Doctor of Philosophy in Spanish

Ph.D. student receiving diplomaThe faculty of the Department of Spanish trains Ph.D. students to be both language experts and literature scholars, specialists and generalists, teachers and active intellectuals. We see our doctoral students as professors of the future. From the moment they enter the program we encourage them to develop a broad foundation in Hispanic studies, while at the same time enabling an individualized course of learning centered around specific fields of expertise. In addition, Ph.D. students receive training as teachers in our classrooms, as study abroad graduate coordinators, and as research assistants, often working closely with faculty in research projects.

Our students have the unique opportunity to pursue coursework with every member of our graduate faculty. They have the flexibility to design, in consultation with the Graduate Advisor, a personalized program of study incorporating, as they see fit, any combination of courses offered by the Department of Spanish in the diverse areas of Hispanic studies. Faculty areas of expertise include: 

  • Iberian medieval studies
  • Early modern Spanish literature and social history
  • The work of Miguel de Cervantes
  • Colonial Spanish America
  • Modern and postmodern Peninsular literature and culture
  • Modern and postmodern Spanish American literature and culture
  • Caribbean and Central American studies
  • U.S. Latino literature and culture
  • Spanish phonetics and phonology
  • Spanish morphology and syntax
  • Spanish historical linguistics and dialectology 
  • Contact Spanish and language documentation
  • Latin American linguistic anthropology 
  • The sociology and pragmatics of Spanish
  • The acquisition of Spanish as a second language


Please review the admission requirements.

Program requirements

  1. Complete a minimum of 36 hours of course work at the 6000-level or above, and beyond the M.A. level. With written prior approval from the Spanish graduate advisor, a maximum of 12 of 36 hours may be taken in supporting coursework outside the department.
  2. Maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 in all doctoral-level courses combined.
  3. Demonstrate a reading knowledge of a third language beyond Spanish and English that is relevant to one of the student's major research interests. Competency will be measured by either passing a translation examination or passing a Language for Graduate Study course (e.g. FREN 5020, GER 5020, ITAL 5020), whose level will be determined in consultation with the Spanish graduate advisor.
  4. Pass the Ph.D. comprehensive examination. 

The comprehensive examination consists of three parts, namely, two written examinations and one oral examination. All coursework and the reading knowledge of a third language examination (see above) must be completed before the comprehensive exam is taken.

There are six areas of study, from which two are chosen for the exam:

  • Spanish literature and culture I: Medieval and Golden Age periods
  • Spanish literature and culture II: 18th century to present
  • Spanish American literature and culture I: Colonial period through Modernismo
  • Spanish American literature and culture II: 20th and 21st centuries
  • Spanish linguistics I: Spanish linguistic systems and their acquisition
  • Spanish linguistics II: Variation in Spanish linguistic systems

The comprehensive examination consists of two four-hour written sections and a two-hour oral section. All sections cover coursework completed during doctoral studies.

The first written section is based on a specialized reading list of works corresponding to a primary area of study, and an additional reading list developed in consultation with the future dissertation director. The second written section is based on a non-specialized reading list of works corresponding to a secondary area of study. The oral section is comprehensive.

A single grade will be given for the entire exam. Possible grades are: superior, good, pass, or fail. Students who fail the exam may retake it once. At the discretion of the exam committee, they may be required to retake the entire examination or portions of it. 

Students should take the comprehensive examination as soon as possible after finishing required coursework and passing the reading knowledge exam, but it is recommended that they take the examination within a period of four months after having completed those requirements.

 5. Prepare and defend a dissertation.

The topic of the dissertation is chosen by the students in consultation with the director. At least 15 hours of dissertation credits (SPAN 7300) are required. The dissertation is the capstone of the Ph.D. experience. It ought to be an original, high-quality contribution to scholarship in an area of interest to the student. As in the case of coursework, the dissertation is a learning experience to be guided by faculty. To be sure, the research and writing of this book-length manuscript requires considerable independent work and discipline on the part of the student. Nonetheless, we give great importance to the role of the faculty in this process, particularly to the duties of the dissertation director. The goal is that the entire process be realistic, fair, collegial, and expeditious. Although University time limits for completion of the Ph.D. may be more generous, it is the expectation of the Spanish faculty that even the most ambitious dissertations be completed within two years. Once the dissertation is completed, the candidate presents the results of his/her research in a final public defense.

recommendations in addition to requirements

  1. Teaching - It is expected that most Ph.D. students in Spanish will have an interest in teaching. Thus, at some time during their graduate career at Western Michigan University, all Spanish Ph.D. students will be given the opportunity to gain teaching experience, usually through a teaching assistantship. Opportunities for teaching exist in a variety of courses at the undergraduate level. This experience will be guided by faculty supervision. Renewal or continuation of assistantships depends on satisfactory performance in teaching and in graduate studies, as well as on availability of university resources.
  2. Study abroad - It is recommended that before graduation, all Ph.D. students in Spanish will have spent at least six months in residence or study in a Spanish-speaking country. Many students will have fulfilled that expectation as undergraduates, but they are urged to seek additional opportunities to study abroad.

With the approval of the graduate advisor, six hours of graduate credit from recognized abroad universities may be counted toward the 36 hours of coursework. Research and writing for the dissertation may be carried out during residence abroad, provided that arrangements are approved by the dissertation director.

Graduate students are eligible for the President’s Grants for study abroad awarded by the University.

For additional information about the Ph.D. in Spanish, students may write to WMU’s Office of Admissions or to the department’s graduate advisor. Students are encouraged to consult information available at