Visual Arts DepartmentWestern Arts and Humanities

Regulations For PhD Students

Ph.D. Regulations and Information


This document describes the requirements, procedures, and spirit of the doctoral program in Visual Arts. It is designed to complement Graduate Studies: A Practical Guide. We believe that post-graduate work is a very serious undertaking. All parties -- students, faculty, support staff must know what is expected of them and work in an atmosphere of collegial support and trust. Rules cannot run programs, but we also believe that reasonable regulations must be laid down and adhered to. What follows applies to all program students.

I. Responsibilities of the Candidate

It is emphasized that the responsibility for following the rules printed here, the regulations of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the rules of the University Library regarding format of the thesis, rests on the candidate.


II. Residency Requirements

The degree will normally take four calendar years to complete. No University or Department funding will be extended past this limit. The formal residency requirement is four years.


III. Courses

Students are required to take five half courses, including four courses offered by the Department of Visual Arts. Students will normally complete their course work by the end of the first term of the second year of residency.

VA 9600 (PhD Seminar: Theory and Research Methods) is the only required half course and will normally be taken in the first or second year of the Program, dependent upon a biannual rotation. Students taking the course in their first year will direct their course involvement, in part, towards preparing for the Minor Comprehensives; students taking it in their second year will direct their time, in part, towards developing their literature review and theoretical framework for their Thesis Prospectus..


Students who wish to produce studio work as part of their thesis should take the Grad Studio Elective or another studio-based course to fulfill one of their course requirements. This is to ensure studio work is open to critical assessment and to provide adequate background in studio-based research methodologies.

It is to the benefit of all students and faculty to have course work completed by the end of each course. Any student who has not submitted all required work by the deadline may receive an F in the course, and his or her registration in subsequent graduate courses (i.e. progression in the program) will be subject to review by the Graduate Committee. Exceptions to this rule will be made only on medical or compassionate grounds that are established to the satisfaction of the Graduate Committee. Those intending to ask for extensions on such grounds should do so at least a week before the deadline.

Under exceptional circumstances, a student may ask an instructor for an Incomplete in a course. No incomplete may be carried beyond the end of the following term, including summer terms. This could result in cancellation of funding and progression (according to the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies guidelines).


IV. Supervisory Committees

A supervisory committee for each student will be set up for each student early in the second year. (At the beginning of their program, each student will be assigned a faculty mentor who may or may not become part of their supervisory committee.) The supervisory committee will consist of at least three faculty members: one from art history, one from studio and one other working in the student's area of research specialization (in certain cases from outside the dept. e.g. film studies or FIMS). At least one member of the committee will have a Ph.D and one will serve as the chief supervisor

V. Language Requirement

If a student has not already met a language requirement at the M.A. or M.F.A. level, they must demonstrate a reading proficiency in at least one language (other than English) that is relevant to their studies. This language requirement can be met either by taking approved courses or by passing a translation test set by the department. In certain cases proficiency in a computer language (but not a software application) can be accepted. All students are encouraged to complete the language requirement in their first year of study.


VI. Comprehensives: (1) Minor Examination, (2) Literature Review Theoretical Framework, and (3) Research Prospectus

(1) Comprehensive Examination:

A comprehensive examination, a minor, will be sat in year two of the student program. Students must write the minor exam on the regular date set by the Department in August or September. The exams will cover several related subjects in a particular area of study. Each subject will have a reading list of at least six key texts. The minor comprehensive examination will consist of four subjects for a total of at least 24 texts (Depending on lengths, the number of texts might vary slightly at the examining committee's discretion.)

The Minor Comprehensive

The minor comprehensive examination will address Theories and Practices of Art and Visual Culture For this examination, Dissertation Stream and Curatorial/Project Stream students will select the four out of eleven standard subjects that most closely relate to their own research. Studio Stream students will select two lists for an exam that will comprise 50% of the Minor Comprehensive. The eleven subjects are:

1. Theories of Representation
2. Museum Studies and Curatorial Knowledge
3. Collecting, Archives, Databases
4. Cultures of Time & Space
5. Construction of Cultural Values and Hierarchies
6. Cultural Difference, Postcolonialism, Decolonization
7. Gender and Sexual Difference
8. Concepts, Systems, Networks
9. Art as Social Praxis
10. Strategies of Material Production
11. Performance, Liveness, and the Senses

A standard reading list of six key texts for each of these eight subjects will be approved by the Graduate Committee and regularly updated. The examination will be overseen by the Graduate Chair and will be assessed by faculty members.
Students in the Studio Stream are expected to undertake an adapted approach to the Minor, with the following regulations applying regarding the Critique Component:


(1.i) Minor Exam Critique Requirements & Procedures

The Critique represents 50% of the Comprehensive and will be held in the month of September, or early in October at the latest. The student will present new work produced during the first year of the program. It is up to the student, in consultation with the Mentor, to decide the amount of work and style of display, as well as the location of the critique (typically within the JLVAC). At least a week in advance of the critique, the student will provide the Committee with a list of up to 6 books/artist's monographs they consider to relate to their practice.

