English and Film Studies

PhD in English

PhD Program Structure

The PhD program is designed to be completed in four years of full-time work. It is primarily intended as the first step in an academic teaching career, although some of our graduates find employment in fields such as publishing, librarianship, or government. Recent PhDs are in tenurable positions at a number of Canadian and American universities. Still others have secured research employment in government and universities in Canada or internationally.

Our doctoral degree requirements are designed in order to facilitate timely completion of the degree, to promote intellectual rigor, to provide an intellectually rich experience, and to support students in all aspects of the program, including enhanced teacher training. 

The PhD consists of:

Year 1

Year 2

Years 3 and 4 



Students are advised to complete coursework in their first year when they are relieved of any teaching duties.
Please see current graduate course descriptions.
Students can take up to 2 courses in another department or at another institution, with permission from the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies. 



Enrollment in all EFS Graduate Seminars must be requested through the office of Graduate Program Administrator Kim Brown. EFS students will have priority in enrolling in these classes. They will be asked to submit a list of their preferences to Kim Brown.  The grad chair will make decisions about priority for enrollment in classes that are over-subscribed. 

If there is room in an EFS graduate class after all EFS graduate students have enrolled, non EFS students may ask for permission to enroll. In order to request permission, students should send Kim the following documents: a short letter explaining their reasons for wanting to enroll in a specific class, a CV, and a writing sample. Professors for each course make the final determination about who may enroll in their course. Non EFS students will typically be prioritized in the following order: Faculty of Arts Graduate Students; Graduate Students from Other U of A Faculties; Visiting Graduate Students; Open Studies and Special Students.

Course Expectations:

General practice in the Department regarding workload on average takes the following form for a graduate course: 15-20 pages of written work, the equivalent of one or two 20-30 minute oral presentations, and weekly reading assignments roughly equivalent to a 200-page novel and one or two critical or theoretical readings (scholarly articles, chapters of books, etc.), in addition to independent research. Final projects for graduate classes should be due no sooner than one week after the final class meeting.


Doctoral students are required to complete Proseminars A and B. Students holding SSHRC grants may defer Proseminar B until the year before they teach (which is typically in their third or fourth year of the program).

Proseminar A (Fall Term):

A series of meetings with the Associate Chair, Graduate Studies covers the following topics: 

  • Graduate Studies at the University of Alberta
  • The library and on-line library resources
  • Conceiving of a research project & crafting a short proposal
  • Supervision: the supervisory relationship and assembling a committee
  • Candidacy Exams
  • Research ethics (which fulfills part of the FGSR ethics requirement)

Proseminar B (Winter Term):

Introduction to First-Year Teaching includes sessions on:

  • The first-year curriculum
  • Marking and grading
  • Teaching literature
  • Teaching writing
  • Classroom management
  • Syllabi and assignment development
  • Microteach sessions


FGSR Ethics Requirement:

All students must complete the FGSR Ethics requirement: the Graduate Ethics Training Course.

Professional Development Requirement


PhD Colloquium:

The PhD Colloquium meets in Years 1 and 2 of the PhD. The Colloquium is focused on readings, talks, and activities that grapple with large disciplinary questions and pursue the question of how and why we do the work we do. The Colloquium differs from regular coursework in that it goes beyond the more specialized introduction to specific areas of inquiry offered in graduate courses to a consideration of issues and debates that engage people working in a number of fields and that animate the discipline as a whole.  The Colloquium is built on the principle that what brings us together is no longer a shared history of texts, but an approach to scholarly work that is self-conscious about epistemological, analytical, ethical, and rhetorical practices, both in the texts we analyze and in our own writing. The Colloquium may require written work, oral presentations, and participation, the nature of which will be determined by faculty and student participants. Readings will normally not exceed the equivalent of three article-length pieces per meeting. The Colloquium will also include the public sharing of students’ work as a capping exercise. This component of the PhD program is graded as complete/incomplete.

Statement of Research Plan:

Students are required to submit a 3-5 double-spaced page statement of research plan to the Graduate Committee for approval by March 15th in Year 1 of the program. This document is a record of the student’s thinking about their project at this stage in the program. To this end, it might outline the field or fields relevant to the project and present a series of research questions on which the proposed dissertation will focus. Every statement of research plan will include a Works Cited, and a preliminary reading list of materials foundational to the early stages of the project that forms the student’s program of reading over the spring and summer of Year 1. Graduate Committee strongly recommends that students keep their statements within the 5-page limit. 

Language Requirement for the PhD:

PhD students are required to demonstrate basic proficiency in two languages other than English, or advanced knowledge of one. Advanced knowledge may be demonstrated by passing a full-year (or 2 half year), upper-level (300-level or equivalent) language course with a minimum grade of 2.7 or by providing evidence of fluency. More information on the department’s philosophy, rationale, as well as our most current list of courses that satisfy this requirement can be found here.

FGSR Supervisor Checklist

Every PhD student must bring a hard copy of the FGSR Supervisor Checklist to the first meeting with his or her Supervisor after the Statement of Research Plan is approved. The document must be signed by the Supervisor and Student, and then submitted to the Graduate Program Administrator after the meeting.

