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PhD in Comparative Literature


First Year

During your first year as a doctoral student, you will focus on your academic coursework and developing your teaching skills as a TA, working alongside a faculty mentor and leading discussion sections for a faculty-led lecture course.  A standard courseload for doctoral students is three graduate courses (9 credits) per semester, in addition to the 1-credit TA workshop or language study.  You are expected to complete all course-related requirements in the semester in which they are due; you are permitted at most one active incomplete (INC). All first-year students meet regularly with the Graduate Program Director (GPD) who serves as their official advisor; the GPD approves first-year students' course selections each semester.

Second Year

Second-year doctoral students continue to fulfil their course requirements and to hone their teaching skills; under some circumstances second-year TAs may be permitted to teach stand-alone courses in which they design and implement their own syllabus for one of our Gen-Ed courses (Good and Evil, Spiritual Autobiography, International Short Story, etc.). The decision will be taken by the Program Director in consultation with the Graduate Program Director and the Undergraduate Program Director. In September, second-year students fill out the program's "Green Sheet" (a worksheet to help students plan out how they will meet the course distribution requirements) and discuss this with the GPD. Mid-way through the second year (in January or February) students begin to select a faculty member to serve as chair of their comprehensive exams. By June, students should communicate their choice of advisor to the GPD.

Third Year

Third-year students focus on completing their course requirements and preparing for the comprehensive examinations. In consultation with their advisor, students constitute the committee for the comprehensive exams in the fall semester and begin to draft three rationales or areas. Third-year students who entered with an M.A. in a related field must pass the Comprehensive exams by June 15 of the third year. (These students must defend and file their Prospectus by December 15 of their G4 year). Third-year students may be eligible for Pre-Dissertation Research Fellowships from the Graduate School.

Fourth Year

By October 15 of the fourth year, doctoral students must have passed the Comprehensive exams. Fourth-year students then constitute their dissertation committee with the assistance of their chair and in consultation with the GPD;  their focus then turns to drafting the dissertation prospectus. By April 15 of the G4 year, students must have defended and filed their prospectus. Once the prospectus is filed, G4 students become eligible for Dissertation Research Grants from the Graduate School.

Fifth Year

By September 31, fifth-year students should have completed at least one chapter of the dissertation and have had at least one dissertation meeting with their full committee. Fifth-year students are encouraged to attend the professional development workshops offered through the program and the Graduate School. 

Sixth Year+  

Students who are completing their dissertations are expected to meet with their full committee at least once each year. In order to remain in good standing, students must produce at least one acceptable dissertation chapter each year. Chapters generally are understood to be between 30 and 60 double-spaced pages. Exceptions are at the discretion of the GPD. Funding for doctoral students beyond the fifth year is at the discretion of the program; students should note that there is no guarantee of continued support through teaching assistantships beyond the fifth year and they are advised to seek alternative sources of funding. Only students in good standing will be considered for further funding (if available).


Doctoral Advising and Mentoring

First and Second Year: All first- and second-year students are officially advised by the Graduate Program Director (GPD), who for the 2021-22 academic year will be Professor Jeremi Szaniawski. The GPD advises first- and second-year students to ensure they are enrolled in the courses most appropriate for their career plans (i.e., that they are receiving rigorous training in their respective fields), that they are on track to fulfill course and language requirements, that they are planning productively for their Comprehensive Examinations, that they are well supported by the program, and that they are developing effective teaching skills. 

The GPD approves course selections for the fall and spring semesters, helping to ensure that students are attending to program requirements. The GPD will meet individually with all G1s and G2s at least once each semester to offer advice and ascertain that students are making satisfactory progress to the degree. Students should contact the GPD about any academic difficulties, especially if you are unable to finish coursework or meet deadlines. You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the GPD’s office hours (in-person and virtual). If you have classes or teaching obligations during the GPD’s office hours, please email the GPD to arrange a mutually convenient time to meet. 

In addition, the GPD reviews all students’ progress every spring with the Graduate Studies Committee, as part of the Annual Review of Student Progress. After their first year in the program, all students update their “Green Sheet” which is in their file in the office of the Program Administrator and will be available online.

Second-year students choose an Advisor from among the Comparative Literature faculty to serve as the chair of their Comprehensive Examinations committee. Any professor or senior lecturer listed on the program website under “Faculty” is fully available to you as an advisor, whether or not they hold a joint appointment with another department. By contrast, Lecturers, College Fellows, and others on short-term appointments do not serve as primary advisors for graduate students.

The primary function of the Advisor/Chair is to help you determine the most appropriate courses, summer opportunities, Comprehensive Examinations topics, and teaching opportunities in light of your developing scholarly interests and with an eye to rigorous preparation in marketable fields. It is your responsibility to contact your advisor and to initiate discussion of these items of professional development on a regular basis. You should meet with your advisor at least twice a year, preferably at the beginning of each semester. If you have difficulty getting in touch with your advisor, or if you find that your advisor is unable to assist you with the matters listed above because of changing scholarly interests or other reasons, inform the GPD and/or the Program Director to help you in managing the situation.  

In the third year, the student’s advisor is responsible for guiding students in preparing their Comprehensive Examinations lists and rationales, as well as advising them on teaching and conferences, and in particular, guiding students to a potential dissertation project. They assist students in constituting their Comprehensive Examinations committee, which must include at least two faculty members from the Program in Comparative Literature (see the section below on the comprehensive Exams). Students must consult their advisor and the GPD prior to selecting these other committee members to ensure a balanced committee. In the event that students wish to change advisors, they should inform the GPD. 

Following the completion of the Comprehensive Examinations (typically at the end of the third year and no later than October 15 of the fourth year), the Chair of the Comps committee or another faculty member in the Program will become the student’s Dissertation Chair in years G4 and above. For more on the Chair, see the sections in this Guide on formulating the dissertation prospectus and writing the dissertation. 

