(Revised Februrary 2023) 

The Graduate Program of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton offers students a rigorous and critical formation in the study of the literatures and cultures of Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and of the territories affected by Iberian projects of colonialism (Angola, Cape Verde, Philippines, etc.) and their diasporas.

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.   

The DGS and the Chair will hold a yearly meeting with the enrolled graduate students at the beginning of the academic year, and on a need basis. Given the small size of the program, students are encouraged to communicate directly with the DGS to discuss issues regarding the academic program. They are also encouraged to suggest ideas for events or other matters of concern to the graduate liaison committee (GLC). The GLC is composed of graduate student representatives from each year (see section on Graduate Liaison Committee) who are expected to communicate with the DGS throughout the term.

II. Course of Study

The department requires a total of 15 courses to be completed by students by the end of the sixth semester (only one course may be an audit).  

Students normally take 3 or 4 courses for the first 4 semesters of study. In the fourth or fifth semester, 1 of the courses may be audited. Courses chosen for the fifth and –eventually– sixth semester should be particularly relevant to the projected topic of the dissertation. Students typically take 2 courses in the fifth semester and 1 course in the sixth semester, including reading courses.

Students may choose to take 2 or 3 of the 15 required courses in other departments (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 Spanish American, Modern Peninsular, and Luso-Afro-Brazilian). One of the 15 required courses should be a course on theory (critical theory, literary theory, cultural theory), which we will make every effort to offer at least every 2 years, and which can be taken in another department.

Students specializing in Hispanic literature and culture are required to take at least one 500-level course taught in Portuguese, and, likewise, students focusing on Luso-Afro-Brazilian topics are expected to take at least one 500-level course taught in Spanish.

III. Grading

No course in the Department is given Pass/Fail (unless force majeure circumstances). 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. Due to Princeton University's new academic calendar, 1 or 2 temporary “Incompletes” are acceptable at the end of the fall semester but must be completed before the subsequent spring semester begins. 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 dissertation 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.

IV. Oral Presentations

Students in their first year prepare an Oral Presentation that they deliver to the faculty at a predetermined date towards the end of the spring semester. The student selects a text from a list of short texts supplied by the ladder faculty (i.e., Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor) and provides a 15-minute close-reading of it in Spanish or Portuguese. No presentation may last longer than 20 minutes. The student may utilize notes for the talk but should not read a prepared text. This is a diagnostic exercise designed to assess the student’s abilities in close reading. 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 deeply and critically with the text at hand while situating it within the work’s larger context.

The presentation will be followed by questions the faculty will pose about the analysis provided. This exercise 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. Areas of improvement will be highlighted.

V. Language Requirements

Reading proficiency in a foreign language that is 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

Pre-Generals Requirements: Students will receive a reading list of 50 books that they must read before the general exams.

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 Spanish American
  4. Modern Peninsular
  5. Luso-Afro-Brazilian

The General Examination consists of two parts:


This part of the exam will cover about 50 works that encompass 5 fields. The goal of this part is to test the student’s understanding with some of the most indispensable works in each one of the five fields. 
This exam will take place right after the conclusion of spring classes during the fourth semester of enrollment. The format of the exam will be take-home and “open-book.” Students will be asked to formulate responses to two questions per field over the course of three days with, at least, a day of rest in-between the examination of the respective fields. The exam will take place over the course of about three weeks.


