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PhD Program Description

The graduate program requires fourteen courses, twelve of which are elected in years one and two. Six of the required courses are in Comparative Literature: a first-semester introduction to graduate studies, 600, a workshop on cooperative study in the fourth semester, 601, and four Comparative Literature seminars. The remaining eight courses may be distributed according to two or three "fields," depending on the student's choice. The number of fields and the number of courses defining each one should be determined in counsel with the Graduate Advisor and other faculty mentors. A field might be defined as a traditional national literature, but it might as easily be defined in terms of a specific period, intellectual interest, generic issue, area study, or discipline. "Cultural studies," "women's studies," "literature and other disciplines," "romanticism," "postcolonial studies," "gay and lesbian theory," "the lyric," and "Russian" are a few of the ways a field might be defined. For example, a Ph.D. could have emphases in women's studies and cultural studies as well as in French literature of the nineteenth century.

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 "language of instruction." 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.


The program requires one preliminary Ph.D. examination and a long essay to consolidate the work done by students in pre-candidacy.  Both the preliminary examination and the topics paper are in areas of the student's choice, in consultation with committee members and the graduate advisor. Both exams are designed to provide opportunities for the student to synthesize course work, to acquire knowledge in areas that may not be studied in courses, and to formulate and possibly to begin writing the dissertation. The preliminary exam must be taken no later than the middle of September in the third year of study. The topics paper must be completed by the end of the winter term of the student's third year of graduate studies.

Prospectus and Dissertation Committee

After the topics paper, we expect that a prospectus will be submitted quickly to a dissertation  committee of five faculty members. Students devote the fourth and fifth years of study to  dissertation research and completion of the thesis.

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.