Students must complete candidacy within the first three years of their PhD program, as mandated by FGSR. Completion of candidacy has several parts: fulfilling the language requirement, completing ethics training, successfully passing comprehensive departmental exams, preparing a thesis proposal, and the oral defense of the proposal. It is the oral defense which is considered "candidacy" by FGSR; the remaining departmental requirements must be completed prior to the exam.

PhD students will complete candidacy in year two of the program and participate in the mandatory colloquium. 

Having successfully fulfilled all requirements above, a student is declared ABD, all but dissertation.

Ethics Requirement

Students are required to complete three ethics courses/seminars to fulfill this requirement. In your first year of study, you should attend two departmental workshops: Student-Supervisor Relationships and Ethics. These are offered yearly, so if you miss one in your first year, you should attend the following year. You can also complete workshops through FGSR in consultation with the Graduate Advisor.

The final requirement for ethics is an online training component, which is mandatory for all students. Please see this link to access the course through FGSR. The course should only take an hour or two. On completion, you will receive a digital certificate. Please forward this to the Graduate Advisor as evidence of completion.

Language Proficiency Requirement

As a PhD student, you are required to have reading knowledge of two languages other than English. A native language can count towards this requirement. Please see the Graduate Language Proficiency page for more information about either taking a proficiency exam or completing a language course. 

When preparing for candidacy, please check with the Graduate Advisor to ensure your languages are on file.

Thesis Proposal

The thesis proposal is the roadmap for your dissertation and is a vital exercise. It is the main focus of your oral defense. As such, your thesis proposal should be a substantial document, about 40 pages plus bibliography. You will work on developing this proposal in the Candidacy Colloquium. Once your proposal has been approved by your supervisory committee, submit a copy signed by your supervisor to the Graduate Advisor (an email copy and email approval will also suffice). The student is responsible for distributing the approved proposal to all members of the examining committee at least three weeks in advance of the defense.

Comprehensive Exam in Modern Languages and Cultural Studies


The comprehensive exam will test the student’s knowledge in areas related to the subject and/or discipline of the dissertation. That knowledge will be gathered from two reading lists generated by the student under consultation with the supervisor and, where appropriate, the supervisory committee and/or the stream advisor; the supervisory committee must approve the lists. List 1 (30–40 texts) will encompass texts or works that provide the contextual basis on which the dissertation is founded and/or the background knowledge necessary to begin dissertation research. Depending on discipline or stream, context and background may refer to, for example, cultural history, sociocultural or political setting, theoretical foundations, etc. List 2 (20–30 texts) will represent an area related to the dissertation that expands comprehensive knowledge and will be complementary to, though distinct from, List 1; it may be, for example: a) theoretical tradition(s) essential to dissertation work; b) a related topic explored in depth. The lists should not facilitate the creation of the dissertation proposal bibliography, though overlap is expected. Together the lists will number no less than 60 texts in total. Both lists may have an equal number of texts, whereby text is defined as books and articles (literary and scholarly), films, other visual works, performances, etc. Supervisors must ensure that the lists achieve a balance in terms of length and difficulty of texts, and, where appropriate, in terms of the distribution of literary/visual/other creative texts and critical works.

Exam Format:

The comprehensive exam will take the form of seven short (three–five pages) papers, all of which must be completed over the course of one week. These papers may take different forms depending on the demands of the question or discipline, for example, critical response, thought paper, short essay, extended definition, critical review article, etc. Students will receive seven questions, addressing each of the lists respectively; at least one question should address the intersection of the two lists in some manner. The questions will be thought provoking and specific; the questions will be written by the supervisor and the supervisory committee, where appropriate under consultation with the stream advisor. In their answers, students must demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of and critically reflect on the texts as well as synthesize the knowledge gathered from the lists.


The exam will be evaluated by the supervisory committee. Each evaluator will receive evaluation guidelines and space to log their comments on each individual question as well as an exam sheet where one outcome of pass, conditional pass, or fail will be given to the overall exam; in the case of conditional pass or fail, comments are required. The evaluator must list the aspects of the exam that need be addressed in an oral assessment (in the case of conditional pass) or a rewrite (in the case of fail). The exam sheet must be submitted to the graduate advisor one week following receipt of exam answers.


Pass: The exam demonstrated the student’s comprehensive understanding of the dissertation area as represented by a critical understanding of the reading lists in response to the question. If all three evaluators give an outcome of pass, the student would be cleared to proceed to the candidacy colloquium.


Conditional pass: The exam demonstrated the student’s lack of some aspect of comprehensive or critical understanding. In the case of a conditional pass given by one or more examiner, the student will be asked to address concerns in an oral assessment undertaken by the supervisory committee during which the student proves readiness to move on to the candidacy phase (see timeline). If all conditional passes are converted to pass, the student is cleared to proceed to the candidacy colloquium. If any conditional pass is converted to fail, the student would follow the process for fail.


Fail: The exam demonstrated the student’s lack of total comprehensive or critical understanding as demonstrated by one or more incorrect or highly flawed answers. In the case of a fail given by one or more examiners, the student will be invited to a meeting with the supervisor, one committee member, and the Associate Chair Graduate. At this time the student will be given the option to retake the failed exam with different but related question(s) to begin one week from the receipt of marks (see timeline). Alternatively, the student may leave the program with an MA (at the discretion of the Associate Chair Graduate) or withdraw from the program at this time. Should the student receive an outcome of fail from all three examiners on the original exam or on the rewrite(s), the student will be asked to leave the program with an MA (at the discretion of the Associate Chair Graduate) or be asked to exit the program.


Comprehensive Timeline:

Preparation Period:

-- February of the student’s first year: students will submit a brief thesis proposal and select a supervisor

-- May: reading lists are set (by student, in consultation with supervisor and stream advisor)

-- June–August: reading, completed by start of Comprehensive Colloquium

-- September–November: Comprehensive Colloquium (pass/fail) to facilitate exam preparation through peer work and guiding assignments, written and oral


Exam period:

-- First week of November: Comprehensive Exam

-- Second week of November: marks due

-- Third week of November: oral exam for conditional passes

-- Fourth week of November/First week of December: rewrites of any failed questions completed; students will receive 24 hours for preparation upon receipt of new question(s) plus 24 hours per question for writing

-- First/Second week of December: marks for rewrites due; oral exam for any conditional passes on rewrites