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PhD Program

1.1 PhD requirements and timeline

1.2 Evaluation guidelines

1.2.1 The Evaluation paper

1.2.2 The Evaluation process

1.3 Academic advising and supervision


1.1 PhD requirements and timeline[1]

The official up-to-date requirements of the PhD program are posted on McGill’s website under Programs, Courses and University Regulations (http://www.mcgill.ca/study/2012-2013/faculties/arts).

There are two streams in the program (Theoretical and Experimental). In the following, we outline the requirements of each stream on a year-by-year basis.

A. THEORY STREAM

A.1. Required courses

LING 631

Phonology 3

Year 1

LING 660

Semantics 3*

Year 1

LING 671

Syntax 3

Year 1

LING 635

Phonology 4

Year 1

LING 665

Semantics 4

Year 1

LING 675

Syntax 4

Year 1

 

LING 619

Experimental Linguistics: Foundations

(Normally) Year 2

*Note: LING 660 (Semantics 3) has PHIL 210 (Introduction to Deductive Logic) as a prerequisite. Students with insufficient background in logic must take this course simultaneous with LING 660.

A.2 Complementary courses (normally taken in Year 2)

 A.2.1. One course (3 credits) from the following list:

LING 520

Sociolinguistics 2

LING 650

Testing Theories in the Laboratory

LING 521

Dialectology

LING 651

Topics in Acquisition of Phonology

LING 530

Acoustic Phonetics

LING 655

Theory of L2 Acquisition

LING 555

Language Acquisition 2

LING 751

Advanced Seminar: Experimental 1

LING 590

Language Acquisition and Breakdown

LING 752 

Advanced Seminar: Experimental 2

LING 620

Experimental Linguistics: Methods

 

A.2.2. Two additional courses (6 credits) at the 500, 600, or 700 level, at least one course in the student’s intended research area. (Students intending to specialize in semantics must take LING 661: Advanced Formal Methods.)

B. EXPERIMENTAL STREAM

B.1 Required courses

LING 631

Phonology 3

Year 1

LING 660

Semantics 3*

Year 1

LING 671

Syntax 3

Year 1

LING 619

Experimental Linguistics: Foundations

(Normally) Year 1

Two of the following courses:

LING 530

Acoustic Phonetics

Year 1

LING 635

Phonology 4

Year 1

LING 665

Semantics 4

Year 1

LING 675

Syntax 4

Year 1

Plus:

LING 620

Experimental Linguistics: Methods

(Normally) Year 2

B.2. Complementary courses (normally taken in Year 2)

B.2.1 One course (3 credits) from the following list:

LING 520

Sociolinguistics 2

LING 650

Testing Theories in the Laboratory

LING 521

Dialectology

LING 651

Topics in Acquisition of Phonology

LING 530

Acoustic Phonetics

LING 655

Theory of L2 Acquisition

LING 555

Language Acquisition 2

LING 751

Advanced Seminar: Experimental 1

LING 590

Language Acquisition and Breakdown

LING 752 

Advanced Seminar: Experimental 2

B.2.2. Two additional courses (6 credits) at the 500, 600, or 700 level, at least one course in the student’s intended research area. (Students intending to specialize in semantics must take LING 661: Advanced Formal Methods.)

PhD Evaluations (Years 2 and 3) (Both Streams)

LING 601

Graduate Research Seminar 1

Year 2 (Fall)

LING 602

Graduate Research Seminar 2

Year 2 (Winter)

LING 706

PhD Evaluation 1

Year 2 (Winter)

LING 707

PhD Evaluation 2

Year 3 (Fall)

The PhD Evaluation consists of two parts — Evaluation 1 (LING 706) and Evaluation 2 (LING 707) — each focusing on a different sub-field, chosen from the following areas: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, acquisition, computational linguistics, dialectology, neurolinguistics, processing, sociolinguistics. For each Evaluation, candidates will prepare a paper, which presents original research, suitable for presentation at a conference and/or for publication.[2] Successful completion of Evaluations 1 and 2 is a prerequisite to further supervised research for the doctoral dissertation. The requirement that each Evaluation paper focus on a different sub-field is motivated by the need to give students sufficient breadth in their education. If there are concerns about whether the topic of Evaluation paper 1 overlaps too much with the topic of Evaluation 2, the issue should be addressed with the student’s supervisor.