The Committee

In attendance will be the Mentor, a Studio Grad Faculty member, and the Graduate Chair or their designate.

Procedure for the Critique
- The critique will be scheduled for 1.5 hours, but at the discretion of the Committee can be held for a shorter period (i.e., an hour).
- The student will speak about their work for ten minutes at the beginning of the critique. The student may choose to refer to the texts on the list, but this is not a requirement, though they must be prepared to address the texts if requested.
- It will be up to the faculty present to determine how the critique will be conducted, though the student is welcome to suggest a method (i.e. preferring to remain silent for a period of time in order to hear the faculty's observations about the work). It is expected that the student will respond to questions from the Committee at points throughout the critique.

Grading The following will be taken into account in grading the work/critique:
- Ambition and maturity of the work presented
- Evidence of advancement in the practice, based on work presented in the application
- Performance of the student in the critique (articulateness; capacity to respond to questions/situate the work; evidence of awareness of methodology)

Grade Value
As noted above, the Crit is worth 50% of the total Minor Comp. A minimal pass for the Minor Comp is 70%. Note that a grade of 70% or better on each of the written portion and crit portion must be achieved in order for a Studio student to achieve a total pass. The two grades (one for the written exam and one for the crit) will be averaged to achieve the final total for the Minor Comp for Studio students.

Committee Grading Process
Following the critique, the Committee will discuss the Grade and attempt to arrive at a grade through consensus. Where this is not possible, each Committee member will provide the Grad Chair with a grade and the three will be averaged. At the discretion of the Committee, written feedback will be provided to the student, but this is not a requirement.


(2) Literature Review, Theoretical Framework and (3) Methodology and Prospectus

Students will begin preparing for this their Thesis Prospectus by arranging a September meeting with the Graduate Chair. At that meeting they will outline their main research interests (i.e. those they anticipate pursuing in their thesis and creative projects).

(2.i) The Literature Review and Theoretical Framework - Due. February 15, Year 2

The areas of research interest will be established through developing a Literature Review and a Theoretical Framework; the latter will include a practice-oriented discussion by Studio students.

Following the successful completion of the Minor, the Graduate Chair will appoint the student's committee. The committee will consist of three faculty members with the appropriate research expertise, one of whom will serve as the Supervisor and Committee Chair. In conjunction with undertaking a thorough Literature Review of material identified in discussion with the Committee, the student will also develop an outline of the Theoretical Framework for the written thesis. This component, alongside the Literature Review, will be submitted to the Committee on February 15 of the second year, and will be assessed based on a Pass/Fail determination. The committee will provide feedback on these elements, and the student will be expected to revise these components for the next stage of the prospectus
Students intending to pursue the Studio stream should undertake the same format described above, and will be expected to include both theoretical as well as practice-focused texts and catalogues in the bibliography. It is expected that the Literature Review and Theoretical Framework for Studio students will apply to the intended studio work as well as the intended paper.

(3) Writing the Methodology and Research Prospectus

The Research Prospectus will include the Literature Review and Theoretical Framework developed for February of Year 2 (see above). In addition, the student will be expected to add an Introduction, brief Chapter Outlines, a Methodology section, and a Timeline to complete the Thesis. The entire Prospectus will be approximately 25 to 30 pages in length, and will be accompanied by a bibliography.

Note that the expected length of a Written Dissertation is a 200 to 250-page paper.

The expected length of a Studio paper is 80 to 100-pages. The Studio Prospectus will include a discussion of the structure of the paper as a series of chapters, and the Methodology section will provide a significant focus on the plans for the Studio work.

The Curatorial/Project-based Prospectus should discuss the 100 to 150-page paper according to chapters, and should describe the other components of the thesis (considered "projects") in the Methodology section.

The student will submit a draft of the Prospectus to the supervisor by June 15 of Year 2. During the following summer, the student will work to revise the Prospectus on the basis of feedback from the Supervisor and the committee.


(3.i) Defense of the Research Prospectus - September of Year 3

In consultation with their advisory committee a date will be set for each candidate to orally defend their research prospectus during September of their third year. This will take place at an open public presentation in the department. At least ten days before the meeting, the candidate will submit a copy of their research prospectus to members of their advisory committee as well as to the Graduate Chair and Graduate Assistant. The prospectus will outline the candidate's research program according to the guidelines established for the stream of the program they have selected (see above, and also below for a discussion of the three streams.) A bibliography organized to indicate which materials are pertinent to a candidate's larger research trajectory, and those that are specific to individual articles or exhibitions, must be provided. In the prospectus, the candidate will also formally declare which stream of the program they have selected. For those selecting the Studio stream, the thesis prospectus will be developed as a written document and must include reference to the student's work as developed during course work, for the minor comp., and on an ongoing basis.
At the public event, the candidate will make a half hour oral presentation about their research/creative practice. Following the presentation, the candidate will take questions from members of the audience. After the defense the candidate's supervisory committee will make one of three decisions: the prospectus may pass; need minor revisions that would be approved by their supervisory committee without another defense being scheduled; or fail.
A student who fails the comprehensive examination or their prospectus defense will be allowed one further attempt to pass it. A student who fails a comprehensive examination twice will be required to withdraw from the program.

