A field for comparative literary study is a limited and specific topic within a general area of inquiry. Although it includes texts from several languages, it must have a clearly established theoretical and methodological focus and historical as well as literary coherence. A broad area of interest, for example, might be “the Fantastic as a literary mode” while the more restricted Field would be “the Fantastic in 19th century French and German short stories.”

In preparing the Field Proposal, most students “work back” from a clearly defined dissertation topic. The preparation for the Examination can also be used as a way of clarifying students’ ideas and research interests.

The Proposal is developed by the student in consultation with his/her advisory committee. Each student is advised to submit a preliminary statement of the Field by the end of the first year of PhD study and a fully approved Proposal and Reading List by the end of the second year of PhD study (see Submission of the Field Examination Proposal).

Every Ph.D. candidate is required to take an Examination on his or her Proposal and Reading List. The written and oral examinations are held during the first term of the third year of the Doctoral program (PhD 3) following the completion of all Ph.D. course work and language requirements and following registration of the thesis topic.

The Field Examination is conducted by a special Committee appointed by the Centre in consultation with the candidate. The purpose of the Examination is to establish the competence of the student to proceed with the writing of a dissertation. In particular, the examination tests the student’s familiarity with the wider area within which the topic of the dissertation will be chosen.


1.COL 4000Y

All PhD students are required to enroll 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).

2 Thesis topics
By May 1st of the second year of the Doctoral Program (Ph.D.2) students must submit a completed Ph.D. thesis proposal form indicating the aims, the general framework and issues, the methodology and the corpus of the doctoral dissertation. The thesis statement must envisage dealing with primary texts normally in three languages and literatures. The proposal form must also contain the names and signatures of the thesis supervisor(s) and members of the advisory committee who will normally also serve as members of the Field Examination committee. The thesis proposal is subject to the approval of the academic administrative officers of the Centre.

The doctoral dissertation is a major research project which should make an original contribution to the discipline. It frequently becomes a young scholar’s first published book and establishes the reputation of an individual in the academic community. The selection of a topic and the completion of the project should therefore be undertaken with the utmost seriousness. Candidates should discuss possible topics with the academic administrative officers of the Centre, faculty members and prospective supervisors.

3. Formation of the Committee for the Field Examination

Preparation for the Field Examination normally starts at the beginning of the second term of the second year of the Doctoral Program (Ph.D.2), when students enroll in COL 4000Y.

It is the responsibility of the student to approach faculty members and invite them to serve as his/her supervisor, co-supervisors or advisory committee members, and to serve on his/her Field Examination. Students should begin by informally consulting potential members whose area(s) of specialization and interest seem closest to the proposed thesis subject, during the first year of the Doctoral Program, or in the Fall term of Ph.D.2 at the latest. However, it is the Director who officially appoints the supervisor (or co-supervisors) and the members of the Field Examination -Advisory Committees, once thesis proposals have been submitted and approved. There must be at least one faculty member from Comparative Literature on the three-person committee, but the supervisor may be from another department.

The membership of the Field Examination/Advisory Committee must be constituted so as to ensure that all the main theoretical and national literature aspects of the dissertation are covered, and that the candidate will benefit from the advice and guidance of specialists in the pertinent areas. Obviously the Centre cannot offer specialists on every possible topic and theoretical approach, and is therefore not obligated to provide supervision in areas falling outside the competency, interest, or availability of its graduate faculty.

Once the Committee has been appointed, it becomes the Chair’s responsibility to arrange meetings of the Committee as a whole, to seek agreement on the appropriate number and types of questions, to set the dates for the examinations, etc.

4. Drafting a Field Exam Proposal

Students must submit the proposal for their field exam by the fall of the third year of the doctoral program.  The proposal should be 10-12 pages in length and include a bibliography of primary works, including both literary works and other materials such as films, critical studies of these works, and theoretical works.  The number of items on a bibliography will vary, but a list of 50-75 items is reasonable. The aim of the field is the articulation of a broad framework in terms of theory, methodology, critical background, cultural formation and history that will provide the necessary background for the more focused thesis project.  The proposal, then, should have as its core the corpus of texts and animating critical questions that will form the basis of the thesis, and should construct a broader field around that core. After setting out the parameters of this broad field, the proposal should make clear how and why the field is important and relevant to the projected thesis work and should provide a provisional outline of the dissertation project.  One possible way of structuring the proposal would be to divide it into the following sections:

A discussion and justification of the primary works chosen.  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?
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.

