5. PhD Program in English

5.1 Residence Requirements

For students entering the PhD Program in English, six terms of full-time resident study at McGill University is the requirement for the degree. "Residence" means that the student is enrolled on a full-time basis during this period (the term is not connected with housing or accommodations). This designated period of residence represents the minimum time requirements in order to obtain the degree. There is no guarantee that the work for the degree can be completed in this time. Students may register for additional terms to complete the Program (see Time Limitations). The Department may permit PhD students to register for a term in the summer to fulfill part of the residence requirements.

5.1.1 General Description


Students who are, in exceptional circumstances, admitted into the PhD program directly from a BA program enter PhD1. In this phase students take Bibliography and Research Methods (ENGL 694) plus 5 other seminars. At the end of the first year, PhD1 students are evaluated by the Graduate Administration Committee (GAC) for satisfactory progress before being promoted to PhD2. In determining satisfactory progress, the GAC will consider GPA (minimum 3.5), and any other relevant information. A student whose performance has indicated difficulty in successfully completing PhD1 will be asked to transfer into the MA program. Students who continue in PhD1 but wish at the same time to complete the MA may use the summer to do so.


Students who enter the program with an MA degree in English or the equivalent are admitted directly into PhD2. In PhD2 students complete the compulsory Departmental proseminar and take four other seminars. Students may also apply to the Graduate Director to substitute one 40-page Optional Research Project (ENGL 796W) for the two second-semester seminars. The proposal for such a project must be submitted by 1 December, and the written part of the project no later than 15 April. (See 5.2 and 5.4 to 5.6 below.) At the end of the first year, the student's progress is reviewed by the GAC to make sure that they are ready to proceed in the program.


In the fall and winter terms of PhD3, students complete the 40-page Compulsory Research Project (ENGL 797F/W). The Project proposal should be submitted to the Department by 1 May of PhD2; the project itself is submitted before 1 March of PhD3, and examined by 15 April. (See 5.4 - 5.6 below.)

In the summer of PhD3 students prepare the dissertation proposal (ENGL 798F/W) which they submit by 1 September. At that time GAC considers the candidate's dissertation proposal and reviews the candidate's dossier. If satisfied, the GAC declares the candidate ready to begin the dissertation. Thus, the beginning of PhD4 usually marks the beginning of dissertation work.


This and any subsequent years are devoted to the dissertation.

5.2 The Proseminar

In PhD2 all students are required to take two PhD Proseminars (ENGL 787F and ENGL 788W).

The fall seminar concentrates on some of the current issues in critical theory. In the second semester, more practical issues related to the profession are discussed. Invited faculty members talk about their research, as well as more general methodological, pedagogical and professional concerns. Students also present versions of their proposal for the compulsory research project, which must be submitted by the end of the course.

5.3 Distribution of Courses

Students entering the program in PhD1 (Accelerated PhD) take Bibliography and Research Methods (ENGL-694) plus five seminars in their first year. They may take up to two 500-level courses in their first year, but all other courses must be at the 600 and 700 level. Beginning with their second year, their requirements are the same as those of students entering the doctoral program in PhD2.

Students entering the program in PhD2 take four seminars in addition to the two Proseminars in their first year. An optional research project may be substituted for two of the seminars.

All PhD students should have a primary and a secondary area of concentration, to be determined in consultation with their advisor. Students entering in PhD2 may count course work done at the MA level toward their areas of concentration. However, at least two courses taken at McGill must apply to the primary concentration, and at least one course taken at McGill must apply to the secondary concentration. Students entering in PhD1 should organize their courses as follows:

  • 3 courses to be chosen in a given area to create a primary concentration.
    (For students doing a project in Year Two, such a concentration could be achieved, if desired, by 2 courses plus one project.)
  • 2 courses to be chosen in a given area to create a secondary concentration.
    (For students doing a project in Year Two, such a concentration could be achieved, if desired, by 1 course plus one project.)
  • 4 courses to be chosen in areas freely selected by the student.
    (For students doing a project in the second term of PhD2, there would only remain 3 courses to be so selected.)