Teacher Mentoring:

Doctoral students begin teaching in their second year of the program unless they have been awarded a SSHRC, or other major external award in which case their teaching is deferred until third and/or fourth year.

In their first term of teaching in EFS, which must always be in a fall term, doctoral students are given formal teaching support in faculty-mentored teaching cells or in the supersection course (each option means working in a group comprised of  1 full-time faculty member and three or four new GTAs). These structured mentoring groups share syllabi, assignments, notes for lectures and for classroom discussions, enabling students to focus on their pedagogical development rather than largely on content.

Following that first term, students have the option of continuing in informal teaching cells or groups with peers, enabling them to pool teaching ideas and resources, as well as share in discussions of pedagogical approaches, classroom dynamics, etc.

Writing Workshop (Optional)

The workshop is led by a faculty member but is student-centered, focused on writing the Long Thesis Proposal (LTP). The workshop meets as agreed upon by the group (anywhere from once a month to every week), from September through March, with the idea that students commit to the process of completing a draft of the LTP during the time that the workshop runs. Central to the workshop are discussions of the LTP as a genre, strategies for writing sections of the document as well as troubleshooting obstacles and practicing the skills necessary for oral defense of the document. Students who elect to take this component make a commitment to regular attendance at the workshop throughout the year, to sharing their work and strategies with the group, and to the shared goal of drafting the LTP by March. The writing workshop will only run in years when enough students elect to take it.

Long Thesis Proposal:

Students are required to submit a 25-40 page Long Thesis Proposal (LTP) to their supervisory committee. The suggested deadline for submitting the LTP for oral candidacy is Winter term year 2 or early Fall term, year 3. The LTP, following approval by the supervisory committee, forms the basis for the oral candidacy examination and is intended to establish the student’s readiness to begin work on the dissertation. The proposal will have been approved by the committee before the student can proceed to the candidacy examination.

The LTP is a 25-40 page document (double-spaced), plus works cited and proposed reading bibliography, in which the student outlines in detail the doctoral research project. As a whole, this proposal presents the material the student must know in order to begin writing the dissertation and to position her/himself in relation to the critical debates in which the project intervenes. NOTE: Please keep the proposal to a maximum of 40 pages!

Proposed Table of Contents for the LTP:

NB: Each proposed dissertation project is unique. The two sets of models below are meant to help students write the LTP, but the supervisor and candidate may create different areas of emphasis within these guidelines to fit the proposed project, or can combine aspects of these suggested models.

Model I

I. Brief Statement of the Project’s Questions, Goals, and Texts (1-4 pages).

II. Statement of the Project’s Plan of Research and Methodology (1-5 pages).

The Plan of Research can include some close reading of texts, or can focus on the theoretical, historical or methodological problems posed by the project. “Methdolology” refers to how the work will be undertaken, and what the plan for that work will be.

III. Situation within Fields: (these sections will be written as narrative bibliographies) (15-30 pages total)

Discussion of the project’s position within the larger field(s) with which the student identifies: how are these fields defined historically, formally, politically, intellectually, ethically, and in terms of scholarly methods? How and why does this project participate in those conversations? In short, who is the project’s broadest audience and what do they care about? Questions to be considered could include: what work has been done in this area before, both in terms of primary and secondary materials? What are its methods and findings? What will this project add to the scholarly conversation already taking place? Who is the project’s specific audience?
Discussion of critical methods: outside of field definitions, how is this project defined intellectually? With whom does it share methods, and intellectual or ideological commitments?

IV. Chapter Summaries, including key texts, methods, questions, and, if appropriate, preliminary arguments (3-7 pages).

V. Works Cited list.

VI. Reading Bibliographies: organized as appropriate to the project, perhaps divided by: primary and secondary texts, theoretical/methodological inspirations, chapters, etc.

Model II

I. Overview: Introduction of the project’s problem or question, including description of the topic and area (2-10).

II. Description of Archive: Provide an overview of the main cultural or literary texts that engage your topic. Some of these texts will be included in your dissertation and some of them will not. In other words, delineate the broadest possible archive for your project, summarize the ways you see these texts in dialogue with each other and with your project, and justify your choices of what to put in and leave out (2-10 pp.).

III. Field Placement or Literature Review(s): Overview the major secondary critical scholarship and/or theoretical debates that your project engages and describe what you see as your own contribution. What are the scholarly and intellectual conversations that your project will add to? What work has been done in your area before? Who is the project’s specific audience? (2-10 pp)

IV. Methodology and/or Chapter Breakdown: What is your method of analysis, reading, research and/or interpretation? How will you be approaching the work for your project and what are your major theoretical assumptions? A description of proposed chapter breakdowns could be useful to explain your methodology and/or your organizing principle (2-10 pp).

V. Works Cited.

VI. Reading Bibliographies: organized as appropriate to the project, perhaps divided by: primary and secondary texts, theoretical/methodological inspirations, chapters, etc.

