- Degree Requirements
- The Comprehensive Exam
- Language and Cognate Requirements
- PhD Dissertation
- PhD Timeline
Candidates for the PhD degree must fulfil the following requirements:
Three full-courses (or equivalent) including WMST 6009. 3.0 Advanced Research in Feminist Theory, WMST 6008 3.0 Feminist Methodologies and Research Methods and one half-course chosen from the Program -based core courses. Please see Core Courses section for details. The final selection of courses will be determined with the assistance of the GPD, or a designated faculty advisor. With permission from the Program director, one full course or equivalent may be chosen from those offered by another Graduate Program. Typically full-time students complete all course work requirements within the first two years.
(See Course Descriptions for details)
Academic requirements for your graduate program can be found at:
The Program Seminars
All PhD students are required to participate in 12 of the Program seminars, usually during the first and second year (see Program Seminars section for details).
Students in the Doctoral Program must demonstrate, by passing a written and oral comprehensive examination, that they have both an overall command of knowledge in Women's Studies and in their area of dissertation specialization. The successful completion of the exam indicates that the student is qualified to teach at the university level, in undergraduate introductory and overview courses as well as in her/his own specific area.
What is the Comprehensive Examination?
Graduate education at the doctoral level invariably includes at least three elements or stages which are academically evaluated:
- Learning of new, advanced knowledge;
- Synthesis and mastery of knowledge across broader fields than covered by individual courses; and
- Acquisition of research skills and the application of those skills in an original contribution to knowledge.
The first is typically accomplished through course work and individualized supervision while the third is accomplished primarily through the doctoral dissertation. The demonstration of the second is some form of examination beyond those of individual courses: a comprehensive, qualifying or field examination.
The comprehensive exam challenges the student to examine and synthesize a body of theory, and related empirical research. Comprehensives combine breadth, depth and synthetic ability, without necessarily entailing exhaustive knowledge of the field. Students are expected to demonstrate a broad understanding of the major theoretical perspectives in the field and of key debates. Comprehensiveness also requires good knowledge of the alternative approaches to relevant empirical research, key findings and their interpretation in relation to theoretical approaches and gaps in current research.
The purpose of the ‘comps’ is to:
- Provide an opportunity to bring a lot of material together and think it though in a coherent way;
- Ensure students have a shared acquaintance with the field of WS as it has developed;
- Prepare students to review a body of literature and relate it to proposed research projects;
- Prepare students to research and teach in WS;
- Prepare the students for academic jobs, first by preparing them for interviews: esp. two popular job interview questions: how would you teach an introductory WS course? what would you teach in an upper–level feminist theory course? and second, by preparing them to teach a variety of undergraduate courses.
The Comprehensive Exam Process
Selection of a Comprehensive Examination Committee
In consultation with the advisor and the Program Director, the student selects a committee of three faculty members to serve on her/his Comprehensive Examination Committee. At least two of the faculty must be members of the Women's Studies Graduate Program and one of whom must agree to serve as the principal supervisor for the comprehensive examination. Typically (but not necessarily), members of the Examination Committee will also be members of the dissertation supervisory committee. Once the Committee is selected, the student completes the PhD Comprehensive Examination Committee Form, which each member of the Committee signs, and the student submits this form to the Program Office. It is expected that students will have their committee in place by the end of the second year.
In consultation with the Comprehensive Examination Committee, the student develops two one-page overview statements (General and Specific) which identify several central questions or key issues of interest to the student (the problematics). The problematics are central questions or conceptual frameworks, which have informed feminist dialogue and debate (e.g., identity politics, difference, and sameness/difference). The overview statement should also speak to the logic for determining or selecting the most pertinent literature relevant to the central questions, key issues or problematics.
For the General component of the comprehensive examination, the questions/issues/problematics should apply to three or four of the main designated fields of women's studies identified in the Program:
- Cultural and Literary Studies, Performance and Fine Arts
- Diaspora,Transnational and Global Studies
- Politics, Economies and Societies
- Theories and Methods
*Special Topics: A Student may choose a special topic as one of their ‘fields’ as in some cases there could be an argument for reviewing another body of literature not covered by the seven key fields.
The goal is to ensure that the student has an appreciation of the breadth and depth of feminist scholarship.
