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Thesis Proposal, Preparation, Submission, and Evaluation


For information on thesis procedures see also the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office, Thesis Office.

Thesis supervision

As soon as the student has determined a general area of research, he or she should seek an appropriate member of the academic staff who is willing to become the official supervisor for the thesis. The supervisor helps the student formulate the topic, prepare the thesis proposal, conduct the research, and present the thesis in good literate style. The supervisor will help the student refine his or her writing style, but is not required to do exhaustive editing. If the supervisor feels that the student is deficient in written expression, the student may be asked to seek additional outside help.  See Advising and supervision.

PhD dissertation committee

The PhD dissertation will be supervised by a committee of not fewer than two professors. This committee should consist of a principal supervisor, and a second reader. (There may sometimes be a third reader as well.) One member of the committee will be in the student's area, i.e., if a musicologist's supervisor is in the Theory Area, for example, the second reader should be from the Musicology Area.


Musicology Area: Dissertation Proposal Defense.


One two-to-three hour session, normally scheduled within nine months of successful completion of the comprehensive examination.

After passing the general comprehensive exams, the candidate collaborates with the Music History Area in establishing a new committee, consisting of the candidate’s main advisor, a second prospective dissertation reader, and one other member of the Music History Area, or any other area or department, depending on the topic of the dissertation. This Special Committee will administer the dissertation proposal defense. The purpose of the defense is to allow for the candidate and the committee to discuss a broad range of matters relating to both the dissertation proposal and the context for the proposed research. The candidate is expected to demonstrate command of secondary literature related specifically to the dissertation topic, as represented by the content of the dissertation proposal. The student is also expected to demonstrate broader knowledge of the relevant field of study in preparation for future teaching, as demonstrated by a sample syllabus.

Dissertation proposal. The Area requires that a proposal of 7,000 to 8,000 words, with bibliography, be submitted to the three Special Committee members at least two weeks before the defense. The candidate should come to the defense ready to answer questions about the proposal, with reference to the content, bibliography, methodology, and relation to broader issues in musicology.

Sample Syllabus. Within three months of completing the comprehensive examination the candidate will choose a topic related to the subject of the dissertation for a thirteen-week upper-level undergraduate course for music students, in consultation with the Special Committee. The topic could be as broad as a period course (“Renaissance music”) or a repertoire course (“Twentieth-century opera”), but might also be a somewhat narrower, “special topics” courses. Special topics courses should however have breadth in one of the following categories: chronological span, repertory, or musicological literature. Possible examples would be “Wagner’s music dramas,” “Eighteenth-century orchestral music,” or “Music and politics in the twentieth century.” Once the Committee and the candidate have agreed on the topic for the course, the candidate will put together a sample syllabus, with readings (including articles from the musicological literature), listening, and required work for the course (assignments, papers, exams). The syllabus will be given to the committee at the same time as the proposal, at least two weeks before the defense. The candidate should come to the defense prepared to answer questions about issues (of content and approach) encountered while compiling the syllabus, and to explain some of the choices of material on the syllabus.

After the dissertation proposal defense, the candidate will respond to suggestions of the committee and incorporate revisions to the dissertation proposal, if necessary. The dissertation proposal defense is not a formal exam, and hence not subject to a pass-or-fail evaluation. The dissertation proposal and/or sample syllabus are subject to revisions until all three committee members have expressed their approval. Once the proposal and syllabus have been approved by the three members of the committee, the supervisor will write a letter informing the candidate and the director of graduate studies. In the event of a dispute, the matter will be brought to the Music Research Graduate Sub-Committee for resolution.

Short dissertation proposal. Once the long version of the proposal and the syllabus have been approved by the Special Committee, the candidate will prepare a short version of the dissertation proposal (two pages, single spaced, with a one-page bibliography). The candidate’s supervisor circulates the short version of the dissertation proposal to the whole Music History Area. Once approved by the Area, it goes to the Music Research Graduate Sub-Committee, and then to Faculty Council for approval.

