PhD Candidacy

PhD students achieve candidacy when they have:

  1. completed all required course work,
  2. passed the comprehensive examinations (both written and oral),
  3. completed a dissertation proposal and had it approved by their supervisory committee.

The student’s supervisor must notify the graduate program assistant of successful completion of the comprehensive exams and the proposal, in order that the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) can be formally notified. G+PS will send the student confirmation by e-mail that they have entered candidacy.

Having achieved candidacy, the student can begin work on the dissertation, the culmination of the PhD program.


Students entering the PhD program take a minimum of 12 credits of course work at the 500 level. GRSJ 500, 501 or 515A, and 502 are all required. Students who have already done comparable course work should discuss this with the graduate program chair.

Depending on their academic backgrounds, students may be required to take additional course work (in addition to the minimum 12 credits) at the discretion of the supervisory committee in consultation with the graduate program chair.

PhD programs of study are individually planned in consultation with the research supervisor and the supervisory committee, and as approved by the graduate program chair. The student’s prior work (including seminars, reading courses, honours essay, and MA thesis) will be assessed in order to ensure comprehensive coverage.

Core Courses

The following core courses are typically taken in the first year:

  1. GRSJ 500 (3) Intersectional Issues in Social Justice and Equality Studies
    A two-term seminar organized around the bi-weekly Wednesday Lecture Series and faculty seminars. Required for first year MA and PhD students.
  2. GRSJ 501 (3) Issues in Decolonizing and Feminist Methodologies
    Explores approaches to decolonizing and feminist methodologies using multiple qualitative approaches, including ethnography, interviewing, oral history, textual and archival analysis. The goal of the course is to discuss epistemological and ethical methodological issues and produce a draft proposal.
    GRSJ 515A (3) Critical and Creative Social Justice Studies Seminars
    Learning, research, and practice opportunities for students interested in creating artistic work that engages with critical tools and formulations developed in critical racial and anti-colonial, feminist, queer, and trans* social justice work. This series of instructor-led seminars provide students with the opportunity to study with GRSJ core and associate faculty, UBC faculty, as well as academics, artists, and activists, from Vancouver, Canada, and other parts of the world.
  3. GRSJ 502 (3) Issues in Gender, Sexuality and Critical Race Theories
    Introduces students to key issues at the intersection of Queer, Trans, Feminist and Critical Race Theories. We will examine a variety of cultural texts (eg, fiction, film) and new models of academic and cultural engagement with a radical democratic politics.


Electives must have the approval of the research supervisor and may be chosen from the following:

GRSJ 503 (3-9) Special topics
These courses vary in focus.

GRSJ 505 (3-6) Directed Reading
Undertaken with the supervision of a faculty member selected by the student, with the approval of the Graduate Advisor. See the Directed Reading approval form and instructions: see the “Forms” section of this Handbook

 GRSJ 511 (3): Difficult Knowledge: Ethics and Praxis of Research in Challenging Settings
Interdisciplinary seminar considering the ethics and praxis of working with difficult knowledge, such as highly divisive questions of memory and responsibility in the context and aftermaths of oppression and mass violence.

Graduate courses from other UBC departments may be taken as electives.

Undergraduate courses are not eligible for credit towards a PhD program.


GRSJ 606 (0) PhD Thesis
Students will be automatically registered in the PhD Thesis for the duration of their program.


A comprehensive examination is required by the Faculty of Graduate and Postgraduate Studies in all doctoral programs. The examination is intended to further develop and assess the student’s breadth and in-depth knowledge of the discipline, their ability to conduct independent and original research, and their degree of preparation for their dissertation research. The student will write the exam essays over 6 weeks and the committee will read the exam essays over 3 weeks. An Oral Critique must follow within 4 weeks of completion of the essays.

Year 1, Term 2: By the end of their second term in the program, a student should have established a committee (supervisor and at least two members). The supervisor should be an expert in the student’s field and a GRSJ faculty member or associate. Where appropriate, the student may change supervisor or committee members with permission from the GRSJ Chair of Graduate Studies (CGS). Students should think very carefully before attempting to change topics of study (particularly as this has implications for supervision, committee membership, and so forth). It is the student’s responsibility to find new supervision should a change be approved.

