Our graduate program prepares students for academic careers in teaching and research not only in South and Southeast Asian Studies, but also in comparative literature, religious studies, history, Asian studies, and cultural studies.  Our program provides opportunities to explore the rich cultural, social, and religious histories of South and Southeast Asia as well as the living contemporary cultures of these areas. The graduate curriculum covers the classical literary canon, religious literature, folk and popular works, oral traditions and performance media (including recitation, musical and dramatic performance, dance, and film), and modern literatures of the colonial and post-colonial periods. We understand literature in the broadest sense to include not only creative writing and cultural expression in the various genres but also sources concerning religion, philosophy, history, and the fine and performing arts. The analysis of cultural expression is also understood to include attention to social, anthropological, economic, and political contexts.

Advanced proficiency in the language of emphasis is a central goal of study, as is the ability to undertake sophisticated textual study of a broad range of literary works in that language. We offer intensive training in many of the major languages of the area, including Bengali, Burmese, Hindi, Khmer, Indonesian (Bahasa), Malay, Pali, Persian, Prakrit, Punjabi, Sanskrit (including Buddhist Sanskrit), Filipino (Tagalog), Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of the extensive opportunities for interdisciplinary work by pursuing courses offered by the South and Southeast Asia faculty in other departments on the campus of UC Berkeley. Students are also encouraged to pursue courses and independent reading that will familiarize them with pertinent methods in the various disciplines (such as contemporary literary theory, ethnographic theory, historiography, and cultural studies theory). Appropriate comparative work, on Asian and non-Asian cultures, is encouraged as well.

For all details on the Graduate Application deadline and process, go to "Applying for the Graduate Program."

Program Requirements

  1. A minimum of 10 courses undertaken in graduate status at UCB, including at least four graduate seminars in the area of specialization, and the departmental Methods Seminar (SSEAS 294), offered biennially;
  2. A historical knowledge of the area of emphasis, demonstrated by appropriate course work within SSEAS or in other units on campus, as approved by the Head Graduate Adviser;
  3. Completion of an M.A. thesis, supervised by a committee of three faculty members (also required of transfer students holding the M.A. who have not completed equivalent work in the judgment of the Head Graduate Adviser);
  4. Competence in one or more appropriate secondary languages, as determined in consultation with the Head Graduate Adviser and the Academic Adviser (and demonstrated either through course work or departmental examination);
  5. Completion of an Oral Qualifying Examination in a minimum of three approved fields (including the field of emphasis, a secondary field within the Department, and a cognate field);
  6. Submission of a Dissertation Prospectus and its approval during a Prospectus Conference involving the three faculty members of the Dissertation Committee;
  7. Advancement to Ph.D. candidacy;
  8. Completion of the dissertation under Plan B. (See university catalog.)

Additional Requirements for the Sanskrit Emphasis

  1. Completion of a written competency examination in Sanskrit (three hours in length, dictionary may be used);
  2. One course in Linguistics (Linguistics 100 is strongly recommended);
  3. Reading knowledge of two additional languages of scholarship in the field, normally French and German, to be demonstrated either by written examination or two years of course work at the college level.

Reading ability in a second South Asian or other related foreign language (such as Latin, Greek, Old Iranian) is strongly recommended.

Students in the joint M.A./Ph.D. program will acquire the M.A. degree upon completion of twenty units of course work in graduate status at UCB (including two graduate seminars in the language of emphasis and the methods seminar). Additionally, students will complete requirements #2 and #3 (as above), demonstrate advanced competence in the language of emphasis and advance to M.A. candidacy. They will acquire the Ph.D. degree upon completion of the remaining requirements.

Upon completion of the M.A. requirements, students will be reviewed by the faculty to determine whether they are making satisfactory progress and should continue in the program.


Three people are key to planning your graduate coursework and program structure: your Academic Advisor (the faculty member you plan to work with most closely and who will serve as chair of your MA/and or PhD thesis), the Departmental Head Graduate Advisor (appointed annually from SSEAS senate faculty), and the Graduate Student Affairs Officer.

Head Graduate Advisor (Penny Edwards)

The Head Graduate Advisor (HGA) signs documents and makes requests to the Graduate Division on matters concerning graduate enrollment, degrees, progress, and financial aid, such as admission, reenrollment, change or addition of major, graduate standing, and appointment of Qualifying Examination and dissertation committees.

