Information for PhD specific to the department.

Information for PhD specific to the department.

This page contains information specific to the PhD programs offered by the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics. Additional important information can be found on the Faculty of Arts’ graduate page and the uOttawa graduate page.

Thesis Supervisor and Advisory Committee

Thesis Supervisor(s)

As a PhD student you have a thesis supervisor, whose role is to act as your mentor and guide throughout your program. Your thesis supervisor is responsible for both academic and administrative aspects of your progress through the program, from you begin until you graduate, typically even writing reference letters for you as you move on in your career. It is important that you identify a thesis supervisor before you apply. Applicants are not admitted into a thesis-based program without a supervisor.

It is possible, but not common, to have two supervisors. This may be a good idea if your research spans two fields or relies substantially on the expertise of two different professors. If you choose to have two supervisors, at least one of them must be a full-time faculty member at the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.

Thesis advisory committee

In addition to your thesis supervisor(s), a thesis advisory committee (TAC) will be formed by the end of your first term, to provide academic guidance in addition to that given by your supervisor(s). You should consult with your TAC early in your program, and frequently thereafter, to develop your research proposal and conduct your research. The initial formation of the TAC is the joint responsibility of the students and the thesis supervisor(s), and it formalized using this form, which must be signed by all TAC members and yourself. The composition of the TAC must subsequently be approved by the Graduate Chair. The TAC composition must comply with the following:

  • The TAC must have at least four members. In case of co-supervision, the supervisor and co-supervisor count as a single TAC member.
  • Two of the TAC members, including the principal supervisor, must be from the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.
  • Co-supervisors and additional TAC members may be experts from outside the department (including outside the university).

The composition of the TAC can change during your program, for example if the nature of your work and thus the expertise required to guide it changes from what was originally planned.

To officially form your TAC, or to change it, collect signatures and submit this form to the chair of graduate studies

The TAC members will meet with you at least twice per academic year to review your progress and discuss next steps. These meetings will happen at least:

  • Once in the first term
  • One additional time before the comprehensive exam
  • One additional time before the thesis proposal defense
Progress report, Comprehensive exam and Research Proposal

Progress reports

All graduate students are required to complete a brief annual progress report outlining what you have accomplished in the past year, and what your plans are for the following year. Your supervisor(s) will also contribute to this report. Renewal of internal and some external scholarships depends on a satisfactory report. To complete the report you must fill in section A and B of the form found here, then upload it through uoZone for your supervisor(s) to complete their own section. Your first progress report must be submitted during your 4th term in the program.


Comprehensive exam

Before the end of the fourth semester of full-time study, you must complete “GEG9998: Comprehensive Examination”.

The general purpose of the comprehensive exam is to assess your aptitude for continuing in the PhD program. Specifically, the exam will assess your performance according to two criteria:

  1. Your understanding of the broader field in which your research is situated, and
  2. Your ability to independently analyze, synthesize, critique and communicate subject matter in your field.


Given that Geography and Environmental Studies provide a very diverse space for research, we provide two options for the comprehensive exam. In close consultation with your supervisor and TAC, you may select between these two exam models:


Exam Model 1: Critical Analysis

No later than the end of the second month of the fourth term (e.g. October 31st if you started in September), you must submit, to all members of the TAC, a document that contains the four items listed below. You can start working on this document whenever you are ready.

  1. A brief (max. 1 page) description of your planned thesis research.
  2. Dates and times, agreed upon by the TAC, for the written and oral components of the exam.
    1. Two written components will take place during two 48-hour periods, separated by a 24-hour break.
    2. One oral component will take place during a 3-hour period, within two weeks of the completion of the written components.
  3. Two lists of literature, agreed upon by the TAC, each containing approximately 20 titles covering a mix of fundamental knowledge and methodology, as appropriate for the field:
    1. Literature pertinent to the broad field within which your research is situated, and
    2. Literature more specifically related to your planned thesis research
  4. If your TAC has more than four members, the document must indicate which four members participate in the comprehensive exam.

Within two weeks of receipt of the document outlined above, each member of the TAC must submit, to the Chair of Graduate Studies, two questions related to the literature listed under (3a), and two questions related to the literature listed under (3b).

The Chair of Graduate Studies will then select four questions related to the literature listed under (3a), one question provided by each member of the committee. These questions will be provided to you via email at the beginning of the first 48-hour period of the written component. You must answer two of these four questions. The answer to each question should be fully referenced and be 1500-2500 words long, excluding the bibliography section. The document containing the written answers must be emailed to the chair of graduate studies ( before the end of the 48-hour period. After the 24-hour break, this process is repeated with questions based on the literature listed under (3b).