PHASE I (Accelerated PhD)

PhD1 registration


ENGL 694 Bibliography Seminar


ENGL- Seminar 1


ENGL-Seminar 2





PhD1 registration


ENGL- Seminar 3


ENGL- Seminar 4


ENGL- Seminar 5





PHASE II (Accelerated PhD continues; Regular PhD begins)

PhD2 registration


ENGL 787F Research Seminar I (Proseminar)


ENGL-2 Seminars





PhD2 registration


ENGL 788W Research Seminar II (Proseminar)


ENGL-2 Seminars Or one research project 796F/W)





PhD3 registration


ENGL 797F/W Compulsory Research Project





PhD3 registration  
ENGL 798F/W Dissertation Proposal  3
Language Requirement  



PhD4 registration


Review of candidate's dissertation proposal and dossier  
PhD thesis preparation  


5.4 Research Projects

There are two kinds of research project in the PhD: Optional and Compulsory. Each research project involves a well-defined original research topic carried out in a wider context of pertinent readings. It is the equivalent of two graduate courses, and is supervised by a research director with whom the student works closely. It normally results in a written essay, and the student's command of the essay and its contextual material is evaluated in an oral examination by a committee consisting of the project supervisor and two other staff members.

Every PhD student must complete the 40-page Compulsory Research Project. It is designed to lead into the dissertation, normally as a preliminary investigation of the area of specialization or relevant background material. It is analogous to field exams set by other universities, and, in the oral exam, the student is expected to demonstrate a knowledge of the broader field related to the argument and indicated by the preliminary bibliography. For this reason, the candidate should establish a comprehensive list with the advice of the supervisor. It is completed in the winter term of PhD3.

A 40-page Optional Research Project may be taken in the second term of PhD2 in place of two courses. It must have a suitably broad scope, satisfy the coverage requirement, and also fit in with the student's program of study as a whole. It must not duplicate the material or approach of the compulsory project. Students wishing to undertake the optional project must consult first with the Graduate Director. The proposal must be submitted by 1 December (see 5.1) and the project completed by 30 April. If it is not completed within that time, the student will be asked to withdraw from the Optional Research Project and substitute two seminar courses. The Optional Research Project is examined by committee and assigned a grade.

5.5 PhD Dissertation Advisory Committees

After the CRP and before thesis proposal submission, the doctoral student consults with the thesis supervisor about assembling a dissertation advisory committee. Committees consist of a supervisor as chair plus two other members, one of whom could be from outside the Department or even, when necessary, outside the University. Once the student and supervisor agree on a plan, the student approaches, or has the supervisor approach, prospective committee members.

NOTE: Dissertation advisory committees remain optional for all students who arrived in Fall 2011 or before. Students who fall into this category are nonetheless encouraged to form committees. To do so, they would 1) consult with their supervisors; 2) approach, or have their supervisors approach, prospective committee members; 3) have everyone sign a form that will be created for this purpose; and 4) submit the form to the Director of Graduate Studies. Students arriving in Fall 2012 or later will all have dissertation advisory committees.

The committee officially comes into existence as part of the process of submitting the dissertation proposal, which committee members read and sign. After this, the committee will hold annual meetings to sign tracking forms and negotiate a schedule for the upcoming year, including expected exchanges with individual committee members. Non-supervisors on the committee serve an advisory function. There is no expectation that all committee members will read drafts of all chapters of the thesis, but typically each committee member will read drafts or advise on some appropriate sections of the project. Supervisors remain responsible for overseeing the entire project and read drafts of every chapter. They help the student navigate differing views that may arise about the project.

All members of the dissertation advisory committee typically serve on the examination committee for the oral defense. One of the non-supervisors serves as the McGill Examiner and writes the report as required by GPS. Committee members are disqualified from serving as the McGill Examiner only in the case of the following serious conflicts of interest:

  1. The student is a close family member, past or present spouse or partner, or past or present business partner.  
  2. The student has established specific prospects, contingent upon the PhD, with this professor as a future supervisor or employer.  
  3. The student has co-authored work with this professor.

A committee member’s having already provided feedback on portions of the dissertation does not constitute a conflict of interest for the purpose of serving as the McGill Examiner (unlike in the case of an external examiner).

5.6 The Project Proposal

In consultation with a supervisor, the student will prepare a project proposal and submit it to the Graduate Administration Committee for approval.

