Graduate Program Handbook

Contents:   tracks / advising / choosing courses / incompletes/
choosing thesis advisor/ the thesis/ financial / financial emergenciesteaching department review process / statement of evaluation &
/  grievance procedures /  leaves of absence /
job placementcomputer services/ conference travel / graduate reps 

As a student in Literary Arts, you are in a unique position among graduate students. You have the opportunity to choose a number of your eight semester-long courses from any university department or program. Though the Graduate School requires that you take classes appropriate to your graduate status, you have the freedom to design much of your curriculum. When a new class of undergraduates arrives at Brown, each of them, too, must choose courses without the constricting guidelines of distribution requirements. The first-year undergraduates, however, have eight semesters with which to experiment. Since you have just four courses to work with, and nothing like the undergraduate’s safety net of faculty and peer advising, you will want to make good choices the first and every time. As long as you feel your courses will help you in your writing, the department will support your choice.

We have designed this handbook not only to introduce you to our policies and procedures, but also to prepare you for making the decisions that will shape your two years at Brown. Our statements parallel and incorporate official statements, when appropriate. Through we have tried not to omit any crucial information, we have undoubtedly missed things that you will want to know. The important thing is to ask questions. Your workshop leader, your professors, the chair, the academic program director, the director of graduate studies, your colleagues, students in other programs, are all invaluable sources of information. Your official advisor each semester is your workshop leader; your secondary advisors are the chair and the director of graduate studies; you should feel free, however, to seek advice from any member of the department faculty.

It is not part of the scope of this Handbook to provide information on housing, meals, recreation, etc. For this kind of information, you should consult the guide provided by the Brown University Graduate Student Council, along with web sites found through Brown’s A to Z guide.

The Tracks

When you enter the Literary Arts Department, you will arrive as a poet, a fiction writer or as writer who pursues digital and/or cross-disciplinary practices. In addition to enrolling in the the graduate workshop in your respective track, you may wish to follow the path of students who have taken graduate workshops in other genres as an elective. To do so, approach the instructor of the workshop in the semester before (or during the summer before) the course begins. 


Your official advisor is John Cayley, director of Graduate Studies; however, you should also rely on your workshop (or thesis advisor) for day-to-day concerns. Should you feel it necessary, you may also approach the chair, John Cayley. If you are having a problem that needs outside review, you should contact the Graduate School to arrange for a meeting with one of the deans.

Choosing Courses

During each of your first three semesters, you are expected to enroll in the graduate workshop in your respective track. This course must be taken for regular course credit; the requirement may not be fulfilled through auditing. In the fourth semester, you are expected to enroll in LITR 2410 – Graduate Thesis Independent Study. You have quite a bit of flexibility when choosing the second course in each of your four semesters while working toward the MFA.

In the spring semester of the first year and the fall semester of the second year, you'll take 2 and 1/2 courses for credit: the Graduate Workshop; an elective and a half-credit course in pedagogy. The first-year pedagogy course must be taken before being approved to serve as a Teaching Assistant in the second year.

Many students choose to take their non-writing courses via literature departments. If you plan to seek a PhD after completing this degree, you may want to consider studying literature in the English Department, Comparative Literature, the language departments, Theatre and Performance Studies, or in Modern Culture and Media. You are not limited to literature courses; the department will support your choice as long as you feel the course will help you in your writing. Students in the past have studied a second language, other arts, such as painting and sculpture, and a wide variety of academic disciplines. Once you venture into such territory, you have to work a little harder to get good advice about courses. Some basic rules are:

  1. Attend many classes during the first week of classes (no choice made before school starts need be your final decision…);
  2. Check out the books through the bookstore (or through the online syllabus, if posted).
  3. Talk to the instructors (or write to them electronically). If their courses don’t seem right for you, they may suggest alternatives.
  4. Talk to students, both undergraduates and graduates. Many may have had useful experiences with the instructor of the class.

Should you wish to do so and should you receive approval from the Director of Graduate Studies, you may include up to one transfer course toward your degree. This may be a graduate-level course completed before you started at Brown (but one that has not counted toward another degree); or you may seek permission to take up to one  graduate-level course through an exchange program established between Brown and Harvard. You should discuss this option with the Director of Graduate Studies as soon you as you think that you may wish to pursue this option.

In addition, you may take graduate-level elective courses through an exhange program established between Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design. Again, discuss this with the Director of Graduate Stuies as soon as you think that this may be an option worth pursuing.

So long as you are enrolled for the right number of courses for grade credit, you may also take up to one course per semester for audit credit. 


Although you should make every effort to avoid taking an incomplete in a course, certain situations may demand that course of action. If you are considering taking an incomplete, you must have the instructor’s permission. Check with the Registrar’s office as to what steps must be taken to complete this process. Incompletes should be completed as soon after the next semester begins as possible. Earning NC’s and carrying Incompletes may affect your standing in the department.

