PhD in Comparative Literature

PhD Admission Requirements

  1. MA with a minimum average of A- (80), normally in Comparative Literature or a national literature;
  2. Proficiency in at least two languages, one of which must be English, at a level sufficient to do graduate-level work on texts in those languages. NOTE: for the completion of the doctoral program, proficiency in a third language will be required.

PhD Application Process

No application will be considered until it is complete. The responsibility rests with the applicant to ensure that all documents (e.g. transcripts, letters of reference, test results) are submitted by the program’s deadline for application.

Completed applications will be evaluated by the Comparative Literature Graduate Committee, whose members (including the Graduate Chair) make the admission decision. The School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS) sends out offers of admission and handles all administrative aspects of registration.

For admission to the doctoral program, applicants must possess a Master’s degree or equivalent from an accredited university and provide evidence of research potential. The program requires at least an 80% average in the Master’s degree. Equivalent qualifications may be considered based on the standards of the discipline.

Although applications are processed centrally, applicants may contact individual faculty members to discuss their research interests and possible research projects. However, individual faculty members do not directly admit students, and even if a faculty member agrees (in advance) to supervise an applicant’s thesis, an informal preliminary agreement between a faculty member and an applicant does not guarantee admission to the program.

If you are interested in visiting the department after submitting your application, please contact us to make arrangements. The program may cover some of the travel expenses for department visits.

Online Application

 To apply for admission to the PhD program in Comparative Literature, you must complete an online application and submit it by the deadline. The application portal for Fall 2024 will open on October 15, 2023 and close on February 1st, 2024. 

A complete application package contains the following:

  1. Personal Information
    We ask for basic information concerning your identity and contact information.
  1. Academic History
    We ask that you supply Western with a listing of all post‐secondary schools you have attended.
  1. References
    We will email your referees within 24 hours of entering or updating your reference information. Each reference will be collected by Western and distributed alongside your application once it arrives. No paper reference letters are required.
  1. Supplementary Questions
    A set of supplementary questions helps us to determine if our graduate program and available resources are appropriate for your area of interest. The responses you provide are made available to the Graduate Committee during the assessment process. One of these questions is to assess your knowledge in different languages. To view our levels of language proficiency, please click here.
  1. Application Fee Payment
    The application fee for the MA program in Comparative Literature is $150. Western accepts two methods of payment in order to process your application: credit card (Visa/MasterCard); or money order in Canadian funds.

  1. Supplemental Documents
    Western makes it possible for you to submit your supporting documents in a digital format. Supporting documents include (1) an academic record/transcript from each school you note in your academic history; (2) English proficiency test results; (3) a sample of written work, e.g. an essay from your previous program; and (4) your required statement of interest written in the form of a letter of intent. The statement of interest is typically between 300-1000 words (or 1-2 single-spaced pages). In it, you should discuss how you came to be interested in Comparative Literature; which lines of research you hope to pursue for your thesis; who among the Comparative Literature core faculty would make an appropriate supervisor for your work; how your past education and other experiences have prepared you to be successful in our MA program; what you hope to achieve in it; and why our program strikes you as the best place for you to pursue your interests.

  1. English Proficiency Scores
    If you need to submit evidence of English proficiency, you must have the testing service send your    score electronically to Western. Comparative Literature accepts results from two testing services:
(a) The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Western's TOEFL ID is 0984. A minimum score of 610 on the paper version, 255 on the electronic version, or 109 on the internet  version required for entry.

(b) The International English Language Testing Service (IELTS)  of the British Council. A minimum overall score of 8 is required for entry.


Western accepts digital academic records within your application. However, if you are offered admission, you are required to provide one official academic transcript from each post-secondary institution you have attended. These documents should be mailed directly to The School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Past or current students of The University of Western Ontario do not need to provide transcripts for their academic history at Western. This information will be obtained internally. Western considers a transcript official only if it is received in a university envelope that is sealed and signed on the flap by the official person in the office issuing the transcript. If the transcript and degree certificate are not in English, a certified translation must also be included. (Non-English transcripts from institutions within Canada do not require a translation.) All documents and transcripts submitted to Western University become the property of the university and will not be returned.


Program Requirements

The PhD program in Comparative Literature begins with two terms of course work, progresses through three milestone examinations, and culminates in the composition and oral defense of a doctoral dissertation. The recommended period for completing the program is four years (= twelve funded terms).

A term-by-term overview of the PhD Program, indicating the recommended completion times for the various program requirements, can be found HERE.