In the project proposal the area of concentration should be clearly defined and presented. The range and scope of the project should be explicitly stated. The hypothesis to be proven, or the thesis to be argued, should be prominently put forth, and the consequent methodology should be identified. Finally, an up-to-date bibliography, presented according to the standard MLA format, should be appended (further suggestions are contained in the departmental guidelines for proposals).

It is understood that many of the elements in a project may change from its proposed form in the course of its execution. Such changes are natural and taken for granted; only in the case of a major and radical change need a new project proposal be presented.

A number of project proposals are kept on file in the Graduate Office for consultation.
For further information, please consult the Guidelines for PhD & MA Project Proposals document.

5.7 Project Examinations

Projects are examined by the supervisor and two other faculty members, at least one of whom has some expertise in the area of the project.

When the supervisor and student agree that the project is ready to be submitted for examination, copies of the project are sent to the two other committee members. Any member who believes that the project is not ready for examination must convey this opinion in writing to the supervisor within a week of receiving the project. If, within that week, a majority of the exam committee members (i.e., at least two members of the three-person committee) agree that the project is ready to be examined, then the supervisor will schedule the preliminary meeting. A member's failure to express reservations about the project's readiness constitutes, by default, agreement that the exam should proceed. If two committee members judge that the project is not ready for examination, the supervisor will convene a special meeting of the committee with the student. At this meeting, members will clearly identify those features of the student's work that they believe to be unsatisfactory. If only one exam committee member judges that the project is not ready, then these reservations can be presented during the preliminary meeting as areas for further reading and/or for questioning and discussion during the exam.

The purpose of the preliminary meeting is to establish the range, scope, and date of the examination.  Committee members will indicate what kinds of questions will be appropriate and make any other decisions related to the form of the examination. They may wish to ask the student to expand the bibliography slightly. At this time, the student will articulate their own preferences regarding the form of the examination. A date for the examination will be set, normally no earlier than two weeks hence. When the preliminary meeting has been completed, the supervisor will submit a “Report on Preliminary Meeting” form to the Graduate Program Office, stating the areas for questioning, describing any additional readings that have been agreed upon, and recording the exam date.  

During the Project Examination, committee members may question the candidate on any relevant aspect of the project. The committee then agrees on a final mark. For Compulsory Projects the marks are Pass, Fail, or Delay until additional work is completed. For Optional Projects a letter grade will be assigned: A to B- are passing marks. At the conclusion of the project examination, the candidate is then informed of the result of the examination and a “Report on Examination” form is submitted to the Graduate Program Office.

5.8 The Departmental Colloquium

Early in the winter term of the PhD3 year, students will give a twenty-minute summary of their compulsory research project to an audience consisting of staff members in the Department and other students in the program. After each presentation there will be a brief discussion. Not only does the colloquium offer students an opportunity to present their research in a public form and receive feedback on it, but it also provides information to the Department about the kinds of research that are currently of interest to graduate students.

5.9 The Language Requirement

Doctoral students are expected to show reading competence in one foreign language. Scholarship requires reading primary and critical texts in languages other than English. The language chosen to fulfil the departmental requirement should have a specific connection to the student's research and dissertation topic.

There are two ways to satisfy the language requirement.

First, the student may complete two years of study at the university level (12 McGill credits or their equivalent) in the chosen language, to at least the intermediate, if not advanced, level. A minimum pass of B is required for all courses. The student may have some language training as an undergraduate; those undergraduate credits can be combined with further courses at McGill to achieve a minimum of 12 credits or their equivalent. No exemptions or exceptions to this rule are allowed. For instance, 6 credits or 9 credits are not sufficient to fulfil the language requirement. The student must demonstrate currency: the language credits should be relatively recent to justify the student's competence. If the student has enough credits, he or she should notify the Graduate Program Director. The proof of satisfying the language requirement through course work will be verified through transcripts.

