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 of the Special Field Examination
  3. 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 Coordinator. The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Coordinator.

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

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 Coordinator. 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, fill out the appropriate form (the SGS Request for Reading Course, also obtainable from the office), and submit it to the PhD Coordinator for approval. Unless exceptional circumstances exist, directed reading courses will be granted only to students in P2 and on topics related to the student’s main research area which are not otherwise covered by course offerings at the Centre for Medieval Studies.

More details are in the PhD Program by Year.

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


The Centre is renowned for its Latin program. A Level One Latin pass is a 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. 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 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). For further details, see the PhD Program by Year.

Students are expected to seek out a supervisor, in consultation with the PhD Coordinator, 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 Coordinator. The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Coordinator.  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 annual advisory report, show it to the student, and give it to the student to allow the student the opportunity to make a written response if necessary.

By the end of December of Year 2, students should have a full Advisory Committee, in consultation with the PhD Coordinator, consisting of a supervisor and two other faculty members. The Advisory Committee must be formally approved by the PhD Coordinator. Once approved, any changes to the membership of the Advisory Committee, before or after the Special Field Examination, requires the approval of the PhD Coordinator. 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 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). 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.

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