Graduate Student Guide


The Graduate programmes of the Philosophy Department are governed by the regulations of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies of the University of Ottawa. Students are expected to consult the Calendar of the Faculty for the details of the general regulations and procedures.

The regulations of the Office of the Vice-Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies are basic requirements which apply to all graduate programmes at the University. Consistent with these are additional regulations and policies of the Department of Philosophy, for which this guide is an essential reference.

Administration of the Department and Graduate Studies

The Graduate Studies Committee of the Department is composed of two faculty members, the Department Chairperson, and the Director of Graduate Studies, who also chairs the Committee. This Committee is responsible, at the departmental level, for assessing applications for admission to graduate programs, as well as applications for graduate scholarships, such as the Ontario Graduate Scholarship and the M.A. and Ph.D. scholarships offered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The Committee examines and approves proposed pairings of students with research supervisors, as well as the proposed composition of thesis committees. The Graduate Studies Committee also oversees the revision of graduate programs and recommends to the Steering Committee fields of specialization to be developed and graduate courses to be offered. The Committee consults with graduate student representatives as appropriate.

Programmes and Regulations

a) Programmes offered

The Department of Philosophy offers graduate programmes leading to the M.A. (With or without thesis) and the Ph.D. in Philosophy.

There is also a programme of qualifying study that prepares students for admission to the M.A. when they lack the necessary background, and a programme of accelerated admission to the Ph.D. after only a year at the M.A. level.

b) Master's Programme (M.A.)

i) Admission requirements:

Candidates must have an Honours B.A. in Philosophy (or the equivalent) with at least a B average (70%). The Department may require an entrance examination.

An application dossier must include official transcripts, two letters of recommendation and a sample of written work.

Qualifying programme: Candidates lacking the necessary background in philosophy can gain admission to the Master's programmes by way of a period of qualifying studies. The qualifying programme may involve as many as ten courses at the undergraduate level. Upon satisfactory completion of the qualifying programme, candidates must apply for a new admission to the Master's programme.

ii) Degree Requirements:

Master's programme with thesis:

  • 4 courses (unless otherwise stated, 'course' means 'three-credit course').
  • Approval of thesis project
  • Thesis and defence

Master's programme without thesis:

  • 8 courses
  • In exceptional cases, students may fulfill some of their course requirements by taking courses in another department.

iii) Residence:

It is possible to prepare for the M.A. entirely on a part-time basis. A part-time student cannot take more than two courses per session.

iv) Duration:

The Department encourages full-time M.A. students to complete the degree requirements within two years. Charts showing the recommended sequences for completion may be found further down this page.

c) Doctoral Programme (Ph.D.)

i) Admission Requirements :

Candidates must have an M.A. in Philosophy (or the equivalent with at least a B+ average (75%).

An application dossier must include official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a description of the intended field or research, and a sample of written work. Candidates wishing to enter the Ph.D. Programme without an M.A. degree must include a detailed statement of research plans in their application dossier.

Accelerated Admission: The Department offers to students enrolled in the Master's Programme in philosophy the possibility of an accelerated entrance to the Doctoral Programme. Accelerated admission requires the completion of six courses with a minimum A- average (80%) and a major research paper. Normally these requirements can be fulfilled within twelve months. Candidates accepted into the Ph.D. Programme by this accelerated route do not require an M. A. Degree.

ii) Degree Requirements for the Doctorate (Ph.D):

  • 6 courses
  • Comprehensive examinations
  • Approval of thesis project
  • Thesis and defence

iii) Residence:

Students in the Ph.D. Programme must spend at least four sessions (not necessarily consecutive) in residence as full-time students.

iv) Duration:

The Department encourages full-time Ph.D. students to complete the degree requirements within four years, although a fifth year may be necessary in some instances. See also page 22 for diagrams of sequence of completing requirements.

d) Language Requirements (for all programmes)

Proficiency in both English and French is strongly encouraged so that students may take advantage of the full range of activities -- lectures, personal contacts and courses -- available in the Department. (Graduate courses are normally not duplicated in the two languages).