Second, students may opt to satisfy the requirement by passing a translation examination administered by the English Department. The examination lasts no more than three hours. During that time, students are expected to translate 2000 words of non-fiction prose. Examinations in ancient Greek and Latin are, exceptionally, 1000 words long. The English translation should demonstrate that the candidate has a highly reliable reading knowledge of the foreign language. Accurate and idiomatic representation of the original language will be the main criteria for the translation; the English version will not be evaluated for its stylistic or literary qualities. No matter what the language being translated, the student may use a bilingual dictionary during the examination. If the student does not pass the examination, the student may attempt it again. There is no penalty for not passing or for taking the examination more than once. No other translation examination may be subsituted for the departmental examination. For example, an examination taken at another institution in fulfillment of another degree, such as an MA, does not fulfil the requirement at McGill. Language examinations will take place at three times each year: 15 September, 15 December, and 15 April. Students should notify the Language Exam Administrator at least three weeks in advance of their intention to sit the examination, so that suitable arrangements can be made. The Language Exam Administrator is Professor Tabitha Sparks. Once the student has passed the exam, the Language Exam Administrator notifies the Director of Graduate Studies.

When the language requirement has been fulfilled by one of the two acceptable means, the Director of Graduate Studies processes a form to GPSO. The student's transcript will reflect that the requirement has been fulfilled.

The foreign language requirement must be passed before the submission of the dissertation proposal; the GAC will not review dissertation proposals until the language requirement has been fulfilled.

5.10 The Dissertation Proposal and The Dissertation

With the successful completion of the compulsory project, the student is ready to enter Phase III, consisting of the preparation and the defense of the dissertation.

The supervisor of the compulsory project in the area of the dissertation normally, but not always, becomes the thesis supervisor.

The dissertation proposal is submitted for approval to the Graduate Administration Committee. The proposal itself is not much different from an MA thesis proposal, or a project proposal, except in scope, range, and originality. As a proposal it should answer the same kinds of questions concerning its area of study, the particular thesis it wishes to present, the methodology it is adopting. An exhaustive bibliography should be appended. It is extremely useful to have a chapter-by-chapter outline of the dissertation itself, indicating quite specifically how the argument is to develop. The proposal, should follow accepted scholarly standards of presentation and documentation as set forth in The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, revised edition (1999). Further guidelines and examples of dissertation proposals are kept on file in the Graduate Office, and may be consulted by students.

In September of PhD4, the Graduate Administration Committee considers the candidate's dissertation proposal, reviews the candidate's dossier, and if satisfied declares the candidate ready to begin the dissertation stage. Thus, the beginning of PhD4 usually marks the beginning of the dissertation work.

Upon completion of the dissertation, the supervisor will propose to the Director of the Program the names of three experts in the field, outside the University, who may serve as external examiners. The Director will contact the student to make sure she/he has no objections to the names proposed. The appointment of the examiners and communication with them is the responsibility of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Coordinator. Under no circumstances should any examiner contact the external examiner.

When the Supervisor has decided that a dissertation is ready to be examined, the dissertation is submitted to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office. The dissertation must be passed by both the external and the internal examiner in order to proceed to an oral examination. Guidelines concerning thesis preparation should be obtained from the Graduate Coordinator in Arts 155B or online: Guidelines for PhD & MA Project Proposals.

The thesis for the PhD degree must display original scholarship expressed in good literate style and must be a distinct contribution to knowledge. The oral examination is chaired by a Pro-Dean, representing the Dean of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office. Other members of the PhD Oral Committee are the Chair of the Department or the Chair's Deputy (normally the Graduate Program Director), the supervisor of the dissertation, two members of the department and one member from a Department not that of the candidate. The oral examination is usually introduced by a 10 or 15 minute statement from the student, followed by questioning from the committee members, after which the committee in camera decides on a grade, which covers not only the dissertation, but the defense of it, as well as the student's overall career as a graduate student at McGill.

More detailed regulations concerning PhD dissertations are available from the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office.

5.11 Sessional Teaching

When the Department has sessional teaching openings, recent PhD's and PhD students nearing completion of their degrees are considered for such posts. The following considerations will normally apply:

1. Strength in the area to be taught

2. Nearness to completion of degree

3. A history of steady progress in completing work in the program

4. Record of previous teaching

5. Financial need

PhD graduates and students wishing to be considered for such positions are asked to write a letter of application to the Chair and fill out a form available from the Chair's Secretary. It is the student's responsibility to keep the application up to date.