Thesis

Thesis Criteria

In this section: Thesis criteria and deadlines.  For writing tips, visit Student Resources.

The thesis is original scholarship and makes a distinct contribution to knowledge. It shows familiarity with previous work in the field, and demonstrates the ability to plan and carry out research, organize findings, and defend the approach and conclusions in a scholarly manner. It is succinct and reflects the standards of the discipline, recognizing the value of music and music research beyond the “academia”.

Below you will find thesis information for music students.  For more comprehensive guidelines, visit McGill's GPS website

Thesis Evaluation Criteria

The thesis document will be reviewed by an expert from outside the University (external examiner), and a Schulich School of Music faculty member in discipline expertise (internal examiner).

Each of the following criteria are ranked on the following scale, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Fail.

  1. Evidence of originality and creativity;
  2. Resourcefulness, alertness to significance of findings;
  3. Diligence, care, technical skill in the research;
  4. Usefulness of the results to other workers in the field; value as a contribution to knowledge;
  5. Grasp of subject, powers of criticism and general adequacy in review of previous work;
  6. Quality of presentation (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical errors).

Dissertation Committee

The committee consists of a minimum of two professors - your supervisor and one other.


Thesis Proposal Submission Timeline

Stage 1:   The development of thesis proposal unfolds through the following steps:

  • Selection of Proposal Committee
  • Sample Syllabus :  Preparation of a syllabus for a 13 week undergraduate class for music students on a topic related to the dissertation subject area chosen in consultation with the DC.  Syllabus includes:
    • Course description
    • Readings (including articles from the musicological literature)
    • Music listening
    • Required work (assignments, papers, exams)
  • Full Proposal: 7-8,000 words plus bibliography explicating the objectives of the research and its original contribution, context, guiding theoretical approach and/or hermeneutical lenses, specific methodological detail, anticipated outcomes and relationship to broader issues.

Stage 2:  The Proposal meeting: 

  • When: Scheduled by the supervisor, within 9 months of successful completion of the comprehensive examinations
  • Length: 2 -3 hours
  • Content: Discussion of syllabus and proposal submitted to the committee two weeks before the meeting

Candidates should be prepared to discuss syllabus choices and issues (content and approach) encountered in its construction.  With the proposal, discussion will address content, bibliography, methodology, and the research’s relation to broader issues in musicology.

Evaluation: Sample syllabus and proposal are both subject to revisions until all three committee members have expressed their approval. Once approved, the supervisor will write a letter informing the candidate and the director of graduate studies. In the event of a dispute, the matter will be brought to the Music Research Graduate Sub-Committee for resolution.

Stage 3:  Short Proposal:Using the results and feedback from the development of the syllabus and long proposal, a short proposal is prepared for submission.

Submit your thesis proposal form ( PhD_D_MusPropForm.pdf) to the Area for approval by:

  • November 1st, for review by the Graduate Subcommittee (MRGSC) on December 1st.
    • By November 15: The Area Chair submits it to Graduate Studies for inclusion in the MRGSC meeting.
  • March 1st, for review by the Graduate Subcommittee (MRGSC) on April 1st.
    • By March 15: The Area Chair submits it to Graduate Studies for inclusion in the MRGSC meeting.

Tips for Submitting an Effective Thesis Proposal

The thesis proposal is a short description of your project (2 pages) with a bibliography (1 page).  Include:

  1. A clear and concise title;
  2. An opening statement that situates your topic;
  3. Language understandable to non-specialists;
  4. A concise description of your goals and objectives (what you will do);
  5. An explanation of methodology (how you will do it);
  6. A description of originality, outcomes and benefits (why it is worth doing).

It develops a clear vision of the theoretical or hermeneutical approaches that will guide the work by::

  • citing sources that have inspired the work;
  • comparing the proposed research to past and current work; and
  • identifying a gap that your work will fill; and
  • explicating the methodological choices and musical repertoire that will be its focus.

Thesis Submission Timeline

Graduation date Initial submission Thesis evaluation semester Final submission deadline
May/June December 15 Winter April 15
Fall (October, November) April 15 Summer August 15
Winter (no convocation) August 15 Fall  December 15

Initial Submission Steps

Your supervisor may find some useful tips for selecting examiners on the Graduate Supervision website.

