UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
Department of Geography

Ph.D. Programme in Geography

The Nature of the Ph.D. Programme

The Ph.D. is a research degree, emphasizing the development of an independent, self-motivated, and disciplined approach to learning. Skills of critical analysis, of abstraction, of interpretation, and of clear oral and written presentation are essential. The student is expected to develop and demonstrate these qualities in an original, scholarly dissertation.

Programme of Study

It is the responsibility of the Ph.D. student, closely assisted by a Supervisor and a Supervisory Committee, to work out the programme that best serves the student´s needs and to complete all graduation requirements.

Ph.D. students are required to take 9 credits of coursework. All incoming Ph.D. students are required to pass either GEOG 500 (3 credits) or GEOG 520 (3 credits). The Supervisory Committee may request students to take additional courses.

In addition, the programme should:

  • stand as a coherent whole that is directed toward clear, academic objectives;
  • permit a satisfactory rate of progress; and
  • be sufficiently demanding to ensure that each student has an opportunity to demonstrate competence and potential eligibility for fellowship and research support.

The Ph.D. programme in Geography at UBC is neither as structured as that in many American departments nor as informal as has been common in England and elsewhere in the Commonwealth. The first year is given, characteristically, to reading, to seminar courses, to the formulation of a research topic, and to preparation for the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination.

When the Comprehensive Examination has been passed and the proposal has been accepted, the student will be admitted to Candidacy and the candidate´s time will then be devoted to research and writing.


The Supervisor

Before being admitted into the Department, all applicants will have to have a potential Supervisor, who is normally the faculty member whom the applicant preferred and has corresponded with as well as has expressed willingness and interest in serving that capacity and directing the student at the time of her/ his disposal.

Once the applicant has been admitted into the Department, the potential Supervisor will become his/her Research Supervisor. Therefore, it is essential that student and Supervisor be able to work closely together, and that both understand and accept the responsibilities of the relationship. Generally speaking, the Supervisor's essential task is to provide close academic guidance directed toward the completion of a Master´s degree. Therefore, Supervisor should be accessible to students at every stage for consultation and discussion of their academic progress and research - from formulation of their project through establishing methodology and discussing results, to presentation and possible publication of their dissertation. In addition, the Supervisor will also assist the student with the financial planning associated with a graduate programme. Overall, the Supervisor-graduate student relationship is assumed to be based on mutual respect and trust. However, if the relationship between student and Supervisor becomes unworkable (from either party´s point of view), the Chair of the Graduate Committee should be informed in writing. Research Supervisor may be changed at any time before the end of the first term in the Department by a letter to the Chair of the Graduate Committee in which the proposed change and the reasons for it are set out. Changes, thereafter, are still possible, but must be authorized by the Head of the Department. Visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies for detailed information on Research Supervisor's roles/responsibilities and Grad Policy for Supervisors.

A programme of study will be developed by the student and the Supervisor, in consultation with the Graduate Committee, preferably before classes commence in September, and in any case no later than the end of the first week of the first term. Students should discuss in advance with their Supervisor, the activities involving large time commitments that might conflict with their enrolment status or with the normal academic requirements of Doctoral study.

The Supervisory and Examining Committee

Every Doctoral student's programme is overseen by a Supervisory Committee that is chaired by the Supervisor. This Committee should be identified as soon as possible in the student's programme, preferably prior to the Spring Review when the Comprehensive Examination will be defined, or in any event by early in the second year. The Doctoral student´s Supervisory Committee is responsible for guiding the student in planning research and preparing the thesis. In addition, each Committee member participates in the preparation and evaluation of the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, and in the evaluation of the thesis proposal. Each member reads and comments on the thesis before its presentation in final draft form, and participates in the public, oral examination of the thesis arranged by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

In most cases, the Chair of the Supervisory Committee will be the Supervisor of the thesis research. The Chair of the Committee must be a full member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies from a department authorized to offer the Doctoral degree and normally has had previous experience serving on Doctoral Committees or as Research Supervisor or Chair of Doctoral Committees. If the Chair leaves the University but the thesis is close to completion the Chair may, with the permission of the Dean of Graduate Studies, continue. In this case, a co-Chair who is a full member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies must be appointed.