Some students will have the same faculty member serve as Chair of the Comprehensive examinations and then Dissertation Chair. But some will not. If students experience difficulty with their advisors, they should contact the GPD and/or the Program Director, who for the academic year 2021-22 is Professor Moira Inghilleri. There is no norm or expectation by the program that you should stay with an advisor if things are not working well. It is perfectly natural to have several principal advisors over the course of your graduate career and changes are easily made.

The GPD and your Chair provide the backbone of your guidance through the program, and it is important for you to turn to them on a regular basis. Yet you are not at all confined to these sources of advice and mentoring. You are strongly encouraged to speak about your progress and academic plans with other faculty members in the program and across the university, the Five Colleges, and beyond. You should seek out professors whose scholarship complements your own, even when you are not able to take these professors’ courses and no matter what these professors’ departments may be. All professors not on leave are required by the university to hold weekly office hours, and most professors are available to meet outside office hours as well. Do not be shy about contacting faculty members. If you email a professor and do not receive a response within 48 hours, write to that individual again. Please make certain that your emails have a subject line, that they are concise, and that you clearly explain your request. 

Although your graduate student colleagues are excellent sources of information, you should also consult the GPD directly, at any time, with any questions about program requirements and policies. 

Degree Requirements

Doctoral students in the Program of Comparative Literature focus on three literatures or fields of concentration. Work in the primary literature or field of concentration requires broad historical coverage from the pre-modern period to the contemporary era, with emphasis either on a genre or on a major period, and a thorough reading knowledge of the language. Work in the second and third literatures requires coverage of the period or genre related to the field of emphasis in the first literature. Students must demonstrate advanced proficiency in their reading knowledge of the second language of concentration, and intermediate competence in the third.

The PhD in Comparative Literature requires the successful completion of 45 credit hours, which are to be distributed as follows: 21 graduate credits in Comparative Literature, 6 of which must be at the 600-800 level (excluding dissertation credits); 6 graduate credits in a major literature; 6 in a second literature studied in the original language; 3 graduate credits in a third literature studied in the original language; 9 graduate credits in electives.

Among their Comparative Literature courses, students must include COMPLIT 752 Theory and Practice of Comparative Literature and at least one other course that combines theoretical perspectives with practical criticism. Students planning to write a dissertation in the field of Translation Studies must take COMPLIT 751 Theory and Practice of Translation.

These course requirements are summarized below:

Students in the PhD Program must complete 12 graduate course credits at the 600-800 level (excluding dissertation credits), of which 6 must be in Comparative Literature. That is:

  • 21 credits or 7 courses in Comparative Literature; 6 of these courses (18 credits) must be at the 600 level or above
  • 6 credits or 2 courses in the literature/field of primary concentration
  • 6 credits or 2 courses in the literature/field of secondary concentration
  • 3 credits or 1 course in the literature/field of tertiary concentration (third language requirement)
  • 9 credits of electives, 6 of which must be at the 600 level or above
  • 1 credit of Teaching Workshop (for teaching assistants; not part of academic course requirements)

In addition to coursework, all students must register for a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 18 dissertation credits.

Note that in individual cases, the Graduate Studies Committee may require particular courses.

Students are advised that most academic employment opportunities are in national literature or area studies departments; there are few full-time Comparative Literature positions in the United States. You are strongly encouraged, from the beginning of your graduate studies, to develop expertise in a particular national literature or other marketable field (e.g., theater, film, translation) in addition to your comparative focus. You also should make certain, guided by your faculty advisors, that you are completing the coursework and formulating a dissertation topic that will make you competitive on the national literature job market. For more on academic employment, see the section Going on the Job Market below.

The Program discourages students from taking a course load that requires them to write more than three seminar papers in a semester. If in any given semester students must take four courses that all require seminar papers, they are strongly encouraged to speak with the professors of these courses about doing alternative assignments. When asked, faculty members may allow students to write two short papers rather than a long final paper, or, by mutual agreement with another faculty member, they accept a single expanded paper for two courses. In general, faculty members also readily help students think about their final papers early in the semester. In all cases, you are encouraged to plan ahead.

To satisfy the requirements in the first, second, and third literatures of concentration, readings must be done in the original language. Class discussion may, however, be in English. If the Graduate Studies Committee determines that work was not read in the original language, credit may be withheld. Occasionally, students will declare as one of their literatures a literature in which the university does not offer sufficient courses that teach texts in the original language. In this case, students may seek to arrange Independent Studies for which they will draw up a reading list and syllabus in consultation with the faculty member who will guide their study. No more than TWO Independent Studies (or 6 credits) can count towards the required credits. All Independent Studies must be approved by the GPD and the Graduate Studies Committee in the first or second week of the semester and before the end of the Add/Drop period.Please plan accordingly. Grades for Independent Studies must be emailed by the sponsoring instructor to the Program Chair.

Overall, each student’s coursework must include a significant dimension of comparative historical or cross-cultural study. Aim to take courses with a chronological or regional focus different from your primary area of focus. Other coursework may include relevant courses in literature, language, or other disciplines relevant to your interests, such as philosophy, history, anthropology, religion, linguistics, art history or media studies. Five College courses may count towards the degree if you arrange with the instructor to complete supplementary graduate level work (usually a graduate length final paper and additional readings in the original language) and petition the Graduate Studies Committee accordingly. Contact the Graduate School, 534 Goodell, at 545-0024 to register for a Five College course. See also


Candidates for the Ph.D. are required, in each year, to receive more A’s than B’s; no grade lower than B- can be counted toward the degree. More than one grade below B- clearly indicates unsatisfactory progress in the program. It is highly unusual for graduate students to receive grades below a B at UMass Amherst. If you find yourself receiving low grades in a particular course, you should speak with the GPD right away.


Students should avoid taking any Incompletes (INC). Incompletes damage your chances of receiving university and outside fellowships. Even worse, Incompletes often cause students to fall further behind in their coursework and other requirements in the following semester. 


