Ph.D. Program

Professor Josh Pilzer performing “Rain” by The Beatles, with his band The Bols, at the retirement concert for Professor James Kippen. Behind Josh (l to r) are doctoral alumni Stephanie Conn and “Country” Chris Wilson on backing vocals, musicology professor Ken McLeod on bass, doctoral candidate Nate Renner on lead guitar, and our very own Professor Jeff Packman on drums. Walter Hall, March 2019

We summarize here information relating to our four-year PhD degree in Ethnomusicology and the five-year Direct Entry option. Lengthier descriptions are available on the Faculty of Music’s main site under Programs, and there is also a page about Graduate Department of Music Admissions. The University’s School of Graduate Studies offers plenty of information for prospective students. Students from outside Canada may also wish to explore the University’s site for the Centre for International Experience.

Should questions arise about any aspect of doing a PhD degree in Ethnomusicology, contact our ethnomusicology faculty, the Graduate Department of Music’s administrator, or the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies.

The PhD in Ethnomusicology

  • Eligibility — Applicants may apply for Direct Entry (DE) to the PhD from an undergraduate degree, or with a Master’s degree. Experience in Ethnomusicology or Music and the Humanities (e.g., Anthropology, Cultural Studies) or Social Sciences (e.g. Sociology) with a demonstrated awareness of theory and method in Ethnomusicology is desirable.


  • Residence Requirement — Three years (Direct Entry), or two years if entering with an MA. Residence implies active participation in all aspects of the program (including Colloquia, Roundtables, etc.).


  • Course Requirements — 12 half-courses for Direct Entry students, or six half-courses for those entering with a Masters degree. Additional courses may be prescribed in consultation with academic advisors. Course selections must be approved at the beginning of the year by the Course and Program Advisory Committee (from which students will receive a form that must be completed). We require an average grade of A minus for continuation in the program. All course requirements must be completed by the end of year 2 (PhD), or year 3 (DE).


  • Course Selection — The PhD Seminar (MUS1250) and Research in Ethnomusicology (MUS1997) are compulsory. Students choose from other electives on offer and, with Departmental approval, one half-course at the graduate level may be taken outside the Department. Direct Entry students undertake this PhD structure in their second year having satisfactorily completed 6 half-courses at the Master’s level (inclusive of compulsory MA courses–see that program description) in year one.


  • Language Requirements — Demonstrated competence in a language other than English. (This is not counted towards course credits). The choice of language must be discussed with an academic advisor, and should relate to research interests. In certain cases, competence in additional languages may be required. With English-speaking research fields, the second language should be one where there are significant secondary sources. The language requirements must be completed by the end of year 2 (PhD), or year 3 (DE).


  • Comprehensive Exams — Taken at the beginning of year 3, or year 2 if one enters with an MA, comprehensive examination in ethnomusicology is intended to provide students with a strong breadth of familiarity with ethnomusicology as a discipline and world music beyond their narrow specialisation. There are three separate 3-hour sections to the exam as follows:
      • Section 1: Intellectual History of Ethnomusicology
      • Section 2: Large Geographic or Historical Area
      • Section 3: Listening Identification & Analysis


  • MUS1997 & Dissertation Proposal — Research in Ethnomusicology (MUS1997) ideally lays the foundation for doctoral dissertation research. It is begun in the second term of year one and should be completed before the Major Field Exam (MFE). Students will seek an academic advisor to guide them. The Dissertation Proposal (c. 2000 words plus bibliography) should derive from work towards MUS1997, and will be circulated among academic faculty for feedback and approval before the MFE.


  • Major Field Exam (MFE) — Oral exam up to 3 hours, scheduled (in consultation with advisors) during year 2 (PhD) or year 3 (DE). The student is required to distribute two reading lists to the examining committee in advance: one dealing with the broader ethnographic field for the proposed research and the other on a stated theoretical focus. The exam will cover each of these elements before addressing the dissertation proposal and practical matters relating to undertaking fieldwork. On successful completion of the MFE and all course and language requirements, the student becomes a doctoral candidate. Should the student fail the MFE, a second MFE will be scheduled. A second failure terminates the degree.


  • The Doctoral Dissertation — On completion of the MFE, and in consultation with academic advisors (usually the MFE committee), a Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) of three is struck, comprising the primary supervisor and two advisors. Please see the information regarding Guidelines for Supervision.

    The candidate must meet with the DAC twice a year, providing in advance any progress reports and samples of written work. The DAC will then prepare its own report of the meeting indicating whether satisfactory progress towards the doctorate has been made. If progress is unsatisfactory, clear guidelines must be provided that set out expectations to be met at the next meeting. Two unsatisfactory assessments (consecutive or in total) will result in the candidate being required to withdraw from the program.

    In most cases, fieldwork will be required as part of the research. Candidates planning to undertake fieldwork must apply for ethics approval from the Ethics Review Board, and must apply to the Associate Dean, Graduate Education, for off-campus status. All off-campus candidates must leave an official field address with the Graduate Office while they are away. Since it is each candidate’s responsibility to apply for off-campus status, failure to apply could result in forfeiture of registration, fellowships and awards, and loss of full-time graduate status.

    The dissertation must be a piece of original scholarship based on primary materials. Ideally, the dissertation should not exceed 80,000 words exclusive of notes and bibliography. Once the dissertation has been fully prepared for submission, a doctoral candidate becomes a doctoral author. The dissertation is distributed to an external examiner, at least one internal reader unfamiliar with the research, and the three members of the DAC. Two weeks before the oral defence the author and the rest of the committee will receive the external examiner’s report. The oral defence usually lasts two hours and requires a rigorous and accomplished defence of one’s work.


Our aim is to fund all PhD students for 4 years and Direct Entry students for 5 years. The basic funding package consists of $17,500 plus tuition expenses. This amount assumes the student will work between 140 and 180 hours as a teaching and/or grading assistant. Normally, all students must apply for external funding, and our rates of success are extremely high. Complete details of the funding package are made available in our letters of offer.

As of fall 2018, international PhD students pay the same tuition fees as domestic students.

Applicants from the USA are also encouraged to explore funding options from the Fulbright Canada Awards for American Students. Traditional Fulbright student awards provide US$15,000 for one nine-month academic year. Also, the Organization of American States offers funding for US citizens and citizens of other eligible states to study in Canada.


Students receiving an offer from us but who then elect to defer the start of their program are not automatically guaranteed admission in the following admissions cycle. Rather, they will be reassessed along with following year’s applicants. Those deferring will not be required to resubmit an application, though they are at liberty to update their materials. A deferral is limited to one year, after which a new application must be filed.