PhD Program

Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies logo

A completed PhD comprises coursework, qualifying exams, independent research and writing, and an oral defense. The Screen Cultures and Curatorial 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.

Admission Requirements

MA or MFA degree from a recognized university in film, media studies, art history or cognate fields (e.g. communication, cultural studies, visual arts, popular culture).

For applicants who do not meet these requirements but have a substantial record of work, training, and education outside of traditional academic tracks, please contact the Graduate Coordinator before applying.  

Degree Requirements

Students are required to complete three core courses (including SCCS 810, see below) and two Option Courses, a qualifying exam, and a Dissertation or Project. Students are allowed to take additional courses, upon consultation with the supervisor and Graduate Chair. 

Students should consult with their supervisor about course selection. All first-year PhD students must take SCCS 810.

Doctoral students with a Queen's M.A. in Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies need only take two optional courses, plus SCCS 810. Their two courses will be drawn from the list of available courses, and determined in consultation with supervisor and/or program director.


Core SCCS courses:

SCCS 910/6.0/F/W Professional Development in Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies

SCCS 812/3.0/W Critical and Theoretical Approaches to Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies

SCCS 814/3.0/F Histories and Methodologies of Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies

Option SCCS courses:

SCCS 820/3.0/F Media Production Seminar

SCCS 828/3.0/F Critical Curatorial Studies Seminar

SCCS 830/3.0/W Curating in Context

SCCS 840/3.0 Directed Reading

PhD students may also choose Option Courses from Cultural Studies courses:

Cultural Studies may have room for SCCS students in their courses. CUST PhD Option Courses: CUST 806/3.0; CUST 892/3.0; CUST 816/1.0; CUST 800/3.0; CUST 804/3.0; CUST 807/3.0; CUST 893/3.0; CUST 817/1.0; CUST 815/1.0. For detailed descriptions of Cultural Studies courses click Cultural Studies Courses.  Relevant courses may also be found in Art History, Gender Studies, English, and International Development Studies. Courses outside SCCS require permission from both the instructor and the Graduate Coordinator of SCCS.


The minimum funding guarantee for Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies PhD students is $22,000 per year, throughout years 1-4. The funding package is created from Queen’s Graduate Awards, Teaching Assistantships, and named internal Fellowships. All students in the program who qualify must apply for external awards (OGS, SSHRC and other sources). Queen’s will automatically issue a $10,000 award to incoming PhD students who have won federal government tri-council awards (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC). For more information, see the School of Graduate Studies and Post-Doctoral Affairs information on awards and scholarships.  This funding does not cover all living expenses, but rather covers the tuition and contributes to living expenses.

Guidelines for Progress Through the PhD Program

Guidelines for Progress Through the PhD Program chart

Selection of Supervisor

The SCCS Graduate Committee generally identifies a preliminary supervisor at the application stage. With the Graduate Coordinator, the supervisor assists the student in planning the first semester of courses and investigating and deciding on a Supervisor.

During fall term, and continuing into winter term, students should approach one or more core faculty members to discuss their potential availability or interest to serve as Supervisor. Students must confirm their Supervisor by the end of the Winter term.

All core faculty members in SCCS are eligible to supervise students. Co-supervision is possible in exceptional cases: i.e. if, in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator, it is decided that the student’s PhD project can be completed successfully only with two Supervisors.

Annual Review of Progress

Each year, by 30 June, PhD students are responsible for submitting an SGS Annual Progress Report through the SGS Forms portal, detailing their progress since the last report, and plans/objectives for the next year.

This report is required by the School of Graduate Studies and its purpose is to enhance communication between student and their supervisor, to identify any obstacles early so they may be addressed. It also provides SGSPA with information about student publications and conference papers as required by the Queen’s Quality Assurance Policy. Please note that this report is required in addition to any such requirements related to your funding (e.g. SSHRC Annual Progress Report).

Once you submit the form, your supervisor will review it and add comments; you will then have a chance to respond to their comments. Finally, the Graduate Chair will review each APR before it is filed.

N.b.: Continuing MA students should use the PhD form, as there is no separate form for MA students.

​Please write us at if you have any questions.

Preparation for Qualifying 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 SCCS-affiliated faculty members to serve on their committee. In a situation where a community advisor, and adjunct instructor, or a non-SCCS-faculty member is desired for the committee, the student should consult with the Graduate Coordinator. (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.