Student Affairs Advisor (Kristen McLeod)

The Graduate Student Affairs Officer (GSAO) is responsible for the administrative advising of graduate (and undergraduate) students. She reminds students about registration and fellowship deadlines, stay abreast of admissions, degrees, fellowship, and appointments requirements, as well as manage administrative paperwork on behalf of the program and its graduate students.  Kristen must be kept informed of (and will advise on) all official actions: the scheduling of Q. E exams and Prospectus Conferences, the appointment of MA and PhD Dissertation Committees, applications for advancements to candidacy, filings for degrees, and the like.


A central part of this process is the formulation of the Semester Plan.  Semester Plan forms, which describe prospective course work for each term, must be completed, approved, and filed in advance of that term, in consultation with the Head Graduate Adviser. Students should procure the forms from the Student Affairs Officer before meeting with their academic advisers and return them, signed, in order to receive their adviser codes (necessary for registration).

Once students have advanced to candidacy, they will also complete an annual Doctoral Candidacy Review, details of which are below.

Requirement # 1: Course Work

In their first semester of admission, and throughout their first two years in the program, students should carefully plan their course load and curricular design in consultation with their Academic Advisor and the Head Graduate Advisor, to ensure that they meet all course requirements in a timely fashion, and ideally no later than the eighth semester for MA/PhD graduates, so that they can begin to prepare for their Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examinations (“Q.E”s).

Required coursework for advancement to the DSSEAS Qualifying Exam comprises:

  • four graduate seminars in the language and literature of emphasis;
  • Methods & Methodologies in South and Southeast Asian Studies (SSEAS 294);
  • one history seminar;
  • courses that satisfy the language requirement (which may count--in the case of South or Southeast Asian languages--toward the ten-course program requirement if taken at the upper-division or graduate level);
  • appropriate course work in the second and third fields to be covered in the Oral Qualifying Examination (see below), as determined by the Academic Adviser and the second- and third-field faculty examiners.

The course work should also include appropriate provision for completing the Master's thesis (which might be begun, for example, in a graduate seminar and completed during an Independent Studies course).

Further course selections are elective. Students may enroll in courses beyond the ten-course minimum and may audit courses with the permission of instructors. A limited number of lower-division and Independent Studies courses may be used to satisfy the program requirements. During the registration period of each semester, the choice of courses must be approved by the Academic Advisers and noted on the Semester Plans (see below, "Advising and Scheduling Calendar").

Students must take required courses for letter grades and maintain an overall grade point average of 3.0 ("B").

Requirement # 2: Historical Knowledge

Each student is expected to enroll in a one-semester course, at the graduate level or upper-division level, that deals substantially and extensively with the history of the area of concentration. The course must be taken for a grade. The Head Graduate Adviser must approve the selection.

Requirement # 3: M.A. Thesis

Students entering into the MA/PhD program are required to complete an M.A. thesis as specified under the University's Plan I requirement for the M.A. The MA project will involve primary source research and analysis and should ideally be completed by the end of the fourth semester.

In their second semester in the program, students should identify both a thesis topic and an M.A. thesis committee in consultation with their Academic Advisor.  By the third semester, students should have begun bibliographical and preliminary research. In the fourth semester, students should complete their M.A. thesis.  Students are encouraged to meet regularly with their Academic Advisors for guidance and feedback on drafts-in-progress.   April 12th is the deadline for the submission of the thesis draft to the MA thesis committee for the awarding of spring degrees.

A student's M.A. thesis committee consists of three faculty members, chosen by the student in consultation with their Academic Advisor and approved by the Head Graduate Advisor. The thesis committee chair will normally be the student's Academic Advisor. The committee chair and/or Academic Advisor will assist students in planning the course work that supports and contributes to the timely completion of the M.A. thesis.

The thesis must demonstrate the ability to pursue advanced independent research, evaluate and analyze evidence, and present a reasoned and coherent argument and engagement with the departmental emphasis on textual analysis, broadly construed. Students should obtain a copy of the booklet "Instructions for Preparing and Submitting Theses and Dissertations for Higher Degrees" from the Graduate Division (available at the Graduate Division's web site). The M.A. thesis in South and Southeast Asian Studies is expected to run between 25 and 50 double-spaced, typewritten pages, excluding footnotes and bibliography.

