PhD Program

Admission Requirements

As a minimum, students have to meet the admission standards of the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and have the equivalent of a Toronto Master’s degree, but the Admissions Committee of the centre considers its applicants with more stringent requirements in mind: a student’s competence in languages, academic abilities, and performance in Latin are all very important. A possible supervisor and committee have to be available. PhD students are offered admission on condition that they pass the Level One Latin examination on-site in Toronto, once admitted to the program.

Students admitted to the PhD program and those on the waiting list are strongly encouraged to attempt the April Level One Latin examination, without a fee.  If unsuccessful in the exam, they are urged to attend our Summer Level One Latin class, free of charge, to prepare for the September exam. Since the Level One Latin examination is not offered again until the following April, students who fail it in September must either enrol in the centre’s MA program or pursue their studies elsewhere; there are no exceptions to this rule.  Admission to the PhD program cannot be deferred to the following year. PhD students must be full-time.

Admission from the CMS MA to the PhD Program

Students currently registered in the centre’s MA program who wish to apply for the PhD program must submit a new application, including reference letters, transcripts, etc., and pay the application fee. They should be aware that their applications are considered on the same terms as those of external applicants. Admission to our PhD program is selective and limited: the program cannot accommodate all our MA candidates.

Doctor of Philosophy Degree Requirements

There are three stages in the PhD program: coursework and completion of language requirements (Level Two Latin, French, and German), preparation for and taking of the Special Field Examination, and the writing of the dissertation. Every student’s program through the three stages is aided and monitored by an Advisory Committee, consisting of a supervisor and two other faculty members, established by the student in consultation with the PhD Co-ordinator.  The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Co-ordinator.


The minimum course requirement is three full courses (or a combination of full and half courses totaling the same); the equivalent of two full courses must be in the student’s chosen major field, and the equivalent of one full course must in the student’s chosen minor field. In addition to the 3.0 FCEs minimum, MST 1003H Professional Development for Medieval Studies PhDs (CR/NCR) must be taken by all PhD students over the course of the first three years of registration.  Some students, mindful of the appearance of their transcripts, take as many as three or four full courses in each of the first two years. PhD students at the centre are free to select any courses from the annual list, provided that they have the necessary prerequisites. In view of the centre’s interdisciplinary nature, some courses on the Middle Ages can be taken in other departments, with the approval of the PhD Co-ordinator.  It is important to bear in mind that, although our program is interdisciplinary, most of our students eventually find jobs in a department such as English, History, Classics, Philosophy, Religion, etc.

A student wishing to take a directed reading course must make arrangements with the professor, and fill out the appropriate form (obtainable from the office). More than one directed reading course per degree program requires permission from the centre.


The Level One Latin pass is prerequisite to initial registration in the PhD program. Since Latin is the foundation of our program, the most important thing for PhD students to do is to pass the Level Two Latin exam as quickly as possible. All students are urged to have a try at the Level Two Latin exam on arrival, and to take it again whenever the opportunity presents itself afterwards. Students who do not pass the Level Two Latin exam on arrival are enrolled in MST 1001Y, Medieval Latin II.

Modern Languages

Since all medievalists need to be able to read scholarship in French and German, students in CMS must pass reading examinations in those languages in the course of their PhD program. The French and German exams take place at the same times in the year as the Latin exams with additional French and German exams in January. Students are urged to integrate their language studies with their course work and research: working through short articles on relevant subjects with the aid of a dictionary is excellent preparation for the exams, which require comprehension only, not a mastery of style.

In exceptional cases a student may petition to replace one of the modern languages (French and German) with another language in their area of research.  A written request, with a signed confirmation of support for the petition from the supervisor, must be submitted as early as possible, and no later than the end of the Fall term of Year 2 for consideration by the centre’s Executive Committee. In the case of a successful petition, the student will be expected to take the exam no later than the next examination date. Such substitute examinations will be offered no more than two times per year (April and September).

The Special Field examination

By the end of December of Year 2, students should have a full Advisory Committee, in consultation with the PhD Co-ordinator, consisting of a supervisor and two other faculty members.  The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Co-ordinator.  Once approved, any changes to the membership of the Advisory Committee, before or after the Special Field Examination, requires the approval of the PhD Co-ordinator.  This Committee will help the student to define the area of their special field of interest, produce their ‘Special Field proposal’ (comprising a description and bibliography), and prepare for their Special Field Examination. The same Advisory Committee will conduct the examination and judge it on a pass/fail basis. Students are urged to take their Special Field Examination as soon as possible after they have passed the Level Two Latin exam and the modern language exams. See Special Field Guidelines for more information on this requirement.

