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Course Requirements & Planning

Updated September 2023

In planning their course of study, students should consult with the Director of Doctoral Studies and faculty members whose interests they share. It is also expected that students will consult with the Graduate Coordinator each quarter to confirm their course selection meets the PhD Program’s seminar requirements. Students may also refer to the following publications when exploring their course options each quarter:

Publication Published Available Through
General Catalog Quarterly
Annual Literature course offerings Annually
Class schedule Quarterly
Graduate course descriptions Quarterly
List of faculty publications Annually

The list of annual course offerings is available each Winter Quarter. It provides a tentative schedule of classes and seminars offered by the Literature Department for the following year.

Seminars are offered by professors according to their current areas of interest. Therefore, course offerings in specific topics may not be predictably repeated. Students should be in contact with faculty members who work in the areas of their interests so that they can be informed about what the faculty plans to teach in the future. Students need not wait for a course to be offered to establish contact with a professor; rather, plan to visit during office hours to discuss intellectual interests and concerns, to become familiar with professors' research, and to consult the list of faculty publications.

Course Planning

Students will find a wide variety of seminars open to them because of the Literature Department's interdisciplinary strengths. Students should consider the seminar offerings in all sections of the department as they plan their enrollment during Years 1 & 2.

It is strongly recommended that graduate students enroll in Literature graduate seminars whenever possible for their PhD seminar requirements, however students may also consider enrolling in graduate offerings in other departments or upper-division undergraduate literature courses (with some restrictions):

  • Students may apply a maximum of two graduate seminars in other UCSD departments to the "open to choice" (or "Elective") PhD requirement, with no need for a petition. If a student wants to apply a non-Literature seminar to a different PhD requirement, it will require a petition.  Similarly, if a student wishes to have more than two graduate seminar from other departments count towards their PhD requirements, they must submit a petition for each course after the first two.  Any necessary petitions must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator, who will route it for the appropriate faculty review. The petition must include relevant justification of why the particular course would be more beneficial to their research than one of the already-approved courses for the specific requirement. The petition will also require submission of a syllabus. See the “Forms” page of the website.
    • As all students will need to constitute their Doctoral Committee in Year 2 and all committees must include a faculty member from outside of Literature, it is highly recommended that students use the two non-Literature seminar allowance to study with a potential outside committee member.
  • Students may apply a maximum of three upper-division undergraduate literature courses to their PhD requirements, and they must make the course workloads equivalent to graduate seminars with additional work agreed upon by both the student and faculty. Students must take these upper-division undergraduate literature courses for letter grades, and they must receive “A” grades. Each course must be petitioned through the Graduate Coordinator, and the petition requires submission of a syllabus and rationale. See the “Forms” page of the website.
  • Students should be sure to fulfill all their PhD seminar requirements before taking non-applicable courses for their own interest.

NOTE: Some course numbers may be taken more than once for credit, as they are topics courses with unique content each offering. Please check with the Graduate Coordinator if you have any questions about a particular course number. Please keep in mind that there will always be a maximum number of times students may take a specific course for credit, and this total includes any instance(s) where the student took the course prior to starting the PhD Program (through UCSD Extension or in an undergraduate or Masters program at UCSD, for example).

Historical Breadth Requirement

All PhD students are required to take at least two seminars that focus on the pre-1800 period. The courses may include more recent scholarship dealing with an earlier period.  The purpose of the historical breadth requirement is to afford students a depth of historical perspective in their study of literature. A rigorous study of early literature provides students with an understanding of literary history, can reveal connections between literatures and regions, and challenge “presentist” perspectives. Seminars will satisfy the historical breadth requirement if the course is flagged as “historical breadth” on the Literature course descriptions webpage:

The two seminars taken to fulfill this requirement may be in the same period or in different periods. Seminars taken for the “historical breadth” requirement are included in the 18 required seminars for each particular specialization, so the courses used must also fit into one of the requirement categories for the student’s specialization. Students may not petition for or use independent study courses to fulfill the historical breadth requirement.

