Department Resources

This section contains material regarding scholarships, study abroad, schedules, cross-registration, student associations, doctoral resources, tips for time management and your thesis and much more.


The Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature offers several scholarship opportunities to students. Students can apply through the Academic Works scholarship system.  You can also view scholarships available within the College of Liberal & Creative Arts.

Jan Gregory Postsecondary Reading and Composition Scholarship

Provides an award of $500 to a graduate student pursuing the Master of Arts (M.A.) in English (Composition), or either of the two graduate certificates. Applications accepted in the Spring semester for award disbursement in the following Fall semester. Requirements: typed statement addressing your goals for graduate study and for your future career; copy of unofficial SF State transcript showing minimum 3.0 GPA; minimum enrollment of 3 units in award semester; the name and contact information of a Composition M.A. faculty member.

Jim Brogan - Jack Post Scholarship

Provides an award of $1,000 to a San Francisco State student interested in literature based on queer/gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual perspectives. Applications accepted in the Spring semester for award disbursement in the following Fall semester. Requirements: copy of unofficial transcript showing minimum 3.0 GPA; typed statement addressing your interest in literature based on queer/gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual perspectives (please also address financial need); minimum enrollment of 6 units in award semester.

Edward B. Kaufmann Scholarship for Humanities B.A. Students

The Kaufmann Scholarship provides two scholarships for undergraduates pursuing a B.A. degree with a major in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies.

U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international students may apply. Previous recipients of this award are not eligible. Applicants must be enrolled at SF State at least half time (six units) at the time of application and six units at the time of receipt of the award. Applicants must have already completed at least six units toward the Humanities B.A. degree at the time of application and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount of award: $2,000 or more according to need.

Applications are usually due in early November and April.

Edward B. Kaufmann Scholarship for Humanities M.A. Students

The Kaufmann Scholarship provides several scholarships for graduate students pursuing an M.A. degree in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies.

U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international students may apply. Applicants must be enrolled at SF State in at least three units at the time of application and at least three units at the time of receipt of the award. Applicants must have already completed at least six units toward the Humanities M.A. degree by the time of application and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount of award: $2,000 or more according to need.

Applications are usually due in early November and April.

Other Scholarships and Fellowships

For nationally competitive fellowships and California State University (CSU) system-wide awards, see the Fellowships Office website. The Fellowships Office provides feedback on applications to many of the programs listed on its site. To make an appointment, email Dr. Joy Viveros, or call the reception desk to schedule an appointment: (415) 338-2103.

See also the California Pre-Doctoral Program at SF State. These resources will be of special interest to those who intend to pursue a doctorate, a Master of Arts degree, or a career in public service.

Financial Aid

For information on SF State Financial Aid, including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study, please visit the Office of Student Financial Aid.

A number of students in Comparative and World Literature have found that studying in the country whose literature is of special interest is a wonderful opportunity for improving language skills and exploring new cultures. The Office of International Programs offers study abroad programs in over 20 countries throughout the world.

International Programs participants pay SF State tuition and earn resident academic credit at SF State while they pursue full-time study at a host university or special study center abroad. Students must have upper-division or graduate standing at the time of departure.

Contact the Office of International Programs for additional information.

Cross Registration with UC Berkeley, San Francisco City College and other institutions

Any regularly enrolled, full-time, matriculated student at SF State can register in one course for credit per semester at UC Berkeley, after the first semester of attendance. The course must be one which is NOT offered at SF State. Students pay regular SF State enrollment fees. Please see the University bulletin for further details about enrolling at UC Berkeley and other institutions.

Comparative Literature Student Association

Graduate and undergraduate students in Comparative Literature at SF State have formed an active association to promote the study, discussion and enjoyment of world literature. The association regularly sponsors lectures and discussions, featuring the work or work-in-progress of students, faculty and visiting scholars. These programs are open to all interested members of the campus community. The association also publishes an annual journal, Portals.

Visit the Comparative Literature Student Association website.

