Rules and Guidelines

Welcome to the East Asian Studies Department at Princeton University. Princeton’s Ph.D. program in East Asian Studies has long been recognized as one of the leading graduate programs in the world. At present, we offer doctoral (Ph.D.) training in Chinese and Japanese history and literature, Korean cultural studies, Anthropology of East Asia, and in the transnational social and cultural study of contemporary East Asia.

With its current full-time faculty of 40 professors and language instructors in the EAS Department, frequent international visiting professors, and an additional 8 professors specializing on East Asia in the departments of Art and Archaeology, Comparative Literature, Sociology, Religion, and Politics. Princeton is home to a vibrant community of scholars and students working on the civilizations of East Asia in all their rich historical and contemporary dimensions. All EAS historians have joint appointments in the History Department, and Professor Erin Huang has a joint appointment in the Comparative Literature Department.

The Department is committed to interdisciplinary research and training, and most of our students take seminars across a range of different disciplines. At the same time, EAS also allows for a clear focus in a particular discipline. At Princeton, historians, literature scholars, and social scientists are full members of our department. Graduate students in the fields of history, literature, and anthropology are eligible to take the core introductory seminars in the Departments of History, Comparative Literature, and Anthropology. A student in EAS will have his or her adviser in the EAS Department but in addition has the opportunity—and is encouraged—to take any number of courses in the relevant disciplinary department. Furthermore, faculty from disciplinary departments routinely serve on EAS dissertation committees.

The Graduate School maintains an informative website, and we encourage all prospective students to explore its many sections regarding general academic questions as well as issues such as housing, insurance, benefits.

The present document lays out the Department’s rules and guidelines to give guidance to prospective and current students pursuing the Ph.D. in East Asian Studies.


Graduate students are generally admitted with five years of financial support from the Graduate School, covering tuition and providing a substantial stipend. In addition, students usually apply for outside fellowships to do dissertation research abroad. Following the years of support from the Graduate School, students may apply for dissertation write-up funding from the East Asian Studies Program. This funding is contingent on demonstrated progress toward the completion of the dissertation. Students are expected to complete the Ph.D. program within 6 years.

Applying to the Ph.D. Program

All applications must be submitted through the Graduate School. The Graduate School website provides complete information on the application requirements as well as a link to apply online. The application deadline for all students is December 1 of the preceding academic year.  Admission is highly competitive, as the Department can only accept a fraction of its applicants. We notify admitted students in late February or early March.

Students in Chinese, Japanese, and East Asian history, in Chinese and Japanese literature, and in Korean cultural studies are encouraged to apply to the East Asian Studies Department. However, students in history may choose to apply to the History Department; students interested in comparative literature may choose to apply to the Comparative Literature Department. Both departments have their own sets of rules and guidelines. Students in other disciplines in the study of East Asia (Art and Archaeology, Religion, Politics, Sociology) should apply to the disciplinary departments.

Once admitted, students will find that Princeton faculty work closely together across the different departments. All historians in the East Asian Studies Department hold joint appointments with the History Department, and so students studying East Asian History in either the East Asian Studies Department or the History Department can expect to do much of the same coursework. Students studying History in the EAS Department take their general exams midway through the third year, rather than at the end of the second year, as is typical for the History Department.  This extra semester of classes is generally advantageous for those studying earlier eras, which have challenging linguistic demands, or students who otherwise would benefit from coursework before generals.  It is also normal for students in the Department to work closely with faculty in other departments, to take minor fields with them in the General Examination (see below), and to have them involved as principal readers or examiners of the dissertation (see below).

Students are admitted directly to the Ph.D. program. Students leaving the University without completing the program may still be awarded the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree if they satisfactorily completed all pre-General Examination coursework, including language requirements, and at least two graduate seminar research papers involving substantial use of original sources.

Expectations for Ph.D. Program Applicants

The Ph.D. program in East Asian Studies is language-intensive. Applicants for admission to the Department are expected to have had at least three academic years of training (or the equivalent thereof) in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. In addition, it is advantageous, but not required, to already have begun the study of a second European language (in addition to English, usually French or German). We currently offer financial support to incoming Ph.D. students to participate in approved domestic and international language-study programs during the summer before their official enrollment in the Ph.D. program (see below). The Director of Graduate Studies helps admitted students to find appropriate programs.  

