PhD Program

The PhD program in the Department of History is designed to take five years to complete. It requires full-time academic residency until the attainment of candidacy.

PhD Program Overview

Students in the PhD program complete their coursework in their first year; take their comprehensive exams, defend their prospectus, and advance to candidacy in their second year; spend a year and a half doing dissertation research; and a year and a half writing the dissertation.     Students should create a personal program completion timeline in conjunction with their supervisor during Term 1 of Year 1 of their program.  Sample timelines will be provided and can be adapted as appropriate.  The timeline remains in the student’s official file and is updated as needed over the course of the program.  Students who require more than six years to complete their program can apply for and receive an extension through the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Admission to the PhD program is on a full-time basis only.  Most PhD students enter the program with a completed MA degree.

Applicants and candidates for the PhD program should also review the general requirements of the Faculty of Graduate Studies ( regarding residency, coursework, examinations, and dissertation preparation and submission.

Program Requirements – PhD Degree:

PhD students must complete three courses.  Two of these courses are mandatory: “Professional Development for Historians” and “The Doctoral Research Seminar.”  Students choose their third course in consultation with their supervisor. Note that students who have not previously taken a graduate-level historiography course must choose HIST 548D: Historiography for this third course.

Graduate courses for PhD students:

  • Course 1: Professional Development Seminar (3 credits).  This is a mandatory course taken in Term 1 of Year 1 of the PhD program. This course introduces students to professional skills and options for historians in both academic and non-academic careers.
  • Course 2:  The Doctoral Research Seminar (3 credits). This is a mandatory course taken in Term 2 of Year 1 of the PhD Program.  The course guides students through the process of doing research for and drafting their dissertation prospectus.
  • Course 3:  For their third course, students choose ONE of the following.  They should take this course in Term 1 of Year 1.  However, where appropriate and in consultation with their supervisor, they may choose to take it as late as Term 1 of Year 2.
    • Historiography (3 credits).  Students who have not previously taken a graduate-level historiography course must choose HIST 548D: Historiography.  This course is offered annually only in Term 1.
    • Area and Thematic course (3 credits). The History Department's readings courses introduce students to the main historiographical problems and secondary literature in their fields of specialization. Readings and topics courses require written work (approximately 3,000-4,000 words per course) from students as evidence of their growing mastery of secondary literature.
    • Graduate course offered outside of the History Department (3 credits).  With permission of the Graduate Advisor, students may take 3 credits of graduate coursework from outside the History Department. Language courses may not be substituted for graduate readings courses.  Please consult your supervisor for possible graduate courses offered outside of the History Department.  (Examples of non-history graduate seminars represent 500+ level courses from the STS department, Asian Studies, FNIS, etc.)
    • Directed Studies Course (3 credits).  Students who choose this option register for HIST 547D.  It takes the form of a one-on-one or small group directed readings course with a professor.  When a professor (usually the supervisor) agrees to do a directed readings course with a student, the professor must submit a course syllabus to the graduate program assistant to register the student into the course.
    • Graduate course through the Western Dean's Agreement (3 credits).  Students at participating Universities in Western Canada can attend partner institutions as visiting students without having to pay the host university's tuition fees through the Western Dean's Agreement (WDA). As per the UBC Academic Calendar, courses taken by PhD students under the Western Deans' Agreement will not be credited to their degree programs.  If a PhD student wishes to take a graduate course through the WDA, they must also get approval from the graduate advisor for an exemption to the PhD Course requirements.

Before receiving the PhD degree, candidates must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of a language other than English. The language exam typically takes the form of a written test of reading ability, although under certain circumstances, oral proficiency can satisfy this requirement.

Students who require a foreign language (or languages) for their dissertation research must take the language exam in that language. In cases where the dissertation research involves only English-language sources, students may take the exam in the language of their choice.

For students who will be examined on their reading ability, the department holds a language exam twice a year (usually in November and April) in which candidates must successfully translate a passage from the language they have chosen into English, with the aid of a dictionary, but without the assistance of online translation tools.

Several departments at the university offer courses to help students acquire a reading knowledge of a foreign language, such as French, German, or Russian. Students who have successfully completed such a course at the third-year level or above, with at least a B (72%) average, can apply for exemption from the History Department’s translation exam by submitting evidence of completion of the course to the graduate program assistant.

