Graduate Student Handbook

Egyptology and Assyriology
Graduate Student Handbook
July 2015 Edition


The Department of Egyptology and Assyriology at Brown University offers three tracks to the PhD: Assyriology, Egyptology, and the History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity. Through the Graduate School’s Open Graduate Education Program the Department also offers a master’s degree (AM) for students concurrently enrolled in a PhD program in another department at Brown.
    This document provides program-specific information for graduate students in the Department and is thus intended to complement the Graduate School’s published policies and procedures. Students should consult the Graduate School Handbook for comprehensive information on University-wide policies on matters such as funding, leaves of absence, and the like.
    Applicants to the PhD program are strongly encouraged to contact the faculty and/or the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Prospective students should also consult the respective web pages of both this department and the Graduate School.  At present the Department does not accept applications to its master’s program from students who are not already enrolled at Brown in a PhD program.

Department Contacts

Department Chair: Prof. John Steele (
Director of Graduate Studies: Prof. Leo Depuydt  (
Department Manager: A. Catherine Hanni (

Funding for the PhD

Financial support of five years is granted to incoming doctoral students funded through the Graduate School with the expectation that this will be their full support during the entire course of their studies. This funding includes a stipend, tuition remission, and a health-insurance subsidy. The stipend is intended to cover the calendar year, not simply the academic year, and students are therefore expected to work on their research during the summer. When progress towards the degree is considered excellent, students may spend time in the summer on professional development, for instance, on outside fellowships, archaeological fieldwork, or teaching positions.
    The University expects research and writing of the dissertation to be completed by the end of a student’s fifth year in the program, at which point University funding ends. Funding for a sixth year can be sought through outside fellowships or may be available from the University, but no student should have the expectation that sixth-year funding from the University is guaranteed. If the dissertation has not been completed and accepted within seven years of the time the student first entered the program, the Department may require a second set of comprehensive examinations before the dissertation is finally accepted. As per Graduate School rules, students who have not completed their dissertation within five years of being admitted to candidacy must apply to the Graduate School for an extension of candidacy; students should be aware that such extensions are not guaranteed.
    Students will receive one of the following appointments during each semester that they are funded:
    Fellowship: An award to enable the student to focus full time on either coursework or writing a dissertation.
    Teaching Assistantship: The student will be assigned as a teaching assistant (TA) to a particular course to assist the instructor with course preparation, marking papers and exams, facilitating class discussions, and teaching occasional classes.
    Teaching Fellowship: The student will teach his or her own course.
    Proctorship: Non-instructional academic employment. The student will be assigned to a defined administrative, research, or other task to assist faculty and staff in the Department. Possible proctorships could involve preparing teaching materials, managing ancient artifacts in the University’s collections, assisting in the organization of a conference, and assisting faculty with editorial projects.


On entering the program, students will be assigned a primary advisor in their field of interest. Students are encouraged to consult their advisors on a regular basis to discuss course selection, research projects or publications, exam preparation, external funding opportunities, and other aspects of academic life and professional development. Students may elect to switch to a different advisor at any time, providing the new advisor is willing to act in that capacity. After completing coursework it is expected that the chair of the dissertation committee will play the role of primary advisor.

Courses and Service: General Information for PhD students

The University requires 24 credits of graduate enrollment. This is accomplished over the course of six semesters by a combination of coursework and TAships. The appropriate courses will be determined by the student in conjunction with the primary advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), and the faculty most relevant to the student’s intended course of study. The three degree tracks (Assyriology, Egyptology, and History of Exact Sciences in Antiquity) each have their own required courses, some of which may be waived depending on a student’s background and abilities (see below). However, the waiver of specific required courses does not obviate the University’s 24-credit requirement.
    For the first year, students are on fellowship and take four courses each semester. During the second through fourth years, financial support from the Graduate School requires service in the form of teaching assistant (TA) assignments or, less commonly, proctorships. Each student will have one such obligation per semester; the appropriate balance and specific assignments will be determined in consultation with the DGS. When performing service during their coursework students will take four courses during semesters they act as proctors but three courses during semesters they serve as teaching assistants; this accommodates the 15–17 hours weekly time commitment for TAs defined by the Graduate School. TAs receive one enrollment credit per semester TAing.
    The Department’s policy on students receiving a provisional course grade of Incomplete (INC) is the same as that of the University. Incompletes are strongly discouraged, may only be taken in extraordinary circumstances and with prior approval of the professor, and must be completed expeditiously to avoid being placed on academic warning (see below). The Office of the Registrar sets the following guidelines for the completion of incompletes: “Unless an earlier date is specified by the instructor, grades of ‘INC’ must be made up as follows: for Semester I [= Fall], by mid-semester of Semester II; for Semester II [= Spring], by the first day of the following semester.”
    Inadequate performance in courses, while serving as a TA or proctor, or on exams, can be grounds for being placed on academic warning at the discretion of the faculty of the Department (see below). Students on warning will be given explicit instructions about milestones that must be passed to be returned to normal status. While on warning, students are expected to focus exclusively on their University commitments and may not receive departmental funding for conference attendance nor take on outside employment or internships.

