Graduate handbook

View the 2016-17 Graduate Handbook for our MA in Popular Culture program here.

Introduction to the program

The faculty of the MA Program in Popular Culture Program at Brock University welcome you as a student. The Program is unique in Canada, and we are certain your experience here will be both rewarding and challenging.

The Program takes an interdisciplinary approach to Popular Culture. This means that a variety of approaches to the study of popular culture are taken within the Program and thus that students have a wide variety of options for their research projects. Some may choose to study the formal features of popular texts, while others may focus on the contexts within which popular culture is consumed. Methodologies from both the Humanities and the Social Sciences will be taught and used in the Program. Methods range from textual analysis to ethnographic observation and participant interviews.

The Program’s participating faculty are drawn from a number of different departments, but they all share the common view that the study of popular culture in its varied forms is a valuable and worthwhile scholarly endeavour that enables us to understand how societies, including our own, function and thrive. The forms of popular culture include cultural texts such as literature, television, film, radio, music, advertising, newspapers and magazines, and practices such as sport, rituals, fashion and fads. The study of popular culture in the Program involves analyzing these expressive forms as aesthetic objects whose meanings depend on and illuminate the social, historical and cultural contexts in which they are created, disseminated, interpreted and used.

All students will be required to complete the graduate core courses (PCUL 5P01, 5P02) and either a major research paper (PCUL 5F95) or a thesis (PCUL 5F90).

Major research paper (MRP) students must complete four additional courses; thesis students must complete two additional courses. MRP students may substitute a Directed Reading (PCUL 5P04) course for one of the non-core courses or take one of their non-core courses from another relevant Brock MA Program, subject to the Director’s approval. Students should consult with the Director if they are interested in pursuing either of these options.

Thesis students must choose their additional courses from the Program offerings, but may be given approval to take a Directed Reading course in exceptional circumstances.

In all cases, students must apply for a Directed Reading course before the term in which the course is to be undertaken. The course may not be taken with the student’s supervisor.

Students in the MA Program in Popular Culture come from a variety of academic backgrounds: from disciplinary, single major programs such as English Literature, Film Studies, History, Music, Political Science or Sociology; and from interdisciplinary programs such as Canadian Studies, Communication or Media Studies, and Women’s Studies.

The structure of the MA Program is designed with this diversity of student background experience in mind. Hence, students will be (re-) introduced to key theoretical perspectives in the field of Popular Culture and to methodologies of interdisciplinary research in cultural studies in the core courses (PCUL 5P01 and 5P02). In addition, students will have the opportunity to gain specialist, substantive knowledge in selected areas of Popular Culture through the variable topics courses and, of course, in their research, which will be undertaken in close cooperation with a faculty supervisor.

The courses offered for students entering the program in Fall 2015 are as follows (for full course descriptions, consult the Graduate Calendar):

PCUL 5F90 Thesis

PCUL 5F95 Major Research Paper

Fall term

PCUL 5P01 Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (Dale Bradley)

PCUL 5P02 Research Methods in Popular Culture (Derek Foster)

Winter term

PCUL 5V25 Radio Broadcasting (Russell Johnston)

PCUL 5V26 Screens, Spaces, Spectators: Environments and Technologies of Cultural Engagement (Peter Lester)

PCUL 5V44 Ecocinema (Christie Milliken)

Spring/Summer term

PCUL 5V45 P.K. Dick in Words and Film (Michael Berman)

Full-time students complete the two required courses and prepare their Research Proposals in the Fall term. All students will register in either PCUL 5F90 (thesis) or 5F95 (MRP) during the Winter term, as per the process to apply for 5F90 outlined below. MRP students normally take three variable topics courses in the Winter term and one in the Spring-Summer term. Students admitted to the thesis option normally take two variable topics courses in the Winter term.

The program is designed to allow students in both the MRP and thesis stream to complete the requirements within three terms. However, if required, MRP students may use one additional funded term (Fall 2017) and thesis students may use up to two additional funded terms (Fall 2017 and Winter 2018) to complete their research projects.

Note: Full-time students are normally required to be on campus for the duration of their registered terms. Students who wish to spend time off campus while working on their MRP or thesis may be permitted to do so in consultation with their supervisor, but must complete an Application for Full-Time Study Off Campus. Students who are unable to continue their academic work during any term must apply for a Leave of Absence or an Inactive Term. Full-time students must complete all degree requirements within three years of the date of first registration.