Use the PhD progress chart as a guide for setting your goals for each term in the program. Though rates of progress will vary somewhat from student to student, the planning goal for every doctoral candidate should be to meet all the requirements for the program by the end of the fourth (and final) year of funding.

Policy on Timely Progress

Doctoral students are expected to make timely progress towards their degree by ensuring that they do not fall behind in fulfilling their program requirements.

Timely Progress is defined by SGPS in Regulation 12.


Course selections are determined on a student-by-student basis in consultation with the Graduate Chair. The approval of the Graduate Chair is required for formal registration in the selected courses.

A total of 2.0 credits is required in the doctoral program: four graduate half-courses (4 x 0.5 = 2.0 credits) or the equivalent should be completed by the end of the second term of study.

Since there are no required courses in the doctoral program, students are free to select the topics of their courses from the full range of course offerings in Comparative Literature and other graduate programs (for instance English, French, Hispanic Studies, Women’s Studies, Critical Theory, Political Science, Philosophy, Anthropology). If a course from another graduate program is selected, the student must seek permission to enrol in it from both the Graduate Chair and the Course Instructor in the appropriate department. Only one course (0.5 credit) from another graduate program may be counted towards the course load requirement (2.0 credits) for Comparative Literature.

Current Comparative Literature course offerings can be found HERE.

Students selecting a course outside the department must fill in the form entitled "Request to Enrol in a Graduate Course Outside Home Program," which can be found HERE.

One and only one full course in a language at the undergraduate level may be substituted for a half-course at the graduate level. Other undergraduate courses may be audited, but they will not be approved for credit by the Graduate Chair in Comparative Literature. Graduate students taking an undergraduate course are subject to all undergraduate regulations as they relate to the course.

One and only one graduate course marked Pass/Fail (e.g. CL 9503B: Propaedeutics for Comparatists) may be taken for credit at the doctoral level. However, the Graduate Chair strongly recommends that doctoral students in Comparative Literature avoid all Pass/Fail courses unless the intent is to audit them.

Training in Research Methods

First- and second-year doctoral students who have not taken a half-course in research methods at the MA level are required to audit CL 9503B (Propaedeutics for Comparatists) either in Term 2 or in Term 5. This requirement will be waived only for doctoral students whose MA transcript provides evidence of their previous enrolment in a research methods course. The Graduate Committee considers a research methods course to be an essential preparation for the second milestone exam: the devising and writing of a solid doctoral thesis prospectus.

The term "audit" is to be understood in a formal administrative sense. Doctoral students who need to fulfill this requirement must fill out a "permission to audit" form and have it signed by the Graduate Chair and the Course Instructor so that the student's formal participation as an auditor in CL 9503B will be recorded on their transcript.

Doctoral auditors of CL 9503B will be expected to attend a fair number of the classes, especially those dealing with the formulation of research questions and the construction of valid thesis arguments. They will be required to complete the assignment on research questions plus a PhD-specific assignment relating to the bibliography of their field exam.

Third Language Requirement

If a doctoral student enters the program without transcript evidence of (at least) undergraduate-level intermediate proficiency in a third language--evidence sufficient to check off this requirement on the progress checklist on file in the Graduate Assistant's office--he or she must choose a third language and declare it to the Graduate Chair by the end of the third term of study. In consultation with the Graduate Chair, the student should embark on the study of the third language during terms four through seven.

Ideally, the third language should be chosen with the student's thesis research in mind. For instance, Latin or Greek may be counted as third languages if the student's thesis topic clearly requires proficiency in one of the classical tongues.

In the language preparation paragraph at the end of the thesis prospectus, the student must consider the relevance of the chosen third language to the thesis project. If the third language is not relevant to the student’s research topic, the thesis may still go forward as planned. The point of writing the section on languages at the end of the prospectus is (1) to compel the student to reflect seriously on language preparation in relation to the specific research topic; and (2) to document the student's pre-thesis plans for fulfilling the third language requirement.

If third language proficiency requires assessment during the student’s years in the doctoral program, the method of assessment will be determined by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the Graduate Committee. If the student opts for enrolment in an undergraduate language course at the intermediate level, then the mark received for the course will serve as the evidence of proficiency. However, if the student opts for independent study of the third language or for private tutoring in it, then the Graduate Chair will arrange for a comprehension test for the student to write at the appropriate time. The test will take the form of a translation of an excerpt from a scholarly text written in the student’s chosen third language. A dictionary may be used for the translation, which will be graded by an MLL faculty member with expertise in the third language.

