PhD Program

The PhD program in the Department of Asian Studies offers a thesis-based PhD degree to students working in a variety of regions and disciplines.

Those interested must have a Master’s Degree (MA) in Asian Studies or its equivalence. Candidates must also have adequate command of one of the following languages: Chinese, Japanese, Hindi/Urdu, Punjabi, Sanskrit or Korean. For Chinese specifically, this means competent reading knowledge of both modern and classical forms.


In the PhD Asian Studies program we offer multiple research activities related to Asia. Through collaborative projects, lectures, workshops and professional development opportunities, our students are able to pursue their interests and make connections with scholars around the world.

Our strengths in language and literary studies are supplemented by our geographic and disciplinary breadth. The Department of Asian Studies offers a range of courses that specialize in everything from research seminars to methodological development.

Degree Requirements

Students pursuing a PhD in Asian Studies must complete the following course and language requirements in order to be considered for candidacy:

Students must complete a minimum of 12 courses, as follows:

  • Six courses each year within 24 months of entering the program
  • At least five of these courses must be content-courses, i.e. not a language course
  • ASIA 591, usually taken in first year
  • ASIA 592, usually taken in first year following completion of ASIA 591. Students must complete this course for credit before proceeding with their Comprehensive Exams.
  • ASIA 699: thesis courses. Students should register as soon as they’ve been accepted into the program.
  • A pan-Asia theory course within the department.
  • A region-specific theory/methodology course within the department,
  • A theory/methodology course outside the department

All incoming students should speak with their supervisor to discuss PhD language requirements, when and how other PhD requirements will be fulfilled, and the necessary coursework for their research area and topic.

All PhD candidates will be required to have a reading knowledge of a language relevant to their research as well as the language of their primary Asian research materials. You must pass your language requirements before taking the Comprehensive Exams, however requirement details will vary between fields and supervisors.

The supervisor will determine which language(s) are necessary for student’s research program and the level of ability needed to fulfill that program. This decision must be communicated to the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Program in the first term.

Students can demonstrate their language abilities in one of two ways:

  1. Completing a 300 level course at UBC in their relevant language
  2. Completing a challenge exam where the student translates a passage of scholarly prose into English

  • Students are encouraged to take language courses as an auditor. A maximum of one content-course taken as an auditor can be counted as a course requirement for your degree.
  • 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 be taken as 500 level courses if the instructor gives permission and if the student completes extra work. If you received your instructor’s permission, please consult the Graduate Secretary about registration.
  • You are required to get your supervisor’s approval for your registered courses each term. By the beginning of each term, your supervisor must email the Graduate Program Assistant and Graduate Advisor indicating your approved course list.

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 translating a piece of academic prose in their targeted language.

For more information please speak with your supervisor.

PhD students achieve Candidacy when they have:

  • Completed all required coursework.
  • Passed the Comprehensive Examinations
  • Had a prospectus approved by their supervisory committee.

Students must complete their comprehensive examination within 24 months from the date of initial registration.

The candidate will be expected to be examined in at least three fields:

  • Major or General Field: The branch of study in which the candidate’s research is expected to lie
  • Minor Field (I): A sub-category from which the thesis topic is expected to emerge
  • Minor Field (II): A sub-category that falls outside of the candidate’s research interest but is still relevant.

The candidate will be examined by the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations Committee, a three-member committee comprised of the candidate’s supervisor and two other faculty members from appropriate fields. The examination committee is determined through consultation among the student, their supervisor, and the Graduate Advisor.

The dissertation prospectus develops an argument proposing the direction in which the student expects their research to develop. Prepared in consultation with the supervisory committee, the Dissertation prospectus must be defended within six weeks of the comprehensive exam oral defense.

Admission Requirements

Those interested in a PhD in Asian Studies (MA) must submit an application with the minimum admission requirements:

  • Master of Arts in Asian Studies or a related field, or an equivalent from an accredited university-level institution
  • B+ overall average in your master’s degree program
  • Candidates must have adequate command of one of the following languages: Chinese, Japanese, Hindi/Urdu, Punjabi, Sanskrit or Korean. For Chinese, this means a competent reading knowledge of both modern and classical forms.

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