Graduate Handbook


Welcome to Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations. This document is an overview about working with your academic advisers, the faculty mentors who will train you and guide you on your way to the PhD. It also outlines the timeline of funding for PhD students, together with a brief overview of the stages of PhD studies in NELC.

Departmental Officers

There are several academic officers in the department. Four of the most important general roles are:

The Department Chair is the faculty member within NELC who acts as head of the department, answering to the Dean of Humanities and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences (FAS), as well as to the Dean of Yale College on undergraduate matters, and to the Dean of the Graduate School on graduate matters.

The Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) is a faculty member who advises undergraduates majoring in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.

The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) is a faculty member who advises and looks after the needs of graduate students in the department.

The NELC Graduate Registrar is a staff member at Yale who manages all administrative matters pertaining to the NELC graduate students, including student enrollment.

Different faculty members take on the role of Chair, who is appointed by the President on the advice of the Dean of FAS. The DUS and DGS are nominated by the Department Chair and appointed by the Dean of Yale College and the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, respectively. When one of them goes on research leave, an interim officer is appointed.

Director of Graduate Studies

The DGS is a faculty member to whom you can always turn with general questions about the PhD program, its requirements, and how to fulfill them, as well as for professional guidance, regardless of the DGS’s specialization in research.

The DGS will check in with you to learn about your progress in the program and to ensure that you are apprised of all requirements.

The DGS also performs various administrative tasks pertaining to your studies, including: final approval of course selections after they are first approved by the student’s advising committee chair; reviewing graduate courses newly proposed by faculty; and attending meetings of all Directors of Graduate Studies convened by the Dean of the Graduate School to learn about current initiatives in graduate studies at Yale.

Advising Committees

While the DGS plays a general, departmental role, each graduate student in NELC has a committee of advisers consisting of at least three faculty members. The chair of the advising committee is called the student’s advising committee chair. This is your lead adviser, responsible for signing necessary forms, approving course selection, organizing consultation regarding you and your progress, and, when necessary, representing your interests to other faculty and units at Yale on behalf of your advising committee. When the advising committee chair is unavailable, your other committee members can stand in.

Constituting an Advising Committee

In Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, two of these committee members are normally the two NELC ladder faculty members most closely associated with your specialization—Arabic Humanities, Assyriology, Classical Near East, or Egyptology. Joining the NELC doctoral program comes with the expectation of being advised by the professors attached to the student’s specialization.

Each student should identify a third committee member by the end of the third semester of course work. Typically, that committee member will be someone with whom the student has taken a course or received meaningful guidance, but any faculty member at Yale holding a PhD can be invited. A student may add more advisers to the committee—there is no maximum limit, but three are normally sufficient. The appointment of the third faculty member (and more if applicable) requires the NELC DGS’s approval.

Faculty members are not obligated to serve on a student’s advising committee when asked, although faculty members are expected to serve students’ interests to the best of their abilities. Should a faculty member be unavailable to serve on a graduate student’s committee, or withdraw from an advising committee, the remaining committee members and the DGS collaborate to guide the student in constituting a sufficient committee.

The DGS and other faculty members are available to give guidance on constituting the advising committee.

The student and the advising committee together decide which faculty member is most appropriate to be the advising committee chair, subject to the agreement of the faculty member.

Changing an Advising Committee or Chair

Graduate students do not “belong to” faculty advisers. Students can change the membership of their committees through a process of consultation, which the DGS will coordinate, though staffing limitations in the study of the Near East at Yale mean that options are limited.

To complete an advising committee or to change membership in it, the student should consult the faculty members involved. The student then informs the DGS of the request for such a change. After confirming that all are in agreement, the DGS will keep a record of this change in committee and inform the departmental graduate registrar.

There are no negative repercussions for students from faculty members who are excused from a graduate student’s committee. Any such experience should be reported to the DGS or the department Chair.

The Advising Relationship

Typically, the members of the committee have been or will be the student’s instructors. The advising committee guides students in their choice of courses, their study opportunities, and in their professional development. They also carry out and decide the results of the student’s qualifying examinations at the end of the third academic year. The advising committee is normally the group that convenes the oral component of the student’s qualifying examinations prior to the dissertation. Other faculty may join the committee for the oral component when their expertise is requested by the advising committee.

Relationships between graduate students and advisers vary but are governed by the limits and regulations of professional conduct. NELC faculty and students alike are expected to maintain high standards of respectful treatment of one another. Students and faculty recognize that all are people who have nonacademic responsibilities as well.

Yale’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences has its own Guide to Advising Processes for Faculty and Students. It contains more resources for understanding the advising relationship.

Annual Meeting with the Advising Committee

Annually, near the end of the academic year, the student will meet with all the available committee members to discuss progress and to solicit advice for the next year. Committee members may give evaluations of performance in courses or dissertation work and suggestions for development in these meetings. Students are encouraged to raise any outstanding questions and concerns during these meetings. Clear and concise communication is the goal.

