Students are admitted to the graduate program with the expectation that they will work toward the PhD degree. At present the Department of Comparative Literature does not offer a terminal master’s degree. Instead, students become eligible for the MA on passing their PhD qualifying exams.
The graduate program is founded on the conviction that literary traditions are best understood when contextualized across national and cultural boundaries. Such contextualization requires a sound appreciation of both philology and bibliography; linguistic training thus remains the sine qua non of comparative literature. In order to thrive professionally, every scholar in the discipline must be closely trained in a primary national literature. At the same time, a commitment to comparative study requires a firm grasp of the emergent field of translation studies as well as preparation in the pedagogy of literature in translation. In addition, comparative literature demands of its scholars an acute and self-conscious focus on methodology. How and why we compare is often no less important than what we are comparing.
A complete application for admission includes the university’s application form, a transcript of college- and graduate-level work, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a ten- to twenty-page sample in English of critical writing about literature, and, if appropriate, the application for a graduate teaching fellowship (GTF). Graduate Record Examinations are not required but are highly recommended. The application deadline is January 15 for entrance the following fall term. Application information and forms can be obtained at the program website.
Candidates for admission typically have an undergraduate major in one literature and competence in two of the following languages: Chinese, Danish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish. Under special circumstances, arrangements may be made with the program director to study other literatures.
Overview of Requirements
Within their first three years of graduate study, students must complete their language requirement, complete at least five courses in the primary field, at least four courses in the secondary field, and at least three courses in the methodology field. In addition, students select at least three elective courses in consultation with their faculty advisors. These courses may be tangential to their main research interests or distributed according to those interests. It may be advantageous for students to organize their elective courses into a fourth research field. Additional required course work includes Translation Pedagogy (COLT 613) and Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature (COLT 614, 615). Courses applied to the degree must be passed with a grade of B+ or better, and in order to remain in good standing in the program, students must maintain a grade point average of at least 3.50 in all graduate-level courses.
After completing all course work and language requirements, students are eligible to take their written and oral PhD qualifying examinations. After successful completion of the exams, students submit a prospectus and meet with their committees for the prospectus conversation. A satisfactory prospectus conversation is required for advancement to candidacy. The approximate time from completion of course work to advancement is one year. Typically, the dissertation is completed within two years of advancing to candidacy.
Primary Field. The majority of comparative literature graduates are hired to teach in national literature departments and not in interdisciplinary programs. For this reason it is crucial that students develop a primary research field that is based either in a single national literature (e.g., Japanese literature) or in a single linguistic-cultural tradition that crosses national boundaries (e.g., Latin American literature). Depending on the relative breadth of a student’s prior training, the primary field may be further delimited according to a period (e.g., postwar Japan) or a genre (e.g., German drama) or even an artistic movement (e.g., French postmodernism).
The student must complete five graduate-level courses in the primary field; at least three of the courses should share the same departmental subject code.
Secondary Field. This field complements the research within the primary field, either by providing counterpoint or a needed context. There are three ways to define one’s secondary field. Most commonly, it represents a second national literature (e.g., Spanish literature) or linguistic-cultural tradition that crosses national boundaries (e.g., Latin American literature). In addition, where two or more national-linguistic traditions share a common literary history—for example, within a given region or artistic movement—the secondary field may be defined in comparative terms (e.g., the Continental Renaissance, Caribbean literature, or East Asian film). Finally, the secondary field can eschew literary categories altogether in order to represent an alternative disciplinary focus (e.g., religious studies).
At least four graduate-level courses must be taken in the secondary field. Three of them should share the same departmental subject code. At the discretion of the director of graduate studies, the three courses with shared subject code may be spread out over the secondary, methodology, and elective fields.
Methodology Field. Graduate work in any academic subject requires a sound grasp of methodology; one joins a community of scholars and becomes capable of substantive, independent research only insofar as one masters the research methods relevant to one’s discipline. In contrast, comparative literature students work across disciplines; they encounter multiple and often competing research methods, starting assumptions, and terminologies, and must determine the relevance of any, all, or none of these for the work at hand. Thus, the interdisciplinary nature of comparative literature requires a vigilance and self-consciousness regarding matters of method. For this reason, at least three graduate-level courses must be taken in the methodology field.
