faculty of environmental studies

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Plan of Study

Structure of the Plan of Study

MES Examinations

Submission of Plan of Study

The Plan of Study is the foundation of the MES program’s approach to learning. The MES program is different from other graduate programs – there is no predetermined field of study and only one required course. Instead of a fixed curriculum, we provide flexibility and support you in taking ownership of your studies by guiding you through the creation and realization of a Plan of Study.

The plan forms the basis of the MES learning model. Each student’s plan of study is developed in consultation with his or her assigned faculty advisor.  The plan of study is a statement of intent and commitment that begins in an open and exploratory way and gradually becomes more detailed as students progress through the program. The plan of study is the basis for the student’s selection of courses and other learning activities. In developing the plan of study, students decide on the focus of their MES program, establish what they need to learn, and propose their path to acquiring the desired knowledge, methods, skills, and perspectives necessary to complete the degree. Students can expect to produce several versions of their plan during their program.  The plan of study is revised as necessary and its final version serves as the basis for evaluation in the student’s MES II-III and final examinations.  The plan acts as an ‘agreement’ between the student and the Faculty with respect to the requirements that must be fulfilled in order to obtain the MES degree. 

While the content and approaches to plans of study vary considerably with each student, the basic structure is consistent across all students. Alternative forms of expressing the plan of study’s requirements are encouraged, in discussion with the advisor.  Although development of the plan of study is an individualized process, students at all levels can gain a great deal from interaction with others in the production and revision of their plans.  Peer support will serve students best if they initiate it at the outset by forming or joining a learning group of three to five students.  Peer support and collaborative learning complement individualized self-directed learning.  Advising sessions can also be conducted individually or in small groups.

The Plan of Study is discussed extensively in ENVS 5100 in the Fall of the first year of the program. Guidelines for developing the plan of study are available at http://fes.yorku.ca/students/current/mes/forms.

For all forms related to the Plan of Study please see the MES Forms page.


The structure of the plan of study is as follows:

Title of area of concentration (5 words or less, not counting articles or prepositions)
Planning students must have the word ‘planning’ in their title.

Abstract of the area of concentration (100 words maximum)
This briefly describes the area of concentration.

Keywords (10 words maximum)

Personal statement (200 words maximum)
Students are asked to present their background and how their previous experiences have led them to the MES program.  Using an autobiographical narrative style, students are asked to recognize how their personal, professional and academic experiences, interests or passions contribute to their plan.  Students can also discuss their beliefs, concerns, and priorities in order to articulate their motivations for undertaking the MES program.

Main current of thought and practice (1000 words minimum, 1500 words maximum in final version)
Students are asked to situate their interests within the relevant bodies of academic literature, theory, and practice.   This section allows students to explain how their interests and area of concentration relate to broader academic conversations and to the practices of others.  This section allows students to show how their particular area of study relates to the ideas, theories, frameworks and methodologies of other significant thinkers and actors.

Area of concentration (200-400 words maximum)
The statement of the area of concentration establishes the focus of the student’s study area. In other words, the area of concentration is the particular environmental topic, issue, problem, or question that the student wishes to critically explore in her/his MES program.  It generally synthesizes two to four components that comprise an interdisciplinary study focus in natural, built, and/or social environments. The area of concentration defines key concepts.

Components of the area of concentration (2-4 maximum, 100-200 words each)
The components are the interdisciplinary and interconnected parts that comprise the sum of the area of concentration. Components help define the various fields that contribute the student’s program. Students usually set out components in order of importance, provide a clear description, and explain the logic that underlies their selection.  In the initial plan of study, component descriptions are normally only a paragraph in length, but become considerably longer in subsequent plans as the student’s knowledge about each component grows.

Learning objectives (200 words maximum)
A learning objective identifies the intended learning outcome that students want to accomplish in relation to their area of concentration or in relation to each component.  Objectives articulate the breadth and depth of the student’s proposed learning.  For example, some objectives aim to acquire a broad overview of a particular subject while others aim to acquire more in-depth knowledge.  Students should consider how success in reaching each learning objective will be assessed.