Point-form Plan for Literature Review, Theoretical Framework, and Prospectus

A. Dissertation Stream & Curatorial/Project Stream

Part 1: Students are expected to complete: literature review and Theoretical Framework 
  • Bibliography 
  • Common due date for all AH/curatorial stream students (Feb. 15 of Year 2)
  • Graded - Pass/Fail for transcript 
  • These become two of the main sections in the prospectus

Part 2: Revise lit review and theoretical framework according to feedback from the committee. Add an introduction, brief chapter outlines, a methodology section, and a timeline to complete the thesis.

  • Expected Length of paper: 200 – 250 pages (Dissertation); 100-150 (Curatorial/Project-based)
  • Submit draft to supervisor by June 15 of Year 2
  • Common due date for prospectus (Sept. of Year 3)
  • Students present the prospectus on the same date at a Dept. symposium
B. Studio Stream

Part 1: Students are expected to complete: literature review and Theoretical Framework.

  • Bibliography
  • Common due date for all Studio Stream students (Feb. 15 of Year 2)
  • Graded - Pass/Fail for transcript
  • These become two of the main sections in the prospectus

Part 2: Revise literature review and theoretical framework according to feedback from the committee. Add an introduction, brief chapter outlines concerning the paper, a methodology section (which includes a focused discussion of the art practice), and a timeline to complete the thesis

  • Expected length of paper within the dossier: 80 –100 pages
  • Submit draft to supervisor by June 15 of Year 2
  • Common due date for prospectus (Sept. of Year 3)
  • Students present the prospectus and their work on the same date at a Dept. symposium

VII. The Three Streams of the Program

The course work, comprehensive examination, and thesis prospectus will be required of all students. As the student's research interests become more focused early in the second year of their program, in consultation with their supervisory committee, each student will formally declare which stream of the program they intend to pursue. The three streams include: (1) a Studio stream; (2) a Dissertation-based stream; and (3) a Curatorial/Project-based stream. We are using the word "project" to refer to a material research outcome that might take different forms (e.g. an exhibition, a CD or a website). Thus the projects described in this document are completed, publicly disseminated and peer-viewed. They are not theoretical propositions, unfinished case studies or works in progress.

The requirements for the three streams all involve a substantial written component and are outlined below:

1. Research Requirements of the Studio Stream

This stream requires the development of Studio work to be presented in both minor and major exhibitions, and a shorter written thesis.

Years 2 & 3: 2 (Minor) Studio exhibitions (or equivalent): These will be exhibitions of new work produced within the research program of the candidate. One will be presented in the Department's ArtLab Gallery and the other will be presented in a public gallery or artist-run centre as an exhibition, performance, screening or website presentation. The exhibitions will be thoroughly documented for inclusion in the dossier, which accompanies the written thesis in Year 4.

Year 3: In September a Research Prospectus of 25 pages outlining exhibition and writing plans will be presented and defended (see description above). The proposal must include a bibliography and a timetable for the completion of the work. At this time the student will formally select this stream of the program.

Year 4: 1 (Major) Exhibition: This will be presented in a recognized public gallery or an institution of equivalent stature as a publicized screening, performance or as a professional web-based presentation. The exhibition will be widely publicized and thoroughly documented.

Year 4: Written Thesis: A written thesis of publishable quality (normally 80-100 pages in length) will be presented within a dossier documenting the Studio work, and other minor exhibitions or projects. This text will be comprised of chapters or a series of interrelated articles meeting the standards typically set in well-respected national or international peer-reviewed journals. The latter must be accompanied by a substantial integrating introduction.

Year 4: Oral Examination: An oral examination at which all Committee members will be present shall be held. The final exhibition and written thesis will be examined in the context of the dossier documenting the earlier projects.


2. Research Requirements of the Dissertation Stream

This stream will accommodate those students who want to concentrate on producing a longer dissertation or integrated series of articles.

Years 2 & 3: Research Program is carried out. A creative component to the research (video, website etc.) may be carried out as a minor focus of the research. This production will be thoroughly documented for inclusion in the dossier that accompanies the written thesis in Year 4.

