PhD Program Requirements and Policies

We offer PhD programs in two fields: Classics and Religious Studies (see descriptions under Prospective Students). The following drop-down headings provide information on policies and requirements for our various PhD graduate degrees, including coursework, comprehensive examinations, PhD supervision, the dissertation prospectus, and requirements for modern languages.

The official requirements for graduation are always those published in the UBC Calendar entry for the year of your program start date.

PhD degrees (in Classics or Religious Studies) require the completion of 18 credits at the 500 level, subject-specific comprehensive exams, and demonstrated competence in two modern languages. Students may choose courses freely and are strongly encouraged to do so in consultation with their Graduate Advisor, to ensure all program requirements are met. Up to 6 credits may come from the graduate offerings of another department. Additionally, all students must maintain continued registration in LATN 649, GREK 649, or RELG 649 (zero credits), the doctoral dissertation.

Additionally, students in the PhD in Classics and the PhD in Classics (Ancient History) must have completed the following before the end of their second year of study:

  1. at least six credits’ undergraduate study (at the 300 level or above) in Classical art or archaeology, such as CLST 331 and 332 or their equivalent (minimum grade: B-/68%). Courses taken to satisfy this requirement do not count toward the 18 credits of coursework required by the program.
  2. an unprepared translation exam from Greek and Latin, administered by the Classical Languages Committee.

Students in the PhD in Classics (Ancient History) must additionally complete “Second Field” requirements. Candidates must show proficiency through course work in a marketable second field. This competence shall be demonstrated by the successful completion during the first two years of their program of 6 additional credits at the graduate level, and is completed in lieu of one written comprehensive examination. Given the department’s strengths, and those of the Department of History, the following fields are suggested: Religious Studies, Near Eastern Studies, Medieval History, European History, Canadian History, Asian History.

All graduate students are required to attain minimal reading knowledge of at least one (for M.A. programs) or two (for Ph.D. programs) foreign modern languages in addition to English. Doctoral students who have demonstrated competence in an approved modern language as a requirement of their MA need only test in one more language. Available choices are French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The student will select the language(s) in consultation with their Graduate Advisor. The selected language(s) will be reported to the Graduate Committee.

Competence in a language can only be established by the successful completion of an examination administered by the department’s Graduate Committee or (when available) by another department (currently such examinations are offered at UBC for French, Spanish and Italian).

In exceptional circumstances, when an intended dissertation project requires access to a significant body of scholarship in another language, doctoral students may substitute that language for one of the two required languages, with the approval of the Graduate Committee. The selected language must clearly be relevant as a language of scholarship key to the student’s intended program of research.

The Department strongly urges students, in consultation with their Graduate Advisor, to consider early on in their program how they will fulfill the language requirements in order to further their career development.

The modern language requirement must be satisfied before the student completes comprehensive examinations. The examination may be re-attempted until passed.

Modern Language Examination Logistics

The Graduate Advisor will select two passages, each 500-600 words. These passages will be drawn from modern scholarly literature that is relevant to the student’s field of study. These two selected passages will then be submitted to the Graduate Committee, who will select the passage for the examination.

Departmental examinations will be offered at fixed times (usually in October and February). The Modern Language Examination will be 90 minutes in duration. The student is permitted to use a dictionary during the examination.

All logistical organization (date room, time) of the examination will be determined by the Director of Graduate Studies. The examination will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis by one member of the department’s faculty selected by the DGS. The marker will inform the DGS of the outcome of the examination and the DGS will inform the student, and note the examination’s outcome in the student’s file.

Below, find a template of the instructions to appear on each language examination:


You have 90 minutes to write this examination. Translate as much of the assigned text (excluding the footnotes and captions to illustrations) as time allows into idiomatic English. The overall purpose of this examination is to demonstrate that you are able to make quick and efficient use of scholarly literature in the language and thus equipped well for your future research endeavours.

Please write your translation in ink on alternate lines of the examination booklet.

You may use a dictionary.

PhD Classics and PhD Classics (Ancient History) students must take a two-hour examination consisting of 4 passages, one Greek prose, one Greek verse, one Latin prose and one Latin verse, taken from authors on the MA Reading Lists but not from texts on the Reading Lists. Passages will be c. 10-15 lines in length and will have a sentence or two providing general context. Candidates will translate all four passages; assessment will be based on the best three.

This examination will be taken at the following times until it is passed.

