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Degree Requirements


This option offers the broadest exploration of a diversity of ideas, literature, and theories. Courses are offered in all three terms: fall, winter, summer.
24 credits of course work.

18 credits of coursework for exposure to a diversity of ideas, literature, and theories
+ a Major Research Paper of 50 to 75 pages (6 credits).
The Major Research Paper affords students the opportunity to pursue their own original, critical research project under the supervision of a faculty member of the GPE.
A structured proposal is required and must be approved by both the supervisor and the Graduate Study Committee

12 credits of coursework
+ a Master’s Thesis (12 credits).
The Master’s Thesis requires the highest level of original, critical research and analysis. Under the supervision of a faculty member, the thesis should be 100-120 pages and must be defended orally in front of a committee of external examiners. Prior to undertaking the thesis, a formal proposal is required and must be approved by both the supervisor and the Graduate Study Committee.

Note: Given its length and difficulty, the MA Thesis usually necessitates one or more terms of enrolment at the student’s expense beyond the regular degree length of three terms.


Fulfilling the PhD degree requires 18 credits of coursework to be completed. Of these 18 credits, at least 12 credits are normally taken in the PhD I year, and the remaining in the PhD II year.

All PhD candidates are required to demonstrate some acquaintance with pre-1798 writing. This may be done either by:

(a) presenting evidence of successful completion of 6 credits (2 semesters or a full course) based on pre-1798 writings at the MA level
(b) successful completion of at least 3 credits based on pre-1798 writings during the PhD I or PhD II years, the assumption being that once at the PhD level, the student has accumulated the equivalent of at least 3 credits worth of pre-1798 material.

Literary Research Methods

This course is required for PhD candidates who did not take a similar or “Research Methods” course in their MA. Consult the Program Director for additional information.

Second Language

Any student of English Literature beyond the MA level must have some working competence (at least reading comprehension/translation) in at least one language other than English.

All PhD students are required to demonstrate a reading knowledge of French (or of a language other than English demonstrably relevant to their approved course of study), by passing the program's translation exam.

Dissertation Proposal Seminar

  • Enrolment is limited to students who have passed Comp 1: Major Field and Comp 2: Dissertation Subfields.

The material objective of this mandatory, pass/fail, term’s worth of workshops offered each winter is the production by each student of a dissertation proposal. Students’ proposal drafts are the focal texts each week for critical discussion. The workshop does not seek to circumvent or override committee supervision and requires supervisory committees to work with students as they draft their proposals in the seminar. The educational objective of the seminar is the development of a thought/writing process specific to proposing critical ideas in an academic format. Students are encouraged to write a clear and sufficiently detailed proposal outlining the topic, the context(s) in which it arises, the theory and methodology sustaining its research and elaboration, and its contribution to the field. The workshop also aims to have students internalize a form and logic of proposing intellectual ideas, their development and appropriate research methods, and the implications of those ideas for other purposes, such as grant applications, post-doctoral fellowships, and book prospectuses.

Professionalization Workshops

Participation in this non-credit course is mandatory for all doctoral students. The workshops are open to MA students, if interested. At strategic points in their doctoral studies, candidates will attend workshops focusing on topics relevant to their intellectual and professional development. New students will enroll in the PhD Workshops Program at the same time as they register for their first courses. Before graduating, students must attend nine different workshops:

  • Lecturing
  • Applying for Funding
  • Teaching Assistantships
  • Professional Resources and Strategies
  • Comprehensive Examinations
  • Applying for non-academic (alt-ac) jobs
  • Applying for Academic Jobs
  • Publication and Conference Presentations
  • Course Direction

All PhD students are required to pass two qualifying examinations, each of which has a different deadline and objective.

Major Field

The Major Field examinations can be taken in areas defined by period, nation, genre, or special subject. One’s “Major Field” should be thought of as “the literature in which one wants to specialize and about which one will have something of significance to say/write.” It holds much of the literature one will teach and continue to study over the length of a career. A “Major Field” is one’s ground.

Major Field Reading Lists

There are basic reading lists for fields available in the Programme Office. These basic lists may be modified to suit the interests of individual candidates. A substitution of 20% is permitted for all reading lists for the purposes of tailoring the lists to the interests of the student and for working around texts the student may already know well. Such substitutions are to be determined by agreement between the candidate and the candidate's Chief Examiner and are subject to approval by the Graduate Study Committee.