The Area hopes that the dissertation proposal defense will be a constructive chance for the student to discuss his or her work with experts in the field, and to benefit from the experience of the committee members. The sample syllabus is intended as a concrete way to demonstrate the knowledge required to teach in the area of the dissertation; it is also intended as a useful preparation for job applications and interviews.

The thesis proposal

As soon as a topic has been decided on, the student should prepare a thesis proposal, and complete a Master's Thesis Proposal or Doctoral Dissertation Proposal form. Master's students are encouraged to start developing a thesis proposal as early as their second term in the program. The thesis proposal form should be submitted to the student's Area Chair no later than the end of the third term of residence. For the PhD dissertation, students should start developing the proposal as early as possible, in the first year if the student already has a Master's degree, after five seminars have been taken for students admitted to PhD 1. The Doctoral Dissertation proposal form should be submitted to the student's Area Chair no later than six months after the successful completion of the PhD examination. The student's Dissertation Committee will be formed when the proposal is approved (PhD dissertation committee above).

All thesis proposals must be approved by the appropriate Area Committee, the appropriate Graduate Sub-Committee, and, in the case of Doctoral dissertations, Faculty Council. Thesis proposals involving human subjects as part of the research must also be approved by the Schulich School of Music's Ethics Review Committee. A form is available for this purpose at Ethics Review Committee. For further information on research policy see section 13.2 of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies General Information, Regulations and Research Guidelines Calendar.

The proposal, written in good literate style, should indicate the general nature of the topic and the more specific issues to be addressed in the thesis. Although the candidate is not expected to know the specific conclusions of the investigation, the proposal should nonetheless indicate possible outcomes and research methodologies to be employed in generating the results. The student should show familiarity with previous research by appending a selective bibliography (in correct citation style). The PhD proposal should explain the methodology, describe the topic, and indicate the importance and originality of the topic. A chapter outline is recommended, but not required.

Once the dissertation proposal is approved, PhD students are asked to fill in an application for inclusion in Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology, available from the Music Graduate Studies Office.

The MA thesis must show familiarity with previous work in the field and must demonstrate the ability to carry out research and to organize results. The thesis must be presented in good literate style. An exhaustive review of work in the particular field is not necessarily required, nor is original scholarship necessarily expected. The thesis will usually range between 80-100 pages, but should not normally exceed 100 pages (excluding musical examples and other illustrations). The Thesis Office will not normally process Master's theses that exceed an absolute total of 150 pages, including title page, abstracts, table of contents, preface, acknowledgements, reference lists and appendices.

The MMus Composition thesis consists of a composition, accompanied by an analytical essay on the composition of approximately 20-30 pages, written in good literate style.

The DMus in Composition thesis is a musical composition of major dimensions together with a written analysis of the work. The composition must be substantial both in length and in matter. The work must demonstrate a high level of creative thinking and technical mastery. A written analysis must accompany the thesis composition. This analysis should normally be about 25 pages in length. Its purpose is to show the candidate's capacity to communicate clearly and intelligently the technical and aesthetic basis of his or her creative work.

The PhD degree dissertation must display original scholarship expressed in good literate style and must be a distinct contribution to knowledge. Doctoral dissertations must be as succinct as is consistent with the sound scholarly exposition of the subject under investigation. There is no page limit but longer dissertations may be subject to delays in the examining process. Reviewers are often irritated by excessively long dissertations and, judging by past experience, such dissertations usually require extensive revisions, leading to serious delays in degree completion. All courses and language requirements and the comprehensive examinations must be successfully completed before the dissertation is submitted.

The thesis may be written in either English or French. Students whose mother tongue is not one of these languages are urged to seek special help, either in the form of courses or individual tutoring. The thesis should be written in conformance with an established manual of style (e.g. A Manual of Style. University of Chicago; MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. MLA, New York.) Thesis specifications may be found on the web: see Guidelines relating to Thesis Preparation, Submission and Examination.

