PhD in Comparative Literature

Ph.D. Admission Standards and Application

An M.A. with a minimum average of A- (80), normally in Comparative Literature or a national literature

Proficiency in two languages in addition to English, at a level sufficient to do graduate-level work on texts in those languages

Students judged by the Graduate Committee to be making exceptionally good progress in Western's 2-year M.A. program in Comparative Literature may apply to transfer into the Ph.D. program after completing the first year of the M.A.
Ph.D. Applications

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

Completed applications will be evaluated by the program, which makes the admission decision. The School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies 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 a 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 are encouraged to contact individual faculty members to discuss their research interests and possible research projects where applicable. However, individual faculty members do not directly admit students.

If you are interested in visiting the department after submitting your application, please contact us to make arrangements. In many cases, some or all of your travel expenses will be paid for by the program.

A complete application consists of the following:

Online Application

To apply for admission, a completed application must be submitted, providing Western with the following:

    1. Personal Information
        We ask for basic information concerning your identity and contact information.

    2. Academic History
        We ask that you supply Western with a listing of all post‐secondary schools you have attended.

    3. 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.

    4. Supplementary Questions
        Our supplementary questions help 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 program during the assessment process.  One of theese questions is to assess your knowlege in different languages.  To view our levels of language proficiency please click here.

    5. Application Fee Payment
        Application fee to the Doctoral Program in Comparative Literature is $115.
        Western accepts two methods of payment in order to process your application.

                  Credit Card (Visa/MasterCard)
                  Money order in Canadian Funds

    6. Supplemental Documents
        Western makes it possible for you to submit your supporting documents in a digital format. This includes an academic record/transcript from each school you note in your Academic History, English proficiency test results, sample of academic work (written work, ie: previous essay) and your required Statment of Intereest (Letter of Intent). This statement is typically between 300-1000 words (or 1-2 single-spaced pages). This letter should address:
  • Your specific area of academic interest (the research topic you want to work on and with whom),
  • How your past education and other experiences have prepared you to be successful in our graduate program,
  • What you hope to achieve in our graduate program,
  • Why our program is the best place for you to pursue your interests.

    7. Proficiency in English Scores
An official English proficiency test score, if English is not your first language, taken within the past 2 years. Minimum test score requirements for the Department of Comparative Literature: (You must have the testing service send your score electronically to Western.)
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Western's TOEFL ID is 0984. The minimum acceptable score for entry into the PhD program for the TOEFL is 630 (paper), 267 (electronic) and 109 (Internet).
The International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) of the British Council.  The minimum acceptable score for the PhD program in the IELTS is an overall band score of 8.
The Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB) of the University of Michigan.  The minimum acceptable score for the PhD program in the MELAB is 91 overall, with a minimum of 85 on each of the 3 parts, plus the oral/speaking component.


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 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 The University of Western Ontario become the property of the University and will not be returned.

The deadline for first consideration applications is February 1, 2018.
All applications submitted after this date may be reviewed but cannot be guaranteed admission for the specified term regardless of your admissibility. Early applications are strongly recommended.


Ontario Graduate Scholarship

Applicants to the graduate program in Comparative Literature are strongly advised also to apply to the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) Program through Western University. For more information, please consult the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The University's application deadline to start an application for OGS is January 24.  Applications must be completed by January 31.

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).


1. Overview

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.

2. 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.

After one term of apparent inactivity: if a doctoral student fails to meet standard progress expectations or to offer an understandable reason for falling behind (e.g. a medical problem, a family crisis), then the Graduate Chair will send a Letter of Concern to him or her requesting a meeting to work out a plan to address whatever issues are impeding progress.

After two consecutive terms of apparent inactivity: if the Letter of Concern is simply ignored or if the negotiated plan to get back on track is not followed, the Graduate Chair, acting on behalf of the Graduate Committee, will notify the lagging student that within two weeks of receiving the notification he or she must either submit evidence of progress towards the degree (e.g. prospectus submitted, thesis chapter completed) or withdraw voluntarily from the doctoral program.  If this notification is ignored, the Graduate Chair, acting on behalf of the Graduate Committee, will take the necessary administrative steps to expel the student from the program.

3. Courses

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.

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.


4.  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 administartive 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 autidtors 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.


5. 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 called the “Field Examination”; the second, the “Thesis Prospectus Defense”; and the third, the “Thesis-in-Progress Presentation.”


5.1 Field Examination

In consultation with the Graduate Chair, each student selects one broad field of study within Comparative Literature (e.g. Literary Theory, Postcolonial Literature) from an extensive list of fields on file in the departmental office of the Graduate Assistant. Selection of a field should take place early in the third term.

The list of fields can be found HERE.

Once the field is selected, the Graduate Assistant provides the student with the appropriate reading list of required and optional texts for the chosen field. With the approval of the Graduate Chair, the reading list for any chosen field may be adapted to fit the specific research interests of the student. Over several months (spanning the third, fourth, and fifth terms), the student carefully reads and comparatively studies all the texts on the finalized list.

At the beginning of the fifth term, the Graduate Chair assembles a committee of three examiners and appoints a chair 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 in the student’s chosen field. The questions will not be revealed to the student before the date of the Field Examination, which is usually scheduled for the middle or end of the fifth term.

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


5.2 Thesis Prospectus Defense

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 PhD 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 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 an electronic copy of it (in PDF) 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 20 minutes in which to comment on the strengths of the prospectus, point out problems in the argument, seek clarification of murky terms, question the aptness of the methodology, express doubts about the projected conclusions, suggest additions to the bibliography, etc. 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%.


5.3 Thesis-in-Progress Presentation

Each fourth-year student is required to read an excerpt from their thesis-in-progress (approximate length of a 30-minute conference paper) at the weekly Graduate Research Forum in Comparative Literature. 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 delivering a paper at an academic conference. An introductory paragraph briefly contextualizing the excerpt may be added to the presented text. The presentation is not a casual chat about an intended field of research but a sample of the actual outcome of the presenter's research process.

An examining committee of three faculty members (including the student's supervisor or second reader) will attend the presentation at the Graduate Research Forum. A question period of approximately 30 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.

The examining committee will not judge the academic merits of the written section of the thesis (for that must await judgment at the student’s thesis defense). Rather, the examiners will only assess the presenter's oral performance as a respondent to queries and criticisms from the floor. The minimum grade to pass the Thesis-in-Progress Presentation is 70%.

6. 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.

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 Modern Languages and Literatures
Phone: (519) 661-2111, ext. 85828 or 85862/Fax: (519) 661-4093
E-Mail: Prof. James Miller