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Ph.D. Guidelines

Graduate Studies in English
Memorial University
Ph.D. Guidelines

The deadline for applications is January 15.

All applications must include the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) application form (a statement of research interests), all university-level transcripts, three letters of reference and a writing sample (e.g. a 2000-word essay).

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This guide is produced for the information of students, instructors, and supervisors who work in graduate studies in the Department of English Language and Literature at Memorial University. It does not take the place of the university calendar, but it amplifies the calendar regulations and sets them in the context of departmental practice. All graduate students and faculty should consult the University Calendar for the General Regulations of the School of Graduate Studies and for the particular regulations of the Department of English.

1. Admission and Application

2. Funding

3. Registration, Supervisors, Supervisory Committees

4. Program Requirements

5. Comprehensive Examinations

6. Dissertation


Prerequisites for Admission

Admission to the Ph.D. in English is limited and competitive. Applicants should have a Master’s degree in English or its equivalent from a recognized university and should have an outstanding academic record, with an A average in English.

All prospective applicants should consult with the graduate coordinator of the department before they apply, to ensure that they have the basic qualifications and to ensure that their proposed research interests can be accommodated by the department.

Application Procedures

Students may submit a paper application or a web application.

Students who wish to submit a paper application can obtain application forms on-line or from the departmental graduate secretary.

Students who wish to submit a web application can do so on the university website.

To apply students should:

— send a completed application form to the School of Graduate Studies
— arrange to have two letters of reference sent directly to the School of Graduate Studies
— arrange to have official transcripts from their undergraduate and graduate programs sent directly to the School of Graduate Studies
— pay an application fee to the School of Graduate Studies.

Students should include a sample of their academic writing in their application package.

To be considered for funding, students should submit a completed application by February 1. Students who have applied by February 1 should hear from us by May 1. New students are normally admitted in September.

International Students

Many students from outside North America apply to our program, and we have accepted students from several countries in Europe and Asia. But in recent years the rate of successful applications from abroad has been quite low. It is often difficult for us to assess the quality of applicants from abroad because of the extraordinary range of levels of instruction and because of undergraduate academic programs which are structured so differently from our own. Because intimate knowledge of the English language is so central to our discipline, we expect a much higher level of competence in English than is required in many other areas of graduate study.

All international applicants should contact the graduate coordinator before making a formal

Helpful information for international students is available on the School of Graduate Studies website.


All students who are admitted to our Ph.D. program receive basic fellowship funding, for which no duties other than the successful completion of program requirements is expected, plus a teaching fellowship. (See below.) Funding is contingent upon satisfactory progress and is available to a maximum of four years.

In addition, the department offers a number of graduate assistantships, for which students can apply after they have arrived on campus. (The departmental office will inform all eligible students when graduate assistantships are available.) These assistantships are normally given primarily to unfunded M.A. students.

All eligible Ph.D. students are required to apply in the autumn of every year for national (SSHRC) scholarship funding, which is much more generous than the support which we are able to offer. Students should ask the graduate coordinator for details as soon as they arrive in September of their first year.

Teaching Fellows

All Ph.D. students who wish to serve as teaching fellows must first complete the Graduate Program in Teaching, a one-semester program offered through the School of Graduate Studies. Since space in that program is limited, interested students are urged to apply early.

Students who have extensive relevant teaching experience or formal training in the field of education may apply for exemption from doing the GPT. (These students should forward to the graduate coordinator a brief written request, stating reasons for the exemption, along with supporting documentation. This request will be considered by the head and by the departmental Graduate Studies Committee.)

Teaching fellows teach their own sections of designated undergraduate courses, to a maximum of one course per semester and two courses per year. (The usual pattern is one course in the fall semester and one course in the winter semester.) Teaching fellows are paid by the university as per-course instructors at the current rate of $3,800 per course.

Students continue to be eligible to act as teaching fellows for four years, as long as they make satisfactory progress in their doctoral studies and as long as they perform their teaching duties acceptably.

Beyond the period of the teaching fellowships, teaching is not guaranteed, but students who continue to make satisfactory progress in their doctoral studies and to perform their teaching duties acceptably remain eligible to teach, to a maximum of one course per semester and two courses per year.

Teaching fellows are expected to take part in departmental orientation sessions for per-course instructors and to cooperate with departmental initiatives to ensure appropriate and consistent practices in the classroom. Teaching fellows, like other per-course instructors, are assigned faculty mentors who will provide advice and information on their teaching. Teaching fellows, like other per-course instructors, receive classroom visitations from regular members of the department, who provide written reports on the quality of instruction.