This portion of the General Examination will be in the student’s area of specialization. Students will submit their exams—known as their field statements—the day before spring semester classes commence.  
For this second part, students will write a field statement, that is, an academic essay fully addressing a relevant topic to the field in relation to their future research project. Each field statement will focus on a pressing topic or problematics, a “deep dive” within the student’s intended field of specialization. Essays are expected to be of about 10,000 words (bibliography excluded). Students should meet with their advisor/s for guidelines and to get a clear sense of their expectations for this exam. Ideally, the student will utilize this field statement as a preliminary step in the preparation of the dissertation proposal. Essays are expected to be researched and written throughout the semester and will lay the groundwork for the dissertation proposal, being however a separate exercise. The essay should map out important basic contours of the student’s chosen field, as well as indicate possible avenues of intervention that the dissertation may take (put forth either as hypotheses and/or potential archives the student hopes to explore in the dissertation). 
The field statement will be based on a tailor-made list devised by the student in consultation with two faculty members. The list’s final version, approved by the two faculty members, must be submitted by the student to the DGS and the Graduate Program Administrator by August 30 of the third year. This means that by the end of the student’s second year, they should identify two faculty members in the field of his/her primary area of specialization. One of these two faculty members will be the dissertation advisor. The dissertation advisor is required to be a member of the Spanish and Portuguese Department ladder faculty. Co-advisors from other departments will be permitted only in extraordinary cases and with the approval of the primary advisor and the DGS.
It is expected that the list will include at least 50 entries. The list should be divided into sections (i.e., theoretical, critical, historiographical, and/or archival sources). The number and content of the sections will depend on the field of specialization and the topic of the dissertation. All these sections will be relevant to the preparation of the field statement.

VII. Dissertation Proposal

The written dissertation proposal consists of the articulation of the dissertation topic, explanation of the utilized methodology employed, the structure and synopsis of the proposed dissertation, and a working bibliography. The proposal may not exceed 5,000 words, not including the bibliography. The word count (no more than 5,000, excluding the bibliography) must be stated at the beginning of the proposal. The proposal should be written in Spanish, Portuguese, or English. The expectation is that the language of the proposal will be the chosen language of the dissertation.

A draft of the student's dissertation proposal should be sent to their advisor by the third week of March of the sixth semester of enrollment. The student should send the final version of the proposal to the Graduate Program Administrator by a predetermined date in May (after Dean’s Date) of the third year.

The student will then present their proposal in a 25-minute oral presentation to the ladder faculty. The oral presentation should not be a mere summary of the written document. A good presentation will include some analysis of chosen objects/images/texts to be included in the dissertation. The faculty will then pose questions about the presentation itself, the implications for their respective field, and offer suggestions for improvement.

After the presentation, the DGS will communicate the faculty’s comments to the student. If judged unacceptable, a re-submission to their advisor and DGS is expected within four weeks. Alternatively, the faculty may determine that the student should not re-enroll in their fourth year. In such a case, the student will have the option to fulfill the requirements to attain a terminal M.A. degree (see section on “Terminal Master’s Degree”).

VIII. The Language of the Dissertation

Students may write their dissertations in Spanish, Portuguese, or English.

IX. The Scope of the Dissertation

The dissertation committee will consist of one advisor and two additional committee members. The dissertation advisor is required to be a ladder faculty member of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Co-advisors from other departments at Princeton will be permitted only in extraordinary cases and with the approval of the primary advisor and the DGS. The dissertation advisor will usually be the first examiner of the student’s General Examination. The composition of the dissertation committee is a matter to be arranged by the student with their advisor. Timely progress on the dissertation is a prerequisite for readmission and for financial aid.

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 and provide feedback on chapter drafts. Both the dissertation advisor and the second reader should approve a completed draft of the dissertation before the dissertation is submitted to their committee.

The following is an example of the timeline of a dissertation.  

  • Chapter One, completed by December of the 4th year.
  • Chapter Two, completed by May of the 4th year.
  • Chapter Three, completed by September of the 5th year.
  • Chapter Four, completed by February of the 5th year.
  • Final full version, completed by May of the 5th year.
As stated by the Graduate School, “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 accept the submission of a dissertation but may do so under its own discretion.

X. Final Public Oral Dissertation Defense

Please read the Graduate School guidelines on how to prepare for the FPO.

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. An examiner from another institution may participate in the FPO if s/he fills a gap in expertise that cannot be covered by any other professor at the university. Such examiner needs to be first approved by the DGS and, then, by the Graduate School. For more information see Faculty Roles & Graduate Committee Requirements.

The FPO 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 Defense is open to all members of the University community, and graduate students are welcome to attend.

XI. Graduate Liaison Committee

Each year the graduate students will choose a Graduate Liaison Committee composed of one representative from the first, second, and third 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. 

