Language Requirements

The knowledge of languages other than English remains a fundamental tool of the comparatist. A profound knowledge of a language and its cultural context is as much an intellectual endeavor as the study of literary texts or acquisition of theoretical approaches. For this reason, our program requires the active spoken, written and reading mastery of one language other than English and advanced reading knowledge of two additional languages other than English, whether classical or modern. By a profound knowledge and active mastery we mean that a comparatist should be able to present a formal paper at an academic conference and engage in a discussion without difficulty in that language. This requirement may be met by filing the Comparative Literature Language Proficiency Form after an interview with a Rutgers professor with the appropriate qualifications. The other two languages are considered reading and research languages. Competency in these two languages may be demonstrated by passing a translation examination offered by the Graduate School or by taking an upper division undergraduate course or graduate course taught in the target language. In addition, primary texts on the PhD reading list must be read in the original language, unless this requirement is waived by the adviser with the approval of the Graduate Director.

Graduate students can advance their graduate training in a language other than English by doing one of the following:

  • auditing an undergraduate language course (with authorization from the instructor);
  • taking one of the courses offered at Rutgers for reading knowledge in the target language;
  • taking a summer intensive language course offered at another school (our program usually provides funding for these courses through internal and external competitive funding cycles);
  • taking an undergraduate-level course in the target language. Please note that the graduate school may not pay more than 3 credits for these courses. (Consult with the Graduate Director to learn what may be permitted in each case).

Please note that none of these courses replaces the requirement of passing a language exam, taking an upper-division undergraduate or graduate course in the target language, or submitting a completed a language proficiency form.


Credit Requirements, Transfer of Credits, Incompletes, GPA

Ph.D. students are required to complete 72 credits of which 48 must be graduate course credits and 24 graduate research credits. No more than 12 credits may be taken in any one semester without permission from the Graduate Director. (A full course load = 9 credits per semester.) After completing two semesters of coursework in the program, students may transfer up to 9 graduate credits from another institution subject to the approval of the adviser, the Graduate Director and the Graduate School. In most cases, students begin to register for research credits after having passed the Ph.D. qualifying exam in year three or four (see below). 

Students whose work in a course remains incomplete at the end of a semester may be assigned a regular grade or, at the discretion of the instructor if there is reason to believe that an extension of time is warranted, the grade of IN. Incomplete work may be made up, and a change of grade may be authorized by the instructor, within 12 months from the time the incomplete was assigned. Students with two or more incomplete grades are not permitted to register for additional courses without permission of the graduate director. In exceptional cases, where more than one year is required to complete the course, the student, in conjunction with the instructor, must complete the Graduate Incomplete Grade Extension Form, which must be approved by the graduate director and the dean.

Students may take up to six credits of independent study. Only under exceptional circumstances, and with the permission of the Graduate Director, may this limitation be waived.

Consideration for fellowships and teaching assistantships depends on maintaining a GPA of at least 3.5, the timely elimination of incomplete grades, collegial participation in the life of the program, and consistent progress in coursework or dissertation writing.


Course Requirements

Course requirements are not obstacles but signposts along the path toward completion of the PhD (keeping in mind that comparatists often take detours and seldom take shortcuts). The student acquaints him/herself with major trends in literary theory and criticism, acquires a broad knowledge of a single national literature, and establishes profound knowledge of a particular research field.

The following courses are required for the Ph.D.:

•  01:195:501 Theory
•  01:195:502 Comparative Literature: The Discipline and the Profession
•  at least 4 graduate courses in a language and literature department relevant to the student’s research and teaching interests, such as: Classics, English, French, German, Italian, or Spanish & Portuguese.
•  an intellectually coherent series of 9 graduate courses, at least 3 of which must be in Comparative Literature (in addition to 01:195:501 and 01:195:502), selected with the approval of the adviser. These courses form the intellectual foundation of a research project culminating in the dissertation.

In addition to the fields represented by the departments listed below, graduate work may also be arranged through the departments of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian Literatures and Cultures, Asian Languages and Cultures, Latino and Caribbean Studies, and Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures.



Students in their first semester are advised by the Graduate Director. In the second or third semester, the student chooses an adviser, who must be a member of the Core or Affiliate faculty, in consultation with the Graduate Director. Each semester the adviser sends a written report on the progress of the student to the Graduate Director. The student may, indeed, rely on the advice of other faculty as well. The adviser's primary task is to see that the student progresses smoothly through the program, meeting all requirements, preparing for exams, and establishing contact with faculty appropriate to his/her interests. Once the student determines the topic of the dissertation s/he may choose a dissertation director other than the adviser.