Timeline and deadlines

Year 1

May 15:

Constitution of committee for Evaluation 1

Year 2 

April 15:

Submission of Evaluation 1

May 15:

Constitution of committee for Evaluation 2

Year 3 

Dec 15

Submission of Evaluation 2

Two months after completion of Evaluation 2

Constitution of dissertation committee

Five months after completion of Evaluation 2

Submission of dissertation proposal

Year 4 

Thesis research and writing

Year 5 

Thesis research and writing

(The final draft of dissertations to be officially deposited by the end of August should be finished by the end of April.)

Failure to meet an Evaluation paper submission deadline may result in a failure for the Evaluation.

We strongly encourage candidates to complete the PhD within 4 or 5 years. Absolute deadline: PhD theses must be deposited no later than the end of PhD7.[3][4]

Language Acquisition Program (LAP) option 

PhD students in the interdisciplinary PhD Language Acquisition Program option must meet the above requirements (and some additional ones). For information, see http://ego.psych.mcgill.ca/lap.html and McGill’s website for Programs, Courses and University Regulations (http://www.mcgill.ca/study/2012-2013/faculties/arts).

1.2 Evaluation guidelines

1.2.1 The Evaluation paper

An Evaluation paper is intended to be a product of independent research and analysis. It deals with a topic of significant scholarly interest as determined by the standards in the subdiscipline. It develops an analysis of this topic that centers upon a plausible hypothesis and offers substantial evidence for this hypothesis. It defends the proposed analysis against other potential or already existing ones on conceptual and/or empirical grounds. Of course, while these skills also figure in the writing of term papers, the emphasis here is on the depth and breadth of scholarship and strength of argument and evidence. Thus, for example, an Evaluation paper will be deemed unacceptable if it consists of an analysis already proposed in the literature, even if it has arrived at this analysis independently, or if it does not demonstrate sufficient facility with the range of evidence normally employed in the treatment of some linguistic phenomenon, or if it deals solely with collection and organization of data. The paper should be suitable for publication, allowing for normal revisions.

Length and format 

The length of an Evaluation paper should be similar to that of a typical journal article in the relevant subdiscipline. Length is therefore expected to vary in accordance with the subject matter. A useful guideline is an upper limit of 10,000 words, excluding references and appendices. The font size must not be smaller than 12 point. The paper should be double-spaced, with one-inch margins, and include a list of the references cited in the text. An abstract should be included. 

Content of the paper

Knowledge of the literature: 

In general, the student must show knowledge of the relevant theory and data. In particular, he or she must demonstrate knowledge of past and present work, empirical and theoretical, pertaining to the topic of the paper. All theoretical claims made in the Evaluation paper must be accurate and up-to-date. 

Argumentation: 

The essence of empirical theoretical studies is to investigate the truth or falsity of hypotheses with respect to a range of data, formulated in terms of a pertinent theory. Hence, the paper must delineate the hypothesis, theoretical assumptions, and empirical facts. Each of these aspects of the paper must be clearly and accurately presented. More specifically, the theory underlying the assumptions and guiding the hypothesis should be current and accurate. The data should be well organized. It is also important to make the link between the theory and hypothesis, on the one hand, and the data, on the other. Specifically, it must be shown how the data support the hypothesis. 

Evidence: 

Linguistics is an empirical discipline. The student must therefore demonstrate an ability to marshal data relevant to his or her analysis, ensuring both the (reasonable) accuracy of these data (the appropriate means for doing so varying from paper to paper, and thus best determined in consultation with the student’s committee), and a close relationship between the data and associated theoretical statements. This does not exclude the possibility that the primary focus of a paper might be the elaboration of theory.

Contribution of the student:

The paper must make an original contribution. This may be done in a variety of ways, including the presentation of new data and an appropriate analysis of these data, or a proposed modification of current theory with the evidence and arguments that justify the modification. The student must explicitly indicate what (s)he considers to be original and be prepared to defend the claim to originality at the defense.

Intelligibility of the paper:

Since the paper is part of an examination process, it must be intelligible to all members of the Evaluation committee. In addition, because the paper is expected to be of publishable quality, it must be written so that it is readily intelligible to potential peer reviewers.

Organization and style of presentation:

The paper must be neat, readable, and well-organized. Formatting requirements of articles in the relevant professional journals should be adopted. Students should follow a recognized style sheet in preparing their paper.

1.2.2 The Evaluation process 

There are three stages in the successful completion of an Evaluation paper: (a) selection and approval of a topic; (b) research and writing of the Evaluation paper; (c) the committee’s approval of the paper.

Selection and approval of topic

After the committee is formed (see below), the committee must meet with the student and establish a timeline for the submission of a topic. The topic must be developed in a timely manner. Evaluation research cannot proceed until the topic has been approved.  Committee members indicate their approval of the topic by signing a proposal submitted by the student. This proposal must be filed with the Graduate Program Director and becomes part of the student’s official record. 