Requirement # 4: Secondary Foreign Languages

Within the first year of the program, each student must complete—in consultation with the academic adviser and the Head Graduate Adviser—a language plan. This plan identifies coursework in both the language of emphasis and the secondary language or languages in which the student must demonstrate competence to fulfill the requirements of both the degree program and the research agenda. The language plan must also indicate how the requirements are to be met.

Language requirements in the South and Southeast Asian Studies program are based on the individual student's fields of specialization and research needs. The program has as its main requirement advanced proficiency in the student's language of emphasis. To develop command of a range of linguistic skills in support of the student's research agenda, additional work is required in one or more secondary languages.

Before advancing to candidacy, students must attain reading competence in at least one additional language of research. This may be another Asian language or the language of a relevant archive. Determination of the principal and additional languages will be made in consultation with the student’s academic advisor and the Head Graduate Advisor. Note that the mastery of a principal language and competence in an additional language are minimal requirements. A student’s advisor may require the demonstration of research-level ability in other languages depending on the expectations of the particular program and the demands of a student’s individual dissertation project.

Dissertations will be written in English. Students are required to demonstrate advanced ability, through course work or a departmental examination, of a principal South or Southeast Asian research language. For all students with an emphasis in Sanskrit, the following candidacy requirements apply:

  • Reading ability in a second South Asian or other related language (such as Latin, Greek, Old Iranian), to be demonstrated either by written examination or advanced (minimum of two years of course work at the college level) language training.
  • Reading knowledge of two languages of scholarship in the field, normally French and German, to be demonstrated either by written examination or two years of course work at the college level.
  • Students are also strongly advised to complete a graduate course in each of the following: Vedic, Middle Indic, and Vyakarana. Old Iranian and a course in Indo-European linguistics are also highly recommended.

Requirement # 5: Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination (Q.E.) is an oral examination of three hours, designed to assess the readiness of the student to enter the dissertation research phase of the doctoral program. It is an integral part of all doctoral programs across the University of California. The intent of the Qualifying Examination is to ascertain the breadth of the student’s comprehension in at least three subject areas related to the major field of study, and to determine whether the student has the ability to think incisively and critically about the theoretical and the practical aspects of these areas. The examination may consider a number of academic points of view and the criteria by which they may be evaluated, and should not be narrowly limited to the dissertation topic. In the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, the Q.E. involves the preparation and submission of at least three written exercises (described in detail below) prior to the three-hour oral examination.

Students are eligible to take the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination after they have completed their course work, foreign language(s) requirements, and M.A. thesis. The qualifying examination will take place within one year of the completion of these requirements (which should normally take six semesters). Students must complete their Q.E. by their eighth semester in order to be eligible for the Graduate Division’s Doctoral Completion Fellowship (formerly known as the Dean’s Normative Time Fellowship).

The primary aim of the Q.E. is to evaluate the student's mastery of the substantive content and theoretical concepts in three approved fields of specialization. These fields should be defined and developed in consultation with the student's Academic Adviser and the individual faculty members of the examination committee. The Head Graduate Advisor must approve the fields and the composition of the committee. A list of fields, as well as the membership of the examination committee, must be submitted to the Graduate Division (on a graduate Division form) no later than three weeks before the examination date.

Each student is urged to select and consult members of the examination committee very early in the academic career so as to shape a suitable study program that develops both theoretical and substantive competence in the three fields. A general meeting between the student and the committee, well in advance of the examination itself, is desirable as an opportunity to discuss the preparation for and objectives of the examination.

The Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination is based on prepared bibliographies in the chosen three fields of specialization. These bibliographies are designed by the student in consultation with one or more faculty members in each given area. While centered on subjects significant to the student's research interests, they should also be sufficiently broad to cover the major sources, analytical issues, and methodological questions relevant to each field. Each bibliography should be substantive: ideally, a minimum, thirty books or a commensurate volume of essays, inclusive of both appropriate primary and secondary texts, and intellectually coherent.