Successful completion of the PhD program requires a high degree of competence in graduate-level essay writing which in turn depends on a high degree of editorial acumen. Any student who wishes to improve editorial skills in English prose writing should consult the Graduate Chair for information about the range of workshops, drop-in clinics, voluntary diagnostic tests, and private tutoring options available within and beyond Western.


Milestone Examinations

Students are required to pass three examinations marking important milestones along the route of preparation for writing a doctoral dissertation. The first is the Field Examination; the second, the Thesis Prospectus Defense; and the third, the New Course Design Presentation.

Milestone #1: Field Examination

In the third term, doctoral students take the first step towards satisfying the Milestone #1 requirement. They prepare their own reading lists for the Field Examination according to a standardized "recipe" (see below).

     Each reading list will consist of 50 works, divided into 5 sections:
          Section #1--> 10 books by creative writers;
          Section #2--> 10 books by literary theorists or cultural critics;
          Section #3--> 10 books by non-fiction authors in fields adjacent to Comparative Literature;
          Section #4--> 10 books by authors who write and publish in languages other than English;
          Section #5--> 10 articles or book chapters on topics debated by contemporary comparatists.

    Doctoral students are free to populate these sections with titles of their own choosing.

    Each list should be compiled with the understanding that the chosen readings will be broadly relevant to the
    topic of the student's future thesis research.

    Doctoral students are to submit their reading list to the Graduate Chair by the end of the third term (Aug. 31).

At the beginning of the fifth term, the Graduate Chair assembles a committee of three examiners for each Field Examination. The three examiners prepare a set of six questions specifically for the student assigned to them. The set of questions covers a broad range of important topics and authors based on the student's reading list. The questions will not be revealed to the student before the date of the Field Examination, which is usually scheduled for the middle of the fifth term.

The Field Examination lasts four hours, during which the student chooses two of the six questions and answers them in essay form on a departmental computer. Two hours are allotted for each question. The minimum grade to pass the Field Examination is 70%.

Milestone #2: Thesis Prospectus

Soon after passing the Field Examination, each student should consult with the Graduate Chair about the selection of a thesis supervisor and (if needed) a second reader. The main supervisor must be a member of the core faculty in Comparative Literature. Working closely with the supervisor(s), the student formulates a tentative set of research questions relevant to a specific topic within the chosen field (see 3.1) and writes a thesis prospectus (20 pages maximum, double-spaced).

The principal aim of the thesis prospectus is to articulate and refine the research questions so that a comparative literary argument can emerge from the student’s working hypotheses (i.e. the tentative answers to the research questions). The working hypotheses will later be confirmed or modified or replaced in light of the evidence collected during the research process.

The doctoral thesis prospectus must contain the following sections:

a. Introduction: defining the topic within the field (2 pp.);
b. Literature Review: charting previous scholarship on the topic (3 pp.);
c. Research Questions: establishing the originality of the thesis project (2 pp.);
d. Critical Approach: justifying the choice of methodology (2 pp.);
e. Chapter Outline: structuring the argument across 3-5 chapters (5 pp.);
f. Language Preparation: determining the languages required for the thesis (1p.);
g. Bibliography: listing the main primary and secondary sources (5 pp.).

An example of a successful PhD thesis prospectus can be found HERE.

NOTE: the doctoral thesis prospectus is not an actual excerpt from the thesis. It is an informative “pitch” designed to convince an examining committee (1) that the thesis project is feasible; (2) that the structure of the argument is logical; and (3) that the doctoral candidate is both intellectually and linguistically prepared to produce an original work of scholarship in the chosen field.

The recommended time for completing the composition of the thesis prospectus is the end of the sixth term (for defense in late September or early October of the seventh term). If this scheduling advice is followed, the student will have a good stretch of time left over--at least five funded terms--in which to write, revise, and defend the thesis.

When the thesis prospectus is deemed ready for submission by the supervisor(s), the student sends a PDF of it to the Graduate Chair and a second copy to the Graduate Assistant. The Graduate Chair assembles a committee of four members--a chair and three examiners, one of whom may be the student’s supervisor or second reader. The examiners read through the prospectus with a view to providing the student with constructive critical feedback on the thesis project. A date for the defense of the prospectus is scheduled by the Graduate Assistant. The defense usually takes place within three weeks of the submission date.