PhD Tracks and Course Requirements

The Department currently offers three tracks to the PhD: (1) Assyriology, (2) Egyptology, and (3) History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity. Minimum course requirements for each track are as follows (courses marked * may be waived on demonstration of existing competency):
    (1) Assyriology: six courses reading cuneiform texts (primarily Akkadian; at least one course in Sumerian; possibly including Hittite and/or Ugaritic), two courses on Near Eastern archaeology/art history, one course on scholarship in the ancient Near East, two courses on the archaeology, history, and/or language of a second culture (which could include Hittite and/or Ugaritic, among others), one research seminar (Archaeologies of Text), and one Reading and Research course.
    (2) Egyptology: Middle Egyptian I–II*, Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Late Egyptian*, Ancient Egyptian Religion, Ancient Egyptian Literature, History of Ancient Egypt I–II*, at least one course in the basic material culture of ancient Egypt (or, with the approval of your advisor, an advanced course in Egyptian archaeology), one course in the language of a second culture, one course in the civilization of the ancient Near East or the Mediterranean outside of Egypt, and one Reading and Research course.
    (3) History of the Exact Sciences in Antiquity: Historiography of the Exact Sciences, four courses in the primary ancient language*, two courses in a secondary ancient language*, three courses in the history/archaeology/culture of the primary culture, one course in the history/archaeology/culture of a secondary culture, two courses on ancient science/scholarship offered within the Department, two courses in the history of science offered by another department (e.g., History), and one Reading and Research course.  At least two of the language courses should involve the reading of scientific texts. 

    As indicated above, beyond these minimum requirements students in all three tracks are required to take at least one Reading and Research course. Typically taken in the spring semester of the third year, this course provides an opportunity for advanced students to engage with faculty in a focused way on a topic and/or theme that will contribute directly to the student's research agenda.  For example, students may use the Reading and Research requirement to undertake preliminary research around a possible dissertation topic, to prepare a journal article for submission, or to read broadly and/or deeply in a particular area or areas in preparation for the PhD Qualifying Projects.


There are three sets of examinations required of all doctoral students in the Department:
    1. French and German Reading Exams. These reading exams must be passed by the end of the second year of coursework. They will normally consist of a journal article or selection from a book to be studied overnight, followed by an oral examination by the faculty member who acts as the examiner; it is customary for students to provide the examiner with an outline of the reading (in English) in advance of the oral examination. The exam itself will consist of questions about and discussion of the assigned reading in order to demonstrate the student’s ability to comprehend and critically engage with important scholarship in the field. With the approval of the student’s primary advisor, a student may replace one of the French or German reading requirements with another appropriate modern foreign language. A language exam will be waived in the case where the language is the student’s native tongue.
    2. Comprehensive Exams. The Comprehensive Exams are normally administered at the end of the second year of coursework (hence their other common designation as "second year exams") and are intended to demonstrate the student’s knowledge in all aspects of his or her chosen field. In the Fall semester of their second year students will meet with the relevant faculty and the DGS to discuss the timing, subjects, and composition of these exams, which must be agreed upon and confirmed in writing prior to the Reading Period of the same semester. The Comprehensive Exams will be completed no later than 31 May following the student's second academic year.  Some exams may be take-home essays, others 3-hour written exams, and others 90-minute oral exams. All of the Comprehensive Exams must be passed satisfactorily before the student can take the PhD Qualifying Projects. In the case of an unsatisfactory performance, a second examination may be scheduled at the discretion of the faculty. The second examination must be completed no later than the end of the first week in December of the student’s third year in the program. No Comprehensive Exam may be taken more than twice. In the event of a first or second unsatisfactory performance, the student may petition the Department to receive a terminal master’s degree (AM), again at the faculty’s discretion.
    3. PhD Qualifying Projects. The PhD Qualifying Projects are normally initiated during the final year of coursework and are intended to demonstrate professional competency. These projects will usually focus on different topics that are all related directly or indirectly to the student’s primary research interest(s) and intended dissertation area. The projects take the form of (1) an original scholarly contribution in the form of a journal article, (2) a substantial review of a book (or books) in the student’s primary area of interest, and (3) the preparation of a course outline and syllabus. The specific topics, including the book(s) for review and the title and topic of the course for the syllabus, will be decided in conjunction with a committee of at least two and normally three faculty, at least one of whom must be from the Department. The precise composition of the projects must be agreed upon in writing prior to Reading Period of the Fall semester of the student’s third year. All three projects must be submitted by the end of July after the student’s third year. Following the submission of the projects, the committee will confer to make their assessment and communicate whether or not the projects have been judged acceptable; the committee will then set up a discussion with the student to give feedback on the projects and discuss prospects for the student’s dissertation topic. A student may not formally submit a dissertation proposal for approval until the committee has deemed the Qualifying Projects acceptable.