Committee members are suggested by the Supervisor in consultation with the student, and are approved by the Chair of the Graduate Committee. The Faculty of Graduate Studies requires that the student´s Committee comprise of at least three faculty members. The Department of Geography prefers that the student's Committee comprise four members, at least two and not more than three of whom are members of the Department of Geography. The membership may include faculty from other departments and other universities, and will be normally at least Assistant Professors. With the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies, the Committee may also include qualified persons who are not faculty members. When persons from outside the University are proposed, a memo requesting approval should be sent to the Dean of Graduate Studies, with a justification and curriculum vitae of the person(s) nominated. However, the majority of the Committee must be from UBC.

Evaluation and Examination

Spring Review

An oral review is required for all Doctoral students in the spring of their first year in residence.

Comprehensive Examination

A Comprehensive Examination is required of all Doctoral students. It is intended and designed to test a student´s understanding of the chosen field of study as a whole and the student´s preparation for the thesis research to follow. Normally, it will be held after completion of all required coursework, and is in addition to any course examinations. According to UBC Faculty of Graduate Studies, students are expected to complete their Comprehensive Examination within 24 months from the date of initial registration. The Comprehensive Examination is consists of:

  • written examinations at the discretion of the student´s Committee and
  • an oral examination after the written papers.

In normal circumstances the following timetable should be observed by Ph.D. students; any departures from these arrangements must be approved by the Graduate Committee:

  1. No later than the Spring Review during the first year of residence, the areas of Comprehensive Examination should be defined (four in physical geography or three in human geography) and the members of the Supervisory Committee identified (since each Committee member needs to participate in the preparation and evaluation of the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, the Supervisory Committee, in most cases, is also the Comprehensive Examination Committee). The comprehensive areas and Committee membership should then be communicated to the Graduate Committee by the Supervisor.
  2. Three months before the Examination and ordinarily no later than September 30 of the second year of residence, Reading Lists should be compiled by the student and her / his Committee members in order to define the scope of the Examination. At the same time, the Supervisor should also inform the student in writing of:
    • the dates of the written examination;
    • the scope of the written portions of the Comprehensive Examination and the various parts of the Examination that will be set by each examiner;
    • the format (e.g. open book exam, number of parts, etc.) and date and scheduling of the written examinations; and
    • the date and place of the oral examination (other faculty members, and graduate students, may attend the oral examination, but not, of course, participate in its formal evaluation).
    The student should send to the Chair of the Graduate Committee two copies of the Reading Lists for inclusion in the student's file and the open file of Comprehensive Examinations, together with a copy of the Examination timetable. The Graduate Committee should advise students and Supervisors on proposals, which seem unduly narrow or unduly broad. The examinations are intended to be comprehensive and areas should reflect that level of generality.
  3. At least four weeks before the written examination, the Supervisory Committee will meet to agree on the specific wording of all examination questions. The onus is on the student's Supervisor to ensure that the appropriate number and range of questions are selected and agreed upon.
  4. In accordance with the Faculty of Graduate Studies´ requirement that the Examination tests the student´s grasp of the chosen field of study as a whole, the examination will require:
    • the ability to review critically and assess major contributions to the field of study;
    • knowledge of the intellectual history and current state of a specific theme; and
    • the ability to respond creatively to a theoretical or an applied research problem.

After the oral examination, the Supervisor shall immediately inform the Chair of the Graduate Committee the result and include comments upon performance and two copies of the examination questions for inclusion in the student's file and the open file of Comprehensive Examinations. A grading system of pass or fail will be employed. The student will be informed, in writing, by the Supervisor, of the result as soon as possible. Should a student fail part or all of the Examination, a student may (at the discretion of the Supervisory Committee) be given the opportunity to resit all, or part of the Comprehensive Examination within three months. In the event that a second Oral Comprehensive Examination is required, the Oral Examination will be audio taped and the tape stored in the Departmental safe. When the Examination is deemed to have been passed, or any ensuing disputes have been resolved, the tape will be destroyed forthwith. In the case of disputes, the Departmental Graduate Committee and the Faculty of Graduate Studies may be consulted. Until the Comprehensive Examination, a student´s status is, to some extent, provisional; having passed it and after receiving Committee's approval of her / his formal thesis proposal, the student is accepted as a Ph.D. Candidate by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and has the Department´s confidence. Candidacy also requires completion of the residency period and of all required coursework.