The Dissertation Committes

After passing the qualifying examinations at the end of the third year, students constitute a Dissertation Committee to oversee dissertation research and writing and to evaluate the dissertation after its submission. Normally, the Dissertation Committee is simply a continuation of the Advising Committee, but its membership may change according to the student’s research.

When outside evaluators of dissertations are sought, this is undertaken by the dissertation committee, not by the student.

Additional Resources

The Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations upholds the importance of an inclusive environment. See the Office for Graduate Student Development & Diversity, 1 Hillhouse Avenue; (203) 436-1301.

Yale maintains Resources for Students to Address Discrimination and Harassment Concerns. For any concerns about sexual harassment or misconduct at Yale, refer to the office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education (SHARE), 55 Lock Street, Lower Level; (203) 432-2000. Also readily available is the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, 55 Whitney Avenue; (203) 432-4449.

Mental Health & Counseling assistance is available for students: 55 Lock Street, 3rd Floor; 203-432-0290

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers teacher training and a program leading to the award of a Certificate of College Teaching Preparation. 301 York Street; (203) 432-4765

The Office of Career Strategy has resources for preparation for work after the PhD.

Timeline to Degree & Funding

PhD tuition and stipend funding comes from the Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (YGSAS), not the NELC department.

Normally, PhD students enrolled in the YGSAS receive five years of funding. The YGSAS offers a sixth year of funding pending good progress as evaluated by the student’s advising committee. See here for more information about the sixth year of funding.

There are two stages of the PhD program:

1.     Courses, typically over three years, culminating in qualifying exams.

2.     Dissertation research and writing, typically lasting two to three years, beginning with the dissertation prospectus.

Course requirement. NELC PhD students admitted in 2022 and later are required to take a minimum of 20 to 23 one-semester courses. The minimum number depends on area of specialization.

Arabic Humanities


20 courses


Classical Near East

23 courses


For all students, this normally means five semesters of full course load (four courses per semester) followed by a sixth semester of reduced course load in preparation for the qualifying examinations.

French and German requirement. NELC PhD students must demonstrate reading ability with a dictionary in both French and German before taking Qualifying Examinations (see below). This requirement is satisfied for each language either by passing a reading course (“German for Reading” and “French for Reading”) with a B or higher, by passing the reading examinations offered by the Department of French and the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures; in exceptional cases, the exams can be administered by the NELC depratment. The French and German departments announce the dates and times of their exams on their web sites each semester. Students who are native speakers of French or German, or who have completed a degree at a university in which the medium of instruction is French or German, need not demonstrate ability in that language. 

Teaching requirement: four semesters in four years. Participation in teaching undergraduates as assistants to full-time faculty in Yale College is an essential part of PhD training.

Each PhD student must serve as a Teaching Fellow for four semesters before the end of the fourth year. Normally, those four semesters are the third and fourth year of study, overlapping with the course work and the dissertation stage of PhD studies, but opportunities to participate in teaching earlier may arise.

The advising committee and DGS strive to match graduate students to the teaching fellowships most suitable to the individual student. Factors in matching a Teaching Fellow to a course include the curricular timing and availability of an appropriate course, the availability of a faculty supervisor, and the advisers’ assessment of the student’s preparation and readiness for a specific assignment.

Teaching fellowships entail a maximum twenty hours of effort per week. Inevitably, different individuals are prepared differently. Consequently, different students will find that the time spent as teaching fellows varies, even for identical assignments.

In NELC, some PhD students may serve as Part-Time Acting Instructors (PTAIs). These are a kind of Teaching Fellow who lead the daily sessions of a course under the supervision of a full-time faculty member. They consequently have more independence and greater responsibilities, within the limits of twenty hours of time per week. Normally, PTAI students in NELC teach elementary language courses.

Students in Yale College expect to be taught by faculty members who have already earned a PhD. Therefore, PhD students who are not faculty members and do not hold a PhD do not teach Yale students independently. The rare possibility of teaching a non-language course as a PTAI may arise. This usually entails a larger amount of work, a detailed syllabus and plan about one year in advance for a course that is not too specialized for the needs of students in Yale College, and the availability of a suitable full-time faculty supervisor who will keep close tabs on the performance of the PTAI.

Fifth year: University Dissertation Fellowship (UDF). Normally, PhD students receive a dissertation fellowship during the fifth year. This is a time for intensive dissertation research and writing, during which there are no teaching responsibilities.

Teaching during sixth-year funding. Students who are awarded sixth-year funding are required to serve as a Teaching Fellow that year, making two more semesters of TF work. Often, sixth-year Teaching Fellowships entail more general teaching in the humanities rather than in NELC specializations.

Qualifying examinations. PhD students in NELC take qualifying exams at the end of the third year of coursework. Normally, these exams last one week and are scheduled in advance by coordination between the student and the advising committee.

Normally, the exams are offered daily on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with a break on Thursday before the oral examination on a Friday. Below is an outline of the pattern of qualifying exams, which varies slightly by specialization.