In addition to sound linguistic preparation, the Department expects applicants to have received substantial academic training in their proposed field of study (broadly conceived) either through undergraduate study or in an M.A. program. We enroll domestic and international students from both B.A. and M.A. programs.

Course of Study

Language Study Every student in the Department is required to demonstrate competence in at least two foreign languages: one in the East Asian language appropriate to the field of specialization (Chinese, Japanese, or Korean), the other in a European language. Students specializing in the pre-modern or early modern periods must be proficient in both the classical and the modern language of their field of specialization. In addition, students in Chinese studies are required to take at least two years of modern Japanese and are advised to take EAS 563 (Readings in Japanese Academic Style).

Students are normally required to take at least one European language (usually French or German) to the level of reading proficiency. However, under exceptional circumstances the Director of Graduate Studies may give permission to substitute the European language with another East Asian language. On the other hand, depending on the student’s field of specialization, the faculty may impose additional language requirements.  

The European and (for students in Chinese studies) Japanese language requirements must be fulfilled prior to the General Examination, that is, typically within the first two years of study. These and any other language requirements may be fulfilled through regular courses during the academic year and/or by participation in intensive summer programs that typically provide the equivalent of a full year of language study. Students may also take examinations to place out of their additional language requirements. These examinations must be taken satisfactorily before the General Examination.

Students are encouraged to take summer language courses and may apply for additional Princeton (or outside) funding dedicated to this purpose. Princeton maintains its own summer language programs in Beijing, China and Kanazawa (Ishikawa prefecture), Japan. The Director of Graduate Studies assists students in finding appropriate and approved summer programs and in securing financial aid.

Upon arrival at Princeton, new students are evaluated in the language of their field of specialization and, if necessary, placed into appropriate language courses. Students in pre-modern fields will be evaluated in both the modern and the pre-modern language.

Foreign students are, upon arrival in Princeton, required to take an examination to demonstrate adequate mastery of the English language. In case the student does not pass the examination satisfactorily, he/she will be asked to take a dedicated English language course.

Graduate Coursework Normally, students will take three graduate courses each semester during their first two years of study. The exact course load will be determined by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the student and his/her adviser, and will depend on the state of the student’s preparation for the General Examination. 

After two years of coursework, students may take the General Examination (see below). Most students take the Examination in the first semester of their third year of study. While the years following the Examination are devoted to research and the writing of the dissertation, students are encouraged to continue to take courses, albeit at a significantly lighter load.

The Department encourages students to do part of their coursework in other departments (such as History, Comparative Literature, Religion, Art and Archaeology, Anthropology, or Sociology) as appropriate and pertinent to their fields of study. In particular, students in Chinese, Japanese, or East Asian history are expected to take History 500 (Introduction to the Professional Study of History) in their first semester. Students in literature are encouraged to take Comparative Literature 521 (Introduction to Comparative Literature). Students in the social and cultural study of contemporary East Asia are encouraged to take an introductory course specific to their discipline, for example, Anthropology 501 and/or 502 (Proseminar in Anthropology).

In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the student’s adviser, a language course considered critical to a student’s progress may be substituted for one graduate course; or the student is urged to add such a course to his/her three graduate seminars, making it a fourth course for the semester. The demands of language study may affect the timing of the General Examination.

While doing graduate coursework, students are expected to write final research papers (or the equivalent thereof, according to course requirements) in each of their courses. These papers must be written in English. Except for courses in other departments, broad reading courses in secondary scholarship, or courses devoted to specific theoretical or disciplinary approaches, students are expected to use primary sources as a standard routine. While doing coursework, students should deposit one sample of their best written work in their departmental file at the end of each academic year.