The Popular Culture MA Program offers a part-time option for those students who meet the normal admission standards but whose work and/or family responsibilities prevent them from studying full-time. Graduate funding (other than a possible teaching assistantship) is normally not available to students enrolled on a part-time basis. Students enrolled on a part-time basis normally are matched with a supervisor during the first term of their second year of study and complete the Research Proposal within that term.

Part-time students are expected to complete their course work, including PCUL 5P01 and 5P02, within the first two years of study and to complete the MRP or thesis within four years of entering the Program. All degree requirements must be met within five years of the date of first registration. The Research Proposal is completed in the Fall term of the second year of study.

Both the MRP and the thesis require original research that is outlined in the Research Proposal completed in the Fall term (see Guidelines for Research Proposals for further details). The research project for an MRP or a thesis can take a variety of different forms, depending upon the topic and disciplinary approach taken. It is recognized that it is the nature of interdisciplinary work to have a wide variety of research methods and means of communicating results. Each research project will be individually shaped by the collaboration between the student and the supervisor. Supervisors are normally identified at the time of admission and students will work with their supervisors over the Fall term to prepare the Research Proposal.

The usual path to the MA in Popular Culture is the MRP option. Most research projects at the MA level will be designed so that they can be completed within the scope of an MRP, thereby allowing the student to broaden his or her intellectual background by completing additional courses within the Program instead of completing a longer research project. Students in the MRP option will receive funding for up to four terms. MRP students should note that, pursuant to Brock’s agreement with CUPE, they must apply for their TA position in a relevant course in their fourth term.

In the event that a student would prefer to write a thesis, he/she must apply to do so. The scope of the project and the student’s previous research experience, as well as the student’s first-term work, will be the determining criteria regarding whether the student is approved to undertake the thesis option. While completing the Research Proposal, a student will discuss with the Graduate Program Director and with his or her supervisor and second reader the possibility of enrolling in the thesis option; approval of all three is required. Students who are accepted into the thesis option will receive funding for up to six terms in the Program. Thesis students should note that, pursuant to Brock’s agreement with CUPE, they must apply for their TA position in a relevant course in their optional fifth and sixth terms.

Research proposals are due on November 18 of the Fall term for students wishing to be considered for the thesis option. Research proposals for MRP projects are due on December 16 of the fall term. The proposals submitted by these dates should be final drafts, approved by both the supervisor and the second reader. Deadlines for preliminary drafts of these documents will be established individually between the student and the supervisor.

Both the MRP and the thesis aim to be creative and innovative in their insights about or readings of subject matter. They both develop a position or standpoint that represents the voice of the student. In the case of an MRP conducted using statistical analysis, the data analyzed may be obtained from an existing study, while in the case of a thesis using statistical analysis it is expected that students will conduct primary field research.

The MRP will be organized into sections, while a thesis will be organized into chapters. Both will include a discussion of methodology, that is, of the research methods employed and/or of the theoretical context that informs the research project. The format of this section or chapter will vary based on the disciplinary nature of the particular project. Both the MRP and the thesis should aim at original argumentation based on the student’s research and theorizing and should include an introduction, a description of methodology, the analysis, a conclusion, and a bibliography. The sections need not necessarily be labelled precisely with this language, but these components will be covered in each project.

The MRP should be approximately 10,000 words (roughly 35-40 pages) in length. It should included a brief introduction that outlines the research question, a brief literature review which provides an overview of existing scholarship in the field and explains the intervention this research project will make, and a brief methodology section that explains the methods to be employed to analyze research data or that explains the theoretical context that informs the interpretation and analysis to be offered in the paper. The remainder of the paper will present the student’s examples, analyses and conclusions. The MRP will include a bibliography and may include appendices and charts (appendices are not included in the word limit). After the final grade is assigned, the student must submit a corrected copy of the paper for the Program files.

The thesis should be approximately 25,000 words (roughly 100 pages) in length. It should include an introduction that outlines the research question, a literature review which provides an overview of existing scholarship in the field and explains the intervention this research project will make, and a brief methodology section that explains the methods to be employed to gather and analyze research data or that explains the theoretical context which informs the interpretation and analysis to be offered in the thesis. The remainder of the thesis will present the student’s examples, analyses and conclusions. In a thesis, this section will normally be divided into two to three chapters. The thesis will include a bibliography and may include appendices and charts (appendices are not included in the word limit).

