PhD English

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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. Admission requirements and the application process can be accessed through Discover Graduate Studies. 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.

Course work

Students must complete 6 term length courses.  

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

Progress reports

All students are required to submit annual progress reports in April.  Progress reports may increase in frequency if program time limits are exceeded.  

Progress reports are intended to ensure timely progression through the program, and will differ from year to year as milestones are met and students gain professionalization experience. Please use and amend this sample progress report as you see fit.

PhD students must submit an academic CV with their annual progress report. The CV is an important document that you should be developing from the moment you start the program, adding items as you go. The CV is the full record of your academic life: it will be required for scholarship applications, teaching applications, applications for academic positions, and, of course, as part of your annual reporting. Many online resources can show you what is required, but for your ease of use we have provided the basic CV template, with all the required categories and indications about what goes where and how to format it. Please use and amend this sample CV as you see fit.

Professionalization training requirement

A course on the development of research skills and professionalization, to be offered to second-year PhD students in the winter 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.

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.

Comprehensive exam

Students sit a two-part comprehensive exam, consisting of a written exam and an oral exam. Those exam sittings take place in year two of the program, usually in May and June, respectively.

Candidates who fail the written exam 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 comprehensive exams, including procedures, reading lists, past exams, and timelines, see the Comprehensive 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 final draft of the proposal must be submitted (in digital form) to the Support Services Coordinator by by the date announced in that year's exam schedule.

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, exclusive of bibliography and works cited. 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), Dissertation Proposal & Professionalization Training Requirement
  • Year 3: Dissertation writing
  • Year 4: Dissertation completion
  • Year 4: Dissertation defense

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