For details on selection of panel members and evaluation procedures: see Thesis Examination

For the Master's thesis the choice of external examiner should be from inside the university, and may be from within the Department of Music Research. When it is not possible to nominate external examiners from within McGill, an external examiner from outside the university may be nominated.

For the Doctorate the external examiner must be a scholar of established reputation and competence in the field of dissertation research. He or she must be from outside the University and must normally hold a PhD or equivalent.

Only the Dean of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office and the Thesis Office will have contact with external examiners with respect to evaluation of the thesis. The student and thesis supervisor(s) must agree on the names of the examiners. The signatures of the student, the thesis supervisor and the Music Graduate Studies Director are required on the Nomination of Examiners form.

Submission of thesis

See also the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office, web page.

Three copies of the thesis are required for the Master's thesis, seven for the Doctoral dissertation. Theses can be submitted at any time; however, there are submission deadlines for each graduation. See Graduation and convocations. (NB: These dates are the Thesis Office deadlines. Time should be allowed prior to this to obtain the necessary signatures on the Thesis Submission Form and the Nomination of Examiners Form). At the time of deposition of the thesis, the following forms must accompany the thesis:

  • Nomination of Examiners Form
  • Thesis Submission Form signed by the student, supervisor and The Director of Graduate Studies in Music.
  • Library Waiver Forms National, UMI and McGill
  • Thesis Submission Check List

Thesis evaluation

For the Master's thesis, the criteria the examiners are asked to consider when making their written report are:

  1. Grasp of subject, powers of criticism and awareness of previous work.
  2. Resourcefulness, alertness to significance of findings.
  3. Diligence, care, technical skill in research.
  4. Organization of findings.
  5. Quality of presentation (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical errors).

For the Doctoral dissertation these criteria are:

  1. Evidence of originality and creativity.
  2. Resourcefulness, alertness to significance of findings.
  3. Diligence, care, technical skill in the research.
  4. Usefulness of the results to other workers in the field; value as a contribution to knowledge.
  5. Grasp of subject, powers of criticism and general adequacy in review of previous work.
  6. Quality of presentation (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical errors).

An assessment of "excellent," "very good," "good," "satisfactory," or "unsatisfactory" is made in each of these categories, as well as an overall judgment.

The examiners will submit a report discussing these evaluations. As well, the report will often include suggestions for minor revisions to meet the appropriate academic standards (these suggestions often involve typographical mistakes). The student is responsible for correcting the thesis according to the examiner's reports and to the satisfaction of the thesis supervisor who then approves the final submission.  All final submissions must be electronic.  Please consult section on e-thesis preparation and submission.  

For D.Mus. Composition and Ph.D.  candidates:  after the thesis has been received and approved, a final oral examination is held on the subject of the thesis and subjects intimately related to it. This is conducted in the presence of a Committee of at least five members approved by the Dean of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office, and presided over by a Pro-Dean nominated by the Dean of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office. The Graduate Director of the candidate's department and the thesis supervisor are regularly invited to be members of the Committee, and at least one member of the Committee is appointed from outside the candidate's department. The Oral Defense is open to the public. Notices announcing upcoming oral defenses are sent by email to all graduate students and staff in the Schulich School of Music.  The DMus in Composition candidate must be able to reply to any questions relating to the technical, theoretical, or aesthetic aspects of the thesis composition.

For doctoral dissertations, the second reader of the dissertation cannot typically cannot typically be the internal examiner except in exceptional cicumstances; the second reader will sit on the oral defense committee as the other department member. 

Composition performance requirement (DMus in composition)

The candidate is required to present a concert of his or her compositions in a doctoral colloquium and to organize a public concert of his or her music. The latter requirement may be satisfied by public performances of the music at two or three separate concerts. The candidate is encouraged to participate actively in the performance as conductor, performer, organizer and/or supervisor of sound diffusion (or live electronics). The Composition Area Committee may consider other performances which would satisfy these requirements. It is the responsibility of the candidate to notify the Composition Area Committee when the performance(s) will take place, and to submit a copy of the program to the Music Graduate Studies office.