Choosing a Thesis Advisor

By the time you start the fall semester of your second year in the program, you will have studied with at least two faculty members. Sometime in the early part of your third semester, the department will provide you with a thesis advisor preference sheet. You'll be asked to rank the three faculty members with whom you'd most like to work. You'll be asked to return the form by a particular deadline. Shortly after the deadline, the department will match you with your advisor. Once your advisor has been assigned, we recommend that you make contact with the instructor to begin the process.

The Thesis

Completed by the end of April of your second year, your thesis will be a substantial manuscript or project of publishable material—a collection of poetry or short fiction, a novel, long poem or electronic work (or works) or a work that crosses the boundaries of disciplines. It must be formatted according to the guidelines provided by the Graduate School, with one minor exception: the rule about double-spacing does not apply to poets (and those in other areas may also make a case for a non-standard format). Early in your second year, you should visit the Graduate School’s web site, where you can download the Graduate School’s requirements.

Please note that the Graduate School's 1 May deadline for filing the thesis is firm; do not expect to receive an extension on this deadline (and if you miss the deadline, you will not graduate in May).

The Graduate School page notes: a master’s student with a thesis requirement will submit the file through Brown's electronic theses and dissertation (ETD) system. The system is designed to collect and archive the thesis or dissertation as a text-based PDF file. An electronic file submitted through the ETD will appear in the Library's discovery service and in the Brown digital repository.

You should register for LITR 2410.

Financial Information

It is the department’s goal to provide financial aid to all students in good standing. In the first year, typical aid is through a fellowship, and includes: a monthly stipend, health fee, health insurance and tuition (for two courses a semester – plus the half-credit pedagogy training course in the spring). 

During the summer between the first and second year, continuing students in good standing will receive a summer stipend (the amount per month should have been inlcuded in the offer letter you received from the Graduate School upon being offered admission) and health insurance. The Graduate School suspends payment of the health fee (for access to Brown's on-campus Health Services) for the summer.

In the second year, those who are approved will teach an undergraduate workshop in the fall and the spring semesters. They will receive a stipend, health fee, health insurance and tuition (two courses a semester).

Guaranteed student loans are available through the university. You should visit the Graduate School’s web page for more details on this.

If you are not a US citizen, the Brown Financial Aid office recommends Mpower Financing as an outside option for a student loan.

Financial Emergencies

We hope that you won't face a financial emergency during your time at Brown (or thereafter), but should one befall you, you should contact the Dean of the Graduate School – (you can also check with the Director of Graduate Studies if you are not sure where to direct your concerns). The Graduate School will review your situation; there are two means of support that may be provided: an Emergency Grant of up to $500; and an Emergency Loan (also up to $500 -- to be paid back within two months). You may be offered one or both types of support. Should you receive both a grant and a loan, with your permission, the Graduate School will share this information with the Director of Graduate Studies and/or the Chair. In such cases, the Department will reimburse the Graduate School up to 1/2 of the amount of the loan -- and as such, you would be expected to repay the Graduate School half of the amount borrowed with the dept. covering the other half.


In order to teach for the department in your second year, we expect first-year MFA students to register for the spring pedagogy course. Through this course, you'll work through the philosophical and practical issues related to teaching, including formulating a syllabus for an undergraduate workshop in your area of focus. 

If you receive an appointment to teach an undergraduate writing workshop, you’ll likely lead an introductory or intermediate workshop. You will be responsible for designing a syllabus, ordering books, leading workshop, holding office hours and submitting grades.

All introductory and intermediate workshops are limited to 17 students, and are graded on an S/NC (Satisfactory/No Credit) basis. While you won’t need to worry about assigning letter grades, in order for your students to pass, they must meet the course requirements, spelled out clearly in your syllabus.

During the fall semester of the second year, the department will hold a pedagogy seminar for those assigned to teach. These sessions provide a place for everyone to share their experiences in the classroom — to share tips, to ask questions.

Department’s Review Process

After each of your first three semesters, you will be given a Course Performance Evaluation form. You will be asked to self-evaluate your performance in the workshop. Once you have returned the form to the department office, your workshop instructor will write an evaluation of your work. You will receive a copy, and a copy will go into your file.

Evaluations deal with any aspect of your work—for instance, your workshop participation—but will likely focus largely on your writing.

Each spring, the faculty will meet to evaluate all first-year students.  In this meeting, faculty will discuss each student’s progress. Should any concerns emerge, the chair will arrange a meeting with the particular student to discuss a course of action, and if needed, will report this to the Graduate School.

If your standing in the department becomes unsatisfactory, you will notified of this, by the chair, in writing.

Graduate School Statement on Evaluation and Warning

On 22 March 1978, the Graduate Council adopted the following statement:

At least once a year, the status and progress of every graduate student in a department shall be reviewed and evaluated. This evaluation and the grounds upon which it is based shall be entered in writing in the student’s file and a copy provided to the student. Students shall have the opportunity to add to their files at any time.

