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PhD Program Description


The PhD in Comparative Literature is a six-year doctoral program that emphasizes the international and interdisciplinary nature of Comparative Literature.  Our curriculum is designed to be as flexible as possible, allowing students to develop expertise in areas of traditional interest to comparatists and to learn about new developments in the humanities. The program has strong language requirements but provides flexibility in the ways that students put their language and cultural proficiency to use. The program places strong emphasis on literary, critical and cultural theory but makes possible a variety of definitions of what theory is and how it is to be applied. 

Click HERE for a sample year by year breakdown. 

Language Requirements

Students establish expertise in two or more languages, but the minimum requirement is advanced proficiency in two languages in addition to the English. Advanced proficiency, demonstrated through either teaching or advanced course work, must be established by the end of the second year in order to fulfill candidacy requirements and to make satisfactory progress to examinations and the dissertation.

Directed Readings

Since the program encourages independence and flexibility, directed readings count in an unlimited number toward satisfying the requirements for the fields of study. Directed readings do not, however, fulfill the Comparative Literature seminar requirement. We encourage group-directed readings with faculty on shared topics.

Third-Term Review

In October of the third term, students meet with a three-person faculty committee to share their experiences in the Program to date, receive feedback on their course work and skills, and plan next steps. Students are asked to provide the committee with a small sample of their work (one or two papers—but no more—from the first year of course work). They may choose to include a brief statement (one page), outlining their interests and goals. The committee also looks at transcripts and the course evaluations that instructors file on each student.

The review itself is an hour-long conversation in which the committee gathers information about the student’s goals, assesses those goals, and provides guidance about the best steps to achieve them. The committee may also offer an assessment of the student’s adjustment to graduate school and give advice about combining scholarship and teaching. The primary goal of the review is to provide academic counseling to students and to broaden the acquaintance of faculty and students with each other. At the conclusion of the review process, the committee members write a letter, copied to the Graduate Advisor, to each student, detailing their findings and advice. The review is not meant to replace either one-on-one mentoring or individual faculty evaluations.

Preliminary Examination, Preliminary Project, and Advancing to Candidacy

The program requires that the student pass their Preliminary Examination to establish candidacy. Both the Preliminary Examination and the Preliminary Project cover areas determined by the individual student, in consultation with the faculty advisor, committee members, and the DGS. Both are designed to provide opportunities for the student to integrate course work, to acquire knowledge in areas not covered by seminars, and to begin formulating a direction for dissertation research. 

The Preliminary Project must be completed by the end of the term following the Preliminary Examination. This timetable allows the student to write the Preliminary Paper over the course of the third year of study, though earlier submission is encouraged. An oral discussion of the Preliminary Project must be scheduled no later than September 1st of the student’s fourth year. 

Rackham advances students to candidacy status after successful completion of the Preliminary Examination. Candidates progress to ABD (All But Dissertation) status after successful submission of the Preliminary Project and successful defense of the Dissertation Prospectus.

Prospectus and Dissertation Committee

After completion of the Preliminary Project, students must submit a dissertation prospectus during the fourth year of graduate study. Students devote the fourth and fifth years of the graduate program to dissertation research and begin to draft their thesis, with the goal of defending their dissertation during the sixth year.

Graduate Student Instructors

Every year the program will query students about their teaching interests, asking about their first, second, and third preferences. Our aim is to match student teaching and placement goals and to give students the opportunity to teach in two different areas during their graduate careers. Comparative literature students teach comparative literature, English composition, Great Books, introductory language courses in the national literature departments, and occasionally in areas studies such as American Culture, Film, Television, and Media, and Women's Studies.