Exam Topics

Lists 1 and 2: In consultation with the supervisor and supervisory committee, the student determines two reading lists that will form the basis of the comprehensive exams.  The intent of the reading lists is to allow the student to situate themselves as a scholar in the chosen fields and to provide evidence of depth and breadth of knowledge in relevant scholarship. Some students choose to organize the exam materials around a primary field with a secondary field comprised of a methods or theory list or relevant historical materials; others propose to approach a single research question through two lists in different disciplines. In an interdisciplinary environment such as ours, it is expected that exam lists will be tailored to the individual project.

List 3 in our PhD Comprehensive Exam will consist of selections from the Social Justice Reading List (SJRL). The SJRL is a required  reference list for PhD students who joined the program in the 2016-17 academic year and following.

Please note:

  1. Ensure you discuss with your supervisor and committee members your plan to include some texts from the list in your exams
  2. There are three readings lists (2 you create in consultation with your committee and the SJ Reading list created by faculty) but only two.

Year 1, Term 2: At a meeting between the student and supervisory committee at the end of Year 1 (or in the beginning of Year 2) the reading lists of the qualifying exam are finalized. Once finalized, the lists should be shared with the CGS and graduate program assistant no later than September 30th of the second year.

Each reading list typically consists of no more than 50 items (including articles, chapters, and a maximum of 30 books) for a total of 150 items.

The examination consists of essays written in response to questions posed by the comprehensive exam committee and Oral Critique. We encourage a model whereby questions are decided upon jointly with the student. It is expected that the two written essays will be completed and submitted during the same 6-week period.

Comprehensive Exam Process

At the beginning of the exam process, the student and supervisor should develop a ‘terms of reference’ that will be shared and agreed upon by the entire Pro Tem Supervisory Committee. The terms of reference will outline the goals of the exam, the topics and chosen subfields for the exam, as well as the written products, relevant timelines and any other details that will help to clarify expectations. For instance, this may take the form of a letter or agreement or it may be elaborated as headnotes introducing each reading list and the questions or goals to be pursued in the list, accompanied by timeline.

After developing the examination questions in consultation with the Supervisory Committee and the student, the Supervisor will submit the examination questions to the graduate program assistant and to the student. The examination questions are based upon the terms of reference, the reading lists and the research plan shared in conversationor writing between the student and individual members of the committee.

The Candidacy Papers

The supervisor forwards the approved questions to the student by e-mail on the morning of the first day of the 6-week exam period. The student chooses two questions for two essay responses. The essays are 20-25 pages (double-spaced) each (not inclusive of endnotes and bibliography). The writing process is non-consultative, which means that committee members do not read drafts although they may discuss concepts and texts during this period. A copy should be submitted to each of the supervisory committee members (paper or electronic, depending on their preference) and an electronic copy submitted to the graduate program assistant for the student’s record.

The committee has 3 weeks to read the essays, to determine a Pass/Fail and to agree to continue to the Oral Critique, which may be held at any time in the 4 weeks after the completion of the writtens. A student must pass the written exam in order to continue on to the Oral Critique.

Year 2, Term 2: It is expected that these exams will be successfully completed by April of the second year. The timeline enables a student to complete successfully the comprehensive exam in a single term.

An Example:
Week 2 Questions released
Week 8 Essays submitted
Week 11 Pass
Week 12 Oral Critique

Committee members must be consulted about the timeline in advance of the exam. Committees and student may decide to release the questions during the summer or over the winter break, in which case the timeline would vary.

An Example:
August Questions released
Week 2 Essays submitted
Week 5 Pass
Week 6 Oral Critique


The supervisory committee will read the papers within 3 weeks; the Oral Critique must take place within 4 weeks of completion of the exam. While no grade is assigned, the committee must deem them to be “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory”. To earn the status of “Satisfactory” the written exams must be deemed first class (80%).

The supervisor must communicate the committee’s evaluation to the CGS and graduate program assistant. Criteria for success will be clear evidence of wide reading, knowledge of the relevant literature, sophisticated critical and interpretive skills, and the capacity to conceptualize issues. Additionally, we look for the critical assessment or reading of a field that leads to a field intervention.

Each of the papers may be written only twice.  In the event that the first attempt is deemed “Unsatisfactory”, the student will be permitted to revise in a second attempt to be made within 4 to 6 weeks of the committee’s response to the first attempt.  Any second attempt should respond to the comments and criticisms provided by the committee on the first versions of the papers.  Failure to pass a second attempt at the writtens will result in a recommendation to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies that the student should withdraw from the program.

