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Slavic Languages and Literatures

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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

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)

Over the first two years of the program students are required to enroll in 16 courses.

For students pursuing Plan A — Slavic languages and literatures with concentration on the study of literature: 

During their first two years of study, students will be required to enroll in seven 200-level Slavic Department seminars in literature and culture, including a course in Old Church Slavonic and one course in the Medieval period. Students will take two of these seminars per semester during the first two years of study, but only one in the fall term of the G2 year. These required graduate seminars are taught by the full range of department faculty. They vary from year to year and are intended to teach a broad range of literature and culture, as well as current scholarship in the field. In addition to these required seminars, students will take electives each semester to fill out a normally four-course schedule.

During their first year, students will also enroll in the Slavic Graduate Proseminar for G1 students. This is a year-long workshop-style course that meets every other week, and it is graded SAT/UNSAT.

In addition to the major field, students will select a minor field. The minor field 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. Students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies when choosing their minor field. Of the four four-credit courses required for the minor field, at least one must be a Slavic Department course.

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: 

Students are required to enroll in Linguistics 250: Old Church Slavonic, Linguistics 252: Introduction to Comparative Slavic Linguistics, and Linguistics 101: Introduction to Linguistics. They will take four courses in their major linguistic area, one of which must be a seminar or conference course. If a student’s major linguistic area is a Slavic language other than Russian, one of the four required courses for the major must be on Russian language.

During their first year, students will also enroll in the Slavic Graduate Proseminar for G1 students. This is a yearlong workshop-style course that meets every other week, and it is graded SAT/UNSAT.

In addition, students will select two minor fields and take two courses for each. The first minor will be a second Slavic language from a Slavic branch (West, East, South) distinct from that of the major language; students are required to take one grammatical and one theoretical course. The second minor will be a third Slavic language from the Slavic branch, distinct from those of the major and second Slavic languages; students are required to take one grammatical and one theoretical course. Students will select their minor fields in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Foreign Language Requirements

Graduate students will study at least one language in addition to their major language. Many students choose to pursue a second Slavic language (Ukrainian; Polish; Czech; or Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian [BCS]). Preferably this study should begin in the first year, perhaps followed up by a summer program abroad after the first or second year of study. Many students also learn either French or German, two of the languages most helpful for doing research in Slavic, and either language could fulfill the additional language requirement. In exceptional cases, when a student’s research agenda requires the knowledge of a second language that is neither Slavic, French, nor German, the department will permit the substitution of an alternative second language. Requests for exception should be discussed with the Director of Graduate Studies.

The minimum requirement for a foreign language is two semesters of college study, or a “reading knowledge” course (for example, 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 minor field in the given literature). Students with prior knowledge of a language may substitute a Slavic department reading exam for their coursework. 

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, the eight four-credit graduate level courses, including the Proseminar, 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 teacher training program. 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 course registration electronically signed.

General Examinations

Before proceeding to write a dissertation, the candidate must pass the following general examinations, which are offered at specified times. See the Graduate Program Requirements on the Slavic Department website for more extensive details.

Plan A: Literature

Part 1. A minor-field presentation, normally completed in the Fall semester of 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 or musical 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 (Parts 2a and 2b) are completed in the Spring semester of a student’s third 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 they have chosen as the dissertation advisor, and with possible members of the dissertation committee. The completed draft will be submitted to this committee before the start of classes in the Fall semester of a student’s fourth year.

The student will then meet with two faculty members for a one-hour prospectus conference early in the Fall term. 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 minute) 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, 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 end of Fall Reading Period.

Plan B: Linguistics

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

Part 2a. A four-hour written examination testing the candidate’s knowledge of Slavic linguistics from a comparative-historical or contrastive perspective.

Part 2b. A four-hour written examination on the linguistics of the candidate’s major language in the context of the Slavic family.

In consultation with the professors in the Department, the candidate will determine essay coverage by field distribution (phonology or morphology or syntax: two out of three) and temporal perspective (both synchronic and diachronic). Normally, the two written exams (Parts 2a and 2b) are completed in the Spring semester of a student’s third year of study, with Part 2b being completed no more than a week after Part 2a. The exam schedule is set by the Chair and DGS.

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

Dissertation and Submission

A dissertation prospectus must be submitted for review and approval by all members of the Department. Normally graduate students submit a prospectus by the end of Fall Reading Period 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 2019–20, and degree candidates are urged to consult early with the DGS to learn of the revised plans.

Online submission of the dissertation via Proquest ETD 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 PERMITTED.

The final manuscript should conform to the requirements described in the GSAS dissertation policy pages. The Department requires that an electronic copy of the final dissertation also be submitted to the Slavic Department and to each committee member.

Contact Info 

Slavic Languages and Literatures Website

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