Skip Navigation

Ph.D. Degree in Cultural Analysis and Theory––Cultural Studies Track

The Ph.D. Degree in CAT–Cultural Studies Track at Stony Brook is designed for students whose interests cut across traditional modes of study in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Areas of emphasis include popular and mass culture, minority and diasporic cultures, visual culture, media and technology, cultural production, cross-cultural and transnational/global formations, as well as the study of elite, dominant, and national cultures. Course requirements are designed to build competence in interdisciplinary Cultural Studies theory and practice, maximize collegial interaction among students, and allow students to develop disciplinary fluency in a particular subfield.

Our department’s strengths lie primarily in critical and cultural theory, cinema and media studies, visual culture studies, comparatist and cross-cultural studies, as reflected in the Department’s popular undergraduate major in Cinema and Cultural Studies. Competence in languages other than English has also long been considered essential to the department’s mission. A network of affiliated faculty represent a wide range of areas in disciplines including Africana studies, art history and studio art, Asian and Asian American studies, English, European and Hispanic languages, history, music, philosophy, and women’s studies.

Full Information on Graduate admissions and M.A. and Ph.D. degree structure in CAT can be found in the Department Handbook (available as a PDF).


A. Course Requirements

  1. CST 502: Theories in Cultural Studies
  2. CST 510: History of Cultural Studies
  3. CST 680: Cultural Studies Research Seminar
  4. CLT/CST 698: Teaching Practicum
  5. Twelve additional graduate courses, at least three of which must be CLT/CST/WST courses numbered 600 or higher

To ensure disciplinary fluency in a more traditional sense, students are strongly recommended to take at least three of these courses in a single discipline (outside the core cultural studies sequence), and to include at least one faculty member from that field on the Ph.D. oral exam and dissertation committees.

A minimum of 48 credits of graduate work to be completed before the comprehensive exam is required for the Ph.D. Students who hold an M.A. in cultural studies can transfer up to 30 credits at the discretion of the director of graduate studies and director of cultural studies. If students enter the program with an M.A. in some other discipline (e.g., Anthropology, Art, English, Film Studies, History, Media Studies, etc.), the director of graduate studies and director of cultural studies may grant them up to 18 credits. It will be the prerogative of the graduate studies committee to grant additional credits to such students, up to a maximum of 30 credits.

Please note: Students must take the required courses when they are offered, and cannot replace them by Independent Study courses, except in the most unusual circumstances and by petition to the director of graduate studies before the beginning of the term the course is offered. The petition has to be signed by the person directing the Independent Study and must be approved by the director of graduate studies and director of cultural studies. A student may take no more than one CST 599 Independent Study in a given semester. A maximum of six credits of CST 599 Independent Study courses, is applicable to the degree requirements for the Ph.D.

All students seeking the Ph.D. must take the required courses listed above, unless the graduate program committee accepts comparable courses taken previously. All Ph.D. students must acquire a minimum of one semester of formal teaching experience (even if they are unsupported or are on a fellowship requiring no teaching duties) and must concurrently take the formal teaching practicum, CST 698.

All doctoral students in CAT take the Teaching Practicum in their first year. The Practicum familiarizes students with the Stony Brook undergraduate curriculum and data on Stony Brook undergraduates. It covers practical pedagogical issues, as well as theoretical and policy issues concerning the aims of education and the social role of the university. Student will develop a syllabus for an undergraduate course. Students will also observe others teaching and reflect on these experiences with the class. The Practicum Director serves as an advisor to first year students, prior to their selection of advisors in the second semester. 

B. First-Year Evaluation

Following the student’s second semester of graduate work, the director of graduate studies or director of cultural studies will prepare a file for the student’s first-year evaluation. It consists of: 1) a qualifying paper, usually the paper produced for a core seminar; 2) the student’s grades, 3) letters from the professors in each of the student’s classes, and, if the student is a teaching assistant, 4) a letter of evaluation from appropriate faculty, and 5) student evaluations. The graduate studies committee will evaluate the dossier and decide whether the student should be encouraged to continue in the program.

In May of the second year, and each year following, the student will complete a report on progress in the program, including specific progress towards degree (coursework, qualifying exams, dissertation prospectus, and dissertation) and other achievements (funding, research, presentations, publications). They will then meet with the director of graduate studies or dissertation advisor to discuss their progress in the program. The graduate studies committee will evaluate the report and decide whether the student should be encouraged to continue in the program.