Dissertation Proposal

No more than six weeks following the successful completion of PhD Qualifying Projects, the student will submit a doctoral dissertation proposal prepared in consultation with the dissertation committee. Ordinarily there will be significant overlap between the dissertation committee and the Qualifying Projects committee, though changes or additions may be made in consultation with the DGS. The committee must include a primary advisor from within the Department and two additional readers, at least one of whom must come from outside of the Department, typically from outside the University. The student’s proposal will include a working title, a brief summary of the intended topic that includes past research with full bibliography; a statement of the purpose, goals, and significance of the project, with a clear justification of the necessity for the proposed study; a detailed outline of the proposed dissertation with chapter summaries; and a detailed project timeline and work plan for research and writing.
    The dissertation proposal will be prepared in consultation with the dissertation advisor and readers. The committee then vote on the acceptability of the proposal; following a favorable vote, the student is formally admitted to candidacy for the PhD, a status commonly known as ABD (“all but dissertation”). Shortly after the proposal has been accepted, the student will present the proposed project in the Department’s research colloquium series. Normally external readers from outside the University are formally added to the dissertation committee after the proposal has already been approved by the program, though the student may elect to involve the external reader earlier in the process as well.


Because Brown’s doctoral programs train graduate students to become educators as well as researchers, teaching is an integral part of graduate education. All doctoral students in the program are required to train as teaching assistants for a minimum of 3 semesters. In consultation with the DGS, this requirement may be fulfilled during any of the years in the program, but it is typically done in years two, three, and four.
Receiving the PhD Degree

When the dissertation committee has approved the completed dissertation, ideally midway through the fifth year, the dissertation defense will be scheduled. The dissertation must be tabled in the Department to be available to interested faculty readers two weeks prior to the defense. The defense will consist of two parts. First, a public presentation of the dissertation will provide a forum for the doctoral candidate to discuss his or her research with interested members of the academic community who are not on the dissertation committee. Second, during a closed discussion with the committee the student will defend the dissertation’s thesis and results. At the conclusion of the defense, the dissertation committee will vote whether to recommend that the Graduate School award the student the PhD on the basis of the dissertation, potentially pending revisions. Following a favorable vote, the student is considered to have achieved the degree of PhD, even though the degree itself may not be awarded for several months after the defense. The Department has no requirements for the format of the dissertation beyond those set by the Graduate School. Filing of the final dissertation is subject to University rather than departmental guidelines; however, a hard copy of the final dissertation must be deposited in the Department as well.
    Students writing dissertations should be aware that the procedures surrounding the defense and filing of the final dissertation always take substantial amounts of planning and time to execute. The University has only one graduation per year in May, and final dissertations and all associated paperwork must be filed with the University by the first business day in May of the year of graduation. In order to realistically meet this goal and give dissertation readers sufficient time to read and comment on the thesis, a complete and mature draft of the dissertation should be given to the dissertation committee at the beginning of the final semester, typically late January or early February.

