Graduate Rules and Procedures

 (Revised February 2017) 

The Graduate Program of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton offers students a rich and rigorous formation in the study of the literatures and cultures of Spain and Latin America. 

I. Administration

The Graduate Program of the Department is administered by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), in consultation with the Chair of the Department. These two officers are the Department’s spokespersons on matters of policies and procedures as they pertain to departmental and university requirements and regulations.

Students consult regularly with the DGS concerning their intellectual interests and choices, as well as their course selection and academic performance in meetings scheduled from their first semester and throughout their graduate career.  

Also in keeping with our commitment to fostering communication, a meeting of all students with the Chair and DGS will be scheduled each semester. A third channel for the exchange of ideas is offered by the graduate liaison committee (GLC) composed of graduate students representatives from each year (see section XII for more details) who are expected to consult with the DGS throughout the term to communicate student concerns and suggestions.

II. Course of Study

The department requires a total of 15 courses to be completed by students by the end of the fifth semester (14 for letter grade credit, and 1 that may be an audit in the third year). 

Students normally take 3 courses for the first 5 semesters of study. In the fifth semester, 1 of the 3 courses may be audited. Courses chosen for this fifth term are designed to be particularly relevant to the dissertation.

Ideally, of these 15 courses, students should choose 2 or 3 that are offered by departments other than the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (with an absolute maximum of 5). Thus, at least 10 of the 15 courses must be taken in the department. Of these department based offerings, students are required to take courses in each of the five fields (Medieval/Early Modern, Colonial, Modern Latin American, Modern Peninsular, and Luso-Brazilian).
Students specializing in Hispanic literature and culture are required to take at least one 500-level Portuguese course, and, likewise, students focusing on Luso-Brazilian topics are expected to take at least one 500-level Spanish course
Third year students will be permitted to take 1 of the last 2 required seminars in the spring semester of the 3rd year, if they wish to do so.

III. Grading

No course in the Department is given Pass/Fail. Courses will be graded on a letter basis (A, A-, etc), or receive the designation of “Incomplete” or “Audit”. 

“Incompletes” have a serious impact on the student’s graduate career. A student with more than one “Incomplete” at the time of the General Examination will not be permitted to take the Examination. All incompletes must be completed by the time the student plans to present the thesis proposal.

Post-Generals students with more than one incomplete will not be considered  “in good standing” and will not be reenrolled by the Graduate School.
First year graduate students must submit term papers or take final exams in all of their fall term courses by the last day of the January reading period. This rule is designed to give students time to prepare for the Oral Presentation they will offer in the third week of January.

IV. Oral Presentations

Students in their first year prepare an Oral Presentation that they deliver to the faculty during the second week of the final exam period of the Fall semester. A text is selected by the student from a list supplied by the faculty, using it as the basis from which to develop a fifteen-minute talk, offering a clear line of reasoning in good Spanish or Portuguese. No presentation may last longer than 20 minutes. The student can use notes for the talk, but should not read a prepared text. This is a diagnostic exercise designed to assess the student’s analytical abilities and success in situating the topic chosen in the context of the literary work as a whole. Students should not overburden their presentation of the selected text with secondary readings or theory, nor should they summarize the piece. Instead they should work exhaustively with the text at hand while situating these close readings within the work’s larger historical context.

After the talk, the student will respond to questions regarding the text and the talk. This examination will not be assigned a letter grade; however, the assessment made by the Faculty will be recorded and communicated to the student by the DGS. Failure to perform satisfactorily will result in termination from the program. In some cases, the faculty may recommend that the student strengthen specific areas.

V. Language Requirements

Reading proficiency in a foreign language that are relevant to the student’s field of specialization is required. Since we are a Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Spanish and Portuguese are not considered foreign languages. 

All language exams must be completed by the end of the fourth semester (before the General Examination), and are normally given by the Department once per semester (usually in November and April). Students may also fulfill these requirements by enrolling in an appropriate course, approved by the DGS.

VI. The General Examination

By the end of the second semester, students are expected to declare their primary field of specialization, choosing one of the five possible concentrations:

  1. Medieval/Early Modern
  2. Colonial
  3. Modern Latin American
  4. Modern Peninsular
  5. Luso-Brazilian
The General Examimation consists of two parts:


This part of the exam will cover a 50-book reading list that encompasses the 5 fields.  The goal of this part is to test the student’s familiarity with indispensable works in the five fields. 
This part will be taken over 2 consecutive days in the month of May of the fourth semester of enrollment.
On Day 1 the student will have to answer one question (out of two) on each of the first three fields listed above.  Students will have 1 ½ hours per question, or 4 ½ hours total to answer the three questions of this exam.
On Day 2  the student will have to answer one question (out of two) on each of the fourth and fifth fields listed above. Students will have 1 ½ hour per question, or 3 hours total to answer the two questions of this exam.