Each thesis student must defend his or her thesis at a public oral examination. Thesis students should be aware that it can take up to two months to schedule a defence after the final version of the thesis has been submitted. All participants will do as much as possible to expedite the process, but identifying and obtaining the agreement of examining committee members, allowing them time to read the thesis, and finding a suitable date for the defence can take a considerable amount of time. It is a requirement of Faculty of Graduate Studies that external examiners receive the thesis four weeks before the defence date. Students needing to graduate by a certain date must take this into account. Students will receive a written report from the external examiner one week before the defence, and will be able to respond to this report at the oral examination.

After the defence, thesis students must make any necessary corrections and submit a properly formatted copy of the thesis for the digital repository.

All research projects must be reviewed using plagiarism-detection software. A receipt from is required when submitting the final version of the project.

It is also important to note that students are not allowed to employ professional editors for written work submitted as part of any degree requirement. Peer editing and assistance from the Brock University Drop-in Learning Centre are not considered to fall under this regulation.

This proposed schedule is based on a three-term completion. Should students choose the four-term MRP option or the six-term thesis option, dates will be adapted to account for additional time to completion as students and their supervisory committees deem appropriate. Instead of aiming for a final draft of the research project by the end of specified terms, students must work with their supervisor on a schedule that ensures ample time for submission of drafts, accommodation of feedback, and time to make revisions.


  • Research Proposal: First draft to supervisor | MRP: Oct 21, 2016 | Thesis: Oct 21, 2016
  • Research Proposal: Final draft to committee | MRP: Dec 16, 2016 | Thesis: Nov 18, 2016
  • Research Proposal: Approval Form signed | MRP: Jan 13, 2017 | Thesis: Jan 13, 2017
  • Research Project: First complete draft to supervisor | MRP: July 7, 2017 | Thesis: Aug 15, 2017
  • Research Project: Receive feedback from supervisor | MRP: July 21, 2017 | Thesis: Aug 29, 2017
  • Research Project: Revised draft to 2nd reader | MRP: Aug 4, 2017 | Thesis: Sep 12, 2017
  • Research Project: Receive feedback from 2nd reader | MRP: Aug 16, 2017 | Thesis: Oct 3, 2017
  • Research Project: Revised draft, incorporating comments from 2nd reader to both committee members | MRP: Aug 28, 2017 | Thesis: Oct 17, 2017
  • Thesis: submission of external reviewer list for Dean’s approval | Thesis: Oct 24, 2017

For three-term MRP projects, it is expected that a final grade will be submitted by the supervisor and second reader by August 31, 2017. For four-term MRPs, grades will be submitted by Dec. 31, 2017.

For theses, the thesis must be sent to the external reviewer four weeks before the scheduled defence date. A list of potential external reviewers will be prepared by the supervisor, in consultation with the student and the GPD. Further revisions may be required after the defence. A timeline for these revisions will be established after the defence. Students are required to be registered during the period while they complete thesis revisions. The degree requirements will be considered complete when a final copy of the thesis is deposited with the Program Coordinator.

It is the responsibility of supervisors to inform the Graduate Program Director of any delays in meeting these deadlines. These deadlines reflect the requirements for finishing the program within funded terms. Students have the option of taking longer to complete their projects (see term limits above) but should be aware that exceeding these deadlines will result in the need to register for additional, non-funded terms. Should this situation arise, the student should discuss his or her options with the Graduate Program Director.

The intellectual development of students in the MA Program will be monitored and fostered by individually constituted supervisory committees governed by the following procedures:

1) The Director of the Popular Culture MA Program will appoint a supervisory committee for each graduate student, consisting of the supervisor and a second reader. Committee members will be drawn from more than one discipline when possible.

2) Each full-time student’s progress will be reviewed by the supervisor in conjunction with the Director at least twice each year; a part-time student’s progress will be reviewed at least once each year. Additional meetings may be called at the request of the student, the Director or a member of the committee. Ongoing satisfactory progress is required for a student to continue in the Program. In May of each year, a Student Progress Form will be completed for each student at a meeting of the entire committee.

3) Research Proposals must be approved by the supervisor, the second reader, and the Director (see Guidelines for Research Proposals).

Graduate research is recognized as a partnership involving students, supervisory committee members and the Program as a whole. Proper supervision is a key element; it is vital that students are provided with responsible, professional supervision that is sensitive to student needs and free of personal conflict that might interfere with intellectual development.