Language Requirement

PhD students are required to take at least two seminars in a secondary language: a language other than the one chosen for their primary literature seminar requirement. Students in the Comparative Literature specialization are also required to complete one seminar in a tertiary language. It is recommended that this requirement is complete by the end of the second year, so that the third year can be dedicated to more focused research and the qualifying process.

Competence in reading, understanding, and interpreting both literary and critical texts in the relevant language and the ability to follow seminar discussions or lectures in the relevant language must be demonstrated. Graduate-level competency and working knowledge of a language is generally construed as: two years of undergraduate study in French, German, Spanish, and Italian; three years of undergraduate study in Latin and Greek; and four years of undergraduate study in Chinese.

Students are required to work in languages taught by current UCSD faculty members, but some students may fulfill the language requirement in a different language through transferred coursework. Transferred courses must be graduate-level courses taken prior to beginning the PhD Program, and students must petition for transferred coursework to apply to their seminar requirements (see the “Transfer of Graduate Credit” section below).

In general, students must pass a two-hour exam to be administered by the instructor in order for the seminar or course to fulfill the language requirement. The exam will involve a substantial (approximately 2-page) exercise in translation, as well as answering questions about a text of approximately ten pages, written in the second language and related to the course topic. Questions will be posed in the second language, but may be answered in English, and students may use a dictionary during the exam. The instructor may determine that the exam would be superfluous, if the student's language proficiency was adequately demonstrated is another way. If the student must petition the course, the instructor will be asked to verify whether or not a language exam was administered (and provide a written explanation of why the exam was not necessary, if applicable). 

For most courses taken to satisfy the language requirement, a “Seminar Requirements Petition” form must be completed and submitted to the Graduate Coordinator. See the particular details below for more information.

There are several ways students may approach this required coursework:

  • Literature Dept graduate seminars: LTEN graduate seminars are always approved to fulfill the language requirement (in English), without need for a petition. LTSP graduate seminars are always approved to fulfill the language requirement (in Spanish), without need for a petition. For any other seminar/language combinations, petitions will be required. Each year, the department will post the planned graduate seminar offerings on our website (Course Offerings).  On the page that list only the graduate course offerings, there will be notes to inform students of which other seminars may be taken for specific languages (according to the instructor's languages of study). Students will still need to fill out petition forms and submit them to the Graduate Coordinator, but petitions for these seminars towards these requirements will be automatically approved. The approval for the listed languages will still require the instructors to verify students' language proficiency.  Students should reach out to the instructors to discuss what they specifically will be requiring for demonstration of this proficiency. Students should complete Section I of the petition (“Forms” page) and submit it to the Graduate Coordinator. The Graduate Coordinator will route the petition for the appropriate approvals.
  • Transferred coursework:
    • If students have taken graduate courses prior to the start of the PhD Program, and the courses were taught in the relevant language and covering the literatures of that particular language/region, they should complete Section I of the petition (“Forms” page) and submit it to the Graduate Coordinator (along with course syllabi, papers, and any other materials). No instructor signature is required. The Graduate Coordinator will route the petition for the appropriate faculty approvals.
    • If students have taken graduate courses prior to the start of the PhD Program, and the courses were taught in translation (but focused on literature of a specific language), they will need to separately demonstrate their proficiency in that language. They should complete Section I of the petition form and identify a faculty member in the department who works in the language in question. They will need to ask the faculty member to evaluate their language proficiency and attest to it by completing Section II of the petition form. Then, the student must submit the petition (“Forms” page) to the Graduate Coordinator (along with course syllabi, papers, and any other materials). The Graduate Coordinator will route the petition for the appropriate faculty approvals.
  • Literature Dept undergraduate courses: When no graduate seminars are offered on literature in a specific language, students may consider completing an upper-division undergraduate course in that literature.  The upper-division undergraduate course should be conducted entirely in the second language and enhanced by additional assignments (to bring the course workload to a graduate seminar level).  The course must be taken for a letter grade, and students must receive a grade of “A”. To apply the upper-division undergraduate course to the seminar requirements, a petition must be submitted which details the enhanced workload. Students should complete Section I of the petition (“Forms” page) and submit it to the Graduate Coordinator. The Graduate Coordinator will route the petition for the appropriate faculty approvals.
    • NOTE: Students may not petition to use undergraduate courses from other institutions towards their seminar requirements, and the UCSD undergraduate courses that are petitioned for credit must be taken during the student’s time in the PhD Program (not previously).
  • Literature Independent Studies (LT** 298): As a last resort, and only when there are no graduate seminars or upper-division undergraduate courses available, a student may enroll in an independent study graduate course to fulfill the language requirement. Criteria for 298s of this sort are the same for seminars and undergraduate study courses. The student is expected to meet weekly with the supervising professor, to read all texts in the original language, to demonstrate very high proficiency in the reading and interpretation of those texts, and to write a paper. The student must submit a petition (“Forms” page) to the Graduate Coordinator (along with course syllabi and the paper). The Graduate Coordinator will route the petition for the appropriate faculty approvals.
    • NOTE: 297 & 299 courses DO NOT count toward the seminar requirement.

