Modern Languages and Cultural Studies

Pre-2016 Candidacy Procedures


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.

There are a few options for completing the comprehensive departmental exams. Students in Comparative Literature complete two field papers. Students in other MLCS areas must write three exams either as a take home option or as an in-person exam. The traditional format requires the completion of the proposal in advance of the departmental exams. The divided format requires the proposal to be nearly complete before the departmental exams, but allows a two month period following the exams to finalize the proposal for defense. 

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 20-30 pages plus bibliography. 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.

Please see our research proposal guidelines for a suggested format.

Field Papers (for Comparative Literature)

Students must complete two field papers to fulfill the departmental exam requirement. You will work on these papers in consultation with your supervisor. Each paper should be at least twenty pages in length. One paper will address world literature, and the other theory. They should integrate your chosen field of study and topic of interest. A successful field paper is one that, taking into account one's own research interests, is able to situate those interests within the framework of World Literature and Literary Theory, with special attention to the discipline of Comparative Literature.

Once deemed ready by your supervisor, you will send them to your supervisory committee for revision and/or approval. When fully approved, please send a copy of both papers signed by your supervisor to the Graduate Advisor (or, email a copy and have your supervisor email approval to the Graduate Advisor). Note that these field papers are not meant to be of publishable quality. Please ensure you speak with your supervisor to establish a similar and realistic standard.

Comprehensive Exams (for all other MLCS areas)

Students must complete three back-to-back comprehensive exams to fulfill the departmental requirement. First, a student should work with his or her supervisor and the supervisory committee to establish a reading list of three areas/sections. The reading list should contain about 60 sources, 20 per area with a range of books and articles. The student works on the reading list until he or she feels ready to initiate the exam process. Once ready to move forward to exam, the student and supervisor should establish a timeline and provide it to the Graduate Advisor.

The student will be provided 9 questions to prepare and then given three to answer, one at a time and one week apart. The papers should be approximately 15-20 pages in length. You can write these papers as take-home exams, or in person in a three-hour exam. Please see the Candidacy Timeline below for more details.

There are two options for these exams. If your proposal is entirely finished and approved prior to these exams, you will follow the traditional format, which means you have your oral defense two weeks after your grades are finalized for the comprehensives.

If you proposal is nearly complete but needs some fine-tuning, you can follow the divided format. This gives you exactly two months following the end of the comprehensive exams to have your proposal approved and your defense scheduled. No extensions are allowed.

All three comprehensive exams are graded by your supervisory committee members. The grades awarded are pass, conditional pass, or fail.

If you receive a pass from all members on a question, it does not get questioned in the oral defense. This may mean that a student with unanimous passes responds only to the thesis proposal at defense.

If you receive even one conditional pass from one member, this question will advance to defense. The Graduate Advisor will ensure the question and paper are distributed to the examining committee. You will be notified if a question will be brought to defense. During the course of the defense, you must respond sufficiently to convert the conditional pass to a full pass, as determined by the examiners.

If you receive one or more marks of fail from any member of your supervisory committee, you will be invited to a meeting with your supervisor, one committee member, and the Associate Chair, Graduate. At this time you will be provided with the option to retake the failed exam(s) with a different question (from the original nine) within a period of 1 week. Alternatively, you may leave the program with an MA (at the discretion of the Associate Chair, Graduate) or withdraw from the program at this time. Should you receive a mark of fail on any of the rewrite(s) from one or more examiners then at the discretion of the Associate Chair, Graduate you will either be offered the possibility of an MA degree or be asked to exit the program.

Candidacy Timeline (MLCS specializations) 

 Candidacy timeline

Oral Defense

Following the traditional format, the oral defense must be held within 2 weeks following the grading of the comprehensives. With the divided format, it must be held within 2 months.

At least 3 weeks before the proposed exam date, the supervisor must send exam information to the Graduate Advisor, including date, time, preferred location, and a list of examiners.

The examiners must include:

  • Non-examining chair
  • Supervisor
  • Supervisory Committee
  • Two arm's length examiners

Definition of arm's length: an arm's length examiner is an individual who is not a member of the supervisory committee; not connected with the thesis research in a significant way; not associated with the student outside normal contact in courses or other non-thesis activities; not a close collaborator of the supervisor. An arm's length examiner may be from the same department and may serve as the arm's length examiner for both the candidacy exam and the final defense.

Distribution of Materials

The student is responsible for distributing the approved proposal to all examining members.

The Graduate Advisor is responsible for distributing any comprehensive exams which need further questioning. Please note that only exams that received a conditional pass will be sent for oral defense. Any exam with a unanimous passing grade will not be distributed or appear at the defense.