degree may also be offered to students unable to complete the PhD. The expected timetable for completion of the degree will be five to six years.
We also recognize that there are graduate students pursuing serious research in film and related visual media in other departments who, for reasons both intellectual and professional, may wish to have their work validated by our program. Therefore, we also offer a secondary field in Film and Visual Studies for students already admitted to other doctoral programs in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Residence and Academic Standing.
A minimum of fourteen courses must be completed no later than the end of the second year. Normal progression would include eight courses in the first year and six courses in the second in order to provide time for preparation for the general examination as well as flexibility to pursue course work in neighboring fields of study.
Of these fourteen courses, two are required: VES 270, the Proseminar in Film and Visual Studies: History and VES 271, Proseminar in Film and Visual Studies: Theory. The Proseminars will normally be taken in the first year of study.
At least seven of the fourteen courses must be at the 200 level.
In addition, at least seven of the courses must be chosen from a list of courses approved for credit by the Film Studies Committee.
The remaining courses (including courses in other departments, or transferred from other schools) may be either the 200 or 100 level.
One of the non-200 level courses may be taken as a 300 level reading and research course with a professor, but not before the second term of residence. Other reading and research courses will be permitted in exceptional circumstances, and with the concurrence of the professor that the work is essential to the student’s program and not covered elsewhere in the existing curriculum.
Students entering the Graduate School who have done graduate work elsewhere may apply for transfer of credit at the end one full term of satisfactory work at Harvard.
The amount and kind of credit shall be decided by the DGS with the advice and consent of the Film Studies Committee, but in no case will it exceed seven half-courses. The decision will be partially based on the nature of the student’s work done elsewhere and on their record in their first year at Harvard.
A reading knowledge of two languages is required.
Normally, French or German should be one of these two languages. Other languages may be acceptable if deemed relevant and appropriate to the student’s program of study.
Proficiency may be certified either by a grade of B- or better on a proficiency exam administered by the relevant language department or by successful completion (B- or better) of a second-year or higher course taught in a foreign language. (Note: Elementary language courses do not count for course credit.)
- No more than one Incomplete may be carried forward at any one time by a graduate student in Film and Visual Studies, and it must be made up before the end of the term following that in which the course was taken, even if the student's registration status during that term is leave of absence, unless she or he is given an earlier deadline by the instructor. This policy includes courses in the student’s plan of study taken outside of Film and Visual Studies. Normally, any additional Incompletes will be considered “permanent” and may not be completed at a later date.
- Additional courses will need to be taken in place of any permanent Incompletes, unless or until the required number of courses has been completed.
- Delay in completing the fourteen courses will require postponing the student’s general examination until the following year. A student who is still unprepared to take the examination at that time cannot continue in the program.
- Students may not take an Incomplete in any course in the second term of the second year.
(Non-Terminal) Master of Arts (AM)
Students must complete at least eight half-courses in Film and Visual Studies, maintaining a minimum GPA of 3.5 (B+) in all classes.
Two of these eight courses must be the Proseminars in Film and Visual Studies.
Students are also required to have as many 200 level courses as 100 level.
No more than one reading course is allowed for credit.
Students must have fulfilled at least one language requirement.
- In the first year of graduate study, students will be advised primarily by the DGS.
- After the first year, working with the DGS, the student will identify a faculty member as his/her advisor.
- The student will then consult that faculty member and the graduate coordinator, Emily Amendola, to confirm this agreement.
- If a student is unable to identify an advisor by the end of the first year, the DGS will remain his/her default advisor, however by the end of their second year students must have found a faculty member to serve as the advisor.
- When considering an advisor, students should select a faculty member who would be a likely dissertation director. The dissertation director will take primary charge of advising the thesis, with a second and third reader involved to a greater or lesser degree according to the wishes of the student and the primary advisor. The dissertation director and advisers will also help students choose and prepare field topics for the general examination.
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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 proceed to writing 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 Film Studies 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.
The qualifying paper is required of all students, including students who have completed a master’s thesis elsewhere. It is ordinarily developed from an existing 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 Committee.
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 Standing 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 website (http://www.ves.fas.harvard.edu/fvs_readings.html).
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 (two 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/theory and aesthetics sections, the second day is devoted to the special topics section. Students will receive the questions each day at 9 a.m. in Sever Hall and will be given a quiet place in which to work, submitting their two essays by 5 p.m on the first day and their work on the special topics section by noon on the second day. Normal standards regarding originality and citation apply; please see the following link 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.
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The Dissertation Prospectus.
After the successful completion of the general examinations, a topic for the dissertation should be chosen in consultation with the student’s dissertation director and advisers. Discussing potential topics with several faculty members is advisable before the student begins.
A committee should be formed and agreed no later than January in the third year of study, consisting of the dissertation director and two readers.
Once a student has a topic and advisor to guide his or her dissertation, a formal written dissertation proposal is the next step. Not including the bibliography, the prospectus should be about ten pages in length, but not more.
Students will be expected to have a prospectus approved within five months of passing the general examination in order to be considered to be making satisfactory progress toward the degree.
After the dissertation prospectus has been approved, candidates work closely with their dissertation director and readers. The PhD dissertation is expected to be an original and substantial work of scholarship or criticism, excellent in form and content. The program will accept dissertations on a great variety of topics involving a broad range of approaches to film and related visual media. It sets no specific page limits, preferring to give students and directors as much freedom as possible.
Students begin teaching in their third year. Ordinarily they teach discussion sections in courses in Film Studies and in VES. It may also be possible to serve as Teaching Fellows for studio courses. Preparation for a teaching career is a required part of each student’s training, and teaching fellows benefit from the supervision and guidance of department members. Teaching fellows are also encouraged to avail themselves of the facilities at the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.
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