Students are expected to complete coursework in the semester in which it is assigned. An extension on the deadline for coursework can be granted in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the course instructor but a firm extended deadline must be agreed upon by the faculty member and the student and the new deadline must be communicated to the EAS Department Graduate Administrator.  If a student does not turn in all work by the end of the academic term, then the grade of “incomplete” (INC) will be given. (Incomplete grades will also be given if a faculty member does not grade the work by the end of the academic term).   The student must turn in the final paper or work for a course no later than four months after the end of the course (that is, either June 1 or Sept. 1) with an additional copy sent to the EAS Department Graduate Administrator. Otherwise, the grade in that course will be recorded as a permanent “F” on the academic transcript.

Graduate seminars come in a variety of different formats. These include general reading courses (especially in preparation for the General Examination), courses focused on disciplinary approaches, courses of intense work with original source-texts, dissertation writing colloquia, and others more. In addition, professors in the Department regularly offer individual reading courses to students who need specific training at a critical moment of their studies.

The Graduate School requires all students to spend at least one year in residence before taking the General Examination; most students are in residence at least through the Examination, and usually much longer. The Department considers it advantageous for students to be in residence and hence in frequent contact with peers and advisers. At the same time, the Department encourages students to take courses at neighboring institutions (such as Columbia University, New York University, Rutgers University, and University of Pennsylvania). Moreover, Princeton is part of the Exchange Scholar Program, a student-exchange consortium of top-level research universities that allows students to study for a semester or a year at another participating institution.

Study Abroad Most graduate students in the Department spend one to two years abroad doing dissertation research, whenever possible with outside fellowship support. Typically, students go abroad during their third and/or fourth years of study. A first year fully on outside fellowship support does not count as one of the five years of support from the Graduate School; a second year, however, does.


The Director of Graduate Studies will act as interim adviser for all students in their first and second year of study, but admitted students should work with, and closely consult with the faculty member in the student’s major field of interest, that is, the field of the dissertation. Students should meet with their adviser on a regular basis to discuss and plan their course of study; and the adviser should be prepared to evaluate the student for re-admission each spring. While writing their dissertation, students are expected to maintain close and regular contact with their adviser, regardless of whether or not the student is in residence.

The Director of Graduate Studies serves as the liaison between the graduate students and the University at large, be it the Department or the Graduate School, or both, and enforces EAS graduate rules and requirements. The Director of Graduate Studies monitors each student’s performance and consults with each student’s adviser as needed.  

Academic Performance and Annual Re-Admission

Throughout their coursework, students are expected to perform at a high level of excellence. A grade of B+ or lower in a graduate course should be understood as an expression of concern about a student’s future in the Ph.D. program.

Students are expected to complete coursework in the semester in which it is assigned. Final papers that are not submitted by their due date will result in an “Incomplete” grade. Two or more such “Incompletes” will be interpreted as a sign of the student’s inability to perform in a professional manner.

If on April 1 a student is still carrying an “Incomplete” from the first semester, or on September 10 is still carrying an “Incomplete” from the previous spring semester, re-admission to the following year may be deferred or denied.

A student with an outstanding “Incomplete” is automatically denied permission to take the General Examination.

Although students are admitted with the expectation that they will remain at the University for the full term of their program, Graduate School rules require every student to be re-admitted to the program each year. Students who perform poorly in their course work, carry too many “Incompletes,” fail to meet language requirements, or otherwise show little promise of being able to produce an acceptable dissertation may be denied re-admission by the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the Department. Conversely, students who show exceptional merit may be nominated by the Department to be considered for Graduate School honorific fellowships. Re-admission recommendations to the Graduate School are made during the spring semester, typically in April, at a meeting of the Department faculty and confirmed by the Graduate School the next month.

The General Examination

The General Examination takes place in May of the second year or in October or January of the third year of study, depending on the student’s preparation and coursework. In no case may a student take the Examination without having first completed the University’s one-year residency requirement.

The General Examination consists of both written and oral sections and covers three distinct fields of study, one major and two minor. The Examination is designed to test the breadth and depth of the student’s knowledge in his/her major field—the field of the dissertation—and the ability to teach on the undergraduate level in each of the minor fields. As such, the minor fields must be defined in sufficiently broad terms.