Students whose projects rely on oral sources in a language other than English can make a request to be exempted from the language exam and to instead satisfy the language requirement with their demonstrated oral proficiency in the relevant research language.  In such cases, the graduate advisor will consult with the student’s supervisor to confirm their ability and determine whether this requirement has been met.

PhD students are required to complete written and oral comprehensive examinations in two major fields.  One field is geographically defined; the other is thematic.  Examination fields and the composition of the examination committee are determined through consultation involving the student, research supervisor, and Graduate Advisor (fields are listed below under Explanation of Major Fields). The major fields that will be examined are determined by the student’s research and the department’s research clusters.

The PhD Field Examination Committee is comprised of four field examiners. One of the four examiners is the research supervisor.  Regular meetings should be held with all four of the examining professors. Discussion of the types of questions likely to comprise the exam is also highly recommended.  Professors and students should agree on the number of questions and amount of choice well in advance of the exam. The standard is two questions answered per field (a total of 10,000 words for both fields) from a list of questions any of which might be asked during the oral part of the examination.

Students must complete all of their coursework requirements before sitting their comprehensive examinations.  Students are expected to complete their comprehensive examinations within fifteen months of the date of initial registration.

In order to advance to candidacy, students must successfully pass the written and oral comprehensive exams, and then defend their dissertation prospectus within the subsequent four months.  A student who has not advanced to candidacy within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program.  Extension of this period may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate Studies in exceptional circumstances.

Preparation for Comprehensive Exams

Students should have working reading lists in hand for their two fields by the end of Term 1 of Year 1.  They begin studying for comprehensive exams at the beginning of Term 2 of Year 1.

As an approximate guide to the preparation expected, students generally read the equivalent of 75 books (with 3 or 4 articles counting as the equivalent of a book) for each field.  Examiners in each field provide the candidate in advance with titles comprising 70-80% of the bibliography. Students themselves identify titles to comprise the remaining 20-30% of the list.

In Term 2 of Year 1, students take a non-credit course facilitated by an advanced graduate student mentor that supports them through the reading process.

Important Resource: Graduate Student Repository Folder of Reading Lists

To help you prepare the reading lists for each of your fields, the History Graduate Student Association (HGSA) has prepared an online repository (using OneDrive) of compiled reading lists. To receive access to the folder:

  1. Please make sure you have a UBC student email (e.g. <CWLusername> account created to send and receive mail. This account will also grant you access to a range of UBC services, including Microsoft Teams and OneDrive. To set up a UBC student email, click here.
  2. Please send an email request to History Graduate Student Support ( to ask for the weblink to the online repository folder on OneDrive.
  3. If these files were useful, please consider adding your reading lists to the online repository for the next generation of history graduate students.

Form of the examination

  • Written Examinations.  The examinations test the candidate's mastery of the factual knowledge, central historiographical issues, and theoretical concepts of the field.  Doctoral students are required to complete two written take-home examinations, one in each field, over a two-week period.  Students have a week to write for each field and may choose which field they do first. The comprehensive exams should total no more than 10,000 words.
  • Oral Examination. In the week following the written examinations, candidates take an oral examination, to be based mainly on the candidate's written field examinations.  All of the questions posed in the written examinations are open to oral questioning.  Other questions relevant to the field reading lists also may be expected.  The oral examination is normally three hours in duration.  The written and oral examinations in each field will receive one grade (pass/fail).  A student who fails either major field must repeat the written and oral examinations in all fields.  No substitution of fields at re-examination will be permitted.  A student will be allowed to re-sit comprehensives only once, and will be required to withdraw from the PhD program upon a second failure in one or more fields. Comprehensive doctoral examinations should be held between October and December of the second year.