While teaching fellows are expected to perform their teaching duties conscientiously, they should not allow those duties to impede or delay their doctoral work.


Once students register, their program registration is continued until they graduate or make a formal written request to the university to have their automatic registration discontinued. Students will be charged fees as long as their program registration continues.

In addition to the automatic registration in the program, the student must register (usually by the internet) for each course taken.

Students can ask the Cashier’s office each September to have their tuition fees deducted from their fellowships. For this purpose, students should use a “Graduate Student Deduction Authorization Form.”


All new students in the Ph.D. program are assigned the head of the department as supervisor. As soon as an area for the thesis has been identified, the head is replaced as supervisor by another faculty member who has knowledge of the student’s proposed area of research and with whom the student has expressed a desire to work. The appointment of the supervisor is made by the head in consultation with the student, the supervisor, and the graduate coordinator. In appointing a supervisor, the head is likely to consider the student’s preference, the appropriateness of the supervisor for the proposed area of research, and the equitable distribution of supervisory duties among faculty members.

With the mutual agreement of the student and the department, joint supervision of the thesis by two faculty members is acceptable.

Supervisory Committees

University regulations require that each doctoral student have a supervisory committee. Usually, this committee has three members (the supervisor and two others).

The general regulations of the School of Graduate Studies stipulate that

The functions of the Supervisory Committee shall be, inter alia,

i. to decide, in consultation with candidates, the program of study, the subject of research, and the title of the thesis, and to recommend these for approval to the Dean;

ii. to monitor the candidate’s progress in their course programs and research;

iii. to report at least annually to the Dean on the candidates’ progress and, at the same time, to advise on their continuation in the program; and to make such other reports and recommendations about the candidates to the Dean as it may deem necessary.

iv. to recommend to the Dean, after consultation with the candidates, necessary changes in the program of study, the subject of research, or the title of the thesis;

v. to recommend to the head of the academic unit or Dean of the Faculty the timing of the comprehensive examination;

vi. to report to the Dean that the thesis is ready for examination by completing a Supervisor Approval Form, which is to accompany the thesis upon its submission to the School of Graduate Studies.

vii. to recommend to the Dean suitable persons to act as members of the Thesis Examining Board.

In the third semester of year one, all students should discuss the composition of the supervisory committee with the supervisor, the head, and the graduate coordinator. (The members of the supervisory committee must be chosen with care, since any faculty member who serves on the supervisory committee becomes ineligible to serve later as an internal examiner of the thesis.) The student and the supervisor should then forward a recommended list of supervisory committee members to the head, who will consider the recommended list in the light of available faculty resources and arrange to finalize the composition of the supervisory committee. All students should attempt to have the supervisory committee in place at the beginning of year two, so that it can offer advice on the thesis proposal and the planning of the thesis.

Students and their supervisors should request the supervisory committee that best serves individual student needs and best uses the available departmental resources. Some students and supervisors will choose to save the available area specialists as potential internal examiners for the thesis. Others will decide to use the available area specialists as members of the supervisory committee, in order to make the thesis as strong as possible. Some students and supervisors will choose to have one additional area specialist on the supervisory committee and retain the graduate coordinator as a third member of the committee who may not be in the area but who can offer useful comments on format and argument.

As the university regulations state, all members of the supervisory committee should be involved throughout the preparation of the dissertation. But different students, supervisors, and supervisory committees are likely to adopt different approaches to the issue of who reads what when. In some cases, students and their supervisors will benefit from having the drafts of individual chapters read by all members of the supervisory committee as they are submitted to the supervisor. In other cases, students and their supervisors will find it more productive to submit the dissertation to the second and third members of the supervisory committee only after an entire draft of the dissertation has been completed. The practice which each supervisory committee will follow in reading the thesis should be discussed and established at the outset.

All members of the supervisory committee must read the thesis carefully once a completed draft has been prepared. All members of the supervisory committee must sign off on the thesis before it is submitted for examination.

Leaves of Absence and Program Extensions

University policies on leaves of absence and program extensions are outlined in the university calendar. Any students who are considering taking a leave of absence should consult the graduate coordinator or the head of department.