Independent Study Courses

To register for an independent study course, students should consult with the professor with whom they plan to work. When they have a plan for the content of the independent study, an “Independent Study Request Form” must be completed and submitted online (see the “Forms” page of the website). The request will automatically be routed to the Graduate Coordinator for processing, then to the instructor for approval. The student will be contacted via email with instructions for enrolling in the course (once it has been fully approved and created).

Students should be aware that faculty members agree to direct independent study courses in addition to their regular teaching loads, and therefore may restrict the number of students with whom they are willing to work.

Independent Study Courses:

  • LT** 297: Directed Studies: Reading Course (1 – 12 units). This course may be designed according to an individual student's needs when seminar offerings do not cover subjects, genres, or authors of interest. Students may also design a 297 course in tandem with a seminar of particular interest so that special attention may be paid to that subject. This course is primarily a reading course; it does not require a seminar paper. 297 courses CANNOT count toward the seminar requirements under any circumstances.
  • LT** 298: Special Projects: Writing Course (1 – 12 units). This course is designed by the student to meet personal scholarly needs and must include a seminar paper. Students are strongly discouraged from taking 298's during their first year of graduate study, unless it is for the language requirement (where traditional courses are not available in that language). All students will register for two LT** 298's as part of the qualifying process: one to prepare the reading lists, paper abstract, and hold the Pre-Qualifying Meeting; and one to complete the qualifying research paper. More than these two LT** 298 courses DO NOT count toward the seminar requirements, except in cases where a 298 course has been used to fulfill the language requirement and the “Seminar Requirements Petition” has been approved. No petitions for 298 courses to fulfill the historical breadth requirement will be considered.
  • LT** 299: Dissertation Preparation (1 – 12 units). This course is designed for those who have advanced to candidacy (by passing their qualifying examinations) and are writing their dissertations. 299 courses DO NOT count toward the seminar requirements, which must be fully completed prior to the advancement to candidacy.

Course Grading

All courses at UCSD have a "course approval", which outlines the various parameters and details of the overall course. This course approval is created by the individual department and requires approval of the campus' Academic Senate. One of those defined elements is which grade options will be available to the students enrolling in the course. When students register in courses, they must choose from the grading options that are available for that particular course. Literature Department PhD seminars may only be taken for a letter grade. To maintain good academic standing and continuation of eligibility for campus funding, students may not receive more than 8 units with “F” and/or “U” grades on their record. The general graduate grade options on campus are:

  • S/U (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) Grades: A grade of “S” indicates that the student has finished all the seminar requirements in a satisfactory manner and at a level equal to that of the other students enrolled in the seminar. A grade of “U” is understood to indicate that the student's performance was not on par with that of the other students in the seminar. 
  • Letter Grades: A/B/C/D/F, with the option of (+) or minus (-) added to the grades of A, B, and C.

