Program Stages


Preparation of the initial plan of study in parallel with coursework or other structured learning activities supporting the exploration of the area of concentration.

In the first term students will meet with their advisors to discuss and receive feedback on the different elements of the plan of study. Students are expected to provide a draft version of each section of the plan well in advance of each advising session so that the advisor can review and comment. Advising sessions can be individualized or in a group.
After a student has worked through several drafts of their plan of study with feedback from the advisor, they will submit a final version to the advisor by the due date specified in the Graduate Program Calendar.

Both the advisor and a second reader appointed by the Graduate Program Director will review the initial plan of study to ensure that the plan meets the interdisciplinary standards of FES. If the advisor and the second reader agree that the plan is satisfactory, then the advisor schedules a MES I-II examination with the student. If the advisor or the second reader has substantial concerns about the plan, a general examination will be held with both faculty members to provide the feedback necessary for the student to rework the plan.

Once the initial plan of study is accepted by the advisor and second reader, and approved by the MES Program Coordinator, the student officially moves from MES I to MES II. Students must advance to MES II by the end of the first term. Failure to do so will trigger a Dean’s exam or the student’s withdrawal from the program for failure to maintain good academic standards.


Consolidation of essential knowledge within the area of concentration through coursework, field experience, and other learning activities, culminating in preparation of the final plan of study and major research proposal.

In the MES II stage, students take courses and continue to implement their learning objectives, revise their plan of study, and develop a proposal for their major paper, project, portfolio, or thesis research. At the end of the MES II stage, students will have an MES II-III exam to assess both the final plan of study and the research proposal.

As students pursue their programs, elements of the plan of study become more specific and detailed. Particularly suitable methods of inquiry become evident; learning objectives evolve to express more specific aims and means of actualization; and the main currents of thought and practice section expands to reflect new learning. Students may find that their intent and focus change as they move through the program. Students may discover a new interest, another angle or a different way of looking at issues. Changes in focus and direction should be discussed with the advisor at a general exam and will be reflected in revisions to the plan of study.

In working towards the final plan of study, it is recommended that students review each section of their plan. Students should be confident that their main currents of thought and practice section is updated to reflect their new learning about key literature and practices that inform their area of concentration. Students should ask themselves if their learning objectives accurately reflect what they have learned and, if not, revise them. At the time of the MES II to III exam, most of the learning objectives should be met and, consequently, described in the past tense, leaving only those pertaining to the MES III research in the future tense.

Students must meet with their advisor during the MES II stage in order to review their program and progress on their plan of study. A general exam near the end of each term allows students and advisors to review the work completed, to discuss appropriate changes and course selection, and to complete enrolment paperwork for the following term.

Major Research Proposal

As the plan of study is finalized, students will develop their research proposal with their supervisor (at the latest by the beginning of their second year).

All full-time and joint-appointed members of FES are eligible to supervise students at the MES III level -- depending on their availability. If a student would like to ask a professor from outside FES or an individual who does not hold a university appointment to supervise his/her MES III work, this should be discussed with the advisor and with the Graduate Program Director to ascertain the person’s suitability and the procedure to be followed for their appointment as supervisor.

The main role of the supervisor is to offer substantive comment and advice on the form and content of the MES III research. Neither the supervisor nor the FES writing tutor is an editor. If a student requires assistance in editing his/her major research work, s/he will need to find someone to act in this role and must fully acknowledge the person(s) who provided editorial assistance in the Acknowledgements section of their final paper, thesis, or report.

Options for major research

There are four options for MES III major research work: major paper, major project, portfolio, or thesis.

Guidelines for all MES Research options are available in the MES Handbook 2016-2017.

Typically students take 12-24 credits (out of the 72 total necessary for the MES degree) in MES III. MES students are strongly encouraged to conceive of their major papers as publishable-quality articles and to design their research proposals accordingly at the MES II to III stage. After the requirements of the MES program are met, these papers may be further refined and submitted to an academic or professional journal by the MES graduate alone or in collaboration with their supervisor. Details of collaboration and co-authorship need to be negotiated in advance. This consideration for publishable-quality major research work applies predominantly but not exclusively to major papers.

database of titles of MES major papers, major projects, portfolios and theses and a selection of major papers and projects selected for the FES Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Series are available

Prior to the MES II-III exam, each student will meet with the Graduate Student Program Advisor in OSAS to review their dossier and check that the information is accurate and complete (grades, credits, enrolment, etc.).

The MES II-III examination considers the substantive aspects of the final plan of study, including the proposal for the MES III research. Students are expected to demonstrate a substantive command of the area of concentration, achievement of most learning objectives, and a solid understanding of the major issues and main currents of thought and practice related to the area of concentration. The intent of this exam is to ensure that the student is ready to tackle the final research stage of their program, and can adequately explain the relationship between the proposed research and the student’s learning objectives and main currents of thought and practice. Additional documentation is required for the Thesis per the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ requirements. After a student’s final plan of study and research proposal are approved, students enrol in the specific course indicated by the form of major research chosen (ENVS 7799, 7899, 7798 or 7999).

The MES II to III examiners are generally the advisor and the supervisor. If the advisor and supervisor are the same person, a second faculty member must participate in the MES II-III exam. If the supervisor is not a FES faculty member, the student’s advisor will continue to oversee the progress of the student in the program. If students are having difficulty finding a supervisor, they should discuss this issue first with their advisor, and then with the Graduate Program Director, if needed.


Completion of the learning outlined in the plan of study and completion of the major research paper, project, portfolio, or thesis, demonstrating competence and mastery within the area of concentration.

Normally students are enrolled in MES III in terms 4, 5 and 6 of their program (or as early as term 3). Students must complete their major research work by the end of Term 6. Because faculty members often travel to conferences, do research, and go on holiday in the summer term, students should set up a schedule of meetings (virtual or in person) with their supervisor for submitting drafts and getting feedback on their work. Students should submit a final draft at least one month prior to the deadline or as agreed with their supervisor. Students need to allow sufficient time for revisions, as well. Students can file their major research work with OSAS anytime during the term, but the final deadlines in any year are always on the last business day of November in the Fall term, of March in the Winter term and of July in the summer term. Extensions are not possible. These dates are set to give students the maximum time to complete their work while also allowing the Graduate Program Director and OSAS time to set up final exams.

Final examination

FES students must pass a final oral examination that addresses the totality of their program. The major research work constitutes a written submission for the final exam. A thesis is examined separately, per the Faculty of Graduate Studies requirements. The final exam is scheduled only after all the material required (Plan of Study/Proposal and Major Research output) for the final exam has been submitted to OSAS and uploaded in the FES Graduate Dossier System. The examining committee normally consists of 3 faculty members, including the supervisor and a chair appointed by the Graduate Program Director. A final exam takes a minimum of one hour. Its purposes are to evaluate the student’s general understanding in environmental studies along with their substantive competencies in the area of concentration. The final exam also pays considerable attention to the major paper, major project, or portfolio. A thesis is defended and examined separately, according to the Faculty of Graduate Studies procedures, usually immediately prior to the FES final exam.


Click here for a summary of all program stages.