Graduate Handbook

The Oral Examination and the M.Phil.

Once students have completed their coursework and fulfilled their language requirements, they are ready to prepare for and take the oral examination: a two-hour examination in four fields before four members of the faculty. The purpose of the oral exam is to help students develop a general knowledge of several broad areas of history, to deepen their knowledge of their own particular fields, to acquaint them with a range of interpretations of critical issues in their fields, and also to prepare them to teach and perhaps also to write in areas beyond their specific research interests. Three of the fields are usually within the student's principal area of interest (e.g. Europe, the United States, East Asia, etc.) and are known collectively as the "major field." A fourth area, the "minor field," must be in an area of history substantially different from the student's own, or in a discipline other than history.

Beginning in the second year, all students should assemble orals committees of four members of the faculty, one for each field on the oral examination and should prepare reading lists for each field. Such reading lists will ordinarily include both material students have already read, in courses and elsewhere, and new material read specifically for the oral examination. Students should consult reading lists prepared by graduate students who have already taken the oral examination, some of which are available through the Graduate History Association (GHA). The length and character of the reading lists are determined in consultation with the appropriate members of the faculty. During their preparation for the oral exam, many students meet periodically with the members of their committees to discuss their progress. Many students also form reading groups with other graduate students to facilitate their preparation. The faculty expects students to prepare extensively for these exams, but no one can be expected to prepare exhaustively. The examination itself, usually taken in the third year, is divided into four half-hour segments, one for each field.

Students are expected to file an Oral Examination Proposal in the first few weeks of the term in which the exam will be taken. The form is available from the Graduate Administrator in the department office. After completing all course and language requirements and passing the oral exams, students receive the degree of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.). Many universities do not offer the M.Phil., which simply signifies that a student has reached the stage widely known as A.B.D. ("all but dissertation"). Once a student has successfully passed the oral examination, the Graduate Administrator will submit the application for M. Phil. to the GSAS.

Note important deadlines for the M.Phil on this page.

Instructions for Scheduling Oral Exams

1) The student is responsible for scheduling a date with their Orals committee. Student should first check with the Graduate Administrator before scheduling Orals.

2) If the student is unable to resolve a mutual Orals date with the committee, then the student should speak with Sharee  M. Nash, Graduate Administrator, who will then take responsibility for organizing a date with the committee.

3) Once a date has been set, Sharee  M. Nash, Graduate Administrator, will find a location, send out a formal announcement of the date to the committee, and prepare Orals paperwork to be delivered to the chair of the committee the day before the defense is to take place. Ms. Nash will send out a reminder to committee members and the student two days before the scheduled exam.

4) After the defense, the Oral examination paperwork should be returned to Sharee  M. Nash, Graduate Administrator, who will then document the results and file the application for the degree of M.Phil with Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

5) Upon successful defense of the Oral exam, the student should see the Graduate Administrator to request that their name be placed on the roster for a post-MPhil study space in Butler Library.

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