Detailed Program Requirements (PhD)

The primary requirement of the PhD program is the completion of original research on a topic within the general field of Environmental Science. Students are expected to develop their ideas about a suitable research topic with the help of their supervisor and their supervisory committee within the first year of their studies, during which time the bulk of their course work is also expected to be carried out. Students are expected to spend the majority of their time on their thesis projects for the duration of their program, and to publish their findings as their work develops, culminating in a PhD thesis that summarizes their work in paper or traditional thesis formats as appropriate. 


All students in the PhD program must take a minimum of 2.0 full-course equivalents (FCE) which includes the following:

  1. EES 2200H Advanced Seminar in Environmental Science 0.5 FCE
  2. 1.5 FCE from an approved course list in the graduate program or from courses listed in cognate disciplines. The courses are chosen so as to provide the student with the supplemental knowledge and or analytical skills important to finding the answers to their chosen research questions.

All Direct-entry PhD students must take a minimum of 3.0 full-course equivalents (FCE) which includes the following:

  1. EES 2200H Advanced Seminar in Environmental Science 0.5 FCE
  2. 2.5 FCE from an approved course list in the graduate program or from courses listed in cognate disciplines. The courses are chosen so as to provide the student with the supplemental knowledge and or analytical skills important to finding the answers to their chosen research questions. Courses selected must be approved bu the student's supervisor and the Graduate Chair. In some cases, additional courses may be required if a student's preparedness is assessed as being insufficient.

Students may apply to take a number of PhD-level courses taught by the core faculty both within DPES and outside DPES that can be considered for the PhD degree. If students want to take a graduate course offered by another graduate department at the University of Toronto, they need to complete an SGS Request to Add a Course form and submit it to the Graduate Programs Assistant-PhD so that it can be approved by the Graduate Chair of Physical and Environmental Sciences.

The student’s research supervisor is responsible for recommending the composition of the student’s supervisory committee. This committee should consist of the supervisor (and co-supervisor if any) plus two other members, or more in some circumstances. Two members should be drawn from the faculty appointed to the DPES-PhD program. Other members from different departments may serve on the committee if they have expertise of importance to the student’s project. Students must fill out the PhD Supervisory Committee Approval Form and submit to the Graduate Administrator.

The supervisory committee should meet for the first time prior to August 31 of the year following enrollment. Thereafter, the supervisory committee should meet at least once per academic year by the end of August.

At the first supervisory committee meeting the student should provide background information on their research interests and an outline of their proposed research. The committee will review a draft proposal and provide advice on how to improve it. The committee will also review the student’s skills and course selections. A PhD Supervisory Committee Meeting Report should be completed and submitted to the Graduate Administrator (along with the Annual Progress Report detailed below).

A final supervisory committee meeting should be held approximately three months before the final thesis exam to ensure the student is adequately prepared and that thesis is nearing completion.

In the winter term of the first year, students are required to present a mock research proposal seminar as part of the mandatory  EES2200 class. During this presentation, faculty and students will provide constructive comments that can be discussed with the supervisory committee. Students should aim to have a draft research proposal submitted to their supervisory committees by the end of the winter term. Once the proposal is submitted, the Supervisory Committee will meet to review draft proposal and provide advice on how to improve it. The full research proposal should be prepared for the fall so that the proposal appraisal and defence can take place within 16 months on first registration.

All PhD candidates are examined on the progress of their PhD program at a Proposal Appraisal ideally held in the second year of studies. The examination consists of a 20 minute presentation given by the student on the proposed thesis work followed by a question period of approximately one and a half to two hours. The emphasis of the exam is on the theory and proposed approach, rather than on progress to date. For additional information along with a suggested outline, please see the PhD Proposal Appraisal Committee Member Approval Form, the PhD Proposal Appraisal Report and the PhD Proposal Appraisal Instructions.  

