Department of History

Queen's University
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The Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is an examination of a thesis proposal prepared by the candidate. The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to provide the candidate with an opportunity to put together a detailed thesis proposal. The examination also enables an evaluation of the candidate's suitability for continuing in the doctoral programme. The examination should aid in the identification of weaknesses which need to be remedied, provide the candidate with the opportunity to organize material in a wider context than is normally available in an individual graduate course, and help the faculty to judge the overall intellectual abilities and scholarly qualifications of the candidate.

Candidates will not be allowed to sit for the Qualifying Examination until they have completed all outstanding coursework, the grade has been recorded on their official university transcripts, and they have successfully completed their major and minor field requirements. The candidate should begin to work out a preliminary thesis topic with his or her supervisor by the Spring of the candidate's first year in the programme. At this time the Qualifying Examination Committee will be set up by the supervisor in consultation with the candidate. The formation of a Qualifying Examination Committee (consisting at a minimum of the Graduate Chair or a delegate as a neutral chair of the Committee, the supervisor(s), one examiner from the Department and a second examiner either from inside or outside the Department) will be the responsibility of the thesis supervisor(s) in consultation with the candidate and subject to the approval of the Graduate Chair and Chair of the Department. It is desirable that wherever possible the members of the Qualifying Examination Committee should also serve on the candidate's final Thesis Examining Committee. However, an examiner from outside the University who serves on the Qualifying Examination Committee should under no circumstance serve as the external examiner of the thesis. Members of the Qualifying Examination Committee are also responsible for assessing the annual reports and writing samples of the candidate in Year III and beyond.

Students are encouraged to meet with committee members individually to receive early advice on the direction of their research and suggestions on additional background reading or primary sources. In preparation for this meeting, the candidate will normally circulate to the Committee members a short statement on the proposed thesis topic and a working bibliography on background literature.

During the summer the candidate will carry out more detailed research into the theoretical or methodological approach to be pursued, the major thesis or questions to be answered, the relevant historiography, and the location and relevance of major primary sources to be analysed. The candidate will begin to draft a thesis proposal of forty to fifty pages addressing these topics and proposing a time frame for the completion of research and writing.

The thesis proposal will:

  • discuss the historiography, national and transnational (students are encouraged to consider the broad literature on their topic, including transnational, thematic, and comparative aspects of the literature)
  • discuss the conceptual, theoretical, and methodological issues pertinent to the thesis topic and the sources, with references to relevant, significant writings;
  • outline the overall working historical interpretation to be pursued in the thesis and comment upon its significance;
  • discuss in detail the primary sources to be analysed, including printed, manuscript, typescript and oral sources, noting the location of these materials and their relevance; and
  • provide a timetable of research and writing of the various chapters, with a projected date of completion. It should anticipate the completion of the thesis not more than 36 months after the completion of the Qualifying Examination. Any anticipated date of completion beyond these 36 months should be explained in writing to the Examination Committee and to the Graduate Committee by both the candidate and the supervisor(s).
  • provide a bibliography of primary and secondary source material.

Normally the thesis supervisor(s) will approve the thesis proposal in writing (by signing the proposal or by email) before it is submitted to the Graduate Office and circulated by the student to the members of the Qualifying Examination Committee. If the candidate and supervisor(s) do not agree that the thesis proposal is ready for examination, the candidate may inform the Graduate Chair in writing that he or she wishes to have the thesis proposal examined.

The thesis proposal must be submitted and defended by November 30 in the second year of the programme. The student must deliver one copy of their qualifying proposal to the Graduate Office and deliver the remaining copies to their committee at least 10 working days prior to their defence. The supervisor will be responsible for convening the defence of the proposal.

If the proposal is not submitted and defended by this date students are no longer eligible to resubmit and undergo a new exam if the proposal does not pass at the qualifying exam. If students have not submitted their proposal by the end of the winter term in their second year they will be considered to have failed. Should exceptional conditions arise which warrant an extension of the deadline, the candidate should appeal to the Graduate Committee on or before 15 November and state the reasons for the exception. An exception will only be granted with a majority vote by faculty on the the Graduate Committee

Members of the Qualifying Examination Committee should provide the Graduate Office and the Committee chair with a written report on the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis proposal before the start of the the exam.  They are encouraged to share their reports with the student at the conclusion of the examination.

The Qualifying Examination Committee will either pass the thesis proposal or ask the candidate to resubmit it with specified revisions required; the decision to pass must be unanimous and the Committee will specify in writing the nature of the revisions. The candidate may resubmit to the Committee within three months. Each member of the reconvened Qualifying Examination Committee will be asked by the Graduate Office to submit a brief written assessment of the resubmitted thesis proposal to the Graduate Chair at least three working days before the date set for the reconvened Qualifying Examination. The Qualifying Examination Committee will either pass or fail the revised thesis proposal; this decision will be by simple majority. Failure of the reconvened Qualifying Examination or the passage of three months without resubmission requires withdrawal from the programme. Candidates wishing to appeal the decision of the Committee after a second failure may consult the Graduate School Calendar (Section 8.9) for details of the procedure. The chair of the examination will inform the candidate of the decision of the Committee at the conclusion of the examination.