C. Satisfactory Progress Toward the Ph.D.

In addition to requirements listed above, Ph.D. students must fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Maintain at least a 3.5 average, with no course below B-, in each semester of graduate study. There is a one year maximum limit on incompletes. A student may accumulate no more than two incomplete grades in any one semester or he/she will no longer be considered a Student in Good Standing, a prerequisite to continue in the program. As a result, the student may lose his or her T.A. line and face possible dismissal from the program; 
  2. Receive a satisfactory first-year evaluation in the spring semester of the first year of study;
  3.  Satisfy the foreign language requirement at least three months before the comprehensive examination;
  4.  Complete all core courses in the first two years of full-time study and all 48 credits for the Ph.D. in three years;
  5.  Take the comprehensive examination no later than one year after completion of coursework;
  6.  Submit a dissertation prospectus in the semester following satisfactory completion of the comprehensive examination.

By rules of the Graduate School, students must satisfy all requirements for the Ph.D. within seven years after completing 24 credits of graduate work in the Stony Brook department in which they are registered. In rare instances, the Graduate School will entertain a petition to extend this time limit, provided it bears the endorsement of the department. The program may require evidence that the student is still properly prepared for completion of the degree. In particular, the student may be required to pass the comprehensive examination again in order to be permitted to continue work.

D. Foreign Language Requirements

Ph.D. students may choose to demonstrate competence in either one principal foreign language (that is, any language that is of principal importance to the student’s course of study) or two secondary languages. English may count as a principal language for non-Native speakers.

To demonstrate competence in the principal foreign language, students must take for credit and earn a grade of B or better in at least one graduate or advanced undergraduate literature course conducted in the language (final papers may be written in English). Or, students may enroll in an independent study. In special cases, students may substitute an advanced language examination of three hours in lieu of course work. The examination consists of three sections: a) oral comprehension, defined as the ability to understand and summarize in English the contents of two graduate level lectures conducted in the foreign language; b) written comprehension, defined as the ability to understand and answer questions on a moderately long (approximately ten pages) theoretical, critical, or scholarly article; c) translation skills, shown through translating into English an advanced-level literary passage. The student is permitted to use a dictionary for part c but not for part b. If the principal foreign language being examined is a Classical language (e.g., Classical Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek), the three-hour test will consist of translations at an appropriately advanced level.

Competence in the two secondary languages can be demonstrated by: 1) earning a grade of B or better in a graduate translation course or 2) passing a translation examination to be taken with a dictionary.

E. Comprehensive Examination

Students who are candidates for the Ph.D. will normally take their comprehensive examination no more than one year after completing their course work. Completing the language requirement is a prerequisite for sitting for the examination.

Committee for the Examination

Students will discuss the choice of a dissertation chair for their examination committee with their advisors and the director of cultural studies. One CAT faculty member will be asked by the student to serve as chair of the committee. Three more faculty members who can examine the student in one or more areas of the examination, as defined below, will be selected by the student in consultation with the director of graduate studies, the advisor, and the Chair of the committee. At least three of the four members of the examination committee must be CAT faculty or affiliates. At least three of the members of the committee must be physically present at the examination.       

Reading Lists

Cover sheet for reading list

A reading list for all parts enumerated below will be compiled by the student with the help of the examination committee. The student’s examination committee will review and approve the exam lists before the student submits the signature sheet to the Director of Graduate Studies for final pre-examination review of requirements. Students should also submit a description of the special area, related to the dissertation, along with the reading list.


The examination is oral, with the duration to be determined by the members of the committee but not shorter than two hours and not longer than three. Questions posed by examiners will be based on the reading lists for the examination. The examination may be passed, passed with distinction, failed, or failed in part. In case of failure, the examination may be retaken once, but no later than the end of the semester following the time when it was initially scheduled. In case of partial failure, the second examination will cover only the area(s) on which the candidate's performance was inadequate.