Program Requirements

All students must complete the following program requirements, which are outlined in detail below:

-course work
-second-language requirement
-ethics course (GRIP), administered by the university
-comprehensive examination

A schedule for completion of these requirements is appended at the end of this document.

Thesis Proposal

All doctoral candidates must submit a thesis proposal, normally in the fourth semester of their program.

The proposal must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator by the supervisor and must be accompanied by a statement from the supervisor that he/she is in full support of the project as described. The statement from the supervisor must include the following:

  1. The student's name.
  2. A working title.
  3. The three proposed comprehensive examination areas.

The Graduate Coordinator ensures that the proposal conforms to these guidelines, and then forwards the proposal to the departmental Graduate Studies Committee for consideration.

The departmental Graduate Studies Committee is required to return the thesis proposal to the supervisor and the candidate no later than one month after receipt.

The departmental Graduate Studies Committee must respond to the proposal with either an approval or a request for revisions. Such a request must include specific reasons why the GSC is not willing to approve the proposal.

The proposal must be approved by the GSC before the comprehensive examination committee is formed.

The thesis proposal should be minimum 5000 words in length, plus the bibliography (all double-spaced).

The bibliography must include all works mentioned in the proposal and other works that will be used in the thesis.

All citations and the bibliography must scrupulously conform to the most recent MLA guidelines.

The proposal must include these sections:

  1. Topic and Thesis – this section must provide an introduction to the topic, a justification of the choice of texts/authors, an explanation and contextualization of key terminology, and – most importantly – a clear thesis statement that outlines the argument.
  2. Theory/Methodology – this section indicates and justifies the theoretical and methodological frameworks that will be used in the dissertation.
  3. Scholarship review/Scholarly significance – this section must survey the existing scholarship on the dissertation topic and position the dissertation topic within that critical history. The section must also offer a clear indication of how the dissertation adds to that scholarship.
  4. Chapter outline – this section indicates a proposed breakdown of chapter content
  5. Working bibliography – this section should be divided into primary and secondary texts and must meticulously conform to the most recent MLA guidelines.

Second Language Requirement

Reading knowledge of a second language is required of all candidates. Reading knowledge is defined as a minimum B grade in a second-year language course taken within the previous five years, a passing grade in an approved second-language course for graduate students, or performance satisfactory to the department in an arranged reading proficiency test (in which a dictionary may be used).

The language requirement should be completed before the comprehensive examination is taken.

The second language is normally French. In exceptional circumstances, and on the recommendation of the supervisory committee and the departmental Graduate Studies Committee, a language other than French may be substituted.

The supervisory committee may also require a demonstrated reading knowledge of an additional language (other than French or the substituted language) if such knowledge is deemed necessary for the student’s research interests.

Comprehensive Examination

The Ph.D. comprehensive examination is a written examination prepared by the candidate’s comprehensive examination committee. The examination consists of three parts, usually written on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the same week: a four-hour examination in the student’s area of concentration and two three-hour examinations in other specified areas. The examination dates are set at the request of the student and with the consent of the comprehensive examination committee. The examination should take place before the end of the seventh semester.

The candidate’s comprehensive examination committee consists of the head (or the head’s delegate, usually the graduate coordinator), the candidate’s supervisor, and three other members of the department.

The candidate, in consultation with the supervisor, is encouraged to recommend the names of potential committee members to the graduate coordinator. (These potential committee members are likely to be faculty members who have knowledge of the areas to be examined and who have shown an interest in the candidate’s areas of research.) The final composition of the committee is determined by the head, who forwards the list of examiners to the Dean of Graduate Studies for final approval.

Once the comprehensive examination committee has been approved, the candidate submits reading lists for the three areas to the graduate coordinator, who forwards them, along with a copy of the thesis proposal, to the committee for approval. Though the reading lists are drawn up by the candidate in consultation with individual faculty members, all lists must be approved by the entire committee.

Each list should have thirty or more significant readings. (These may include a group of selections from an individual poet, a collection of short fiction, a longer work of fiction or drama, or a central secondary text.) While the primary emphasis of the period and genre examinations is on primary texts, each list should include central secondary texts which offer a conceptual framework for understanding the primary texts, and the candidate should have a clear sense of the critical questions currently under examination in the field.

Candidates are graded “pass with distinction,” “pass,” “re-examination,” or “fail.” The grade of “pass with distinction” requires the unanimous consent of the comprehensive examination committee.