To be eligible for a graduate degree, all students must satisfy a second-language requirement. For anglophone students, this can be done in three ways:

  • Passing (50%) the FLS 1000 exam; OR
  • Completing 6 credits of FLS courses at your level (as determined by the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute); OR
  • Successfully completing a Philosophy graduate seminar given in French. (N.B. As per University regulations, students may write examinations and papers in the official language of their choice.)

Ph.D students must have sufficient mastery of languages to carry out properly their research project; that is, they must be capable of studying texts in the original language.

Components of Programmes and Sequences of Completion

a) Courses

A Graduate course consists of a three hours of contact per week between professors and students (for a period of at least 13 weeks).

In each programme, normally no more than two courses may be completed with the same professor.

b) Comprehensive Examinations (Ph.D.)

Doctoral students in philosophy are required to write a set of comprehensive examinations at the beginning of their second year. This section explains the aim and content of the exams and what is expected from students who write them.

The Aim of the Exams: Comprehensive exams are intended to (i) challenge students to engage philosophical problems and approaches they might not otherwise encounter when pursuing study in their area of specialization, (ii) help students develop areas of teaching competence, and (iii) improve students' general knowledge of the discipline.

The Content of the Exams: Students are required to write three exams and must choose these by selecting one theme (indicated below by a letter) in each of the following three main areas:

  1. History of philosophy:
    1. Ancient and Medieval Philosophy; or
    2. Modern and Contemporary Philosophy.
  2. Value theory:
    1. Ethics and Political Philosophy or
    2. Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Culture and Philosophy of History.
  3. Metaphysics/Epistemology:
    1. Logic and Philosophy of Science or
    2. Theory of Knowledge and Metaphysics.

A reading list for each theme is provided in May. A list of up to 8 examination questions for each theme is provided by the Department in July. The examinations take place between the middle and end of September. At that time, students will receive a finalized list of 4 questions for each theme. Students must answer 3 of these 4 questions for each theme. Students have 2 days from the time of receiving an examination to prepare and submit their answers. Each answer must be typed and double-spaced, and be between 1,200 and 1,500 words, with the word count indicated at the end. Each exam is graded by two faculty members (usually among those who set the exam). Each exam is deemed either to pass, to fail or to pass with distinction. A student who fails an exam may either rewrite the exam in February of the following year (with the same reading list and questions) or write a new exam the following September. No more than two exams may be rewritten and no exam may be rewritten more than once.

What is Expected of Students?

There is more to passing a comprehensive exam than simply familiarizing oneself with the relevant texts and repeating their content in answer to questions. To pass a comprehensive exam students must demonstrate not only that they understand the assigned readings but also that they appreciate and are able to address the philosophical issues at a sophisticated level. Above all, this means reflecting on the question itself and addressing it in light of the text studied. Depending on the exam and the reading assigned, this might require that students know something of the context in which the works were written (e.g., who a given reading is directed against and why). It might require knowledge of an author's general philosophical method or approach. It might also involve knowledge of the impact of an assigned text and critical responses to it. In addition to carefully studying the assigned readings, therefore, students are expected to enrich their understanding of assigned readings by, for example, looking at works by the same author that might illuminate an assigned text and by reading relevant secondary literature on assigned texts or authors.

Answers to exam questions should take the form of a short essay and should have a proper introduction, conclusion and citations as required. Students should address each question in the form in which it is asked and consider all of its parts. If there are technical terms in the question, students are expected to find out what they mean and, where appropriate, to consider various ways of defining them. Students should be prepared to consider objections to the views advanced in assigned readings, to recognize and reflect on any significant or controversial assumptions contained in the readings, and to consider subtleties of interpretation. Merely paraphrasing the readings is not sufficient, and quoting texts should be kept to a minimum and not be a substitute for explaining them. It is not necessary to refer to secondary literature, but it is permitted and may be helpful. Still, even when secondary sources are used, the aim should not be merely to repeat what others have said but rather to demonstrate the ability to provide an insightful analysis of the assigned texts.

