Dissertation and Defence

Dissertation Proposal

A PhD student is required to submit to IRES a dissertation proposal that has been accepted by his/her supervisory committee.

Contents and Format

The dissertation proposal is meant to be comparable in structure and style with those normally expected of pertinent research funding agencies. While format may be somewhat variable across funding agencies and research foci, the attributes of a good proposal are defined for our purposes as follows:

FRAMING: Set a broad context for your general area of inquiry, in terms of the real-world challenges that it addresses (citations desired) and the relevant academic approaches, theories, and contributions (citations expected).
QUESTIONS: Phrase research questions and (as appropriate) hypotheses.
RELEVANCE: Put your Questions (2) in context of academic literature and real world application (citations expected). Why is your chosen question timely and important to the field and to the broader world? (Note that in your actual proposal it is often rhetorically effective to put this section before the statement of your research question so that it seems as if your chosen question is the consummate, natural question to ask.)
METHODS: Express methods you will use to address your Questions (2) (cite relevant work as appropriate). These should be do-able within your time-frame and given available resources.
WORKPLAN/BUDGET: Provide a rough work plan and budget. The work plan should document the major steps in your methods and roughly when they occur in time. The budget should identify the major line items associated with your methods and approximately how much they would cost. (For admissions proposals, we do not expect formal quotes or precise times or values.)
IMPLICATIONS: Briefly discuss expected implications of your work, for the academic and non-academic worlds. What academic theories will your work contribute to? What future research will it enable or guide? What real-world decisions might be informed by your work?


Regardless whether the proposal is coupled or decoupled from the comprehensive exam, it must be approved by the core supervisor and at the supervisory committee. Ideally, the proposal should be vetted and defended in a formal committee meeting, but evidence of electronic conversation or minutes of meetings that reflect suggestions and comments aimed at revision, followed by accepted completion of revisions, are sufficient. In the event of a conflict within a committee, the proposal should be referred to the Graduate Advisor who will seek out a departmental examiner in order to resolve any questions pertaining to departmental standards.

Following the successful completion of the comprehensive exams and proposal, including all written and oral portions, the student will advance to candidacy, provided that all course work has been completed.


The timeline of the comprehensive exam and dissertation proposal will depend on whether the student is following option A or B for the written portion of the exam.

For option A (a “stand-alone” work), the student will normally complete their comprehensive exam by the middle of their second year of PhD studies. In exceptional cases, it is acceptable for students to delay, for example because the lead supervisor of the student’s research is on leave, or because the student wishes to complete a field season or preliminary investigation so as to better understand, define, or delimit his/her PhD research. An elongated time frame must be approved by both the supervisory committee and the RMES Graduate Advisor. The student is expected to complete their dissertation proposal in the semester that follows the exam.

Students who, in consultation with their committees, elect option B (where the written part of the exam forms part of the dissertation proposal), will be expected to have submitted their proposal and completed the oral component of the exam by the end of the second year of studies. Again, when written exemptions are granted for preliminary field seasons, the time frame will vary. It is also the case that more time is warranted, and can be granted with the permission of the supervisor, when a student wishes to use the comprehensive exams as substantive ‘thought’ pieces of the kind that necessitates extra labour and time to mature intellectually. This option is particularly important to programs such as IRES where the interdisciplinary endeavour is a significant departure for the student and/or involves considerable exposure to literatures heretofore unfamiliar to the students.
It is the responsibility of the supervisor to make sure that the student is aware of possible risks (such as financial constraints) that may be caused by delaying the comprehensive exam. Minutes should be taken from the meeting in which such issues are discussed and agreed upon and submitted to the Graduate Secretary who is to file the information in the student’s file.

The requirements above are the same for Master’s students who transfer to a PhD program after their first year, that is, the period of time they spent as a Master’s student is included in the expected 24-month time frame. A PhD student who has not passed his/her comprehensive exam and proposal defense within 48 months of full-time study will be required to withdraw from the program.

Doctoral Degree Defense

For the PhD the defense examination process is administered by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS).

Information about deadlines and requirements may be found on the GPS’ Doctoral Defense Page.

Click here for the GPS Doctoral Defense Guide.

Committee composition

GPS stipulates that the doctoral examination committee must be comprised of the following: 2 or 3 supervisory committee members (including the supervisor), 2 university examiners, and an external examiner (who provides a written report but usually does not attend in person). In addition, GPS appoints a chair for the final doctoral exam.

Click here for Information on the GPS rules concerning the External Examiner.

Departmental examiner

For RMES students, 1 of the university examiners must be a departmental examiner, i.e., an IRES core faculty member or faculty associate. For more information please see Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies policies and information regarding University Examiners.