We are pleased to announce the 2016-2017 CLSA officers:
President: Ashley Kimura
Vice President: Sophie Labaree
Treasurer: Megan Kwong
Managing Editor for Portals: Alessia Mingrone

Interested in joining the Comparative Literature Student Association? Ask to join our Comparative Literature Student Association on Facebook.

The American Comparative Literature Association

The American Comparative Literature Association, founded in 1960, is the principal learned society in the United States for scholars whose work involves several literatures and cultures as well as the premises of cross-cultural literary study itself.

Visit the American Comparative Literature Association website.

The International Comparative Literature Association

The International Literature Association's mission is to foster, through international cooperation, the study of literature undertaken from an international point of view.

Visit the International Comparative Literature Association website.

From The Graduate, UC-Berkeley

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who enters graduate school with a dissertation topic fully formed in your mind, you’re going to need some strategies for making this critical decision.

We talked to students and to staff members at the Counseling Center about how people choose dissertation and thesis topics. Here are some of the answers:

Start With an Open Mind

Strangely enough, the best way to narrow down the choices is to keep your mind open to all the possibilities.

“I think it’s nice to have that sort of freedom…just to be open to taking classes, seeing what people are doing, and not feeling like you always have to think about what the dissertation topic is going to be,” says David Schenker, fourth-year Classics student.

According to JoEllen Green, fourth-year student in English, coursework doesn’t always lead to an easy choice. She says, “Our coursework is meant to be a broad coverage. You do your narrowing down stuff during the last semester of your coursework, in orals preparation.”

Your topic may come out of class discussions, your master’s thesis, reading for orals, or a chance remark overheard on BART. If you aren’t listening, you might miss it.

Leave yourself open for a suggestion from another student or from a professor. Consider all the possibilities; then work from the many to the few, eliminating alternatives until you end up with the best topic for you.

Read in Your Field

You’re probably doing this anyway, but if not, read everything you can find. You’ll not only turn up possible topics, but you’ll also find out what’s already written on those topics. Look for hints that the acknowledged expert in the field is already doing research on your favorite poem or microbe. Otherwise, you might find yourself shut out of a topic in three years.

Reading will show you where you can make an “original contribution.” At the same time, you’ll be compiling your bibliography painlessly.

Talk to Professors

They can steer you away from fatal errors, such as picking a country you can’t get into, or working in a field that’s political suicide for jobseekers.

“I wanted to do research in America, but the professors steered me toward the foreign direction. They said it would be better for my career if I did my dissertation work abroad, and then I could always work later in the States,” says Marcia Inhorn Millar, fourth-year Anthropology student.

A professor may, or course, suggest a topic that you immediately love. If so, you’ll be ahead of the game, because you’ll know you can get faculty support when you need it. Talking to professors will also give you an idea of their personalities. Let’s face it, you need an adviser you can work with. Attend their office hours and find out what they’re interested in, whether they have time for new projects, and whether they seem interested in topics you’re considering. If not, they may suggest an alternative or steer you toward another faculty member.

Talk to Other Students

Don’t worry about someone stealing your ideas. As JoEllen Green puts it, “what’s really interesting is your own reading of the situation, and even if you tell someone your idea they couldn’t do anything with it. In English we have study groups for orals and that’s where you really refine and hone your idea.”

More experienced students can tell you whether a topic you’re considering is feasible; or whether the adviser who champions that field is impossible; or what it was like trying to narrow down the question in a new, uncharted area of research. Listening to their war stories may give you a better idea of how the process works in your department, as well as how to manage your own time for the next several years.

Think About Your Job Experience

If you’ve been out in the world, you may have developed skill and experience in a particular area already. You probably know what burning questions need answers in your own subdiscipline. If you’re in a field placement, your choice of topic may depend on the support you can get.

David Melnick, who received his master’s in Social Welfare last year, says that most Social Welfare students work on thesis research with the agencies they’re placed in for field work. They’ve already chosen one of four specialties when they arrive in the School, and they usually conduct research in that specialty, based on what their agencies want done. The agencies may offer help in the form of ready-made samples, financial assistance, or people to conduct surveys.

Take Another Look Around the Department

Is there a professor with whom you feel especially compatible, who could be your adviser? Investigate his or her special interest and you may come up with a topic. Is the department lounge buzzing with talk about the latest trendy research? Maybe you can find an offshoot of that topic (or maybe you should run in the opposite direction).

