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Graduate and postdoctoral theses

Please refer to the Thesis guidelines on the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website for a comprehensive breakdown of McGill's policies on thesis preparation and submission.

Choosing an advisor or supervisor

The choice of a thesis topic is directly linked to the choice of a thesis supervisor willing to guide the student on that topic. It is the responsibility of the student to approach a member of the faculty and request thesis supervision. Although it cannot be expected that students have a supervisor from day one of the first term of their program, by the end of their first term, however, students must have selected a supervisor for the rest of their program, who will supervise their thesis and comprehensives until completion. The supervisor is normally the member of the faculty approached at the beginning of the first term, but can also be another faculty member.

Students should have done sufficient research on the topic, such as a paper for a course, to show that the thesis project is viable. Students should not approach faculty with vague proposals expecting the faculty person to take the initiative in developing a thesis project. The intended supervisor is not obliged to accept a proposed topic.

The student normally also consults also with another faculty member in a field cognate to that of the thesis. A suitable advisor in the cognate field is to be determined by the thesis supervisor after discussion with the student. The faculty member in the cognate field need not be in the Faculty of Religious Studies nor be actively involved in subsequent thesis supervision.

Writing the Thesis Proposal

Students must submit a formal Thesis Proposal to the Graduate Committee for approval. Once approved, no major modification of the thesis may be made without approval of the Committee. Students in all graduate thesis programs should start exploring possible thesis topics as soon as they enter the graduate program.


The Proposal should provide a synopsis of previous research on the topic. This does not mean a mere listing of sources. The synoposis should provide some analysis of the issues addressed, the positions taken, and the general directions or methodologies which recent research has adopted. In addition, the Thesis Proposal must identify clearly the problem or question which the thesis will attempt to answer and outline the method or approach adopted.

Format, style, length

The Thesis Proposal does not need a title page, but the first page should start with the following information: student’s name and ID number, proposed title of thesis (indicate whether MA or PhD), name of thesis supervisor, date. Before submitting to the Committee, the thesis supervisor initials the Proposal to indicate approval.

The Proposal should be easily understandable to non-experts in the field. The student should avoid overly technical language and use of foreign terms or script. For the MA, the Proposal should be 3-4 (double-spaced) pages in length outlining the topic, with an additional 1 page of select bibliography. For the PhD, the Proposal should be 4-6 (double-spaced) pages outlining the topic, with an additional 1 page of select bibliography. PhD Thesis Proposals should contain a chapter-outline of the thesis.

Ethics Committee approval

Where the thesis research involves human subjects, the candidate must also obtain the approval of the University Ethics Committee. A copy of the Ethics Committee’s approval must be included with the thesis.

Submitting the Thesis Proposal

The M.A. Thesis Proposal should be submitted preferably before the end of M.A. 1.
The Ph.D. Thesis Proposal should be submitted shortly after the Comprehensive Examinations and at the latest before the beginning of PhD 4.
The last meeting at which the Graduate Committee will review thesis proposals is the April meeting.


The student first submits a draft of the Thesis Proposal to the intended supervisor. If the supervisor approves, the supervisor initials the Proposal and forwards it to the chair of the Graduate Committee. The Proposal must reach the chair at least two weeks before the meeting at which it will be discussed so that it can be distributed well in advance. Since the Thesis Proposal may need to be revised more than once, students are advised to get started well in advance of the intended submission date. The Ph.D. candidate is expected to appear before the Graduate Committee to respond to questions from the members. The intended supervisor should also be present at that meeting.

M.A. Thesis content & format

An M.A. thesis should demonstrate that the student is familiar with the relevant scholarship concerning a specific topic, can do competent research, and can present the results in good literary style. The M.A. thesis does not require exhaustive knowledge of all scholarship in a chosen field and does not have to be original scholarship. The M.A. Thesis will normally not exceed 100 pages in length, including bibliography. The GPSO will not normally process M.A. Theses that exceed an absolute total of 150 pages, including title page, abstracts, table of contents, preface, acknowledgements, reference lists, and appendices.