Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program

Cultural Studies

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program

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Guideline for Progress Through the PhD Program

A completed PhD comprises coursework, qualifying exams, independent research and writing, and an oral defence. The cultural studies program is determined to make it possible for students to complete their degrees in four years, consistent with the funding that the program offers to all PhD students. Following consultation with students and faculty, we have produced the following table, which summarizes a plan for completing the PhD program in four years. Detailed rules and procedures are below.

  Fall Winter Spring/Summer
Year One Two courses + CUST802
Apply for external funding

Two courses + CUST802
​Begin preparing thesis/project proposal with budget and timeline
Prepare for GREB if applicable

Review goals for PhD 
Confirm committee membership
Read for qualifying exam
Year Two Submit proposal for preliminary bibliography for qualifying exam
Meet with committee to discuss and set date
Prepare further
Apply for external funding if needed
Submitted annotated bibliography and questions
Write qualifying exam
Begin preparing thesis/project proposal with budget and timeline
Prepare for GREB if applicable
Complete GREB if applicable
Defend thesis/project proposal (may be in September)
Year Three Begin thesis/project research/productions
Apply for external funding if needed
Continue research
Apply for conferences and seek other ways to share your work
Continue thesis/proposal research
Year Four Continue research
Apply for conferences, publication and exhibition opportunities
Apply for jobs
Complete thesis/project draft
Select external examiner
Schedule defence
Defend your thesis or project
Submit all materials for archiving

Stay in touch with your committee
Pursue funding opportunities as available
Attend pertinent events at Queen's
Consult and share work with fellow students
Reach out to potential colleagues, audiences, and supporters via conferences, community events, etc.

PhD Coursework

Students should consult with their supervisor about course selection. All doctoral students are expected to take a minimum of 4 one-term graduate courses in their first year, at least two of which must be selected from the four core courses offered by the program. Others will be selected from graduate courses taught in various units across the university. First-year students must  also take CUST 902 (Cultural Studies Colloquium), which has an attendance requirement of 50% of the Wednesday afternoon sessions, which usually means 12 out of 24 sessions.  Doctoral students with a Queen's M.A. in Cultural Studies need only take two courses, plus CUST-902*. Their two courses will be drawn from the list of available courses, and determined in consultation with supervisor and/or program director.

PhD Project Option

Research-creation students should consult the Research Creation project option page for further guidance.

PhD Qualifying Examination and Thesis/Project Proposal Exam

In the early summer of Year 1, students revisit the PhD thesis or project they proposed upon application, consider whether their initial supervisor is still the best choice, and in consultation with their supervisor invite two other CS-affiliated faculty members to serve on their committee.1 (This committee, barring necessary changes, will be in place for the duration of the program.) Although students will have written versions of their PhD plans for admission to the program and for funding applications, at this point they have a chance to decide if this is how they do in fact wish to proceed. Once the general project is in view, students consult with their supervisor to identify skills, knowledges, or experiences they need in order to do the kind of work they want to do. For the remainder of the summer the focus should be on building an annotated bibliography of relevant works and materials they have already read or viewed (it can include artworks, exhibitions, and so on, as appropriate), and those they plan to engage. This can be thought of as a “literature review” stage to prepare the student to ground their thesis/project proposal in the relevant communities of theory and practice. For guidance on annotated bibliographies, students may consult guidelines available from the Queen’s Writing Centre; the expectation for this purpose is that the annotation on each work should be about 200-300 words in length.

1 In a situation where a community advisor, and adjunct instructor, or a non-CS-faculty member is desired for the committee, the student should consult with the Director.

In or by early September of Year 2 (and after all coursework is completed), students submit a 1000-word Proposal for the Qualifying Exam, along with a bibliography of relevant materials read/engaged (annotated) and materials identified to be read/engaged. In essence, the shape of the proposal should be something like this: “Because I wish to do X for my thesis/project, I need to do (or have been doing) Y reading and want to do Z critique or analysis for my qualifying exam.” “Z” is the content or topic the student proposes will be the most necessary exercise to “qualify” them to write a strong thesis/project proposal and proceed to write/do it. Sometimes this may be learning a new area of theory or methodology; other times it may be diving deeper into frameworks or perspectives already somewhat familiar. It might be learning about new material, bodies of art, or fields of activity; or it might be focusing or casting wider from material already familiar. The exam may well engage with some areas of the Thesis/Project in detail rather than addressing the big picture. In some cases, the qualifying exam may integrate artistic work. The goal of the Qualifying Exam is for the student to feel ready, and to be deemed ready by his/her committee, to write the Thesis/Project Proposal and to proceed to do the thesis/project; that is to say, the Qualifying Exam is not a rough draft of the Thesis/Project Proposal, but rather groundwork for it.