Graduate Student Grade Appeal Process

Whenever possible, student academic appeals are handled within the graduate degree program. The student should take the issue first to the faculty member of record. If the issue cannot be satisfactorily resolved between student and instructor, the student may specify in writing the basis for the complaint and request a review by the Graduate Director. If the ensuing discussions do not resolve the issue, the student should then bring the matter to the Graduate Director (or a designate) for review. The Director (or designate) consults with the relevant parties and reaches a determination on the case and notifies the student.

If this process does not resolve the matter, it is then referred to a faculty committee for adjudication. The faculty committee will typically consist of the Graduate Director and two other faculty members who are core or affiliate in Comparative Literature. If the Graduate Director is the faculty member teaching the course in question, the Chair of the program will receive the written complaint and will convene the faculty committee for adjudication.

A written complaint about a grade for work completed while the course is in progress must be submitted to the Graduate Director no later than two weeks after notification of the grade. A student must submit a written complaint about a final course grade to the Graduate Director no later than four weeks after the end of the exam period for that term.

While action within the faculty normally is final, a student may appeal to the Graduate School–New Brunswick if he or she believes that the decision was unfair. Each case will be reviewed by a representative of the Dean of the Graduate School–New Brunswick, who attempts to informally resolve the dispute. Should the issue remain unresolved, the student is notified in writing that he or she may request that the dispute be brought to the Appeals Committee. Such a request must be made within 30 days of notification.

The Appeals Committee hears appeals that have not been resolved by the Office of the Graduate School. The student must make his or her case in writing. A written response to the student's statement will be solicited from the Director of the degree program whose action is being appealed. The committee normally bases its judgment on written submissions only. Should the committee deem it necessary, it may call upon the student and/or a faculty member (or members) for written or oral responses to questions raised by the committee. A student may request an appearance before the committee. If they believe an appearance is warranted by unusual circumstances, the committee members may allow the student to appear before them. They may, however, limit the amount of time granted, which normally will not exceed 30 minutes. The committee reports its recommendations to the dean of the Graduate School–New Brunswick, whose decision is final.

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Ph.D. Exam: Rationale and Description

The Ph.D. qualifying exam is taken after the completion of course work and language requirements. The exam is not a stand-alone event disengaged from dissertation research and writing. Rather, it is an occasion for students to begin formulating ideas and arguments that will be refined and extended in the coming months.

The Ph.D. examination has two components, written and oral. Based on a lengthy and highly individualized reading list, it is designed to test each student broadly and in depth about the major texts (including, if relevant, film and works in other media), topics, theories, and critical histories of the student’s chosen field. The reading list, composed by the student with strong input from the chair and other committee members, should include about 100 works that serve as the groundwork for dissertation research and writing. When approved by all members of the committee (usually in the semester before the exam), the list should then be filed with the Graduate Director. The committee submits three questions, of which the student answers two. The written exam takes place over a weekend, and is distributed to the student via email on a Friday at 9 am and returned on a Monday at 12 noon. Normally within two weeks, the committee meets with the student for a one-hour oral exam, the purpose of which is to explore questions raised by the written exam, as well as other topics relevant to the reading list but not covered in the written exam.


Examination Committee

The examination committee consists of three faculty members, a chair and two others. The chair should be Core Faculty in Comparative Literature and is usually the professor who has agreed to direct the student’s dissertation. Affiliate Faculty can also chair an examination committee, but only with authorization from the Graduate Director. The other members of the committee should be Core or Affiliate faculty in Comparative Literature. The Graduate Director may grant special permission to include one exam committee member who is not on the Core/Affiliate roster, but only when Comparative Literature does not have a core or affiliate faculty member who can assist the student in her or his areas of academic and research interests. As soon as the reading list is in place, usually at least one semester before exams are scheduled, students should submit their list to their Graduate Director.


Exam Timing and Preparation

Graduate students in Comparative Literature usually have five-year funding packages.  Because of the comparative nature of course work in our field, students entering with a B.A. may not be prepared to take their Ph.D. exam before the end of their third year in the program.  By contrast, students entering with an M.A. often take their exam earlier in the third year.  Since the timing of the exam thus can vary considerably within a graduate cohort, all students should meet with the Graduate Director to discuss scheduling possibilities at the beginning of their third year.