The supervisor, as an active member of a research community within Brock University and beyond, necessarily serves as a role model for all students, and must be prepared to devote the time required to share his or her knowledge and skills with students and other colleagues. It is recognized that when faculty members agree to supervise a graduate student, they thereby assume a number of responsibilities. Supervisors are expected to be actively engaged in scholarly activity and linked to a wider scholarly network, and the student has the right to expect from the supervisor scholarly expertise, accessibility and assistance with the design, planning and conduct of feasible research projects.

Specifically, the supervisor must

  1. Be reasonably accessible to the student for consultation and discussion of academic progress and research problems and give timely response to written work with constructive suggestions for improvement. It is recognized that supervisors may need to be absent from campus for their own research, and it is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that such absences are communicated to the student and that appropriate arrangements are made to ensure the student can continue to make progress on his or her research;
  2. Offer supervision and advice appropriate to the stage of the student’s work (proposal, research, analysis and writing, oral defence for theses, publication of results). To emphasize timely completion of the Program, it is particularly important that the supervisor work with the student to ensure that the project is conceptualized in such a way that it can be accomplished within the word and time limits set for the research projects;
  3. Help the student establish and maintain a suitable timetable for completion of the various stages of the MRP/thesis requirements, i.e., approval of Research Proposal, ethics approval if required, preparation for oral defence for a thesis, etc. The supervisor should be aware that full-time students receive a significant reduction in fees for one term only if both the supervisor and the Graduate Program Director agree that the MRP/thesis is at a stage that could be considered a satisfactory “first draft” prior to the payment of fees for an additional term;
  4. Ensure the student is aware of University and Program requirements and standards for the Program as available in this document and in the Graduate Studies Calendar, and ensure that regulations on Intellectual Property and Research with Human Participants (if necessary) are followed before a student is permitted to begin working in any research capacity associated with the University. See web pages: |
  5. Conform to basic principles of academic integrity and professionalism in the supervisory role; and
  6. Inform the Graduate Program Director so that suitable alternative arrangements for supervision can be made when an extended leave or absence from the university will prevent ongoing work with the student.

Second readers are expected to follow the guidelines laid down for the supervisor with the exception that they do not have primary responsibility for the student.

Specifically, it will be the responsibility of second readers to:

  1. review and approve the Research Proposal;
  2. read drafts of the MRP or thesis in a timely manner and discuss the drafts with the supervisor and with the student; and
  3. approve the final draft of the MRP or thesis and, for the MRP, agree on a grade with the supervisor, or, for the thesis, attend and participate in the defence.

It will be the responsibility of the supervisory committee to:

  1. offer advice appropriate to the stage of the student’s work;
  2. review the student’s progress in preparation for biannual progress reviews;
  3. meet at least once to review the Research Proposal and, if applicable, formally approve the student’s admission to the thesis option by early February. Committee members should use this occasion to suggest improvements and to record their ideas about the work before it is undertaken. The formal research is not to proceed until supervisory committee members and the Graduate Program Director have reviewed the proposal and signed the Proposal Approval Form. This form will be used to indicate to which stream (MRP or thesis) the student has been admitted.

The final draft of the thesis must be approved by the Graduate Program Director, who will also attend and participate in the defence. In the case of the MRP, the Director will act as mediator if the supervisor and second reader cannot agree on the grade.

The research project is independent work and most of the responsibility for ensuring that it is completed falls on the student. The supervisory committee members provide guidance, but it is the student’s responsibility to conduct research and develop an argument, to seek help when needed and to keep the supervisor updated on the progress of the research. The student is responsible for ensuring that his or her work is completed according to the schedule outlined above, and to inform the supervisor and Graduate Program Director of any delays in meeting those deadlines.

In addition, it is the responsibility of the student to:

  1. conform to University and Program requirements and procedures with regard to registration, graduation requirements, and to MRP/thesis style and standards;
  2. in co-operation with the supervisor, ensure that all work is completed according to the timetable specified in this project;
  3. meet regularly with the supervisor to review progress;
  4. seriously consider and respond to the advice and criticism received from the supervisor and second reader;
  5. familiarize him/herself with University and Program requirements and standards for graduate studies as available in this document, in the Graduate Studies Calendar, and the university’s policy on Intellectual Property and Research with Human Participants. See web pages: |
  6. be in conformity with policies regarding employment workload at Brock University;
  7. conform to basic principles of academic integrity and professionalism with respect to the acknowledgment of sources and handling of data and in the development of a mature and objective relationship with the supervisor, second reader, other scholars, as well as fellow students and staff at the University (see the university’s Academic Integrity Policy, available online at;
  8. consult with his/her supervisor and second reader if major changes to the project are required during the conduct of the research; and
  9. maintain open lines of communication.