The committee meets with the student in late summer or early fall to discuss the Qualifying Exam Proposal and make suggestions for preparation during the time remaining before the exam. (The principle is to leave at least two months between this meeting and the exam itself.) Together the committee and student discuss the theory, methods, and content that the student will need to master for the thesis or project, check areas needing attention, and suggest scholarship and other work the student should read or engage with for the exam. In the case of a Research-Creation project, they decide on whether an artistic production component will be part of the exam. Also at this time, all parties agree on dates for the exam to be written.

At least ten working days before the agreed-upon start time for the examination, the student submits to the committee via email the final version of an annotated bibliography of at least 30 items (some of which will likely be new since the first draft, reflecting priorities agreed upon at the meeting about the Exam Proposal), and two or three suggested questions they are prepared to answer for the examination.

The committee then crafts a question or questions for the exam, which they send to the student on the date mutually agreed upon. The general expectation is that the student will write 5000 to 7000 words, not including footnotes. If the examination includes artistic work, the committee will adjust the length of the written examination accordingly; that is, the production component is not to be considered over and above the written component. The student will have ten working days to complete the exam (though accommodations can be made in advance for a longer period if work or other responsibilities intervene). The student will distribute their answer to all committee members. Within ten working days of the deadline for the exam answer, each examiner fills out Form 2 - PhD Qualifying Exam Evaluation Form for Committee Members including comments on the exam, and returns it to the supervisor. The supervisor determines the decision based on a majority of the three evaluations; notifies the student, drawing from the comments on Form 2 to compile feedback for the student; and forwards all copies of Form 2 to the Program Administrator. If the exam is deemed a “pass,” the supervisor fills out and submits Form 3 - PhD Qualifying Examination Approval to the program assistant. If the student receives a "Revisions required," they have 10 working days to complete the revisions and resubmit, and the same process is followed as above. If the student fails the exam, the student will have one chance to re-write it within the next six months, with the same process followed as above.

Following the Qualifying Exam (that is, by January of Year 2 if possible), the student turns their attention to the thesis/project proposal. The format of this document may vary, and is determined in consultation with the supervisor and/or committee, but the general expectation is for a document of 30-40 pages (accompanied by a bibliography which need not be annotated) that makes clear the theoretical, methodological, and substantive elements and structure of the dissertation/project. Students are required to show the relation of the research to the program's objectives, available faculty expertise, and to the relevant academic literature. All proposals will include a timeline. Projects that require expenditures will include a budget. Well before the proposal defense, students who require or may require ethics clearance do the initial CORE training online and consult with their supervisor and possibly the Unit REB about the appropriate timing for full GREB application.

Research Creation and Community-Based Research (“Project Option”) Proposals: In consultation with the supervisory committee, a Research-Creation dissertation proposal may integrate artistic production (see the Guidelines for Research-Creation for more information). If it does, the ratio between production and the written component will be discussed and determined by the committee and the length of the written component will be adjusted accordingly: the production component is not to be considered over and above the written component. All “project option” students will describe how they will document their work, and how they conceive the relationship between the project and the written component. Students whose work will involve community collaborators must show that they have identified and communicated with appropriate participants, and they must justify their choice of participants given the theoretical, political, methodological, and practical contexts of their thesis or project.

Before the end of Year 2, as the thesis or project proposal is approaching completion, the Supervisor schedules the proposal defense and finds a Chair for it (normally the CS Director; this person conducts the meeting but does not play a role in the evaluation of the proposal). Ten working days prior to the scheduled defense, the student distributes the proposal to all committee members. The defense focuses on the relevant theoretical, methodological and substantive areas germane to the student's program. The committee assesses the student's understanding of the discipline, the viability, scope and coherence of the proposal, and the preparedness of the candidate to undertake the proposed thesis or project, and offers suggestions for refinements or changes as appropriate. Also at the defense, committee members will assess the timeline and (if applicable) budget, and will each committee member will clarify what they understand their consultative role to be going forward. Some discussion of plans for the student to share their work in progress (at conferences, exhibitions, etc.) would also be appropriate at this time. If the proposal is deemed insufficient, the student will have one opportunity to re-write the proposal and defend the revision within the next six months.

PhD Dissertation/Project Evaluation Procedures

General procedures concerning the doctoral dissertation required of all candidates for the Ph.D. are defined in the Graduate Calendar of the University. Supervisors will advise on matters of scope, methodology, originality, and structure. For Research-Creation students, see The Research Creation Document . Students must submit a final version of their project/thesis five weeks before its required formal defense.