PhD Programs

The PhD program is taken in the following broad fields: physical geography and natural systems, environmental geography and resource management, urban/economic geography, historical/social/cultural geography and spatial information systems. Students may also be required to acquire knowledge of a foreign language necessary to complete their research.

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. The student and the faculty supervisor then select a committee of faculty members with related research interests. Their function is to act as the core committee, which evaluates the research statement, the doctoral exam, the research proposal and the dissertation. The Associate Chair, Graduate must approve the committee’s composition before the committee holds its first meeting. Subsequent changes in committee membership must be similarly approved.

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.

Please see the Graduate Handbook for further information.

Timeline to Completion

The average time to completion of the PhD program in Geography & Planning as of 2016 was 5.6 years. The School of Graduate Studies requires that the thesis be submitted within six years of initial registration in the program however extensions beyond six years can be requested.

  • Year 1 (September – April) = Completion of Coursework
  • Year 1 (January – June) = Form supervisory committee, identify areas of concentration and prepare draft reading list for comprehensive exam
  • Year 1 (May – June ) = Annual Progress meeting, present draft comprehensive exam reading list to supervisory committee
  • Year 1, 2 (June-December) = Comprehensive exam
  • Year 2 (June – no later than September Year 3) = Research proposal exam
  • Year 2, 3 = Research, data collection, writing and annual progress meeting
  • Year 4 = Research, data collection, writing, annual progress meeting, internal and SGS defense examinations

Coursework

All students in the PhD program must take a minimum of three half-credit courses (i.e., 1.5 FCEs) to be completed by the end of the first year. 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. PhD students who enter the program from a bachelor’s degree must complete an additional three half-credit courses (i.e., 1.5 FCEs) in addition to the normal minimum doctoral course work requirements. Students who have enrolled in collaborative programs may have additional coursework requirements (consult Collaborative Specializations for information).

Physical Geography and Natural Systems: Three half credit courses (i.e., 1.5 FCE), one half-credit of which must be the core course (GGR1200H). At least one half-credit course must be taken in geography or from an approved listing of courses available from the department. One half-credit course may be taken from outside the department. Students who have completed the core course (GGR1200H) at the master’s level may take an alternative geography course, approved by the supervisor and Associate Chair, Graduate.

Environmental Geography and Resource Management: Six half-credit courses (i.e., 3.0 FCE), one half-credit of which must be the core course (GGR1110H, GGR1200H). At least one half-credit course must be and as many as three half-credit courses may be taken in other departments.

Urban/Economic Geography: Six half-credit courses (i.e., 3.0 FCE), one half-credit of which must be the core course (GGR1110H). At least one half-credit course must be and as many as three half-credit courses may be taken in other departments.

Historical/Social/Cultural Geography: Six half-credit courses (i.e., 3.0 FCE), one half-credit of which must be the core course (GGR1110H). At least one half-credit course must be and as many as three half-credit courses may be taken in other departments.

Spatial Information Systems: Four half credit courses (i.e., 2.0 FCE), one half-credit of which must be the core course (GGR1200H). At least one half-credit course must be taken in geography or from an approved listing of courses available from the department. At least one half-credit course must be and as many as two half-credit courses may be taken in other departments. Students who have completed the core course (GGR1200H) at the master’s level may take an alternative geography course, approved by the supervisor and Associate Chair, Graduate.


Supervisory Committee

During the second term of the first year, the student and supervisor will assemble a Supervisory Committee.

The Supervisory Committee consists of the supervisor/co-supervisors, at least one additional geography graduate faculty member and an additional graduate faculty member from any graduate unit. Additional members can be added if necessary. The Supervisory Committee meets with the student to review progress at least once a year, administers program exams, and regularly provides advice on future work.

Annual Progress Reports

Progress review meetings must be held at least once per academic year, typically between April to June of each year (or more often at the discretion of the Associate Chair, Graduate). The Supervisory Committee will assess progress and plans for the following year and prepares an annual progress report which must be submitted to the graduate office for review by the Associate Chair, Graduate. The report is recorded in the student’s ROSI record.  It is the responsibility of the student to schedule progress report meetings.