All research involving human participants must receive ethics approval from the Brock University Research Ethics Board. No research project, including student research, may begin before approval has been obtained. To obtain approval, researchers must complete and submit to the Office of Research Services an Application for Ethics Review of Research with Human Participants. Applications are available from the Office of Research Services.

Students’ intellectual life will be enriched at Brock by regular annual events, such as the Program’s annual visiting scholar, the “Two Days of Canada” conference (sponsored by the Canadian Studies Program) and the Brock University Film Series (BUFS). Students are also encouraged to participate in such annual conferences as “Crossing Borders”, FSAC (Film Studies Association of Canada), the FSAC graduate students conference, IASPM (the International Association for the Study of Popular Music), CSA (Cultural Studies Association), PCA (Popular Culture Association), PCAC (Popular Culture Association of Canada), or CCA (Canadian Communication Association) Financial assistance is available from the Program, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Students’ Association to help students attend and present at relevant conferences.

Students are also expected to attend and encouraged to participate in the Popular Culture Forum, a lecture series that is organised to provide students and faculty with an opportunity to present and receive feedback on their work. The purpose of the Forum is to provide students with a small audience in order to practice their skills at conference presentation. Faculty are strongly encouraged to attend the Forum in order help model the conference experience by asking questions. The Forum is also an opportunity for students and faculty to learn about ongoing research in the Program.

Students have the opportunity to communicate their experiences and concerns to the Graduate Committee through the elected graduate student representative. As well, students may convey their concerns to the Graduate Program Director, the Dean of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Students’ Association and/or other established channels as the situation may warrant. All graduate students will be informed about these avenues as part of a general orientation session for all students in the Program each September.

Fellowships are available for all full-time students admitted into the Program. As well, full-time students receive either a Teaching Assistantship or a Research Assistantship. TAs lead seminars and have marking responsibilities in undergraduate courses, usually in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film. RAs assist faculty members in their research projects. The availability of Research Assistantships depends on research needs in a given year.

According to Provincial Guidelines, “No graduate student may accept an appointment in excess of an average of ten (10) hours per week over an academic term, in which she is enrolled as a full-time student, without the prior permission of the appropriate Dean.” Ten hours is calculated nominally as the equivalent of leading two seminars. Any requests to work additional on-campus hours must be made with the appropriate form (available here: and approved by the Graduate Program Director and the Dean of Graduate Studies. For more information see the Collective Agreement between Brock University and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4207.

The above rule applies only to full-time students. Part-time students may teach seminars to a maximum number as specified in the Collective Agreement. However, students should be careful not to take on responsibilities that will interfere with their course work or the completion of their MRP or thesis. Full-time students should be aware that the Faculty of Graduate Studies does not usually allow a student to switch to part-time status in the term after their fellowship funding expires.

All graduate students working as Teaching Assistants, Seminar Leaders, Marker-Graders or Demonstrators should obtain a copy of the CUPE Collective Agreement for definitions and further information.

Homed in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, the Program is governed by the Graduate Committee drawn annually from participating faculty. Faculty on the committee will be selected by the Director annually, and must be a) teaching a course in the Program that year, b) supervising a student within the Program that year; and/or c) selected from the list of participating faculty by the Director to ensure that both Social Sciences and Humanities are represented on the Committee in any year.

Brock University maintains three specialized collections pertinent to the study of popular culture. The Popular Music Archive contains some 30,000 recordings and other items related to popular music. The Skene-Melvin Collection is comprised of 2,800 volumes of critical and bibliographical material related to detective and crime fiction and a comprehensive collection of Canadian detective fiction. As well, the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film (CPCF) maintains its own editing and screening equipment and viewing facilities as well as an extensive collection of films and television programs in VHS, LD and DVD formats. Graduate students may also borrow such materials from other Ontario universities.

Private study space for graduate students is available in the University Library. In addition, the library has created a Graduate Student Meeting Room for your convenience. The Program also provides a Graduate Student Office in SBH 325. This room acts as a computer lab, study space, and office space for students in the Program.

There are local opportunities for students to be involved in the creation of popular culture, most notably through Brock Radio, Brock TV, Brock Press, Pulse, Niagara Artists Centre, Brock University Film Series, and the Niagara Independent Film Festival.