The procedures for students who receive a grade of “re-examination” or “fail” are outlined in the university calendar.

Comprehensive Examination Areas

The comprehensive examination encourages broad reading in a number of areas and is intended to help students define a context for the thesis and for the study of English in general. The examination encourages the solid area coverage and flexibility which will make students attractive candidates for employment as university teachers of English. There is to be no significant overlap among the examinations.

The candidate is required to submit a list of the three areas to be examined to the Graduate Studies Committee at the same time as the thesis proposal is submitted for approval. The Graduate Studies Committee will check that the proposed areas are: i) consistent with departmental regulations, ii) consistent with the available resources, and iii) appropriate for the candidate’s proposed thesis topic.

One three-hour examination focuses on a literary period, such as those listed below.

-Old English
-Middle English
-sixteenth century
-seventeenth century
-eighteenth century
-Victorian literature
-American literature to 1900
-Canadian literature to 1900
-twentieth-century and contemporary American literature
-twentieth-century and contemporary British literature
-twentieth-century and contemporary Canadian literature
-twentieth-century and contemporary Irish literature
-twentieth-century and contemporary world literatures

The areas for the period examination may be defined more broadly than they are in the list above, if the student wishes. (For example, an examination in “twentieth-century and contemporary literature” is acceptable, as is an examination in “Canadian literature.”) The period examination should cover a comprehensive range of authors and genres.

The second three-hour examination covers one of the following areas.

-a second period (such as those listed above)
-a genre (drama, fiction, poetry, non-fictional prose)
-critical theory / history of criticism
-bibliography/ textual criticism

Again, the period examination should cover a comprehensive range of authors and genres. The genre examination should cover the historical development of the selected genre.

Whichever areas are chosen, candidates and examination committees should take care not to allow over-specialization in these two examinations.

The four-hour examination, which must not substantially duplicate the material of either of the first two examinations, is more specialized, as it focuses upon the candidate’s area of concentration: yet it too should encourage a comprehensive approach by testing the candidate’s knowledge of literary, intellectual, and cultural milieux and critical material germane to the thesis topic.

Thesis Format

Before the student begins the thesis, the student and the supervisor should review the School of Graduate Studies Guidelines for Theses and Reports.

These Guidelines should be followed at every stage of the preparation of the thesis. The thesis bibliography will normally follow the Modern Language Association format.

The Thesis Defence

The university regulations concerning the examination of the doctoral thesis and the thesis defence are in the university calendar under the “School of Graduate Studies–General Regulations” in the section entitled “Evaluation of Ph.D. Theses.”

The Thesis Examining Board has four members. In most cases, this board consists of:

-the candidate’s supervisor (a non-voting member)
-one external examiner (a specialist in our discipline from outside Memorial University)
-two internal examiners (two members of Memorial’s Department of English)

With the exception of the supervisor, no one who has been involved in the preparation of the thesis is allowed to serve on the Thesis Examining Board. (Members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee who have not been directly involved in the preparation of the thesis are eligible to serve on the Thesis Examining Board.)

As the thesis nears completion, the supervisor or the supervisory committee discuss with the candidate the names of possible examiners. The supervisor or supervisory committee then make recommendations to the head and to the graduate coordinator. The head and the graduate coordinator consider the recommendations made by the supervisory committee, prepare a proposed list of examiners, and make preliminary inquiries concerning the potential examiners’ willingness and ability to serve. The proposed list is then forwarded by the head to the Dean of Graduate Studies, who approves the composition of the Thesis Examining Board and issues the official invitations to serve.

When the supervisor approves the thesis for submission, it goes to the examiners for reading. If the examiners approve the thesis for oral examination, a date for the public oral defence is set by the Dean of Graduate Studies.

It is generally understood that no contact among the various parties is permitted during the reading of the thesis in the time leading up to the oral defence.

The program is completed only when three copies of the finished, corrected thesis have been received and approved by the supervisor, the department, and the School of Graduate Studies. The student should be available for the crucial last stages of thesis completion. It is important to observe all the deadlines, because fees can be charged if the registration has to be carried forward for an extra semester term because of late work.

Professional Preparation

The department encourages all graduate students to involve themselves in preparation for university teaching and other professional careers.

All students are encouraged to consider taking the Graduate Program in Teaching (offered through the School of Graduate Studies). Since space in that program is limited, interested students are urged to apply early.