For the Specific component of the comprehensive examination, the second set of issues or problematics should relate to the specific area of focus for the student's anticipated dissertation. (If the student prefers, and the supervisory committee agrees, the Specific component of the comprehensive examination could focus on a topic unrelated to the dissertation of particular interest to the student).
Again in consultation with the Comprehensive Examination Committee (and with suggestions from the Committee), the student develops a reading list for each of the General and Specific components of the examination. Each list should consist of approximately 25 titles (50 items in total). The selection of readings should capture the interdisciplinarity of Women's Studies and reflect the complex, contradictory, and ambiguous relationships operating among gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, etc. The Comprehensive Examination Committee must meet with the student at least once to formulate, finalize and approve the lists. At this time, the student must indicate which option they are selecting for each component of the examination: the four page problematic and written exam or the course outline (see # 6 below).
Approval of Overview Statements and Reading Lists
The principal supervisor for the comprehensive examination will confirm in writing to the Program Office and to the student that the Committee has agreed that the overview statement, the reading lists, and the option chosen - the four page problematic and written exam or the course outline - for both the general and specific components of the examination are acceptable. Copies of the overview statements and reading lists are submitted to the Program Office by the student.
The student reads the items on the Reading Lists identifying the central problematics, key issues and major questions uncovered in the literature.
Summary Statements and Sample Questions or Course Outline
Students have two options:
- Option 1
The student prepares a summary statement and sample examination questions for each of the General and Specific components of the examination.
- Option 2
The student prepares a summary statement and sample examination questions for one of either the General or the Specific components of the examination and prepares a course outline for the other.
Summary Statements and Sample Questions
These summary statements (about 4 pages each) are based on the readings and include a brief description of the problematics, key issues and/or central questions and debates in the literature as well as sample examination questions. For each of the two components of the examination, the student will prepare three questions relating to the major questions, key issues or problematics revealed in the literature review. The Comprehensive Examination Committee meets with the student at least once to discuss the problematics/central questions.
- General Comp course outline option:
Based on the reading list for the General component of the comprehensive examination, the student will prepare a course outline for a full year 2000 level undergraduate course. This course outline will include: a course description including the goals and learning objectives of the course, a weekly class schedule (assuming a 3 hour class time per week with a minimum of 1 hour and maximum of 2 hour lecture plus a seminar) that indicates the topic, lecture, and readings for each week. The student will also write detailed outlines of two of the lectures, and one of these lectures will be written out in an essay format.
- Specific Comp course outline option:
Based on the reading list for the Specific component of the comprehensive examination, the student will prepare a course outline for a half year senior seminar (4000 level undergraduate course). This course outline will include: a course description that sets out in detail the focus of the course and its theoretical and methodological underpinnings, explaining why the topics and readings were selected. The outline will also provide a weekly class schedule that specifies the topic and reading assignments for each week, and a paragraph detailing the nature and rationale of each class and its overall place within the course. The focus for this course outline is on articulating the theoretical and methodological underpinnings and goals in the course description, and on providing rationales for the readings and focus of each class in realizing those ends. The student will also write detailed outlines of two of the lectures, and one of these lectures will be written out in an essay format.
Approval of Summary Statements and Sample Questions
Once all committee members have agreed that the summary statements and sample questions and/or the course outline are acceptable, the student completes and submits the Request for PhD Comprehensive Examination Form to the Program Office.
Scheduling of the Examination
The examination will be held, typically, within six months of, and no more than one year, from the date the Comprehensive Examination Committee approves the reading lists. At least one month prior to the proposed date of the examination, the student will submit a Request for PhD Comprehensive Examination Form to the Program Office confirming that the committee members have approved the summary statements and sample questions and that the student and all committee members have agreed on the time frame option, as well as the dates for both the written and oral parts of the examination.
Note: The course outline option does not involve a written exam.
Three options are available to students with regard to the specific timing format for writing the general and specific components of the examination:
- Option 1
the student writes two three-hour papers, on site at York (or in an approved location) within a period of one week.
- Option 2
the student writes the two papers over a period of two weeks, writing one question per week.
- Option 3
the student writes the two papers over a period of one month.
The papers for Options 2 and 3 will be 4000-5000 words each.