(mainly, but not only, British):
Medieval Literature* (to 1500) medieval reading list (.docx)
Renaissance Literature (1485 to 1660) renaissance reading list (.docx)
Restoration & 18th Century Literature (1642 to 1798) restoration reading list (.pdf)
Romantic Literature (1789 to 1840) romantic reading list (.docx)
Victorian Literature (1832 to 1901) victorian reading list (.docx)
Modern Literature (1885 to 1950) modern reading list (.docx)
Contemporary Literature (1945 to present) contemporary reading list (.pdf)
*Students are advised that an introductory graduate course or, at the least, an upper-level undergraduate course in Old English, is deemed to be an almost essential preparation for the Medieval field and examination.


Canadian Literature Canadian reading list (.docx)
Post Colonial & Diasporic Literature post colonial reading list (.pdf)
U.S. Literature Before 1900  pre 1900 reading list (.pdf)
U.S. Literature After 1900 post 1900 reading list (.pdf)
World Literature reading list option i (.docx) | reading list option ii (.docx)


Theory theory reading list (.pdf)
Drama drama reading list (.docx)
Poetry poetry reading list (.docx)
Prose Narrative prose narrative reading list (.pdf)

Students begin reading for their Major Field in their first term and take the examination in their sixth term.  They prepare for the examination by working with a specialist supervisor in the field, meeting from time to time as agreed to discuss the works on a prepared reading list.

Examinations in the First Field

Candidates take the Major Field examination in Term 5 (end of winter term, Year II). The examination has two parts, written and oral. The written exam comprises two half-day sittings and is followed, normally within one week, by a two-hour oral examination. In the examination, candidates will be expected to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the designated field as well as an original, critical understanding of the field and its constitutive texts. The written examination contains questions concerning generic, historical, critical, and theoretical issues pertinent to the field. The oral examination comprises questions formulated in relation to the candidate’s written answers. Impromptu follow-up questions ensue. Generally, candidates are asked to move from their written responses to other texts on the list, so as to demonstrate truly comprehensive knowledge.

Dissertation Subfields

The purpose of this examination is to capitalize on the knowledge and ideas gained during the Major Field examination process and subsequently, so that students can work with supervisors to clarify fields of inquiry and areas of knowledge useful for developing the scope, character, and goals of their dissertations. Students work with three professors to isolate three sub-fields and crucial texts that will help generate and further develop ideas of sufficient significance for exploration in a dissertation. The goal is to generate lists of texts that will fuel students’ creativity and encourage them to generate significant terms of exploration within sub-fields deemed necessarily useful for the dissertation subject. The lists do not purport to be “comprehensive” of a field, but rather to a necessary initiation to productive sub-fields that will help the student to clarify the direction and goals of the dissertation.

To capitalize on the fresh knowledge of the Major Field, and to prevent students from losing energy and generally tarrying, the Dissertation Subfield examination must be completed by the end of Term 7 (the end of fall term, Year III). Enrollment in the Dissertation Proposal Seminar follows immediately in Term 8, winter of Year III).

Reading Lists

  • Three reading lists of approximately 20 texts, each representing fields of inquiry and areas of knowledge useful for developing the dissertation and proposal.
  • By “text,” we mean the number of poems or articles deemed by field specialists as sufficiently representative of an author's work or period. As on some current field lists in the GPE, eight-to-ten lyric poems of some length add up to “one text,” for instance, as would three essays or articles.  A novel or a play (other than very short ones) would also constitute “one text.”
  • A text cannot appear twice on any of the lists, including that of the Major Field.
  • Lists are drawn up in consultation with a committee of professors whose areas of demonstrable teaching and/or research qualify them to supervise in those areas.
  • In consultation with the supervising professors, students must also generate a brief rationale (up to one page, single-spaced) for their choice of fields and texts, articulating the kind of knowledge they seek to gain from the fields and texts, and to what end it will be put in the dissertation.  The rationale, therefore, proposes fields of inquiry, texts representative of those fields, the relation between texts within and across fields, and the relation of the fields themselves.  In colloquial terms, it articulates what one feels one needs to know in order to get a footing in the dissertation topic, and thus the rationale also suggests what one hopes to produce with and from these texts.  The lists and texts are not exhaustive, but they must be justified as necessary.