The first and primary field of examination will focus on a subject and a body of texts pertaining to the student's language of emphasis. The second field will engage a related but distinct subject (and body of texts) in South or Southeast Asian Studies. The third will concern a cognate subject (and body of texts)-one that engages a particular discipline, theoretical perspective, or comparative area relevant to the student's interests.

Each Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Committee consists of four faculty members. At least one member must be from the Department's core faculty, and at least one from outside the Department. The exam committee chair, who must be a member of the DSSEAS faculty, may be the person who chaired the M.A. thesis committee, but cannot also serve as the chair of the student's Ph.D. dissertation committee.

Prior to the qualifying examination each student must successfully complete the following written exercise

Preparation of Field Statements.

Three statements (one for each of three fields) consisting of an analytical essay that surveys in an integral fashion the themes, arguments, evidence, and theoretical perspectives of the prepared bibliographies.

Students are required to work out a timeframe for submission of each field statement or essay response with their academic advisor, and will submit all of these written documents no later than one week prior to the oral qualifying examination.

The appropriate examiner must approve each field statement at least one week prior to the oral qualifying examination. Approval forms are available from the Student Affairs Officer. Responses to individual field questions may not be undertaken more than three times. Following approval, the statements may be shared with the full Oral Qualifying Committee. They are to be kept on file in the Department.

The examination is an oral examination of three hours. At its conclusion, the committee may advise the Dean of the Graduate Division that the student has a) passed the examination and should be continued in the program, b) failed the examination but should be re-examined after at least three months, or c) failed the examination and should be discontinued without re-examination.

Requirement # 6: Dissertation Prospectus and Formation of Dissertation Committee

The final step for admission to Ph.D. candidacy is the writing, submission, and approval of a Dissertation Prospectus. This step is normally completed shortly after the completion of the Q.E.  The Dissertation Prospectus comprises:

  1. An essay outlining the nature of the proposed dissertation research, its relation to existing scholarship on the subject, and its anticipated value. This essay (five pages or less) is intended to serve as a working paper outlining the issues to be addressed in the dissertation, the approach to be taken, and the relation of that approach to recent knowledge.
  2. A bibliography of approximately five pages, which surveys the pertinent primary and secondary literature.

After preliminary approval of the Dissertation Prospectus by the dissertation committee chair, the student submits copies to the other members of the dissertation committee and the Department's Head Graduate Advisor. During the subsequent Prospectus Conference, the full dissertation committee reviews and discusses the Prospectus with the student. Once approved, the Prospectus is placed in the student's file together with notes from the conference discussion. This document functions as a statement of baseline expectations for subsequent work on the dissertation.

A Ph.D. dissertation committee, following the university's Plan B, will consist of three faculty members. (Students may choose to include a committee member from outside the department.) The composition of this committee may overlap with that of the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination committee, but the same person may not chair both committees. The member of the dissertation committee most closely involved with the student's research is usually selected as the chair (also referred to as dissertation advisor), but, upon the advice of the student, the Dean of the Graduate Division may appoint joint chairpersons. The committee chair will normally, but not necessarily, be a member of the Department's core faculty.

The dissertation advisor plays an important role in guiding the student toward successful completion of the dissertation and in helping to place the student in professional employment. Students retain the right to change dissertation advisors or other members of their committees.

Requirement # 7: Advancement to Candidacy

An application for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy must be filed with the Graduate Division no later than the end of the semester in which the student passes his or her Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination. The application is to be signed by the chair of the student's dissertation committee and the Head Graduate Advisor.

In addition to satisfaction of Requirements 1, 2, and 3 of the joint M.A./Ph.D. program in South and Southeast Asian Studies, eligibility for advancement to candidacy requires the following:

  1. Satisfaction of the foreign language requirement(s);
  2. Successful completion of the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination;
  3. Approval of the Dissertation Prospectus during the Prospectus Conference;
  4. The presence on the official transcript of no more than two courses graded "Incomplete";
  5. A minimum 3.0 (B) grade point average in all upper-division and graduate courses taken while in graduate standing.

Requirement # 8: Ph.D. Dissertation and Normative Time

After the Dissertation Prospectus has been approved, the dissertation adviser meets regularly with the student to check his or her progress. At the start of each semester and before the student leaves for fieldwork, the student and dissertation adviser should determine an approximate schedule for check-ins and submission of material, as well as the timeframe for return of material with timely commentary by the dissertation committee chair.  The Graduate Division requires all doctoral students advanced to candidacy to submit an annual Doctoral Candidacy Review through Calcentral, designed to assist their committees in evaluating their progress. .

