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Ph.D. Studies in English

The Ph.D. Degree Program normally entails four years of study.  There are Ten areas of study have been defined by the Department of English and Cultural Studies:

  1. Medieval Literature
  2. Early Modern English Literature
  3. Eighteenth-Century British Literature
  4. Nineteenth-Century British Literature
  5. Twentieth-Century British and Irish Literature
  6. American Literature
  7. Canadian Literature
  8. Postcolonial Literature
  9. Critical Theory
  10. Cultural Studies
  11. Indigenous Literature & Cultures

Admission Requirements

The admission requirement is an M.A. with marks of at least A- in two of three courses. In the first year of the program, PhD candidates will successfully complete three full-year graduate courses or their equivalent.

Applicants whose native language is not English will be required to provide an official record of the Test of English as a Foreign Language. A TOEFL score of 580 on the regular test and a score of 237 on the computerized test is required. If you are submitting the IELTS test, as score of 7 is required.


Candidates will take three full courses, or the equivalent. The three full graduate courses (or the equivalent) required for the PhD degree must be taken in the first year of the doctoral program. The Department recommends that one of the three be taken in the student’s main field of research interest in preparation for the Comprehensive Examination.

Comprehensive Examination

The University regulations require that Ph.D. candidates take a Comprehensive Examination. A Ph.D. candidate in English is required to take the Comprehensive Examination in the area, chosen from the above list, of her or his intended dissertation research. This will involve writing two papers, a Field Survey and a Topic Paper, and defending both in an Oral Examination. The Field Survey should show broad expertise in the wider field of knowledge the candidate’s research will engage. The Topic Paper describes how the candidate’s dissertation intervenes in that field and the particular contribution it will make. Both papers are to be researched and written concurrently by the candidate, are to be between 25 and 30 double-spaced pages in length, and are due no later than February 27 of the second year of study (i.e. at the beginning of the 5th term). The Oral Examination of both papers will follow within 10 days of submission. The candidate’s mark in the Comprehensive Examination will be calculated on the average of the
grades for the Field Survey, the Topic Paper, and the Oral Examination.

Bibliography Requirement

In addition, each PhD candidate is required to complete a set of bibliographic workshops in the second year of the program. The workshops are designed as problem-based learning whereby students engage in research into bibliographical issues relevant to their dissertation field.

These workshops are meant to complement two other sets of professionalization programs in the Department:

  1. Pedagogical instruction conducted in the teaching workshops offered at the beginning of each year for all teaching assistants, in preparation for supervised tutorial work throughout the program
  2. Professionalization Workshops given each year on writing grant proposals, writing thesis proposals, publishing articles and giving conference papers, CVs, job applications and interviews

Language Requirement

The Department also has a second-language requirement for the PhD degree. Candidates who have not passed a full university course in a language other than English must complete such a course or pass a translation examination with the aid of a dictionary.  In cases where proficiency in more than one language other than English is needed for thesis research, the student’s supervisory committee shall so recommend to the student and the Graduate Studies Committee. The Graduate Studies Committee will rule on such recommendations.

The Thesis

After the completion of the Comprehensive Examination, during the third and fourth year of the program, the candidate will write a scholarly thesis normally of between 200 and 250 pages (not including bibliography), and will defend it at an Oral Examination at the end of the fourth year. During this period the candidate is still expected to meet with his or her supervisory committee at least once a year. No specific regulations about types of theses are set forth by the Department; hence, the thesis will be developed by the candidate in consultation with the supervisory committee.

Written portions of the thesis, however, should be presented to the thesis supervisor for comment and approval before they are given to other members of the supervisory committee to read. Any substantive change in thesis topic must be agreed to by the supervisory committee and endorsed by the Graduate Studies Committee, which will also make arrangements for changes in the supervisory committee when necessary.


Applications for the PhD in English should reach the Department of English at McMaster no later than
JANUARY 15th. For more information please email us at  Please see the Application Instructions page for more information.