Unless they experience serious medical, family, or other emergencies, students in Comparative Literature are not permitted to take more than one Incomplete per semester. Students who take two or more Incompletes in any given semester will automatically be put on Probation, which will render them ineligible for a teaching assistantship in the following semester. Such students will lose their teaching fellowships and other grants while on Probation.  Students who are carrying two or more Incompletes at any given time will face the same penalties. They also risk being required to take a leave of absence or to withdraw from the program. 


If confronted by medical or family emergencies or other extraordinary circumstances that prevent you from completing your coursework in the semester in which the course is taken, you are expected, before the end of the semester, to inform the GPD that you need additional time; the GPD will work with such students on a schedule for resolving INC that can be modified as circumstances warrant. 


Incompletes must be completed before the end of the semester that follows the one in which the Incomplete was taken, unless the professor sets an earlier deadline. In the absence of extenuating circumstances, students who do not resolve their INC within this timeframe will be placed on Probation. See the section on Probation below.


Students will not be permitted to take the Comprehensive Examinations if they have INC in courses being used to fulfill requirements. As in all cases, students having academic difficulties should see the GPD at the earliest opportunity. 


Note: Often students take Incompletes because they believe the extra time will allow them to write better seminar papers. Paradoxically, this is usually not the case; sometimes an extra week or two may be necessary to produce higher quality work, but any more time than that quickly becomes counterproductive. Perfectionism often hinders academic progress. Balancing several papers (deadlines) and exams per semester is excellent training for the academic life, where you will find yourself juggling far more responsibilities at once. 


Credit for Prior Graduate Work 


Students entering the Ph.D. Program with M.A. degrees from other programs or institutions may petition the Graduate Studies Committee for exemption from particular M.A. course requirements. The correspondence between coursework done elsewhere and the department’s curricular requirements must be close; credit is not awarded automatically. A student interested in receiving transfer credit should submit to the GPD and the Graduate Studies Committee a transcript with the courses in question and a copy of each course’s syllabus. A copy of the papers written in the course may be required as well. These materials are reviewed by the GPD and Graduate Studies Committee. 

The maximum number of outside courses to count toward the Ph.D. is two (six credits). Please note that the program does not give transfer credit for language work done elsewhere. 


Credit for Independent Study


Up to six credits of independent study courses (two courses) may be counted toward the fulfillment of the requirements, provided that the student has obtained formal written permission from the Graduate Program Director prior to the end of the add-drop period for the courses in question. Students seeking to take an Independent Study should prepare a syllabus and rationale to be submitted to the GPD, which is then vetted by the GPD and Graduate Studies Committee.


Credit for Literature in Translation


Literature in translation courses may not be counted towards the literature components of the Distribution Requirements unless special arrangements are made to complete required readings in the original language.


Language Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree


In their primary and secondary languages, students must successfully complete two graduate literature courses in which works are read in the original. In their third language of concentration, students must successfully complete one graduate literature course in which works are read in the original. Students are expected to be able to read and address complex ideas in their three languages, with (at a minimum) advanced proficient reading knowledge in their second language and good reading knowledge in their third. Students are also encouraged to work actively to acquire facility in written and oral expression in their three languages of concentration. English can be the first language of concentration (and this is the case for many students). 


The Comprehensive Examination


Candidates for the Ph.D. take the Comprehensive Examination at the end of their third year of study and no later than October 15 of the fourth year of graduate study. Students who enter the Program with a related M.A. degree are expected to take the Comprehensive Examination no later than the end of the third year.


Purpose of the Comprehensive Examination


The Comprehensive Examination, based on three topics (see the definition of a topic below), serves to determine the candidate's competence in a primary concentration and one or more secondary concentrations, as well as in critical, theoretical, or philosophical methods relevant to and bibliographic skills in Comparative Literature and the candidate's areas of specialization.


Comprehensive Examination Topics


The student develops topics in close consultation with the chair and members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee. A topic is a conceptual issue of considerable breadth that touches on or has implications for study in more than one linguistic and cultural tradition. The purpose of the individual topic is to permit the exploration of a critical problem within a broad spectrum of literary, disciplinary and historical expressions. More than one critical approach to individual literary texts should be reflected among the three topics; the three topics can also be interdisciplinary and should include among them at least three literary, cultural, or linguistic traditions as well as at least two distinct historical periods. Students intending to teach in national literature departments should ensure that among them the topics cover that national literature.


The purpose of each individual topic is to permit the exploration of a critical problem with a literary-historical, interdisciplinary, and/or theoretical focus, using appropriate primary and secondary sources from more than one linguistic or cultural tradition. Critical problems might include translation and interpreting, gender, film and media, word and image, music or other arts, postcolonialism, migration, folklore, and transnational and world literature. Candidates are encouraged to relate theoretical issues to close textual analysis, but the overall examination should not be devoted to developing a single critical approach. Candidates should formulate topics that will inform future publications, teaching, and potentially the dissertation with a concern for their potential as conference papers, a dissertation area, and course syllabi. The three topics as a whole should reflect a broad historical range and engage materials in three language areas. Texts read as primary material for a topic must also be read in the original languages.


For each topic, the student submits for the committee’s approval a bibliography of approximately 20-25 primary texts and an additional list with an appropriate range of secondary texts.


Selection of the Comprehensive Examination Committee


By the end of the second year of study, the student selects (from among the faculty of the Program in Comparative Literature) the chairperson of his or her Comprehensive Examination Committee, who then becomes the student's primary advisor. With the approval of the Graduate Program Director, a co-chair may be appointed from among the Associated Faculty of the Program. By the beginning of the spring semester of the G3 year, the committee chair and student select the rest of the committee, which consists of at least four members of the graduate faculty: at least two from the Program of Comparative Literature and at least one from another program. The fourth member may come from either inside or outside the Program. 

It is the responsibility of the student to stay in close and regular contact with committee members while preparing to take the Comprehensive Examination. You are expected to meet periodically with your four examiners; ideally, you should plan to have at least one meeting every two or three weeks with one or another committee member. Some faculty members prefer to meet regularly with students (e.g., every other week), while others may prefer to meet with you only two or three times before the exam. If you find that you need to meet more frequently than a particular faculty member has proposed, you should be certain to request more meetings. Be bold; different students have different backgrounds and thus different needs, and faculty members might not always be aware of your circumstances. Should you experience any difficulties meeting with your examiners, please be in touch with the GPD as soon as possible. 