The Cultural Studies comprehensive examination consists of four parts:

  1. Cultural Theory. Students will be examined on a combination of cultural theory pertinent to their research and from the Cultural Theory Reading List. The historical, geographic, and thematic aspects of the list will be determined in consultation with the student's examining committee.
  2. An in-depth Study of a Cultural Phenomenon. Knowledge of the historical development and context (social, economic, etc…) of the phenomenon will be expected, and the reading list should include, in addition to relevant primary texts, a selection of major critical and theoretical works.
  3. An historical Period. Demonstration of historical breadth. Possible options include classical antiquity, Medieval, baroque and neo-classical, romanticism, modernism, and postmoderism as well as unique historical moments chosen by the student, such as the time between the two world wars or the last two decades of the twentieth century. Other traditions outside the West may also be included. The student will be expected to know the history and the social and intellectual background of the period.
  4. Area of Specialized Interest. Defined as a focused subject, issue, debate, or problem related to the student's projected dissertation topic. The student will be expected to have a wide knowledge of the history and scholarship that inform the background of thearea. 

Each part of the examination should include at least 40 works. Half of the list for Part 1 will be composed of books from the Cultural Theory Reading List and the student’s research interests. The Cultural Theory Reading List is available from the CAT office. There is no standard list of required works for parts 2-4, although committee members may insist on including certain texts at their discretion. All parts of the reading lists must included texts in at least two languages other than English (translations are acceptable). Reading lists in these areas are not intended to be exhaustive, but they should provide coverage of the field that adequately prepares the student to teach courses in the areas of the examination. Guidelines for the preparation of the reading lists can be obtained in the Department.

F. Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy is granted by the Graduate School upon recommendation of the director of graduate studies after a successful comprehensive examination. Again, all other requirements must have been met before the student sits for the comprehensive examination.

Students who have passed their Ph.D. oral comprehensive exam will be deemed to have passed the equivalent of the master's exam and be granted a M.A. degree unless they already have a master's degree in cultural studies from another institution.   The student must file appropriate papers with the department.

G. Dissertation

The dissertation represents the culmination of the student's degree program and should be a serious contribution to scholarship.

Within three months of passing the comprehensive examination, the student must be prepared to schedule the Dissertation Prospectus Review.

As soon as possible, after the Comprehensive Examination, the candidate should choose a dissertation director, as well as the two CAT readers of the dissertation. (The reader outside CAT may be chosen nearer to the defense date, at the discretion of the dissertation director.) The director of the dissertation must be a member of the CAT core faculty. Affiliates may co-direct dissertations with a core faculty member. In consultation with the dissertation director and the readers, the candidate drafts a dissertation prospectus. 

The dissertation prospectus, which must be appropriate to cultural studies, should be between 2000 and 3500 words, not counting footnotes or bibliography, and should include the following:

Title of the dissertation;

  • Description of the topic and its appropriateness for cultural studies in focus and method;
  • The rationale behind the choice of topic, and the anticipated contribution of the proposed research to knowledge;
  • A discussion of the argument your dissertation will advance;
  • Current state of research on the topic and a basic bibliography;
  • Method of work, including the general approach (e.g., historical, generic, thematic, structural) and an outline of chapters.

When the director and readers have approved the prospectus, the student and the director will schedule a Dissertation Prospectus Review to be attended by the student, the director, and all other members of the dissertation committee. Faculty and/or graduate students may be invited to the review at the discretion of the student. The review should be no less than one hour in length. The director, the readers, and others in attendance will discuss the prospectus with the student in order to insure that the student is ready to proceed in the project. When the director and the readers agree that the student is ready, they will sign off on the prospectus and submit it to the Director of Graduate Studies. The candidate then proceeds to the dissertation.

Guidelines for Dissertation Prospectus Review

Cover sheet for Dissertation Prospectus

  • The student will circulate her or his prospectus to all members of the committee three weeks prior to the review.
  • The student will begin the review with a summary of the project in less than five minutes. She or he should clearly communicate the core thesis of the prospective dissertation.
  • The members of the committee will then ask questions and make suggestions.
  • The student should take notes during the meeting and make sure that she or he understands what the committee is suggesting.
  • At the end of the meeting, the student will be asked to leave the room so that the members of the committee can discuss whether or not they are ready to sign off on the prospectus. If the members of the committee are satisfied that the student is prepared to begin writing the dissertation, they will sign off on the document and send it to the DGS.
  • In some cases the committee may decide not to sign and request a revised prospectus. If the members of the committee are satisfied with the revised prospectus, there is no need for a second dissertation prospectus review. In some cases, however, the committee may decide that a second review is necessary.