For the first progress meeting (held during the student’s first year), the student should fill out the annual progress report form and bring a draft comprehensive reading list for discussion to the meeting. The timeline for writing the comprehensive exam should be established at this meeting. The student should also include 2-3 paragraphs on the proposed thesis area or topic. Annual reports for each year should include a list of activities undertaken in the past year, such as publications, courses, conference presentations, teacher training activities, professional development activities and progress on the dissertation (data collection, number of interviews completed and transcribed, document analysis undertaken, chapters completed, etc.). Progress reports can also be accompanied by materials such as draft questionnaires and interview guides, initial tabulations and analysis of results, and chapter summaries. The student should also construct a timeline for work to be completed and activities to be undertaken in the following year.

If a Supervisory Committee reports that a student’s progress is unsatisfactory in each of two consecutive meetings, various sanctions may be recommended, including ineligibility for fellowships or termination of registration. A student who, through their own neglect, fails to have a meeting in a given year will be considered to have received an unsatisfactory progress report from the committee.

PhD Comprehensive Examination

Students will take a written and oral PhD Examination administered by the supervisory committee between June of year one and no later than December of year two. The examination requirements are slightly different for human geographers than they are for physical geographers reflecting the different needs of the discipline. 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. The scope and three (human geography) or four (physical geography) areas of concentration of the examination are to be jointly determined by the supervisory committee and the student. They are to be laid out in the draft comprehensive reading list and are to be confirmed in the first progress meeting. It is the responsibility of the supervisory committee to review and approve the draft reading list by a deadline established jointly by the supervisor and student. The scope of the exam cannot be changed after this stage.

The student should seek the advice of all committee members in preparing for the comprehensive examination. In consultation with the supervisor, the student should compile an appropriate draft reading list for each area of concentration by June of year one. The draft reading list should be circulated to all committee members for their comments and should form the basis of the examination. Normally, the total number of readings is approximately 100, but may be shorter or longer depending on the number of books included in the list. Students may wish to consider subdividing each area of concentration into 2-4 themes and should include a summary of what they see as the major issues covered in each area.

The supervisor is responsible for preparing the examination paper on the basis of input received from the committee members. The detailed instructions should be finalized in consultation with the student and committee members.

Exam Format

For human geographers, the exam will cover three areas of concentration and will have three questions in each area. For physical geographers, the exam will have four areas of concentration with two questions in each area. In both cases, the student must answer one question from each area of concentration. The questions will be based on the reading list and may not extend into material not covered by the reading list. The PhD examination is comprised of a written section and an oral section. The student may choose one of the three following formats for the written section:

  • One-Day Examination: The student writes the exam over eight hours in a closed room on campus. The examination is open book and internet access is not permitted. Citations should be included from the comprehensive exam reading list, where relevant. These can be cited in text, i.e. (Harvey, 2008). The expected length of each of the three answers for human geographers is 2000-2500 words and the expected length of each of the four answers for physical geographers is 1500-2000 words.
  • Two-Day Examination: The student writes the examination over two periods, amounting to eight hours in total, at least one day apart. All other conditions for the exam are the same as the one-day examination.
  • Five-Day Examination: The student writes the exam over a five day period (including weekend days if the exam period includes a weekend) either on or off-campus. The examination is due at the same time of day it is collected by the student (e.g. an exam that starts at 9am on a Thursday will be due at 9am on the following Tuesday). It is expected that students will cite their work, citations will be drawn exclusively or primarily from the reading list. There is no need to attach a list of references for books or articles included in the examination reading list. The few, if any, additional references to works cited that are not on the reading list can be attached to the end of each answer. Responses will be more in-depth than the one day exam. The expected length of each response is 3500-4500 words for human geographers and 2500-3500 words for physical geographers (not including the list of references/bibliography).

The written examination should be submitted electronically by the student to all committee members and the graduate office by the due date and time. The student should ask the committee members whether they would also like to receive a paper copy and, if so, the student is responsible for making a copy and providing it to the faculty member as soon as possible.