The Dissertation

The dissertation topic normally arises from the special field. The advisory committee assembled for the special field will remain available to advise the student on different aspects of the dissertation, though its membership may change in view of the precise topic chosen (a change that needs to be approved by the PhD Co-ordinator.)  A formal dissertation proposal should be worked out by the student in consultation with the advisory committee and submitted to the centre for approval; details on this process are given in the Dissertation Proposal Guidelines. A dissertation must not exceed 90,000 words (i.e., approximately 300 double-spaced pages): students should think of it as the first step in a scholarly career – a demonstration of competence – not the final and exhaustive achievement of a lifetime.

Before the dissertation can be submitted for examination, it must be read by the supervisor and all members of the Advisory Committee; each member must confirm in writing (to the PhD Coordinator) that he/she has read the dissertation and has approved it to go forward for examination. When the entire Advisory Committee has judged that the dissertation is fit to be submitted, the student must deliver five unbound copies to the centre at least twelve weeks before the intended date of the oral examination. The PhD Coordinator of the centre will then find a suitable external examiner (i.e. someone from outside the University of Toronto). This can sometimes be a lengthy and complicated process. The date of the oral examination depends chiefly on the convenience of the external examiner. Members of the student’s Advisory Committee usually serve on the dissertation examination committee, but there is always also at least one other person from outside that group, but within the University, chosen by the PhD co-ordinator. Students should not attempt to influence the selection of their examination committee themselves; it is the supervisor’s job to advise the PhD Coordinator on suitable choices.

The Advisory Committee

Students are expected to seek out a supervisor, in consultation with the PhD Co-ordinator, for their doctoral dissertation: the centre provides a list of faculty members and their areas of interest. Retired faculty members, while they are often happy to serve as formal or informal advisors, do not take on new supervisions except under special circumstances and with departmental and SGS permission. Assistant faculty members may co-supervise a dissertation together with a full member, and very often serve on Advisory Committees. In cases where a supervisor has not been confirmed by the end of the Fall session of the second year, the centre will provide a nominal or provisional supervisor until the student identifies someone appropriate, in consultation with the PhD Co-ordinator. The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Co-ordinator.  The student and supervisor together work out arrangements for meetings and work.

The Advisory Committee shall consist of the supervisor and two other faculty members. The annual meeting of the Advisory Committee (organised by the student) should take place no later than 30 April of each year, with all members present; the meeting cannot be held by email, Skype or telephone consultation, unless warranted by extraordinary circumstances. At the meeting, the supervisor will complete the report form, show it to the student, and give it to the student to allow the student the opportunity to make a written response if necessary.

PhD Timeline

First Year (and course load)

  • During the first two years, PhD students must take at least three full-year courses or equivalent half-courses, plus MST 1001Y.  The latter must be taken during Year One.
  • Of the three courses, two full-year courses (or four half-courses) must be in the chosen major field (Art History, History, Literature, Musicology, Philosophy or Religious Studies) and one full year course (or two half courses) must be in the chosen minor field (fields such as those listed above, plus Palaeography or Philology).
  • The student is required to maintain an average grade of A-.
  • During the first year the student should begin to consider possible academic advisors who might become members of the Advisory Committee.

Second Year (Advisory committee and Special Field Proposal)

  • During the Fall term the student must consult with the PhD Co-ordinator regarding  the membership of the Advisory Committee.  By the end of December of Year 2 the student should have a full Advisory Committee consisting of a supervisor and two other members.  The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Co-ordinator.
  • In this year and subsequent years, the student must meet formally with the members of the Advisory Committee at least once per year and submit an annual report, signed by the supervisor and all members of the Advisory Committee, before the end of April.  This annual meeting is organized by the student.  The student should also prepare a CV and a time-line to be shown to the Advisory Committee at the annual meeting and submit them with the report.
  • Ideally, the Special Field proposal (prepared in consultation with the Advisory Committee) should be submitted between the end of the spring term of Year Two and the beginning of the Fall term of Year Three. The ultimate deadline is January of the Third Year.  There is no need to wait to have passed all the language requirements to have the proposal approved (first by one’s Advisory Committee and then by the centre’s Executive Committee).  However, all language requirements must be fulfilled prior to taking the Special Field Examination. For these language requirements, see above, under the headings LATIN and MODERN LANGUAGES.

