8. Field Examinations

To meet the qualifying requirements for the PhD in Comparative Literature, graduate students complete three examinations in their chosen fields of study. Two of these fields are considered major, the third, minor.

8.1. Definition of a Field

A field is an area of study within a national literature or within a related discipline. The PhD degree in comparative literature requires the study of three fields consisting of either (a) three national literatures, or, (b) two national literatures and one related discipline from the Humanities and Social Sciences such as Asian-American Studies, Black Studies, Chicano/a Studies, Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, translation studies, world literature, critical theory, postcolonial studies, feminist studies, gender and queer studies, film, media studies, Medieval Studies, history, art history, music, environmental studies, religion, philosophy, among other potential fields. One of the literatures may be English. Comparative literature students do not necessarily organize their studies around the canonical history of a national literature. Rather they define their field according to a period and possibly a genre, and then create a reading list that reflects that focus and includes what is necessary to understand that focus in an historical context. So, for example, a student working on modern French realism, in addition to reading a substantial number of works representing nineteenth-century realist aesthetics, might also include on the list French novels and other prose works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and theoretical works on the novel and on realism in painting as well as primary and secondary sources on gender and realism, realism vs. idealism; critical sources might include works by scholars such as Erich Auerbach, Margaret Cohen, Michael Fried, Naomi Schor, and Thomas Pavel, to name a few. It is always expected that students familiarize themselves with the secondary critical works relevant to their fields of study. The point is that each student's fields are both focused and sufficiently broad to reflect a grasp of influences, antecedents, and relevant ancillary disciplines.

8.2. Examinations

The exams are based upon a reading list of 50-75 works that the student develops with his or her three- member exam committee. The preparation for the exam enables students to gain reasonable "mastery" of a given field, understood as the competence necessary to teach, conduct research, and possibly publish within this area. The expectation is for literature to be read in its original language. Non-native speakers of English must write at least their first exam in English. The exam in the major fields consists of a written and an oral component. The written will take one of the following forms to be determined in consultation with the examining committee and the Faculty Graduate Advisor:

a. one substantial original essay of approximately 50 pages (the idea of which can come from seminar work; the essay, however, should not be merely a longer version of a seminar paper); or:

b. a two-day written examination based upon three questions (48-hour examination).

Under normal circumstances at least one of the exams in the major field shall be a two-day written examination. The oral, which lasts no longer than 90 minutes, will take place after the written is passed. Its primary purpose is to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge within the chosen field. Student must pass both the written and the oral to pass the field exam.

For the minor field only a written exam is required, but getting feedback from field exam committee is strongly advised. It may take the form of either:

a. one substantial original essay of approximately 35 pages (the germ of the idea of which can come from seminar work; the essay, however, should not be merely a longer version of a seminar paper); or:

b. two 20-page papers (unrelated to seminar papers).

Students can retake each field exam (either or both parts) only once.

8.3. Field Exam Committees

All three field exam committees must have a minimum of three UC ladder faculty, two of whom (including the Chair) must be from the home department (i.e. must be affiliated to Comparative Literature). See the list of our Affiliated faculty on our web site. We also will affiliate colleagues (Academic Senate members, and from UC Santa Barbara) who will work with you.

In case you need to appoint another UC professor as co-chair of your Field or Doctoral Dissertation committee, here is the Graduate Division's regulation: http://www.graddiv.ucsb.edu/academic/committees

  • "At the department's discretion, an Academic Senate Member from another UC may be nominated to serve as a committee member or co-chair (not as sole chair). Only one of the first three committee members can be from another UC. The UC faculty member may count as one of the two required tenure-track faculty members, but cannot count as a home-department member. The Master's Form I or Doctoral Form I must include the faculty member's name, UC campus, department, and academic title."

