PhD Program

The PhD 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.

Program Start Date

All students will normally begin their PhD studies in September of the year of admission.

January Start Date: Under exceptional circumstances, PhD students may be permitted to defer entrance until January. Students must obtain approval from the Graduate Advisor and the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies prior to September. Students who wish to defer entrance until the following September will be required to reapply.

Such students will undergo the usual Spring Review in May (see below) and are expected to take GEOB 500 / GEOG 520 in September.

Program of Study

The PhD student, closely assisted by a Supervisor and a Supervisory Committee, is responsible to work out the program that best serves the student’s needs and to complete all graduation requirements.

PhD students are required to take 9 credits of coursework. All incoming PhD students are required to pass either GEOB 500 (3 credits) or GEOG 520 (3 credits). The Supervisory Committee may request students to take additional courses.  In addition, the program 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.


Our program structure is neither as structured as that in many American departments nor as informal as has been common in Europe.

The First Year:

The first year is given, characteristically, to reading, to seminar courses, to the formulation of a research topic, and to preparation for the Comprehensive Examination.
Spring Review:

An oral review and a written report is required of all PhD students in the spring of their first year. The purpose is to allow students:

  • to establish a Committee;
  • to set the dates of major milestones; and,
  • to discuss their research plans with their Committee.

The Second Year

Comprehensive Examination:

A Comprehensive Examination is required of all PhD students. It is 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 the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral 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.

Formal Thesis Proposal:

A formal thesis proposal is required of all PhD 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.

Please review our Comprehensive Examination Policy (pdf, 30kb).

The Third and Later Years

When the Comprehensive Examination has been passed and the Formal Thesis Proposal has been accepted, the student will be admitted to Candidacy. Candidacy also requires completion of the residency period and of all required coursework.

According to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, students are expected to be admitted to Candidacy within 36 months from the date of initial registration.  If you do not meet this requirement, you must apply for an extension.

From then on, the candidate’s time will then be devoted to research and writing.


Length of Thesis – Normally it will not exceed 350 pages of text.

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.

For detailed information, please review the Thesis Preparation and Submission Guide.

Doctoral Oral Examination

All Doctoral students must defend their theses before they can graduate.

The purposes of the Doctoral Oral Examination are:

  1. to ensure that the Candidate is able to present and defend the thesis and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results, and conclusions in a manner consistent with the doctoral degree being sought;
  2. to communicate the results of the work to the campus community.

For detailed information, please review the Doctoral Oral Examination Guide.


Please review our graduation requirements.

Time Limit

University regulations establish a six-year time limit for the completion of a doctoral program.


Students are normally required to spend a minimum of three winter sessions at the University.

Those holding a Master’s degree (or equivalent) may, on the recommendation of the Department, have this period of time reduced by the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Students who have been permitted to transfer from a Master’s to a Doctoral program must be resident for at least one year following the transfer.

Full-time vs. Part-time

It is not possible to complete a PhD by part-time research.

All PhD students will be automatically assessed with the Schedule A fees since they have to be in full-time status.

For more information on the fee schedule, please review the Tuition page.