As GEPA uses grades as a marker of continued academic good standing, faculty have agreed to some general shared standards of academic performance that specific grade ranges communicate. These shared standards are based primarily on part of the university's requirements for good academic standing: a minimum 3.0 GPA (or B average). Using this standard as a guide, the Literature Department faculty agree to use the following general guidelines for the meanings of letter grades in their seminars:

A Satisfactory; making good progress and generally displaying the skills needed for continued graduate-level work. An “A” need not be reserved only for exceptionally excellent performance; rather, the “A” in a PhD program denotes a range of performance we generally expect at the graduate level, and includes presumed room for future growth. *Note that MFA students taking a PhD seminar must currently receive an “A” for the course to offer them seminar credit towards their degrees.
A- Moderate concerns and/or areas for recommended future growth.
B+ Passing work, but needs improvement. This is a recommendation to seek help in improving on crucial skills.
B Serious concerns about foundational skills and/or academic performance.
B- Serious concerns that the student is close to failing the course. This is a warning that foundational skills likely need improvement for continued progress.
C Not satisfactory as graduate-level work. Not displaying the skills or academic performance required for continued progress toward the degree. In danger of dismissal if performance at this level continues.
D or F Did not complete the coursework and/or did not clear an Incomplete by the deadline.

Individual faculty have the discretion to set the assignments and policies that dictate grading in their classes. Individual faculty also have the discretion to set their own expectations of what constitutes satisfactory, passable, or unsatisfactory work in their class. These expectations may vary across courses, fields, and faculty members. The department does not seek to standardize or mandate any particular grade distribution across courses, and faculty members have the discretion to assign the grades that, according to their best professional judgment, correspond to their honest assessment of students’ performance in their courses.

Faculty should include an explanation of their grading policy and expectations on their syllabi.

In order to remain in good academic standing, graduate students must have a GPA of 3.0 (which equates to a “B” average or better) and have not received more than 8 units of “F” and/or “U” grades


The Incomplete grade (“I”) may be used when circumstances beyond a student’s control occur during Week 10 or Finals Week that prohibit them from completing coursework assigned by the instructor. The student’s work must be of non-failing quality at the time of the request for an “Incomplete”, and the student must be able to provide documentation (such as a doctor’s note) if requested by the instructor. The Literature Department does not require any specific paperwork for the Incomplete, but it is highly recommended that the student and instructor clearly document the understanding for their own records (list of remaining coursework to be complete and revised deadline for completion). Graduate students assigned the grade of “I” must complete the necessary unfinished coursework by the agreed upon deadline (which should be no later than the end of the following quarter). If the Incomplete grade is not replaced by the actual final grade by the end of the following quarter, the “I” grade will automatically be changed to a "U/F" grade (based on the applicable grade option) by the Registrar.

The department strongly discourages graduate students from requesting the Incomplete grade unless absolutely necessary, since the scenario may jeopardize both good standing and financial support eligibility (if the work isn't completed and the grade formally updated in a timely manner).

Transfer of Graduate Credit

Students who have completed graduate work at other institutions prior to entering the PhD Program may request transfer credit for up to six seminars total. No more than 6 non-UCSD courses may be applied to the seminar requirements. No coursework taken outside of UCSD after the student enters the PhD Program may be applied to the seminar requirements. In most cases, credit will be recognized only for students who have previously received an MA degree or its equivalent from a university or college. Petitions for transfer of graduate credit will be considered no earlier than the student’s second year in the program. Students should complete Section I of the petition (“Forms” page of the website) and submit it to the Graduate Coordinator (along with course syllabi, papers, and any other relevant materials). No instructor signature is required. The Graduate Coordinator will route the petition for the appropriate approvals.