Doctoral Program


Applicants are accepted under the General Regulations of the School of Graduate Studies, provided they also satisfy the requirements of the department. A first-class MA degree or its equivalent is required for admission; applicants will be favoured whose academic records show a well-balanced selection of courses in English literature from the medieval period to the present and in literary theory. Students may not embark upon the PhD program if they have failed to complete any of the requirements for the MA degree.

Before accepting any students, the Department considers their proposed research in relation to the strength of the library and faculty resources in that field. Prior to registration, students will consult the Co-ordinator of Graduate Studies over the selection of their courses and the availability of faculty to supervise in their general area of research.


Additional details about all components of the PhD program can be found in the English Department’s Graduate Handbook (PDF).


The first year of the PhD program consists of six graduate half-courses selected with the approval of the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. One of these courses may be taken outside the department. The compulsory non-credit course in Professional and Pedagogical Skills consists of fourteen workshops geared to the students’ progress over the first three years. Failure to maintain an 82% standing will result in a student’s being asked to withdraw at the end of the first year.

The Department of English does not offer any graduate programs in Communications, TESL, Translation, Linguistics, Creative Writing, Journalism or the English Language.

Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Examination for the PhD in English is in two parts:

1. Disciplinary Field Exam

The Disciplinary Field Exam is designed to ensure that candidates have a broad knowledge and understanding of the literature, historical contexts and critical history of the primary field of English studies which is germane to their dissertation area and in which they will be claiming expertise as university-level teachers and scholars. The examination consists of one four-hour sitting and one take-home paper, written in the Fall Term of the second year. A reading guide is supplied to students to assist in their preparation, and they are also encouraged to meet with the examiners during the preparatory period. The Department offers examinations in fifteen fields (including Postcolonial Literature, Literary Theory and Criticism, and Feminist Literary Studies) and may entertain proposals for others if staff and library resources are sufficient to handle them and if they seem academically appropriate.

2. Special Topic Presentation

While the Disciplinary Field Examination moves candidates from the more wide-ranging pursuits of course work toward a specific field of expertise, the Special Topic Presentation is designed to guide candidates toward the definition of a significant dissertation topic by requiring them to identify a broad issue or set of issues with which they will engage in the course of their dissertation research and writing, and to produce a substantial reading list related to the topic. The candidate's task is, with the guidance of two faculty advisors, to define the topic, devise the reading list, read and annotate it, and present to the Department, in the form of an oral presentation, some of the ideas and issues which the reading has permitted them to explore. Candidates are engaged in this work during the Winter Term of the second year, and make their presentation in May. The Department publishes a list of Special Topic Presentations given in the present year, as well as the ones from previous years.

Language Requirements

Candidates for the PhD degree must demonstrate a reading knowledge of either two languages other than English at a basic level, or one at a more advanced level, either by passing a departmental examination of by successfully completing an approved university-level, full-year language course at Queen's or another university during the PhD program. Both the languages and courses must be approved by the Graduate Co-ordinator.

Examination requirements are met by sight tests of one hour sittings in which a page of critical or literary prose of moderate difficulty is translated, with the aid of a dictionary, into English. If the test is failed, it may be retaken at a subsequent sitting. Sittings are offered twice during the academic year.

Language requirements must be satisfied before the examination of the dissertation.


A formal thesis proposal will be submitted for approval in January of the second year of registration. The final requirement is the submission of a thesis prepared under the direction of a supervisor and a second reader and defended at an oral examination. For detailed information about the form the dissertation must take, consult the School of Graduate Studies’ pamphlet “General Forms of Theses” (PDF).