Degree Requirements

Outline of PhD Requirements

Years One & Two: 17 graduate-level courses including CMLT 501, CMLT 502, Graduate Writing Workshop and additional CMLT courses; the graduate writing workshop may be taken in the third year and multiple times over the course of a student’s tenure; demonstrated proficiency in two foreign languages

Year Three: oral and written qualifying examination by end of winter quarter of third year (or end of spring quarter with DGS approval only); dissertation proposal approved by end of spring of third year (or end of summer, prior to beginning of fall quarter with committee and DGS approval only).

Years Four though Six: Year 5 dissertation colloquium (or prior to completion of dissertation); completion of dissertation, culminating in dissertation defense and graduation by end of year six.

The timing and nature of teaching under the Pedagogical Training Plan is planned in consultation with the faculty mentor according to the student’s needs and professional goals.


Years One, Two & Three

The first year of the Ph.D. program consists of a minimum of eight graduate-level courses, all of which must be taken for a quality letter grade (not pass/fail). These courses may include courses outside of the department but should reflect the student's proposed degree program and must be reviewed by the faculty mentor and approved by the DGS. Students are expected to take 17 graduate level courses in their field of study (including 501 and 502) with room for language study built-in. The Graduate Writing Workshop, which can be taken multiple times, may be taken in Year Three.

In order to obtain the M.A. degree, students must also demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages either through demonstration of high proficiency in a graduate literature course, by advisor evaluation, or by a high pass in the Academic Reading and Comprehension Assessment (ARCA) proctored by the Chicago Language Center.

At the annual spring review, the faculty will review student progress and incompletes. Students with any incompletes in required courses or in their plan of study at the time of the spring annual review will be asked to reconcile these unfinished courses before being allowed to register for courses in fall quarter of the next academic year. All papers for incomplete courses should be turned in to the course professor, DGS, and department administrator no later than the first day of Autumn Quarter on the academic calendar. No student will be allowed to take their qualifying examination or advance to candidacy until all course work is complete.

Student transcripts will be reviewed every quarter to establish “satisfactory progress.” The transcripts should contain a majority of A or A- grades. Any grade of B + or above is considered satisfactory. Grades of B and below may be cause for concern. Courses with a grade of B- or below may not count toward departmental requirements.

Students are expected to take a minimum of six courses in their field of study in Year Two with room for language study built-in. A full load usually is comprised of eight courses per academic year.

Students may not begin the academic year with any incomplete or blank grades. Any incomplete or blank grades that remain on a student’s record by the start of the autumn quarter of the following year will be automatically recorded as UW or unofficial withdrawals, which carry no credit. This is Humanities Division policy; students are expected to start each term and each year with their full attention on current course work; please see the detailed information under “Incomplete Work” below.

Entering with an MA

Students who enter the program with an M.A. degree from another university that has been judged suitable preparation for Comparative Literature study at the University of Chicago will still be required to take Comparative Literature 501 and 502. Otherwise, they can receive credit for four courses maximum.

Language Requirements

High proficiency in two foreign languages demonstrated by passing a graduate literature course in the language (and approval by the instructor) or a high pass (P+) on the Graduate Reading Exam proctored by the Chicago Language Center. At least one high proficiency language should be confirmed in the first year. The remaining requirements must be completed before the student is admitted to candidacy.

Students should also be working towards native fluency in the language of their major literature by applying to studying abroad, only after exhausting UChicago language offerings. Funding for language study depends on the language and on the student’s immigration status; please review the Humanities Division and UChicago Grad websites for more detailed information and policies.

Registration for the language exam (for which a High Pass is required) can be found on the Graduate Reading Exam page. The exam is proctored by the Chicago Language Center where you can find more resources on language certificates, courses, and the schedule for language exams.