Oral Critique

Success on both papers will be followed by an Oral Critique within 4 weeks of the papers being submitted. Usually, the student opens the meeting with a short presentation of the research. This may take the form of an auto-critique, directions for research or insights gained in the writing. The two essays are discussed at this time. During this critique, the committee may raise questions pertaining to the papers, to the full scope of the field/s as represented by the reading lists, and to the particular research that the student expects to develop.

As with the written portion of the exam, the student’s performance must be judged to be “Satisfactory” in order to proceed to the next stage of the candidacy process. Should the Oral Critique be deemed “Unsatisfactory” by two or more of those present the student must retake the oral critique before the end of the second week of the following term.

If the student’s second performance is deemed “Unsatisfactory” by two or more members of the Committee, the student and the student’s supervisor will discuss the matter with the Chair of Graduate Studies. While no student will be asked to leave the program at this stage, no student can advance to candidacy without attempting the candidacy papers.

We encourage students and the exam committee to view the Oral Critique also as an important time to refine the work in progress and to suggest avenues for the prospectus. The supervisor will notify the CGS and program assistant of the date of successful completion of the comprehensive exams.

The papers written during the qualifying process are preparatory for the prospectus, which is driven by the student’s own research program, laying out specific details of the expected contributions of the work, program of research, and significance of its field intervention.

Sample Timeline
Year 1, Term 1:  3 Courses
Year 1, Term 2: Lists + 1 Course
Year 2, Term 1: Written and Oral Examination
Year 2, Term 2: Prospectus
Year 3: Writing Dissertation
Year 4: Writing Dissertation

This guideline is flexible, but all requirements for candidacy (course work, comprehensive exams, and prospectus) must be completed within 24 months of entering the PhD program.


The Committee

After the conclusion of the comprehensive examinations, the student confirms the composition of the supervisory committee and discuss any changes with the Chair of Graduate Studies. For purposes of either the comprehensive exams, or the dissertation prospectus and research, the supervisory committee may include a faculty member from another department and/or institution.  Those who are not members of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will require formal approval.  Development of the prospectus should involve those committee members who will be involved with the thesis to its conclusion.

While changes to the dissertation supervisor and committee members are possible, this is generally discouraged. Any changes require permission of the Chair of Graduate Studies.

Faculty of Graduate and Post-doctoral Studies – Supervision

The Dissertation Prospectus

This will build on the groundwork laid by the comprehensive exams. It develops an argument proposing the direction in which the student expects the research to develop. The thesis prospectus, prepared in consultation with the supervisory committee, should be submitted to the graduate program chair with the full approval and the signatures of all members of the supervisory committee (thesis approval form), ideally within 24 months of entering the PhD program and no later than 36 months.  The prospectus must make good sense to academics outside the area of specialization. It should, accordingly, include relevant explanation and detail at every stage; it is closer to a  grant application or book proposal than a research essay. The prospectus should be approximately 20 to 25 pages, double-spaced, and should contain three components:

  1. Description and justification: This section should articulate as clearly as possible the “why” as well as the “what” of the thesis. The prospectus should situate the thesis in its field, showing how it develops or departs from previous research and what the writer hopes it will contribute. The prospectus should also spell out the theoretical framework of the thesis, elaborate on plans for research including methodological approach and ethical considerations (ethical issues, handling of information).
  2. Plan:  The prospectus is not necessarily a detailed blueprint, and it allows for changes of direction. Precise conclusions to inquiries need not be anticipated. However, the prospectus is to make clear the overall organization of the thesis as envisaged at this point in terms of its main stages of inquiry and the chief texts/topics/data to be addressed.
  3. Bibliography: As a research tool, this bibliography is crucial in that it locates the thesis in its field. The bibliography should be a carefully developed component of the prospectus.

Approval of the prospectus will be determined according to such criteria as the originality and value of the project, quality of research, and care of preparation. Please take note that if you research involves human subjects / participants, you need to apply to the Behavioural Research Ethics Board of UBC.


The dissertation marks the culmination of the PhD program. It is an original and independent research project which makes a contribution to knowledge in a special area selected by the student. Handling of data and authorship will be discussed with the supervisor in accordance with UBC policies 85 and 88.

You will find the Final Doctoral Examination Guide on the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies’ website.  It will guide you through the process of preparing for your oral defense and formatting and submitting your dissertation.  You should read the guide completely well in advance, and prepare a timeline and a plan of action, using its planning tools and checklist, for discussion with your supervisory committee.

Final Doctoral Examination Guide

Doctoral Exam FAQ