Graduate Program Overview

Introduction to the Program

Master’s and Doctoral programs at Queen's are among the longest established and most distinguished in Canada. They are designed to combine the highest academic standards and intellectual challenge with student-oriented professional training and experience. Our aim is to introduce degree candidates to leading issues in current literary and cultural fields of research, to preserve a traditional range of historical expertise, and to allow students the independence to explore a diversity of interests, in order to build a solid career foundation. Our faculty comprises scholars who research and teach in all major historical periods, from medieval to contemporary, and we are likewise home to a wide variety of editorial, historical, and theoretical methodologies. Our graduate course offerings each year represent this diversity, as do individual faculty home pages, PhD students’ Special Topic Presentations and array of thesis topics. So does our Research Forum, a biweekly gathering of faculty and students to hear presentations from visiting speakers, faculty research, and advanced doctoral work in progress. The Queen's approach to the MA and PhD is to offer students of the best abilities and passion for learning, reading and writing, the opportunity to consolidate a traditional knowledge base in literary studies, to stretch their knowledge of contemporary issues in literature and culture, to develop their individual interests and direction, and to enjoy a meaningful teaching experience. We admit about 20 MA students and 10 PhD students every year; our students can therefore easily get to know each other and members of our staff, and class sizes are small.

The Master’s program is primarily an advanced coursework degree, although a thesis option may be available if arranged during the application process with a prospective supervisor and the Graduate Coordinator. The program aims to introduce students to current ideas and approaches in the professional study of literature across an array of seminars, and to provide the strongest basis for possible applications to doctoral programs. Courses are selected by the student to balance further study in his or her special fields of interest with consolidation of a broad, literary historical knowledge at an advanced level. In addition to advanced seminars, MA students also attend the Research Forum and a Professional and Pedagogical Skills seminar; the latter provides introductory teaching training and professional career guidance. Teaching assistantships are assigned in consultation with all incoming students as to their course preferences (as with all students in our programs), and are designed to minimize teaching workload so that time remains free for doing one’s best in coursework.

The Doctoral program aims to produce professional scholars with a clear and original contribution to their area of specialization, a comfortable foundation in the wider reach of their historical field, a substantial engagement with interdisciplinary or cross-field issues, and training and experience in advanced and independent teaching. The academic path of the program proceeds through advanced coursework, a disciplinary field exam which provides the foundation for a career field and for informed development of an area of thesis research, a special topics presentation which requires the student to develop, with faculty assistance, an independent reading program on a topic that crosses disciplinary or historical field boundaries and which culminates in a talk presented to the department, and finally, a dissertation that builds on all of these. Our professional program is carefully staged to provide a ladder of types of teaching professionalization—from teaching assistantships limited to counselling and grading, to tutorial seminar leaderships, to independent lecture courses in the degree candidate’s field of study. We also provide guidance in seeking award funding, dissertation progress, and preparing for the academic job market.

Research Achievements

The English Department at Queen's University is a professionally oriented research department located in one of Canada’s leading universities. As the accompanying faculty profiles reveal, our research strengths are distributed across a broad historical and geographical range of literatures written in English, to an exceptional standard affirmed by our most recent Ontario Council on Graduate Studies assessment (2010) and an Internal Academic Review (2013). Recent publications and conference presentations include ongoing work on globalization, diaspora and migration, indigenous politics, environmental and interspecies studies, book history, popular entertainment media, the economics of literature, cultural memory, literature and social justice, queer theory, translation studies, and creative writing. The quality of department members’ research has been recognized in major grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Fulbright Foundation, and other research institutes, as well as university-wide competitions in both research and teaching excellence. Our faculty are engaged in a number of significant international research collaborations, and in recent years the Department has hosted conferences on American Exceptionalism, Alternative Economies of Creativity in Theory and Practice, Animal Studies, and English Dictionaries in Global and Historical Context. Graduate students are active and avid participants in the research culture of the Department, and have contributed greatly to our collective success.

Awards & Careers

One indication of the quality of Queen's English students is their superb rate of success in gaining external awards. Queen's graduate students are highly successful in the competitions for Canada Graduate Scholarships, awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to Masters and Doctoral students, and for Ontario Graduate Scholarships. Extensive individual mentoring on the grant application process is available to all students. Between 2007 and 2010, 49% to 51% of all eligible students in the program (domestic students in the MA and years 1–5 of the PhD) held major external awards. Others held a variety of competitive Queen's University awards in addition to regular Queen's Graduate Award funding.

Graduates of our PhD program have been highly successful on the academic job market. Queen's graduates are now teaching in tenure-track or tenured positions at UBC, Victoria, the University of Saskatchewan, Dalhousie, McMaster, Western, and the University of Toronto to name but a few Canadian institutions, as well as at universities in the UK, the US, and Australia. The academic job market is extremely competitive, so we consider our record of placement to be an exceptional achievement. Others have taken up non-tenure-track or academic administrative positions, civil service positions, or proceeded to additional professional degrees.

For insight into the achievements and career paths of our graduate students and alumni, please see our graduate news page.

Degree Programs at a Glance

The Department of English offers two programs of study: the MA and the PhD. For more detailed program information, you may also consult the Graduate Handbook (PDF).

MA Program

The MA program is designed to be completed within twelve months and focuses on course-work (pattern 1). In exceptional cases, a student may be permitted to choose a combination of courses and a thesis (pattern 2).

PhD Program

The PhD program involves three major components: course work, a two-part comprehensive examination (consisting of a Field Examination and a Special Topic Presentation), and a dissertation.

In addition to regular course work, MA and PhD students take a course in pedagogical and professional skills. For MAs, the course focuses on pedagogical skills (e.g., essay-marking, academic counselling of undergraduate students), writing research papers, pursuing academic careers, and applying for grants. For PhD candidates, the course focuses on tutorial leadership, research development, grant application, the academic job market, and other practical aspects of the professional study of literature.

Throughout the year, a variety of events offer graduate students the opportunity to enrich their experience at Queen's. Students can participate in conferences, graduate colloquia, and an array of discussion groups. The Graduate English Society organizes a Works in Progress forum for graduate students and faculty to present and discuss work that they are currently pursuing. Graduate students also participate in the hiring of new faculty and host visiting speakers in the Department; the Department has been visited by such eminent scholars as Stephen Greenblatt, Jahan Ramazani, Ed Pechter, Hortense Spillers, Linda Colley, Linda Hutcheon, Cathy Caruth, Molly Hite, Sam Solecki, Ruth Wisse, Aijaz Ahmad, Martha Nussbaum, Isobel Armstrong, Toril Moi, and Robert Thacker.

PhD candidates additionally benefit from the Special Topic Presentation (STP), part of the Comprehensive Examination; instead of a traditional written exam, the STP allows students to prepare an independent piece of research and present it to an audience of faculty and fellow students in an informal and supportive environment.

Finally, students can converse with faculty informally at several social events throughout the year, as well as at a coffee hour held each week during term. The regular program components are thus enriched by a variety of occasional forums which foster professionalism and intellectual fellowship.