PhD in Comparative Literature

Student browsing stacks in the library.

Students in the Comparative Literature PhD program at UB can expect to enter into a rigorous and robust graduate community composed of students from a variety of personal and academic backgrounds. Despite the relatively small-size of the program, students currently enrolled at UB engage in a variety historically-grounded and cutting-edge research programs. 

Students begin the program with two years of course-work which earn them credits towards an MA in Comparative Literature and prepares them for the more independent and demanding demands of the reading lists and oral examinations before they embark on dissertation writing. 

The PhD program prepares students for a wide-range of non-academic careers as well as placement as instructors and professors at post-secondary institutions. The placement record of the program attests to both the reputation of the program as well as the research and teaching skills that students develop at UB. Outside of their coursework and research obligations students may also participate in the departmental GSA, as well as the broader graduate community at UB, including the Just Theory Lecture Series, Theory@Buffalo (an academic journal housed withn the Department of Comparative Literature) as well as the Poetics Program, The Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture (CSPC), and (PEN)Umbra the journal associated with the CSPC.

Professor Ewa Ziarek and graduates at commencement.

Degree Requirements

PhD in Comparative Literature (72 Credits) 
30 Credits (10 courses) Intensive (A) Seminars 
Orals Examination (upon completion, students can apply for the MA) 
Dissertation (approximately 150-300 pages) 
Dissertation Defense

The above information is provided as a guide. Requirements may vary. Please see the Department Director of Graduate Studies, or your advisor for information tailored to your situation.

Academic Requirements

The Comparative Literature department seeks intelligent, highly motivated, and imaginative students with a strong interest in interdisciplinary and theoretical approaches to literature. Application requirements include:

  1. BA degree or its equivalent
  2. GRE scores (verbal and analytic) that are less than two years old
  3. A critical writing sample
  4. Three letters of recommendation


PhD candidates must be:

  1. Competent in at least one foreign language upon entering, demonstrated by advanced literary study at the undergraduate level, GRE scores, or by language examinations furnished by the department; and
  2. Competent in a second foreign modern or classical language, demonstrated by course grades or examination, by the end of the fifth semester.


Since the department affords a variety of general fields of study, the selection of courses will be determined by the student’s specific area of research. A minimum of ten courses will be required for the PhD Supervised reading courses with individual faculty are not considered in fulfillment of this requirement. At least 5 must be taught by COL Faculty. Cross-listed courses do not count toward those five. The proportion of literary to theoretical and interdisciplinary courses will be determined in consultation with faculty advisers, subject to the approval of the director of graduate studies.

Oral Examination

PhD candidates prepare for an oral examination substantially of their own design, in consultation with a faculty committee. After fulfilling the oral examination, students are free to develop and complete a dissertation with a committee of three faculty of their choice. The preliminary examination should be taken no later than the end of the fifth semester. It is divided into three fields of competence, which, again, are determined according to the student’s individual program of study. The examination will typically be divided between two national literatures and will be selected from the following categories: period, genre, major figures, literary theme, and theoretical interests. In consultation with advisers, students compile three reading lists of no fewer than 20 titles each in their relevant fields of expertise.

Dissertation Committee

By the end of the third year of graduate study, students must have established a Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Committee may be the same as or different from the Qualifying Examination Committee.

A prospectus for the dissertation must be written by the end of the third year of graduate study. It should describe the subject and methodology of the dissertation in detail. The dissertation is an original work of scholarship or criticism; its forms and conventions are stipulated in a style sheet provided by the Graduate School.

The dissertation must be read and approved by the three members of the student’s committee and by an outside reader (either a member of the UB graduate faculty outside comparative literature, or a qualified faculty member at another University).

Further details can be found in the Graduate Students’ Handbook

Degree Completion Timeline (Full-time PhD)

First Year Second Year Third Year Fourth Year Fifth Year and Beyond

Supported (9 hrs/semester)

  • 5 Intensive Seminars and
  • ENG 599 Supervised Teaching or 1 Extensive Seminar

Total: 18 credit hours

Unsupported (12 hrs/semester)

  • 5 Intensive Seminars and
  • 3 Extensive Seminars

Total: 24 credit hours


Application Deadline

The deadline for PhD applications is January 1


Josh Dawson, PhD Candidate, Graduate Student Ambassador (2019-2020)

Megan Hirner, PhD Student, GSA President (2019-2020)

For application and other administrative questions please contact: Mary Ann Carrick

University Registration Guidelines