Degree Requirements

MA Degree Requirements

Course Based

This option offers the broadest exploration of a diversity of ideas, literatures, and theories and is the most structured because of efficient course formatting. A course based MA degree is formatted to incorporate 24 credits of course work.


The Major Research Paper gives graduate students ample exposure to diversity of ideas, literatures, and theories. The MRP is completed under the direction and supervision of a faculty member for the Graduate Program in English and entails a piece of original research and critical writing of 50 to 75 pages on an approved topic. The MRP is formatted to incorporate 18 credits of coursework.


Completing a thesis results in a more limited exposure to the structure of course work. The thesis will be approximately 120 pages of completed research and analysis and must demonstrate a high level of independence, originality, and thorough understanding of the area of investigation. The thesis is formatted to incorporate 12 credits of course work.

PhD Degree Requirements

Course Work

Course Work

Fulfilling the PhD degree requires 18 credits of course work to be completed. Of this 18 credits, at least 12 credits are normally taken in the PhD I year, and the remaining in the PhD II year.  With permission, 6 credits of the total coursework may be taken in another graduate programme within or outside of York University.

All PhD candidates are required to demonstrate some acquaintance with pre-1798 writing. This may be done either by:

( a ) presenting evidence of successful completion of 6 credits (2 semesters or a full course) based on pre-1798 writings at the MA level


( b ) successful completion of at least 3 credits based on pre-1798 writings during the PhD I or PhD II years, the assumption being that once at the PhD level, the student has accumulated the equivalent of at least 3 credits worth of pre-1798 material.

Required Skills

This course is required for PhD candidates who did not take a similar or "Research Methods" course in their MA. Click here for additional information.

Second Language
Any student of English Literature beyond the MA level must have some working competence (at least reading comprehension/translation) in at least one language other than English.

By the end of their fifth term, all PhD students are required to demonstrate a reading knowledge of French (or of a language other than English demonstrably relevant to their approved course of study), either by passing the programme's translation exam or by successful completion of GS FREN 5712 French Reading Course for Academic Purposes (Basic) and GS FREN 5713 French Reading Course for Academic Purposes (Intermediate).

Dissertation Proposal Seminar

  • A faculty-facilitated and peer-reviewed workshop seminar at the completion of which students will have a working draft of their dissertation proposal.
  • Twelve three-hour seminar sessions normally held in the winter term of each academic year;
  • Enrolment limited primarily to students who have passed Exams 1 & 2 (Major Field and Dissertation sub-fields);
  • Students must enrol in the pro-seminar no later than one term after successful completion of their Dissertation sub-fields examination;
  • Students must achieve a grade of “pass” in order to complete the PhD program;
  • “Pass” is achieved by full attendance, participation, and completion of a draft of the dissertation proposal and bibliography following Program & FGS guidelines ready to be submitted to the student’s dissertation supervisory committee for finalization and approval;
  • Students who do not attend and participate and/or cannot produce a sufficient proposal draft by the end of the pro-seminar will earn no grade and may re-enrol in a subsequent term;
  • Students may enrol in the pro-seminar twice only;
  • Students have up to 4 terms to complete their second attempt and achieve a grade of pass;
  • “Fail” is an evaluation grade to be given at the end of the second attempt if a student does not attend, participate and produce a sufficient proposal draft by the end of the pro-seminar.

Professionalization Workshops
Participation in this is mandatory for all doctoral students. Candidates will attend workshops focusing on topics relevant to their intellectual and professional development. Before graduating, students must attend nine different workshops.

  • PWP 1                      Applying for funding
  • PWP 2                      Current intellectual issues/Professional Resources and Strategies
  • PWP 3                      Comprehensive Examinations
  • PWP 4                      Professionalization I:  Conference Presentations & Publications
  • PWP 5*                      Writing the dissertation proposal and research methods 
  • PWP 6                      Teaching strategies I:  Lecturing
  • PWP 7                      Teaching strategies II:  Course Directorships
  • PWP 8                      Professionalization II:  applying for jobs and alt-ac jobs
  • PWP 9**                  Teaching Assistantships.


