Path to Ph.D.
Students are funded for graduate training at Princeton for five years. During the first two years, students complete their course and language requirements, culminating in a general examination at the end of the second year. Students devote the next three years to researching and writing the dissertation, drawing upon both Princeton's rich library holdings and archives across the world. During this time most also choose to precept (work as a teaching assistant). Full details are available through the Guidelines for Graduate Study in History. For a more informal look at the career of a history student, we've also sketched out a typical path to the Ph.D. here:
The first year is an exciting and challenging one for many students as they plunge into the study of history. All students come together to take History 500, Introduction to the Professional Study of History. Over the next two years they take at least eight more courses, choosing from a variety of formal history courses, independent readings with faculty, and courses outside the department. Students also get a taste of professional historical writing by completing an article-quality research paper by the end of their first year.
Most students also take advantage of the wealth of opportunities in the intellectual community at Princeton, such as the weekly seminars sponsored by the Davis Center and other organizations on campus.
Students generally use the summer between their first and second year to study a language, at Princeton or abroad, or to conduct archival work for their second research paper.
Students complete all coursework, pass all language requirements, and write a second research paper before standing for the general exam in the spring term. Most try to finish their coursework before the spring to leave lots of time to prepare for general exams. Students also begin thinking more seriously about their dissertation topic during the second year.
The General Exam
Preparation for the general exam begins in the fall. Students choose faculty as examiners for three fields (one major and two minor) and collaborate with them to draw up reading lists. In the spring semester students read for their exams--an intensive immersion in the literature of their fields that builds a foundation for future teaching and research.
The exam consists of a week-long take-home exam and a two-hour discussion with faculty examiners. Performance on the exam is evaluated as pass, fail or distinction.
The Dissertation Prospectus
Students begin focusing on their dissertation project during the summer between their second and third years in an four-week prospectus seminar with their cohort. During the seminar students complete a detailed prospectus that outlines their research agenda and dissertation project. Their faculty advisors will read, comment upon, and approve this prospectus by December of the third year.
The Third to Fifth Years:
Third, fourth and fifth years research and write their dissertations, present papers at professional conferences, and precept. Many go abroad to research, while others enjoy the cool stacks of Firestone's C-floor. Those who stay in Princeton also host conferences and organize workshops.
Under the guidance of their primary supervisor, students craft an original and significant contribution to knowledge based on original research. As they progress, they consult with other scholars in their field who eventually make up the committee that evaluates the dissertation.
Download the most recent version of the Guidelines for Graduate Study in History (as PDF)