Note: including a specific analysis of one of your texts or providing an exemplary research example may be helpful in illustrating your project, particularly but not exclusively in Section I or IV. 

Preparing for the Candidacy Exam

A student should write the LTP document in consultation with the supervisor and, as needed, with the other two members of the supervisory committee (the first and second readers). Once the supervisor determines that the LTP document is ready to be approved by the committee for the candidacy examination process, the following steps are taken.

1. The student sends the LTP document to the other two members of the supervisory committee.

2. The supervisor asks the supervisory committee members to determine if the student is ready to go to candidacy. There may be revisions at this stage if the committee members ask for them.

3. Once the LTP document is approved for Candidacy by the committee, the student sends the final version of the LTP to the Graduate Program Administrator (Kim Brown). There should be at least a 4 week period until the exam takes place.

4. The supervisor provides the Graduate Program Administrator with the following information:the date, time and location of the Candidacy Exam; the names of the Candidacy Exam Chair, the department examiner (internal external) and the name and department of the arms-length examiner (who is not from the department). The Graduate Program Administrator will distribute the LTP to the additional committee members.

5. The Candidacy Examination takes place.

Oral Candidacy Exam:

The oral examination follows FGSR regulations and requirements, according to which students must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the examining committee, that they possess an adequate knowledge of the discipline and of the subject matter relevant to the thesis, and the ability to pursue and complete original research at an advanced level. The examining committee consists of the supervisory committee plus two arm’s-length examiners, one from EFS and one from another department. 

Each committee will retain the right to establish its examination processes. However, because the arm’s length examiners have priority in deciding the outcome of an exam, questions generally begin with the external examiner and move from there through the internal examiner and then the supervisory committee, ending with the supervisor. Typically, two rounds of questions are asked, but the committee retains the right to ask as many questions as necessary to satisfy their need for information about the candidate’s preparation for writing the thesis. The exam typically runs about 2 hours, but it may run longer as needed.


The object of writing a PhD thesis is to enable the student to master and contribute to the literature of a given subject, and to digest, order, and present his or her findings more comprehensively than in essays or in an MA thesis. The work should be of a high caliber and advance knowledge in the student's major field of study. Since it is an extensive piece of work and likely to be the basis of further endeavors, it should be genuinely interesting and important. Since it demands professional competence, it should be well researched, well thought out, and well written. It need not be lengthy: two hundred pages may well be enough to demonstrate intellectual vitality. The FGSR's Manual of Regulations and Guidelines for Thesis Preparation is available for download on their website. 

Students are now able to choose e-thesis submission. All EFS students are required to submit one bound paper copy with blue cover to the department.

The PhD Defence:

The following format serves as a model for PhD defences: PhD Defences follow all FGSR procedures for examinations, as explained in the grad manual.

The Defence will be scheduled to take place before a small audience. Two weeks prior to the date, the Department advertises the upcoming event. Those interested in attending are asked to notify the Exam Chair (via the Grad Administrator) at least 3 days in advance of the defence. Requests to attend may be denied, but the overriding ethos would be that people with an academic interest in the topic will be approved to attend.

Before the exam, the examining committee will confer briefly to establish the process for the exams. This will be arranged by the examination chair. The Defence itself begins with the Candidate offering a summary presentation of their research, directed at the audience rather than the committee of expert examiners. This presentation introduces the candidate’s research subject, describes the research questions, and presents their findings with some comment upon their significance. This presentation lasts around 15-20 minutes, after which audience members are given the opportunity to leave the room.

Following this presentation, the examining committee commences their examination. Each committee will retain the right to establish its examination processes. However, because the arm’s length examiners have priority in deciding the outcome of an exam, questions generally begin with the external examiner and move from there through the internal examiner and then the supervisory committee, ending with the supervisor. Typically, two rounds of questions are asked, but the committee retains the right to ask as many questions as necessary to satisfy their need for information about the thesis. This part of the exam typically runs about 1.5-2 hours, but it may run longer as needed. When the Exam Chair is satisfied that the committee has asked sufficient questions, she or he may decide, time permitting, to receive a question or two from the audience members still in attendance. To protect the candidate’s interests, the Chair will strictly moderate these questions and will, where necessary, deem a question as not relevant to this venue.

After this, audience members—and the candidate—are be asked to leave the room to allow the committee to deliberate privately. Following the deliberations, the candidate alone will be invited back into the room to hear the committee’s verdict and to receive any feedback.

Supports for Graduate Students

The Writing Workshop offers regular workshops on:

  • Preparing a scholarship or fellowship application
  • Preparing postdoctoral fellowship applications
  • Writing the thesis
  • Time and stress management

 The Job Placement Officer offers workshops on such topics as:

  • Getting your work out there
  • Preparing proposals
  • Presenting at conferences
  • Getting published
  • Writing book reviews
  • Securing travel grants
  • The job market
  • The academic cv
  • Job letters
  • The interview
  • When to start applying
  • Non-academic jobs
  • Professionalization
  • Current issues and questions