*no longer offered due to Dissertation Proposal Workshop

**Previously known as The Interview Process (up to 2015-2016)


The PWP is designed to help students complete their doctoral studies in an informed timely, and productive fashion. Each workshop will be offered at least once a year. The PWP Coordinator will advise students how to schedule their attendance effectively.  As well, the PWP Coordinator will inform people about upcoming workshops and maintain the records of students’ attendance.

Qualifying Examinations

All PhD students are required to pass two qualifying examinations, each of which has a different deadline and objective.

Major Field

The Major Field examinations can be taken in areas defined by period, nation, genre, or special subject. One’s “Major Field” should be thought of as “the literature in which one wants to specialise and about which one will have something of significance to say/write.” It holds much of the literature one will teach and continue to study over the length of a career. A “Major Field” is one’s ground.


(mainly, but not only, British):
Medieval Literature* (to 1500) reading list
Renaissance Literature (1485 to 1660) reading list
Restoration & 18th Century Literature (1642 to 1798) reading list
Romantic Literature (1789 to 1840) reading list
Victorian Literature (1832 to 1901) reading list
Modern Literature (1885 to 1950) reading list
Contemporary Literature (1945 to present) reading list

*Students are advised that an introductory graduate course or, at the least, an upper-level undergraduate course in Old English, is deemed to be an almost essential preparation for the Medieval field and examination.


Canadian Literature reading list  
Postcolonial & Diasporic Literature reading list 
U.S. Literature Before 1900  reading list 
U.S. Literature After 1900 reading list


Theory reading list
Drama reading list
Poetry reading list
Prose Narrative reading list

Students begin reading for their Major Field in their first term and take the examination in their sixth term.  They prepare for the examination by working with a specialist supervisor in the field, meeting from time to time as agreed to discuss the works on a prepared reading list.

Major Field Reading Lists

There are basic reading lists for fields available in the Programme Office. These basic lists may be modified to suit the interests of individual candidates. A substitution of 20% is permitted for all reading lists for the purposes of tailoring the lists to the interests of the student and for working around texts the student may already know well. Such substitutions are to be determined by agreement between the candidate and the candidate's Chief Examiner and are subject to approval by the Graduate Study Committee.

Examinations in the First Field

Candidates take the Major Field examination in Term 6 (end of the summer of Year II). The examination has two parts, written and oral. The written exam comprises two half-day sittings and is followed, normally within one week, by a two-hour oral examination. In the examination, candidates will be expected to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the designated field as well as an original, critical understanding of the field and its constitutive texts. The written examination contains questions concerning generic, historical, critical, and theoretical issues pertinent to the field. The oral examination comprises questions formulated in relation to the candidate’s written answers. Impromptu follow-up questions ensue. Generally candidates are asked to move from their written responses to other texts on the list, so as to demonstrate truly comprehensive knowledge.

Dissertation Sub-fields

The purpose of this examination is to capitalize on the knowledge and ideas gained during the Major Field examination process and subsequently, so that students can work with supervisors to clarify fields of inquiry and areas of knowledge useful for developing the scope, character, and goals of their dissertations.  Students work with three professors to isolate three sub-fields and crucial texts that will help generate and further develop ideas of sufficient significance for exploration in a dissertation. The goal is to generate lists of texts that will fuel students’ creativity and encourage them to generate significant terms of exploration within sub-fields deemed necessarily useful for the dissertation subject. The lists do not purport to be “comprehensive” of a field, but rather to a necessary initiation to productive sub-fields that will help the student to clarify the direction and goals of the dissertation.

To capitalise on the fresh knowledge of the Major Field, to prevent students from losing energy and generally tarrying, the Dissertation Sub-field examination must be completed by the end of Term 9 (the end of Year III).