No student shall be withdrawn for academic reasons from a program without at least a semester’s forewarning of their possible termination.

A student receiving aid shall not have the aid terminated without a semester’s forewarning for sufficient cause. Reasons for termination of financial aid shall be placed in the student’s file in writing and a copy given to the student.

Grievance Procedure

Students having trouble with a faculty member should consult the director of graduate studies. The Graduate School has adopted a university-wide grievance procedure, to which you may turn if less formal measures fail. If you want to discuss your situation with someone outside the department, contact the Dean of the Graduate School; to review the university grievance policy on the Institutional Diversity webpage.

If one of your students complains about your teaching and you cannot resolve the problem yourself, you should consult with the director of Graduate Studies or the chair. If the issue cannot be resolved at that point, the department will work with you, perhaps taking the matter to the Graduate School’s grievance process.

Leaves of Absence

If you plan to leave Brown for one or more semesters before you receive your degree, you may apply for a leave of absence. Applications for leaves of absence (with the exception of medical or mental health leaves) should be sent to the Graduate School at least four weeks before the start of the semester in which the leave is to be taken. Leaves of absence are normally granted for one to two semesters. To extend a leave, students must file extensions with their Director of Graduate Studies prior to the expiration of the leave. Students who do not file the extension request will receive a warning from the Graduate School and may be automatically withdrawn from their graduate program.

The Director of Graduate Studes should make clear, in writing, if there are conditions that must be met before a student may return from a leave of absence.

Returns from Leaves of Absence

To return to active status and to be eligible for funding in the next academic term, students must notify the Graduate School in writing by 1 May for a fall-semester return and by 1 November for a spring-semester return. 

A student who has taken a leave of absence should write to the Director of Graduate Studies to request readmission. If the request is supported, the Director of Graduate Studies will endorse and forward the request to the Graduate School for review and approval by the Dean.


If you have been away from Brown for longer than one year and have not successfully  requested that the leave be extended, you are no longer considered actively enrolled in a degree program, and must reapply to be reinstated. In order to initiate this process, write a letter to the Associate Dean of the Graduate School, with a copy to the Director of Graduate Studies. Either the Director of Graduate Studies or a representative will contact you to let you know what steps you must take at that time.

Job Placement

If you intend to search for a job that starts right after graduation, or even if you won’t be looking until years later, you should build a dossier through Interfolio. You can learn more about Interfolio through Brown’s Career Lab on Angell Street. Through this service, you can have faculty members (at Brown and elsewhere) place letters on file, which may then be sent out at your request.

Computer Services

We recommend that you activate your Brown account as soon as you get your Brown ID. You can do this at If you wish to forward your Brown electronic mail to another account, you can do it immediately after activating your Brown account; however, you will still need your Brown username and password for things like the computer clusters, online grades, registering for classes…

The department is largely a Mac-based community, our graduate computer room has Mac platformed computrs. We appreciate your being respectful of the machines in the computer room and that you report any problems to the department manager as soon as one crops up. There are copiers in the computer room for the use of the faculty and graduate students in the program. From time to time, these machines require maintenance; or there may be a paper shortage. Please do not wait until the last minute when bringing a project to the computer room for printing, And if you become aware of a problem (twitchy printer, the paper trays are running low), please reach out to the main office so that we can take care of this before you or a colleague faces a problem.

Conference Travel

Graduate students who have been invited to make presentations at academic conferences can apply to the Graduate School for up to $650 to cover travel related expenses. For conference travel reimbursement instructions, visit: Conference Travel-Graduate School

The Graduate Student International Travel Fund is available to full-time Brown graduate students for assistance in meeting the costs of one professional journey per academic year. The travel stipend may be used for a trip to deliver a paper at an international conference. The fund is not designed to cover field work.

The application and information for this is available at:  IATF - Graduate Students

Graduate Reps

Graduate representatives provide essential communication between faculty, staff, and the graduate students. They are expected to organize at least two (2) meetings with the graduate community per semester, as well as make themselves available for private communications. Graduate Reps attend faculty meetings (by invitation) where they bring forward questions, concerns, and provide valuable input to departmental events such as readings, visitors, residencies, festivals, and searches. Graduate Reps may also be invited to poll their peers on specific questions, and are expected to bring concerns and problems forward to the Director of Gradute Studies or Department Chair in a timely way. Reciprocally, the Graduate Representatives will report departmental news, decisions, and policies back to the graduate cohort. Overall, they work alongside the Director of Graduate Studies to provide support, liaison, and information about wider Brown culture and bureaucracy to both the incoming and on-campus cohort.

There will be two graduate representatives, one from each year. The incoming representative should be selected by the rising second year students at the first graduate community meeting of the year, or by email solicitation to the incoming class.