XII. Teaching (Assistantship in Instruction or AIs)

A graduate student with a teaching assignment will be given the title of Assistant in Instruction (AI), whether they have their own class or they serve as section leaders for another professor or instructor. Students who can teach in the Spanish program will be assigned Assistantships in Instruction during the fall semesters of their second, third, and fourth years (elementary, advanced language, assistants in literary/cultural courses). Students who can teach in the Portuguese program may be asked to teach either in the fall or in the spring semester of their second, third, and fourth years, depending on departmental teaching needs. For details on the AI tuition contributions and stipends, please consult Assistantships.

A summary of expectations for AIs is provided below. For more detailed information, please refer to the following documents:

For Spanish: 

Spanish Language Program at Princeton University: Course Assignment and Key Information for AIs - Updated February 2023-

For Portuguese: 

Portuguese Language Program at Princeton University: Course Assignment and Key Information for AIs -Updated January 2023-

All AIs are expected to hold office hours and are urged to participate in the leadership of the language tables (as needed). An AI’s engagement during office hours and their participation in the language tables are an intrinsic part of the student’s training in teaching and they will be taken into consideration in the department’s evaluation of the student’s teaching performance and in the department’s nominations for both internal and external teaching awards.

Graduate students will be assigned to teach specific courses based on previous course evaluations, seniority, appropriateness of field, number of incompletes, and at the discretion of the professor or instructor in charge of the course. This applies to all levels of teaching, from language courses to precepts.Graduate students may only be hired by other programs or departments as staff, fellows, or research assistants, if they receive prior approval by the DGS. If they are beyond their second year, they need to receive the additional approval of their advisors. Supplemental employment (which cannot surpass 10 hours/week) will only be approved if there is evidence that it will not delay the student’s progress in the program. The Princeton/Community College Teaching Partnership program enables Princeton University graduate students to teach courses in community colleges. If approved by the DGS and the student’s advisor, a student may fulfill their teaching requirement by teaching a Spanish or Portuguese course as part of this partnership program (see GradFutures Community College Teaching Fellowships).

Besides language teaching, graduate students may have the opportunity to teach in precepts (discussion sections) in literature/culture 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 24 students or more will be relieved of their language teaching for that academic year. However, the student must 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 teaching relief.
  2. Precepting can only count in lieu of language teaching if the course is within SPO, for a SPO professor’s course (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 Princeton in Argentina/Brazil/Portugal/Spain 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 precept is eliminated due to insufficient enrollment, the student will be reassigned language courses when possible.
  5. Every effort will be made to ensure that these opportunities are available for a maximum number of students. However, occasionally a student may serve as a preceptor on more than one occasion.

The Department may elect to provide other forms of support to fulfill the teaching requirement, i.e., tutoring, Assistantship, in lieu of teaching when necessary. Students on external 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.

XIII. In Absentia and Leave Status

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

XIV. Colloquia and Lectures

The Department offers a very lively intellectual climate, with scholarly colloquia, public lectures, workshops, and related events. Graduate student attendance of such events is strongly urged as they provide valuable insights into the scholarship being produced in the respective fields as well as opportunities to engage with leading scholars and participate in events as co-organizers, respondents, and speakers.

Students are encouraged to selectively participate and present papers 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.

XV. 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.)

Please see Funding Opportunities for additional information and application procedures.

XVI. 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.

XVII. Placement Dossiers

In the early fall of their last year of residence in Princeton, students are advised to consult the DGS about creating a Placement Dossier with Interfolio. This is a permanent record that may be sent to prospective employers. It contains the 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 Department will cover Interfolio's annual fee allowing you to send up to 50 applications. 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.

XVIII. 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. To be eligible for DCE status, a student must have finished at least one chapter of his/her dissertation by March 15.
  3. Students are expected to apply for jobs 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.
  7. Students interested in applying for DCE status should refer to the Course Assignment and Key Information for AIs presented in Section XIII. Teaching Assignments.

XIX. Terminal Master's 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 paper 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.

XX. Teaching Prize

The Department will annually award the Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones Prize for excellence in teaching by a graduate student in the department.