  • Two weeks before initial submission:
    • Print the checklist from the McGill Graduate Studies website.
    • Make a thesis submission appointment with graduatestudies.music [at] mcgill.ca (Graduate Studies).
  • One week before initial submission:

Confirm that your supervisor has ensured availability of examiner and received confirmation (via email) duly indicated on the form that they do not have conflict of interest on each of the indicated points.​

  • Bring one hard copy of the thesis (no special binding required), plus completed nomination of examiner, waiver, original ethics, and all permission to use materials forms to the appointment.
  • With the approval of the Associate Dean, submit your thesis online.  The oral defence will be scheduled in 4-8 weeks.

Final Submission Steps

  1. Review the examiner's comments with your supervisor and make revisions if required. Consult the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) and the GPS website if the thesis has not been passed.
  2. Submit online as per instructions by the date in the above table.
  3. Notify your supervisor that this has been completed.  Your supervisor will review and issue the final confirmation.
  4. Check out the convocation website for further details, and prepare to celebrate!

Keys for a Successful Oral Defense

Many helpful hints about content, developing the right mindset, and practice can be found on the Graduate Supervision website.  ProDeans, who oversee the defenses, remind us that they come hoping to hear some music!

Colleagues' Tips for Surviving the Thesis Journey

  1. Begin using a bibliography software tool such as endnotes or Zotero at the beginning of your research process.
  2. Decide if you are doing a chapter- or manuscript based thesis early. Know the elements comprising the final document and review periodically in light of the evaluation criteria. 
  3. Take time for fun, nourishment and living life—each day, each week, each month!
  4. Assemble all software packages that your work will require at the outset (e.g., statistical or other analytical tools, notational, word processing, bibliography, illustration tools, etc.). Write a short “test” document and apply the McGill software package formatting to understand style implications and any potential challenges for your work (e.g., margins, fonts, headings, etc.). 
  5. Review the Schulich School of Music Style Guide pertaining to style manuals and music.
  6. Attend a concert, a movie, or some other live cultural event at least once a week.
  7. Keep a file tracking the style choices you make from the very beginning.
  8. Assemble musical examples, figures, and illustrations in a separate file, even in preliminary sketch form, keeping an overall tracking record that details what each requires for final thesis inclusion (e.g., formatting, copyright release and permissions, etc.). Check and update the tracking file periodically. Use the talents of others to format musical examples as a major time-saver and to facilitate proof-reading.
  9. Consider copyright practicalities at the outset. Collect written permission to use materials as soon as possible.
  10. Attend the thesis defenses and lecture-recitals of your colleagues – enjoy in particular the wine!
  11. Develop a schedule with your supervisors and other dissertation committee members. Think of each marker – not as a deadline, but as a checking in moment, a reporting that always involves some element of writing even if it involves only two lines of summary that will eventually become the basis for determining the “header” of an outline, the first line under the header, or a working hypothesis. This way, the research and the writing can become inter-connected and benefit from the clarity of thought and direction that each provides the other. For other helpful hints on how to develop the schedule as you define your topic see here: https://www.mcgill.ca/gradsupervision/timelines/beginnings-guided-resear... ….Recognize that any step involving human interactions will require more time than anticipated. ….Plan well ahead when organizing trips to archives, festivals, research labs, etc.
  12. Share the results of your work in a variety of formal and informal settings throughout its evolution, giving at least one presentation a year. The more people you share with, academic and non-academic, musical, non-musical, the clearer the expression becomes! https://www.mcgill.ca/gradsupervision/timelines/emergence-independent-re...
  13. Draw on the resources of the whole Schulich School of Music Team and beyond: become long and lasting friends with the Library Faculty, attend grant writing sessions for funding tips, the labs of other supervisors, and call upon the expertise of Prof. Stubley, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, and Helene Drouin, Graduate Studies for questions small or large, research or procedural, or if you are merely feeling the pressure and angst of this and that. Writing assistance may also be obtained through Graphos (graphos!—this is best under TOOLS for Writing and Research).
  14. For other helpful hints, see the Graduate Supervision website. Know that usually you are not the most effective proof-reader, that it takes much longer than you ever imagined, and that at least once, the computer, the electricity, the plumbing or some other critical disaster will occur at the most inopportune moment.
  15. And did we say, take time for fun, nourishment and living life—each day, each week, each month!

Other Resources

Tools for writing and research (including the Schulich School of Music Style Sheet)