Year 3: A In September a Research Prospectus of 25 pages outlining exhibition and writing plans will be presented and defended (see description above). It will include a table of contents, a bibliography and a timetable for the completion of the work. At this time the student will formally select this stream of the program.

Year 4: Written Thesis: A written thesis of publishable quality (normally 200 - 250 pages in length) will be presented. This text may be comprised of chapters or a series of interrelated articles meeting the standards typically set in well-respected national or international peer-reviewed journals. The latter must be accompanied by a substantial integrating introduction.

Year 4: Oral Examination: An oral examination at which all Committee members will be present shall be held. The dissertation will be examined and the dossier documenting an optional creative project will be discussed in this context.

3. Research Requirements of the Curatorial/Project-based Stream

This stream will accommodate those students whose research is best suited to a combination of curatorial or other hybrid, potentially materially-based projects and written thesis.

Years 2 & 3: 1 (Minor) Project or Exhibition (or equivalent): A research project of modest scale culminating in one of the following must be completed: (1) the writing of an article of publishable quality; (2) an exhibition; (3) a symposium, film series or (4) a performance. Where appropriate the event will be presented at a public gallery or artist-run centre. The project will be thoroughly documented for inclusion in the dossier that accompanies the written thesis in Year 4.

Year 3: In September a Research Prospectus of 25 pages outlining exhibition and writing plans will be presented and defended (see description above). The prospectus must include a bibliography and a timetable for completion of the work. At this time the student will formally select this stream of the program.

Year 4: 1 (Major) Project or Exhibition: The results of a major research project will be presented in a recognized public gallery or an institution of equivalent stature, or as a publicized screening, performance or as a professional web-based presentation. The exhibition will be widely publicized and thoroughly documented for the dossier.

Year 4: Written Thesis: Either a written thesis or a related set of integrated articles of publishable quality meeting the standards typically set in well respected national or international peer-reviewed journals (normally 100-150 pages in length) will accompany the final exhibition. A set of integrated articles must be accompanied by a substantial introduction that demonstrates how they are connected.

Year 4: Oral Examination: An oral examination at which all Committee members will be present shall be held. The final project or exhibition and written thesis will be examined in context of the dossier documenting the earlier project.


VIII. Part-time Studies

The program is not normally offered on a part-time basis. However, students who are already fairly advanced in their studies may apply for part-time status for reasons of family, medical or other circumstances that make it impossible to devote full-time attention to the thesis, or in the case of related full-time employment in hand.

IX. Appeals

Should a student feel s/he must appeal an evaluation from an instructor, the following procedures will be followed:

1. If the student is dissatisfied with judgements rendered by the instructor, the student should try to resolve the differences with the instructor. The student must consult the instructor in this way before s/he launches a formal appeal.

2. If, after such discussions, the student is still not satisfied, s/he can appeal part or the entire course. The student should inform the Graduate Chair at any time during the course, or by the approved dates for "Requests for Relief" as they appear in the Western Academic Calendar, that s/he intends to appeal one or more assignments. Other requests for relief must be made in accordance with calendar guidelines, however, at the Chair's discretion, appeals may be considered outside of the bounds of the calendar stipulations. Normally the Committee will wait until the course is over and the instructor has submitted all marks before acting on the appeal. The committee will consider the appeal in the context of the entire course.

3. Once the Chair begins to act on the appeal, the instructor will be notified that the appeal is in process. Two members of the Graduate Committee, consisting of one studio and one art history faculty member, will hear the appeal, along with a graduate student from another department. The student will be selected in consultation with the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. The Chair will facilitate the procedure, but the decision will be arrived at by the two faculty members and the student representative. The Graduate Chair will find appropriate substitutes for members of the Committee if there is any potential conflict of interest. If the appeal involves the Chair, the Chair of the Department will oversee the process (including chairing the Graduate Committee meeting) or will designate another member of the Graduate Committee to do so. In such cases, the Graduate Chair will not take part in the committee's activities.

The Graduate Committee will hold two separate hearings: (1) when the student presents his/her case to the committee; (2) when the instructor presents his/her case to the committee. For these hearings, it is appropriate for the student or faculty member to be accompanied by a peer, if desired. The committee will ask the student and the instructor in advance for relevant documentation (e.g., papers, professor's comments, evaluative notes, correspondence,) that might aid in arriving at a decision. The appeals process is designed to insure that professors adhere to fair and consistent means in arriving at and communicating their judgements of students' works. A mark can be changed only if the standards and/or processes are determined to be flawed, (i.e., where stated criteria for excellent achievement in the course have been met, in the judgement of the committee, and the student has been graded at an insufficiently high level).

The proceedings of the appeal hearings are confidential, including all deliberations of the committee.

The student must be informed in writing within three weeks of receipt of the initial written appeal and complete documentation. If the student is not satisfied with the decision of the Graduate Committee, s/he may take the appeal to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, according to the procedures outlined in the Faculty's literature.

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