The oral examination (with the full examination committee) should take place not later than one week following the submission of the written exam. It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for a date, time and room for the oral examination and to provide this information to the graduate office. The graduate office will prepare an examination file which must be returned immediately following the exam.

Exam Results

At the time of the oral examination, the committee should base its evaluation of the student on the following criteria:

  • The quality of the written responses: mastery, coverage, and communicative clarity for all questions on the examination;
  • The quality of the oral defence of written responses and to questions not answered in writing: in terms of capturing the essence of the questions posed; ability to address the concerns raised and to deliver reasoned answers to legitimate criticisms;
  • Oral responses to any questions related to the scope of the exam.

The supervisor should ensure that each committee member is satisfied with the answers to questions that he or she submitted for the examination. The outcome of the comprehensive exam is one of the following:

  • Pass
  • Conditional Pass. Student must satisfy conditions specified by the exam committee within three months, subject to final approval of the committee or a subset of the committee, which must include the supervisor(s). Failure to satisfy conditions by this date shall result in a failure of the exam.
  • Fail. If this is the first failure, the student can repeat the exam within six months. The department will recommend termination of a student’s graduate program if the student fails the repeat exam.

Conditions typically imposed for a conditional pass can include re-writing one or more questions or clarifying all or part of an oral answer in writing.

Exam Timeline

  • Year 1 (Jan – April) = Assemble a supervisory committee
  • Year 1 (Jan – June) = Identify areas of concentration and prepare a draft reading list
  • Year 1 (no later than May – June) = Present a draft reading list to the supervisory committee for the first progress meeting
  • At least 2 months prior to the exam = Establish date for approval of the final reading list by the supervisory committee
  • At least 2 month prior to the exam = Student schedules exam and informs graduate office of the date
  • Within 3 months of the exam = If the outcome of the exam is conditional pass, all conditions must be satisfied
  • Within 6 months of the exam = if the outcome of the exam is a fail and this is the first failed exam, the student must repeat the exam.

GGAPSS and the department have produced some PhD Comprehensive Exam Tips for students preparing to take their exam.

Research Proposal

The research proposal should be prepared when the student has settled on a research topic; completed a preliminary exploration of the sources; and identified the problem and defined a research strategy. 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). The research proposal should be defended prior to extensive research. It should not constitute a draft of the final thesis.

A Research Proposal must be submitted and defended before the supervisory committee at the research proposal examination. The committee will advise the student on the acceptability of the proposal and will decide on any further steps to be taken in shaping the dissertation research project. The outcome of the proposal exam is one of the following:

  • Pass
  • Conditional Pass. Student must satisfy conditions specified by the supervisory committee (within three months) subject to final approval of the committee or a subset of the committee, which must include the supervisor(s). Failure to satisfy conditions by this date shall result in failure of the exam.
  • Fail. The student must repeat the exam within six months.

The conditions will be attached to the research proposal examination form and typically include requests for revisions to theory and methodology. Examples of requested revisions might include additional reading on theory, reconceptualization of the theoretical approach, or additional research into the feasibility or appropriateness of the methodology. To keep on track for time-to-completion the department recommends the research proposal be defended by June of year two and no later than September of year three. Normally, all required coursework will have been completed by the time of the research proposal exam but in some cases the research proposal can be presented earlier with the agreement of the supervisory committee.

It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for a date, time and room for the examination and to provide this information to the graduate office. The graduate office will prepare the examination file that can be collected just before the exam and returned immediately following the exam.

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. Students who have not achieved candidacy by the end of year three will not be permitted to register in future sessions unless the an extension has been approved.

Good Standing and Satisfactory Progress

Graduate students are required to remain in good standingin their programs and they are required to continually make satisfactory progress toward the completion of their degree requirements. This includes the requirement of minimum grade performance in course work, the successful passage of written and oral examinations among other degree requirementsand the speed and timeliness of progression through degree requirements as assessed by the supervisory committee at the annual progress meeting.