Arabic Humanities

1.     One-day Arabic translation exam

2.     One-day second research language translation exam

3.     One-day Arabic literature and humanities (written)

4.     Oral examination: one major subfield and one or two minor subfields


1.     One-day Akkadian translation exam

2.     One-day Sumerian translation exam

3.     One-day Mesopotamian history exam (written)

4.     Oral examination: Assyriology

Classical Near East

1.     One-day Arabic translation exam

2.     One-day second research language translation exam

3.     One-day third research language translation exam

4.     Oral examination: one major subfield and one or two minor subfields


1.     One-day Egyptian language exam

2.     One-day Egyptian archaeology exam (written)

3.     One-day special field exam (written)

4.     Oral examination: one major subfield and one or two minor subfields

Students may, with permission of the examiners, bring lexica to translation exams in which case this is taken into consideration when assessing the exams.

Evaluation of qualifying examinations. The examiners confer to assess the student’s performance on the exams and reveal the outcome after the oral examination. The student’s record of performance in courses may be taken into consideration. The possible outcomes are either Pass or Non-Pass. A student may pass “with distinction” for exceptional performance.

An outcome of Non-Pass may entail specific portions being examined again. A Non-Pass the second time around means that the student cannot proceed in the program and cannot enroll in the subsequent semester.

Dissertation prospectus. NELC PhD students write a prospectus for dissertation research after passing qualifying examinations. It should be approximately ten pages long, and no longer than twenty, and be accompanied by an additional bibliography.

The choice of a dissertation topic should be made in consultation with the advising committee. This long-term research project should address a topic that will sustain the student’s interest for several years. It should be chosen with consideration of goals for future employment. Hiring committees and employers tend to identify recent PhDs closely with their dissertation topic.

The prospectus should explain the research problems to be addressed in the dissertation, the methods to be used, and the history of research related to the topic. It is a proposal for research to be undertaken with a timeline for completion of the entire project. It offers hypotheses, not conclusions.

The prospectus should be written in the approximately three months between the qualifying exams and the beginning of the following semester, and submitted to the advising committee by the beginning of the fourth year

Students are urged not to delay working on the prospectus: this will allow them to proceed promptly to the dissertation research itself. The prospectus is not a plan set in stone. Discoveries in the course of research can take the direction of a dissertation in unexpected directions. Students are strongly urged to write a clear prospectus and to submit it without becoming bogged down. The prospectus should be a first step, not a hurdle.

Evaluation of the dissertation prospectus. The graduate advising committee will read drafts of the prospectus. When they deem it ready for circulation, they will direct the student to submit the prospectus to the DGS, who will circulate it to all the graduate faculty in NELC for a vote. Graduate faculty may contact the student with advice and suggestions.

If the prospectus is not approved, the revisions necessary will be communicated by the DGS.

When the prospectus is approved by vote of the NELC graduate faculty, the student is awarded the MPhil degree in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and can proceed to write the dissertation.

Dissertation. The doctoral dissertation is a monograph demonstrating the ability to carry out independent advanced research that contributes to knowledge.

Dissertations are normally 200 to 300 pages in length, with footnotes and bibliography, but can be shorter or longer. Students seeking a career in academic research will likely develop the dissertation into a monograph.

Annual dissertation progress reports (DPR). While working on the dissertation, students are required to submit a progress report to an online portal once a year when automatically prompted. Before submitting the report, the student should discuss progress on the dissertation with the advising committee. The DPR includes a statement of work done so far and a timeline for prompt completion. It is reviewed by the advising committee chair, then by the DGS, both of whom may add comments visible to the student before the Graduate School receives the report.

Dissertation submission. Guidelines for formatting and submitting the dissertation are posted by the University Registrar’s Office.

Note carefully the dates for announcing intent to submit the dissertation and for submitting the dissertation for evaluation.

Also note the requirements for formatting the dissertation. It is far easier to adopt the specific formatting requirements while one is writing than to reformat everything at the end of the writing process.

Dissertation defense. Unlike some programs, Yale’s NELC department does not require a dissertation defense, but some advising committees may convene a defense for the student to share research and to receive constructive comments and criticism from others outside the dissertation committee.

Appendix: Some Questions for Discussion

It is recommended that graduate students meet with advisers early on to discuss mutual expectations about work and routine communications. The following questions are examples that can be used to initiate and guide that conversation, addressing issues that either student or advisee may assume is clear, but may not be. The goal is to avoid misunderstandings based on discrepant assumptions.

1.     What is the best way to communicate on short notice (e.g., email, phone call, video chat, in person, text message, etc.)?

2.     Are there specific expectations for the student’s weekly work schedule (days, times of day, etc.)?

3.     Are there specific expectations for message responses?

4.     How soon will written work be returned with comments by advisers? Does this time vary seasonally?

5.     What are the expectations regarding the student’s conference attendance?

6.     What are the expectations about arranging teaching fellowship assignments?