Reading Lists

  • Three reading lists of approximately 20 texts, each representing fields of inquiry and areas of knowledge useful for developing the dissertation and proposal.
  • By “text,” we mean the number of poems or articles deemed by field specialists as sufficiently representative of an author's work or period. As on some current field lists in the GPE, eight-to-ten lyric poems of some length add up to “one text,” for instance, as would three essays or articles.  A novel or a play (other than a very short ones) would also constitute “one text.”
  • A text cannot appear twice on any of the lists, including that of the Major Field.
  • Lists are drawn up in consultation with a committee of professors whose areas of demonstrable teaching and/or research qualify them to supervise in those areas.
  • In consultation with the supervising professors, students must also generate a brief rationale (up to one page, single-spaced) for their choice of fields and texts, articulating the kind of knowledge they seek to gain from the fields and texts, and to what end it will be put in the dissertation.  The rationale, therefore, proposes fields of inquiry, texts representative of those fields, the relation between texts within and across field, and the relation of the fields themselves.  In colloquial terms, it articulates what one feels one needs to know in order to get a footing in the dissertation topic, and thus the rationale also suggests what one hopes to produce with and from these texts.  The lists and texts are not exhaustive, but they must be justified as necessary.

Examination in the Dissertation Sub-fields

  • The supervising professors of the sub-field lists form the committee for the examination. The examining committee may or may become the dissertation supervisory committee.  The latter depends on the process and the product of the examination.
  • The examination will consist of a single 2-hour oral exam, which will explore and assess the student’s knowledge of texts on lists, and his or her ability to generate arguments towards a thesis for the dissertation.
  • Prior to the examination, the professors serving as the examining committee will agree to the types of questions to be asked of the student to best assess the extent and quality of his or her knowledge of the texts on the lists, while promoting the overall goal of exploring ideas to be developed in a dissertation.

Note: After passing the Dissertation Sub-fields examination, students enrol in the mandatory Dissertation Proposal Workshop in order to develop their dissertation proposal.  During this time, students continue to work with their dissertation supervisory committees to finalise their proposals.

The Proposal Students should consult the PhD Handbook in the Graduate Program Office (215 Stong) for a more detailed description of the proposal; however, the Proposal checklist linked here sets out some basic questions to guide your writing.


Dissertations take on different flavours, depending on the thesis, the field itself, the advice of the candidate's supervisory committee.

The page count guideline is broad: 200-400 pages. Consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies website for all guidelines and requirements concerning all aspects of the dissertation.

Your dissertation proposal is your direction, your supervisory committee is your guide, and the field/interest groups are your support structures. Don't hide from your committee or your peers.

Timely and Satisfactory Progress

The following definitions of timely and satisfactory progress work with the design of the program and the sequencing of its requirements.  The deadlines of the first three years (9 terms) are meant to be a “reasonable push,” allowing for little “down time.”  In making this “push,” the Program also endeavours to provide appropriate and responsible faculty and Program administrative involvement, advice, and supervision to facilitate student progress.  The “push” works to facilitate another program goal – that of providing three years of additional funding via TA and/or GA and/or RAships, during which students can research, write, complete, and defend their dissertations.

The definitions of “timely” and “satisfactory” progress relate to student initiative.  Extenuating and documentable circumstances, for example, medical circumstances and family emergencies, can enable a redefinition of the deadlines of progress for affected students.   Petitions to extend these deadlines must be made in writing with supporting documentation to the Graduate Study Committee of the GPE via the Program Office.  The GSC will decide the merits of petition and set new deadlines, if applicable.

Timely and satisfactory progress are defined as the meeting of all Program and Faculty of Graduate Studies requirements according to their specified deadlines as follows and for each degree respectively:

Fulltime PhD

Term 3

  • Major Field supervisor chosen and Major Field determined
  • Bibliography Requirement fulfilled (if applicable)

Term 5

  • Major Field Exam (timely deadline)
  • FGS Supervisor form signed

Term 6

  • 18 credits of coursework completed*
  • Major Field Exam (satisfactory deadline)

Term 7

  • Dissertation Exam (timely deadline)

Term 8

  • FGS Supervisory Committee form signed (final dissertation supervisory committee may change in the future. A new form is signed to reflect the changes)

Term 9

  • Dissertation Exam (satisfactory progress)**
  • Pre-1789 requirement fulfilled (by coursework or exam)
  • Language requirement fulfilled (by translation exam or coursework)

Term 18

  • Dissertation successfully defended

* 2 years or 6 terms are provided for the completion of coursework so that students can avail themselves of a broad selection of courses offered.  Completion of coursework, however, means that a final course grade is recorded by the Registrar for each course; therefore, all incompletes must be cleared by 31 August of any given year.  See Policy on Incompletes.