Together, the three fields of the Examination must include more than one discipline or linguistic area. For example, for a student in Japanese history, one of the minor fields could be in Chinese or Korean history, or it could be in a different discipline of Japanese studies such as literature, art, or religion. Minor fields may also be taken in cultures unrelated to the major field, or to East Asian Studies in general.

In preparation for the Examination, students need to decide on their three fields and identify three appropriate faculty members to serve on the Examination committee. Typically, this is done in consultation with the student’s adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Students should notify the Director of Graduate Studies about the planned date of the Examination and about the members of the committee. Students should be in regular contact with the supervisor of their exams during the semester before the examination, and, ideally, before that. Examiners expect students to keep in contact with them, but the onus is on the student to set up appointments and keep on schedule. These meetings are necessary for the student to obtain a clear idea about the scope of the individual fields and to agree on a reading list. Depending on the field, students are either given reading lists or are asked to develop such lists in conversation with the respective member of the faculty. Communication with the faculty examiner is crucial to succeeding in the general exam.

According to University regulations, all three fields must be examined during one period of ten consecutive days set by the Graduate School three times per year (in October, January, and May). The individual examiner determines whether the written exam is in the sit-down or take-home format. The three separate written exams are then followed by a joint two-hour-long oral exam with all three examiners present.

There are four possible outcomes of the General Examination: 1) pass and advance to doctoral candidacy; 2) fail and retake the Examination once; 3) pass, but at a low level and be advised to accept the terminal M.A.; 4) fail a second time and receive the terminal M.A. The requirement for a terminal M.A. degree shall include the successful completion of at least 12 research seminars and advanced language reading courses.

Advancement to candidacy will be conveyed to the student by the Director of Graduate Studies. In some cases, the Director of Graduate Studies may seek the approval of the entire Department before a student may advance to candidacy. In case where a student has sustained the General Examination but has not demonstrated to his/her examiners’ satisfaction the ability to continue, he/she may be asked to accept a terminal M.A. degree and to withdraw from the University.

The student must pass each of the three field examinations. Should a student fail the examinations, examiners will provide the student with feedback and clear guidelines for improvement before the student re-takes the exam. A student who fails one or more of the examinations must retake those fields within one year. By Graduate School rule, failure a second time automatically results in withdrawal from the University.

The Dissertation Prospectus

Having passed the General Examination and advanced to doctoral candidacy, students focus their energies on the doctoral dissertation. The dissertation should represent an original and significant contribution to knowledge in general, and to field in particular. It should be based on primary research and demonstrate the student’s capacity to pursue independent research in his/her field. The scope and length of the dissertation should be such that a finished project can be completed within three years of work. The dissertation must be written and submitted in English.

The first stage of dissertation research is the presentation of a prospectus to Department faculty and graduate students. Its purpose is to guide the student to develop a clear research focus from the outset and have the project discussed in front of the Department. Furthermore, the prospectus leads students to present their dissertation project in clear, succinct, and methodic terms—a skill that will significantly strengthen their applications for outside fellowships and, later, employment.

While there is no set format for the prospectus, it should be a substantial statement of the research proposed. As such, it should include the clearly defined topic of research, an account of the state of field and how the proposed research relates to it, an outline of the methodology employed, an account of the sources to be explored, a specific research plan and timeline, a chapter outline, and a substantial bibliography of primary and secondary sources pertinent to the project.

The dissertation prospectus should be submitted to the Department in writing at least one week before the actual prospectus presentation and will be distributed to the Department faculty and graduate students. At the two-hour-long prospectus presentation, the student is given about twenty minutes to introduce the prospectus; this will be followed by faculty comments and an open-floor discussion.

The timing of the presentation depends on the date of the General Examination according to the following schedule:

General Examination Date Prospectus Presentation
May of 2nd year No later than October of 3rd year
October of 3rd year No later than January of 3rd year
January of 3rd year No later than May of 3rd year 

It is the responsibility of the student to observe this schedule. Any scheduling beyond the respective deadline must be proposed to the Director of Graduate Studies well in advance of the deadline. Failure to meet the May deadline for the prospectus presentation will result in reenrollment deferral until a successful prospectus presentation.

