Graduate Handbook

Contact us:

Graduate Studies in English
McGill University
Arts Building, Room  270
853 Sherbrooke West
Montreal, QC H3A 0G5

Tel.: 514-398-6564
Fax: 514-398- 8557

The Graduate Studies in English Handbook may be accessed via the menu on the left. Also see:

This Handbook describes the university, faculty, and departmental policies concerning graduate programs, specifically the MA and PhD degrees in English at McGill. All students entering the Program should consult this Handbook. Although students are required to consult with an advisor in the graduate program to plan their course of study, the responsibility for meeting University and Departmental regulations is entirely their own.

The Department

The Department of English at McGill is unique in that its program brings together three different but related areas of study: Literature; Drama and Theatre; and Cultural Studies. Graduate students, key participants in all areas of Department life, have the opportunity to explore aspects of Literature, Cultural Studies, Performance, and Theatre History in their seminar work and research. The Department is home to—or is a principal participant in—a number of major collaborative research groups and projects, including the Burney Centre, the McGill Medieval Studies Program, the Bibliographic Society of Canada, and research teams on Shakespeare and PerformanceEarly Modern ConversionsEating in Canada, and Novelists on the Novel. These research groups and projects are simply the most visible signs of cross-fertilization among the three areas of the Department's work, and of the Department's prominence in the development of interdisciplinary research and teaching at McGill and in the academy in general.

The Department of English is made up of 37 full-time faculty, including noted scholars in all periods of English-language literature, as well as specialists in contemporary theories of literature, film, drama and theatre, and culture. Full-time faculty in the department are available as instructors and supervisors at both levels of graduate study: the MA and PhD. Their activity as researchers complements their commitment to the training of young scholars, not only by its immediate relevance to their teaching but by students' frequent involvement as research assistants in faculty projects.

The graduate students of the English Department maintain the English Graduate Students' Association (EGSA) as a forum for representation of their concerns to the department and as an information exchange and social network for students. EGSA representatives make their experience in the graduate program available to new students upon their arrival in Montreal.

The University

McGill University offers a wide range of scholarly materials and research facilities. Library collections are extensive. Moreover, Rare Books and Special Collections houses manuscripts, archives, documents and private papers from a variety of writers. Highlights of library holdings include the William Blake Collection, the Leon Edel Papers, the Lincoln collection, the Lande Canadiana Collection, and the Burney Project, internationally renowned for its editions of the letters of Fanny Burney. Canadian literature is especially prominent in the Rare Books collection - a reflection of McGill's role in the establishment of modern Canadian literature.

Each year the English Department hosts a Visiting Speakers series. The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada runs a similar series. Various student theatre groups perform frequently during the school year. The Drama and Theatre Program of the English Department mounts two major productions at Moyse Hall, the historic auditorium in the Arts Building. 

These McGill resources are complemented by the library and special collections of l'Université de Montreal, l'Université du Québec a Montréal, and Concordia University, accessible to McGill students through a special library exchange. The Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec is situated not far from the McGill campus and houses extensive collections, including materials relevant to Quebec Studies. In addition, Montreal is the site of the National Theatre School, whose productions appear in the recently restored Monument National, and of the Cinemathèque Québecoise, whose screenings and archives are invaluable for scholars involved in film and cultural studies.

The Graduate Program

The Department of English offers graduate programs leading to the MA and PhD degrees. MA and PhD students enroll in common graduate courses. On average, there are 80 graduate students enrolled in the MA and PhD programs each year. Information on applying to our graduate programs may be found here.

The MA Program

The MA program admits from 25 to 30 students each year from around the world. Unlike many other MA programs in English, the McGill MA culminates in a major piece of independent research, either a thesis or research paper, which is carried out under the supervision of a faculty member. Approximately half of McGill MA graduates go on to PhD programs, either at McGill or elsewhere. Other graduates have found employment with foundations, university development offices, publishing houses, consulting firms, and CEGEPs.

The MA in McGill’s Department of English is a rigorous program of study that could serve either as a culminating academic experience in itself or as a strong preparation for further study at the doctoral or professional levels. Involving substantial graduate course work and an extended research project completed independently under the supervision of a faculty member, the MA program is generally meant to be completed in two academic years. The Department offers two programs (or “options”) leading towards the degree of Master of Arts: the Thesis program and the Non-thesis (Research Paper) program. Both programs are designed to be completed in four semesters of twelve credits each, though the Non-thesis option allows a few students in each cohort to finish in an intensive three terms (or, alternatively, in sixteen months). Please note, however, that students who elect to complete in twelve months must register and pay fees for the summer term.