Comprehensive Exam Checklist

  1. Assemble your committee (Term 1, Year 1)
    1a. Major Field in ___________   Professor___________; Professor_________________
    1b. Major field in ___________    Professor___________; Professor_________________
  2. Communicate this list to the Grad Advisor for final approval (, and the Grad Student Support person (, who will notify the graduate committee member in charge of exams (2021W: Professor Tina Loo) to find a chair for your oral exam.
  3. Finalize reading list. Send an electronic copy of the reading list to graduate student support person ( along with a copy of email approval from the professors involved. Alternatively, a hard copy signed by you and the professors involved. (The final list can be submitted just prior to the commencement of the examination.)
  4. Organize the comprehensive exam date.  The comprehensive exam involves three academic weeks.  The first two weeks represent written exams for each field. The Oral exam will be held in the third week.  Set a date  and time (3 hour block) with your committee members and communicate the date and time to the graduate student support person (

Upon receiving the confirmed "date and time", the graduate student support person will:

    • Arrange a Room,
    • Alert the Member of the graduate committee responsible for exams, who will find a chair for your oral exam,
    • Send out a formal written schedule with a request to the committee members to submit their written comprehensive exam questions, and;
    • Update the schedule once the graduate committee member has confirmed a chair.

For reference, the graduate student support person will be invigilating the written exams.

Roadmap to the Comps

Important Note: The "Roadmap to the Comps" document is not a statement of policy but merely serves as an outline of the general timeline for scheduling the oral component of the comprehensive exams.


Oral minus 3 months

Begin the process of coordinating a date and time (a three-hour block, typically on a Friday) for the oral part of your comprehensive examination with all examining professors.

Oral minus 2 months

Communicate the confirmed date and time (3 hour  block) to the Graduate Student Support Person ( who will arrange a room,  alert the member of the graduate committee responsible for exams who will  find the chair of your oral exam, send out a formal schedule with a request to the committee members to submit their written comprehensive exam questions.   The schedule will be updated once a chairperson is confirmed by the graduate committee member.

Oral minus 3 weeks

The Graduate Student Support person will send to you the first of your comprehensive exams.

Oral minus 2 weeks

You return the first written exam to the Graduate Student Support person, who will send you the second one.

Oral minus 1 week

You return the second written exam to Graduate Student Support person.


Note on Remote Setup for Virtual Meetings: The supervisor is responsible for comprehensive and prospectus examinations is responsible for setting up a skype (or zoom) virtual meeting.

Important Note about Scheduling:  The oral comprehensive examination date must be set with a minimum of 5-6 weeks in advance in order to allow enough time to find a chairperson.   Oral examination dates set with less than 5 weeks’ notice will require the supervisor to find a chairperson.

When a student has completed all coursework and the comprehensive examinations, the candidate and Graduate Advisor establish a Dissertation Committee.  This Committee is composed of a minimum of three faculty members including the Dissertation Supervisor and is presided over by the Dissertation Supervisor.

Candidates are required to present a dissertation prospectus for approval by the Dissertation Committee.  As a guideline, the dissertation prospectus is usually presented between one month to no later than four months after completion of the PhD comprehensive examinations.  The examination of the dissertation prospectus can occur as early as Term 1, Year 2 and typically, no later than the end of Term 2, Year 2.

Candidates should first present to the Dissertation Supervisor a 10-12 page prospectus indicating the nature of the problem the candidate plans to investigate, the body of literature relevant to the problem and the candidate's expected contribution to that literature, the specific research methods and plans to be followed in the study, the availability and accessibility of the relevant materials including specific archival collections and other sources, and a tentative schedule for research and writing. After consultation with the Dissertation Supervisor, the prospectus must be presented to the Dissertation Committee and discussed at the prospectus examination.  If one of the Dissertation Committee members cannot attend the prospectus examination, another faculty member will join the committee for this purpose.

The last step to advancement to candidacy is the prospectus defence (examination).Once you are ready to defend your prospectus:

  1. Let the graduate program assistant ( know that you are ready to schedule your prospectus defence so that they can ask the graduate committee member in charge of Comprehensive and Prospectus Examinations to arrange a two-hour time slot for the examination.  This should be done with at least five week’s notice in order to leave ample time to find a chairperson.
  2. Email the date, time, and names of the Dissertation Committee to the graduate program assistant at
  3. The graduate program assistant will book the room, ask the graduate committee member responsible for comprehensive and prospectus examinations to find a chairperson, and send out a schedule to everybody involved.

Note on Remote Setup for Virtual Meetings: The supervisor is responsible setting up a skype (or zoom) virtual meeting.

