After the completion of coursework, the next step is the Field Paper and Exam, intended to prepare you to write the thesis. It has three components:

1. A 5-7-page Field Proposal including a reading list of materials for which you are responsible. This is due in the Spring of the second year.

2. A 30-page Field Paper that discusses the texts on the reading list and their relation to your research question. This is due in the Fall of the third year.

3. A 2-hour oral Field Exam on the Paper and the reading list. This takes place 2-3 weeks after the submission of the Field Paper.

 A 5-7-page  Thesis Proposal is due two months after the Field Paper. Then you start your thesis.


Timeline (Second year of PhD)

By April 1     Form with the signatures of professors who agree to be members of the committee submitted to the graduate administrator.

By May 1        Draft of Field Proposal submitted to Supervisor

By May 31      Meeting with committee to approve Field Proposal and set dates when the Field Paper is due.

Early Fall        Field Paper submitted

Two weeks later        Oral Exam

Two months later     Thesis Proposal due

All PhD students are required to enrol in COL4000Y (Practicum on Research and Bibliography in Comparative Literature), a credit/noncredit course, in addition to the agreed upon number of full course equivalents in their individual program. Normally students enroll in COL4000Y in the Spring term of the second year of the Doctoral program (PhD 2). The course has no specific content, but it recognizes the work done in preparation for the Field Examination. Once the Field Examination has been completed, students receive credit for the course and this is entered on the candidate’s transcript as a CR (not a letter-grade).

After you pass the Field Exam, you are “admitted to candidacy” and become a “doctoral candidate” (ABD).

All course and language requirements must be met before the Field Exam may be taken. The Field Proposal, however, may be submitted before these requirements are satisfied.


Establishing the Committee

 The thesis committee is three professors: a supervisor and two other members. In approaching potential committee members, it is useful for the student to have a 1½ – 2 page proposal imagining the thesis that you can show to people. You can send this to a potential member, saying that it represents your current thinking and asking if he or she would agree to discuss it with you.

Plan to have a three-person committee on board by April 1. A form with their signatures must be submitted by this date.


The Field Proposal (5-7 pages)

The Field Proposal is generated from the dissertation topic but the Field is larger than the thesis and discusses the types of questions you’ll be asking in the thesis, the kinds of texts you will study, and the larger conceptual framework in which you are discussing them. The Field Proposal locates your research interests in a larger arena of intellectual endeavour,  your “field” in an intellectual or professional sense. Its temporal, spatial, topical, and ideological range must extend significantly beyond the dissertation topic itself.

Keep in mind when writing the Field Proposal: What do you need to know to write the thesis? Research takes place in a scholarly field. That field may be a genre, a period, national literatures, or a particular critical approach. A Comparative Literature thesis will inevitably be interdisciplinary and the field will likely reflect this.

One possible way of structuring the proposal would be to divide it into the following sections:

a) A discussion and justification of the primary corpus. How and why do the primary works selected lead out into the larger field, and how can knowledge of that field subsequently enable detailed and contextualized analysis of the primary texts?

b) A discussion of the theoretical and methodological framework of both the field and the more focused thesis project.  This section should outline the reasons underlying the choice of theoretical approaches and should explain why such a theoretical framework will enrich the reading of the primary works.

c) An explanation of how the thesis will evolve from the larger field set out above.

 The number of items on the Field Proposal reading list will vary, but a total of 50-75 items is reasonable.


Approval Process

Once the Field Proposal has been written in consultation with the supervisor, the committee can meet together to discuss the proposal and plan the Field Paper, This meeting of the whole committee with the student should take place by May 31.

At that meeting there will be an official form that everyone signs. The form also sets out the date when the field paper is due and the oral exam will be taken. Once the Field Proposal has been approved and signed by all committee members, you are responsible for giving it and the signed form to the Graduate Administrator, who then distributes it to the Centre’s Executive Committee. The Executive Committee must approve the proposal before the exam is scheduled.


