Slavic Languages and Literatures

The First Two Years

Course requirements for the two general programs of study in either Plan A Slavic Literatures or Plan B Slavic Linguistics are normally fulfilled during the first two years of study.  All students are required to demonstrate graduate-level knowledge of the language of the major field.

Coursework requirements (16 four-credit courses)

General Program Requirements:

Slavic 299: Proseminar

Linguistics 250: Old Church Slaviconic

For students pursuing Plan A — Slavic languages and literatures with concentration on the study of literature: Six courses in one major Slavic language and literature and four courses in a minor field, which can be another Slavic language and literature, another language and literature, Slavic linguistics and language pedagogy, Russian and East European history, film, the visual arts, philosophy, or comparative literature, among other possibilities.

Out of the six four-credit courses required for the major field, at least two must be seminars or conference courses, which involve the writing of a substantial research paper. 100-level courses in literature may be counted for graduate credit with permission of the Director of Graduate Studies and the professor involved. At least two must deal primarily with the nineteenth century and two with the twentieth; at least one must deal primarily with poetry (including a final paper written on poetry); at least one must deal primarily with prose (including a final paper written on prose).

Of the four four-credit courses required for the minor field, at least one must be taught by a Slavic faculty member.

All sixteen four-credit courses must be completed with a grade before proceeding to the general examinations.

For students pursuing Plan B — Slavic languages and literatures with concentration on the study of Slavic linguistics:  one Slavic language as the major (four courses), a second Slavic language as the first minor (two courses), and a related elective field as the second minor (two courses). Additionally, Linguistics 252: Introduction to Comparative Slavic Linguistics and Linguistics 110: Introduction to Linguistics are required. 

Of the four courses required for the major field, at least one must be a seminar or conference course that involves the writing of a substantial research paper.

Of the two courses required for Slavic language minor field, one must deal primarily with grammar and one must deal primarily with theoretical linguistics of the second Slavic language.

Foreign Language Requirements

Graduate students will study two languages in addition to the major field language. Many students choose to pursue a second Slavic language (Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, or BCS) and either French or German, two of the languages most helpful for doing research in Slavic. Students who do not pursue a second Slavic language may study both French and German, or they may, after consulting with the Director of Graduate Studies, substitute another language that is of demonstrable importance to their research interests.

The minimum requirement for a foreign language is two semesters of college study, or a “Reading Knowledge” course (French 16 or German Ax, with a minimum grade of A) designed to provide a reading knowledge for research purposes. For students learning a second Slavic language, we encourage additional study (including, perhaps, a secondary field in the given literature). Students with prior knowledge of a language may substitute a Slavic Department reading exam for their coursework. 

The most common configurations are therefore:

  • A second Slavic language (Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, or BCS) plus either French or German
  • Both French and German
  • Either French or German, plus another language of importance to the student’s research

Graduate students will choose the option that makes the most intellectual sense for them, in consultation with the Department's Director of Graduate Studies.

Good Standing

The minimum standard set by the department for satisfactory work by graduate students is an A-/B+ average (as many A’s as B’s). Students who fall below this level must, in the following term, demonstrate their ability to meet this minimum in courses taken within the department. Only students who remain in good standing are eligible to take the PhD general examinations, to teach, and to receive Harvard fellowships. Each year the Department writes a letter to students assessing their progress in the program, recording any milestones and other achievements, and setting forth requirements for the coming year.

Policy on Incompletes

Students may be granted one Incomplete in a term and must ask permission of the director of graduate studies as well as the instructor of the relevant course. They must make clear that this will be the only Incomplete requested that term. The Incomplete must be made up by the end of the next term. Students may not request another Incomplete until the one outstanding has been made up. In addition, students may not begin their general examinations if they have an Incomplete in their major or minor fields, nor may they give their minor field presentations if they have an incomplete in their minor field. To be eligible to teach, students must not have any Incompletes in their required courses.

Master of Arts (AM)

The department does not admit candidates for a terminal AM degree. PhD candidates may, however, apply for an AM degree after having completed, with satisfactory grades, eight four-credit courses that satisfy department requirements. The degree may also be offered to students who choose not to complete the PhD, assuming they have met the course requirements.


As part of their preparation, candidates are required to teach; normally students teach in at least the G3 and G4 years, both language and literature/culture courses. Teaching is supervised by members of the department and includes a program of teacher training. It is expected that all graduate students will take Slavic 126 (Structure of Russian) either before they begin teaching language, or concurrently with their first term of teaching language.


Through the pre-generals period and until the time a prospectus is approved, the director of graduate studies advises all graduate students. When students submit their prospectus to the department, however, they also name an advisor to direct the dissertation as first reader, and recommend the second and third readers as well. Once the department approves a prospectus, students will work with these three faculty members as needed throughout the dissertation process. At the beginning of each term, all graduate students are responsible for meeting with the director of graduate studies prior to the enrollment deadline in order to have their Crimson Cart electronically signed.

