Doctoral Studies


The English Department at Simon Fraser University has a selective Ph.D. program. Students interested in applying should have a well conceived project that can be supported by the Department's areas of specialization. The department is open to cross-disciplinary proposals and innovative studies.

The program is designed for completion in 9-12 semesters, though the university allows an outside limit of eight years (24 semesters). Part-time students are permitted in this program.


For admission to the doctoral program students are required to have an M.A. degree or equivalent with high standing from a recognized university.

Students entering either program are expected to have a good background in English studies. To fill any gaps, students may be required to do make-up courses at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Program of Study

The first two years of the program are designed to provide a necessary grounding for students before they pursue their particular thesis project; in the third year, students will engage in the research and writing of their thesis. Upon admission, the student will be assigned an advisor until a supervisor and supervisory committee can be selected.

The doctoral program has three stages:

  1. COURSES: By the end of the third semester, students must complete five courses plus English 880 & Engl. 881: Graduate Professional Development I & II.

  2. FIELD EXAMS AND APPROVAL OF THESIS PROSPECTUS: Students must write their Field Exams by the end of the sixth semester, and students must defend their thesis prospectus by the end of the seventh semester. As field examinations are intended, in part, to encourage breadth of coverage, neither should replicate the fields enjoined by the thesis.

  3. THE THESIS: Students complete their research and proceed with the writing of their thesis. Normally, students submit their thesis for defence by the end of the 12th semester of study.

Ph.D. Requirements


"The aim of the residence requirement is that a student should spend a period of time in contact with faculty members and with other students." To this end, the student shall be registered in a master's program at the University for a minimum of three full time equivalent semesters. Ph.D. students entering the program with a M.A. degree shall be in residence for five full time equivalent semesters as found under sections 1.7.3 and 1.7.4 of the SFU Calendar.


Ph.D. students must demonstrate to the supervisory committee a reading ability in a language other than English.  This requirement will be satisfied by proof that the student has taken a course, at the post-secondary level, taught in a language other than English or offered by a language department other than English.  If students are unable to demonstrate that they have already taken such a course, they will be encouraged to take a similar course at SFU.  Alternatively, students may take a time-limited exam of a literature or criticism passage in the second language that they will translate with the use of a dictionary.


By the end of the third semester, the student will complete five regular courses, at least one of which must be outside the student’s area of specialization. In addition, the student will take ENGL 880 & 881, the graduate professional development seminars. A typical first year of study will entail either two regular courses in fall and three in spring, plus ENGL 880 & 881; or two regular courses in fall, two in spring, and one in summer, plus ENGL 880 & 881. The senior supervisor in consultation and the graduate program chair will advise students in their choice of courses.


Upon admission, the Graduate Chair functions as advisor until a senior supervisor and supervisory committee are confirmed. Each student will be matched with a potential senior supervisor, normally on admission to the program, and the supervisory committee should be formed during the first year of the program and no later than the beginning of the field exams. Student and senior supervisor are encouraged to meet early in the program of study.

The Ph.D. supervisory committee consists of a senior supervisor and two readers (one of whom may be from another department). The supervisory committee is assembled by the graduate student in consultation with the Graduate Program Chair. Committee members are drawn from the areas of the student's research interest. The committee is normally appointed by the middle of the student's third semester in residence and must be appointed before the student commences work on the thesis.

Note that the names of the supervisory committee must be submitted on the appropriate form and approved by the Graduate Program Committee and the Dean of Graduate Studies.


The field exam process will begin at the start of the third semester of doctoral studies, normally in the first summer semester, and must be completed by the end of the sixth semester. If the student chooses to spread course work over three semesters, the first field will begin in addition to the final course. There are two fields, to be taken consecutively in the fourth and fifth semesters of the program. The thesis prospectus will be written in the sixth semester of study.

The format of the field exams is the take-home essay, written in the course of a week and graded pass/fail. In exceptional cases a distinction will be recognized. Their primary purpose is for faculty supervisors to assess the current state of the student's knowledge of the field(s), noting areas of particular strength and promise and those where further study would be useful. An oral discussion is held after the primary field exam to help prepare the student to write his/her dissertation prospectus. A field exam that does not pass may be repeated, not later than the following semester. A second failure requires withdrawal from the program.

In the first semester of the field exam process, the student, with guidance from supervisor and field committees, sets up the field exams in preparation for writing in the following two semesters. At this time, the student decides on areas in which to take the exam papers, forms and seeks approval of the committees for each exam, and compiles the reading lists for approval by the graduate program committee. Once the field exams are complete, the student will undertake the thesis prospectus in preparation for writing the thesis.

All activities associated with the field papers and thesis prospectus, such as compiling the reading list, reading, writing, and participating in the oral defence (where applicable), should proceed in close consultation with the field committee.


The Thesis Prospectus helps to guide the student toward defining a significant thesis topic and is undertaken normally in the sixth semester of the PhD program, following the completion of the Primary Field exam. The supervisory committee for the thesis prospectus will normally be the thesis committee that was formed for the Primary Field.

The thesis prospectus (maximum of 10 pages) outlines potential thesis chapters, identifying succinctly the research topic, theoretical approach and methodology, and main problems to be addressed. The senior supervisor and thesis committee responds to the student with concerns, revisions, or emendations required of the proposal.  The student undertakes revisions sought by the senior supervisor and thesis committee, and submits the Thesis Prospectus and reading list within two weeks to the Graduate Program Committee. A meeting will follow, moderated by the Graduate Program Chair, with respect to approach to the topic, theoretical perspectives, and research methodology.


After the completion of the Thesis Prospectus, the candidate will write a scholarly thesis normally of between 200 and 250 pages (not including bibliography).

The completed thesis is defended in an oral examination. Before proceeding to the defence of their dissertation, all three members of the supervisory committee must agree that the dissertation is ready to defend. The (defence) examining committee consists of a chair (normally the Graduate Program Chair), members of the supervisory committee (senior supervisor and at least one other department member), a faculty member external to the Department of English, and an external examiner who is not a member of Simon Fraser University.

Normally, students submit their dissertation for defence by the end of the 12th semester of study.