Topic Rationales


The student submits a rationale for each of their three topics. Each rationale should be no more than 800-1200 words and should explain the scope and aims of the topic, as well as how it fits into the student’s wider program of study and career goals. Topic rationales and bibliographies must be approved by the committee. It may be helpful for students to think of these rationales as having the scope and breadth of a course syllabus on the topic. Sample rationales can be consulted; please contact the GPD and your advisor. 


Approval of the Topics by the Comprehensive Examination Committee


When the student has selected the three topics, drafted the rationales and bibliographies, and secured the approval of individual committee members, the student arranges an informal meeting of the Comprehensive Examination Committee. This meeting is best understood as an opportunity for dialogue between the student and their committee members where additional comments or recommendations for primary or secondary texts may be offered before the examination. 


The final versions of the bibliographies and secondary source lists and any topic proposals approved by the committee are to be submitted to the Graduate Program Director no fewer than 30 days before the Examination. These become part of the student’s permanent file.




All three topics are evaluated by both written and oral examination. Successful completion of this examination allows the candidate to proceed to the dissertation.


The Written Examination is a take-home exam. Students write three essays, one on each topic (2500-3300 words each), within a seven-day period agreed upon by the committee. Questions are released to the student at 9 AM on day 1 by the Committee Chair and the essays are returned by the student to the whole committee via email by 5 PM on day 7. Note that late exam submissions will not be accepted and will result in a failing grade. Should an emergency arise, the student should contact the Chair and GPD immediately.


The Oral Examination is a two-hour examination that takes place not more than one week after the written exam. The Comprehensive Exams Committee examines the student for approximately two hours on the candidate’s three topics. The oral examination also includes a review of the candidate’s achievement in critical, theoretical, or philosophical methods as well as bibliographic skills in Comparative Literature and related disciplines in the candidate’s area of specialization.


At the conclusion of the oral examination, the Committee meets behind closed doors and takes a vote to determine whether the candidate has passed or failed. The Committee Chair makes known to the candidate the decision immediately after the examiners have conferred at the conclusion of the oral exam. The Committee Chair, at that time, provides the candidate with an explanation of the Committee’s decision. In the event of a negative decision by the examiners, the student’s committee consults with the Graduate Program Director during the week following the examination. The Graduate Program Director thereupon informs the student either that permission to take the examination a second and final time has been granted, or that termination of graduate studies is advised.


The M.A. en Passant


Upon passing the Comprehensive examination, Ph.D. candidates who did not enter the Ph.D. program with an M.A. degree are granted an M.A. on request. The student must initiate the request for this degree. Students entering with a related M.A. may request the M.A. en passant only if they have transferred fewer than six credits (two courses) toward their M.A. requirements.


The Dissertation


The doctoral dissertation may deal with any subject in literary theory, or with the comparison of texts, in the original languages of works from two or more literatures. The dissertation offers sustained inquiry into topics of literary-theoretical, literary-historical, or interdisciplinary importance; it should deal in a substantial way with texts in at least two languages, and, when appropriate, take into consideration diverse cultural and linguistic contexts. A translation dissertation may be proposed, provided that it is prefaced by an extensive introduction, with a level of analysis appropriate to a doctoral dissertation. This introduction should deal with theories and specific problems of the translation. Note that students planning to write a dissertation on translation studies must take Comparative Literature 751 Theory and Practice of Translation. 


Selection of the Dissertation Committee


Within 3 months after the student successfully completes the Comprehensive examination, the student selects, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director, a chair of the dissertation committee from among the graduate faculty in Comparative Literature. The Chair of the dissertation committee then assists the student to select the other members of the dissertation committee, which must include at least four members of the graduate faculty (of whom at least one other is from the Program of Comparative Literature and at least one is from another department or program).* In consultation with the chair of the dissertation committee, the student arranges a preliminary meeting of the entire committee. 


In the event that the Chair of the dissertation committee leaves the university due to retirement or to take another position, he or she may continue to chair the dissertation. However, whenever he or she is unable or unwilling to continue to serve as chair, the second faculty member from Comparative Literature who has been serving on the committee must be prepared to take on the duties of Chair and work with the student to enlist an additional faculty member from the program to join the committee.


Dissertation Prospectus


The student presents and defends a Ph.D. prospectus with bibliography within 6 months following the successful completion of the Comprehensive examination (no later than April 15 of the G4 year). The prospectus should describe, in 10-15 pages (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point type) the aims, method, and scope of the proposed dissertation; the accompanying bibliography should not exceed 10 pages. 

The members of your Dissertation Committee can be the same as the members of your Comprehensive committee, but they need not be. Be careful to choose faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship and who will offer you timely feedback. You may also add a faculty member to your committee at any time in the dissertation prospectus/writing process. 


A dissertation prospectus is not an abstract (i.e., a summary of a completed dissertation), nor is it a full-scale introductory chapter; instead, it is an attempt to describe what is planned before it has actually been done. It thus most closely resembles a grant proposal or book proposal (in this case, a proposal for dissertation funding). It should set out the value of the topic and your approach in a compelling and concise manner. 


Your prospectus should provide a preliminary description of the proposed dissertation, delineating not only the topic you will discuss but also your primary arguments. You need to explain why this topic merits discussion and the importance of your proposed contributions. In addition, you should indicate your project’s relation to existing scholarship, describing your methodology, and outlining your planned structure of chapters. 


Finding, defining, and communicating an argument that is at once significant and of realistic scope are tasks that require discussion and collaboration between yourself and your committee members, who should see and respond to drafts of your prospectus. 