This portion of the General Examination will be in the student’s area of specialization.  It will be taken on two consecutive days in the month of September (before classes begin) in the fifth semester of enrollment.         
On the first day, the exam will aim to ascertain that the student is conversant with the main theoretical and critical issues and directions of the field of specialization. 
The questions on the second day will aim to assess the pertinence and potential contributions to the field of the student’s dissertation. 
As a first step in preparation of this part of the Generals, by the end of the third semester the student will identify two faculty members in the field of his/her primary area of specialization from among the five fields.  
One of these two faculty members will be the dissertation advisor, which the student should choose no later than one month after the end of Part I of the General Examination.
The exam will be based on a tailor-made list devised by the student in consultation with the two faculty members. The list’s final version, approved and signed by the two faculty members, must be submitted by the student to the DGS by July 31.
It is expected that the list will include at least 50 entries. The list should be divided into sections (e. g., theoretical, critical, historiographic, and/or archival sources). The number and content of the sections will depend on the field of specialization and the topic of the dissertation.
The exam will be taken over two consecutive days. The student can choose to take the two parts of the exam at a place of her/his preference, and will be able to consult the materials included in the list.
Each mentoring faculty will provide one question for each day of the exam. On each day, the student will have to answer one of the two questions.  It is expected that the length of each essay will range from 10 to 15 pages.
Students have until 9:00AM the next day to turn in the first day's essay. Students may not receive the question(s) for the second day until the answer to the first day's question has been turned in.
Each answer to Part I and to Part II of the general examination will be read by two faculty members, who should agree on a grade for each question and a global grade for the entire examination. These should be communicated to the DGS and the Graduate Administrator.

VII. Dissertation Proposal

The articulation of the dissertation topic and the methodology that will be employed in its writing will be made to the faculty in January of the third year, at the end of the fifth semester, in a 20-minute presentation. It will consist of: 1-a detailed oral presentation of the dissertation topic in the language in which the dissertation will be written; 2-an examination by the faculty on this proposal and its implications. The faculty will make suggestions to the student, either approving the proposal as it stands, or requesting revision and resubmission. (At this time, the Department may also decide to grant the student a terminal Master’s degree.)

The student must submit a written version of the proposal doubled spaced to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for transmission to the faculty no later than one week before the public presentation. This document must include an explanatory essay indicating what the thesis proposes to study, and why it is important to the field. In addition, it should detail a chapter-by-chapter outline of the proposed thesis, and should include a substantial bibliography on the dissertation topic. The presentation should not be a mere summary of the written document—which faculty will already have read—but might explore the process of arriving at the project, methodological challenges and strategies, and analysis of some of the objects/texts/images to be analyzed in the project. The proposal must be double spaced in 12-point Times New Roman.  It should be no more than 15- 20 pages, but may not exceed 20 pages (5,000 words), exclusive of the bibliography. This page number limit is to be adhered to strictly.

After the public presentation of the proposal, the Director of the Graduate Students (DGS) will communicate the faculty’s comments to the student. If judged unacceptable, the proposal may be resubmitted one time only after revision.

VIII. Thesis-Writing Support

In the fall of the 4th and 5th years, students writing their theses may participate in an informal series of meetings with faculty members to discuss aspects of dissertation research, writing, and structure.

IX. The Language of the Dissertation

Students wishing to write their dissertation in Spanish or Portuguese rather than in English must obtain the prior approval of the DGS, who will consult with the dissertation director. If permission is granted, an explanatory letter from the thesis director and a formal request by the DGS will then be sent to the Dean of the Graduate School, who normally approves the request.

X. The Scope of the Dissertation

The dissertation director will usually be the first examiner of the student’s General Examination. The choice of a director is a matter to be arranged by the student with the faculty member. A second reader should then be selected, at the earliest opportunity, by the dissertation director, after consultation with the student and the DGS.

Timely progress on the dissertation is a prerequisite for readmission and for financial aid. Before graduate students are hired as preceptors or research assistants by faculty members, their dissertation advisor must agree that such employment will not significantly delay completion of the dissertation.