Questions about the examinations may be addressed to the Director of Graduate Studies.

c) Approval of Thesis Projects

Submission of thesis project: All thesis projects, whether for the M.A. or Ph.D. are drawn up in consultation with the appointed supervisor and must be submitted in written form to the Graduate Studies Committee, together with suggested names for thesis committee members, 2 for an M.A. thesis committee, and 3 for a Ph.D. Forms for this purpose are available from the Academic Assistant. Normally thesis committee members will be both members of the philosophy department and members of the Office of the Vice-Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Of course, the student must have received the professors' agreement before putting forward their names.

Thesis Project Seminar: The seminar is held before the thesis supervisor and a committee and is chaired by a delegate from The Graduate Studies committee. It is open to the public. The candidate gives a ten to fifteen-minute oral presentation of the project. The supervisor and the consultants are entitled to be active questioners and explorers of the project, and to vote on the result. At the end of the seminar, the jury deliberates in confidence and decides either to approve or to reject the project; in the latter case, the jury gives reasons and also advises as to whether a revised project should be submitted or a new one.

Requirements and standards of evaluation for the seminar will be appropriately different for M.A. and for Ph.D. projects.

Deadlines: Full-time M.A. students (in the thesis programme) should submit their project by the end of their fourth registered session, that is, in the usual case, by the end of the fall term of their second year. Part-time M.A. students should submit their project by the end of session following completion of course requirements.

Ph.D. students should submit their project by the end of their sixth registered session, that is, by the end of their second full year.

d) Thesis

The procedures for thesis supervision have three aims:

  1. To assure the quality of the thesis.
  2. To guarantee and respect the academic freedom of the thesis examiners and the candidate.
  3. To furnish the candidate with the knowledge of having been judged fairly and respectfully.

After the approval of the thesis project, the candidate will carry out research under the supervision of the thesis director and the members of the thesis committee. The latter will be the supervisor's consultants until the submission of the thesis. However, the co-supervisor cannot be a member of the thesis jury. A co-supervisor may be selected at the discretion of the supervisor and with the approval of the Graduate Studies committee.

The thesis supervisor will set up with the candidate a time-table of meetings to monitor the student's progress.

The master's thesis should normally be 75-125 pages, and a Doctoral thesis should normally be 175 -250 pages. Exceptions require the approval of the thesis committee.

The jury for a Master's thesis will include at least two internal members, in addition to the jury chairperson. The jury for a Doctoral thesis will include at least three internal members, and an external member, in addition to the jury chair. In both cases, the internal members will be chosen from among the thesis consultants. In the case of a Doctoral thesis, the external examiner is chosen by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the thesis supervisor.

The M.A. thesis should reveal that the candidate is able to work in a scholarly manner and is acquainted with the principal works published on the subject-matter of the thesis. It should be the fruit of substantial, independent reflection and probing by the author. A systematic exposition together with some illuminating comparison, juxtaposition, or suggested critique would constitute an acceptable, and if finely done, an excellent thesis.

A Ph.D. thesis must constitute a significant contribution to knowledge in the field, embody the results of original investigation and analysis and be of such quality as to merit publication, at least in part, once the necessary revisions and corrections have been made.

e) Sequences for Completion

As an MA student you are normally expected to register full-time for three sessions. This requirement will be waived if you complete all eight courses in the autumn and winter sessions of a single year.

If you wish to register for your third session in the fall of your second year, you are under no obligation to register in the summer session of your first year. This also applies if you have an admission scholarship covering three sessions.

You may also complete your course requirements during the summer session, subject to the availability of summer courses.

  • M.A. with thesis: 4 courses. (2/2) + directed thesis research (with defence of thesis)
  • M.A. without thesis: 8 courses. (3/3/2)
  • Ph.D: comprehensive examinations, directed research and Ph.D thesis research (with defence of thesis)

The following recommended rates of progress and sequences are intended as norms and guidelines for full-time students. Adjustments may be necessary in particular cases.