It is crucial for you to consult with faculty members early in the dissertation prospectus process. The prospectus should answer, as best as possible at this early stage of research, certain fundamental questions: 

  1. What is the central problem that the dissertation will address, and what will be your major argument? The problem can be theoretical, critical, or historical, but it should, in most cases, be presented as a question or related set of questions to which the dissertation will attempt to offer answers. It is important that this problem and your hypothetical answers (hypotheses) be stated from the outset, so that your research will not risk becoming random and your exposition will not lapse into mere description. 

When writing your prospectus, speak in terms of what you will “argue,” “contend,” or “claim,” rather than simply “explore,” “examine,” and “discuss.” It is fine to speak of “asking” or “inquiring,” but questions should in general be associated with an argument or hypothesis. 

  1. Although you are writing a dissertation for a Comparative Literature Ph.D., your project may not be obviously comparative. The comparative nature of the project may lie in the way it interrupts or revises existing narratives of explanation using new materials. If you will be relying on an intellectual framework developed by a particular theorist or theoretical school, you should say something about how the theory will inform or be at issue in your work. What will count for you as evidence? Will your thesis aim at the revision of a paradigm, or the utilization of one? What will you be “reading” and what will you be presupposing? How does your framework fit your problem, and why have you chosen it? Are you testing it or using it? What kind of end point are you after? Do you want to make us understand something about the text(s), the world, the art form, or the analytic enterprise--or about the inextricability of all of these? Here is where you should define clearly any concepts or terms that will carry important analytical energy for you, and perhaps briefly explain their genealogy or provenance, especially when you are using contested, general, or often-misunderstood terms. 
  1. To persuade your reader that you are not just restating what has already been said before, you should include a brief review (about a page) outlining the present “state of the field” with respect to your topic and argument. How have previous scholars treated your topic; how have their arguments differed from yours? How does your approach differ from earlier approaches? Has there been new evidence (for example, a new primary source) that has come to light since previous treatments? For the sake of collegiality, it is advisable not to attempt to upstage other scholars, but to bear in mind that your work would not be possible without the work of earlier scholars. 

Additional guidelines for the prospectus and dissertation:

  • Your prospectus must include a chapter-by-chapter outline, with a paragraph or so describing each chapter. Naturally, the final arrangement of chapters may look different from the one developed in your prospectus: when new perspectives open up in the course of your work on the dissertation, you are free to revise the organization proposed in the prospectus. Nonetheless, outlining a sequence of potential chapters will help you to clarify your argument and check the balance of its parts in relation to one another. Chapters typically run anywhere between 30 and 60 double-spaced pages. If the major sections of your dissertation seem likely to exceed this span, plan to subdivide them. You might consider organizing your topic in terms of four or five main chapters, unless your topic is better served by a larger number of shorter chapters. The proposed chapters should be presented in your prospectus in a manner that allows your readers to form a clear overview of the project as a whole. You will probably find that developing this outline helps your thinking to move forward substantially, so that the actual writing of the dissertation will be more clearly focused.
  • Dissertations vary widely in length, but a good target is around 200-300 pages, consisting of four or five roughly 50-page chapters plus your introduction, conclusion, and bibliography. A dissertation can have more chapters when appropriate, and can run longer than 300 pages if necessary, particularly if substantial archival work is entailed, but longer dissertations often lose more in terms of focus and control of the topic than they gain in terms of amplitude of detail. You should ideally have 2/3 of your dissertation written when you go on the job market. Students planning to write dissertations of under 200 pages are advised that hiring committees are likely to be skeptical about incomplete short dissertations; students writing short dissertations should plan to go on the market with a finished or nearly finished dissertation. 
  • Once you have drafted your prospectus under the guidance of your committee, you might want to have it read by someone who knows very little about your topic, to see whether you have clearly set out your problem and defined a workable method. Seeking out a general reader right at the start is a good reminder that though you may be writing on a specialized topic, your thesis should be written in clear, intelligible prose. Make sure you define the theoretical terms and categories you are introducing, and try to avoid technical jargon unless it is necessary to the intricacies of your argument (in which case you should clearly define it). 
  • Remember that you are undertaking to write a connected narrative. You ought therefore to think about that narrative as a whole rather than merely as a series of separate chapters. What overall message would you like people to take away from your dissertation? Try to formulate your subject and your intended destination in a simple sentence or two; make sure that you locate this sentence or two in a prominent place in your introduction. 
  • In thinking about your project, situate it in the broader field to which it is addressed. By this point in your graduate studies you have developed a strong command of current thinking about your dissertation’s overall field. How will your argument change people's ideas, add to the present picture, or revise commonly held views? Thinking in these terms should help you formulate your project so that it is understandable for someone who is not immersed in its field, as well as showing people in the field why they should be interested in reading your work. 
  • The audience for an academic dissertation ranges from members of your own generation, to interested undergraduates, to advanced scholars. It also includes thinkers of the future, since most dissertations are readily accessible online, at least after an initial embargo. Be sure to explain your scope or focus. Describe how your work does or doesn’t fit into, develop from, or in some other manner deal with relevant (or only apparently relevant) work done by others. This will increase the chance of making your thesis the book you are likely to want it to become, as well as aiding you in deriving articles from chapters of the dissertation.
  • Prospectuses (and then dissertations) tend either to lose themselves in detail or to be too general. To avoid these extremes, try to do what you would in any paper you write: make sure that your main argument remains clearly above ground and that each paragraph has a clear connection with both the preceding and following ones. Enough care and stylistic grace should be exercised so that the prospectus clearly and concisely articulates the project, its arguments, methods, and special considerations in a manner that anyone in Comparative Literature (or literary studies in general) can grasp. 
  • The Prospectus you submit should be a polished and professional document without typos. It becomes part of your scholarly file and is an invaluable tool for securing fellowships and for developing grant applications.
  • Prospectuses are expected to include a bibliography, which can vary in length. You do not need to have already read every source listed on your bibliography. However, you should have a sense of the most important works for your topic and have taken the time to become familiar with them. Remember that not every source requires scrupulous reading and note taking. 

