PhD Program

The PhD in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice is a unique interdisciplinary program.

At GRSJ you can explore your interests in diverse areas while employing feminist, intersectional, and decolonizing methodologies. Our program is flexible to accommodate your individual needs.

At present, the PhD program has 25 students in residence. Each year we receive between 140-160 applications and we accept two to three new students to the program.


Students entering the PhD program take a minimum of 12 credits of coursework at the 500 level. Students who have already done comparable coursework should discuss this with the graduate program chair.

Depending on their academic backgrounds, students may be required to take additional coursework (in addition to the minimum 12 credits) at the discretion of the Supervisory Committee and in consultation with the Graduate Program Chair and Advisor.

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 and Advisor.

Students must complete all requirements for candidacy (course work, comprehensive exams, and prospectus) ideally within 24 months of entering the PhD program and no later than 36 months.

Students take the following core courses in the first year:

  • 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
  • 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 and students will examine various cultural texts (eg, fiction, film) and new models of academic and cultural engagement with radical democratic politics.
    One of the following methodology courses:

  • 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, academics, artists, and activists from Vancouver, Canada, and other parts of the world.
  • 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.

Electives (3 credits) chosen from graduate courses offered by the Institute or another UBC department.Electives must have the approval of the research supervisor.

Students may choose one of the following GRSJ graduate course:

  • GRSJ 511 (3) Difficult Knowledge: Ethics and Praxis of Research in Challenging Settings: An interdisciplinary seminar considering 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.
  • 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. Further details about Directed Readings course is available here.

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

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

Comprehensive Exams

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 comprehensive exam essays over 6 weeks and the committee will read these essays over 3 weeks. An Oral Critique must follow within 4 weeks of completion of the essays.

The examination consists of essays written in response to questions posed by the supervisory 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.

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 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 conversation or writing between the student and individual members of the committee.

Students must meet with their supervisory committee at the end of Year 1 (or the beginning of Year 2) to finalize the qualifying exam's reading lists. 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.

Lists 1 and 2

In consultation with the supervisor and supervisory committee, the student determines two reading lists that will form the comprehensive exams. The reading lists intend to allow the student to situate themselves as scholars in the chosen fields and provide evidence of depth and breadth of knowledge in relevant scholarship. Some students decide to organize the exam materials around a primary field with a secondary field comprised of methods or theory lists or relevant historical materials; others propose approaching 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.

Social Justice Reading List (SJRL)

The Social Justice Reading List is a list of core, often foundational, works that we at the Institute consider essential to our work and scholarship for social justice. It is not a canon nor a comprehensive bibliography; rather, it represents a snapshot of who we are and what we find most compelling and necessary. The list aims to give graduate students the same knowledge base and assist in situating their intellectual roots and scholarship.

This library is gathered by the GRSJ faculty, who each contribute 5-10 texts they consider essential for social justice work in their fields and/or in their research. Several of the readings included on the list are also mandatory in GRSJ core courses.

Students are expected to consult the list and incorporate in the written and the orals components of the comprehensive exams, texts from the list. 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 exams.

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 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 comprehensive exam essays. A student must pass the written exam in order to continue on to the Oral Critique.


It is expected that students will successfully complete these exams by April of the second year. The timeline enables a student to complete the comprehensive exam successfully 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 students 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 three weeks; the oral critique must take place within four weeks of completing the exam. While no grade is assigned, the committee must deem them "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 chair of graduate studies and the 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 field intervention.

Students may write each of the papers only twice. If the first attempt is deemed "unsatisfactory," the student will be permitted to revise in a second attempt to be made within four to six weeks of the committee's response to the first attempt. Any second attempt should respond to the committee's comments and criticisms on the first versions of the papers. Failure to pass a second attempt at the written will result in a recommendation to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies that the student should withdraw from the program

An oral critique will follow success on both papers within four weeks of submitting the papers. Usually, the student opens the meeting with a short presentation of the research. This may take the form of an auto-critique, directions for the prospectus or discoveries made in the writing. The two papers are discussed at this time. During this critique, the committee may raise questions pertaining to the papers, the full scope of the field/s as represented by the reading lists, and 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" 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 committee members, 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 comprehensive 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 chair of graduate studies and the program assistant of the date of successful completion of the comprehensive exams.

The essays 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.

  • Year 1, Term 1: 3 Courses, Term 2: Lists + 1 Course. Establish your committee
  • Year 2, Term 1: Written and Oral Comprehensive Examination. Term 2: Prospectus
  • Year 3, Research Writing
  • Year 4, Writing dissertation

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 prospectus, prepared in consultation with the supervisory committee, should be submitted to the Chair of Graduate Studies and Graduate Program Assistant, with the full approval and the signatures of all members of the supervisory committee, 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 prospectus than a research essay.

The prospectus should be approximately 20-25 pages, double-spaced, and should contain three components:

  1. Description and justification: This section should articulate the "why" and the "what" of the thesis as clearly as possible. 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.
  2. Plan: The prospectus is not necessarily a detailed blueprint, and it allows for changes of direction. Students need not anticipate precise conclusions to inquiries. However, the prospectus is to clarify 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 because it locates the thesis in its field. The bibliography should be a carefully developed component of the prospectus.

The prospectus approval will be determined to criteria such as the originality and value of the project, quality of research, and preparation care.

PhD Candidacy

PhD students achieve candidacy when they have:

  1. Completed all required coursework
  2. Passed the comprehensive examinations (both written and oral)
  3. Completed a dissertation proposal and had it approved by their supervisory committee

The program assistant must be notified by the supervisor of successful completion of the comprehensive exams and the proposal. The Institute will then notify the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies of the date candidacy was achieved.

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

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website, as it contains many resources that will be useful as you move through your program:


The dissertation marks the culmination of the PhD program. It is an original and independent research project that contributes to knowledge in a special area selected by the student. The student will discuss data and authorship handling with the supervisor per UBC policies of scholarly integrity and inventions and discoveries.

The final doctoral examination guide 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.


PhD students are assigned an Advisor when admitted. The Pro Tem Advisor will assist the students in forming a study program and may become the student’s research supervisor for comprehensive exams and thesis, but that is not always the case.

Our graduate students draw on the institute’s core faculty to serve as supervisors and committee members and may have faculty associates serve as committee members. Please note that faculty must hold the rank of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor to supervise graduate students.

By the end of their second term in the program, students should have established a supervisory 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 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.

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 a member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or who are Faculty at another campus, will require formal approval. Development of the prospectus should involve those committee members who will be involved with the thesis to its conclusion.

Be mindful that your dissertation will require, also, an external reader, an expert in your field with whom you have not worked, and who will be chosen by your supervisor/committee. The external receives the dissertation in a complete form and only when the committee deems it finished and ready for external review.

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.

Supervisory Committee, Composition

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