In accordance with the university's Plan B, while the Chair takes the lead role, the completed dissertation must be read and approved by all three members of the student's dissertation committee. The committee may, at its discretion, require a final oral defense, to which other members of the faculty and students of the Department may be invited.

Doctoral degrees are awarded in December and May. The deadline to file a dissertation is the last working day of the semester. To receive the degree, all work for the degree must be completed and filed with the Graduate Division by the last day of the term.

To comply with UCB's Normative Time requirement, the Ph.D. dissertation must be completed before the end of the 8th year (16th semester) from the student's entry into the program. Students who do not complete dissertations within the 7-year Normative Time period, plus a 1-year grace period, will have their candidacy lapsed by the Graduate Division. The Department's Head Graduate Advisor may request an extension of the student's candidacy if the student is otherwise making adequate progress and the delay can be attributed to factors largely beyond the student's control.

Advising and Scheduling Calendar

Students are encouraged to seek advice on their course planning throughout the academic year. The following schedules are suggested.

Prior to the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination, students see their academic advisers three times each year.

  1. During the fall registration period for the coming spring semester: a) to seek approval of course selections for the coming spring term (noted and filed on the Semester Plan); b) to submit any outstanding language plans; c) to form Master's or Qualifying Committees; and d) to schedule forthcoming examinations for the spring semester.
  2. During the spring registration period for the coming fall semester: a) to seek approval of course selections for the coming fall term (noted and filed on the Semester Plan); b) to form Master's or Qualifying Committees; and c) to schedule forthcoming examinations.
  3. During the first week of classes each fall: a) to confirm or change course selections for the current semester (noted and filed on a form called the "Semester Plan,"); b) to submit a language plan; c) to select and seek approval, as relevant, for Master's Thesis Committees or Oral Qualifying Committees; and d) to confirm the scheduling of all forthcoming examinations (in languages as well as the Orals, when relevant).

After meeting their academic advisers, students should promptly inform the Student Affairs Officer of examinations they intend to take, committees they have formed, plans to apply for advancements to candidacy or to file for degrees, and other arrangements that require official action.

Language examinations are normally administered during the twelfth week of each semester.

Qualifying examinations are scheduled at the discretion of students and committee members, but must be taken by the last day of the semester in which the student hopes to advance to candidacy.

Before the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination, a student meets with her/his Chair of the Dissertation Committee regularly to prepare the Dissertation Prospectus and the Prospectus Conference.  The student should also take the initiative to consult regularly with the other members of their QE committee to discuss the scope and shape of the written requirement.

Following the successful completion of the Prospectus Conference, students continue to meet their dissertation committee members on a regular, mutually agreed schedule (as discussed in Requirement #8).

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The Faculty Advisor for Graduate Student Instructors (GSI) is the primary liaison between the GSIs, the Department, and Graduate Division in all matters pertaining to GSIs. The advisor’s most important functions are to coordinate the flow of information among these three bodies and to contribute to the preparation of GSIs for teaching at UC Berkeley.

As part of their professional preparation, graduate students in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies may be employed in one or more of the following capacities:

Readers assist class instructors by reading and grading essays and examinations in larger undergraduate courses in South or Southeast Asian Studies. They hold consultation hours with students and normally attend class lectures.

Graduate Student Researchers assist faculty members on research projects.

Graduate Student Instructors assume instructional responsibility, normally by serving as section leaders of the discussion groups associated with the large lower-division survey courses that are principally taught and overseen by faculty members. GSIs may also participate in the instruction of introductory and intermediate language courses. They sometimes lead Reading and Composition courses in the lower division or specialized upper-division seminars. Note that completion of a Pedagogy Seminar before or during the first semester of serving as a GSI is mandatory.  We recommend that you seek the approval of the Faculty Advisor for GSI Affairs and your Academic Advisor before enrolling in Pedagogy Seminars outside of the Department.

The GSI Teaching and Resource office is an excellent source of information and training for Graduate Student Instructors.

For information on vacancies, see the Student Affairs Officer.