The Research Paper and Thesis options are similar. One involves more course work, combined with a sustained research project; the other involves slightly less coursework and a longer culminating research project. Neither option is considered to be more substantial, or more research-oriented, than the other. Neither is considered to provide a stronger preparation for admission to doctoral study, or to be more likely to lead to success in competitions for fellowship support (such as SSHRC grants). Both options involve substantial course work followed by the completion of an extended, independent research project. The preliminary selection of one of these two options, called for during the admissions application process, is in no way binding; MA students can change options after they have begun their studies at McGill. Indeed, the final choice of an MA option is often made during a student’s first term in the program, after the student has met with advisors and potential supervisors. In both programs an introductory Bibliography Seminar is compulsory in the first semester. This course in library research methods and current professional concerns, taught jointly by several members of the department, is also important in the creation of a community spirit among each cohort of Master's candidates.

In the Thesis program the student chooses five semester-long courses in consultation with a member of the Graduate Administration Committee (see Course Offerings). Candidates are encouraged to select courses particularly relevant to their intended thesis research as well as to continue their exploration of the full range of periods and approaches in English literary study. The goal is to balance breadth of coverage with a deep concentration in one area of research specialization. Students should therefore enroll in some courses intended to expand their coverage of the discipline. The Master's thesis is written during and after course completion in close consultation with the thesis supervisor. In the Non-thesis program the student chooses seven semester-long courses in consultation with a member of the Graduate Administration Committee. The Research Paper is undertaken during the period of course work and completed shortly thereafter.

The PhD Program

The PhD program admits approximately 6 to 8 students each year from around the world. Doctoral students specialize in a broad range of fields within English studies. (See the link for Graduate Student “Research Interests” on the department’s graduate web page.)

The doctoral program in English combines course work, undertaken in the first year (PhD2), with an emphasis in later years on independent research prior to and during the dissertation. Major and minor areas of concentration are established through course choices and the definition of the subjects for both the Compulsory Research Project (completed in PhD3) and the final PhD dissertation. A requirement of reading competence in one foreign language pertinent to the research area rounds out the student's academic profile.

In their first year (PhD 2) doctoral students register for two doctoral Pro-Seminars, which amount to an intensive year-long study of current issues in literary theory combined with a wide-ranging introduction to current professional practice. Students also complete four graduate courses, two in each semester. In their second year (PhD3) all students undertake the Compulsory Research Project. This year of intensive supervised study in the dissertation area, culminating in oral examination of a scholarly paper, is an important aspect of preparation for dissertation research. The Language Requirement must also be fulfilled by the end of the second semester of PhD3. The first semester of PhD4 is intended for initial dissertation research and the submission of the Dissertation Proposal. PhD4 is designed for dissertation research; the candidate consults closely with a supervisor and members of a dissertation committee during the research and writing of the doctoral dissertation. Upon successful examination and oral defense of the dissertation, the candidate is awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Departmental support for the candidate does not end with the awarding of the doctoral degree. The Graduate Placement Officer is a faculty member assigned specifically to assist recent graduates with professional placement. The Placement Officer will advise on cover letters, CVs, and other application materials; oversee the preparation of the student dossier; and draw on all possible professional contacts in an effort to place McGill's graduates promptly and effectively in the academic profession, including postdoctoral positions. McGill has been very successful in placing its students in well-known universities in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere.

Course Offerings

Each year the Department of English offers approximately fifteen semester-long 600/700-level graduate courses (600- and 700-level courses count as one level, not two), and an equivalent number of 500-level seminars, covering a broad range of English literature, drama and theatre, and cultural studies. Course topics vary from year to year. Students in the MA program and in PhD1 are permitted to register for up to two seminars at the 500-level.


Applications to the Master's program are invited from students who have or will have completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in English (or equivalent, namely, a record of excellence in a broad range of English courses in their previous undergraduate work), with a minimum CGPA of 3.5. Students who have demonstrated excellence in a related discipline during their undergraduate years may apply to a Qualifying Year in order to complete their preparation for graduate study in English. Applications to the Doctoral program are invited from students who have already completed an MA. Applications and all supporting documents must be submitted through the online admissions system by January 15th. Information on how to apply may be found here.


Back to top