Research and writing of the Evaluation paper

The Evaluation committee must provide active supervision. The student is therefore expected to consult with members of the committee during the research and writing of the paper. All members of the committee are expected to read and comment on drafts of the paper. Students must allow for a reasonable period of time to receive comments on a draft before the deadline for submitting the final version of the paper. The final version must be submitted to the committee by the established deadline (see section 1.1). 

Defense of the Evaluation paper
No later than two weeks after the submission of the Evaluation paper, the committee must meet formally with the student to decide on the acceptability of the paper. The student will be expected to answer questions about the content of the paper (i.e. at a closed defense).  The committee may decide: 

(a) To pass the paper.

(b) To award the paper a conditional pass, specifying the revisions that have to be made. In this case, the supervisor is responsible for overseeing the revisions. Students will be given up to 4 weeks after the date of the defense to complete and submit these revisions.

(c) To fail the paper.

If the paper is failed, the student is judged to have failed the Evaluation. 

The chair of the Evaluation committee will write a letter to the student (with a copy to the Graduate Program Director and Student Affairs Coordinator), recording the outcome of the Evaluation process. The letter will evaluate the quality of the paper and the oral defense and will make suggestions for future research. This letter becomes part of the student’s official record.

Public presentation

After an Evaluation paper has been passed by the Evaluation committee, the Graduate Program Director arranges for the presentation of the paper to the Department. After the presentation, a passing grade for the Evaluation will be recorded on the student’s transcript.

Consequences of missing a deadline

A student who misses an Evaluation paper submission deadline may petition the Department (in a letter to the Graduate Program Director) to be given additional time to complete the paper. If permission is granted, the Department will set a new deadline. Failure to petition before the deadline or denial of petition results in a failure for the Evaluation.

Consequences of failure 

A student who fails an Evaluation may petition the Department (in a letter to the Graduate Program Director) to be given another opportunity to complete it. If permission is denied, the student must withdraw from the PhD program. If permission is granted, the student has four months to submit a new or substantially revised Evaluation paper. 
A student is permitted no more than one failure in the two Evaluation processes. (In other words, there can be only one petition to the Department to resubmit. If a student fails Evaluation 1 and passes it after a resubmission and then fails Evaluation 2, a second resubmission will not be permitted.)

1.3 Academic advising and supervision

Stage 1: Designated academic adviser

On arrival, each PhD student is assigned to a designated academic adviser (first year adviser). Assignments will be determined weighing areas of expertise, workload and other factors such as sabbatical schedules. There is no commitment on the part of the student or the adviser for this relationship to continue into or beyond the PhD Evaluation stage.

The designated adviser is responsible for:

  • Guiding the student through the fellowship applications process (where applicable). This includes reading students’ proposals with sufficient lead-time to make comments for revision before submission deadlines.
  • Being accessible to the student for a reasonable amount of time to discuss issues related to academic progress (i.e, outside of those purely administrative areas which fall under the mantle of the Graduate Program Director).

The designated adviser should also remind PhD students in the second term of Year 1 about the need to find a topic for their first Evaluation.

Stage 2: Evaluation committees

An Evaluation committee shall consist of two or three members. Each committee must contain two specialists. (Where there is only one person working in a particular specialization, the second specialist should be someone with sufficient working knowledge of some aspect of the proposed research to be able to assist in the direction of the content.) One of the specialists may function as the designated supervisor, or two specialists may function as co-supervisors. The department encourages co-supervision. One of the committee members, normally the supervisor or one of the co-supervisors, shall function as the chair. In exceptional circumstances, there can be one committee member that is not currently tenure-stream faculty in the Department of Linguistics. Requests to add such a member will be discussed and approved by the department on a case-by-case basis.

The students must consult with the Graduate Program Director to constitute Evaluation committees by the established deadlines (see section 1.1). Prospective committee members must be consulted and must agree to serve. In order to determine the most appropriate committee membership, students are strongly encouraged to draft a brief preliminary proposal and to discuss it with potential supervisors/committee members.

Once the committee has been established, students must fill out the Evaluation Paper Committee Form (available under Forms at http://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/graduate). Changes to committees must be approved by the Graduate Program Director.[6]

The Evaluation committee must approve the research topic.[7],[8] The committee provides active supervision during the research and writing process. The student and committee members must therefore meet regularly. All members of the committee are expected to read and comment on drafts of the paper. The role of the specialists is to evaluate the integrity of the paper with respect to the content of the proposal and the accepted standards in the field. The committee must also ensure that the student can present the issues to a non-specialist linguistic audience and understand the broader implications of the work. However, it is not required that these latter goals be met in the written version. 

