PhD Program

The PhD program in our Department requires the completion of 18 credits (6 courses) of coursework, selected by students in conjunction with their Supervisor, plus two additional courses (Ling 693-Generals Papers I, and Ling 694-Generals Papers II). Coursework is followed by writing a dissertation prospectus, and an oral doctoral candidacy examination. The next step is writing and defending the doctoral dissertation.

The doctoral degree is ideally completed in 4 years, with coursework done in the first year, doctoral candidacy completed in the second and third years, and the dissertation written and defended in the fourth year. A more detailed timeline of the PhD program with all of the relevant deadlines is provided in our Timelines section below.

First-Year Review

The spring and summer after a doctoral student’s first year of coursework involves three key activities.  

  • First Year Review: Students are required to submit samples of the final written projects (e.g., term papers) from the courses taken over the first two semesters to their supervisor for review. This allows the supervisor to assess the quality of written work and to alert the student if there are any potential problems that might not necessarily be reflected in the student's grades but which could reflect the student's ability to proceed towards doctoral candidacy. The work will be assessed as either satisfactory, passed, or unsatisfactory, and students with a less than Satisfactory rating may be advised or required to take some remedial steps.

  • Preliminary Thesis Plan:  Students prepare a short outline of their thesis plans, e.g., topic, methods, etc.  This can be a presentation or document.  The purpose of the preliminary plan is to facilitate discussions with the supervisor and supervisory committee regarding the Generals Papers I and II and the Thesis Prospectus which are the focus of the second year. This thesis plan is brief and informal and the student is not bound to its content for the actual dissertation research and writing. 

  • Supervisory Committee Selection: Students should have their supervisory committee in place by the spring-summer of their first year.  This should be done in consultation with the supervisor. 

Generals Papers (GPs)

Generals Paper I:  Article-style paper that reports original empirical research appropriate for the student’s subfield.

Generals Paper II: Article- or chapter-style paper that demonstrates subfield knowledge directly relevant to the dissertation prospectus or dissertation, such as a literature review. Another substantial piece of writing that could form the basis of a dissertation chapter is also acceptable. 

Additional information about the GPs:

  • Both GP I and GP II should be related to the student’s dissertation research.  
  • The student’s supervisor would normally supervise the two GPs, but exceptions can be made if the supervisory committee agrees that doing so would benefit the student’s progress toward their dissertation. 
  • The order of GP I and GP II can be reversed if the supervisory committee agrees that this would benefit the student’s progress toward their dissertation. 
  • The time and scope of work required to complete the two GPs should not normally exceed the end of the second year in the program.  
  • Both GP I and GP II, or parts thereof, can be placed in the dissertation.  Revisions to the original GP text can be made as appropriate.
  • Students will present GP I as part of the department colloquium series.  

Thesis Prospectus

The Thesis Prospectus outlines the theoretical and methodological context of the proposed research, identifies the planned contribution to knowledge, and proposes a set of procedures and analyses that will contribute to the doctoral dissertation. More details about the format of the Thesis Prospectus can be found in the Thesis Prospectus Guidelines

Doctoral Candidacy

In preparation for the oral candidacy examination , the student must put together a candidacy portfolio consisting of the two Generals Papers and the Thesis Prospectus. Once these are completed and approved by the supervisory committee, the student takes an oral candidacy examination. Students failing to complete an approved candidacy portfolio may not proceed to oral candidacy.

The final component of the PhD candidacy procedure is an oral examination conducted by the doctoral candidacy committee, which is made up of five scholars, including the student's supervisory committee. The examination allows students to demonstrate the necessary level of knowledge of the discipline of Linguistics and of the subject matter relevant to the dissertation, as well as the ability to pursue and complete original research at an advanced level. The rules and regulations governing oral doctoral candidacy examinations can be found in the Calendar. 

Doctoral Dissertation

The single most important product of a student's doctoral program is the doctoral dissertation. The dissertation must be a substantial piece of original research that makes a recognizable contribution to knowledge. Through it, the candidate must demonstrate:

  • analytical and critical skills in identifying a significant research problem based on a comprehensive synthesis of the literature
  • the ability to design and execute a research project, and to analyze and interpret the results
  • the ability to write in academic English to a level commensurate with professional practice in the discipline for successful dissemination of research

Doctoral dissertation in the Department of Linguistics can either have a traditional format or a paper-based format.  Guidelines for the paper-based format can be found here. 

The doctoral dissertation must be defended orally before a committee of five scholars (including the supervisor and supervisory committee), one of whom is a recognized expert on the topic of the dissertation from outside the university.

  • Students and supervisors must begin making arrangements for the final doctoral examination approximately 3 months in advance of the desired defense date.

Doctoral defenses in the Department of Linguistics are open to the public so that students have a chance to present and defend their findings before their peers and the community at large. The rules and procedures governing Open Defenses in Linguistics can be found here; the rules governing the conduct of Final Doctoral Examinations in general can be found in the Calendar

The finished Dissertation must conform to the standards set out in the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research's Thesis Preparation Page. The Department of Linguistics has its own specific guidelines for the formatting of thesis title pages, which can be found here.

Doctoral Program Timelines

Our Doctoral program is designed so that students can complete the degree within 4 years. In order to ensure timely completion of the degree, students will be held to the following timeline:

First Year:


  •     6 courses in fall and winter (3 and 3)


  •     GP I preparation 
  •     Short preliminary thesis plan
  •     First year review (with supervisor)
  •     Supervisory committee members in place

Second Year:


  •     GP I 
  •     Planning for GP II


  •     GP II 
  •     Thesis prospectus 


  •     Candidacy Exam (or fall of third year)

Third and Fourth years (and beyond the funding window if necessary)

  •     Candidacy examination in fall of third year (if not in the spring of the second year)
  •     Dissertation writing
  •     Final oral examination of dissertation