The PhD in Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Colorado offers specializations in Chinese or Japanese with concentrations in literary and/or cultural studies of either the pre-modern or modern periods. The program consists of:

  1. course work
  2. a Comprehensive Examination consisting of a written and an oral component
  3. a doctoral dissertation
  4. an oral defense of the doctoral dissertation.

The following guidelines represent the PhD procedures specific to our department; they are not intended to replace or supersede the University of Colorado at Boulder Catalog nor any other official document issued by the Graduate School. See in particular the Graduate School Rules.

Course Work

The PhD requires a minimum of 45 credit hours in graduate courses numbered 5000 or above in Japanese and may include a focus in a related field (such as History, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Sociology, Art History, Film Studies, etc.). Students who have completed an MA degree may be able to apply up to 21 hours toward this requirement.

The required 45 credit hours of coursework must be passed with a grade of B or better. If a student receives a grade of B- (or a lesser grade), the course in question will not count toward the total number of credits required to graduate. Upon receiving more than one B- (or lesser grade), a student will normally be dropped from the graduate program.  In order to ensure that special circumstances are taken into account, the department Graduate Committee will review each such case and recommend appropriate action to the department chair.

In addition to superior language skills in English as well as in the classical/literary and modern form of the language, a reading knowledge of one additional language is required (typically one additional Asian language or one European language), to be decided in consultation with the main advisor.

This ability may be determined by completing a college level intermediate course (typically fourth semester) in the language with a grade of B or better (either at CU or prior to arrival on campus); passing with the current minimum acceptable score an appropriate foreign language test; or passing a test of reading knowledge set by appropriate faculty.

New PhD students will select the courses they take during their first year of study in consultation with the Graduate Director of the program. By the end of their second semester, students are required to choose their major advisor, with whom they will plan their program of study thereafter. Normally this faculty member becomes the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee as well as of the Dissertation Committee.

Comprehensive Examination

Before admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree, students must pass a comprehensive examination. The comprehensive exam will cover three fields—the chosen field of concentration and two related fields—to be decided in consultation with the student’s Comprehensive Examination Committee.  

The examination is conducted by an examining board appointed by the chair of the department and approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. The board shall consist of the major advisor and additional members as necessary to a minimum of five (one of whom must come from outside the department or from outside the program).

Working in consultation with the Chair (usually this will be the student’s major advisor) and other members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee, the student will formulate a dissertation topic and prepare a reading list of primary texts pertaining to that topic, and a further list of secondary materials composed of critical and theoretical texts intended to inform the student’s approach to the dissertation topic. The reading lists will be circulated to the Comprehensive Examination Committee two weeks before the written exam.

The examination itself consists of a take-home written exam in three fields (the chosen field of concentration and two related fields) followed by an oral examination lasting about 90 minutes that concentrates on the written exam, but may also address texts and topics on the reading lists that are not covered in the written exam.

For the written exam, the student will be given three groups of two or three questions in each field. Usually, the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee will set questions in the student’s chosen field of concentration; the questions for the two related fields are each set by a committee member. The questions for each group will be emailed to the student by the Graduate Program Assistant or the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee, usually in intervals of three weeks. Each time, the student will choose one question from the group and return the response to the committee members within two weeks. What form the response is going to take is decided by the Chair of the committee. Typically, the response will be a scholarly paper of 15 to 30 pages.

The oral examination will cover the student’s broad area of concentration. It takes place within two weeks after the third response is submitted. Students are expected to demonstrate familiarity with primary and secondary sources as well as related issues such as social and historical context, and current theoretical trends in the field. The Comprehensive Examination is only open to the members of the Examination Committee.

The student is responsible for notifying the Graduate Program Assistant of the date of the oral examination to reserve a room. The Exam Form should be submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant as soon as the date is confirmed.

Upon successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination, students should fill out the Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree.

Dissertation Hours

A minimum of 30 hours of doctoral dissertation credit with no more than 10 of these hours in any one semester are required. Students must be enrolled in a minimum of 5 dissertation hours per semester after passing the comprehensive exam and extending through the semester in which they defend their dissertation.

Dissertation Director and Committee

Students form the Dissertation Committee in consultation with the major advisor. The committee consists of the Dissertation Director (usually this will be the student’s major advisor) and four other graduate faculty members (one of whom must come from outside the department or from outside the program).

Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus will be submitted within a month after the Comprehensive Examination, to be followed by its defense a week later.

The dissertation prospectus should provide a clear written outline of the dissertation, including: the major theme or themes of the dissertation; a clearly expressed thesis or argument about the topic itself; an overview of relevant secondary literature; a chapter-by-chapter outline; a timeline for its completion; an extensive bibliography. Students are expected to demonstrate familiarity with their field, a thorough knowledge of primary and secondary sources, current trends in scholarship, and a clearly articulated sense of their contributions to the field. The prospectus should be roughly 4,000–5,000 words long, plus bibliography, and will be circulated to the Dissertation Committee; the Dissertation Committee will decide if a prospectus is acceptable. The prospectus defense will take place with the members of the Dissertation Committee. The defense lasts approximately an hour. If the prospectus is approved, the student begins to write the dissertation.


The PhD dissertation must be based upon original research and demonstrate mature scholarship and critical judgment as well as familiarity with the tools and methods of research. It should be a worthwhile contribution to knowledge in the student’s special field. The dissertation is written in close consultation with the Director and Dissertation Committee.

The dissertation must meet the format requirements of the Graduate School. Students should consult the University Catalog and confer with the Graduate School for specifications and deadlines.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense—an oral examination and discussion lasting about 90 minutes—should take place in the spring semester of the fifth year. The student should schedule the defense before the start of the spring semester. Copies of the dissertation should be delivered to the committee members at least one month prior to the defense date. The Exam Form should be submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant as soon as the date is confirmed. A satisfactory vote from at least four committee members is required to pass the defense. The Final Examination is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

Typical Timeline

  • 1st Year
    • Semester 1: 3 seminars
    • Semester 2: 3 seminars
  • 2nd Year
    • Semester 3: 3 seminars
    • Semester 4: 3 seminars
  • 3rd Year
    • Semester 5: 2 seminars; 5 hours of Dissertation Guidance;
      ​preparation of Comprehensive Exam
    • Semester 6: 1 seminar; 5 hours of Dissertation Guidance;
      ​Comprehensive Exam; Submission of Dissertation Prospectus
  • 4th Year
    • Semester 7: at least 5 hours of Dissertation Guidance
    • Semester 8: at least 5 hours of Dissertation Guidance
  • 5th Year
    • Semester 9: at least 5 hours of Dissertation Guidance
    • Semester 10: at least 5 hours of Dissertation Guidance;
      Submission and Oral Defense of Dissertation