PhD Programs

PhD students work closely with a faculty supervisor, who is selected by the student in consultation with the Associate Chair, Graduate at the time of admission, and with a Supervisory Committee of at least two graduate faculty members (at least one of which must be appointed to geography) in addition to the supervisor/co-supervisors.

The expectation is that PhD degrees will be completed on a full-time basis within four years of initial registration. The School of Graduate Studies requires that the thesis be submitted within six years of initial registration in the program.

PhD students must complete the following program requirements:


Students must complete a minimum of three, up to six courses, depending on their field of study.

    • Physical geography students must take a minimum of three half-credit courses (i.e., 1.5 FCEs) to be completed by the end of the first year. (1) GGR1200H; (2) one geography course; (3) one elective course in any subject.
    • Human Geography students must take a minimum six half-credit courses (i.e. 3.0 FCE), a minimum of four half-credit courses must be completed by the end of the first year. (1) GGR1110H; (2-3) two geography courses; (4) one course from outside geography; (5-6) two elective courses in any subject.

Annual Progress Reports

The supervisory committee must meet at least once per academic year to review the student’s progress and plans for the following year.

PhD Comprehensive Examination

Students will take a written and oral comprehensive exam between June of year one and no later than December of year two. The purpose of the exam is to ascertain whether a student has obtained an adequate knowledge base to continue in the PhD program; to ascertain any knowledge gaps and suggest remedial action; and to provide a student with the opportunity to get a broad perspective on their chosen field of study.

PhD Research Proposal Examination

Students will submit a research proposal which is defended before the supervisory committee. Ideally, the research proposal should take the form of a paper of about twenty to forty pages in length which includes a statement of the problem, research questions, a discussion and literature review of the research context in which it is set, research objectives or hypotheses, a brief outline of the data sources and methods, a draft survey or guiding questions for interviews (where appropriate) and a suggested timetable for completion. There should be a discussion of methods and methodology that makes reference to the literature on methodology. The proposal should provide a rationale for the choice of methods and discuss any ethical issues stemming from the research (if appropriate).

PhD Candidacy

When all requirements exclusive of the thesis have been met, the student has achieved PhD Candidacy. When all requirements exclusive of the thesis have been met, a student has achieved PhD Candidacy. The department requires students to achieve candidacy by the end of year two. School of Graduate Studies policy requires that candidacy is achieved by the end of year three.

Thesis and Departmental Thesis Examination

The thesis shall constitute a significant contribution to the knowledge of the field and must be based on original research conducted while registered for the PhD program. The topic for the thesis will have been approved at the proposal defense. The completed PhD thesis will be examined in a Departmental Thesis Examination. The examination committee consists of the supervisory committee. One or more additional members can be from outside the Department of Geography & Planning if required.

School of Graduate Studies Final Oral Examination

The Final Oral Examination is the capstone experience of the PhD program. Students will defend their dissertation before an Examination Committee which will include an appraiser (external to the University) and at least one graduate faculty member who has not been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis (in addition to the supervisor and other members of the supervisory committee).

For complete details on PhD program requirements above please review the Geography Graduate Handbook.