PhD Degree Requirements


Total course requirement: 18 graduate credits (six 3.0-credit courses).
Required courses:

  • FILM 7000 — Key Concepts in Cinema and Media Studies (3.0)
  • FILM 7020 — Advanced Methods and Research in Cinema & Media Studies (3.0)

Elective Courses

  • Students may count a maximum of two 3.0-credit course as an elective outside the Program towards their degree requirements. Extra courses may be counted upon appeal to the Graduate Program.
  • Students may count a maximum of two 3.0-credit independent study courses towards their degree requirements (FILM 5600, FILM 5700, FILM 5800). The Graduate Program must approve these courses.

For a list of other courses offered in the Graduate Program in Film, please visit the Courses page.

Comprehensive Examination Field Essay

Students are expected to complete the comprehensive exam, which shall take the form of a three–part essay or two-part essay and syllabus followed by an oral examination, normally during PhD2.The objectives of the comprehensive examination are to equip students with the specialized knowledge they need to undertake research for their doctoral dissertation and to prepare and qualify students to teach undergraduate courses in Cinema and Media Studies.In Fall of PhD II, students will be required to select or construct three areas that broadly cover concentrations in:

  1. Cinema and Media History and
  2. Cinema and Media Theory, with at least one area in History and one area in Theory.
Note: The Comprehensive Examination areas are distinct from the program’s three Fields of Specialization.

As part of the comprehensive examination process, all students will compose a three–person comprehensive examination committee, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director (GPD). In many cases, the members of the comprehensive exam committee will become members of the student’s dissertation supervisory committee.

The student will work closely with the comprehensive examination committee to build reading lists for each of the three areas they have selected. It is expected that these reading lists include canonical material—and it is the student’s task to investigate and identify these foundational texts, guided by faculty advisors—in addition to less canonical material that develops new research in the area or might be of specific relevance to the student’s future dissertation work. Concurrently with the compilation of reading lists, the student will work closely with the comprehensive exam committee to compose the research questions that will motivate the comp essays themselves. Formulating strong research questions helps students, on the one hand, to develop a better understanding of the foundational knowledge and dominant paradigms and perspectives within a research area—the status of the question—and on the other hand, to identify new potential avenues of research which open up new perspectives and interventions into a research area.

The students will then be asked to write a comp essay normally to be completed not later than the end of term 5 (Winter) of PhD II. The comp essay is an examination method that enables students to draw out interpretive frameworks for the areas of knowledge in which they will be tested. The comp essay further allows students to begin formally to develop frameworks that will help to initiate their doctoral research.  The comp essay shall normally comprise three short essays totaling 6000–7500 words. These essays shall be graded according to standard FGS letter grading.

After successful completion of the comp essay, an oral examination will follow within two months, and preferably within a month, with the members of the comprehensive exam committee. A list of potential questions (three for each area), many related to the research questions that motivated the comp essay, will be drawn up by the candidate and the comprehensive exam committee. Candidates will be required to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge within the designated areas of the examination and covered by the comp essay. The purpose of the oral examination is both to ensure that the student can demonstrate and articulate this comprehensive knowledge separately from the comp essay, and to generate a productive conversation between the comprehensive exam committee and the student directed towards the formulation of the PhD proposal.

Immediately after the oral examination, the comprehensive exam committee will confer and provide the candidate with one of three possible grades: Pass with distinction; Pass; Fail.

Should the student fail the comp essay and/or oral examination, the student will have two terms to resubmit the comp essay and retake the oral examination. Should the student fail a second time, they will be forced to withdraw from the program.

Sample areas of Concentration

These sample areas may be refined, combined, and expanded. It is presumed that Cinema refers to a wide range of possible media, including television.

Cinema and Media History

  • Early Cinema
  • Mid-century Cinema
  • Post-WWII Cinemas
  • Post 1960s Cinemas
  • Contemporary Cinema
  • Television
  • Canadian Cinema
  • Aboriginal/First Nations Cinema
  • Genre Cinemas
  • National Cinemas
  • Transnational Cinemas
  • Experimental and Avant-Garde Cinemas
  • Video Art
  • Documentary film and media
  • Activist media
  • History Of Technology And The Media Image
  • Institutional Media Histories

Cinema and Media Theory

  • Classical Film Theory
  • Contemporary Film Theory
  • Semiotics
  • Historiography
  • Feminist Film Theory
  • Social and Political Theories of Cinema
  • Film and Philosophy
  • Theories of Spectatorship and Subjectivity
  • Animation
  • Digital Media
  • Theories of National Cinema
  • Post-colonial Theory and Cinema
  • Theories of Adaptation, Medium-specificity, and Intermediality

Dissertation Proposal

Students should normally submit a dissertation proposal, including Ethics Approval (if applicable), for approval by their dissertation committee, the Program, and FGS no later than six months after completion of the comprehensive examination.

Dissertation and Oral Examination of Dissertation

Dissertations will be evaluated by standard FGS humanities oral defence procedures. When the Supervisory Committee is satisfied that a dissertation is ready for oral examination, it will send a signed oral defence examination notification form to FGS. The Supervisor, working in conjunction with the GPD, will form an examination committee according to the standards of the FGS. A complete copy of the dissertation shall be sent to all members of the oral examination committee at least four weeks before a scheduled oral defence date.All York FGS procedures for dissertation examination shall apply.


Every year the Graduate Program in Film hosts OPEN MEDIA LAB, a Research and Creation symposium where doctoral students, faculty, visiting artists and scholars present their research. Students in the CMS PhD program have the option of developing a Research/Creation dissertation. Students working toward a dissertation in Research Creation may count a maximum of two Studio courses toward their degree requirements. For more information please see the FGS Guidelines on Complex Electronic and Multimodal Theses & Dissertations. All theses and dissertations must contain a written component. Theses and dissertations may, however, include other components in addition to the written component. Students producing a multimedia thesis/dissertation should consult with the Theses Canada Portal ( on the Library and Archives Canada website for advice on formats supportable for preservation. However, a student may work in or submit work in an unsupported format as part of the oral exam as long as the work is readily accessible by the exam committee and the student submits a written component.

Cinema and Media Studies Guidelines on Research/Creation Dissertations

A multimodal thesis/dissertation in Cinema and Media Studies is a work in which a key component is a media work, installation or film. A Research/Creation dissertation in Cinema and Media Studies must clearly demonstrate how the media work is implicated in and contributes to the exploration of a set of conceptual and theoretical concerns raised by the written component of the dissertation. The balance between the written and media component of a Research Creation dissertation will be determined by individual committees with the understanding that the written component will remain a significant aspect of the work. Students working toward a dissertation in Research Creation must provide a detailed outline of the logistics and equipment needs as part of their thesis proposal. Access will be determined in negotiation with the Studio Manager and is dependent on Studio priorities.