PhD Program

Our Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in English allows you to structure a course of study that aligns with your specific research interests in English language or literature.

The PhD degree requirements in English at UBC Vancouver are based on residency and coursework, the candidacy process, and a dissertation. We expect students to complete the degree within five to six years.

Program Overview

All PhD students are considered full-time and are not eligible to undertake their degree on a part-time basis.

  • Students who enter the PhD program having already earned an MA must remain in residence in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver area) for two winter sessions of PhD study (roughly two years).
  • Students who have been permitted to transfer via fast-track from the UBC English MA program to the UBC English PhD program require at least one winter session of residence in the Lower Mainland following the transfer.
  • Under normal circumstances, the PhD should be completed in five years, although UBC allows up to six years.

For more information about the program completion time, including rules about leaves of absence, registration, and employment status, please consult the graduate handbook.

Students entering the PhD program with first-class MA degrees in English will normally take 15 credits of coursework at the 500 level.

Students transferring from the MA to the PhD or entering the PhD directly from an honours BA will be asked to take a minimum number of credits determined by the Graduate Committee.

All PhD students are required to take the Research Methods course, ENGL 500B. This pass/fail course introduces students to the forms and protocols of PhD research. It counts towards the 15 credits required for admission to candidacy.

PhD programs are individually planned in consultation with the Chair of the Graduate Program.

For detailed information about coursework such as how to take courses at other western universities under the Western Dean's Agreement, how to sign up for a Directed Reading course (ENGL 547), and rules about taking courses outside the English department, please consult the graduate handbook.

In addition to coursework in the first year of the program, the candidacy process includes the field list and oral examination, the candidacy paper, and the prospectus.

Graduate students and supervisors should consult the graduate handbook for a convenient year-by-year summary and detailed step-by-step explanation of the candidacy process for PhD students.

Field list and oral examination

In consultation with the Pro tem committee, the student will prepare a general field list of primary and secondary material designed to ensure that they have sufficient knowledge of their field of interest. The Pro tem committee will examine knowledge of this field list in a two-hour oral examination.

Candidacy paper

After the field examination, the student will begin working with the Pro tem committee to develop an individually focused research topic or question that allows the student to conceptualize the thesis.

The student will then write a 20-25 page paper based on this topic.


With the completion of the field examination and qualifying paper, the Pro tem committee is dissolved. Then the student, in consultation with the graduate chair, invites an appropriate faculty member to supervise their prospectus and thesis.

Together, the student and supervisor establish the full committee, which generally consists of the candidate's supervisor and two other Department of English Language and Literatures members.

The thesis prospectus, prepared in consultation with the supervisory committee, is then submitted to the Graduate Committee for approval.

Candidacy review

Students who achieve a minimum of 85% GPA in their courses at UBC and who pass all stages of their candidacy exams will automatically be recommended for advancement to candidacy. For other students, a conference on their progress may be deemed necessary by the graduate chair in consultation with their supervisor.

For detailed information about the field list and oral examination, candidacy paper, prospectus and candidacy review, please consult the graduate handbook.

All new PhD students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of a second language relevant to their particular area of research. In consultation with the Pro tem supervisor, the graduate chair will determine whether a student has already met the second-language requirement.

Students who have not met the requirement may do so by completing an approved language or literature course (it may be possible to do this as an auditor), or by passing an examination, provided that an examiner acceptable to the department is available.

While only one language is required, students should, of course, consider the scholarly and professional requirements of their chosen area when developing their language skills.

Each May beginning in the student's second year in the doctoral program, both the student and their supervisor will be asked to write a brief report indicating the nature and extent of work completed on the candidacy process or thesis and any circumstances impeding progress on either.

The student is assigned a Pro tem supervisor from their point of entry into the program.

By the end of the first year, the full Pro tem committee will be in place.

The committee members will guide the student through the qualifying process, beginning in the first year with the field examination. They also serve as academic mentors on all aspects of the program and the department.

The Pro tem committee is dissolved after the candidacy paper is passed. A new thesis supervisory committee is then constituted, which can (but need not) include members of the Pro tem committee. The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies must approve thesis supervisory committee members from outside UBC.

What is Co-op?

The Arts Co-op Program offers students enriched educational experiences for personal and professional growth. Co-op is a high-impact educational program that allows you to alternate dissertation-writing terms with work terms, during which you gain meaningful paid work experience. We work with a diverse range of community partners and sectors to provide transformative workplace learning for co-op students.

The Arts PhD Co-op Program allows you to explore different career options, while gaining paid, professional work experience, guided training and reflection on career options, and a network of contacts. Some students are able to secure work terms that are relevant to their dissertation research, while others choose to pursue work experience that diversify their expertise and give them range. Students complete three work terms of 4 months each over the two to three years after achieving candidacy.

To read more about previous and current PhD Co-op students’ experiences, please refer to our ‘success stories’ on Jon Newell (English), Pavlina Pajot (English), and Henry John (History), or see the 2019 update on UBC English’s co-op program for PhD students.  Henry John (History) also published a piece in Inside Higher Education about his experience in the program.

Applying to Arts Co-op

The application window for PhD Co-op is open once per year, and usually closes in the first week of October.

You are eligible to apply to the UBC English PhD Co-op Program if you have achieved candidacy (or are expecting to achieve candidacy by the time you begin your co-op term, typically in January of your third year in the PhD program). You also must have two years of PhD study left, in which to schedule three 4-month work terms. You cannot begin work-terms in the Co-op Program without advancing to candidacy first: that is, Co-op students must be ABD (all but dissertation) before their first Co-op work term.

SSHRC-holders and international students are both eligible to apply and go through the same application process.

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