Prior to each Supervisory Committee meeting, students should submit a progress report of 3- 10 pages length that summarizes their progress in their research, providing background information, proposed experiments/studies, completed experiments/studies and future work, including anticipated timelines as appropriate. The Progress Reports can be accompanied by materials such as draft questionnaires, initial tabulations and analysis results, or draft thesis chapters. (For further details see the SGS Calendar).

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

Graduate students are required to remain in “good standing” in their programs and they are required to continually make “satisfactory progress” toward the completion of their degree requirements. Good standing refers to the requirement of minimum grade performance (see SGS Calendar) in course work and the successful passage of written and oral examinations, among other degree requirements. Satisfactory progress refers to the speed and the timeliness of progression through degree requirements such as course work, examinations and research milestones.

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

When writing the thesis, consult the “Producing Your Thesis” section of the SGS website. Historically, the PhD thesis has taken one of two distinct forms. The first is a traditional format that includes separate sections for the Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results and Discussion. The second is a series of published, submitted or in-preparation articles from the primary literature. Either format can be used, provided that the following requirements are met:

  • A general abstract for the entire thesis should be provided at the beginning of the thesis.
  • A list of abbreviations and a detailed table of contents are required. This facilitates the job of the reviewer and allows readers to quickly find data/definitions.
  • A general introduction to the thesis must be provided. This should include the overall hypotheses/objectives of the study and the motivation for undertaking the investigation.
  • Detailed materials and methods must be provided. The purpose of this section is to permit a reader to repeat your experiments. If citing methods of others, insure that the method is correct and state any modifications of it. If your thesis is a series of papers, it may be appropriate to present detailed methods in an Appendix.
  • The results section often is divided into sub-sections or chapters, each describing a facet of the research. It is often appropriate to use individual research papers as chapters.
  • A general discussion is given at the end of the thesis. This should be a synthesis of the research undertaken and a narrative of how it impacts that of others, and its general signficance. If the format is a series of papers, the general discussion is an absolute necessity, especially when the individual chapters address different aspects of the general topic.
  • Appropriate references to the literature must be included. If the format is a series of papers, reference lists may be included in the individual chapters. Alternatively, individual chapter lists should be omitted and a complete reference list placed at the end of the thesis.
  • The contribution of any other investigators to the study and/or to the writing of the thesis should be clearly stated at the beginning of the thesis. This is especially important for theses that are a series of multi-authored papers, and each chapter should be prefaced by a statement detailing the contributions of others.
  • Tables and figures (plates may be an exception) should be dispersed throughout the text as appropriate for ease of reading. They should NOT be grouped at the end of each chapter.
  • A thesis should be viewed as a coherent complete work. It should not frustrate reviewers by having too many things repeated in each chapter (a common complaint) or by the need to search for figures and tables or references that are not rationally placed.

The Physical & Environmental Science PhD program requires that all PhD candidates present their thesis for evaluation to a Departmental Defence Committee Meeting before proceeding to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) PhD Final Oral Examination.  It is recommended that at least 10 weeks before the FOE, the candidate consult with both their supervisor and the PhD Program Assistant to schedule the Departmental Defence.  The Departmental Defence should be held at least eight weeks prior to the SGS PhD Final Oral Examination.  The Departmental Defence Committee should ideally consist of the thesis supervisory committee plus two other faculty member drawn from the graduate faculty of the PhD program, one of whom can act as the examination chair.  Once the members of the Departmental Defence Committee have been selected, please send the PhD Departmental Defence Committee Member Approval Form and the PhD Departmental Defence Committee Meeting Report to the Graduate Administrator so that the composition can be reviewed and approved by the Graduate Chair.  The Departmental Defence Committee should receive copies of the thesis at least two weeks prior to the Departmental Defence. 

The PhD candidate must have their PhD thesis examined at the Departmental level before proceding to the more formal Final Oral Examination that is conducted by the School of Graduate Studies.

Planning for the final oral examination must begin at least eight weeks before the proposed date(s) of the examination. Note that the two-week closure in December does not count. The final oral exam can be held at the School of Graduate Studieson the St. George campus or on the UTSC Campus.