It is assumed that the scope of the dissertation will be such as to allow for its completion in two and a half years. Both the director and the second reader will be kept up to date on the student’s progress, and will read, judge, and critique chapters as they are produced. Both the director and the second reader should approve a final first draft before the dissertation is produced in its final form.
As stated in The Graduate School Catalog, “five years following the General Examination are allowed for the completion of the dissertation”. After that time, the Department is under no obligation to direct or receive a dissertation, and does so at its own discretion.

Taking as a hypothetical example a dissertation of four chapters and an introduction, the optimal timetable would be as follows: 
  • Chapter One, July, 3rd year;
  • Chapter Two, December, 4th year;
  • Chapter Three, May, 4th year;
  • Chapter Four, October, 5th year;
  • Introduction, February, 5th year;
  • Final version, April, 5th year.

XI. Final Public Oral Dissertation Defense

There are three examiners at the defense. Only one of the two readers may serve as principal examiner. The remaining two examiners are selected from among other members of the Faculty. 

The examination consists of the following three parts: 1-a brief (thirty-minute) presentation by the candidate of the dissertation in English, Spanish, or Portuguese; 2-an examination by the three principal examiners; and 3-questions by other Faculty in attendance. The exercise usually lasts an hour and a half. The Final Public Oral is open to all members of the University community, and graduate students are welcome to attend.

XII. Graduate Liaison Committee

Each year the graduate students will choose a Graduate Liaison Committee composed of one  representative from the first, second, third, fourth and fifth years who will serve as the communicators for graduate student concerns. These representatives will meet with the DGS once per semester, but also whenever issues of immediate concern arise. 

XIII. Teaching Assignments

Students are normally given an Assistantship in Instruction (AIs) as part of their admission package. The classroom experience is of great value for the development of teaching skills. The success of our department in placing its graduates is closely linked to their training and experience in this essential professional activity.

A summary of expectations is provided below.  For more detailed information, please refer to the PDF iconCourse Assignment and Key Information for AIs

Graduate students will be assigned to teach specific courses based on: previous course evaluations, seniority, appropriateness of field, number of incompletes, and the discretion of the professor in charge of the course. This applies to all levels of teaching, from language courses to precepts.

Students will teach during the fall semesters of their second, third, and fourth years (five to six hours of elementary or advanced language or literary instruction). This will give them time to concentrate on their graduate seminars in their first year, and will also relieve the pressure during the fourth semester, when they will be preparing for their General Examinations.

Besides language teaching, graduate students may have the opportunity to teach discussion sections (preceptorials) in literature courses or assist faculty with the teaching of summer study abroad courses or Global Seminars.  If circumstances permit and a student’s area of study is closely aligned to a course, one may be invited by a faculty member to teach a precept, and in such unique cases the following policies will apply.

  1. Graduate students invited to be preceptors for courses of 18 or more will be relieved of their language teaching for that academic year. However, the student must actually lead his or her own precept to receive this course “relief”; he or she cannot, for instance, simply grade for a professor.   Princeton in Argentina/Brazil/Portugal/Spain, Princeton in Cuba, and Global Seminars taught by SPO faculty with the help of the graduate student will also allow participating graduate students language teaching relief.
  2. Precepting can only count in lieu of language teaching if the course is within SPO, for a SPO professor’s class (say, located in PLAS or IHUM), for Princeton in Cuba, or for a SPO-led Global Seminar. Courses taught for other institutions cannot substitute for required teaching or precepting in SPO.
  3. If a student uses summer teaching for a Global Seminar or for PIA, PIB, PIS to count as that academic year’s teaching, he or she will be compensated in the summer and will receive only the regular fellowship during the academic year.
  4. If a proposed course does not achieve a minimum of 18 students in some advance of the semester’s inauguration, the precept will be eliminated and the student will be reassigned language courses when possible.
  5. Students may only serve as preceptors for one semester, to enable fair access to this opportunity.

(The Department may elect to provide other forms of support fulfilling the teaching requirement, e.g., languages tables, tutoring, Assistantship, in lieu of teaching).

Students on outside fellowships will also be required to teach, at the Department's discretion. All graduate students will be visited at least once a semester by the head of the course they teach. After the visit, the head of course will meet with the student to discuss performance, offer suggestions and, if necessary, arrange for a follow-up visit. The head of course will also complete a Departmental evaluation form, which will be placed in the student's file.