Students are expected to develop their prospectus in close consultation with their primary dissertation adviser. The adviser will review one or more drafts of the prospectus and will decide when the prospectus is ready for public presentation. At the presentation, a committee of three faculty members will decide on the acceptance of the prospectus. The committee includes the primary adviser and two other faculty from within or outside the Department who may or may not have served on the student’s General Examination committee.

The possible outcomes of the prospectus presentation are: accepted; accepted with revisions; rejected. If the prospectus is accepted with revisions, the student has four weeks to present a revised version to the committee, which will decide on its acceptance without a second public presentation. If the initial prospectus is rejected, a new date for another public presentation must be scheduled in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Rejection of the prospectus at the May deadline will result in deferred readmission.

Dissertation Advising

While writing the dissertation, all students are expected to stay in close and regular contact with their primary dissertation adviser, regardless of whether they are in residence or elsewhere.

Once the prospectus has been accepted, all students are required to submit an annual statement of progress on the dissertation to their adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies. The first annual statement should be handed in no later than a year after the prospectus was presented. Thereafter, students should hand in their reports by March 15 (in time for re-admission) of each academic year. The statement of progress must describe in detail the research and writing that has been accomplished over the course of the preceding year, and it must include an updated outline of the dissertation, indicating the state of progress on each chapter. The statement, supported by the actual chapter drafts submitted to the primary adviser, form the basis for re-admission and continued fellowship support for the following academic year.

Dissertation Write-up Support

Students who have exhausted their five years of University funding and do not hold other outside fellowships may apply for write-up fellowships from the East Asian Studies Program. The awarding of such fellowships is contingent on the demonstrated progress—typically chapter drafts—toward the completion of the dissertation. Fellowships are given for one semester and are renewable for a maximum of one more semester.

The Final Public Oral Examination

The Final Public Oral Examination (FPO) is a final examination in the student’s field of study as well as a defense of the dissertation.

After the dissertation adviser has agreed that the completed dissertation can be moved forward to the FPO, the Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the dissertation adviser and the student, assigns two principal readers to report to the Graduate School on the quality of the dissertation. (The adviser is not a “principal reader” for purposes of evaluating the dissertation.) For the benefit of the Department and the student, the adviser will submit a similar report. The two readers are normally members of the Princeton faculty at the rank of assistant professor or higher. Only one principal reader may serve as an examiner. Hence, the FPO committee must consist of at least four people: adviser, principal reader, and three examiners, one of whom may be a principal reader; any external reader must be of comparable rank in a relevant branch of the scholarly community. If both readers agree that the dissertation is acceptable, the student may proceed to the Final Public Oral Examination. If one of the readers deems the dissertation unacceptable, the Director of Graduate Studies will appoint a third reader and a final determination will be made in discussions among the adviser, the readers, and the Director of Graduate Studies.

The FPO is scheduled no earlier than eight weeks after the student has presented the full final draft of the dissertation to the members of the dissertation committee, plus two unbound copies to the Department. The dissertation submitted to the Department must be complete in the sense that it contains the entire text of the dissertation, including footnotes and bibliography, and it must be thoroughly edited. After submitting the dissertation to the Department, only minor changes (correction of occasional typos, etc.) may be permitted. Thereafter, in accordance with Graduate School rules, the dissertation must be submitted to the Department in its bound and final form no later than two weeks before the FPO. Likewise, the two principal readers must submit their reports to the Department no later than two weeks before the FPO.

For all practical purposes, students are urged to consult with their adviser and the Director of Graduate Studies well in advance to set a tentative date for their FPO as well as to identify the two principal readers. Ideally, though not mandated, the readers should be involved with the dissertation about six months ahead of the planned FPO in order to comment on the second-to-last draft of the complete work. This will allow the student enough time to receive valuable feedback that should then be used for preparing the final version of the dissertation. 