An explanation of how the thesis will evolve from the larger field set out above.  There should be a clear articulation of the hypothesis of the thesis as well as the objectives and originality of the thesis as a whole.  As much detail as possible should be provided about the thesis work, including a provisional outline of the chapters envisioned for the dissertation project.

Bao keeps sample field exam proposals on file that can be viewed upon request. These samples are for reference only and cannot be duplicated without permission.

5. Submission of the Field Examination Proposal

The Field Examination Proposal will probably undergo revisions through discussions with the members of the Committee as the work progresses. Students must submit a first version of the Proposal to all the Committee members in the Spring term of the second year of the PhD program (PhD 2) for Examinations in the following Fall. The Proposal should contain:

· a working title;
· a statement delineating the Field of study (see below);
· a brief description of the method to be followed in order to study the Field.
· a bibliography of primary and secondary material.

It is crucial that the candidate and the Examination Committee arrive at an explicit mutual understanding about the scope of the Field and about the kind of questions appropriate for it. After each member has expressed her or his satisfaction with the Proposal, the candidate meets with the Committee as a whole to forestall any possible misunderstandings. The final version of the Proposal (maximum 1500 words) and the bibliography must be approved by the entire Committee at least six weeks before the date of the written part of the Examination. Changes made after this date can only be of a minor nature.

6. The Field Examination:

The Examination has a written and an oral component. The written part consists of two questions designed primarily to test the candidate’s mastery of the Field, i.e. his or her familiarity with the selected literary texts as well as his or her understanding of the theoretical problems inherent in the topic. For example, a student working on figurative language in Rilke, Garcia Lorca and Eluard would be expected not only to know those authors well, but also to be familiar with modern theories of metaphor.

The maximum time allowed for the written part of the Examination is 8 hours. It may be hand-written or, preferably, typed and it normally takes place in an office assigned by the Centre’s administration. The candidate may bring books and notes to the Examination. S/he may go out for lunch and speak with friends but s/he may not enter the library stacks nor discuss the questions themselves with anyone. If the Committee decides that the candidate’s performance on the written part of the Examination is satisfactory, s/he may proceed to the oral which takes place approximately ten days later. The candidate will be notified at least four days before the scheduled date whether the oral will take place or not.

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 for preparation at least three days in advance. For the presentation, only notes or a general outline may be used. The rest of the Examination usually consists of questions concerning the candidate’s commentary on the text, the written part of the Examination, and/or other aspects of the Field. The discussion may be directed to a broad factual and historical understanding of the Field and is not necessarily limited to the Proposal’s specific, and consequently narrow, scope. A doctoral candidate working on the narrative techniques of Nabokov, Calvino and Kundera, for example, can reasonably be expected to have an awareness of the seminal importance of the major innovators of modern fiction (Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Proust, etc.) .

During the Examination, the Committee Chair is responsible for procedural matters, i.e. clarifying rules and regulations, calling on the examiners to address questions to the candidate, etc. As a member of the Committee, s/he will of course participate in the examination and discussion, but s/he will not interfere, nor should s/he be expected to interfere, with another member’s line of questioning, no matter how inappropriate a particular line may seem. Most examiners feel that it is the candidate’s knowledge and competence which are being tested and they will object if someone else appears to be speaking for, or instead of, the examinee. Any reservations or disagreement which the Chair, or any other member, may wish to express will normally be left for the deliberations following the Examination, after the candidate has been asked to step out of the room to await the Committee’s judgment.

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, it may recommend that:

1. the Examination be adjourned. A new Examination, on the same Field Proposal, must then be rescheduled within one year. Or,
2. the Field Proposal be modified and a new Examination be rescheduled within one year.

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.

Updated December 2, 2013