PhD English

Collage of images related to English.

The Doctor of Philosophy in English is a limited enrolment program unique in Canada for its integration of literary studies with such fields as rhetoric, new media, and discourse analysis. The program draws students from across Canada, and has a very strong placement rate for its graduates, in high-quality academic and upper-level research positions.

The following is a brief summary of information about the program. Full program information and regulations are available in the Graduate Calendar. Requirements can be tracked with the help of our department checklists.


The following sections list the requirements to graduate from the PhD program.

Academic integrity  workshop 

All students are required to complete a University of Waterloo workshop on academic integrity and sign a pledge to conduct their research with scrupulous honesty. The workshop takes place before classes begin and students will not be allowed to take classes until they have signed the pledge.

Language requirement

Each candidate must attain or demonstrate basic competence subject to feasibility of testing by the University of Waterloo in a language other than English, excluding middle English but not Anglo-Saxon.

Proof of competence may take four forms:

  • Successful completion of two term of undergraduate study in a language for basic competence or two terms of advanced undergraduate study for advanced competence.
  • Successful sitting of an exam at the appropriate level set by a department of the University.
  • Completion of degree-level study in that language at another university.
  • Evidence of other kinds that is deemed sufficient by the Departmental Graduate Studies Committee.

This milestone must be completed by December 1 of the third year.

Professionalization training requirement

A course on the development of research skills and professionalization, to be offered to second-year PhD students in the fall term of every year, that will meet weekly. The course will cover such topics as: preparation for area exams, preparation of a dissertation proposal, bibliographical skills, teaching strategies, the job market (academic and non-academic), conferences, writing for publication, c.v. preparation, interview technique, and writing of grant applications.

Course work

Students must complete 6 term length courses as well as the Language requirement. 

  • 1 Literature (LIT)
  • 1 Rhetoric and Communication Design (RCD) or Experimental Digital Media (XDM)
  • 4 Elective (one may be extra-departmental, and only one may be a reading course)

Area exams

Students sit two area exams, one in their primary area of study, one in a secondary area. One must be in a literary field, one in an area of broader language study. Students can write the exams in either order. Sittings are usually on the last Fridays of November and May.

The passing grade is 70%. Candidates who fail the written exam (primary or secondary) may be eligible to write it again at the next formal sitting. Candidates who fail the oral exam will normally have another exam within two weeks.

For complete details on Area exams, including procedures, reading lists, past exams, and timelines, see the Area exams page.

Dissertation proposal

Students must arrange for a supervisor and a dissertation committee, from members of the faculty, and under their guidance prepare a proposal. The proposal must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator by December 1 of the candidate’s third year in the program, or six months after the completion of the area exams.

For more full details about the proposal, see the Dissertation page.


All students are responsible for original research and study on a topic that has been approved by their dissertation committee and the English Graduate Committee. A completed Dissertation should be between 200-400 pages in length. The dissertation should be defended in the student's fourth year.

For more full details about writing, defending, and publishing your dissertation, see the Dissertation page.

PhD Program Timeline

  • Year 1: Course work
  • Year 2: Exams (one Fall, one Spring) & Professionalization Training Requirement
  • Year 3: Dissertation proposal (due in Fall)
  • Years 3 & 4: Dissertation completion
  • Year 4: Dissertation defense

Full time enrollment and Waterloo residency is expected for all three terms of all four years