Important Note about Scheduling: The oral prospectus examination date must be set with a minimum of 5-6 weeks in advance in order to allow enough time to find a chairperson.   Oral examination dates set with less than 5 weeks’ notice will require the supervisor to find a chairperson.

Once candidates have completed their residency period, completed all required coursework, passed their comprehensive examinations, and the dissertation proposal has been approved by the Dissertation Committee, the student is admitted to candidacy and may proceed with the dissertation.  Advancement to candidacy can occur as early as Term 1, Year 2 and typically no later than the end of Term 2, Year 2.

For reference, the date for advancement to candidacy usually represents the date of the prospectus defense because the prospectus examination is usually the final requirement to be completed. 

A student who is not admitted to candidacy within three years (36 months) from the date of initial registration will normally be required to withdraw from the program.  Where extenuating circumstances exist, students can apply to G&PS for an extension. 

The doctoral dissertation must be an original contribution to historical knowledge, based upon primary sources. The PhD candidate is strongly advised to select a dissertation topic and research supervisor as early as possible, and to begin work on the dissertation within one of the research seminars.  The dissertation must not exceed 400 pages, including footnotes, bibliography, and appendices.

  • Dissertation Supervisor and Dissertation Committee
    The Dissertation Committee is composed of a minimum of three faculty members including the Dissertation Supervisor and is presided over by the Dissertation Supervisor.  Although the supervisory work is largely done by the Dissertation Supervisor, the final responsibility for supervision, for approving the dissertation proposal, for judging the acceptability of the dissertation, and for recommending its submission to the University Thesis Examining Committee rests with the Dissertation Committee.
  • Progress Reports and the Role of the Dissertation Committee
    There should be frequent contact between candidates and thesis supervisors to facilitate the giving of advice and the reporting of research progress. The Dissertation Supervisor should be available, even when on leave. The Faculty of Graduate Studies suggests that there be contact between students and supervisors at least every three months. The Dissertation Committee may also request progress reports from a candidate. If research prevents the candidate from being in Vancouver, such reports may be submitted by arrangement with the supervisor and/or Dissertation Committee by mail or e-mail. A full committee meeting with the candidate must occur once a year.  Students should plan to submit their work-in-progress at a department colloquium in Year 3 or 4.  Students who plan to complete by the end of Year 5 should have a full dissertation draft ready for the entire committee to review by the end of Year 4. While the Dissertation Committee should be an important source of advice and aid to the student, it is not responsible for the final quality of the dissertation. Its responsibility is to see that the candidate does the best possible job within a reasonable period of time, and then to decide, after discussions with the candidate, whether the dissertation should be laid before a University Committee for evaluation.
  • Final Doctoral Examination
    The Dissertation Committee must be convinced of the quality and acceptability of the dissertation before approving its submission to the External Examiner, which begins the process of its submission for public examination to the University Thesis Examining Committee.  The final examination of the dissertation by the University Thesis Examining Committee is not a mere formality. Candidates may be asked to undertake revisions, or the dissertation may be rejected at this stage. For further information on the composition of the University Thesis Examining Committee and the results of examinations see the Faculty of Graduate Studies document "The Final Oral Examination: Guide for Doctoral Candidates." Candidates should acquaint themselves with the submission procedures and technical requirements for formatting of theses. These requirements are listed in the Faculty of Graduate Studies document "Dissertation and Thesis Preparation."

After you have successfully completed your Final Defense, the final step is to submit your thesis to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) to close your program.

Step 1:
Read the overview of the submission process:

Step 2:
Carefully follow the steps in the link below to submit your thesis to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to close your program:

Once the student has all of the forms in step 1, they can email them to the History graduate student support ( to verify the signatures and forward the forms to GPS on behalf of the student.

For Reference:

Every candidate for a degree must make formal application for graduation. Students apply through the Student Service Centre (SSC). Please check the Deadlines section of this website or contact your program to find out when the Application to Graduate is open.

If your application to graduate is not approved, then you must re-apply for the next graduation season.

Doctoral Students
Doctoral students must also complete a 350-character doctoral citation. For details and information on how to submit this, please see Doctoral Citations for Graduation.

Not attending the graduation ceremony?
You must apply to graduate regardless of whether or not you plan to participate in the scheduled ceremonies.

For questions about applying to graduate, please contact