The student and the committee must meet occasionally to evaluate the student’s progress and to resolve any differences of opinion between the student and the committee, should they arise. It is the responsibility of the designated supervisor to ensure that any concerns of the committee are considered and addressed by the student in the final version

The committee must meet formally to decide on the acceptability of the written version of the paper. (See section 1.2 Evaluation guidelines.)

At each stage of deliberation, the decision of the committee is by consensus. If the committee is unable to reach a consensus, the Graduate Program Director or the Chair will be invited to intervene and make a decision in the best interests of the student and the Department.

There is no commitment on the part of the student or members of either committee for their relationship to continue beyond the Evaluation stage.

Stage 3:  Dissertation committee

A dissertation committee shall consist of at least three members, including at least two specialists. (In the case where there is only one person working in a particular specialization, the second specialist should be someone with sufficient working knowledge of some aspect of the proposed research to be able to assist in the direction of the content.) One of the specialists functions as the designated supervisor or two specialists function as co-supervisors. As with the evaluation papers, the department encourages co-supervision of theses. In exceptional circumstances, there can be one committee member that is not currently tenure-stream faculty in the Department of Linguistics. Requests to add such a member will be discussed and approved by the department on a case-by-case basis. One of the committee members, normally the supervisor or one of the co-supervisors, shall function as the chair.

The dissertation committee is constituted by the student in consultation with the Graduate Program Director. Prospective committee members must be consulted by the student and must agree to serve.  In order to determine the most appropriate committee membership, students are strongly encouraged to draft a brief preliminary proposal and to discuss it with potential supervisors/committee members. Once the committee has been established, students must fill out the Doctoral Thesis Committee Form (available under Forms at http://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/graduate).

Before thesis research can proceed, the student must submit a thesis proposal by the established deadline (see section 1.1) and the dissertation committee must approve it.[9] Committee members indicate their approval of the topic by signing the proposal. The proposal must then be filed with the Graduate Program Director and becomes part of the student’s official record.

The committee provides active supervision during the research and writing phases. The student must therefore consult regularly with all members. All members of the committee are expected to read and comment on drafts of the dissertation. The role of the specialists is to evaluate the integrity of the dissertation with respect to the content of the proposal and the accepted standards in the field.

The committee must meet occasionally to evaluate the student’s progress and to try to resolve any differences of opinion. It is the responsibility of the designated supervisor to ensure that any concerns of the committee are considered and addressed by the student.

Before the thesis is officially deposited, the committee must meet with the student to approve the final draft. The committee must meet within one month of receiving the final draft from the student. At this meeting, the student will be expected to defend the thesis. If the committee does not approve the draft, within two weeks of the meeting it must specify in writing what changes are required before submission. 

(Students hoping to officially deposit the thesis before the end of August should be prepared to submit the final draft to their committee by the end of April, in order to allow enough time for the committee to meet and for any revisions to be made.) At each stage of deliberation, the decision of the committee is by consensus. If the committee is unable to reach a consensus, the Graduate Program Director or the Chair will be invited to intervene and make a decision in the best interests of the student and the Department.

Comments on students’ work

Supervisors and committee members must provide students with comments on their work in a timely manner. In the case of Evaluation or thesis proposals, students may ordinarily expect feedback within 1-2 weeks of submission. In the case of Evaluation papers or thesis chapters, comments should normally be provided within 2-3 weeks of submission.


[1] Students with a BA or MA which is not in Linguistics enter PhD1; students with an MA in Linguistics enter PhD2. In this document, ‘Year n’ refers to the nth academic year a PhD student has been enrolled in the PhD program, regardless of whether the student started out as PhD1 or PhD2. A student who switches to the PhD program after MA1 is considered Year 2 in the first year of PhD (and accordingly Year n+1 in the nth year of PhD).
[2] See section 1.2 Evaluation guidelines for details.
[3] Barring exceptional circumstances, McGill University does not allow for students to be registered beyond PhD7.
[4] See also section 5 Policy for funding of graduate students.
[5] All research involving human subjects also requires prior approval by McGill’s Research Ethics Board. See Appendix B Guidelines for ethical conduct of research in Linguistics.
[6] See also section 4 Disagreement resolution procedures.
[7] See section 1.2 Evaluation guidelines.
[8] Also see note 5.
[9] Also see note 5.