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Cultural Studies

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Cultural Studies

Program Structure

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 many faculty, and normally chaired by the Director of the Program, this course invites the students to engage the different, sometimes contradictory, and certainly complex traditions that have fed into the making of cultural studies as an inter-disciplinary formation 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). Students should also gain perspective on how their projects and special fields may be positioned in the wider Cultural Studies canon. Over the summer following the courses and the Comprehensive Examination, in preparation for the second year, students should be considering their first writing project and special field bibliography in their own area of competence to which their project will contribute. Students should present their initial work both for the first project and toward their special field bibliography. These will be a great help in second year as they look for supervision and apply for grants.

In the second year, each student will 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 identify the 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 in making 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 begun to articulate 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 each student is working on.  After the course, by the end of a busy summer in the second year, students will complete their first project at a publishable level (CUST-6250) under the supervision of their Committee, submit their Special Field Bibliography (CUST-6225) for the approval of the supervisory Committee, and develop 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 Special Field Exam (CUST-6325), towards their translation test in a second language, and towards 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 Three, 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.”