Formal Thesis Proposal

A formal thesis proposal is required of all Doctoral students. For Ph.D. (Geography) students, it is submitted a few months after successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination, but in some cases, it is available at the time of that Examination.

In a thesis proposal, the student must indicate that a viable topic for research has been identified, that its significance is understood, that the needed data are available or may be generated, and that the appropriate research techniques have been mastered. The format of thesis proposals varies, and a student should consult with her / his advisor about an appropriate format. The thesis proposal is submitted in writing to the student's Supervisory Committee which then meets with the student. A student may be asked to reconsider and resubmit a proposal, but the emphasis is on refinement and revisions rather than on assessment to pass or fail. When a thesis proposal has been accepted by the Supervisory Committee, the Supervisor places a dated proposal signed by the Supervisor in the student's file. From this time (if not before), the student is expected to be immersed in research.

Admission to Candidacy

The basic requirements for a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography to be admitted to candidacy are:

  • residency period has been fulfilled;
  • all required course work has been successfully completed;
  • the comprehensive examination has been passed;
  • the Supervisory Committee has certified that the thesis proposal has been approved.

Although some departments require foreign language as an additional criteria for being admitted to candidacy, there is no general language requirement for the Ph.D. programme in Geography at UBC. The Department assumes that students working on topics for which many of the sources are not in English will have, or acquire, the relevant language(s).

As mentioned in the earlier section, students are normally expected to complete their Comprehensive Examination within 24 months from the date of initial registration. A student who is not admitted to Candidacy within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program. Extension of this period may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate Studies in exceptional circumstances.

As soon as a student has satisfied all requirements, the Department will recommend to the Faculty of Graduate Studies that the student be admitted to candidacy. This status is then entered on the University´s Student Information System (SIS). Advancement to candidacy and the date all requirements were met will appear on the student's transcript.

Length of Thesis

Normally the thesis will not exceed 350 pages of text. For details on thesis formatting, submission, contacts, and useful information, visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies' Masters and Doctoral Thesis Submission site.

Evaluation of Thesis

Normally, a Thesis is read first by the Candidate´s Supervisor, who discusses early drafts with the student. Well before submission of the final draft, the Thesis is circulated for comment and suggestions to the other members of the Candidate´s Supervisory Committee. Only when all members of the Supervisory Committee have read a draft of the Thesis and a majority have accepted it for Doctoral Oral Examination should the final version be presented. Some Candidates may wish to prepare a Thesis entirely on their own, and to present it for Doctoral Oral Examination without having gone through the consultation just outlined. Although risky, Candidates have every right to follow this procedure.

Doctoral Oral Examination Timeline

Please visit the following sites to obtain relevant information concerning Doctoral Oral examination:

Doctoral Candidates must be aware of the four sets of annual deadlines listed in the one of the link above, which correspond to the three annual program end dates (April 30, August 31, and December 31) and to the two annual graduation ceremonies (May and November). In order to ensure eligibility for the correct program end date, the deadline for each step of the Doctoral Oral Examination process must be met.

Also, please note that due to limited availability of External Examiners, University Examiners, and Examination Chairs, there are two blackout periods each year (August and mid-December-mid January), during which no examinations may be scheduled. Candidates on extensions expiring August 31 or December 31 must complete their examinations before the applicable blackout period.

For detail on the Doctoral Oral Examination, please contact the Doctoral Examinations Coordinator (604-822-3989) or the Doctoral Examinations Assistant (604-822-0487) or simply read: Oral Examination Guide

Thesis Submission

Submission of one original unbound paper copy of the thesis to the Faculty of Graduate Studies is a requirement for convocation for thesis-based master's and doctoral students. Submission of theses must be made by the student, in person, to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

In order to be accepted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, theses must adhere to the published thesis formatting requirements, and must be accompanied by all appropriate paperwork/forms.

Please refer to the Thesis Submission Checklist to ensure that you are submitting all appropriate paperwork. This checklist must be completed, signed, and submitted with your thesis.

Please note that a degree will not be conferred until a thesis that meets the acceptable standard has been submitted. The responsibility for submitting a thesis in the correct format rests with the student.


Department of Geography - Faculty of Arts - The University of British Columbia
1984 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Phone: 604-822-2663 Fax: 604-822-6150
© The University of British Columbia, all rights reserved.