Requirements

Summary of Requirements

Below are a summary of the CLS PhD requirements. Please see an explanation of each requirement below.

  • Completion of 15-18 graduate courses (at least 6 courses are in the 'home department'). 
  • First-year Review
  • First-year written and oral theory exam
  • Third-year Public Presentation
  • Home Department Qualifying Exam
  • Language requirement - proficiency in two languages other than native language
  • Prospectus
  • Dissertation

Course Work

CLS graduate students take between 15 and 18 graduate courses:

  • 3 courses: CLS theory sequence: COMP_LIT 410; COMP_LIT 411; COMP_LIT 412. These courses are taken during the first-year.
    • Each course will be broadly based on the examination list for a specific area of critical and/or literary theory.
  • 6 courses in home department
  • Remaining 6-9 courses can be taken in CLS, the home department, or any other graduate program. *Students admitted with a Cluster Mellon Fellowship have to take 3 courses in their cluster.

*Please note: Students can apply for a credit transfer of up to 3 courses at the time they apply or during their first-year; all requests will be evaluated by the CLS Graduate Committee. Transfer credits do NOT count towards the Graduate School Residency Requirement of 8 quarters of course work (i.e. two years, including summer).

First-year Review

The first-year review is holistic rather than exam-based. During spring quarter, each student will meet with the DGS and at least two other members of the core faculty to discuss a dossier that will include:

  • course evaluations from faculty who have taught the student the current academic year
  • a paper the student has written for a course
  • a statement from the student / academic progress report

During or after the first-year review, the student will choose lists (2) and faculty examiners for each list for the First-Year Theory Exam: First-Year Theory Exam topics list Form

First-Year Theory Exam

Students complete the written and oral theory exam in September before the start of the second-year. Students prepare for the exam through the theory course sequence (410,411,412).

There are nine examination lists, most of which have 25 items:
Please note: Some lists include suggestions for further reading. The lists are not mutually exclusive and some items may appear on multiple lists.

  1. Aesthetic and critical theory
  2. Decolonial and postcolonial theory
  3. Gender and sexuality studies
  4. Nationalism and transnationalism
  5. Phenomenology, structuralism, and deconstruction
  6. Poetics
  7. Psychoanalysis
  8. Rhetoric, philology, and linguistics
  9. Visual culture, sound studies, and media

Students choose two lists on which to be examined, typically selecting 20 of the 25 items on a given list. (Please check each specific list for any explanatory headnotes). Students are free to choose or not to choose lists corresponding to the topics covered in CLS 410-412 in a given year.

Theory Exam Schedule

In the spring quarter of the first-year (around the time of the First-year Review), students will choose two lists and establish the examination committee.

The committee will be composed of three faculty members: one for each of the lists as well as the Director of Graduate Studies or Program Director. Students choose two faculty with whom they wish to work, one for each list. Before the end of the spring quarter of the first-year, as part of the first-year review, the two exam lists and faculty examiners should be identified and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Students should meet with both faculty examiners to discuss which items from the respective lists might be removed, receive suggestions for secondary readings, and any other feedback.

The two written exams will be given by the end of August/September, before the start of classes. The student should work with the faculty examiners and CLS program administrator on the exam dates (written and oral).

The written exams are take-home. Students are given three days to submit their answers to the two questions. For example, for questions delivered to students on a Monday morning, exams must be returned by noon on Thursday. Each answer should be approximately 10 double-spaced pages.

The oral component will follow after the written exams are completed and the faculty examiners have enough time to review. The student will meet with the members of the exam committee, collectively, to discuss the written portion of the exam.

Third-Year Public Presentation

The third-year exam is in the form of a public presentation of a paper. During the third-year, students present a research paper that contains a distinctly comparative dimension, in a public forum. The paper should thus concern itself with literature in more than one literary-cultural tradition or with the relation of literature to another medium, mode of art, or scholarly discipline.

Home Department/Qualifying Exam

All students take an exam in their home department. Students need to consult with the DGS of their home department about the scope and structure of the exam. The qualifying exam should be completed by the end of the third-year. Students are admitted to candidacy after the qualifying exam and previous requirements are completed.

Language Requirement

CLS graduates should begin to work toward fulfilling the language requirement in their first year by creating a plan in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Students have to show proficiency in two languages other than their native language.  A primary foreign language requires two levels of examination (reading and writing; advanced reading is needed for no-longer-spoken languages). This requirement is normally met through graduate level course work or TA-ship in a language course. A secondary language requires only a single level of examination; this requirement is met through a reading exam, administered by the language department. Students should fulfill the language requirement by the end of their fourth-year. For additional ways to fulfill the language requirement, please consult the Director of Graduate Studies.