Qualifying Examination

All students will meet with their exam committee at the end of the second year. Students should bring to this meeting a draft examination list of approximately 60 texts, provisionally organized into three fields of disciplinary, theoretical, or regional inquiry. The list will be discussed with a view to balancing the specificity of research interests in the student’s eventual dissertation proposal with the broader knowledge pertaining to teaching and curriculum development that candidates are typically expected to demonstrate in job applications, interviews, and campus visits. The exams themselves will incorporate language that asks students to reflect upon the ways in which their research speaks to the broader field of Comparative Literature and the ways in which their project challenges disciplinary boundaries, rather than focusing exclusively on the student’s specific research agenda.

At the beginning of autumn quarter of their third year, students will submit to their committee for approval, a revised list of approximately 60 texts along with a statement of interest outlining the nature of their engagement with them that will guide the examination committee in formulating questions. The examination will take place in the autumn or winter quarter of the student’s third year (with possible extension to spring with DGS and committee approval). The committee will provide the student with 2 questions on each list, of which the student must answer one. The student will write 3 written responses of no more than 4,000 words each over a period of 72 hours. The subsequent oral examination will consist of two parts, each 1 hour long: (i) a critical conversation around the lists and written exams, aimed at testing the student’s ability to critically frame, defend, and expand upon their responses (ii) a discussion focused on the dissertation proposal that serves as a constructive conversation on the scale, scope, and direction of the project. The goal is to provide an opportunity for the student to parse the parameters of their dissertation project as well as to outline the next steps for crafting a viable dissertation proposal, including identifying potential committee members.

The examination committee will determine the grade for the exam, either “No Pass” or “Pass”. In the case of a “No Pass,” the student will receive a detailed explanation of why the examination did not pass and advice on revision(s) from the committee. The student will have one opportunity to retake the examination at the end of winter quarter of their third year. In the case of a “Pass,” the student should transition immediately to preparing the dissertation proposal. If the student does not pass at the second attempt they will be removed from the program.

Assembling the committee

The qualifying examination committee is assembled by the student in consultation with their faculty mentor and should be comprised of two or three full-time UChicago faculty members, at least one of whom must be a core member of Comparative Literature. Students are responsible for assembling their lists in consultation with their committee. Once the committee is satisfied, the candidate must complete the examination list approval form and forward it to the DGS. The candidate is responsible for arranging the date of the oral component of the examination with their committee; the department administrator for arranging the room. Examinations are generally not administered during school breaks or over the summer.

If a student has not completed the qualifying examinations by the end of their third year, he or she will be put on academic probation and a timeline established with the aim of avoiding their attrition from the program.

Annual Review

Each student while enrolled in the program must complete an annual academic progress report, administered by the department. This report will be used by the faculty to assess students’ academic progress during the annual spring review. It complements but does not replace the “Advanced Studies” course that students are enrolled in when taking fewer than 300 units in years three and beyond. See the Humanities Division Student Manual for more information. The Annual Report, which is due in spring quarter, requires signed approval from a student’s faculty mentor, and (if applicable) from their examination and/or dissertation committee chair in the third and subsequent years.

The report should provide an account of coursework, and for students who have completed their coursework, of relevant milestones such as examinations and dissertation research. For students in candidacy, the report should include a summary of dissertation writing accomplished during the academic year, including a description of what committee members have seen and approved and deemed complete in the past year. It should also note any teaching experiences or pedagogical training courses and workshops completed.


Dissertation Proposal 

The dissertation proposal of approximately 15 pages or 4000 words (excluding bibliography) should be approved by the student’s dissertation committee and submitted to the DGS before the end of spring quarter of the student’s third year. The dissertation proposal should demonstrate that the student (a) has moved from thoughts on a topic to advancing a significant and original set of questions about that topic; (b) has sufficient understanding of the relevant scholarship and of his or her chosen methodology, and (c) has formulated plausible organizing principles for the dissertation as a whole.