For the actual FPO, the Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the student and his/her adviser, assigns principal examiners. At least three principal examiners at the faculty rank of assistant professor or higher must be present at the FPO. Typically, the principal adviser serves as the chair of the examining committee. Any external examiner must be of comparable rank in a relevant branch of the scholarly community. At least one examiner must be from the student’s home department, and at least two of the examiners may not have been principal readers of the dissertation. The principal examiners determine whether or not the candidate has passed the examination.

In case the examination is not sustained, the candidate may stand for it a second time after at least one year has passed. If unsuccessful a second time, the candidate is not permitted another opportunity to retake the examination. In exceptional cases where an appearance for the FPO would constitute a substantial financial hardship for the candidate, the Director of Graduate Studies may recommend to the Dean of the Graduate School that the in-person attendance requirement be waived. 

The department does not offer to hold Final Public Oral Examinations in the months of June, July, and August.


The University offers graduate students the opportunity to gather valuable teaching experience by leading discussion sections (“preceptorials”) in undergraduate lecture courses. The Department requires all Ph.D. students to have served at least once as a preceptor before being able to schedule the Final Public Oral Examination. Students are eligible to precept after having successfully completed the General Examination. Preceptors are remunerated in accordance with University policy.

Students are encouraged to precept beyond the one-course requirement and should actively seek out precepting opportunities both within and beyond the department. In case that a student by the fifth year of enrollment has not yet precepted, or signed up for precepting, the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Department faculty will assign an appropriate course. This course may be within or outside the student’s disciplinary or linguistic field of specialization. Exceptional circumstances may require the teaching requirement to be waived by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Before being able to precept, students must complete a two-day training session at the University’s McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Furthermore, the McGraw Center offers a series of workshops related to teaching, instructional consultation and classroom observation, advice on professional development, and a wealth of other information. In its Teaching Transcript Program, the McGraw Center further provides the opportunity to earn a pedagogy certificate testifying to the student’s precept experience, participation in a series of pedagogy workshops, class observation and feedback, composition of a statement of teaching philosophy, and creation of an original syllabus. All Ph.D. students are urged to fully explore the opportunities announced on the Center’s website.

Research Support

The Department encourages students to use their summers to further their academic progress. The Department offers assistance in securing additional financial support for language study and research trips. Aid is available from a variety of sources within the East Asian Studies Department and Program, through the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), and outside the University. Most University programs follow a common application program, with a deadline in March. The Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Secretary will make information on summer support available to students during the course of the academic year. However, students whose re-admission to the following academic year has been deferred are generally ineligible for summer support. 

In addition, the Department, working in conjunction with the East Asian Studies Program and the Graduate School, assists students in securing support for both short-term and long-term professional activities, such as travel to meetings of learned societies to present papers, travel to research libraries within the United States, and long-term travel abroad to conduct dissertation research. The requirements for the different types of support vary, and there is no guarantee that every student will receive funding. As with summer support, the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Administrator will make information on funding available to students during the course of the academic year.

Fellowship support for dissertation research abroad is particularly important. Some programs (such as Fulbright fellowships) are administered through the Graduate School, while others (such as Japan Foundation fellowships) are administered directly by the funding organizations. Deadlines vary, but most fall in the period between August 15 and December 15. In all cases, it is extremely important for the student to develop grant proposals in close consultation with the dissertation adviser and other relevant faculty members. Having a polished proposal prepared well in advance of the deadline will make faculty letters of recommendation much more effective. The East Asian Studies Program and other units of the University also offer, on a competitive basis, limited support for dissertation research for students unable to secure outside funding.      


Most students seek academic employment upon completion of the Ph.D., though some choose careers in government, private industry, or at foundations. The Department and the University offer a variety of support services to assist students in finding employment. At the student’s request, the Graduate Administrator will compile a placement folder, which normally will include a graduate transcript and letters of reference, and will forward the folder to prospective employers. It is the student’s responsibility to be sure that letters and other information are current. In addition, the Director of Graduate Studies will give students the opportunity to present practice job talks and provide them with other support, such as advice on cover letters and interviewing.  To view information on recent graduate placements (link).