Prospectus Defense 


Once you have completed your draft prospectus, you are required to have an oral defense of your prospectus in the presence of your full Dissertation Committee. You must send your prospectus to your committee at least 10 days before the defense. This meeting is a one-hour discussion both of the work leading up to your dissertation project and the prospectus itself, with the aim of ensuring that you are well prepared to move forward with the project and have developed both a viable conceptual structure and an appropriate outline of the chapters that will comprise the dissertation.


The Prospectus defense usually begins with students speaking for about 10 minutes on their proposed project. This presentation should not merely reiterate what is laid out in the prospectus; it should expound and amplify the prospectus, for instance, by illustrating the methodologies through a sample close reading.


After a successful prospectus defense (and within the same semester) the student files the approved final version of the prospectus with a cover sheet signed by the Graduate Program Director and the Department Chair, with the Graduate School, and provides a copy to the Graduate Program Director. Graduate School regulations stipulate that a dissertation prospectus be formally filed at least seven months before the dissertation defense.


Working on the Dissertation 


The dissertation is the culmination of your graduate studies, and the years you spend on it can be the best of times or the worst of times, if not both. You should have the satisfaction of drawing on much that you have been learning in the past years, and of finding or refining your scholarly voice and entering fully into the debates in your field; at the same time, you face the challenges of managing a scale of work larger than anything you have likely experienced before. How can you best structure your days, weeks, and semesters to keep yourself working productively at a pace suited to the length of the project, neither burning out nor letting the project extend into an indefinite horizon? Individual projects and schedules vary greatly, but a few basic guidelines can help make this the best of times for you, yielding an excellent written product within the time – and the funding – available. 

  1. Break it down. The best way to write a dissertation (and, generally, a book as well) is one chapter at a time. You often will write chapters in the order in which they will appear in the finished manuscript, but this is not always the case. Usually the introduction and conclusion are best written at the end.
  2. Pace yourself. For a typical four- or five-chapter dissertation, a good output (and the rate of progress expected by the program) is one chapter per semester or summer. This may seem a daunting pace, but you have been writing 50 to 60 pages per semester all through graduate school, which is just the rate you should aim for in the dissertation. True, you are supposed to accomplish more in the dissertation than in a set of seminar papers, but you know more than you did before, and the extended work on your prospectus yielded a viable topic, which you now have the challenge of developing at full length. 
  3. Make a plan. Upon approval of your prospectus, you should work out an overall plan for the coming two or so years of dissertation work. Show these plans to your advisers and get their input, then proceed accordingly, modifying the plans from time to time as needed. Many students become consumed by teaching and family and let dissertations fall by the wayside. Do not do this. A heavy teaching commitment is no excuse for not working on your dissertation, nor is a family; you need to be making steady progress on the dissertation even while teaching. Successful academics balance multiple commitments; the sooner one finds this balance, the better.  Dissertations cannot be written in several summers alone. Students having difficulty balancing teaching, life, and research should speak with their advisers or the GPD as soon as possible. Department faculty members and campus resources will help you work out a schedule to better balance your time. Finally, it is important to have the body of the dissertation drafted by the fall of the fifth or sixth year, so that you can make a serious showing on the job market. For most academic jobs, you must be able to demonstrate that you will finish your dissertation by the end of the current academic year, and having the dissertation largely complete will leave you the significant time needed for a thorough job search. The general guideline is that no less than 2/3 of the dissertation should be ready before a student navigates the academic job market.
  1. Meet regularly with your committee. Your Chair and other dissertation committee members are there for you, but it is your responsibility to take the initiative to meet with them. If faculty members don’t answer your emails, email them again or go to their office hours. In the rare cases when you cannot reach one of your advisors, speak with the GPD as soon as possible. Much as with comps preparation, you should draw up a schedule to ensure that you see one or more of your advisors every few weeks, first to discuss tentative plans, then to discuss a chapter outline, perhaps again for a general midway conversation on a chapter, then of course to hand in the draft before the committee meeting that is required at minimum once each year, but that occurs preferably once each semester.
  2. Learn from meetings with your committee. At least once each year, in order to remain in good standing in the graduate program, you are required to have a meeting with your dissertation committee. Most students use this occasion to discuss a completed draft of a new chapter, although you may occasionally have two chapters to discuss at a time or have a second meeting to discuss a chapter that needed substantial revision after the first chapter meeting. These meetings usually take one hour. They begin with the student speaking for a few minutes on the chapter and where it fits in the dissertation as a whole; the remainder of the hour is spent discussing the chapter with the dissertation committee. The meeting itself gives you the opportunity to receive sustained responses from your committee members, who will be able to hear one another’s advice and your responses and refine their advice in turn. Your committee members may also give you written comments in addition to the discussion at the chapter meeting. A committee member who is out of town may participate via Skype or a conference call; in unusual cases when this is impossible to arrange, written comments may be sent in advance of the meeting. Faculty members are asked to provide written feedback on chapters within four weeks of receiving a chapter draft
  3. Share your work. Beyond campus, you should plan to present your work at one or two conferences a year. More than that adds little and can slow your dissertation writing; the ACLA annual meeting is particularly recommended. The Program has funding to assist in conference travel (see below). The Program also strongly recommends that while in graduate school you send out two articles for publication, one derived from your dissertation chapters and another drawing from work separate from the dissertation, which can show the breadth of your knowledge. 


Completion and Preliminary Approval of the Dissertation


The Dissertation Committee Chair should establish deadlines for the submission of each chapter draft in order to support the writing process. The student submits drafts of each chapter to the Chair and to the members of his or her committee, as agreed upon in prior consultations with them. Faculty members on the committee are expected to respond to each chapter draft within four weeks. Students should not expect a faculty member to be able to read a draft in less than four weeks. Students should contact their Chair and the GPD should their committee members fail to provide timely feedback. The final dissertation defense is scheduled only when the Dissertation Committee Chair (in dialogue with the members of the committee) deems the dissertation acceptable in content, form, and language, and ready to stand for defense.