Exam Model 2: State-of-the-Art

No later than the end of the second month of the fourth term (e.g. October 31st if you started in September), you must submit to all members of the TAC, as well as to the chair of graduate studies (, a written review of the state-of-the-art of your field of research, situated in its broader disciplinary context. You can start working on this document whenever you are ready. Depending on your discipline, this document may review the state of current debate surrounding your research direction or the state of knowledge underpinning your research question. The review must include key ideas and current questions, and describe their theoretical and empirical underpinnings. You must describe existing knowledge in sufficient detail to identify knowledge gaps and discuss their relevance. You must also ensure that you demonstrate well-reasoned criticality of the materials that you review.  Your review should be formatted as a publishable paper or book chapter, with a length between 6000 and 8000 words, excluding the bibliography.  This paper or chapter may later be included in your research proposal or your PhD thesis, if suitable. This model is particularly suitable for those students who already have a good sense of their research question and the overall form of their thesis.

Attached to this review, you must include a brief (max. 1 page) description of your planned thesis research, as well as the date and time, agreed upon by the committee, of a 3-hour period for the oral component of the exam.


Exam Evaluation and Code of Conduct

Oral exam: Within two weeks of completion of the written exam, an oral exam will take place, in which you must answer questions posed by the TAC to explain and defend your written exam. This oral exam will normally take no more than three hours, and will be chaired by a member of the department who is not part of the TAC.

Evaluation: At the end of the oral exam, on the basis of both the written and oral exam components (see the two assessment criteria listed above), the TAC will determine whether you have passed or failed “GEG9998, Comprehensive Examination”, and will provide you with feedback on your performance, including weaknesses that you should work to address going forward. The pass/fail decision will normally happen by consensus among the TAC members; if consensus cannot be achieved, the TAC members, excluding the supervisor(s), will determine the result by vote. Either way, the pass/fail decision will be communicated to you upon conclusion of the oral exam.

Consequence of failure: If you are unsuccessful in your initial attempt at GEG9998, you must complete it during the following term. If unsuccessful a second time you must withdraw from the program.

Code of conduct: To function as a test of your knowledge and abilities as a scholar, the written exam must be written and edited entirely by you, on your own, regardless of whether you choose Model 1 or Model 2. The role of the supervisor and TAC in the comprehensive examination process is limited to the suggestion of literature and discussion surrounding the rules and regulations of the comprehensive examination. Given the open-book nature of the comprehensive exam, it is up to you to understand and abide by the university’s academic integrity requirements; you must be the sole author of your written exam, and remain solely responsible for it.


Research proposal

In your PhD program, most of your time and effort is spent on your thesis research, and your research proposal is an important milestone in your progress toward completing this project. The research proposal is a written document that typically contains the following components:

  • A review of existing literature in your field of research. This must outline relevant concepts and theories, important findings, and should identify a gap in existing knowledge.
  • One or more research questions. The answer(s) to each question should serve to fill the gap(s) in existing knowledge identified in the review of literature.
  • A proposed methodology for obtaining the data and conducting the analysis to answer your research question(s). This should include any fieldwork, instruments, and software needed to execute the described methodology. It should also include an indication of whether research ethics approval is required before proceeding with the research.
  • A plan and proposed timeline for the project.

You should consult frequently with your TAC as you develop your research proposal. When it is ready, your must submit it formally to your TAC, and your supervisor(s) will organize a formal proposal defense. The proposal defense is a formal meeting in which you present your research proposal and your TAC asks you to justify it. In the term that you intend to complete the proposal defense, you must also register for the corresponding course: “GEG9001, Élaboration du projet de these de doctorat / Preparation of Ph.D. Thesis Project”.

Many PhD students start to work on their thesis research prior to a successful defense of their research proposal. This may allow you to gain a better understanding of your proposed methodology, and may even allow you to include some preliminary results in your proposal. However, starting your thesis research before having identified a suitable research question can lead you to waste time. Your TAC can guide you on getting this balance right.

If you are continuing a field of research that you started during your Master’s degree, you must clearly demonstrate that your PhD thesis is based on original research completed since beginning your master’s program.

Research proposal format

Your research proposal must conform to the following standards:

  • The length of the text must be between 4500 and 7000 words*
  • The text must be fully referenced; the reference list does not count toward the document word count.
  • Additional information (e.g. research ethics, survey forms) can be put in an appendix that does not count toward the document word count.
  • Footnotes or endnotes may be used but count toward the document word count.
  • Pages must be 8 ½" x 11" (216mm x 279mm), with minimum 1" (2.54 cm) margins.
  • All text must be in a 12 pt. sans serif font.
  • Acronyms and abbreviations must be spelled out completely on initial appearance in text.
  • Figures and tables must be explicitly referred to in the text of the proposal.

