University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The French Department’s doctoral program reflects the interdisciplinary priorities that have long defined the pursuit of knowledge here at Berkeley. We are thus committed not only to providing students strong coverage of the field of French and Francophone literature and culture, but also to doing so through the critical application of innovative methodologies, and by continually bringing French studies into productive dialogue with developments in parallel disciplines. Our faculty’s interests are both historically and methodologically diverse; their strengths are complemented by a variety of programs, centers, working groups, and so on that regularly bring scholars of the humanities together across campus. And the atmosphere, relaxed and non-hierarchical, lends itself to free and passionate inquiry. We invite you to explore our offerings.

The PhD program in French has been formulated to allow students maximum flexibility to pursue their scholarly interests while guaranteeing the acquisition of broad competence in the discipline of French and Francophone literature and culture. Students are both expected to acquire expertise in the works of all periods and given the freedom to develop interdisciplinary and specialized perspectives.

Students may consider the option of pursuing a designated emphasis (DE). Popular DEs for students in French include Critical Theory; Film Studies; Women, Gender, and Sexuality; Renaissance and Early Modern Studies; European Studies; and New Media. Students pursuing a Designated Emphasis take certain prescribed courses within these disciplines, and write a dissertation that partially encompasses the chosen field of study. In addition to providing students an institutional mechanism for incorporating this sort of work into the PhD program, the designated emphasis assures prospective employers that you have demonstrated expertise in that particular field, and it will appear on your final degree. The Program in Medieval Studies also offers a joint degree in French and Medieval Studies.

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Admission to the University

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. The Graduate Division hosts a complete list of graduate academic programs, departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application and steps to take to apply can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Admission to the Program

Criteria for the selection of applicants for graduate study in French include the following: Academic background (including grades) and interests, professional promise, evidence of intellectual initiative and commitment, potential for a successful teaching career at the university or college level, and language proficiency in French. The assessment of the applicant’s potential is based primarily on the statement of purpose (which should focus on the candidate’s intellectual interests), past record, recommendations, and a writing sample(s). The writing sample(s) should show the applicant’s thought process and style of argument.

Two samples of writing are required:

  1. 5-8 pages, typed and double-spaced, meant to provide an example of your best French, and
  2. 7-10 pages, typed and double-spaced, in French or English, meant to provide an example of your best thinking.

If both samples are the same piece of work (in French, 7-10 pages), there is no need to submit two samples.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative Time Requirements

Normative time to advance to doctoral candidacy is eight semesters unless a student enters the graduate program with a master’s, in which case normative time to advance to doctoral candidacy is six semesters.
Normative time in candidacy is four semesters.
Total normative time is twelve semesters.

Time to Advancement

During the first four semesters (MA phase) of the graduate program, students complete a minimum of eight courses—for a letter grade—at Berkeley, of which six must be undertaken at the graduate level (above 200). In addition, one of the eight courses must be from the series FRENCH 270AFRENCH 270B or FRENCH 274 (FRENCH 298 does not count toward the course total). These eight courses all count for the 12-course requirement for the PhD. Students are also required to participate in FRENCH 200A during their first semester and FRENCH 200B during their second semester.

In order to complete the MA phase, and for the MA degree to be conferred, students must complete the coursework outlined above with at least a 3.5 GPA, and also successfully complete a written MA exam by the end of the fourth semester of graduate study. (The MA is not offered on the Graduate Division's thesis plan).

Invitations to proceed to the PhD phase of the program in French are granted by the graduate committee at the end of the semester in which the student completes all the requirements of the MA phase. The graduate committee reviews the student's entire graduate record. Also considered is the written advice of the MA committee, which is based upon the timely passing of the MA exam and on the student's performance on the examination.

PhD candidates will be expected to complete at least 12 courses apart from FRENCH 200A and 200B—for a letter grade—at Berkeley prior to advancement to candidacy for the PhD. (Advancement to candidacy occurs with the constitution of a dissertation committee following the passing of the PhD qualifying examinations.) At least 10 of the 12 courses are to be taken at the graduate level (above 200), with the student taking at least six graduate courses in the first four semesters of the program (see above).

Seven of the required 12 courses will be devoted to fulfilling a requirement of historical comprehensiveness. Comprehensive knowledge of French literature will be demonstrated by taking one course at the graduate level (above 200) from the Middle Ages; three courses at the graduate level from among the following four options: 16th-century, 17th-century, 18th-century, early modern studies; and three courses at the graduate level from among the following four options: 19th-century, 20th-century, Francophone studies, modern studies. A course satisfies the historical comprehensiveness requirement if it dwells centrally on various works of literature falling substantially within the given period. Courses centering on one author’s works count for this requirement.