Third Year (Language requirements, special Field examination and PhD proposal)

  • The centre’s language requirements in Level Two Latin, French, and German (all pre-requisites for the Special Field Examination) should be passed by September, but no later than April, of Year Three.
  • Ideally, the student should take the Special Field Examination by the end of the Fall term of Year Three.  If progress is delayed by failure to pass the language examinations in the Fall, then the student may sit them in January (French and German only) or April of the same year.  Upon completion of the language requirements, the student will proceed to the Special Field Examination; it must be passed prior to Year Four.
  • During the spring term of Year Three (and once the Special Field Examination is passed), the Ph.D. dissertation proposal should also be developed, in consultation with the Advisory Committee, and submitted.
  • Since courses will be completed by then, the evaluation of the Advisory Committee will be based on the student’s submission of written work: Special Field State of the Literature Statement, Dissertation Proposal, and other writings related to the thesis. The minimum requirement is normally 20 pages per term (Fall and Spring).  The Advisory Committee determines if the submitted material meets the minimum requirements for quality and quantity.

Fourth and Fifth Years (Writing the PhD thesis)

  • These years should be devoted to the writing of the dissertation. Students who need more time to finish may continue in the program through a maximum of six years (beyond which a formal extension is to be requested for each additional year, for a maximum of four years).

Extensions Beyond the Sixth Year

Students Entering after September 2010

For each of the four years that ensue after the completion of the sixth year, a student must petition for an extension.  For each of these additional years as well, the student will be required to pay one-half of the regular Canadian fees (plus the whole fee for incidentals). During these years, such students will continue to work on their dissertations. If, within these four years the dissertation has not been submitted and defended, the student’s program is terminated absolutely, the dissertation will never be examined, and the ten year’s work will go for nothing. These additional four years will, for all students enrolled in September 2010 onwards, be the only kind of extensions allowed to the length of the PhD program. They are not automatic: students must apply for them, and there are rules, imposed by both the centre and the School of Graduate Studies, for the conditions of granting the extensions.

Students who Entered before September 2010

Students who entered the PhD program before September 2010 may have opted to follow the new rules (see above), or may have been grandfathered into the previous regulations. Under the latter, students who have not completed the dissertation within the 6-year limit of the PhD program had two options: “going external” (lapsing) or petitioning for an extension. “Going external” means that no more fees need be paid, and the university has no further responsibilities towards the student. The student, may, however, work independently to complete the dissertation and then petition for reinstatement. This means that, upon presentation of five copies of the completed dissertation, and at the discretion of the centre’s Executive committee, the centre may ask SGS to reinstate the student for the purposes of setting up a defence. The student would then be required to pay appropriate fees. Since such a reinstatement can be awarded only once, the centre will request it from SGS only when the dissertation is submitted. There is no time limit imposed: a student can bring in a thesis after any number of years.

The second option for students grandfathered into the previous regulations and who have not finished within the six-year limit is to petition the centre for an ‘old style’ extension of their program. This means that the student continues paying full fees and consulting the advisory committee according to the rules of the program. Such a petition can be approved by the centre only if the supervisor supports it, the student’s progress has been deemed satisfactory, and there has been substantial progress toward completion of the dissertation. The student is asked to provide a detailed plan of the timetable for completion.

After such an ‘old-style’ extension, during which the student would have all the advantages of ‘student status’ (residency for student permits, student loans, etc), if the student had not finished, he or she would still have the option of ‘going external’ and of having no time limit set for completion. There would seem to be considerable financial disadvantage in this option, but it offers limitless time for completion.

The School of Graduate Studies has made it clear that switching from the old rules to the new ones is a one-way choice: by accepting the reduced fees, the student has also accepted the time limit. Students who enrolled before September 2010 must make their choice clear the year before they take up the option. All students who have not completed their theses before the end of the sixth year of the program should consult with the administrators about the course of action they intend to pursue.

Termination of Registration in the PhD Program

The advisory committee has the authority to recommend termination of a student’s program if insufficient progress or scholarly achievement is observed. The student will be adequately warned of problems and given a chance to correct deficiencies. Every effort will be made to identify problems early in a student’s program so as to avoid termination late in the program. The final decision on termination of registration rests with the PhD Coordinator in consultation with the centre’s Executive Committee.