A dissertation proposal will typically include the following elements:

  • statement of the topic or problem the dissertation will address with a succinct discussion of the inadequacies and insufficiencies of previous approaches to this topic or problem. The discussion of previous approaches should not be an exhaustive history of previous scholarship, but rather a pointed discussion of the most important and relevant scholarship with which the dissertation will engage
  • preliminary version of the dissertation's overall argument, as you understand it at this point
  • discussion of the specific contributions to its field of specialization the dissertation seeks to make
  • explanation of the methodology to be used, with relevant representatives cited
  • outline of the dissertation’s chapter organization and contents
  • preliminary working bibliography of primary and secondary publications, and archives if relevant

Students should consult their dissertation committee regarding their specific expectations.


Proposal Presentation

The student will present the approved dissertation proposal at a dissertation proposal presentation to which the faculty and graduate students of the department as a whole are invited. The student will circulate an abstract of the proposal beforehand and introduce the proposal for 15-20 minutes with an open discussion of one hour following. The presentation is an opportunity to present and share the approved proposal with other faculty and students in order to get feedback. At the conclusion of the hour’s discussion, the student and committee members will meet separately in order to capture the main suggestions from the larger group.


Dissertation Completion 

Students who are admitted to candidacy by the conclusion of their fifth year and who have at least one polished and approved chapter will be eligible to apply for the Humanities Division Dissertation Completion Fellowships. Please note that at this time students who earn the DCF in year 6 and complete their program in that year and apply to the Humanities Teaching Fellowship application process will receive a UChicago Humanities Teaching Fellowship the following year.

The Humanities Division encourages dissertations to be completed within six years of joining the program. Candidates should be aware that in order to remain in good standing, they should submit drafts of their dissertation chapters to their committee members at regular intervals agreed with their chair and committee. In the event that a student is experiencing difficulty in receiving timely feedback on chapters they have submitted — under normal circumstances, within a month of submission — they should contact the DGS who will intervene on their behalf.

Writing a dissertation is a long and, sometimes, an isolating process. In addition to sharing chapters with their dissertation committee, doctoral candidates’ writing and professional development depend on presenting work to others. Students are encouraged to make use of the resources available on campus such as the Comparative Literature colloquium, the Comparative Literature writing group, Graduate workshops, and Graduate Writing Consultant. Students are also encouraged to explore the writing support offered by UChicago Grad’s Writing Workshops, the Comparative Literature Graduate Writing Workshop, and the Council on Advanced Studies Workshops.


Dissertation Completion Fellowships & Advanced Funding

Candidates who are still working on their dissertations in the winter of their fifth and sixth years should be prepared to apply for dissertation completion fellowships not only in the Humanities Division, but also in University Centers for the Study of Gender, Center for the Study of Politics & Race, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, Jewish Studies, and area studies such as Latin American and East Asian scholarly foundations. Candidates should also inform themselves of outside funding from resources like the Fulbright, DAAD, Lurcy Foundation, the American Council on Learned Societies.

Candidates are eligible to apply for dissertation completion fellowships only if they have completed at least one polished and approved chapter of the dissertation by the application deadline and are in good academic standing demonstrating sustained progress. Fellowship awards often require certification that the dissertation will be completed within the term of the award, and require students to meet minimum qualifications which vary based on the award.

For more information about fellowships and divisional policies on progress, the inclusive funding package, and more, graduate students should review the Division of the Humanities website and consult their Departmental Administrator, Director of Graduate Studies, or Dean of Students office.


Dissertation Colloquium

As part of the regular process of dissertation feedback, the chair of the dissertation committee will schedule a dissertation colloquium to review progress with the student and the dissertation committee as a whole. In this colloquium, candidates will discuss with their dissertation committee the current state of the dissertation and outline their plans and schedule for further progress. This meeting will also help ensure that dissertation committee members are aware of each other’s views and expectations.


Dissertation Defense

The candidate must conclude their studies by successfully defending the dissertation in an oral final examination. Candidates must get the approval of their committee for a dissertation defense at least a month prior to submitting the full dissertation. The dissertation should be submitted in the standard format required by the University’s dissertation office. Please visit the Dissertation Office website for more specific information on university-wide deadlines, formatting, and submission procedures.