You are encouraged to also do the following:

  • Use a reference management software
  • Use a reference style that is common in your field of research

Members of the thesis advisory committee may refuse to read proposals that do not conform to these standards, in which case the proposal will be returned to the student for revision.

* To take into account the larger number of words used in the French language, proposals written in French must be between 5500 and 8500 words

Thesis Format, Submission and Defense


In order to graduate from the PhD program you must produce and successfully defend your PhD thesis. Your thesis is a written document that constitutes a contribution to knowledge. You can choose between two different formats for this document, a ‘book format’ and an ‘article format’.

Book format

The ‘book format’ is a single complete document that typically includes the following sections:

  • An introduction that outlines the theoretical framework, discusses relevant literature, and defines the research question(s).
  • An explanation of the methodology and methods.
  • A description of the results, often including maps, diagrams, graphs, and other figures for illustration. For research that has multiple distinct sets of results this section is often structured into several chapters.
  • A discussion of the results in relation to existing knowledge.
  • A conclusion that outlines the new knowledge contributed by the research.

Article format

The ‘article format’ consists of one or more articles, formatted as they would be for submission to academic journals in the field. The expectation at the PhD program is that your thesis must consist of at least three such articles, of which you are the lead author on at least two. Because these articles combine to form your thesis they must have a common theme, and the thesis must, in addition to the articles, include an introduction to the thesis as a whole, as well as a conclusion that outlines the contribution to knowledge provided by the thesis as a whole. The article(s) that appear in an article-format thesis do not have to be published or even submitted for publication by the time you submit your thesis. It is also important to note that the fact that an article has been accepted for publication does not guarantee that the corresponding article-format thesis is acceptable to the thesis examining committee.

In general, there is a tendency for ‘science’ theses to be written in article format, whereas ‘arts’ and ‘social science’, theses tend to be written in the book format. This is by no means universal within any discipline, and the choice of format rests with the student, in consultation with the TAC.

Thesis submission

As your thesis nears completion, you should submit drafts for review by the TAC. When it is ready, as determined in consultation with the TAC, you must formally submit your thesis via uoZone. Your TAC will then read through the final version and provide you with formal comments on it, including a determination of whether is it ready for you to defend or not. This formal evaluation has three possible verdicts:

  • The thesis is accepted for defense.
  • The thesis requires substantial revision to meet the standards required for the degree; a revised version of the thesis must be submitted to the examining committee before the defense can proceed.
  • The thesis fails to meet the standards required for the degree, and the student must withdraw from the program.

When the thesis is ready to defend your supervisor(s) will organize the thesis defense.

Thesis defense

The thesis defense is a formal meeting in which you present your thesis and justify it in front of an examining committee. The examining committee is normally composed of the members of your TAC, as well as an external examiner who must be at arm’s length from both yourself and your thesis supervisor(s), and free of substantial conflict of interest. The defense is chaired by another full-time faculty member from the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics. The thesis defense proceeds as follows:

  • The defense chair and the examining committee deliberates in private to discuss any important issues related to the thesis and its defense.
  • The student presents a brief overview of their work, typically for no more then 20 minutes.
  • In turn, each member of the TAC asks the student questions related to the thesis. After this first round of questions a second round may be used to follow up on remaining issues.
  • The chair and examining committee evaluates the defense in private.

The thesis evaluation will result in one of the following verdicts:

  • The thesis meets the degree requirements, but minor corrections must be made. The student has one month to complete the thesis revisions.
  • The thesis meets the degree requirements, but major corrections/revisions must be made. The student has three months to complete the thesis revisions.
  • The thesis does not meet the degree requirements. If this is the first thesis defense, the student may make revisions to the thesis and schedule another defense with the same examining committee. If this is the second thesis defense, the student must withdraw from the program.

In the term that you intend to complete the thesis defense, you must also register for the corresponding course: “THD 9999: Thèse de doctorat / Doctoral Thesis”.

Final thesis submission

When the thesis defense and the required revisions are complete, the student must submit the final version of the thesis to the uOttawa library. Once submitted and accepted by the library, you have officially completed all degree requirements and can call yourself a doctor!

Time of completion

Most PhD students submit their thesis close to the end of their fourth year of studies, and complete their thesis defense soon afterwards, but the time to completion can vary. PhD students have a maximum of six years to complete all degree requirements; after this special permission for continuation of studies can be granted based on sufficient justification and support from the thesis supervisor.

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