Exam Procedures, Written and Oral

The committee chair, in concert with the student, chooses a Friday-Monday span for the written exam AND an oral exam date no more than two weeks later. The exam is sent to the student via email on Friday at 9 a.m., and the student returns the complete exam on Monday by noon. Exams usually take place during the semester, including the week before and after the end of classes. Exams scheduled at other times should be approved by all the committee members and the Graduate Director.The orals must take place in the Comparative Literature seminar room, AB-4052. The Program Coordinator in Comparative Literature should be asked to reserve the seminar room for the oral exam.

The Written Exam: The committee chair solicits one question from each committee member, compiles the three questions into one document, and sends it as an email attachment to the Program Coordinator and the Graduate Director on the Thursday before the designated Friday. The document should contain these instructions:

Answer TWO of the following three questions in essay form and return them as an attachment to the Graduate Director and the Program Coordinator by noon on Monday, (day/month). Each of the essays should be between 10 and 20 pages in length. They must also be lucid, thorough, well organized, and footnoted where appropriate.

On the Monday, as soon as s/he receives the student’s essays, the Program Coordinator forwards them to the exam committee chair and places a copy in the student’s files. The chair then forwards the essays to the other members of the committee.Usually within two weeks, all three committee members read the essays and decide whether the student merits a pass and can go on to orals. If so, the orals date is reconfirmed.

The Oral Exam: Orals should be wide-ranging. The student may be asked to respond to the question s/he did not answer for the written exam or to questions about any of the items on the reading list.In Comparative Literature, students pass or fail their exams; we do not designate “high” or “low” pass. Special commendations can be added later to the student’s file or in a letter of recommendation.

Our two-part doctoral exam, put in place when the Graduate Program was revised in 2003, has proven to be a productive and even enjoyable part of a student’s graduate work at Rutgers. We hear again and again that written exams became building blocks for dissertation chapters. The oral exam has also been a positive and confirming moment of the transition to dissertation writing. Indeed, if committee members deem it appropriate, they can devote the last part of the orals to discussing the dissertation prospectus



The dissertation prospectus is a succinct document of no more than ten to fifteen double-spaced pages, plus an extensive bibliography. It should contain the central questions and arguments underpinning the dissertation along with a tentative chapter breakdown.

The prospectus is due usually a month after the completion of the written and oral doctoral exams. We encourage students to submit the prospectus as soon after the orals as possible with the understanding that writing, once underway, tends to modify most research plans. We want our students to move forward with their work without further delay. A copy of the approved prospectus will be included in the student's file.


Dissertation Committee

A dissertation committee typically includes four members: a director, two committee members, and an "outside" member.

The dissertation director is expected to be a Core faculty member of Comparative Literature. Affiliate faculty can direct dissertations with the approval of the Graduate Director. The dissertation committee normally includes two additional Core or Affiliate faculty members and one (or, under exceptional circumstances, two) "outside" member(s) who may be Rutgers faculty from another department or program or faculty from another university. The Graduate Director must approve any changes to the structure of the committee.

Outside committee members are intended to bring fresh perspectives to the supervision of a student’s research as well as an unbiased evaluation of the quality of the work. For these reasons, they must be able to assess the dissertation without conflict of interest.


Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense is the last exercise to complete the requirements for the doctoral degree in Comparative Literature. Defenses are scheduled in consultation with the committee members and the Graduate Director. All defenses should take place in Comparative Literature seminar room. The committee chair and the defending student must be physically present at the final examination (e.g., presence by teleconference is not acceptable). Ideally, all voting members of the committee must be present at and participate in final examinations. In special circumstances, the Graduate School will allow up to two voting members to participate via electronic communication media such as speaker-phone or video-conference link. Students wishing to take advantage of this option should seek approval from the Graduate Director.

The dissertation defense is open to the public. It begins with the doctoral candidate's presentation of the project and concludes with a round of questions posed by members of the committee and by the audience. Defenses usually take place during the semester, including the week before and after the end of classes. Defenses scheduled at other times of the year should be approved by all the committee members and the Graduate Director.

Once the defense is finished, all members of the committee should sign the Ph.D. candidacy form. In the event that the outside member is unable to attend the defense, his or her written approval or disapproval of the dissertation, prior to the defense, will be an acceptable substitute for a signature on the form. If approval is not unanimous, a letter from the dissenting member(s), in which the reasons for disapproval are briefly indicated, must accompany the dissertation. This letter shall be addressed to the Dean of the Graduate School-New Brunswick with a copy sent to the Graduate Director, all members of the committee, and to the candidate. It is strongly advised that approval of the completed dissertation and of the final examination be completed at the same time. In other words, the dissertation should be in near-final form at the time of the oral defense.

Candidates should consult the Checklist for Ph.D. degree to confirm that all necessary paperwork is completed and deadlines met in a timely manner.