Comprehensives and Candidacy


PhD students will complete Candidacy in Year 2 of the program* and participate in the mandatory Colloquia. Completion of Candidacy has several parts:

It is the oral defense which is considered Candidacy by FGSR; the remaining departmental requirements must be completed prior to the exam. Having successfully fulfilled all requirements above, a student is declared ABD, all but dissertation.

*FGSR mandates that students complete candidacy within the first three years of their PhD program; in MLCS we encourage completion by the end of Year 2.

Language Proficiency Requirement

PhD students 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 Exam 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 that your languages are on file.

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. Click on this link to access the course through FGSR. The course should take an hour or two, and upon completion, you will receive a digital certificate. Please forward this to the Graduate Advisor as evidence of completion.

Comprehensive Exam


The comprehensive exam tests the student’s knowledge in general areas related to the subject and/or discipline of the dissertation. That knowledge will be gathered from 2 reading lists. The student is responsible for compiling these lists in consultation with the supervisor, and, where appropriate, the supervisory committee and/or the stream advisor. The student is also responsible for delivering the completed lists to the supervisory committee, which must approve them. Once they are established, the supervisor emails the Graduate Advisor confirming the committee's approval and attaches (or drops off copies of) the 2 lists for the student's file. 

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 are intended to reflect comprehensive disciplinary knowledge. As such, they will be broader than 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.

The exam preparation is accompanied by participation in the Comprehensive Colloquium (Fall term).


The comprehensive exam will take the form of seven short (3-5 pages) papers, all of which must be completed over the course of 1 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 7 questions, addressing each of the lists respectively; at least 1 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 questions will be evaluated by the supervisory committee. Each evaluator will use the evaluation guidelines below and log their comments on the provided exam sheet where an outcome of pass, conditional pass, or fail will be given to each question; in the case of conditional pass or fail, comments are required. The evaluator must list the aspects of the question 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 questions (see the dates in the schedule below).

Pass: The answer demonstrates 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 evaluators give an outcome of pass for a given question, that question is considered complete.

Conditional pass: The answer demonstrates the student’s lack of some aspect of comprehensive or critical understanding. In the case of a conditional pass given by 1 or more examiner, the student will be asked to address concerns in an oral assessment undertaken by the supervisory committee. During the oral exam, the student needs to demonstrate their comprehensive or critical understanding related to the issues raised by the committee. For a conditional pass converted to a full pass at the conclusion of the oral exam, that question is considered complete. If any conditional pass is converted to fail, the student would follow the process for fail.

Fail: The answer fails to demonstrate the student’s comprehensive or critical understanding.  For each failed question, students will receive 24 hours for preparation upon receipt of the new but related question plus 24 hours (per question) for completion. See above for procedures following pass and conditional pass for these rewrites.

If the student receives a fail on a rewrite from 1 or more evaluator, OR if the student receives a conditional pass on a rewrite that is converted to a fail after the oral exam on that rewrite, the student will be invited to a meeting with the supervisor, 1 committee member, and the Associate Chair Graduate. The student will be asked to withdraw from the program. At the discretion of the Associate Chair Graduate, the student may be eligible to leave the program with an MA. Students should be aware that choosing to accept this option may result in additional fees due to the Change of Program.

Should the student receive an outcome of fail from all examiners on all original questions or rewrites, the student will be asked to to withdraw from the program. At the discretion of the Associate Chair Graduate, the student may be eligible to leave the program with an MA. Students should be aware that choosing to accept this option may result in additional fees due to the Change of Program.


Comprehensive Timeline Overview 

1. Preparation Period

Year 1, Term 1
September - December: Meet stream advisors, professors, etc.

Year 1, Term 2
January: Start the process of choosing a supervisor + committee. (The stream advisor or the Associate Chair, Graduate can guide, recommend & facilitate connections, etc.) 

April 1: Supervisor + Committee selected (can be modified if necessary).

March-April-May: work on compiling reading lists in consultation with supervisor + committee (see above).

May 15: Supervisor + Committee approves reading lists (via email to the Graduate Advisor).

May-August: Reading, completed by start of Fall Comprehensive Colloquium.

Year 2 Term 1
September-November: Comprehensive Colloquium (pass/fail) to facilitate exam preparation through peer work and guiding assignments, written and oral.

2. Exam period (see below for this year's specific dates)

Year 2 Term 1

Week 1: Comprehensive exam (Examiners = non-examining Chair, Supervisor + Committee).

Week 2: Marks due from Supervisory Committee.

Week 3: Oral exam for conditional passes.

Week 4/5: 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 completion.

Week 6: Marks for rewrites due from Supervisory Committee; oral exam for any conditional passes on rewrites. 

 FALL 2021

October 27 Seven questions submitted to Graduate Advisor by the supervisor
October 29 Questions distributed to students via email by 9AM
November 5 Student answers (in 1 PDF document) due to Graduate Advisor via email by 12 NOON 
November 5 Student answers and marksheet distributed to markers via Google drive; all committee memebers evaluate all questions
November 15 Marksheets due to Graduate Advisor by NOON 
November 16 Graduate Advisor informs students of results
November 18-26    Committees hold oral exams for conditional passes (book a seminar room through Graduate Advisor if needed)
Nov. 29 - Dec. 3 Rewrites for failed questions (marks due 1 week after submission) 
December 6-10  Oral exams for conditional passes on rewrites 


Candidacy Exam 

Thesis Proposal and Oral Defense

The thesis proposal is the road map for your dissertation and is a vital exercise. As such, your thesis proposal should be a substantial document, about 40 pages plus bibliography. You will work with your supervisory committee on developing this proposal, supported by participation 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.

The oral defense of the proposal lasts roughly 2 hours and is done in front of a committee made up of the following members:

The supervisor must communicate exam details to the Graduate Advisor, including date, time, preferred room, and a list of all examining members plus the exam chair. If you need videoconferencing, you must also check if Arts 131 is available by contacting Clare Peters:

During this defense, students must display to the satisfaction of the examining committee their readiness and ability to undertake original dissertation work by showing a good grasp of the literature, methodological approaches, and essential research questions pertinent to the topic. The outcomes of the candidacy exam are: pass, conditional pass, fail and repeat candidacy, fail with a recommendation to terminate or terminate with an MA (at the discretion of the Associate Chair Graduate), adjourned. Please see the University of Alberta calendar for more information, and click here for the exam day procedure.


The Comprehensive Exam (Fall term) and the preparation and Oral Defense of the thesis proposal (Winter term) are each accompanied by colloquia, which support students’ work toward candidacy while also offering a space for the sharing of research and the development of inter- and cross-disciplinary literacy and methodology. The colloquia will be led by an MLCS faculty member in conjunction with guest speakers and are designed to support students throughout the comprehensive exam and candidacy process. Colloquia are marked on a pass/fail basis.

In the Comprehensive colloquium (Fall) students will work with their reading lists in the form of peer work, work with student mentors, guided discussions with guest faculty members, sample exam questions, or presentations while acquiring strategies for organizing readings, structuring information, and time management.

In the Candidacy colloquium (Winter) students will develop their research questions and work with their corpus in small workshops and larger group presentations with the end goal of completing a working dissertation prospectus by the end of the term.

Back to top