The Dissertation Defense


The Dissertation Defense is scheduled through the Program Administrator and the GPD no less than thirty days before the defense. The student must prepare a degree eligibility form and provide the full title and committee membership to the Program Administrator. If the committee includes outside members, they will need to be granted Graduate faculty status; this requires their cv and birthdate, and the process takes some time. Please plan accordingly. The degree eligibility form is signed by the GPD and by the Department head, Prof. Robert Sullivan.


In accordance with Graduate School regulations, “attendance at the final oral examination is open to all members of the candidate’s major department and any member of the Graduate Faculty. However, only members of the Dissertation Committee may cast votes.” The Graduate School directs that the oral be “primarily upon, but not limited to, the contents of the candidate’s dissertation.” In order to pass the examination, the candidate must receive unanimous approval from the Dissertation Committee. If there is one negative vote, the degree will be held up pending action of the Graduate Council.


The outcome of the examination is to be made known to the candidate immediately after the members of the Dissertation Committee have conferred at the conclusion of the defense.


During the defense, the candidate may be asked to make minor revisions to the dissertation before filing it. Such requests will come primarily from committee members, as the Chair will already have reviewed the dissertation in detail with the student. The Chair and committee will communicate required revisions to the student in writing and set out a clear timeline for their completion. The revised dissertation must be approved and submitted to the Graduate School ideally within two weeks of the defense and no later than the end of the semester following the defense. Thus, a student who defends in the fall semester must file the revised dissertation by the following May; likewise, a student who defends in the spring semester must file by the following December. Note that a student who defends in the summer must file by December; a student who defends in the winter by May. In order to give the Dissertation Committee Chair the requisite four weeks to review the revised thesis, the candidate will submit their revisions to the Chair at least four weeks prior to the end of the semester: by November 15 for a Fall submission or April 15 for Spring.



The information below is on finding academic appointments. Students are encouraged as well to pursue employment opportunities outside of academia. It is always wise to have several alternative career paths in mind, since employment opportunities in the humanities are becoming ever scarcer, and each year only a small percent of the department’s fresh Ph.D.’s secure tenure-track positions. Most Comparative Literature graduates who accept tenure-track offers do not receive these offers in the final year of their Ph.D. program. Instead, they may spend several years as postdocs, Visiting Assistant Professors, or lecturers. 


Your Dossier and Recommendations 

It is never too early to establish a dossier with Interfolio.

A dossier is not only essential when you go on the job market but also facilitates applying for grants or even seeking teaching fellowships. Your dossier may contain recommendations from faculty members who have seen you teach, have been your examiners, or from whom you have taken a class. 


Allow a month for recommenders to write on your behalf. Faculty members are very busy and often traveling, and they will write more detailed and thus more effective recommendations when allowed the time to do so. Even if you ask them orally, remind them by email of the deadline a week or two in advance. (This is especially important if you are requesting multiple recommendations with different due dates: faculty members will generally tailor their recommendations to the different positions for which you are applying, so they need to have a timetable to remind them of which letters are needed by when and for which purposes.) For letters that cannot be submitted electronically, you should also provide an addressed envelope. 

Students are encouraged to ask faculty members to write personalized letters for as many jobs as possible. Be bold. Although it is good to have on file with Interfolio a letter (or letters) from each of your recommenders, nothing replaces a personalized letter in which a faculty member can explain to a hiring committee exactly why you are the perfect candidate for that particular job. Faculty members may be familiar with the departments to which you are applying and may have good friends or colleagues there, so it is always a good idea to let your recommenders know the precise institutions to which you are applying and ask for their input. 


The Search Process 

In the fall, the GPD leads a workshop on job market preparation for students on the job market. In this seminar, the GPD and your peers will review your cover letters, CVs, research and teaching statements, and dossiers. In addition, the GPD and your Chair will be happy to conduct mock interviews in December, as well as throughout the spring semester as the need arises. It is your responsibility to reach out to the GPD and your Chair for advice on any aspect of the job search process---you should reach out to them early and often. 

Students also are expected to speak with their advisers about the job market, and they are encouraged not only to share their job search materials with their Dissertation Committee but also to invite members of their Dissertation Committee to participate in the mock interviews. 


The MLA Job Information List is accessible online at; nonmembers may create a free JIL user account to search the Job Information List. 


The program can also arrange mock job talks in January and early February for those who are invited for campus visits. Your Chair and the GPD can likewise help with negotiating offers and are available to answer any questions you have about the job search process. 


The program keeps on file a number of sample cover letters, as well as research and teaching statements. These are available as PDFs on the program’s Moodle site.


Many books have been written on the academic job search. Most recent is Karen Kelsky’s The Professor is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job (Three Rivers Press, 2015). Kelsky’s columns in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the blog on her website ( are additional, invaluable resources. Other very helpful sources are Julia Miller Vick, The Academic Job Search Handbook (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Sandra L. Barnes, On the Market: Strategies for a Successful Academic Job Search (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007); and Kathryn Hume, Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt: Advice for Humanities Ph.D.s (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). 


Cast your net widely on the job market. There are many misperceptions of American higher education, most notably, that the only good jobs are to be found in Ivy League institutions or their equivalent. The United States offers a tremendous range of institutions and departments, with many different combinations of teaching, research, and other responsibilities. Jobs are increasingly available abroad as well, regardless of your citizenship. You are encouraged to speak with as many faculty members as possible about the job openings in your field(s). Non-academic jobs or positions in administration and campus life can be highly rewarding career paths.



The Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy

To continue to be eligible for financial aid and for teaching appointments, students in the Ph.D. Program must be making satisfactory progress. The following ten items provide general criteria for satisfactory progress. If you have any questions concerning this policy, please see the GPD as soon as possible. The GPD and the Graduate Studies Committee perform an annual review of all student progress in the spring and send formal written notification to each student via hard copy and email.