Look at the research already going on. Dan Carl, a first-year student in Chemical Engineering, says that “the people in your group are definitely going to be the major source of information. You can see how (their research) was presented, how they handled it, what questions were asked, the broad base.”

“You should do some preliminary sleuthing,” says Millar. “You have to take the initiative and do some investigation of what’s already been written and who can work with you, as well as any possible tactical problems such as special skills you’ll need.”

When Nothing Else Works, Write

At a certain point students may experience the equivalent of writer’s block. They simply cannot make a decision about the thesis or dissertation topic.

Whether the logjam results from fear of failing or fear of finishing, the counselors and students we talked to had some suggestions for moving ahead.

  • Trick Yourself Into Getting Started. JoEllen Green says students in English often have trouble writing the dissertation prospectus because they’ve just finished with orals. She recommends some of the tricks that writing instructors teach: free association, filling out grant applications, and anything that “gets you writing.”

  • Write Your Proposal Out Loud. Robert Mixson suggests talking about your topic if you can’t get yourself to write it up in a proposal. Talking to another student helps you explore the issues; if you tape your conversation, you’ll have a start on the written proposal (after you transcribe the tape, that is).

  • Work on Your Writing Skills. Taking a writing course is another way to get yourself started. Carol Morrison finds that some students reach graduate school without knowing how to organize a thesis. A good composition course will give you the basics and you’ll have to start writing to complete the assignments.

  • Get Feedback From Others. Marcia Millar agrees that writing forces you to focus on your topic. She wrote an initial prospectus and gave it to her committee; their feedback helped her see that her approach was too narrow and she needed to add methodology.

  • Plan for Orals. If your department requires you to defend your topic in qualifying exams, then you have a built-in mechanism for making a decision. Dan Carl likes this method; he says, “it really forces you to devote an inordinate amount of time to planning and thinking and trying to cover all the bases. I don’t think most people do that until they get into a position that is forcing them to do it.”

  • Start with Mechanical Tasks. Getting started on your bibliography can also help you narrow the topic down. You not only find out what’s been written already; according to Robert Mixson, spending time on mechanical tasks can help you feel you’ve accomplished something. It may also spark the idea you’ve been waiting for.

  • Check Your Motives. Carol Morrison suggests taking a look to see whether you’re stuck because of an emotional block. She says, “It’s important to be aware that you could be discarding topic after topic as a way to keep yourself from moving forward.” If you think you might fit this description, a visit to the Counseling Center may do wonders.

  • Last But Not Least. JoEllen Green has one other suggestion for getting off the dime: “Visit your adviser and let her (or him) yell at you.”

Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Topic

  • Is the topic too easy? Will it challenge me to serious research that will be respected as a significant contribution to my field?

  • Is the topic too complicated? Will I be able to finish the research before my funding runs out?

  • Is my topic germane to the theoretical issues my department considers important?

  • Will the topic answer a question that’s currently being debated, or will it add to the general body of knowledge?

  • Do I need financial support and if so, can I get it from department funding or outside agencies?

  • Can I articulate the topic in a way that makes sense for oral exams or for funding proposals?

  • Is there an adviser I can count on and a committee I can work with? Can I combine the pet topic of one professor with the theoretical approach of another to put together a committee?

  • Will I have the resources I need (laboratory, computer, library)?

  • Can I find a sample group and get access to them?

  • Has anyone else recently published on the subject? Is there a body of literature I can use to get started?

  • Will I need to publish it before I graduate? Can I turn it into a book later?

  • Will I need some knowledge I don’t have yet (language, statistics, etc.)?

  • Will I be bored with the topic in five years, or ten, or twenty?

Cross-list Policy

Department of Comparative and World Literature (Adopted 2007)

  1. No more than 70% of the course can be devoted to any one linguistic or ethno-cultural tradition
  2. 80% or more of course materials and/or class days must be devoted to discussing texts (as opposed to other media)
  3. Course instruction must be informed by and seek to expose students to comparative literary methodologies