Failure to maintain good academic standing or satisfactory progress may result in various sanctions, including ineligibility for fellowships or termination of registration.

The Thesis

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 defence.

The thesis may take one of two forms. The traditional form is a manuscript thesis. An alternative form is the paper thesis.

The paper thesis will normally consist of a minimum of three journal articles considered publishable in, or that have been published in, good quality journals. The journal articles must meet four criteria, as determined by the supervisory committee:

  1. The student is listed as the first or sole author of the paper when submitted for publication.
  2. The student has done the following: had a primary or significant role in conceptualizing the paper, designing the methodology, collecting and analysing data.
  3. The student wrote the first draft, and revised later drafts after feedback from the supervisor, committee members or co-authors.
  4. The paper is truly part of the dissertation project (i.e. it would not have been written if not for the student’s dissertation and cannot count toward anyone else’s dissertation project).

It is recommended that the student and supervisor discuss these criteria and the expectations for authorship of the papers as early as possible and no later than the proposal defense.

Both types of theses should be based on a coherent topic with an introduction presenting the general theme of the research and a conclusion summarizing and integrating the major findings. In the paper thesis, it may be appropriate to pull out common elements of the papers (e.g. methodology or literature review) into a separate chapter. Pagination should be continuous for both types of theses; there should be a common table of contents, appendices as need, and the thesis should have an integrated bibliography.

The thesis should be formatted according to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Formatting Guidelines.

Departmental Thesis Examination

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 if required. The graduate office must be notified that the exam will take place at least one week prior to the exam date and will prepare the examination file that can be collected just before the exam and returned immediately following the exam.

The thesis must be provided to the examination committee 4 weeks prior to the examination date. The graduate office must be notified of the exam details 2 weeks prior to the examination date. The graduate office will prepare the examination file that can be collected by the supervisor just before the exam to be returned immediately following the exam.

School of Graduate Studies Final Oral Examination

A Final Oral Examination Committee will conduct the Final Oral Examination (FOE). The departmental recommendation is that the committee include six voting members. The examination committee may include no more than three members of the Supervisory Committee (including the supervisor/co-supervisor) and at least three examiners who have not been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis. Eligible for inclusion in the latter group are the external appraiser (in person or by audio connection), members of the geography graduate faculty who have not read the thesis, and members of the graduate faculty of other departments, centres, or institutes of the University who have not read the thesis. A quorum is four voting members (including at least one member of the supervisory committee and two external examiners). The School of Graduate Studies must approve the composition of the FOE committee.

The School of Graduate Studies, on the recommendation of the Associate Chair, Graduate, appoints the external appraiser. The external appraiser must:

  • Be a recognized expert on the subject of the thesis and should be external to the University of Toronto;
  • Be an Associate or Full Professor at their home institution;
  • Have an arms-length relationship with both the candidate and the supervisor;
  • Receive a copy of the thesis (from the graduate office) at least six weeks prior to the exam.

Scheduling the Final Oral Examination begins a minimum of eight weeks prior to the proposed examination date.Please see Timeline for Scheduling a PhD Final Oral Exam for instructions.

Detailed guidelines for composition of the exam committee, appointment of the external appraiser and the exam procedures are contained in the SGS guidelines for doctoral exams.

Submission of the Final Thesis

Once any final revisions or modifications have been made, the final thesis must be submitted to SGS. A bound copy must also be submitted to the department within four weeks of SGS submission. Consult the SGS thesis submission instructions for information.

PhD Final Year Fees

Academic fees for doctoral candidates in the final year of their program are pro-rated based on the twelve-month academic year. Incidental fees are charged on a sessional (term) basis. A fee schedule is available at Student Accounts.

The month-to-month fee schedule does not apply to reinstated students. Students who have been reinstated will have received a notice from the School of Graduate Studies stating the terms of his or her reinstatement, along with the total amount owing for the reinstatement.

International students may be eligible for a partial refund of their UHIP. Please note that there are deadlines for such refunds, and students should contact the Centre for International Experience for information on eligibility.