PhD Program Requirements

There are three stages in the PhD program:

  1. coursework and completion of language requirements (Level Two Latin, French, and German)
  2. preparation for and taking the Special Field Examination
  3. the writing of the dissertation.

Student progress is supported and monitored by Mentors and the PhD Coordinator during Stage 1, and by an Advisory Committee consisting of a supervisor and two faculty members during Stages 2 and 3. The committee membership is determined by the student in consultation with the PhD Coordinator.

Students are required to meet individually:

  • with the PhD Coordinator at the beginning of each academic year during Stages 1-3. 
  • once per term with their Mentors during Stage 1.
  • once or more per year with their Advisory Committees during Stages 2-3 (see below).

For more details, please see the PhD Program by Year.

Minimum requirement: The minimum course requirement is three full-course equivalents (FCEs) consisting of full- and/or half-courses equivalents (HCEs).  

Course selection and Areas: PhD students may select courses from the annual list of offerings provided they meet any stipulated prerequisites. 2.0 FCEs must be in the student’s chosen Major Area, and 1.0 FCE in the Minor Area. Major and Minor Areas are defined according to traditional disciplinary domains, and include History, Art History, Languages and Literatures, Manuscript Studies and Textual Cultures, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Theology, and Musicology (Minor only). A balanced course selection in the Major and Minor Areas is crucial to building educational paths that are comparable to those of more traditional programs but also interdisciplinary in a manner that provides suitable preparation for the dissertation. Students should be mindful of these Guidelines in making their course selections and consult with the PhD Coordinator and their Mentors during the process.

External courses: Given CMS’s interdisciplinary emphasis, some courses on medieval or related topics may be taken in other departments. It is important to bear in mind that, historically, most CMS students have found employment in departments such as English, History, Classics, Philosophy, or Religion. A student wishing to take a course from another program must make arrangements with the relevant professor, fill out the requisite form (SGS Request for Add/Drop Course [PDF], also obtainable from the CMS office), and submit it for approval by the PhD / Graduate Coordinator of each program.

Directed reading courses: Students can also agree with a specific professor to take a directed reading course. In this case, students must make arrangements with the relevant professors, fill out the requisite form (the SGS Request for Reading Course [PDF]), and submit it for approval by the PhD Coordinator. Barring exceptional circumstances, directed reading courses will be authorized only for students in the second year of registration, on topics directly related to their main research Areas, and for which CMS or one of the cognate Departments has no comparable offering.

Advanced placement credit: Students entering the PhD directly or shortly after completing the MA in Medieval Studies at CMS may request courses taken during that MA (but not any graduate or undergraduate courses taken at any other university or in any other programme at the University of Toronto) count as advanced placement credit towards fulfilment of their Major or Minor research areas during the PhD. For example, a student who has taken two terms of palaeography during the MA could request that these courses count as advanced placement credit towards the Minor area, and the student would therefore no longer need to take any courses towards the Minor during the PhD. Granting of this request will be at the discretion of the PhD Coordinator. NB: the minimum course requirement of three full-course equivalents must still be met during the PhD programme; students will not be allowed to reduce the number of courses in total during the PhD.

Ideal timeline: While students may take courses throughout their programs, the 3.0-FCE course requirement must be met during the first two years. Although this ordinarily means 2 half-courses per term, students may wish to take up 4 half-courses per term in each of the first two years in order to achieve the disciplinary breadth required by their Major and Minor Areas.

MST1003H: In addition to the 3.0-FCE minimum, MST 1003H, Professional Development for Medieval Studies PhDs (CR/NCR), must be taken by all PhD students during the first three years of registration.

Browse our past language exams for Latin, French, and German.


The Centre is renowned for its Latin program. A Level One Latin examination pass is a prerequisite to initial registration in the PhD program. Since Latin is the foundation of our program, PhD students should attempt the Level Two Latin exam upon arrival, and take it again if required at the next available date. Students who do not pass the Level Two Latin exam on arrival are enrolled in MST 1001Y, Medieval Latin II. For further details, please see the PhD Program by Year.

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 during the course of their PhD program. French and German exams take place at the same times each 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.

For additional information about the Modern Languages exams, please visit the Modern Language Exams Guidelines page.

In exceptional cases, a student may petition to replace one of the modern languages (French and German) with a different language from their area of research. A written request signed by their Supervisor must be submitted as early as possible, 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). For further details, see the PhD Program by Year.


Supervisor(s): During Stage 1, students are expected to seek out, in consultation with the PhD Coordinator, a Supervisor for their doctoral dissertation. CMS provides a list of faculty members and their areas of interest. Emeriti, although often willing to serve as formal or informal advisors, do not adopt new supervisions except under special circumstances and with departmental and SGS permission. Assistant faculty members or professors unaffiliated with CMS (e.g., Joint Placement Educational Agreement) may co-supervise dissertations alongside full members, and very often serve on Advisory Committees. At the end of Fall term of Year 2, should a Supervisor not yet been confirmed, CMS will provide one provisionally until an appropriate Supervisor has been identified. The student and Supervisor(s) are responsible for 

Advisory Committee:

The Advisory Committee shall consist of the Supervisor(s) and two additional faculty members, and must be approved by the PhD Coordinator by the end of the Fall term of Year 2. Members of the Advisory Committee must hold SGS appointments and be affiliated with CMS. New affiliations may be approved on a case-by-case basis but must be requested well in advance.

Once approved, any changes to the membership of the Advisory Committee, before or after the Special Field Examination, require the approval of the PhD Coordinator. 

The Advisory Committee will support the student in defining their research topic, producing their Special Field paper proposal, and preparing for their Special Field Examination. The Advisory Committee will also conduct the Special Field Examination and judge it on a Pass/Fail basis, and will accompany the student’s progress through the submission, approval, and final defense of the dissertation.

Annual meeting: Beginning in Year 2, students are responsible for the organization of the annual meetings with their Advisory Committees. The annual meeting should take place no later than April 30th of each year, with all members present. The meeting may not be held by email, telephone, or virtually, unless extraordinary circumstances require it, and only with advance approval from the PhD Coordinator. At the meeting, the Supervisor will complete and present to the student the annual advisory report (PDF), allow the student to enter or append a written response, and provide the completed copy to the PhD Coordinator and Graduate Administrator.

PDF iconMST Thesis Supervision Approval Form (pdf)

The New Guidelines for the Special Field Proposal and Examination come into effect on 1 September 2021. 
•    The New Guidelines apply to all incoming PhD students from September 2021. 
•    Students who entered Year 2 in 2021-2022 may opt into the New Guidelines.
•    Students who entered Year 3 or higher in 2021-2022 follow the Old Guidelines for the Special Field Exam
In all cases, the Special Field Examination is expected to take place in the third year of registration (P3), and students are urged to take it as soon as possible after having passed the Level Two Latin exam and modern language exams.

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 Coordinator). Students entering P3 or higher in 2021-2022 must produce a formal dissertation proposal in consultation with their Advisory Committee and submit it for approval by CMS Executive Committee; details on this process are provided 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.

Students who take more than six years to complete the program need to apply for extensions. For more details, see the PhD Program by Year.

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 Coordinator. 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 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.

Apply to the PhD Program