MA (with thesis)


1st year 2 courses 2 courses Preparation of thesis project
2nd year Approval of thesis project Thesis Defence


MA (coursework)


1styear 3 courses 3 courses 2 courses
3 courses 3 courses No registration
2nd year 2 courses    



1st year 3 courses 3 courses Preparation for 
comprehensive exams
2nd year 15-30 Sept. 
Comprehensive exams
Approval of thesis project Thesis
3rd year Thesis Thesis Thesis
4th year Thesis Thesis Defence


Guidelines for Preparing a Thesis Project Proposal

The thesis project proposal is an outline of the work you intend to complete in writing your dissertation. According to the general regulations of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, “a Master's thesis should reveal that the candidate is able to work in a scholarly manner and is acquainted with the principal works published on the subject of the thesis. Insofar as it is possible, the thesis should be an original contribution. A doctoral thesis must constitute a significant contribution to knowledge, embody the results of original investigation and analysis on the part of the student and be of such quality as to merit publication.” The aim of the thesis project proposal is to demonstrate to the members of your thesis committee that your project meets the relevant criteria and that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to complete it successfully.

The thesis project proposal is to be written under the guidance of your thesis supervisor. However, you are permitted to circulate a draft of it to the members of your thesis committee for comments prior to submitting a final version for examination. There are also copies of successful proposals available at the department secretariat for you to consult.

Your proposal should include the following:

  1. PERSONAL INFORMATION: Provide your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. Also indicate whether you are in the M.A. or Ph.D. program and the name of your thesis supervisor.


  2. THESIS TITLE: State the title of the thesis. Make sure it is concise and clearly indicates the thesis topic.
  3. PROJECT SUMMARY: Give a complete and clear explanation of the aims of your research, the specific problems or questions you intend to address and the main steps in the argument of your thesis.

  4. REQUIRED LANGUAGES: State your knowledge of the foreign languages required to carry out your project, if any.

  5. BIBLIOGRAPHY: List the references that are relevant to your thesis project. While this list may be expanded later, it should be extensive enough to demonstrate that you have the background knowledge required to complete your project. For each work listed, provide standard bibliographical information and a brief explanation of its significance for your project (e.g. in what ways you propose to rely on or challenge it).

  6. PREVIOUS WORK IN THE FIELD: Explain how the research you propose to do relates to the work done by others in the field and what contribution to scholarship your thesis will make.

  7. TABLE OF CONTENTS: Provide a table of contents for your thesis. While this table may be changed later, it should demonstrate that you have a coherent argument for your thesis. Chapter and section titles should be as precise and informative as you are able to make them at this stage.

SUPERVISION OF STUDENTS The Director of Graduate Studies acts as interim advisor to all newly admitted graduate students, assisting them in selecting suitable courses and seeking out regular advisor (thesis supervisors). Ideally, the student is expected to have found a thesis supervisor by the end of the second session of registration.

Financial Assistance

a) Scholarships from the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research

The admission scholarship applies to Canadian citizens or permanent residents who will study in a Master's or a PhD program. For details, please consult the website of the Office of the Vice-Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

(Limited funding is available for international students. More information is available on the Awards and financial support for international master's student page.)

b) External Scholarships

A number of agencies including the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program (O.G.S.- Ontario Provincial Government), the Fonds de la recherche du Québec sur la société et la culture (F.R.Q.S.C - Quebec Provincial Government) and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (S.S.H.R.C.- Canadian Federal Government) award graduate studies scholarships annually. Students who receive an admission scholarships are now required to apply for external scholarship. Applications must be made in the early Fall. Information and forms are available from the Department.



Assistantships and part-time teaching

The Department of Philosophy offers teaching assistantships. Although priority is given to those who hold University of Ottawa admission scholarships, the Department of Philosophy may nevertheless award assistantships to other students based on the availability of funds. Please contact our Administrative Assistant for application procedures.

Apart from these assistantships, the Department also offers part-time teaching opportunities, in which the student has full charge of the course. Such teaching is normally reserved for advanced Ph.D. students. All opportunities for part-time teaching are publicly advertised in the Department and on the Website.

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