  1. Students must receive more A’s than B’s, and no grade lower than a B-. G1 and G2 students must complete at least 6 courses each year with no more than one INC. 
  2. Students must have resolved all remaining INCs before they will be eligible to take the Comprehensive exams. 
  1. A student must have passed the Comprehensive exams by October 15 of their G4 year, unless the GPD has granted an extension. A student who entered the program with a related M.A. degree must have passed the Comprehensive exams by June 15 of their G3 year.
  2. By April 15 of the G4 year a student must have defended and filed the Dissertation Prospectus unless the student has been granted an extension by the GPD. 
  3. By the end of the fifth year and each subsequent year, a student must have produced at least one acceptable chapter of the dissertation. Non-resident students must also produce at least one chapter or the equivalent each year and remain in communication with the program. 
  4. The program expects students to finish the dissertation no later than the end of the G8 year. 
  5. A student who has not completed the dissertation by the end of the tenth year will be asked to withdraw with the option of applying for readmission at a later date. 
  6. International students should bear these deadlines in mind and plan accordingly, as exceptions cannot be made on the grounds of a student’s visa and immigration status. 
  7. A student who fails to meet any of the above requirements may, on the recommendation of the GPD and the Graduate Studies Committee, be granted an exception and remain eligible for financial aid, for a grace period of up to one semester. At the close of the grace period, in order to be considered as making satisfactory progress the student must have met both the requirement that was missed and the requirements that would normally be imposed at that time. 
  8. No student may have more than one semester of such grace during the Ph.D. Program. 

In the case of special circumstances such as pregnancy or the need to care for dependents, a student may request – and shall be granted – a Leave of Absence of a length appropriate to the given circumstances. Time will be added to the “thesis clock” for students who must take such a leave or who must work at a reduced rate because of special circumstances. Students are advised, however, that taking a leave of absence will not modify their year in the program as this is calculated based on the year they entered.  


Academic Probation


There are two kinds of academic probation: (1) Students in years G1-4 who have more than one incomplete or who fail to pass their comprehensive exams or file their prospectus on schedule will be placed on a probation for a duration of one semester, during which time they are expected to get back on track. They will receive formal written notification that they are on probation as well as a clear list of expectations of what needs to be accomplished for them to be taken off probation. Students on probation are not guaranteed a teaching assistantship for that semester. If the student successfully fulfills the stipulated conditions within the expected time frame of the semester, they will be taken off probation and once again be eligible for a teaching assistantship in the following semester. (2) Students in years G4+ who fail to make adequate progress on the writing of the dissertation may also be placed on probation for the duration of one semester. If their failure to make satisfactory progress persists, they (and their chair) will be notified by means of a formal letter. These students will be ineligible for funding while on probation and may be asked to withdraw from the program. 


Statue of Limitations (SOL) Extensions

The Statute of Limitations (SOL) for each student is set to 5 years from the time they pass their Comprehensive Exams. Note that this in no way alters their year in the program (G1 is understood as the year a student enters the program regardless of their source of funding). Students who are making good progress towards completion of the degree but who need additional time may ask the GPD to request an extension to their Statute of Limitations from the Graduate School. The student must initiate this request by June 1 of the year in which their SOL expires. An extension may be granted for up to two years, but often an extension of only one semester or one year may be deemed appropriate. Note that these extensions are not granted automatically; if a student has consistently failed to make adequate and satisfactory progress, such a request may be denied at the discretion of the GPD and Graduate Studies Committee.  


Conference Funding

Students are encouraged to attend one or two conferences a year and the program is pleased to provide some funding support to facilitate this. Students are required to notify the GPD in September of any conferences they plan to attend in the academic year as funding allocations are made in the early fall to ensure a fair distribution of available funds. For domestic conferences, students can receive up to $300 in funding per conference. For international conferences, students may receive up to $500 per conference. All conference travel must be entered into the university online travel registry website PRIOR to travel for approval by the GPD. Students are required to send a brief email to the GPD if they decide not to attend a conference for which they requested funding so that the funding can be made available to other students. Likewise, students must notify the GPD by email upon their return from a conference, confirming their attendance for program records.



Name of doctoral candidate:


[The doctoral candidate and dissertation director will meet together regularly, preferably once a month; the student should be encouraged to meet regularly with the committee members, and remain in touch by email. The student is responsible for contacting the Graduate School to ascertain that all materials conform to requirements for formatting, deadlines, etc.]


1) Student submits draft of Chapter 1 to Chair  [date]


2) Chair returns Chapter 1 with suggested revisions [date: no longer than one month later]


3) Student incorporates changes and returns to chair [date]


4) Chair approves (or recommends further revisions to) Chapter 1, returns it to student who circulates to Committee with request for feedback by [date, no longer than 1 month later]


5) Student works on next chapter (not necessarily in chronological order) while awaiting feedback


6) Committee returns Chapter 1 with suggestions/edits [date]


7) Student incorporates changes, resubmits Chapter 1 to Chair for final approval


8) Chair returns approved Chapter 1 to student


9) This process continues apace until all chapters, including introduction, conclusion, notes and bibliography, are submitted and approved.


10) Defense date is set at least two months in advance in consultation with Chair when all chapter drafts have been received and approved, and the Chair deems the project acceptable in content, form, and language and ready to stand defense. Student reserves room and contacts all committee members to confirm their presence. Chair notifies students of protocols for defense; confirms available technology as necessary in advance; advises student on expectations for defense (e.g. a short oral presentation of findings in advance of committee questions/discussion); reminds students that refreshments are customary.


11) Defense [date]: Chair advises Graduate Program Director of defense date at least one month in advance; GPD advises Graduate School and announces to Program and Department lists. Student invites friends/colleagues, sends reminders to Committee one month and one week in advance of defense date. Student circulates final draft to Chair and all committee members at least one month in advance of defense. Student brings hard copies of complete dissertation to defense for each faculty member to facilitate discussion, in addition to electronic copies that have been circulated.


12) Student completes revisions recommended by Committee during defense and returns final draft to Chair for approval no later than three months following defense date. Chair returns approved copy no later than one month after submission by student.


13) Student files all required materials including hard copy of dissertation with the Graduate School no later than the end of the semester following the defense.

For further information, call (413) 545-0929, or write to the Graduate Program Director, Comparative Literature Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst MA 01003.