A brief overview of the Academy

When I entered university at UBC, I had no idea how the Academy was structured or what kind of commitment my professors had made to be in their position. Unless one has grown up surrounded by academics, such knowledge is specialized and accessible only to the elite. Here, I try to demystify the different terminology we use in the Academy and explain the hierarchy and what it takes to move through it.

What is a Bachelor’s Degree?

In Quebec, this takes three to four years; everywhere else in Canada it takes four, though some of these years can be transferred from a College degree.

What is a Master’s?

A Master’s degree is a specialized graduate degree that usually takes between one and two years. A humanities Master’s is called an M.A. (Master of Arts), but it will be specialized according to the discipline: an M.A. in History or English, for example. In the humanities, it usually comprises course-work and either a research project (40 pages) or a thesis (about 80 – 120 pages) or a comprehensive exam. A comprehensive exam takes many different formats but usually requires  candidates to read many texts and then demonstrate knowledge of those texts in a timed exam. The exam could be an oral exam, in which a committee will examine your knowledge of the texts over a two or three hour period. It could be written, in which you respond to questions over a weekend. A typical reading list for the MA would include about forty books.

CEGEP Professors must have completed an MA in order to qualify for their position.

Admission to the master’s requires a minimum 3.3 or B+ average, but given the competitiveness, in practice the minimum average is usually higher. Funding for the Masters is typically sought from federal agencies like  SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada) or NSERC (for Science students) or from provincial funding bodies like FRQSC in Quebec. Grade point averages for these awards are no less than A-.

What is a PhD?

A PhD, or a doctorate, varies dramatically according to the discipline, but it is generally considered the ultimate graduate degree and is the last step before one becomes a Doctor of Philosophy in a given discipline. In the humanities, a PhD can take between four and seven years depending on the discipline and where the PhD was done. (Mine, for example, took 3 1/2 years because I did it in Europe). The requirements vary, but generally a PhD consists of one or two years of coursework followed by a series of comprehensive exams. The “comps” are based upon a series of reading that are intended to bolster a student’s general knowledge of the discipline as well as the student’s specialized knowledge in one or two fields. Comprehensive exams can involve a written test and an oral examination. They prepare students for the final stage of the PhD: the dissertation. A dissertation is a book-length project that contributes original research to the discipline.

Funding for the PhD can come from the above mentioned sources as well as the university.

A PhD is required for virtually all postings at a university; increasingly, many CEGEP professors have PhDs as well.

What is a Post-Doc?

Once a student has completed their PhD, they may wish to turn their dissertation into a book. This may or may not require further research, but it often involves revising the dissertation so as to make it accessible to a broader audience. A post-doctoral position permits individuals to work on their books, conduct further research, and search for job postings in their field.

Post-Docs are funded and often require candidates to teach.


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