Starting with SCCS 910 in the Spring, and 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. The student is to produce a bibliography of 50-60 items, and annotate 20-30. 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.

In or by early September of Year 2 (and ideally 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 or curatorial 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.

Qualifying Exam

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 will submit a report (Form 2: Committee member approval of qualifying exam) to the supervisor. The supervisor determines the decision based on a majority of the three evaluations; notifies the student, drawing from the examiners’ reports to compile feedback for the student. If the exam is deemed a “pass,” the supervisor also fills out Form 3: Qualifying Examination Approval  and forwards it and all copies of examiner reports to the Program Administrator and Grad Coordinator. All forms are available on the shared drive.. 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 and undergraduate syllabus in the area of their specialization.

Thesis Proposal

The format of this proposal 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, with at least 40 items 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. As of January 2020 all supervisors need to take CORE as well and submit their certificate with the student GREB application.

Research Creation and Curatorial projects (“Project Option”) Proposals

In consultation with the supervisory committee, a Research-Creation or Curatorial Project proposal may integrate artistic production or a curatorial project (see the Guidelines for Research-Creation for more information). If it does, the ratio between the production or project 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 or curatorial project 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.


In year 1, through SCCS 910, students will obtain A certificate in screen cultures pedagogy.

Alongside the preparation of the proposal in Year Two, the student consults the supervisory committee to set the topic, contents, and instructional setting for the development of a Syllabus in their research area for an Undergraduate course. The syllabus will allow students to practice the transfer of research knowledge to an Undergraduate educational setting. Effort will be made to enable students in years 3-4 to teach the courses they design.

The Syllabus is evaluated according to the following criteria:

the relevance of its topic to the student’s course of study and research programme

the level of topical knowledge demonstrated by the course design

the appropriateness of the course content, pedagogy, and learning outcomes for the target audience and level of instruction.

The syllabus must include a narrative rationale addressing each of these factors to the examining committee. The committee may pass the syllabus, or if revisions are requested, the syllabus must be revised and resubmitted within two weeks of its first evaluation. The syllabus should be approved before the end of the second year of study. Students are welcome to register in a term-long instructional development course SGS 902.

Proposal Defence

Before the end of Year 2, as the thesis or project proposal is approaching completion, the Supervisor schedules the proposal defence and finds a Chair for it (normally the SCCS Graduate Coordinator; this person conducts the meeting but does not play a role in the evaluation of the proposal). Ten working days prior to the scheduled defence, the student distributes the proposal to all committee members. The defence 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 defence, committee members will assess the timeline and (if applicable) budget, and 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.

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.


The dissertation may be designed in one of three formats: Monograph, Manuscript, or Portfolio.

•  A Monograph dissertation is a singular text modeled on the traditional book-length dissertation.

•  A Manuscript dissertation consists of a minimum of three independent essays (published, or determined by the dissertation committee to be publishable) which are set within a larger document that includes introductory and concluding chapters.

- A literature review spanning the range of literature cited in the independent essays must appear either in the introductory chapter or as a separate chapter.

•  A Portfolio dissertation consists of multiple components of scholarship based in analytical writing, applied writing, and/or research creation (to be determined by the student and dissertation committee) and presented alongside introductory and concluding writing.

- A literature review spanning the range of literature cited in the Portfolio components must appear either in the introductory writing or as a separate document.

Dissertations in the SCCS program adhere to Queen’s School of Graduate Studies and Post-Doctoral Affairs guidelines for each dissertation format. Students should refer to SGSPA guidelines for more detailed information.

The syllabus should be approved before the end of the second year of study. Students are welcome to register in a term-long instructional development course SGS 902.

PhD Candidacy and Doctoral Research

After successfully completing all coursework and the Syllabus, Research Proposal and Proposal Defense, students are advanced to candidacy for the PhD (ABD, All But Dissertation) and begin doctoral research.

During years three and four, students conduct original research and prepare written components and creative projects of the dissertation under the guidance of the supervisor.

After the student advances to candidacy and before a completed dissertation is submitted, the student in consultation with the Supervisor may begin to plan the composition of the Dissertation Examining Committee. Normally the Supervisory Committee members continue onto this committee, although they may withdraw or the student and Supervisor may choose to ask additional faculty members to serve.

In final form, the Dissertation Examining Committee consists of the Supervisor, two SCCS faculty members, an Internal/External Examiner (from Queen’s University but outside of SCCS) and an External Examiner (from outside of Queen’s University).