MA students must take FRENCH 270A, FRENCH 270Bor FRENCH 274 as part of the MA degree requirements (see above). FRENCH 201 is also a degree requirement and may be completed at any time before the qualifying exams.

Upper division or graduate courses in another language may count in satisfaction of the 12‑course requirement, whether or not they are also used to fulfill part of the foreign language requirement. Courses numbered in the 300 or the 600 series will not count toward the total.

The foreign language requirement should be completed by the end of the third year in the PhD program (second year, in the case of students entering with an MA) and the Graduate Division requires that it be completed before the student may attempt the PhD qualifying exams. Students may fulfill the foreign language requirement through either Option I or Option II, as specified by the Graduate Division.

Students are also required to take courses in pedagogy as part of their training as teachers of French.

During the first year of study at the PhD level (or, for students who enter with an MA, during their second year in the program), students submit the PhD program proposal. In the proposal, the student specifies choices for the three fields of study for the PhD qualifying examinations (author, period, genre/theme/topic) (see following section for details). The program proposal:

  1. Names the author the student has chosen;
  2. Provides a list of 35 titles to be read in the period specified; and
  3. Includes a brief description of the genre, theme, or carefully-delineated topic extending over a period of three centuries, and provides a reading list of 35 works by different authors representing the stages of its historical development and up to five secondary texts relevant to the subject.

Students who enter the program with a master's degree from another institution should take their PhD qualifying exams before or during their fifth semester in the program (sixth semester for those completing the master's degree in the Berkeley French Department).

Time in Candidacy

After completing the qualifying examination the student chooses a dissertation topic and forms the dissertation committee consisting of a director and two other committee members. At this point, the student completes the advancement to candidacy form; normally, by the end of the semester in which the qualifying exam is taken. Following advancement to candidacy, the dissertation should be completed within four semesters.

The dissertation prospectus consists of an 8-10 page essay, accompanied by a bibliography of approximately five pages. It is developed in consultation with the dissertation director, and must be approved by the director prior to submission to the dissertation committee.

Once the dissertation prospectus has been approved by the director, a one-hour prospectus conference is scheduled with all the members of the dissertation committee, to take place no later than the last week of classes during the semester following the QE.

The French Department follows the Graduate Division's Plan B for granting of the doctoral degree. The dissertation is considered accepted when the members of the candidate's dissertation committee approve it in its final form.

Required Professional Development

We encourage students to present their work at a few professional conferences during their graduate career and to submit written work for publication. We recommend one or two submissions over a student’s time in the graduate program. In the majority of cases, the work submitted will be from the dissertation, although sometimes faculty members may suggest rewriting a seminar paper for publication. Students should be proactive about consulting with faculty members about publication but should remember that neither publication nor attendance at conferences should be allowed to slow progress on the dissertation. The primary concern is progress on the dissertation. (Note that the department’s proseminar each fall includes a session on “Publishing and Conferences for Graduate Students: being realistic & writing successful proposals," and another on "Professionalization: how to do it."  All graduate students are welcome to attend these sessions as many times as they wish.)

The department organizes works-in-progress meetings throughout the year, hosted by the head graduate adviser. Graduate students in the dissertation phase will be asked to present their work at one, and perhaps even two of these events during the writing of their dissertation.

GSIs are normally assigned by the director of the French Language Program to teach language courses. The French Department also offers a limited number of reading and composition courses in English (FRENCH R1A and FRENCH R1B).

Professional Development Activities

The French Department offers a variety of professional development activities to its graduate students. In addition to the proseminar, which addresses such topics as publishing, conferences, and balancing research and teaching, and the works-in-progress series (see above), the department provides extensive guidance to students as they enter the job market.



Contact Information

Department of French

4125 Dwinelle Hall

Fax: 510-642-8852

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Department Chair

Rick Kern

4123 Dwinelle Hall

Department Manager


Head Graduate Advisor

Mairi McLaughlin

4224 Dwinelle Hall

Graduate Student Affairs Officer

Pichaya Kositsawat

4207 Dwinelle Hall

Faculty Undergraduate Advisor

Nicholas Paige

4212 Dwinelle Hall

Undergraduate Student Services Advisor

Nina Rennert Cohen, MA

4118 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-1202

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