At Least Eight Weeks or Earlier Prior to the Proposed Exam Date(s)

  1. Supervisor must submit a list of three potential external appraisers via E-mail to the Graduate Office. The list should be in order of preference. For each name listed, the reason for the choice is presented with specific regard to the subject of the thesis. To fulfill SGS requirements, the external examiner must be a member of the graduate faculty at another university, and must be an Associate or Full Professor (or equivalent) at the home institution. The potential external examiner will be of high academic standing with an established record in research, and demonstrated leadership in the particular research field, which should include successful supervision of graduate students themselves. This does not preclude scientists from industry or government agencies of equivalent professional standing, but special permission must be obtained by the Vice Dean of Graduate Studies in these cases. The first choice is generally approved unless the Associate Dean at SGS deems the first choice unsuitable. To avoid issues with SGS and delays, the supervisor and the student should make sure that there is "arms-length" relationship between the external examiner and the rest of the examination committee.
  2. The supervisor and student discuss the potential members of the Examination Committee. The quorum for voting members is four. However, School of Graduate Studies requires five voting members to obtain approval from the SGS Vice-Dean to book the examination. In case of emergency and one of the members is unable to make it, the candidate can proceed with the examination since it meets the quorum. Maximum of three of the voting members of the Exam Committee will have served on the candidate's Supervisory Committee. At least two voting members (including the external examiner) will not have been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis. Eligible voters are the external appraiser, members of the graduate faculty in the Physical & Environmental Sciences Department and members of the graduate faculty of other departments, centres or institutes of the University of Toronto.
  3. Once the Graduate Office receives the list of the potential members of the Examination Committee (please use the PhD Final Oral Examination Booking Request Form), a request is forwarded to the SGS Associate Dean for pre-approval. Once approved, the Graduate Office may contact the members, including the external appraiser for their availability to determine acceptable dates for the examination. It is not required that the external examiner be present at the examination. Teleconference or videoconference is available upon request. The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) provides a Chair for the exam.
  4. The Physical & Environmental Science PhD program requires that all PhD candidates present their thesis for evaluation to a Thesis Approval Committee before proceeding to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) PhD Final Oral Examination. The Thesis Approval Meeting must be held six to eight weeks prior to the SGS PhD Final Oral Examination.

At Least Six Weeks or Earlier Prior to the Exam Date

  1. Student submits a copy of the thesis to the Graduate Office. The office will forward the thesis to the external examiner via Courier.
  2. DPES Graduate Office books the examination with the SGS PhD Office and sends out a final confirmation of the examination date and location to the candidate and members of the examination committee.
  3. DPES Graduate Office sends a copy of the thesis to other committee FOE members (including the supervisory committee)

At Least Two Weeks or Earlier Prior to the Exam Date

  1. External Examiner will be expected to submit a written appraisal prior to the Final Oral Examination. The written appraisal must be received by the Graduate Office at least two weeks before the examination date. If the appraisal has not been received one week prior to the exam, the department is asked to reschedule the final oral examination.
  2. A copy of the external appraisal is forwarded to the candidate, members of the Examination Committee, Graduate Chair and the Ph.D. Office. The student may discuss the appraisal with members of Examination Committee except with the external appraiser. The candidate may have the option to revise the thesis and postpone the examination date at this point.
  3. An examination program is forwarded to the candidate and members of the Examination Committee as a final confirmation along with the name of the Examination Chair.
  4. Review Voting Procedure (PDF).

Once revisions to the thesis have been completed to the satisfaction of the supervisor, and following confirmation with the DPES Graduate Office, the student must submit an electronic copy and a $20 administrative charge to the School of Graduate Studies. The supervisor should send an email to the PhD Office at SGS, verifying that the thesis is ready for submission. Electronic submission of the thesis became mandatory in autumn 2009. Simple step-by-step instructions on how to prepare, format, convert to PDF, and submit an electronic thesis (ETD) tothe Thesis repository (T-Space) are available on the university’s ETD Web-site:(

Academic fees for doctoral candidates in the final year of his or her 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 to check their eligibility.