The defense of the prospectus is an oral examination lasting approximately 90 minutes. In the first round of questioning, the chair allots each examiner 15-20 minutes in which to comment on the strengths of the prospectus, to point out problems in the argument, to seek clarification of murky terms, to question the aptness of the methodology, to express doubts about the projected conclusions, and to suggest additions to the bibliography. In the second round of questioning, the chair may either allot 5 minutes to each examiner for quick follow-up questions or open up discussion of the thesis project for 15 minutes in the free-for-all style of a seminar. When the second round is over, the chair ushers the student out of the examination room so that the examiners may confer with each other for 5-10 minutes and reach a consensus about the appropriate grade for the student’s performance. The minimum grade to pass the Thesis Prospectus Defense is 70%.

If a student has successfully defended a thesis prospectus but later decides to switch research directions to an entirely different topic or to make major changes to the research questions, methodology, argument design, or bibliography of the original thesis prospectus, then a new thesis prospectus must be submitted to the Graduate Chair for approval. If approved, a new defense will be scheduled, and Milestone #3 will not be considered passed until the new thesis prospectus has been successfully defended.

Milestone #3: New Course Design Presentation

Each doctoral student is required to design a new Comparative Literature course for upper-level undergraduates and to present the syllabus for it at an advertised meeting of the Graduate Research Forum. The Graduate Chair strongly recommends that the presentation take place in the student’s tenth term, so that two full terms remain for uninterrupted progress in writing and revising the thesis.

The presentation is expected to be formal. Consider it good practice for answering the question “What would you like to teach within the field of Comparative Literature?” on a future interview for an academic job. The topic of the proposed course may be closely related to the student’s doctoral research, but it does not have to be. It may be drawn from an entirely different field of Comparative Literature.

In choosing weekly readings and discussion topics for the course, bear in mind that the prospective students for it will be Arts & Humanities undergraduates whose knowledge of literature or literary theory is not likely to be specialized. The subject for the course should be of compelling interest to them or at least have a “hook” to draw them towards comparative literary studies. The presenter will be expected to comment on whatever the “hook” happens to be – e.g. the popular fan-interests or genre enthusiasms or activist concerns of contemporary Honors students. Though the course will be taught in English and may include works originally written in English, the reading list must be diversified with culturally significant works originally written in other languages. Access to such works will be provided by reliable English translations.

A few days before the presentation, the student will be expected to forward a PDF of the course design to all the graduate students and faculty in Comparative Literature. The PDF should include (1) a course description, in which the subject of the course is situated within an appropriate field of Comparative Literature; (2) a note on the mode of instruction, i.e. in person or online; (3) a schedule of topics and readings; (4) a list of assignments; (5) a grade breakdown; (6) a list of required and recommended readings; and (7) a reflection on how the course might be modified for online instruction or conversely for in-class teaching.

The Graduate Chair will review the PDF of the New Course Design before the scheduled meeting of the Graduate Research Forum. Note: the New Course Design will not proceed to the presentation stage if (a) the subject of the course does not clearly lie within the established range of the Major Fields of Comparative Literature; (b) the level of the course is pitched either too high or too low, i.e. for graduate students or for high school students; (c) the weekly schedule of topics and readings exceeds the usual time-frame for a Special Topics undergraduate course, i.e. three hours a week for thirteen weeks.

An examining committee (including the student's supervisor or second reader, the Graduate Chair, and at least one other member of the Comparative Literature Graduate Committee) will attend the presentation at the Graduate Research Forum. The presentation must not exceed the usual limit of 30 minutes for a conference paper. A question period of approximately 15-20 minutes will follow the presentation. The presenter will respond to questions and comments from other students and faculty at the Forum as well as from members of the examining committee. After the question period, the audience and the presenter will be asked to leave the meeting room. The presenter will be invited back into the meeting room once the examiners have concluded their deliberations, which normally last about 15 minutes. The examining committee will assess not only the course design itself (as set forth in the PDF) but also the presenter's oral performance as a respondent to queries, criticisms, and recommendations from the floor. The New Course Design Presentation will be graded Pass/Fail

 An example of a successful new course design can be found HERE.

Thesis Guide

Thesis guide can be found HERE.





Visit the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Graduate Calendar

For further information about any aspect of the program, please contact:
The Graduate Chair, Comparative Literature
Department of Languages and Cultures
Phone: (519) 661-2111, ext. 85828 or 85862/Fax: (519) 661-4093
E-Mail: Prof. James Miller