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Lessons I've learned from George Justice, Devoney Looser, Steve Karian, Trish Roberts-Miller, and over a decade of working as a supporter of graduate students.


  • Regardless of who you want to work with, you'll want to be in touch with potential advisors and committee members as early as possible.  (Ideally you'll be in contact with us prior to your application to Auburn)

  • You are ultimately responsible for keeping track of your own progress through the program through the Doctoral Checklist.


With all prospective students, we will have at least one initial meeting.  In that meeting, I want to find out:

  • How do you learn best?

  • What type of feedback serves you best?  

  • What is your degree for?

  • What kind of scholar do you want to be?

​Based on your answers to those questions, we will decide when/how often to meet, our expectations for those meetings, and when to submit stuff to me.


  • I expect that all students interested in working with me will have taken at least one class with me, and done your best work.  If this is impossible because of my teaching rotation, I will encourage you to contact me about auditing a comparable undergraduate course. 

  • I strongly encourage students to select courses that allow them to consolidate their knowledge base and try out new methodologies, and to think about their seminar papers as ways to test out ideas in service of their research.


Official Department Language: A general examination, often called the "preliminary examination," is required of all applicants for the degrees of doctor of philosophy.

  • Taken after coursework (and foreign language requirement)

  • Written exam: usually three three exam fields.

  • Oral exam: completed after the writtens are passed.​

What you can expect from me:

  • An agreed-upon list that I will not add to once it is finalized;

  • A clear meeting schedule in the lead-up to the exam;

  • Discussions that will practice the format of the oral exam.


Official Department LanguageWithin three calendar months after passing the oral phase of their General Doctoral Examination, all doctoral students receiving financial aid through the department must submit an approved 4-7-page dissertation prospectus to the DGS. Each prospectus should:

  1. describe the proposed topic (controlling question & focus)

  2. specify the methods for developing the topic (methodology)

  3. succinctly survey the main primary and secondary materials to be used (literature review)

While this looks like a short document, it's the product of a lot of reading and thinking: much of which will hopefully have been done as part of your comprehensive exam preparation.

My expectation:

  • While you are writing your prospectus, I expect you to produce 5000 words a semester (they don't have to be brilliant, they just have to be on paper)


Official Department Language:  The dissertation is to be a contribution to knowledge in one or more of the three areas from the comprehensive exams. For formatting information, check the Auburn Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Guide.

My Expectations:

  • You will keep me and the rest of the committee up to date on your progress.  If you feel you must hide from me, then this is a relationship that is no longer serving you, and something will need to change.

  • You will produce at least 10,000 words (40 double-spaced pages) per semester during this period.  These are not expected to be perfect, but they must be produced.

  • I expect you to think about your writing and research processes: retaining the habits and techniques that serve you, and actively seek out

  • I expect you to attend the monthly Miller Writing Center Dissertation WriteFest (and at least one BootCamp).  If your schedule severely conflicts, or you have an active alternative writing group, we can discuss waiving or moderating this expectation (though quiet time and free snacks, dude...)

  • I expect you to understand what your dissertation is "for," which you will articulate to me and your committee.  We will remind you when you forget.

  • You will continue to update your understanding of the scholarly conversation around your topic.  This means devoting time to reading the important journals in your field, setting Google Alerts on your topic, subscribing to relevant listservs or online communities, etc.

  • You will keep me in the loop as your research takes you to weird, wonderful, and surprising places.  Sometimes we will be reviewing written work. Sometimes we will be having Big Meta Conversations About Confusing Stuff.  Most of the time we will do both.  We will meet biweekly ideally, once a month at minimum.  Whenever possible we will schedule face to face meetings -- if your travel or mine prevents this, we will schedule calls or meetings via Zoom.


  • You must defend within four years after passing comps.

  • The defense is a two-hour oral examination administered by the student's committee, with the participation of the outside reader. Approval must be unanimous.

  • Beginning the process of getting ready for a defense is surprisingly long: you need to notify your committee and the Graduate School at the end of the semester before you intend to defend/graduate, you must produce the full dissertation to your committee for approval in the early weeks of the semester, and the defense must be completed a few weeks before the end of the semester.  That's a lot of logistics, so expect to have *lots* of contact with your committee (via email, etc) in the run up.

What you can expect from me:

  • Once we see the end in sight, we will plot out the plan, including deadlines.

  • I will make sure all of the forms are ready for signatures at defense, etc.

  • I will help advocate for you with your committee when necessary.

  • If you get a job ABD (yippee!), I will push you strongly to get done, but I will not push through a slipshod dissertation.  Ideally, we've ensured that you are *actually* nearly ready to graduate by the time you need to take up the job, and your committee knows you're on the market (because you told them, too).


  • You can expect an engaged and enthusiastic supporter of you and your work, regardless of your future path.

  • You can expect me to be clear about my availability as far into the future as I can. 

  • You can expect to get email responses within 48 hours.

  • You can expect to use me as a sounding board about professionalization: what conferences to attend, doctoral or job applications, etc.

  • You can expect me to facilitate introductions to scholars in your field to the best of my ability when you request it: in person when we attend the same conference, virtually before you go off to a conference on your own, etc.

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