General Examinations

Before proceeding to write a dissertation, the candidate must pass the following general examinations, which will be offered only during the fall and spring terms. See the Graduate Program Requirements on the Slavic Department website for more extensive details.

Plan A: Literature

 Part 1. A minor-field portfolio and presentation, normally completed in the third year. See the Slavic Department website for additional information.

Part 2a. A four-hour written examination that will consist of eight textual and visual excerpts from a range of periods and genres. The author, title, and (if known) the year the work was written will be identified. The student will write on six of these excerpts, contextualizing each within literary history and the author’s creative biography, and also analyzing the work’s formal features. Preparation for this part of the written exam will be informed by the comprehensive reading list (including film, contemporary literature, etc.), that can be downloaded from the departmental website.

Part 2b. A single take-home essay, which the student will have 48 hours to write.

Normally, the written exam and essay are completed at the start of a student’s fourth year of study, and normally Part 2b is completed no more than a week after Part 2a. The exam schedule is set by the Chair and DGS.

 Part 3.  Students will prepare a completed draft of the dissertation prospectus as the first step in Part 3 of the general examinations. In preparing the draft, students are invited to consult widely with faculty in the department. Students will also work closely with the faculty member whom they have chosen as the dissertation advisor, and with others who seem possible members of the dissertation committee. The completed draft will be submitted to this committee by the Monday after Thanksgiving in the Fall semester of the student’s fourth year.

The student will then meet with two faculty members for a one-hour prospectus conference during the Fall Reading Period. This is meant to be a conversation, with students getting feedback on all aspects of the proposed dissertation – its argument, aims, scope, and components, as well as the plan for research and writing. The prospectus conference will begin with the student offering a brief (ten minutes) presentation of the dissertation’s themes and goals, and questions and discussion will follow. Students should come away from this conference with a clear idea of any changes needed in the prospectus itself, and with a clear work plan for beginning dissertation research and writing. In response to the suggestions received at this prospectus conference and subsequently, the student will prepare the final version of the prospectus, to be submitted as soon as possible to the Department for formal approval but no later than the Wednesday before Spring Break of the following Spring semester.

Students are invited to share their prospectus and dissertation plans at a the GSAS workshop. These events are meant as much to help the dissertation-writing student, who will get feedback from peers and other faculty, as to engage the larger community in the dissertation projects from the very first. They will also give entering graduate students a sense of dissertation work from the very first, and allow students to learn across the generations and from each other.

Plan B: Linguistics

Part 1. A two-hour written examination testing the candidate’s knowledge of Slavic linguistics from a comparative-historical or contrastive perspective; or a minor field portfolio and a ten-minute oral presentation.

Part 2. A three-hour written examination on the linguistics of the candidate’s major language in the context of the Slavic family. This is taken no more than one month before Part 3.

Part 3. A two-hour comprehensive oral examination centering on (although not limited to) five “fields”; the fields are to be chosen by the candidate in consultation with the professors in the department.

Part 4. A dissertation prospectus and prospectus meeting, as described in Part 3 of Plan A above.

Dissertation and Submission

A dissertation prospectus must be submitted for review and approval by all members of the Department. Normally graduate students should plan to submit a prospectus by the Wednesday before Spring Break of their fourth year, if not sooner. The prospectus will be accompanied by a cover letter, stating the student’s plans for an advisor and dissertation committee. Typically, the Department will approve the committee as requested, and any anticipated adjustments will be discussed in advance through the Director of Graduate Studies. Normally all committee members are from the Slavic Department, but with the approval of the DGS and in cases where the dissertation topic warrants a broader range of perspectives, a student may request that one committee member come from outside the Department.

The dissertation must give evidence of original research or of original treatment of the subject and must be in good literary form. It should be completed within three to four years after the general examinations. Each year, the department will set the due dates for submitting a final, polished draft of the dissertation to all committee members – one for students wishing to finish their degree in the fall, one in the spring, and one in the summer. The PhD candidate is then asked to give a defense before the members of the Department; the format of dissertation defenses is under discussion for change in 2018-19, and degree candidates are urged to consult early with the DGS to learn of the revised plans.

Online submission of the dissertation via ETDs @ Harvard is required by the Graduate School. Dissertations must be received by 11:59 pm on the deadline for the given degree period. NO EXTENSIONS TO THIS DEADLINE ARE PROVIDED.

The final manuscript should conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation. The Department requires that a bound hard copy also be submitted to the Slavic Department, to be maintained in the Graduate Student Reading Room. Each committee member should also receive a bound or electronic copy of the dissertation.