  1. the second Tuesday of September in Year 1
  2. the last Tuesday of November in Year 1
  3. the last Tuesday of March of Year 1
  4. the second Tuesday of September in Year 2
  5. the last Tuesday of November in Year 2

Students may not take the remainder of the Comprehensive Examination until they have passed this examination in translation from unprepared passages in Greek and Latin.

The Classical Languages Committee (CLC) will set and grade this examination and report the results to the Head, to the Classics Graduate Advisor. The Graduate Advisor may either accept the CLC’s decision, or appeal it on a candidate’s behalf; appeals must be based on allegations of imparity, and the CLC should be prepared to demonstrate consistency of standards in setting and marking, both between candidates in a single cohort, and from one year to the next.

The Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies believes that Reading Lists constitute the best way to prepare students with the general background of the field, by reading seminal primary and secondary works. Familiarity with these lists is examined by written comprehensive examinations or comps.


Greek. Reading lists for candidates writing comprehensive exams on Ancient Greek — PhD Classics, and PhD Classics (Ancient History) — are available here.

Latin. Reading lists for candidates writing comprehensive exams on Latin — PhD Classics, and PhD Classics (Ancient History) — are available here.

Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology:

Students the PhD in Classics: Classical Archaeology will be examined on two of the six Major Fields from the PhD in Classics: Reading List-Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology

Religious Studies:

Students in the PhD in Religious Studies write essay exams on the religious traditions of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean, beginning with Gilgamesh, and including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies believes that reading lists constitute the best way to provide students with the general background of the field. Familiarity with these lists is assessed by comprehensive examinations or “comps.”

As part of the requirements for each PhD in the department, students are expected to write two written comprehensive examinations, in the first two weeks of April in the student’s second year of study. These are followed by an oral examination (within two weeks of the written examinations).

Written Examinations:

  • Students in the PhD in Classics write translation exams in both Greek and Latin.
  • Students in the PhD in Classics (Classical Archaeology) write essay exams in both Reading List-Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology.
  • Students in the PhD in Classics (Ancient History) write a translation examination in either Greek or Latin. In lieu of a second exam, students complete Second Field requirements, described with the PhD degree requirements.
  • Students in the PhD in Religious Studies write essay exams on the religious traditions of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean, beginning with Gilgamesh, and including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Reading lists are the same across the cohort and are not tailored to individuals; the content may vary from year to year. Students identify the subjects on which they wish to write by 15 April of their first year to their Graduate Advisor. Lists for the following academic year are available from 1 July. While some works on these lists may be covered as part of the candidate’s coursework, there is no expectation that they will be: students should have the ability to work through all these texts on their own in addition to coursework.

Lists for translation exams represent a prescribed set of primary texts in the original language. These works represent a canon of original authors (literary, historical, and philosophical) that draws from many genres and time periods. The doctoral lists comprise the works on the associated MA list, with additional texts focusing on literature (Classics) or history (Ancient History). The process results in an identifiable and useful body of knowledge that is objectively examinable and fills the gaps in the candidate’s reading of central authors.

Lists for essay exams consist of 50-60 recent and substantial contributions to the relevant field, and are intended to familiarize the student with a core of scholarship and an understanding of major scholarly approaches.

Changes to the lists are the responsibility of the relevant examining committee:

  • PhD in Classics. Classical Languages Committee.
  • PhD in Classics (Classical Archaeology). Archaeology Committee.
  • PhD in Classics (Ancient History). Classical Languages Committee.
  • PhD in Religious Studies. Religious Studies Committee.

The structure of these exams is determined by the examining committee, and is communicated to the student when the lists are provided. Each exam is marked on a pass/fail basis by two department members selected by the chair of the relevant examining committee; if markers disagree the matter is referred to the Director of Graduate Studies (or the Head if the DGS is a marker). A failed exam may be retaken once, in August of the student’s second year.

Structure of Translation Exams. PhD students must attempt any 6 of 8 possible passages (4 verse, 4 prose), for a total of 6 answers.

Oral Examination:

Candidates may only progress to the oral examination once they have passed both reading list examinations.