The methodology field is distinct in nature from the other two research fields. The primary and secondary fields each designate a specific disciplinary focus, defining research content; the methodology field cuts across disciplinary boundaries and defines a research approach, one suitable for literary analysis and recognizable to a broad community of literary scholars (e.g., psychoanalysis, cultural studies, feminism, or translation theory). Students are expected to acquire a comprehensive understanding of their methodology, encountering not only contemporary texts and theorists but also the history of the field, including the central controversies, crucial debates and cultural contexts that have shaped its development.
This intensive focus on a specific research method should encourage students to investigate the plurality of different approaches to their subject matter.
Electives. Three of the program’s required eighteen graduate-level courses are electives and should be chosen in consultation with an advisor. The electives may cover a wide range of interests or may be carefully distributed among the three research fields to fill gaps or achieve greater depth. Some students may wish to devote their electives to a fourth field of research (e.g., a third national literature). Students hoping to pursue this option are urged to meet with the director of graduate studies as soon as possible.
Timetable from Entrance to Examinations
The program is designed so that students may complete all necessary course work, all exams, and have their dissertation prospectus approved by the end of their fourth year of study.
Advisors. For their first two terms of study (fall and winter), students are advised by the director of graduate studies. By the beginning of the third term, each student formally identifies an interim advisor—a faculty member who agrees to mentor the student through the completion of the second-year review.
By the time a student completes the second-year review, he or she should have identified an advisor of record who shares the student’s primary research interests. This advisor mentors the student through the qualifying exam process and typically becomes the chair of the dissertation committee. In consultation with this advisor, the student selects the remaining two members of the qualifying examination committee.
Language Requirement. Work in at least three languages is expected at all phases of the program, from course work to the dissertation. The language requirement addresses this expectation by ensuring both linguistic proficiency and a minimum level of graduate course work in all three languages. As early as possible in the first year, students must demonstrate proficiency in at least one of the languages of which they are not native speakers. At the discretion of the director of graduate studies, proficiency may be demonstrated in one of the following ways: (1) by holding a graduate teaching fellowship in the language; (2) through examination (see below); (3) by receiving a grade of at least A– in a graduate-level course in the language; (4) by holding a recent (within five years) master’s degree in the language. Proficiency in a second nonnative language should be demonstrated by the end of the second year.
In addition to demonstrating proficiency in nonnative languages, students are required to complete graduate-level work in all three of their languages. The following guidelines apply for this requirement: (1) At least two graduate courses must be taken to meet this requirement for all three languages. In other words, one graduate course may satisfy this requirement for as many as two languages. (2) Courses satisfying this requirement preferably will be taught by a specialist in the target language and conducted in that language. Graduate courses taught in national literature departments automatically satisfy this requirement for the national language. (3) Courses taught outside of national literature departments may satisfy the requirement if all relevant texts are read in the target language. To qualify, the course syllabus must be submitted to and approved by the director of graduate studies. At the discretion of the director, students may be required to submit additional documentation (e.g., a term paper) of their work in the target language. Students are advised to check all syllabuses with the director of graduate studies before enrolling in a course presumed to satisfy this language course work requirement. For students who choose to satisfy their language requirement through written examination, translation exams may be organized through the program office.
Students wishing to take a language exam during a given academic term should inform the graduate secretary during the first two weeks of that term. Arrangements for the exam will be made by the program office. Typically, the examination entails translating passages of primary or secondary literature of approximately 500 words into grammatically competent English. The exams last two hours and must be taken in a proctored environment. A bilingual dictionary may be used. Examining faculty members may decide to meet with students prior to the exam to ascertain research interests. It is appropriate for the choice of passage to reflect those interests—a student working on 20th-century narrative might be given a passage from a contemporary novel. However, it is crucial that the chosen text be unfamiliar to the student; this is not an exam for which students should prepare by reviewing certain texts or authors. At the discretion of the director of graduate studies, proficiency in certain languages—Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese, as well as some nonextant languages—may be tested by means other than a translation exam. The language requirement (both linguistic proficiency and graduate course work) must be satisfied by the end of the third year.
