Department of English

University of Toronto

Thesis Information

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In preparation for the submission of the Thesis Proposal, students are advised to obtain a copy of Guidelines for the Preparation of Ph.D. Theses (revised 12 September 2019) as well as the guidelines as listed on the School of Graduate Studies website under PRODUCING YOUR THESIS (available on the SGS website here:  

Please also consult the Description of Special Fields Exam and Timeline for Thesis Proposals Reading Lists and Special Fields Exam (updated 9 November 2019), in preparation for the submission of your Thesis Proposal to the Department.

NB:  Students who entered the PhD or PhDU program before Fall 2019 and who have not elected to follow the new examination schedule must adhere to the former examination description and timeline: Timeline for Thesis Proposals, Reading Lists and Special Field Exams, Dec 2015


Deciding on a thesis topic is critical for the Doctoral Candidate. Choose a subject that excites your curiosity and engages your interest. Even those candidates who enter the program with ideas about a thesis topic are advised to test them further against the current state of scholarship and available resources.


The Graduate English faculty is large in number and extraordinarily wide-ranging in its scholarship. Students are advised to investigate just how extensive the range of potential supervisors is. Every Ph.D. student is assigned a mentor, who is one source for information about potential thesis supervisors. Coursework offers the chance to explore intellectual affinities with potential supervisors, and the Director and Associate Directors of the graduate program can offer useful advice. Members of the Graduate Faculty are always willing to discuss thesis topics and supervision with candidates, and asking a faculty member to read and comment on a fellowship proposal is an excellent way to begin to gauge the potential of a supervisory relationship.  Students should initiate discussion of a thesis topic with potential supervisors early in the second term of the first year of the Ph.D. program (or second year for Direct Entry students).


After securing a thesis supervisor and developing a thesis topic in consultation with that supervisor, the student  and supervisor work together to submit Preliminary Thesis Proposal and Committee Request List  (Form A* Revised 12 September 2019), to the Department by May 15th of the first year (or second year for Direct Entry students).  The student is urged to consult with four (or, at a minimum, three) further members of the graduate faculty to gain additional perspectives on the design and viability of the project.  The student lists the names of the faculty members consulted and the names of up to four faculty members to be considered as potential members of the supervisory committee. 

The Preliminary Thesis Proposal is a statement of approximately 1-2 single-spaced pages that outlines the focus and approach of the proposed program of research. Successful proposals will be written in clear, concise prose. It is, as its title suggests, preliminary: the position paper component of the Special  Fields Exam will provide the opportunity for revision and expansion.  Students should feel free, if it in fact reflects their current thinking, to use their Program of Study from a SSHRC or Plan of Study from a OGS proposal.


After the preliminary proposal and committee request list have been received, the Director and Associate Director, Ph.D., will determine the composition of the supervisory committee (usually the supervisor plus two additional members).  In exceptional cases, a fourth member may be added if a particular kind of expertise is desirable.

Early in the summer, the candidate should meet with the supervisory committee as a group to discuss the proposal, draw up an initial list of texts  for the Special Fields Examination, and develop a plan of work.  In late summer or early fall the student consults with the committee once again to complete the Special Fields Reading List (Form B* Revised 11 November 2019), which must be submitted to the Department by October 1st of the second year of the program (or third year for Direct Entry students).


For information on the Special Fields Examination, see .


It is critical to the success of the working relationship between supervisor and candidate to develop an initial agreement about the method and scope of the research, and to clarify the expectations of supervisor and candidate: about the kind and amount of advice that the candidate wants and the supervisor is able and willing to offer; about the involvement of the members of the supervisory committee; about the frequency, regularity and contents of consultations; about an appropriate time scheme for the completion of the thesis; and about the way draft workis to be submitted.

The candidate meets with the supervisor and individual committee members according to the schedule they have established, but the candidate must meet with the full supervisory committee at least once every year in order to meet SGS registration requirements.

A SGS publication, Graduate Supervision Guidelines - Students is available on the SGS website.

A SGS publication, Graduate Supervision Guidelines - Faculty (2012 Edition) is available on the SGS website.

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