Preparation of the Written Examination
For each of the General and the Specialized components of the examination, the Comprehensive Examination Committee, under the coordination of the principal supervisor, will set three questions based on the student's problematics or central questions as reflected in the works on her/his reading lists and using if they choose, some or all of the questions formulated by the student. The examination questions are sent by the principal supervisor to the Program Assistant at least one week before the examination date. The Program Assistant is responsible for providing the student (via e-mail and if requested, by hard copy) with the questions on the appropriate date.
Completion of the Written Examination
For each examination component (General and Specific), students will write on only one of the three questions provided by the Committee. Completed papers are submitted to the Program Assistant who then distributes the completed written examination responses to all members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee. If members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee have serious concerns at this point about the appropriateness of the student proceeding to the oral examination, the principal supervisor should inform the Program Director.
Completion of the Oral Examination
An oral examination will be held, normally, about two weeks after completion of the written examination. It covers the written examination questions and student responses, the course outline if selected, as well as the material on both reading lists. The oral examination is, typically, about two hours in duration. The format for the oral examination is as follows.
Once the members have convened, the Candidate is excused, the Comprehensive Examination Committee should discuss whether, on the basis of the completed written aspect of the requirement, the candidate is ready to proceed to the oral. The proposed format of the oral should also be approved prior to inviting the candidate back into the room.
The candidate is then invited to comment on her/his written examination. This provides an opportunity for the student to address any errors or omissions in the written work that upon reflection may have occurred to her/him. It also allows the student to enlarge upon the issues addressed in the written examination. Each person on the Committee is invited to pose questions on the written examination and the Committee may wish to revisit questions the candidate did not select. This format is intended to allow a conversation or dialogue to develop. The oral continues until each member of the examination committee is satisfied and/or has asked all the questions he/she wishes to pose. The candidate is invited to make a concluding statement if she/he wishes and is then asked to leave the room.
Members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee evaluate both the written and oral parts of the examination. Following this deliberation, the candidate is invited back into the room and informed of the Committee's decision.
The Comprehensive Examination Committee will evaluate both the written and the oral aspects of the examination. The ratings are: Pass, Pass with Conditions, and Unsatisfactory. A “Pass with Conditions” will specify additional work to be done and provide a time frame for completion of this work. (If this requirement is not met, the student will receive an “Unsatisfactory” rating on the examination.). Students with an “Unsatisfactory” rating may retake the examination within the next three months. Two comprehensive examinations receiving an “Unsatisfactory” rating result in a failure on the comprehensive examination, and the student will be required to withdraw from the Program. The principal supervisor notifies the Program Assistant in writing of the result of the evaluation and she/he in turn records the results in the student's file.
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There are no language or cognate requirements for the PhD degree in Women's Studies. However, students may be required, based on the dissertation topic, to demonstrate knowledge of a language other than English, or a cognate skill.
Candidates must complete a research study and report the results in appropriate dissertation form. The research and dissertation should demonstrate the Candidate's independence, originality and understanding of the field of investigation at an advanced level. After the formal submission of the dissertation, an oral examination is held in accordance with Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations (see FGS Regulations pp. 30-37; Program Guidelines for PhD Dissertation Proposal below for more details).
The PhD Dissertation involves the following steps:
- The student selects a PhD dissertation committee and a supervisor:
When a student has successfully written the comprehensive examination, the student, in consultation with the comps supervisor, selects a dissertation supervisory committee. This committee consists of a minimum of three faculty members, at least two of them must be members of the Graduate Program in Women's Studies, one of whom is the principal supervisor. The student completes the PhD Dissertation Supervisory Committee Approval Form and submits it for approval to the Graduate Study Committee and the Director of the Graduate Program in Women's Studies. If one of the committee members is not a member of the Women's Studies faculty, the student must submit a request explaining why the faculty member is appropriate, including a copy of the faculty member's CV, to the Executive Committee for approval.
Once they have approved it, the request is forwarded to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies for approval. This should normally occur before the proposal is submitted. (Please see the FGS policy on supervision "Graduate Supervisory Principles, Policies and Practices" available on the Web or in the FGS Handbook.)