Examination in the Dissertation Subfields

  • The supervising professors of the sub-field lists form the committee for the examination. The examining committee may or may become the dissertation supervisory committee.  The latter depends on the process and the product of the examination.
  • The examination will consist of a single 2-hour oral exam, which will explore and assess the student’s knowledge of texts on lists, and his or her ability to generate arguments towards a thesis for the dissertation.
  • Prior to the examination, the professors serving as the examining committee will agree to the types of questions to be asked of the student to best assess the extent and quality of his or her knowledge of the texts on the lists, while promoting the overall goal of exploring ideas to be developed in a dissertation.

See “Course work” then “Dissertation Proposal Seminar” above.

All PhD candidates are required to produce a dissertation proposal following FGS Guidelines (max. 3500 words with provisional bibliography). The proposal must be approved by the student’s supervisor and two additional supervisory committee members. Once approved, the GPD signs off and sends it to FGS to be recorded. FGS requires that doctoral students have a full supervisory committee (signatures on form) by the end of Term 8. Submitting an approved dissertation proposal at the same time is advisable. The end of term 9 is the Program’s final deadline for proposal submission.
Consult the PhD Handbook for more information and a checklist for structuring the proposal.

Dissertations take on different flavours, depending on the thesis, the field itself, and the advice of the candidate's supervisory committee.

The page count guideline is broad: 200-400 pages. Consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies website for all guidelines and requirements concerning all aspects of the dissertation.

Your dissertation proposal is your direction, your supervisory committee is your guide, and the field/interest groups are your support structures. Don't hide from your committee or your peers.

Diploma Requirements

Diploma students must successfully complete: 

  1. One three-credit core course in fiction or poetry, in addition to regular degree requirements. Prior to the start of classes, students interested in taking creative writing courses are asked to submit a portfolio. Only those who have received the course director’s approval are granted permission to enrol. 
  1. One three-credit course in literary nonfiction, which also counts toward the student’s regular degree requirements (MA or PhD). 
  1. The Capstone Creative Project is to be completed under the supervision of a member of our program with expertise in creative writing. The project includes an introductory literary-critical essay (approximately 10-15 pages) and a coherent body of work (fiction projects 40-60pp double-spaced; poetry projects, approximately 20pp single-spaced). Details of the Capstone Creative Project can be found below.  

Our core courses in fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction are open to all English graduate students, with the following notations: 

  • Students interested in taking Fiction Workshops must first submit a portfolio of approximately 15–25 pages of fiction writing. Enrolment is only granted with the instructor’s permission.
  • Students interested in taking Poetry Workshops must first submit a portfolio of approximately 15–25 pages of poetic writing. Enrolment is only granted with the instructor’s permission.
  • Students enrolling in either the Poetry or Fiction Workshop, have the option to complete it as a traditional course in literary analysis, but with the added benefit of receiving practical training in poetic and/or fiction technique. Diploma students will be evaluated on both their creative and critical work.
  • Literary nonfiction courses are open to all English graduate students. There are no separate admission requirements or separate streams for these courses.

 Capstone Creative Project 

Students complete the Capstone Creative Project (CCP) under the supervision of a member of the Graduate Program in English with expertise in creative writing. The project includes:

  • an introductory literary-critical essay (approximately 10-15 pages) explaining the student’s aesthetic choices and contextualizing the creative work in relation to contemporary writing trends
  • a coherent body of creative work. For fiction projects 40-60pp (double spaced); for poetry projects, approximately 20pp (single spaced).

MA students should expect to complete the CCP in the final term of their degree, normally the Summer term. PhD students can complete the CCP at any point in their program and after they have met all the Diploma course requirements.

Normally a supervisor is secured in the term before the project is due. For the one-year MA, this means the winter term. The student will submit a formal proposal of 200-300 words (approved by their supervisor) to the Creative Writing Diploma coordinator prior to the beginning of the student’s third term.

Given the significant length of the CCP, students should begin working towards it as soon as a supervisor has been secured (no later than March 1st in any given year) Students should meet with their supervisor several times per term to share and discuss their work in progress. When the CCP is complete, it will be read and assessed by the supervisor and one other reader selected from among Creative Writing faculty members with the relevant expertise. The readers will agree on the appropriate grade.

