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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. Current PhD students should refer to the Graduate Student Handbook for a comprehensive description of requirements and policies.

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.


Students generally complete their coursework in the first three years of the program, with the option to complete additional courses in year four and beyond if they wish to pursue graduate certificates or additional training. During the fourth year, students often leave campus to pursue study abroad or research in other locations. 

Course requirements include:

  •  COMPLIT 600-Topics in Theory (Year 1)
  •  COMPLIT 601 & COMPLIT 602-Preparation for the Preliminary Examination in Comparative Literature (Year 2)
  • 4 COMPLIT seminars (up to 1 seminar may be fulfilled by completing 3 credits of mini-courses in COMPLIT)
  • 8 graduate seminar electives taught in any department
  • Click HERE for a sample year by year breakdown

Milestones to the PhD

Built into the PhD program in Comparative Literature are a number of milestones: 

  • The Third Term Review is designed to allow students to share their experiences in the graduate program, receive feedback on their coursework and skills, and plan next steps. Takes place in the fall of the second year. 

  • The Preliminary Examination is the first step in defining a field for research and consists of a reading list and rationale submitted by the student to a committee which may form the basis for the student’s doctoral dissertation committee. Takes place in the fall of the third year. 

  • The Preliminary Project expands on a topic that is relevant to the student’s research interests. The format of the project is flexible (e.g., a research essay, translation project, multimodal writing, or public-facing project). This milestone is 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 begin formulating a dissertation topic. Completed by the end of the third year. 

  • A Prospectus detailing the dissertation project is the final step before writing the dissertation itself. Completed in the fall of the fourth year. 

  • The Dissertation Defense is scheduled through Rackham when the student has completed the dissertation. 

Study Abroad for Language Training and Research

The program creates flexibility for students to pursue study abroad.  All graduate students receive a start-up funding package to support language study in the summers after years 1 and 2. 

When students reach candidacy, they are guaranteed at least one semester of fellowship in year 4 to do research in another location.  To extend study abroad for a second term, students can also apply for additional funding from the International Institute, Rackham Graduate School, and other sources to support language study and dissertation research projects. 

Pedagogical Training & Teaching Experiences

Students begin teaching as Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) in their second year, with pedagogical support through GSI training and peer mentoring.  Typically, first teaching appointments are in the first-year writing courses ENGLISH 125 (Writing and Academic Inquiry) and COMPLIT 122 (Writing World Literatures).  More advanced GSIs have the opportunity to teach courses beyond the 100-level including COMPLIT 241 (Topics in Comparative Literature), and COMPLIT 322 (Translating  World Literatures). 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. To diversify their teaching dossiers, our students have had opportunities to teach introductory language courses, Great Books or national literature courses, and occasionally in departments such as American Culture, Film, Television, and Media, and Women's and Gender Studies