There are 3 benchmarks that require attention:
- A supervisor must be recommended by the appropriate graduate Program director for approval by the Dean of Graduate Studies no later than the end of the fifth term of study (end of second term of PhD II). Students will not be able to register in the seventh term of study (the onset of PhD III) unless a supervisor has been approved.
- A supervisory committee must be recommended by the appropriate graduate Program director for approval by the Dean of Graduate Studies no later than the end of the eighth term of study (end of second term of PhD III). Students will not be able to register in the tenth term of study (the onset of PhD IV) unless a supervisory committee has been approved.
- A change to FGS Regulation # 32, Dissertation Supervisory Committees, was
passed at FGS Council on June 7, 2007. The new section of Regulation 32 adds that a dissertation proposal must be submitted to FGS and approved by the end of the eighth term of study, or the student will not be able to register in term 10.
The student writes a dissertation proposal:
- The student writes a dissertation proposal:
The structure for the PhD dissertation proposal is as follows:
- Since a dissertation proposal must be approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies students should adhere to the instructions described on the web at the following URL – gradstudies.yorku.ca/current-students/thesis-dissertation/
- All students must submit the FGS Thesis and Dissertation Proposal Form TD1 with their dissertation proposal (gradstudies.yorku.ca/current-students/thesis-dissertation/research-ethics/). Students whose research involves human participants must submit FGS Human Participants Research Protocol Form (TD2)
- A PhD dissertation proposal should be approximately 7 single spaced pages or 3500 words. The bibliography is additional and should be no longer than two pages. Appendices and documents about ethical guidelines are likewise additional.
- Include a working title which can be refined/changed later
- In 2–3 paragraphs, identify the research goals and key questions: otherwise it is difficult to know what your research objectives are other than to study a topic which hasn't received much scholarly attention.
- In 1-2 single spaced pages identify the theoretical framework, e.g., key concepts within feminist thought that guide your study. It is not enough to say, for example, that your research will be informed by “feminist theory.”
- In 2-3 single spaced pages identify the research methods that will be used. What are the important or relevant site(s) and/or source material to be analyzed? How are the methods you will be using to analyze your sites/source materials appropriate? Are there ethical issues involved in your research?
- In one paragraph, explain the suitability of this proposal to the parameters of the Graduate Program in Women’s Studies: how does it relate to existing feminist scholarship? What do you hope that your work will contribute to scholarship in Women’s Studies?
- Provide a draft Chapter Outline.
- Set out a Work Schedule for your dissertation research
- Articulate a careful and realistic timeline for writing and submitting drafts of chapters to the supervisory committee and for completion of the dissertation. Discuss with the supervisory committee whether all members will receive each chapter, or whether the supervisor will see early drafts first. In establishing a schedule, be sure to build in turn-around time for committee members to return drafts, and then build in time for revisions. Establish a target date for completion of a first full draft. Indicate your target for the dissertation defense.
- Provide a “Working Bibliography” that lists 15-20 of the most relevant bibliographic sources Identify which style sheet you are using (e.g., MLA)
The Graduate Study Committee has responsibility to review proposals to ensure the following:
- that the student's committee is appropriate for the student’s research topic and is constituted and approved according to GWS policy. Proposed committee members must be appointed to Grad WMST, or given special approval to serve on a specific dissertation committee.
- that the proposal meets GWS and FGS standards and is suitable to be forwarded to FGS
- that the proposal is formulated according to the internal template of the Graduate Women’s Studies Program as outlined above.
- that the proposal is a project suitable for MA/PhD work within the parameters of the Graduate Program in Women’s Studies.
- that the proposal is written so that readers who are outside the immediate topic area can understand what the student wants to do and how the student plans to proceed.
When submitting a PhD dissertation proposal, students and their committees are expected to follow the format specified in the Grad WMST program handbook. Responsibility for this rests with both students and supervisors. Proposals that do not follow this format will be returned for revision.
At the Graduate Program Meeting of April 22, 2008, the following option (which is a voluntary process) was passed: Students and their supervisors are invited to attend the Graduate Study Committee meeting at which the student’s proposal will be considered. At that meeting, the student makes a short oral presentation, the committee (having read the proposal ahead of time) asks questions, makes comments and gives the student an opportunity to respond. If the student and supervisor wish, the supervisor, may also respond to the committee's questions and comments. The committee will notify the student and supervisor of their decision in writing shortly after the meeting. (Note: students who prefer not to present their work orally may continue to submit proposals in writing and receive written replies.)
