Degree Requirements

  1. Course Requirements: minimum 12 courses, as follows:

Students entering the program in 2017-18 and subsequent years are required to take six courses each year in their first two years (within 24 months of entering the program). At least five of these must be content courses (i.e., courses other than language courses). We encourage students to take language courses as an auditor, but content courses should be taken for credit. (A maximum of one content course taken as an auditor can be counted toward this total.)

Regardless of geographic area or discipline, all PhD students in Asian Studies are required to take at least one course in each of the following categories before proceeding to prepare for their Comprehensive Exams (“Comps”):

  1. ASIA 591 (formerly 570A 001), usually taken in your first year.
  2. ASIA 592 (formerly ASIA 570B 001), usually taken in your first year, in the second term (following ASIA 591 ). This is a professional development course. Students must complete this course for credit before proceeding to comps, but may—and are encouraged to—come back and audit it again in the final years of the PhD program, to polish professional development skills and job search portfolio. Note: 592 is the only one that can fulfill this requirement.
  3. A pan-Asia theory course within the department. A list of eligible courses can be found on the Department website. Other courses may be offered that meet the requirement in certain years.
  4. A region-specific theory/methodology course within the department, such as Asia 581A (Research Methods and Source Materials in Korean Studies); Asia 501 (Research Methods and Source Materials in Classical Chinese Studies); or Asia 590 (Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion), etc. These courses are not offered every year for every region, so please plan ahead.
  5. A theory/methodology course outside the department, usually in the student’s discipline, such as HIST 560 (Readings in Chinese History), ENGL 533A (Studies in Literary Theory), and a host of others. Please consult the Graduate Secretary or Graduate Advisor if you are unsure whether a particular courses qualifies.

Additional courses from these categories taken after the initial requirement has been fulfilled will still count toward the degree.

As soon as you have been accepted into the Asian Studies PhD program and have your UBC student number you should register for Asia 699 (thesis courses, both terms) on the Student Service Site (SSC).

Incoming students should meet as soon as possible with their supervisor to discuss PhD language requirements (see below), when/how other PhD requirements will be fulfilled, and the coursework necessary for the student’s specific research area and topic.

Students who entered the program in 2015-16 or earlier are required to take five content courses (i.e., courses other than language courses) for credit in their first year (within twelve months of entering the program, normally September to August).

Exceptions to the above requirements may be made for students with extraordinary circumstances, such as family commitments, extra language requirements, etc. Please consult the Graduate Advisor if you have questions.

Note on eligible content courses

Undergraduate courses at the 300 and 400 levels may be taken for PhD credit (up to a limit of 6 credits), and non-language courses may be included among your five required content courses. 100- and 200-level courses may not be counted for PhD credit.

Some upper division undergraduate courses can, with the permission of the instructor, be taken as 500 level courses if the student agrees to do extra work. If you have already received permission from your instructor to convert an undergraduate course to a graduate number (500 level), please consult the Graduate Secretary about how to register.

You are required to get your supervisor’s approval of the courses you sign up for each term, so discuss your plans with him/her early. By the beginning of each term, your supervisor should send an email to the Graduate Program Assistant and Graduate Advisor indicating their approval of your course list.

For incoming students, once the language requirements and coursework plan are settled, the student should send an email reporting the decisions to the Graduate Advisor and the Graduate Program Assistant. This information is important in helping us keep track of your graduate progress, so it is vital that you send it to us as soon as the decisions are made and update it if there are changes.

An Orientation session in early September may answer most of your questions, but feel free to consult the Graduate Advisor and/or the Graduate Program Assistant at any time for advice, clarification or more information.

2. Language Requirements:

All PhD candidates will be required to have a reading knowledge of a language relevant to their research, in addition to English, and the language of their primary Asian research materials. In effect, this means: English + primary target language + secondary research language (+ optional additional European research language) Passing of language requirement(s) is a precondition for taking comps. Language requirements details vary according to the field and supervisor. The supervisor will determine which language(s) is/are necessary for student’s research program, and the level of ability student needs to reach to fulfill that program. That decision about language requirements must be communicated to the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Program Assistant in the  first term of a new PhD student’s program.

Normally students need to demonstrate the ability to read and understand texts in the target language sufficient for conducting research in that language. (In some cases, speaking ability may also be required, at the discretion of the supervisor.) That can be achieved in two ways:

1) completing the 300 (or higher) level of that language at UBC (e.g. completing Japanese 301 or Japanese 310)
2) taking a challenge exam in which the student translates a passage of scholarly prose into English


Challenge Exam (new rules, effective July 1, 2019)

The language challenge exam is a process to demonstrate sufficient knowledge to use material in that language for research purposes. The student demonstrates this by producing in a 24-hour period a translation of a passage in the target language–typically, a piece of academic prose related to the student’s area of study. The translation should show that the student understands scholarly material in that language well enough to use it independently in their own work. Where appropriate, especially with classical languages, the material chosen for translation may be primary sources rather than scholarly works.


The challenge exam can be taken any time before the student advances to candidacy. The student and supervisor find a faculty member in Asian Studies (or, if none can be found within the department, from another unit) with sufficient knowledge of the chosen language and informs the Graduate Advisor. Then student and the supervisor find three texts in the language–typically scholarly articles or article-length selections from scholarly books–related to the student’s research and send them to the examiner. None of the material should be available in an existing English translation, and the examiner may reject any of the items that is inappropriate for this or other reasons, in which case the student provides an alternative to replace.

The examiner chooses from this material a passage of appropriate length–usually 2-4 pages of material of a reasonable and representative degree of difficulty. The student and examiner agree on a time for the exam and at the appointed start time the examiner or the graduate program assistant sends the passage to the student. Within 24 hours the student sends back the translation and supporting material.

During the examination, the student may use paper and electronic dictionaries as well as other reference sources. Machine translation software (Google Translate, etc.) may be used, but its use must be documented (see below). The student may not receive translation assistance from any other person, at this stage or while preparing for the exam; the use of inappropriate assistance constitutes academic misconduct.

The translation must be accompanied by the following supporting material:

  • Required A list of all resources used in the translation process (paper and electronic dictionaries, thesauri, language/grammar references, etc.; include publication details for books and URLs for online resources)
  • If any machine translation system was used (this includes any software or website that translates phrases and sentences rather than individual words), the student must include the output, if the student consulted it for all or part of the translation
  • Optionally, any drafts or notes from the translation process
  • Optionally, a short prose description of the translation process, which may highlight any particular challenges or difficult points

The translation and supporting material are submitted by email to the examiner by email within 24 hours and the exam is graded pass/fail (the examiner may choose to provide additional feedback in either case).

If a student fails their first attempt at the exam, they may retake it when they and the supervisor agree that they are ready to do so. The reading on which they were initially tested should be replaced with an alternate; optionally, they may change any of the other readings and submit them to the examiner for approval. The exam then proceeds as described above.

If the student fails the second attempt, the Graduate Advisor schedules a meeting with the student and supervisor to discuss how to proceed. Possible outcomes include waiting for further study to retake the exam, taking a 300-level class in lieu of an exam, or reconfiguring the student’s program around a project that does not require the language originally chosen. A student who fails a third attempt cannot advance to comprehensive examinations and may be asked to withdraw from the program.