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Thesis proposal and defence

A doctoral thesis should be based on extensive research in primary sources, make an original contribution to knowledge, and be presented in acceptable scholarly form. Students entering the program with MFA degrees may include studio work as a component of their program of study and thesis project, with the approval of the Humanities Program Director and the student’s advisory committee.

About the thesis proposal

A thesis proposal is submitted and defended in the term following the writing of the comprehensive field examinations. Students are admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. upon acceptance by their advisory committee of the written thesis proposal and its successful oral defence.

The thesis proposal is approximately 25 pages long (double-spaced), and contains:

  • a substantive presentation of the thesis question
  • a brief review of the literature
  • a bibliography
  • an overview of the proposed structure (chapter by chapter) of the thesis. It should be a substantial reworking of the initial research proposal.

See a sample thesis proposal

Thesis proposal defence

The Thesis Proposal defence is especially important in cases where non-paper thesis components are being considered. The student's supervisory committee, in collaboration with the Humanities Director, must assess and approve the nature of the relationship between the thesis components and the pertinence of the chosen medium. The committee must establish the student's competence to work with the chosen medium.

If a student fails the thesis proposal defence, he or she may request a second (and last) attempt, the repeated defence to take place after a period of at least three months from the date of the original defence, and no later than one year after the date of the original defence.

Steps to complete your thesis proposal
  1. The student develops the proposal in consultation with the Major field supervisor, with input from the Minor field advisors.
  2. The student submits the thesis proposal to the three members of his or her advisory committee, and if they are satisfied that the thesis proposal is ready to proceed to defence, the supervisors completes and submits our online form for Scheduling a Thesis Proposal Defence, together with the proposal and possible dates and times for a defence.
  3. Upon the Director’s approval, a time and date is set for the thesis proposal defence. All three member of the student’s advisory committee participate in the thesis proposal defence, which is chaired by the Humanities Director. It is best if the supervisor can arrange a room for the defence, our space is limited and we do not have a projector or other other such equipment.
  4. The defence lasts approximately two hours and includes the following elements:
    • The student gives a brief oral summary of the proposal;
    • Committee members engage the student in a discussion of aspects of the proposal and beyond that of the projected doctoral dissertation, touching on such issues as the theoretical framework and methodology to be used, structure of the dissertation, schedule for its completion, etc.;
    • During the discussion, committee members may also ask questions about the comprehensive fields exams, especially as the exam topics relate to the student’s dissertation project.
    • It is also important at this point in the PhD to ensure that plans are in place for ethics approvals, if needed and for satisfaction of the language requiremen (which is needed prior to submission of the dissertation for defence).
  5. Following the formal defence, the advisory committee with the Humanities Director assess the student’s performance in camera, and decide on a pass or fail grade.
  6. A thesis proposal grade sheet for the Thesis Proposal with Defence will be provided to the student's major field advisor who will complete, sign, and submit it to the department. The committee may also indicate on a separate paper whether there are concerns that the student should keep in mind as they proceed towards work on their doctoral dissertation and attach it to the grade form.

Please note the Humanities PhD program changed some sections of its curriculum in 2017. Students in the pre-2017 curriclum stream have their Thesis Proposal with Defence coded as HUMA 886 (3 credits), while after 2017 it is coded as Thesis Proposal with Defence HUMA 894 (6 credits).

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