While these teaching evaluations are confidential and will not be communicated verbatim to a prospective employer, it should be remembered that teaching is an essential part of the student's training, and the Department is usually asked to comment on the student's teaching performance.

XIV. In Absentia and Leave Status

Students should consult the Graduate School for the University´s policies on In Absentia and Leave Status.

XV. Colloquia and Lectures

The Department offers a very lively intellectual climate, with scholarly colloquia, public lectures, workshops, and related events. Attendance of graduate students at such events is strongly urged since these events provide valuable insight into the performative aspects of our profession as speakers, respondents, and presenters.

Students are encouraged to selectively participate and read papers related to their fields of interest at professional meetings in the United States and abroad. Given the demands of the program, however, the Department advises that students favor publications in professional journals over conference papers.

XVI. Travel Funds

Requests for funds totaling up to $900 per year for Pre-Generals students, and up to $1,650 per year for Post-Generals students will be available for travel, lodging, and registration expenses incurred while participating in a conference or in connection with research travel. (These funds will not, however, roll over from one academic year to the next.)

Up to $1,000 will be available on a one-time basis for students to travel to the Modern Language Association Convention in connection with a job search.

XVII. Publication Funds

In very special cases, the Department will consider supporting publications. A student may petition the Department for subvention funds. If warranted, the Department will determine the extent of the subvention.

XVIII. Placement Dossiers

In the early Fall of their last year of residence in Princeton, students are advised to consult their DGS about creating a Placement Dossier with Interfolio ( This is a permanent record that may be sent to the prospective employers to whom the student chooses to apply. It contains curriculum vitae, a course transcript, and letters of recommendation from three or four professors, including a teaching evaluation.

In order to ensure that student’s records have been fully and fairly presented, the DGS may review the dossiers and the Faculty letters of recommendation before they are sent to prospective employers.

The first $ 150.00 of Interfolio service will be covered by the Department. If for any reason the student exceeds this approved amount, additional costs will only be covered by the Department if they are approved by the student’s advisor and the DGS.

XIX. Department Prizes

The Pedro Henríquez Ureña Award

Upon nomination from the faculty, this award will be conferred upon a student who has demonstrated the most consistent level of excellence during the five years of graduate study in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.   Conceived as a career award, this distinction will be awarded in the fifth year to the student who, in the estimation of the faculty, exemplifies the highest levels of ability, attainment, professionalism, and promise. In recognition of such outstanding performance and professional promise, this award, in addition, carries with it a stipend of $1,000. The award will be presented during the fall reception of the Department of the next academic year.

The Américo Castro Award

This award (bearing the name of one of the Department´s most illustrious scholars) will be conferred every two years upon the most outstanding dissertation defended in that two-year time-period in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. A committee established for this purpose will read the dissertations and readers´ reports and will make its recommendation to the faculty. This award, beyond its honorific nature, carries with it a stipend of $1,000.

XX. DCE Status and Financial Support

Students who have not completed the program by the end of their fifth year at Princeton have the option of applying for an additional year of DCE (Dissertation Completion Enrollment) status (see DCE Status at the Graduate School website). Since DCE students are not funded by the Graduate School in the same manner as regularly enrolled students, the Department may provide additional financial support through the assignment of language courses to departmental students with DCE status. Since the Department cannot guarantee teaching positions to all DCE students in need of financial support, it has therefore established the following guidelines regarding the assignment of courses to DCE students:

  1. Students must be in good standing in the program.
  2. Students must show significant progress towards completing their dissertation. They must present a detailed written report of the state of their project and copies of the sections completed to their advisor and the DGS in the Spring semester of their fifth year.
  3. Students are expected to apply for jobs at the MLA conventions and look for other sources of funding (teaching positions, fellowships, and so on) before they request teaching assignments from the Department. 
  4. Students whose last teaching evaluations received an overall mark lower than 4.0 will not be considered for teaching.
  5. The Department will provide only one year of teaching to DCE students.
  6. Students who have been assigned courses will teach a total of three courses, two in the fall and one in the spring.

XXI.Terminal Masters Degree

Requirements for the terminal M.A. degree:

  1. Successful completion of at least 10 graduate courses with a  minimum grade of B
  2. No INCs
  3. Completion of an M.A. Thesis (approximate length of 40 pages). The thesis can be based on a previous research paper. The advisor would be the faculty member for whom the thesis was written and there will also be a second reader.   Ideally the thesis should be completed before the student's enrollment terminates. It will be accepted up to four months after termination.