First-Year Statement. By week four of spring term, first-year students in consultation with their interim advisors submit a two- to three-page statement of purpose to the director of graduate studies. It should identify and justify the primary, secondary, and methodology fields the student intends to pursue—the general fields of study that form the backbone of a scholar’s research profile. It should also clarify the relationship between the students’ research languages and research fields, and indicate what linguistic study is necessary to complete the proposed course of study.
First-Year Conversation. In weeks six and seven of spring term, the first-year student, his or her interim advisor, the director of graduate studies, and one other comparative literature faculty member meet for a conversation about the first-year statement. They evaluate the student’s progress to date including course work and language examinations, discuss the intended fields, and offer guidance for the remaining two years leading to the qualifying examination. With their approval of the statement and the student’s general plan as well as the completion of all first-year course work with a GPA of 3.50, the student may proceed to the second year. A brief memo summarizing the conversation, written by the student and submitted electronically by Wednesday of week eight to the graduate secretary, is circulated to all participants for further feedback before being placed in the student’s permanent file.
Second-Year Review. By Monday of week two in spring term of the second year, students will have chosen their advisors of record. In consultation with that advisor, the student must write a careful self-review of his or her progress to date. The review should revisit both the first-year statement and the report of the first-year conversation. In particular, any recommendations made by the first-year conversation committee should be assessed: how were these recommendations pursued, and with what result? The designation of the three research fields should also be addressed, along with any shifts in focus that have proved necessary or desirable. The review should explain what course work remains to be completed, and, where appropriate, should outline a plan for the completion of that work. Any problems in performance or concerns about timely progress should also be addressed. The second-year review must be signed by the advisor of record and submitted by the beginning of week eight of spring term to the graduate secretary. Faculty members of the Department of Comparative Literature review these reports, and small revisions and clarifications may be required before they approve the document and place it in the student’s permanent file.
From Examination to Dissertation
The program is designed so that students may complete all necessary course work and language requirements by the end of their third year. The fourth year is dedicated to the completion of the doctoral examinations and to the writing of the dissertation prospectus. Typically, students prepare for the exams over the summer and early fall, sit for the written and oral exams by the end of fall term, and complete their prospectus by the middle of spring term. The prospectus conversation must be held by the beginning of week ten of spring term in the fourth year, so that students may advance to candidacy in a timely manner at the end of spring term.
Committee. By the beginning of spring term of the third year, each student selects an exam committee consisting of the advisor of record and two additional participating faculty members. Of these three, one represents the student’s primary field of research (commonly the advisor of record), another represents the secondary field, and a third member is designated the committee chair. The third member also serves as chief mentor for a student’s methodology field, advising him or her on the reading list inclusions from that field. All members must sign an agreement form to participate in the exam committee, and all must approve the exam statement and reading list. By Monday of week two in spring term of the third year, students must submit a graduate activity form designating their examination committee. Students who have chosen an additional fourth field of research may choose to be tested in that field as well. The logistics of this option should be pursued with the director of graduate studies as soon as possible.
Exam Statement and Reading List. In consultation with the exam committee members, each student determines his or her examination fields. These fields correspond to the primary, secondary, and methodology research fields, but are usually narrower and more specialized in scope. Students then devise a reading list covering each field. Each list should include approximately fifteen to twenty primary items (an item is an author and a work or works that represent the author’s perspective as a whole). Each field list should also include a separate sublist of pertinent critical-secondary works. Your exam committee members can provide you guidance in defining these essential critical-secondary works.
After compiling the list, the students should also compose a six- to eight-page statement that defines the student’s core interests, defends the examination fields, clarifies the scope of the reading list, and offers some indication of the future dissertation project and career aspirations for which this reading list provides the necessary comprehensive background and preparation. After being approved by all the examiners, the exam statement and reading list must be submitted to the graduate secretary by the end of week nine in spring term of the third year. At this point, students must also have completed all course work and language requirements for the program; if not, the examination process will be delayed. Prior to final approval, the exam statement and reading list is reviewed by comparative literature faculty members, who may make additional small recommendations and queries. Occasionally, these recommendations may be substantive enough to require additions to or deletions from the list and a resubmission process. Changes to the statement and list may be made no later than four weeks prior to the first written exam and must be approved by both the director of graduate studies and the examination committee members.
