PhD Dissertation


PhD Thesis and Dissertation Requirements

A doctoral dissertation is required. This must meet the standards established by the University. Students should ask for the FAS booklet specifying these standards as soon as their prospectus has been accepted. Dissertations must be submitted electronically to the University. Students are responsible for completing all necessary paperwork before graduation.

The Language of the Dissertation

Normally, dissertations are written in English, as prescribed by the Graduate Faculty. A student intending to petition for permission to write the dissertation in French, shall write at least two seminar papers in English in order to demonstrate competence in the language.

The student is advised to make an early written petition to the Dean of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and is warned that such permission may not be granted. The petition should be accompanied by a letter from the adviser and a copy of the papers written in English. In the petition, the student should present sound reasons for writing the dissertation in a language other than English.

Steps in Writing the Doctoral Dissertation

It is the student’s responsibility to design a topic suitable for research resulting in a doctoral dissertation. Students are encouraged to start thinking about a topic and to seek advice from faculty members as soon as they join the PhD program.

By the end of their first year, they must already have at least a rough idea of the direction in which they want to launch their research project.

As soon as the comprehensive examinations have been passed, the student and his/her adviser should agree on a dissertation committee including at least three members of the department (including the director) and one member chosen from another department in an area of expertise relevant to the dissertation topic.

Usually during the third year, but in no case later than the first term of their fourth year, the student must submit a prospectus to the director for circulation among the committee members. The scope, size, organization and format of the prospectus are specified in a separate departmental document, which PhD students should receive, or request as soon as they pass their comprehensive examinations.

The student then defends the prospectus in front of the committee. Upon acceptance of the prospectus by the committee, the student applies to the graduate school for admission to candidacy for the degree.

The dissertation committee must meet with the student at least once per academic year until the dissertation is completed.

The student continues research and writing under the supervision of the director.

After the director has read and approved the entire dissertation, copies are distributed to the other members of the committee. The director sets a date for the defense in consultation with the candidate and with the other members of the committee.

Committee members must receive their copy of the dissertation at least four weeks before the defense date.

Upon successful completion of the defense, the director sends formal notification to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that the various administrative requirements for graduation are satisfied in time.


All graduate students must register in each term in which they are using University facilities; they must be registered for at least one credit whenever a landmark (passing the comprehensive examinations, defending the prospectus and being admitted to candidacy, defending the dissertation and graduating) has to be officially recorded.

A student who is not registered for at least three credits during a 12-month period will be transferred to inactive status and must file an application for readmission to graduate study before being permitted to register again. Readmission is not automatic nor does it necessarily reinstate the student in the status enjoyed prior to becoming inactive.

When readmitted, the student must be prepared to demonstrate proper preparation to meet all current degree requirements.

There is a seven-year limit on the validity of the results of the comprehensive examination. After this deadline has passed, parts of the comprehensive examinations will have to be re-taken in order to reassess the currency of the knowledge held by the student in light of the developments newly appeared in the discipline.