Objectives can be formulated to address each specific component or to address objectives for their program as a whole. Objectives are initially formulated in a future tense.  As students progress through the program and meet their objectives, the verb tense changes from future to past to indicate how each objective has been met.

Term by term list of courses and other learning activities
Courses and other learning activities are actions taken to meet learning objectives. Examples of learning strategies include an established course within or outside of FES, individual directed study or field experience, a conference or workshop, or a non-credit course.  The list of proposed courses and other learning activities covers all six terms of the program but is subject to revision in periodic meetings (general examinations) with the advisor.

Students should compile a complete list of references (books, journal articles, reports, etc.) cited in and related to their plan.  These should be presented in a standard bibliographic format.


There are different types of examinations for students progressing well through the program: the MES I to II exam, general examinations, the MES II to III exam, and the final exam. A Dean’s Exam is convened in cases where academic progress is not satisfactory.

The MES I to II exam is held after the submission of the initial plan of study in the first term.  It is held with the student’s advisor and, if required, with an additional faculty member who has read the student’s plan.  Its purpose is to ensure that the student’s plan of study can adequately guide and orient the student’s initial work during her/his MES program.  

General examinations are advising sessions in which the student and faculty advisor discuss the substance, clarity, and conceptual grounding of each progressive iteration of the plan of study, as well as the student’s learning activities for the upcoming term(s).  Students need to submit an updated plan of study to the advisor in advance of each general exam, and come prepared with advising forms and other appropriate enrolment documents to be signed by the advisor and returned to OSAS.  After each general exam, the advisor will fill in an exam report (green sheet) to summarize the discussion and record the outcome of the general exam, including a specific date for the next plan of study revision and examination. Enrolment will be blocked if the student does not submit the revised plan of study according to the schedule recorded on the green sheet.

The purpose of the MES II to III exam is to ensure that the student‘s final plan of study is satisfactory and complete, and that his/her proposal for MES III research (Major Paper, Project, Portfolio or Thesis) is an adequate articulation of and guide for the research required to complete the degree. The exam involves two faculty members:  the student’s advisor and the supervisor for her/his MES III research work (or another faculty member if the advisor and supervisor are the same person).

The final examination provides an opportunity for the student to synthesize and reflect on her/his overall program and MES III research with faculty members, who assess how the student has met his or her learning objectives as set out in the plan of study.  It is held with the supervisor, advisor and a chair who is arm’s length from the student’s program.

As noted above, a Dean's exam is a general exam held when a student's program is in serious difficulty.  Normally, the examiners include the student's advisor, another faculty member knowledgeable about the student's program, and a Dean’s representative, who chairs the exam. A Dean's exam may be called if a student receives an evaluation of Unsatisfactory in 3 or more credits of course work, does not have an approved plan of study in place, or has otherwise failed to meet program requirements as specified in the Academic Regulations. A Dean's exam will result in either withdrawal from the program or clearly defined steps and a timeline that the student must follow to address the particular conditions that led to the Dean’s exam.

Submission of the plan of study

Students must submit one (1) copy of their initial plan of study to their advisor prior to their MES I-II exam. (usually this is on the first Tuesday of November in the first year).   At least two weeks prior to any subsequent general exam, students must submit two (2) copies (one for the advisor and one for their OSAS dossier).  For the MES II-III exam, three (3) copies are required (copies for both examiners and one for the dossier). If a student is to have a Dean's exam, the documentation required will be specified in advance.   A final exam requires three copies of the final plan of study (including the major research proposal) and the major research work.  After the final exam (and following revisions if required), the student must submit two (2) final versions of the major research work to OSAS.


Paper copies of plans of study for general examinations and the MES II to III examination should be submitted two weeks before the exam to the adviser/supervisor/other examiner, unless an alternate means of submission is agreed upon in advance with the faculty members involved.  MES I to II exams and final exams have fixed and firm submission deadlines (see calendar page 2).