** This later deadline reflects that a) additional time for thought with responsible supervision is needed by some students whose ideas emerge and evolve after the Major Field Examination, and b) the Proposals seminar is offered from October to March annually.

Note: If students are evaluated as “not qualified” in either of the two examinations, then they have up to the end of the tenth term to become qualified, whether in the initial or another field or configuration of the Dissertation sub-fields. Failure to achieve satisfactory progress in the Program renders one eligible to be de-enrolled by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Policy on Incompletes

  • FGS encourages all programs to specify their own policies for incompletes.  The GPE policy is as follows:
  • students must submit a written request (email) for a “course extension” and thus an “incomplete” grade to the course director no later than one week prior to the final due date for course work set by the course director;
  • the request must detail the reasons for the request and specify the assignment(s) for which the extension applies;
  • an end date for the extension at which time all specified assignments will be submitted to the professor will be negotiated by the course director and the student;
  • no end date for an extension may exceed the end of the term subsequent to that in which the course was taken, namely:
    • 31 April for Fall courses
    • 31 August for Winter courses
    • 31 December for Summer courses
  • course directors are under no obligation to approve a request for an extension unless the student’s exceptional circumstances can be substantiated by documentation (e.g. medical documentation)
  • both the student and course director must sign the FGS course transaction form:
  • the Graduate Program Director, after consultation with the course director and with members of the Graduate Study Committee, makes a decision and informs both petitioner and course director
  •  students may not hold more than two incompletes in any given term
  • failure to meet the deadlines of a mutually-negotiated extension will result in a grade of F on the student’s transcript.
  • Inability to complete course papers within the time limit of an additional term (max) constitutes unsatisfactory progress, and the student may be de-enrolled.  The student cannot withdraw in good standing, because he or she has not been able to maintain good standing in the Program.
  • Further extension of an initial “course extension” is only possible through successful petition to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
Note: students should understand that no application for external funding can be successful if “Incomplete” grades appear on their transcripts.

Regular Track Through the Program

Year 1

Term 1 (Fall)

  • 18 credits of coursework, can spread into Year 2
  • Choose major field and begin study
  • 135 TA hours

Term 2 (Winter)

  • Bibliography requirement completed (if applicable)
  • Meet with in-field professors to find a good fit for major field exam supervision
  • 135 TA hours

Term 3 (Summer)

  • Have field supervisor sign the FGS supervision form
  • 135 TA, GA or  RA hours

Year 2

Term 4 (Fall)

  • 135 TA hours

Term 5 (Winter)

  • Major field exam 1
  • FGS deadline for signed supervision form
  • Develop sub-field topics & lists
  • 135 TA hours

Term 6 (Summer)

  •  All coursework completed
  • 135 TA, GA or RA hours

Year 3

Term 7 (Fall)

  • Dissertation subfields exam 2
  • 135 TA hours

Term 8 (Winter)

  •  Proposal seminar 3
  • FGS deadline for signed supervisory committee form
  • 135 TA hours

Term 9 (Summer)

  • Submit completed, signed proposal
  • 135 TA, GA or RA hours

Year 4

Term 10 (Fall)

  • Language requirement completed
  • 135 TA hours

Term 11 (Winter)

  • Write dissertation
  • 135 TA hours

Term 12 (Summer)

  • 135 TA, GA or RA hours

Year 5

Term 13 (Fall)

  • 135 TA hours

Term 14 (Winter)

  • 135 TA hours

Term 15 (Summer)

  • York U supplemental funding ends.
  • 135 TA, GA or RA hours

Year 6

Term 16 (Fall)

  • Final editing
  • CUPE supplemental funding continues
  • (full TA + term stipend)
  • 135 TA hours

Term 17 (Winter)

  • Final copies to committee +
  • 135 TA hours

Term 18 (Summer)

  • External examiners
  • Defend Dissertation
  • No Summer Funding