This exam will be taken within two weeks of successful completion of the written examinations, with at least four faculty present, chaired by the Graduate Advisor or her/his designate. One hour will be devoted to questions about the material covered in each of the written comps. Therefore, the exam will be two hours in length, except for students in the PhD in Classics (Ancient History). Questions will arise from the texts on the PhD reading lists; candidates will not be expected to know material beyond those texts, although credit will be given for breadth as well as depth of knowledge of primary sources. The questions will focus on issues ranging from particular problems relating to specific sources to broader issues relating to the cultural context of the primary material and interpretive models and methodologies scholars use when interpreting it. Sample questions will be made available to help candidates prepare themselves.

When the student has successfully completed all required course work, demonstrated a reading knowledge of two modern languages apart from English, and completed the written and oral comprehensive examinations, the student will select a PhD Supervisor in consultation with his/her Graduate Advisor. Next, the student and his/her Graduate Advisor will pick the members of his/her Supervisory Committee, in consultation with his/her Supervisor, and this is reported to the DGS. The Supervisory Committee will normally consist of two faculty members (one of whom may be from outside the department) and the Supervisor, who serves as chair.

Once the student’s Supervisory Committee is formed (to be done within one month of completing written and oral comprehensive examinations), the student may proceed to the dissertation prospectus.

See also the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies guidelines for Supervisory Committees.

Within 5 months of successful completion of the comprehensive examinations, the student must submit the final draft of the dissertation prospectus, prepared in consultation with the student’s Supervisory Committee, to the Supervisor, the other members of the student’s Supervisory Committee, and the DGS (who will circulate the prospectus to the Graduate Committee).

Excellence in the Prospectus will be determined by criteria including the originality and value of the project, the quality of research, and care of preparation and presentation. Should the student’s Supervisory Committee or the Graduate Committee decide at this stage that the program of research has not yet been adequately described and rationalized, they will invite the student to revise the relevant portions of the prospectus for a second delivery within six weeks. The student will be notified of this decision within two weeks of the submission of the proposal. If, on this second occasion, the Supervisory Committee or the Graduate Committee remain dissatisfied, the student will be asked to withdraw from the program.

Upon the approval of the submitted proposal, an oral colloquium will be scheduled for a date within two weeks. At this colloquium, which is open to the public, the student will be expected to address concerns and suggestions raised by their PhD Supervisor, members of the Supervisory Committee, interested faculty members, and any others from the scholarly community. The colloquium will be 1.5 hours in duration.

At the conclusion of this colloquium the audience and the student will withdraw from the colloquium meeting-room and the Supervisory Committee will meet with the DGS as chair. The participants will discuss and ultimately vote on the approval of the student’s PhD dissertation topic, thereby admitting the student to ABD-status.

Guidelines for preparing a prospectus may be found below:

Prospectus Guidelines

The dissertation prospectus is not a research essay. It is better to think of it as closer to a grant application or a book proposal. The prospectus is not a detailed blueprint and it allows for changes of direction. We do not expect precise conclusions to enquiries not yet fully entered into; it is more important at this stage to indicate the kinds of questions that will be posed in the dissertation. However, the prospectus should make clear the overall organization of the dissertation as envisaged at this point in terms of potential chapters and the chief sources and/or topics to be addressed. A timeline for production of the chapters is not required but strongly recommended.

The prospectus should be 4000-5000 words in length, excluding bibliography, and should contain five components:

A. Introduction. The introduction should include a short summary of the major questions behind your research, as well as provide the context of those questions within a larger academic framework. Those who read the introduction should be able to understand what you are attempting to discern through your research and writing.
B. Problem Statement. Describe your research issue, and provide the background and particular context of the problem in relation to the particular academic field.
C. Scholarship Review. You must situate your dissertation in its field, showing how it develops or departs from previous research and what you hope it will contribute to scholarship. It is crucial to situate the topic in relation to previous scholarship.
D. Methodology. In this section you will describe what you plan to do, why you plan to do it, and how you are going to go about doing it. Be sure to include all the details of your methods and theories of research and demonstrate how they relate to your research question. This component should articulate as clearly as possible the “why” as well as the “what” of the methodology.
E. Bibliography. As a research tool, the bibliography is crucial: it demonstrates the candidate’s awareness of existing scholarship that may prove relevant to the topic of the dissertation. There is no expectation that the candidate will already have read all the contents of the bibliography submitted in the prospectus, although candidates are encouraged to indicate the relevance of works that they do know. Rather, the bibliography provides a plan for reading during the first months of study. It should be shaped by whatever categories are most suitable for the topic. Make sure to follow the required academic style.

Doctoral students must prepare and defend their dissertations according to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies policies.