To ensure that the CCP is graded and finalized on time, the student must submit the final draft to the supervisor no later than the first day of the final month of the final term (i.e., for students planning to finish their degree in the Summer term, that would mean August 1st).

Diploma students must successfully complete: 

  • A three-credit course on the history and practice of comparative and world literature: Humanities 6157 3.0: Comparative and World Literature Seminar: History and Practice (same as English 6157 3.0 and Translation 6157 3.0). This course is in addition to the requirements of an MA or PhD degree in English or Humanities, or of an MA in Translation Studies.  
  • A Capstone Research Paper written with the advice of a professor specialized in world literature. The paper requires that students demonstrate their ability to think intelligently across cultural differences, thus further developing their expertise in world literature. The Capstone research paper is an additional requirement of the diploma.  
  • One course in cultural theory (three or six credits), is to be chosen among the offerings of the Graduate Program in English, Humanities, or Translation Studies. While this course counts for both degree and diploma, students enrolled in the diploma must write their research paper on a topic that extends the discussion of cultural theory into the domain of world literature.  
  • Three course-related research papers with a world literature perspective and content; or an MA Major Research Paper or Thesis; or a PhD Dissertation with a world literature approach. While this work counts for both degree and diploma, the world literature focus of the diploma allows students to receive recognition for the added value of this specialized training.  

It is recommended, but not required, that students complete a study period, research stay, or internship in a country pertinent to their world literature projects. The Graduate Program in English has an exchange program with Mainz University in Germany, and York has an agreement with every university in France for “coutelle” doctorates. York is also an institutional affiliate of the Harvard Institute of World Literature, which meets for a month every summer in cities across the globe. More generally, York International has a large number of exchange agreements, summer programs, and internships available to graduate students.  


Regular Track Through the Program

Term 1 (Fall)

  • 18 credits of coursework, which can spread into Year 2
  • Choose a major field and begin your study
  • 135 TA hours

Term 2 (Winter)

  • Bibliography requirement completed (if applicable)
  • Meet with in-field professors to find a good fit for major field exam supervision
  • 135 TA hours*
  • January: complete CUPE Unit 1 Blanket Application (GPE provides a workshop in early January to help)

Term 3 (Summer)

  • Have the field supervisor sign the FGS supervision form

* consult the “Financial Information” section for more information; however, TA wages are paid when the work is performed. Two terms of TAship are offered. Most students TA in the fall and winter. Students can request TAship in fall and summer or winter and summer, but fulfilling the request is not guaranteed. Summer offerings with tutorials are very limited.

Term 4 (Fall)

  • 135 TA hours

Term 5 (Winter)

  • Comp 1: Major field exam
  • FGS deadline for signed supervision form
  • Develop sub-field topics & lists
  • 135 TA hours

Term 6 (Summer)

  •  All coursework completed

Term 7 (Fall)

  • Comp 2: Dissertation subfields exam
  • 135 TA hours

Term 8 (Winter)

  • Proposal Seminar
  • FGS deadline for signed supervisory committee form
  • 135 TA hours

Term 9 (Summer)

  • Submit completed, signed proposal

Term 10 (Fall)

  • Consider applying for a Dissertation Completion Scholarship.
  • Language requirement completed
  • 135 TA hours

Term 11 (Winter)

  • Consider applying on the CUPE Blanket App to be a course director on a “ticket.” Consult with GPE or Departmental Administrator for more information
  • Write dissertation
  • 135 TA hours

Term 12 (Summer)

  • Write dissertation

Term 13 (Fall)

  • Write dissertation
  • 135 TA hours

Term 14 (Winter)

  • Complete dissertation
  • Final Revisions and Defence
  • 135 TA hours

Term 15 (Summer)

  • Final Revisions on the dissertation
  • Defence

Year 6 is not a full year, but rather two possible terms of TA funding, according to the CUPE Unit 1 Collective Agreement, as a safety if you have not yet defended your dissertation.

Term 16 (Fall)

  • If not yet defended, 135 TA hours are possible

Term 17 (Winter)

  • If not yet defended, 135 TA hours are possible

Term 18 (Summer)

  • No funding available

Learn More

The Graduate Program in English at York is an exciting environment to pursue innovative, socially engaging, career-ready education. Contact our Graduate Program Assistant to learn more.