8.4. Exam Procedures

  1. Student chooses the field exam quarter, the quarter during which the exam will be taken. See 6.2 and 7.2.2. above for the time limits.
  2. Student chooses the Chair of the exam committee in consultation with the Faculty Graduate Advisor. Student chooses two other members of the exam committee in consultation with the Chair of the exam committee and the Faculty Graduate Advisor.
  3. Student meets the Chair of the exam committee early on in the process, at the latest in the beginning of the quarter preceding the field exam, to determine the area that the exam will cover, the type of exam chosen, materials for the reading list, and a schedule for taking the exam.
  4. At the end of the quarter preceding the field exam quarter, the student meets with all three field examiners to discuss the lists, topic of the paper(s), and strategies for completing the exam. The student should articulate a clear focus for the chosen topic and possibly make clear how the focus of her/his field exam advances his/her larger interests and/or dissertation topic, if such a topic has already been determined. The examiners should sign the Reading List/Abstract Approval Form.
  5. At the beginning of the field exam quarter, the student submits the reading list, abstract (outlining the chosen field, the topic, its articulation within the student's larger interests and/or dissertation, the type of exam chosen and a schedule for completing the exam), signed Reading List/Abstract Approval Form, to the Faculty Graduate Advisor for approval.
  6. Student submits the exam (the essay(s), or two-day written exam) to the exam committee by the 8th week of the quarter chosen to write the exam.
  7. Once a student has submitted his/her field exam to his/her committee, they will schedule the oral examination (except for the minor field). At the oral exam, the committee will sign the Field Exam Approval form, available at http://www.complit.ucsb.edu/graduate-program/forms-travel. The student submits the Field Exam Approval form and exam to the Graduate Program Assistant. No oral is necessary for the minor field. For the minor field, student will complete the Minor Field Approval form, have it signed by the committee, and submit it to the Staff Graduate Advisor along with the exam.
  8. The exam may be retaken only once.

8.5. Precisions on the 48-Hour Examination

This exam has two components: a 48-hour written element (addressing three questions). Various faculty and students consulted agree that total length of the document produced for this exam format is somewhat shorter than other exam formats, from 20-30 pages. If the written work is given a passing grade, the written portion of the exam is followed by a 90-minute oral exam.

A. Information for committee chair and committee members

The purpose of the written portion of the exam is to see how effectively the student can prepare in a short time a coherent discourse on a given topic, just like preparing for a class. This is different from the format for seminar papers, which are more research-oriented. The committee should keep in mind the pedagogical purpose of the exam and the 48-hour constraint in evaluating the written portion of the exam.

Process for the written portion of the exam: Committee members give one or two questions to the chair, who selects the questions. The exam questions should allow the student to display both coverage of the reading list and a successful approach to the questions (argument). If the exam takes place over the week-end or holiday, it may fall to the exam chair to receive the exam and document the 48-hour limits.

Evaluation: It is useful for the committee members to have some advance discussion among themselves about the pedagogical goals of the exam. Some faculty assess the exam on the caliber of the argument/discussion. For others, coverage, including the inclusion of a high proportion of texts from the reading list, is more important.

The oral portion of the exam takes place only if the written element receives a pass. The committee can approach the oral exam as a chance to ask the student to expand on issues raised in the written exam, as well as to address other works from the reading list.

B. For students

The purpose of the written portion of the exam is to see how effectively the student can prepare in a short time a coherent discourse on a given topic, just like preparing for a class. This is different from the format for seminar papers, which are more research-oriented.

The exam is not proctored. Students may use any resources they want (books, laptops, etc.) The only constraint is the 48-hour lapse between the moment the student receives the set of questions and the moment he/she hands (or sends) back the completed exam.

Strategy: To show that you are aware of other connections that cannot be explored because of time limits, you may choose to include a sentence or two for each question with something like "If I had more time, I would address x, y, and z."

C. For the Graduate Program Assistant

  1. The faculty committee sends the three questions to the GPA, who will e-mail them to the student at 8:30 am the day of the exam. If the exam falls on a weekend, accommodations will be made with the CLIT Chair or DGS with the Chair of the Committee to insure that the student receives the questions on time.
  2. The student has 48 hours to e-mail the completed exam back to the GPA, or to hand in a hand-written or typed version.
  3. If the exam is sent in by email, the GPA should verify that there is an attachment with text.
  4. The GPA confirms receipt of the exam to the student.
  5. The GPA forwards the exam to the committee and lets them know it was received by the deadline.