*The format for bibliographic entries should follow one of the three style manuals listed below. In consultation with their supervisor, students should choose one model and use it consistently. Copies of three manuals are available in the Program Office: The Chicago Manual of Style, Fifteenth Edition (2003); MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition (2003); Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (2001).
- The student does the research and writes the dissertation:
Substantial research should not be undertaken until the proposal is approved. The student and the Committee should be in regular contact. Students should keep committee members informed about when they can expect to receive drafts and faculty members should keep the student informed about their schedules across each Fall/Winter and summer terms. Within reason, students should be able to expect a prompt and detailed written response to their work. As the student begins the final version of the dissertation, the committee should meet to discuss possible dates for the dissertation defence and members for the examining committee. The supervisor is responsible for contacting potential examining committee members and negotiating both their participation and defence dates. A check-list and package of all required forms is available from the Program Office.Note: The National Library has specified that an abstract for dissertations cannot exceed 350 words. Any excess will be truncated when the National Library microfiches the completed work.
- The student submits the dissertation:
The final dissertation must be presented in appropriate thesis form to the Program Office at least six weeks prior to the tentative defence date (not including holidays). Consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies Guidelines for the Preparation and Examination of Theses and Dissertations for details about the format and the composition of the Examining committee and oral defence procedures (Copies are also available in the Program Office). Once the supervisory committee agrees that the thesis is ready for defence and that all final revisions have been made, the student notifies the Program Office. The supervisor organises the examining committee according to FGS regulations. This must occur at least six weeks before the proposed defence date.
- The student ensures that copies of the dissertation are distributed to all members of the examining committee so that they receive it at least 5 weeks before the defence. The supervisor ensures that all paperwork, including the Recommendation for Oral Exam Form with the signatures of all members of the Supervisory Committee, is submitted to the Program Office. The Program Assistant ensures that all paperwork is forwarded to FGS.
- The supervisor confirms all arrangements (time, date, etc.) with the Chair and the External. FGS sends out the official letter to all members of the examining committee. The Program Assistant books the examination room, and makes arrangements for any AV equipment required.
- One week prior to the defence, the Program Assistant (on behalf of the Program Director) contacts all members of the examining committee to determine whether they agree that the dissertation is examinable. The Program Assistant notifies the supervisor, the Program Director and FGS if there are any problems.
- The oral defence examines the candidate on the written thesis and on the performance during the defence according to FGS regulations.
- On successful completion of the defence, the student makes any revisions or corrections to the thesis and submits 3 copies of it to FGS, with all necessary paperwork.
- The Program Assistant ensures that the Convocation form is completed and sent to the Registrar's Office. This form must reach the Registrar's Office one month prior to convocation.
Note: There are important deadlines that will not be waived. Make sure you know what they are and observe them if you wish to graduate by a specific date.
The PhD is designed to be completed in 6 years (18 terms). The Faculty of Graduate Studies requires that a Master's degree must be completed within 6 years (18 terms) as a full time or part time student.
The expected progress for students through the Program :
(for various legitimate reasons not all students follow precisely this pattern)
|Terms 1 and 2||2-3 full courses||1 full course|
4-6 Program Seminars
|3 Program Seminars|
|Term 3 (Summer)||1 half course|
and/or work on Comps
|1 half course|
|Terms 4 and 5||complete course work||1 full course|
2–4 Program Seminars
|3 Program Seminars|
|NOTE: FGS regulations require that students must have a supervisor by the end of the fifth term of study. Students will not be able to register in the seventh term unless a supervisor has been approved.|
|Term 6 (Summer)||prepare dissertation proposal||1 half course
work on Comps
|Term 7 and 8||research for dissertation||complete comps|
|(Fall/Winter)||2-4 Program Seminars||3 Program Seminars|
|NOTE: FGS regulations require that students must have a supervisory committee by the end of the eighth term of study. Students will not be able to register in the tenth term unless a supervisor has been approved.|
|Term 9 (Summer)||research for dissertation||prepare dissertation proposal|
|Terms 10 and 11||dissertation||dissertation|
|(Fall/Winter)||TA assignment||3 Program Seminars|