Any student who plans to apply for teaching work in a university should prepare a teaching dossier. This record of teaching should include letters from faculty who have observed the classes, comments from teaching mentors, course outlines, samples of assignments, teaching evaluations, and a general statement on teaching. Further information is available from the graduate coordinator.

Students are also encouraged to present papers at conferences, either at Memorial or elsewhere. The School of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Students’ Union, the Faculty of Arts, and the Department of English offer limited support for conference travel. Many associations, including ACCUTE (the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English) and MLA (the Modern Language Association), offer financial assistance to student members.

The graduate coordinator, as well as the supervisor and other members of faculty, can help students nearing completion of the degree in preparing for the job search.

Conference Funding

Limited funding for conference travel is available to our graduate students. Students should use a “Graduate Student Request for Travel Assistance” form (which can be obtained from the English Department office) to request funding from the School of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Students’ Union, the Faculty of Arts, and the Department of English.

After their conference travel, students must submit their receipts for expenses incurred with a “Travel Claim A” form (which can be obtained from the English Department office).


Ethics Review

Any research which uses materials from living subjects (including interviews and questionnaires) must be given an ethics review. This review must be undertaken before the start of the research and before application for any relevant funding. Students should ask the departmental graduate coordinator for details.

Conflict Resolution

The Graduate Students’Union offers helpful guidelines on sexual harassment, discrimination, student complaints, and academic appeals. Students who have concerns in any of these areas are encouraged to consult the GSU guidelines on conflict resolution.

The Department of English supports the GSU’s position that potential conflicts between students and their teachers or supervisors should be handled as early and as informally as possible.

Students who feel that they have been treated unfairly are encouraged to address their concerns in the first instance to the teacher or supervisor or committee involved. If, however, students feel that their concerns cannot be handled at this level, they should refer their concerns to the head of department. If the department cannot address the concerns to the students’ satisfaction, they may go outside of the department to the School of Graduate Studies.

Living and Working in St. John’s

Students and potential students who are interested in obtaining practical information on life in St. John’s are encouraged to consult the School of Graduate Studies website, which offers detailed information on “Finding a Place to Live,” on “Newfoundland and Labrador,” and on “St. John’s.”

Students are also invited to contact the graduate coordinator, who will attempt to put them in touch with graduate students who are able to give useful and current information.

The University Library

The Queen Elizabeth II Library is one of the best-stocked research libraries in eastern Canada. In addition to its extensive book and journal holdings, it offers a number of special collections and digital resources which may be of interest to graduate students in English:

-Centre for Newfoundland Studies Collection

“A special research collection of books, government documents, periodicals, newspapers, theses, microforms, archival material and historic maps reserved for the study of all aspects of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

-Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives

“An extensive collection of original manuscripts, personal papers, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs and other such materials which document Newfoundland society.”

-Irish Studies Collection

“The library’s collection reflects the richness of Newfoundland’s Irish Heritage. It includes over 15,000 books and more than 60 subscriptions to magazines and scholarly journals. The material covers a complete range of topics on Irish life, past and present. [...] For scholars, perhaps the greatest strength of the collection is in its holdings of over 200 Irish newspapers.

-Folklore Collection

“A collection of over 30,000 monographs, with over 100 journals directly focused on folklore/life and another 400-450 journals with relevant material.”

-Roger Peattie Collection

“Consisting of some 3,000 volumes, it is a comprehensive collection of printed sources covering the history of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement from its beginnings into the twentieth century. The core of the collection is the productions, both literary and artistic, of the Rossetti family. Although this is a valuable scholarly collection from a textual point of view, the many exquisite illustrations and superbly crafted decorated trade bindings it contains make it also a research resource for the fine art of the book in the Victorian era.”

-Isaac Newell Collection

“An important collection of 161 works by and about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his circle. The fruit of Professor Newell’s abiding interest in Coleridge and the Romantics, it is especially rich in nineteenth-century editions of Coleridge’s poetry.”

-Early English Books Online (EEBO)

“Early English Books Online, 1475-1700 provides digital access to more than 100,000 literary and historical classics. From the first book published in English through the age of Spenser and Shakespeare, this collection now contains about 100,000 of over 125,000 titles listed in Pollard and Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640) and Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700).”

-Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

“The most ambitious single digitization project ever undertaken. It delivers every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in Great Britain during the eighteenth century, along with thousands of important works from the Americas.”

Additional information on the library’s collections and resources can be obtained from the university website.