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PhD Program

The objective of the program is to prepare candidates for an academic career. Graduates are expected to have acquired:

  1. the autonomy, critical acumen, and familiarity with the conventions of the discipline necessary for conducting scholarly research suitable for publication;
  2. the ability to teach a range of subjects in Classical civilization, including both Greek and Latin. Students must acquire a reading knowledge of two modern languages (generally German, French, or Italian) by the end of their first year, and are encouraged to learn additional languages as their individual research demands.

Admission Requirements for the PhD program

Applicants for the PhD. Program in Classics may be admitted if they are graduates with either a grade of at least A- in at least two half courses and distinction in an approved thesis (or project) of an M.A. program in Classics or Classical Studies (with sufficient Greek and Latin), taken at this university or of equivalent programs taken at other universities. Graduates of other programs may be admitted in exceptional cases. Applicants without sufficient preparation may be admitted with the requirement that they complete extra prerequisite courses.

Program Requirements

A grade of at least B- is required in all courses and Special Area examinations.

  1. Four appropriate graduate level half courses, 2 of which are in Greek and Latin. These are the minimum requirements; candidates may be requested by their supervisor to take additional courses.
  2. Four comprehensive examinations, each one three hours in duration. All comprehensive exams must be completed by December of year 2.
    1. one in Greek;
    2. one in Latin
    3. one area comprehensive examination in the subject area of the student’s thesis;
    4. one area comprehensive that provides breadth, allowing some focus on the thesis but also including coverage of less closely related material.
  3. A language examination to demonstrate reading knowledge of two of the following languages: German, French, Italian; exemption from these tests may be granted to candidates who have completed equivalent tests at other universities. They will be set as described under the MA requirements.
  4. A thesis proposal approved by the Department following an oral defense.
  5. Any other requirement established by the Department on admission.
  6. A satisfactory thesis on an approved topic.
  7. An oral examination to defend the thesis.

Supervisory Committees

A ll incoming PhD students will be assigned a supervisor upon admission, and no student shall be admitted without a specific supervisor. New PhD students will meet with their supervisor immediately upon arrival on campus and begin discussion of the thesis topic, composition of thesis committee, and topics of comprehensive exams, including contents of Greek and Latin reading lists (see below). All thesis committees will be set by the end of Sept. of year 1 of program (i.e., within one month of arrival on campus). When necessary, committee members external to McMaster may be invited to join a committee, and must be given permission to do so by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The student and supervisory committee decide upon the appropriate special subject areas for the comprehensive examinations, and establish a timetable for the completion of all comprehensive exams. Progress reports are made at committee meetings which are held and formally reported twice a year (April and November). Additional meetings may be called by the supervisor or student as necessary.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students must write two examinations in two special subjects related to their areas of specialization, one in the subject area of the student’s thesis, and one in a subject that provides breadth, allowing some focus on the thesis but also including coverage of less closely related material. The subject matter is discussed and agreed up by the supervisory committee and the student, and a reading lists for all are drawn up. The exams are three hours in length and are to be completed 18 months after the student enters the program. An oral exam might be required if performance on the written exam is inferior, in order to allow the student another opportunity to answer the questions. A minimum grade of B- must be obtained in order to pass. A “Pass with distinction” is awarded when the student achieves a grade of A or A+.

For the Greek and Latin exams

The aim of the comprehensive exams is to ensure that each student has reached an established level of familiarity with Greek and Latin texts. In September, new incoming PhD students and their supervisors construct a reading list that is tailored to their interests and to gaps in their knowledge. The minimum number of 500 Oxford Classical Text pages is required for each of Greek and Latin for philology and ancient history students (i.e., 1000 pages total), and 400 pages for each of Greek and Latin for archaeology students (800 pages total). Up to 20% of the list may consist of material already read by the student. The list will include a mix of poetry and prose and must be approved by the student’s thesis committee. Students may bring a dictionary and grammar book into the language exams. For each language comprehensive the student will choose 3 passages (out of 5) of 20-30 lines in length for translation; in addition, there will be 1 ‘sight unseen’ passage taken from an author on the core list. All 4 passages shall be equal in value. The language exams will be set by a faculty member other than the supervisor, and there will be an appropriate second reader for each exam.

PhD thesis proposal and thesis

By April of year 1, student and supervisor should be prepared to present to the rest of the thesis committee for discussion and approval:

  1. the proposed thesis topic, with 2-3 page summary and initial bibliography;
  2. the topics and bibliographies for the two area comprehensive exams;
  3. reading lists for the Greek and Latin language exams;
  4. a timetable for completion of all comprehensives, which must be completed by December of that calendar year.

By February of year 2, the student must submit to the department a formal thesis proposal of 15-20 pages of text (including chapter outlines), with additional bibliography . The proposal must be defended orally before the supervisory committee immediately following its submission. The proposal must outline the issues or body of material to be addressed and the primary methodologies that the student intends to adopt. The proposal is not meant to present conclusions; rather, it should demonstrate a sufficient familiarity with the subject matter and its scholarly bibliography to instil confidence that the student is ready to pursue further investigation equipped with clear goals and intentions. The oral defence of the proposal should demonstrate substantial knowledge of the subject and its related issues, some discussion of anticipated problems and potential solutions, and an ability to think and speak about the topic thoughtfully and spontaneously. A completed thesis must constitute original research and make a contribution to learning in the chosen field.

Summary: PhD Timetable
Year 1: September-April
  • course work;
  • modern language examinations;
  • thesis topic, supervisory committee, comprehensive subject areas and Greek and Latin reading lists must be chosen by end of term 2 (April), along with a schedule of exams, which must be completed by December of year 2.
Year 1 – Year 2: May – January
  • preparation, writing and completion of comprehensive exams;
  • Ancient language exams are given in July, September, November and January;
  • background reading for thesis proposal.
Year 2: January – June
  • thesis proposal written and defended orally by February;
  • research for thesis begins.
Year 3
  • research and writing of thesis;
  • research trips abroad as necessary to do on-site study and/or use European research libraries;
  • possible participation in exchange programs or fellowship opportunities in Germany or Greece ; some students take a leave of absence to accommodate this, but continue working on their thesis while away.
Year 4
  • writing the thesis

While this is an ideal timetable, many students take an extra year to complete the thesis, especially if they have had to do substantial fieldwork or have studied at a foreign school (e.g., the American School of Classical Studies in Athens ). Generally, the significant advantages in experience, professional connections, and intellectual understanding that come with such experience are considered worth the extra time taken for completion and make the student more competitive on the job market. We strongly encourage all our students to find ways to study abroad and give them as much financial support as possible using the E.T. Salmon fund in Roman Studies, the Edith Wightman travel fellowship, and the Raynsford-Eatock Travel Bursary in Greek Studies.