Although there are no strict regulations on length, dissertations will normally be between 200 and 400 pages, not including bibliography and other supplemental material. The dissertation committee may, in special cases and with justification, allow a student to submit a shorter or longer dissertation. 

When the dissertation has been completed in accordance with guidelines published in Guide to the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations, legible copies of the complete dissertation must be given to all committee members at least one month in advance of the scheduled defense. 

All dissertation defenses shall take place on campus and require the full attendance of the dissertation examining committee. Any exceptions from this practice will require approval from the Dean of the Graduate School. Campus Audio/Video Services can be employed in the event that either a committee member or the defending student cannot be on the premises due to extenuating circumstances. While the examining committee may wish to hold the committee examination of the defense in private, the public presentation of the defense will be open to the university community and should be advertised campus-wide three weeks prior to the scheduled date. A minimum of three weeks prior to the dissertation defense, the dissertation abstract, approved by the student’s advisor and director of graduate studies, must be submitted to the Graduate School with details of the time and location for the defense. The Doctoral Defense Announcement form is available on the Graduate School Web site. 
The Graduate School will be responsible for advertising the defense to the university community. 

The dissertation examining committee will set up the ground rules for the defense, which usually involves the student giving a short précis of the research problem, the research method, and the results. This is followed by questions from the Committee and, if the committee so desires, from the audience. 

H. Teaching Assistantships

For Ph.D. students awarded teaching assistantships, four years of full support is the department's norm. Awards are renewable annually, provided the student maintains satisfactory academic progress towards the degree and performs teaching duties appropriately (see below, Satisfactory Progress). Students (other than Turner fellows) should not count on assistantship resources beyond the fourth year of study.

During their first year, Ph.D. students will normally be placed as teaching assistants in CAT lecture courses. During their second and third years, students will most commonly teach as instructors in the Writing Program or in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, and during their fourth year, as independent instructors of CAT courses. Admitted students who would prefer a Writing Program or AAAS placement during their first year should notify the Department immediately upon admission into the Ph.D. program. While placements will vary according to student and program needs and constraints, every effort will be made to provide each student with the available range of teaching experiences.

Graduate students in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies have the opportunity to teach a wide variety of courses. Their teaching obligation may be fulfilled in several ways depending on departmental needs:

  1.  Assisting an instructor in a large lecture course;   
  2.  Teaching a small section of a literature course under the supervision of the CAT faculty;
  3.  Participating in the basic language course in a foreign language department or in a composition course in the English     department.

T.A. assignments differ, but the amount of work required cannot exceed 20 hours per week.

T.A.s will usually:

  1. Hold office hours to review course materials, assist in grading, and discuss other course-related issues with   undergraduates
  2. Attend classes (graduate courses will be scheduled to minimize interference with T.A. assignments) and read all required entries on the syllabus;    
  3. Lead discussion groups;
  4. Grade exams, homework, and other written material.

The performance of teaching assistants is monitored by evaluation forms given to undergraduate students at the end of each semester, as well as by faculty members who visit certain classes taught by the T.A. and submit a written evaluation. Stipends of teaching assistants may be terminated if (on the basis of these evaluations and other relevant criteria) the graduate studies committee judges that they have been deficient in carrying out their teaching duties. Superior work as a T.A. is highly valued by the CAT faculty and by the Graduate School. In the past, several T.A’.s from CAT have won the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student. This and other prizes for which T.A.’s are eligible carry a cash award.

I.   Advisor and Mentor

The Graduate School requires all students to have an advisor. The director of cultural studies serves as advisor to all entering students during their first year and helps them plan their programs. Before the end of the first academic year, full-time students should choose one official graduate advisor from the Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies graduate faculty. Advisor and student meet regularly to discuss the student's progress and program. Advisors are normally chosen for one year, but students are, of course, free to change advisors and are encouraged to consult with all members of the faculty.

Incoming students are also urged to choose a faculty member to serve as a mentor who can meet with the student to discuss a variety of concerns not necessarily involving course work.

J.   Residence Requirement

The University requires that students receiving a Ph.D. must take at least two consecutive semesters of full-time graduate study. For those entering without prior graduate study or with fewer than 24 graduate credits, this usually means 12 credits per semester; for those entering with more than 24 graduate credits or with advanced standing provided by prior graduate work, this would mean 9 credits per semester.

Login to Edit