Doctoral Programs: French and Spanish

2019 RLL GSA Conference.

2019 RLL Graduate Student Association Conference organizers

The Department of RLL educates doctoral candidates in the scholarship of the discipline and trains them to develop new knowledge about the languages, literatures and cultures of the Romance Languages, as well as the languages and cultures of the  diasporic communities with which they have remained in sustained contact.

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The UB College of Arts and Sciences is committed to recruiting the very best PhD students and preparing doctoral students for career success. 

About the Program

The PhD program is one of progressive specialization that will culminate in a dissertation. Students are not required to hold an MA prior to their admission to the PhD program. An MA is normally awarded after completing the Qualifying Examinations. 

The PhD program has three major components with different but overlapping and complementary goals: 1) Graduate exams based on reading lists; 2) Graduate course work: 3) Dissertation. The graduate reading lists are designed to give students a broad overview of a field (the history of a literary tradition or the general field of linguistics) and more in-depth knowledge of a specialized period, area or topic leading up to the dissertation. 

Faculty Mentorship

Our PhD students benefit from personalized contact with experienced faculty whose expertise spans a diverse range of interests within the romance languages framework, allowing for maximum flexibility in choosing areas of study. Faculty regularly collaborate with departments across campus, including Media Study, Art/Art History, Theatre and Dance, Comparative Literature, History, Linguistics and Canadian Studies. Faculty advisors mentor students closely throughout the degree program to ensure readiness for qualifying exams, teaching duties and dissertation writing and defense. 

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Hands-On Learning

Students are encouraged to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible, including presentation of conference papers, assisting language students at conversation tables, and helping to organize and implement an annual student-run departmental conference. Teaching Assistants are invited to play an advisory role in departmental administration of language courses, assisting in language textbook selection and preparation of course syllabi. Our exchange programs in Spain, France and Switzerland are the perfect way to gain academic level language proficiency and solid teaching experience in the target language.

Career Opportunities

The PhD prepares students for careers in academia, and the department has an excellent placement record for its alumni at colleges and universities both locally and across the nation. PhD recipients may also pursue alternative careers in research, publishing, journalism, grant writing, government service, international development, educational administration or any other profession in which critical thinking, research and analysis, and cultural knowledge are valuable.

Course Requirements

Some graduate courses from the core curriculum offer surveys of a particular period, genre or linguistic discipline, and students are encouraged to take advantage of such courses when they are offered. However, many graduate courses are more specialized classes designed to give students research experience with non-canonical texts, new ideas and innovative approaches that may later inform directly or indirectly the direction taken in the dissertation. These various components, along with the language requirement, prepare students to conduct research and contribute to their fields.

Students must complete at least 20 graduate courses (60 credits). A total of 10 courses (30 credits) of relevant coursework may be transferred from another institution. Graduate courses are designed to introduce students to a particular topic and to prepare them to do research in the field. Assessment is based primarily on a major research project and associated assignments leading up to it. The PhD program allows students the flexibility to design their own program of study in consultation with their advisor, but they must take at least one course in each general area of their field:


  • French literature
  • Francophone literature
  • French linguistics


  • Peninsular literature
  • Spanish-American literature
  • Spanish linguistics

Minor Specialization

PhD candidates are encouraged to choose a field of lesser concentration. Students already holding a Master’s degree in a related field might choose this topic as their minor specialization. 

Language Requirement

PhD candidates must demonstrate proficiency in two languages other than English and the language of specialization. "Proficiency" means the student is able to read primary works and/or secondary criticism related to their research interests or program of study. Proficiency may be demonstrated (a) by successful completion of an advanced-level course taught in the target language, or (b) by passing an examination administered each semester by the department.

Students must satisfy this requirement before the completion of the Preliminary Exam. While the department does not prescribe specific languages, it is strongly recommended that the candidate select at least one other Romance language. 


Qualifying Exam: During the 4th semester (3rd semester for post-MA students), students take a 50-minute oral exam in their field (literature or linguistics) designed to test their knowledge of either literary history or linguistics, along with critical analysis skills, based on a reading list of representative works. Note: the linguistics examination also includes a research paper that must be approved by faculty.

Preliminary Exam: This exam tests the student’s specialized knowledge and expertise in a chosen subfield. During the 6th semester (5th for students who enter the program with an MA from another institution), students take a 60-minute oral exam based on a reading list prepared by the student in consultation with his or her adviser. The list may cover a period, a genre, or a linguistic subfield, and should include relevant theoretical works and studies that reflect the current state of the field. The exam begins with a discussion of a question posed by an examining committee two days prior to the exam, but also covers the works on the reading list and mastery of relevant issues in the subfield. The graduate committee recommends that the reading list be pertinent to the student’s dissertation, and that students submit a dissertation proposal before or soon after the preliminary exam.

After passing the preliminary exam, receiving approval for a dissertation topic from the major adviser, and completing all other departmental requirements, the candidate may submit an Application to Candidacy to the Graduate School. This confers ABD (All But Dissertation) status.


After completing required coursework and passing the Qualifying Examination, the PhD candidate writes a dissertation under the guidance of faculty. The doctoral dissertation constitutes an original contribution to scholarship in the field.

At the beginning of the 7th semester (6th semester for students entering the program with an MA from another institution), the student will submit to his or her committee an initial dissertation chapter of 20 to 50 pages. Within one month after submitting this chapter, the student and the committee will meet for a colloquium in which the student will field the committee’s questions concerning the chapter and the general direction of the dissertation. The objective of this meeting will be to evaluate progress and offer guidance in the writing of the dissertation.

How to Apply

Students who wish to pursue an MA degree in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures must submit an online application. You will be redirected to create an account and start an application. Returning users can use this link to log in to their existing application(s).

For additional application instructions, please see Graduate Admissions

Contact Us

Whether you are still exploring the possibility of obtaining a PhD, or have already decided that this is the path for you, we invite you to schedule an appointment with our Director of Graduate Studies to discuss your plans and learn how RLL can prepare you for a successful future.