Written Examination. In this phase, students compose three essays over three twenty-four-hour periods spread out over three weeks (weeks five, six, and seven of fall term in the fourth year). The first essay covers the primary field, with questions submitted by the examiner representing that field; the second covers the secondary field in the same manner; the third essay is comparative, addressing texts from both primary and secondary fields, with questions submitted by all three examiners. For the primary and secondary field exams, students choose between two questions; for the comparative exam, they choose one of three questions. No exam will cover the methodology field. Instead, questions from the examiners will explore the full gamut of the student’s reading list—questions designed to ascertain the student’s mastery of his or her chosen methodology as applied to the primary and secondary fields.
The examiners read the essays; all of them grade and comment on the comparative essay. The two field exams are graded separately by the responsible examiners, except in the case of a failing grade. In this circumstance, the student’s essay is graded by the other two examiners as well. If two out of three examiners fail the essay, the student is entitled to retake the exam in that area in the following term. The exam may be retaken no more than once. If more than one of the student’s essays fails, or if the student fails a retake exam, he or she does not proceed, but may be eligible for a terminal master’s degree. Grades for these exams are high pass, pass, or no pass. Students learn their exam results two weeks after completion of their final essay in week nine of fall term.
Oral Examination. The oral examination is scheduled during week ten or eleven of fall term; it is proctored by the exam committee chair and usually runs two hours in length. The committee and the student revisit the written examination, discussing areas of strength and weakness. In addition, the examiners may explore the student’s expertise more deeply by asking questions about reading list materials not covered during the written exams.
While no grade is assigned for performance on the oral exam, the committee may determine recommendations and even requirements for future study, including retaking the oral examination. Recommendations are communicated in person to the student at the conclusion of the exam and in writing to the director of graduate studies as part of the committee chair’s report on the exam. If substantive requirements or concerns have been articulated, the director of graduate studies will determine any official course of action to be taken.
For students who have failed one or more parts of the written exam, no oral examination will be held; instead, the time designated for the oral will be dedicated to a meeting between the student, the exam committee, and the director of graduate studies. Participants review the exam performance, discuss a possible retake exam, and/or review the advisability of a terminal master’s degree.
Prospectus and Doctoral Candidacy. By the end of week five of winter term in the fourth year, students must submit a graduate activity form designating their dissertation committee, including the dissertation chair and outside reader. The director of graduate studies must approve this committee. For details concerning faculty eligibility, refer to the Graduate School’s Dissertation Committee Policy at gradschool
Committee members should be consulted during the process of writing the dissertation prospectus. A first draft of the prospectus should be submitted to the members of the dissertation committee by the end of winter term. A completed draft of the prospectus, approved by all four committee members, must be submitted to the graduate secretary by the end of week five of spring term in the fourth year. After final approval from the director of graduate studies, the prospectus conversation is scheduled between weeks seven and nine of spring term.
A prospectus is not a first dissertation chapter; it is a snapshot of the dissertation project as envisioned by one who has yet to complete the bulk of his or her research. The prospectus is typically ten to fifteen pages in length. It should include a clear, concise examination of the problem to be studied, along with a compelling sense of the larger issues at stake in the project, both for the immediate topic and for the field at large. The prospectus also should provide a clear vision of the project’s trajectory: a narrative account of the dissertation’s structure, an outline of chapters, and a justification for the particular authors and texts to be examined. A substantial research bibliography should be appended.
Prospectus Conversation. The prospectus conversation is scheduled between weeks seven and nine of spring term in the fourth year. This conversation includes the members of the dissertation committee, is facilitated by the committee chair, and helps to develop the student’s plans for the dissertation. Areas of strength and weakness in the project are discussed, and specific recommendations about structure, bibliography, and method are presented. After successful completion of this conversation, the student advances to candidacy.
Dissertation. Typically, the dissertation is completed within two years of advancement to candidacy, and is defended in a final oral presentation. Dissertations in a discipline such as comparative literature can hardly be said to follow exact specifications, but as a general principle any such project should involve at least two authors, works, and national literatures, and an explicit methodological orientation.