Prospectus

Before qualifying to write their dissertation, students are expected to develop a dissertation proposal of about 8-10 pages. This proposal serves as the basis for the student’s prospectus, in which both the structure and the general argument of the dissertation are made apparent. The prospectus is usually around 12-15 pages, along with a detailed bibliography, and it should be completed by the end of the fourth-year. It is submitted to the graduate committee in CLS for review and approval.

Dissertation

Upon completion of the dissertation, students present their work to their dissertation committee members.

PhD Completion

Scheduling the final examination (dissertation defense) is the responsibility of the candidate and the members of the committee. The PhD final exam must be approved by a faculty committee. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the final exam committee. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty. Please notify the CLS Program Assistant when the dissertation defense date is scheduled. 

Students must file required documents prior to graduation and by the deadlines set by TGS. For deadlines and forms needed, please visit the TGS website on PhD Filing Requirements and Forms.


Progress Towards the Degree

YEAR 1: Students take 3 courses each quarter, including the required theory sequence (COMP LIT 410, 411, 412). Students are encouraged to start taking courses in their home department as well as literature courses in CLS. The First-Year Review is conducted in the late spring quarter of the first-year. The summer between first and second year is used to prepare for the Theory Exam; administered in September before the start of the second-year.

YEAR 2: Written and oral components of the Theory Exam should be started before classes start in the fall. Students start TA'ing and hence take only 2 courses each quarter, in their home department, CLS, or other graduate programs. They prepare for the home department exam and, if possible, take it by the end of the year.

YEAR 3Students complete their coursework and continue to TA. Students take their home department exam (preferably by winter quarter). Students complete the public presentation by the end of the third-year. By the end of the year (or before the beginning of the Fall quarter of the fourth year) students submit an 8-10 page draft prospectus to their advisor.

*Students should be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third-year. In order to be admitted to candidacy, students must have completed their course work; taken the theory exam and the home department exam, and delivered their public presentation.

YEAR 4Students either TA or are on fellowship (internal or external). By the end of the fall quarter, students should expand the prospectus proposal into a 12-15 page prospectus, along with a detailed bibliography. Upon approval of the prospectus by the student's faculty committee, students start writing their dissertation.  By the end of the fourth-year, students should fulfill the language requirement.

YEAR 5Students either teach or are on fellowship (internal or external). They continue working on their dissertation in preparation to complete their dissertation defense.


Notes on Course Registration

  • Students register for a minimum of 3 and maximum of 4 courses every quarter. 
  • In years 2 and above, when students typically TA and hence do not take the full load of courses, they register for one unit of COMP_LIT 490 each quarter they teach.
  • After students have completed their required course work (typically in years 3 and above), they register every quarter for TGS 500 (if funded by the university) or TGS 512 (if not funded by the university), as well as one unit of COMP_LIT 490 for each course they teach.
  • Students who are funded in the summer must register for summer quarter. Student should register for 3 units of COMP_LIT 590 until 8 quarters are completed. After 8 quarters, register for TGS 500 (1 unit). If not funded in the summer, do not need to register for summer courses.

Teaching

Teaching is an essential element of the education and training experience of PhD students at Northwestern. The Graduate School requires that all PhD students serve in some instructional capacity for at least one academic quarter during their graduate education at Northwestern. This teaching requirement is unique to American higher education, and is an integral aspect of professional development. TGS expects students teaching work comparable to other students within their program, and strives to ensure teaching demands are as similar as possible across academic programs.

There are three basic forms of teaching in which students participate in teaching our undergraduates: assisting with a class taught by a CLS faculty member or faculty from a related department; participating in language instruction (usually but not always the language of the home department); teaching a small seminar of one’s own. The mix of teaching depends on a number of factors, most especially each individual student’s evolving academic profile; but it generally includes all three of these forms.


Good Standing and Academic Progress Report Evaluation

Students’ funding depends on being in “good academic standing,” as defined by TGS: Students cannot carry more than 3 incompletes at any given quarter and must clear all incompletes before they can advance to candidacy. Students must advance to candidacy no later than the end of the third-year.

CLS evaluates student progress every year. The requirements are all occasions for evaluating student performance and standing. Students are asked at the end of each year (in May) to submit an Academic Progress Report which outlines requirements met that year and goals for the upcoming year. Each progress report must be reviewed and signed by the student's advisor (or DGS if an advisor is not established yet).