Student Progress

Student progress will be evaluated each semester, and the student informed of their standing through banner and at individual meetings with the DGS. banner allows three evaluations: “Good,” “Satisfactory,” and “Warning”. These terms are set by the University and thus require some clarification from the program. The Department regards a “Satisfactory” evaluation as an indicator of unsatisfactory progress and as a sign that the student needs to significantly improve his or her performance. “Warning” status indicates that the faculty have very serious concerns about a student’s progress, which, unless addressed, could lead to the Graduate School withdrawing the student from the program.
    Students who take one incomplete in a course at the end of a semester will automatically be given a “Satisfactory” evaluation. In order to return to “Good” status, the incomplete must be rectified within the normal timeframe established by the University (see above). Students may also be given a “Satisfactory” evaluation for marginal but still satisfactory performance on the Comprehensive Exams or PhD Qualifying Projects, for poor or inconsistent performance as a TA or proctor, or for insufficient progress in the writing of the dissertation. Students with a “Satisfactory” status may not be eligible for various programs or research funds available through the Department or the University.
    Students who have more than one incomplete or who fail to rectify an incomplete will be placed on “Warning”. Other reasons for being placed on “Warning” include but are not limited to unacceptable performance as a TA or proctor, failing the Comprehensive Exams, or producing unsatisfactory PhD Qualifying Projects. Students on “Warning” will be informed in writing of the reasons and given the specific milestones they must achieve within a specified period of time in order to come off “Warning” status. Students who do not achieve those milestones may be withdrawn from the program. While a progression from “Satisfactory” to “Warning” may occur, a student can move directly from “Good” to “Warning” status for any valid reason. For further details on the timing, procedure, and consequences of “Warning” status, students must consult the Graduate School Handbook.
    Progress Reports. The program requires that all students beyond their first year submit a short annual progress report (300–500 words) that summarizes the student’s accomplishments in the areas of research, teaching, and service for the previous academic year and the following summer. This short document should include, for example, a description of summer research activities, reflections on the accomplishments of the previous academic year, and an articulation of specific goals for the coming academic year. Reports should be sent to the DGS via email on or before September 1. Students are encouraged to share this report with their primary advisor and use it as a tool to catalyze a discussion of the student’s plans for the coming academic year and beyond.

PhD Program Timeline

Year 1
    Fall:  4 courses
    Spring:  4 courses
    Summer:  Modern language study, internship, archaeological fieldwork, museum research
    Funding:  Fellowship, no service obligation

Year 2
    Fall:  4 courses or 3 courses + service obligation
    Spring:  4 courses or 3 courses + service obligation; develop reading list and study for the Comprehensive Exams
    Summer:  Complete Comprehensive Exams no later than the end of the first week in August; upon successful completion of the exams, modern language study, internship, archaeological fieldwork, museum research, travel for research/conferences
    Funding:  Service obligations

Year 3
    Fall:  4 courses or 3 courses + service obligation
    Spring:  4 courses or 3 courses + service obligation; develop reading list and plan for the PhD Qualifying Projects
    Summer:  Complete PhD Qualifying Projects; work on dissertation proposal
    Funding:  Service obligations

Year 4
    Fall:  Approval of dissertation proposal; service obligation; research dissertation; begin writing
    Spring:  Research/writing dissertation; service obligation
    Summer:  Research/writing dissertation
    Funding:  Service obligations

Year 5
    Fall:  Writing dissertation
    Spring:  A completed draft of the dissertation to be submitted by week 4 of the semester in which the student expects to graduate; defend and deposit completed dissertation according to the guidelines set by the Graduate School
    Funding:  Fellowship, no service obligation

Open Graduate Education Master’s program

Brown students in other PhD programs may obtain an AM in Egyptology and Assyriology. This is generally undertaken through the Graduate School’s Open Graduate Education program.
    Course requirements: 8 courses, of which at least 3 must be 2000-level graduate seminars taught either in the department or by jointly appointed faculty in archaeology. Of the 8 courses, at least 2 must be in either Egyptian or Akkadian language, and at least two must be on the history or archaeology of either Egypt or the ancient Near East. The remaining courses are to be chosen by the student in consultation with the DGS, who must approve all course selections used to fulfill the requirements of the MA degree.
    Capstone project: Students must research and write a 5000-word paper on a topic of their choosing within the area of Egyptology and Assyriology. The aim of the paper is not necessarily to undertake original research, but rather for the student to demonstrate a sufficiently broad knowledge of the field, the ability to identify an appropriate research question, and the ability to find appropriate primary and secondary source material relevant to the topic. The project will be assessed by two faculty members in the department.
    In all matters relating to double counting of courses between AM and PhD programs, etc., the Department will defer to University-wide policies and/or the policies of the student’s PhD department.

Space in the Department

The department has a limited number of desks in offices that, conditions permitting, can be temporarily assigned for students to share. Desk assignments for the academic year will be made in August and will depend upon the availability of space in the department. Priority will be given to PhD students writing their dissertations and to those students serving as teaching assistants, but this should not be taken to mean that students are guaranteed dedicated work space in the department. Students should be aware that the assignment of a desk one year does not guarantee that the student will be assigned a desk in subsequent years.

Overseas Travel

Graduate students travelling overseas on Brown University business (e.g., for conferences or fieldwork) are expected to register with International SOS. Instructions on how to do this may be found at:

Further information is given in the Graduate School Handbook.