Students should take a full and active part in the resources available to them at Penn, using libraries, meeting and talking to people, and attending lectures, seminars and colloquia throughout their time in the program. All graduate students are expected to attend the weekly colloquium in classical studies.
It is expected that students will read widely and carefully in Greek and Latin literature throughout their time in graduate school, outside the readings assigned in their courses. Those who arrive with any deficiencies in language preparation or gaps in reading are expected to fill in those gaps as efficiently and promptly as possible, drawing on the advice and mentorship of faculty members as appropriate. Course work alone is not enough; students should be in the habit of using their free time to read Greek and Latin texts and improve language skills in Greek, Latin and relevant modern languages. The Reading Lists for the Preliminary Examinations (see below) give an indication of the range of reading we expect from students after their first or second year, but they are by no means exhaustive.
We believe that seminars are the cornerstone of graduate education, and that students' experience of the program is diminished if they take fewer than about six seminars in classical studies. Seminars allow students from different years to communicate both with faculty and with each other, to create a productive working dialogue. First-year students learn how to talk in a seminar from listening to their older peers, while more advanced students learn pedagogical and mentoring skills from interacting with their juniors. Seminars provide students' first and most important opportunity to practice many of the skills that will prove essential to them in the profession, when they will have to produce conference papers, lectures, academic books and articles, and classroom presentations. Skills practiced in the seminar environment include the ability to communicate in a clear and engaging way with students and colleagues; the ability to present ideas, both through class presentations and through seminar papers; the ability to respond constructively to challenges and alternative perspectives. These advantages are missed when students spend too much time in the first few years working on their own or with just one faculty member. We therefore advise students to take no more than two independent studies in the course of their program; and we require them to take no more than one independent study in any single semester.
Independent studies are a kind of tutorial in a special subject; students may take up to two (or, in exceptional circumstances, three) in the course of their program, with the approval of the relevant faculty member and the Graduate Chair. They are taught as an overload by faculty. The expectation is that students will have a very clear idea of their proposed topic, including a preliminary bibliography and account of the motivation for the study, before approaching faculty. Sometimes, independent studies allow a student to work closely with a faculty member, to gain a thorough acquaintance with a previously unfamiliar and difficult field of study in which a great deal of guidance is needed. Sometimes, independent studies are more genuinely independent; taking a 999 may allow a student to free up time in his or her schedule, for instance to read the complete works of an author who will play an important role in the student's dissertation. If desired, a student may take an independent study in each of his or her Special Topics, in the fall and/or spring semesters of the third year (see below). Alternatively, students may prepare for Special Topics without taking an independent study in that area — for instance, by taking a seminar in a related field at some point during the program, and doing the remainder of the work on their own.
The Graduate Chair will give all graduate students a yearly written report on their progress through the program, with as much conversational follow-up as desired. Students at the dissertation stage (fourth year and above) will meet with the graduate chair and whole of the dissertation committee at the start of each academic year (in September), to check in about progress of the thesis.
Students are expected to make good progress to degree during every year of the program, and failure to do so may constitute grounds for dismissal from the program at the end of any one of the five years. In the first year, progress is measured by performance in seminars (for instance, grades below a B+ are considered grounds for concern, as are poor reports from faculty about a student's work on languages, papers, or other crucial skills), and by performance in the Qualifying Exams. In the second year, progress is similarly measured by performance in seminars and in the Qualifying Exams. In the third year, students have to pass the General Exams in the fall in order to continue. They must then continue to perform respectably in seminars, and pass the Special Topics Exam and the Prospectus. Thereafter, "progress" is defined in terms of work on the dissertation.