The Field Paper (due in the Fall of the third year)

The Field Paper is a written paper of roughly 30 pp (7,500 words), delineating major themes or issues that have emerged from your readings and relating the primary or core texts on your reading list to those themes. The result should present the current state of research and your critical assessment of it, including the still-open questions that emerge from the current research and that the thesis may propose to address.

The Field Paper should aim for a balance of depth and breadth. In other words, the aim of the Field Paper is not a survey or summary of all the items on your list, but rather, the development of a fruitful set of questions produced in and through engagement with the core texts on your list. Well in advance of the Paper (at least 3 months), at the Preliminary Meeting with your committee, you should work together with your supervisor and committee to formulate some of the questions to be addressed in the Field Paper and to determine the guidelines and expectations regarding its parameters. The committee may choose to divide the field paper into discrete questions that are addressed in separate sections. If questions arise while you are writing the paper, you should seek further guidance from your supervisor and committee. It is strongly advised that your should meet with your committee two months prior to the due date of the field paper to discuss your progress on the paper and address any issues or questions that arise as you are writing.

The Field Paper and Exam provide a foundation for your dissertation research but are not synonymous with that research: as you will discover, that research is just beginning. In some cases the Field Paper may become a preliminary version of the Introduction to the thesis, or another thesis chapter. The Paper should also contribute to the subsequent defining of the thesis topic and the outlining of the topic in structured chapters in the Thesis Proposal that is to be submitted within 2 months of the Oral Examination.

The precise deadline is established with the exam committee in consultation with the student.  A hard copy of the Paper must be delivered to the Graduate Administrator in advance of the oral exam. The Paper, together with the reading list on which it is based, forms the basis of discussion and questioning during the oral examination.


The Field Exam (two or three weeks after the submission of the Field Paper)

 The Field Exam is oral and normally lasts for not more than two hours. There are two parts:

 1. The oral part of the Examination begins with a textual explication by the candidate, no more than thirty minutes in length, of a specific passage or poem from a work in the primary reading list, assigned by the supervisor for preparation at least three days in advance. The other committee members will also receive the text  in advance.

2. An examination of the candidate based on the reading list of the original Field Proposal and the written Field Paper. Each examiner typically has a turn of roughly 20 minutes to ask questions. Some examinations become more a free-flowing conversation, but each examiner has his or her say.

 Examination Results

 The Committee decides, by consensus, whether the candidate has shown sufficient mastery of the Field to be allowed to proceed to the writing of the Dissertation. If that is the case, the Centre notifies the School of Graduate Studies that the student has passed the Field Examination. In exceptional cases, the Committee may decide that a candidate’s performance merits a special “with distinction” mention to be entered on his or her record. Such a mention can only be assigned upon the unanimous recommendation of the Committee.

If the committee decides that the candidate has not shown a sufficient mastery of the Field to proceed to the Dissertation, the Examination is adjourned. A new Paper and oral exam must then be rescheduled within one year. This could be on the same Field Proposal or on a modified one, as the committee decides.

If the Committee for a student’s second Examination decides that s/he has failed to demonstrate a sufficient mastery of the Field to proceed to the Dissertation stage, his or her candidacy for the degree will be terminated.


The Thesis Proposal (Due two months after the Field Paper)

 A 5-7-page document, the thesis proposal sets out in detail the structure of the thesis. A rationale should be provided for the structure, and each chapter should be outlined in enough detail to make clear the trajectory of the argument, the primary materials to be used in each chapter, which questions animate the chapter, and the kinds of conclusions or answers that may be expected.

This document is drawn up with the aid of the supervisor. It is also submitted to the graduate administrator.


The Centre now offers doctoral students the possibility of writing a dissertation that may include a creative component as an essential, organic part of a rigorous, critically based dissertation. Students seeking to include a creative component must submit a detailed proposal outlining the reasons for its inclusion. In addition to receiving the approval of the dissertation committee, the proposal must also be submitted for approval to the Alternate Dissertation Approval Committee. Proposals should be submitted within six weeks following field examination.

Updated September 15, 2017