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A Versatile Ph.D. in Comparative Literature

The Challenge

The academic job market is changing rapidly for humanities Ph.D.s. What can we do to promote a versatile doctoral program that combines multilingual, interdisciplinary, and theoretical training in comparative literature with practical experiences in local and global engagement, and prepares our graduate students for diverse career paths?

Our Approach

The Department of Comparative Literature has launched three related initiatives, to help our students integrate professional interests and activities into their academic program of study.

Graduate Certificate in Critical Translation Studies

We introduced a new certificate program for graduate students to explore translation

  1. as a critical concept and a wide range of historical practices, underlying the production and dissemination of knowledge across disciplines, both within and beyond the humanities, and
  2. as a vital skill for professional development of graduate students, indispensable to the future of community and communities, academic and beyond.

The certificate includes a flexible 3-credit capstone project that may take the form of a literary translation, scholarly research, pedagogical development, editorial experience, community engagement, internship, or other activities exploring translation as a critical and creative concept.

Comparative Literature Internship Fellowships

We are piloting a departmental program that offers a stipend for working in a part-time internship for one semester. Students may earn academic credit by connecting their internships to mini-courses, and they have the flexibility to propose internships as capstone projects in graduate certificate programs.

Absinthe: World Literature in Translation

Our department assumed editorial leadership of Absinthe, an international journal dedicated to literary translation. Edited by graduate students and supervised by U-M faculty, the journal provides experience and marketable skills in translation, editing, and publishing.

What We’ve Learned

Four students in comparative literature have made good use of our internship fellowships:

Meg Berkobien

Meg Berkobien worked with 826michigan, a non-profit writing center based in Ann Arbor and Detroit that coordinates adult volunteers to work with school-aged students. As the In-Residence Intern at Estabrook Elementary and Middle School in Ypsilanti, she developed writing programs for ELL students focused on translation and publication. At Ypsilanti Community High School she conducted a series of workshops on writing in two languages, and published student stories in Carrying Ourselves Across: The Art of Self-Translation. Reflecting on this experience, Meg comments “it helped me develop my teaching range, and I feel confident that I can now develop workshops for students from third to twelfth grade.”

David Martin

David Martin translated Spanish documents for asylum cases, in collaboration with the U-M Language Resource Center, the Immigrant Justice Lab, and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. He also participated in translating the journalism of a Knights-Wallace Journalism Fellow whose asylum case has been featured in the national news. David considers this experience “of direct relevance to my doctoral research project, as I am interested in the ethical questions surrounding migration, globalization, nationalism, borders, and capital.”

Lis Fertig

Lis Fertig interned for three weeks at KMRD RADIO, a small-town community radio station in New Mexico. The internship brought together her interests in broadcasting, poetry, and public scholarship, and led her to develop a reading list on “Radiopoetics” for her preliminary exam. “I really began to see radio as a creative medium, and to become fascinated by its potential as a thinking space and a teaching tool,” Lis comments. “Since my experience at KMRD, I’ve begun to use podcasts in the classroom as a way to teach rhetorical strategy—having students listen to and analyze published podcasts, and finally produce a short audio narrative of their own.”

Graham Liddell

Graham Liddell interned with NGO Lighthouse Relief to assist asylum seekers in Greece. He worked in the Youth Engagement Space of Ritsona refugee camp and is helping to edit the Ritsona Kingdom Journal, a collection of creative writing and art produced by Ritsona residents. He also worked with Lighthouse’s Emergency Response Team on the island of Lesbos, where he used his Persian language skills to translate for refugees arriving from Afghanistan. As preliminary fieldwork for his doctoral research on refugee narratives, the internship was “an invaluable learning experience that will inform my dissertation in the years to come,” Graham reports. “It gave me an up-close look at the inner workings of NGOs and international organizations, enriching my academic work and potentially expanding my career prospects.”


Our graduate students have collaborated with MPublishing to produce five issues of Absinthe, in print and online. To launch new issues, our department sponsors an annual reading of translations, and we have supported student editors to travel to the AWP conference (Association of Writers & Writing Programs). The journal has created opportunities for graduate student editors to expand their connections within and beyond the university, and to serve as mentors for Absinthe undergraduate internships.

Next Steps

More Opportunities for Professional Development

Our next step is to offer a full semester of funding in fall or winter terms, equivalent to a GSI appointment, for students to propose their own internship or to participate in one of our department’s various translation initiatives. These opportunities make practical experience integral to students’ graduate training, and diversify their professional development in addition to teaching experience as a GSI.

Rackham Pilot Internship Program

As part of Rackham’s Early Mover Initiative, our department will participate in a Rackham pilot internship program. Rackham will contribute to funding our expanded Comparative Literature Internship Fellowship for a full semester to two students over the next two years.

Mellon Sawyer Seminars

With a two-year grant from the Mellon Foundation, our department will be able to fund Graduate Student Fellows to participate in a Sawyer Seminar Series coordinated by the Department of Comparative Literature, on “Sites of Translation in the Multilingual Midwest.” Graduate Fellows will contribute to the development of new research and teaching around this topic at the University of Michigan, and get involved in outreach to other Midwestern universities and communities.


Department of Comparative Literature


Yopie Prins, Chair, Department of Comparative Literature


To learn more visit the Graduate Certificate in Critical Translation Studies page.