The Ph.D. in Cultural Studies is designed as an integrated and intensive 4-year program that focuses on reading, discussion, writing, and, simultaneously, both the ongoing construction of the research projects that constitute the dissertation, and also the identification and delineation of the special field(s) of knowledge to which the students are contributing and which, in some cases, they may be helping to reshape.
In their first year, students take CUST-6100 Intellectual Traditions in Cultural Studies and CUST-6110 Topics and Approaches. The Examinable List for the Comprehensive Exam is derived in large part from the readings in these two courses. Taught by a large team of faculty members, and normally chaired by the Director of the Program, this course invites students to dialogue with the numerous, sometimes contradictory, and certainly complex traditions that have fed into the making of cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field at Trent and elsewhere. The purpose of CUST-6100 and CUST-6110 is to create an environment of intellectual exchange and, more pragmatically, to help students prepare to take the Comprehensive Examination at the end of the first year (CUST-6125). CUST-6110 also provides opportunities for students to gain perspective on how their special field may be positioned in the wider field of Cultural Studies. Upon successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination, students will work on finalizing their Special Field Bibliography (CUST 6225) in their own area of competence to which their dissertation project will contribute. Students will submit a draft of their Bibliography by the end of August of the first year.
In the second year, students participate in the Dissertation Seminar (CUST-6200), a forum in which students present their work to each other and to members of faculty as they develop their first project and refine the area of scholarship that will support their Special Field of study. All students are required to participate in the Dissertation Seminar to workshop one of their projects, normally the first project, and students are required on several occasions during the academic year to present for discussion different parts, stages, or turning points of this dissertation project, including any difficulties that are impeding their progress. In principle, the seminar discussion is open to all graduate students and faculty who read the circulated work. By the end of this second-year course, students will have a solid first draft of an original project that will constitute part of their thesis. They will also have finalized and have had approved by their committee the Special Field in which they will be working, and which they will be, at least in part, creating. There will be no major writing requirements for this seminar beyond the individual projects on which each student is working. After the course, by the end of a busy summer in the second year, students will have completed their first project at a publishable level (CUST-6250) under the supervision of their Committee, passed their Special Field Examination (CUST-6325), and developed for approval their Dissertation Proposal (CUST-6275).
There are no further courses required in the third and fourth years. Students work under supervision towards their translation test in a second language and the completion of their second and third projects. Once the three projects are connected, the dissertation is ready for the examining committee and the oral defence.
The dissertation will ultimately present a coherent argument, based upon intensive scholarship, making a significant and original contribution to the field. Specifically, however, the dissertation will consist of three eventually connected intellectual projects that make original contributions to a student’s special field. Each project must be presented in approximately 50 pages and considered of publishable quality by the student’s Committee. Students will be expected to present selections from at least two projects at scholarly conferences and to submit at least one paper based on the dissertation projects for publication in a peer-reviewed journal agreed by the supervisory Committee.
Students take four sets of examinations during their four-year PhD degree program: (1) in Year One, the Comprehensive Examination; (2) in Year Two, the Special Field Examination; (3) in Year Four, the Dissertation examination and oral defence; and (4) the language test in a second language, prior to graduation.
A Program Faculty Guide is temporarily assigned to each student on arrival in the first year. In consultation with the Faculty Guide and the student, and with the agreement of the faculty members, the Director will appoint a primary Supervisor and at least one secondary Supervisor for the first project, normally by October 31 of Year Two. (The Guide is eligible to serve as one of these Supervisors.) Where necessary to meet University regulations, the Director will serve, ex officio, as the third Supervisor. These Supervisors comprise the student’s Supervisory Committee, which will be chaired by the primary Supervisor. The Director, in consultation with the student, will appoint a Supervisory Committee on the same model for the second and third projects, normally by October 31 in each subsequent year, and also a Supervisory Committee of not more than four Program faculty for the final dissertation and oral defence. The primary Supervisor on a Supervisory Committee will take primary responsibility for the student’s progress through the degree at any one time. If disagreements arise on a Supervisory Committee, first the primary Supervisor, and then the Director, will seek to establish consensus. Failing consensus, status decisions about a student’s progress will be made by the Director, in consultation with the primary Supervisor, and subject to oversight by the Program Committee.
Satisfactory completion of each program requirement requires a passing grade (PASS). In all cases of program requirements, the grade awarded, and transcripted, will be PASS or FAIL, or INC (“incomplete”), in accordance with the University’s grading system. Each INC grade alerts the student to a problem in progressing toward the degree and requires consultation with the Supervisory Committee. Any combination of two INC grades will elicit a letter of warning from the Director and will require an interview with the Director where the student will have to show cause why he/she should not be asked to withdraw from the Program. Each FAIL grade indicates unsatisfactory work and, except in the case of exams where a later rewrite may be possible, the student is asked to withdraw from the Program. In some cases, as with the projects or the publication requirement (CUST 6250, 6350, or 6450), the passing grade (PASS) may involve a high standard, such as “publishable quality.”