Program Stages

Program Plan stage

In the first two terms of your program, you will take the one mandatory course: ENVS 8102: PhD Research Seminar. Through this course and working with your Supervisor, you will develop your Program Plan. Please refer to the PhD Handbook for details.

Your Program Plan is your guide to your research program. It should include brief statements regarding:

  • the personal context of your inquiry
  • your current research interests, including key terms and definitions and tensions and questions related to those interests
  • your tentative comprehensive areas, including a preliminary bibliography
  • a tentative timeline
  • your potential Advisory/Comprehensive committee
  • other needs

During the Program Plan stage, you may take courses offered by FES (including individual study courses), or by other graduate programs at York. The only required course is the PhD Research Seminar – all other course choices should be guided by your Program Plan in consultation with your Supervisor.

As part of your Program Plan, your Supervisor will assist you in determining the most appropriate members for your Advisory/Comprehensive Committee. Not later than the end of your second (winter) term, you will submit a draft of your Program Plan (including a detailed statement about your first comprehensive area) to your Committee. The Program Plan Stage is completed once your Advisory/Comprehensive Committee meets and approves your Program Plan.

Comprehensive Examination stage (terms 3-6)

The intention of the Comprehensive Stage is to support you in gaining comprehensive knowledge in distinct fields, epistemologies and theories, methodologies. In this stage you will be encouraged to read in a wide yet focused manner and to engage with prevailing themes, issues, debates and pragmatisms from a selected literature and/or set of non-literary sources. Contrary to disciplinary comprehensive papers where the ‘canons’ might be pre-identified, FES’s interdisciplinary approach does not prescribe specific topics. Rather, parameters for comprehensive areas are defined in discussion with your Advisory Committee.

  1. The Comprehensive Stage evidences the capacity of a student to undertake an analytical and critical literature review. The Comprehensive Stage is generally organized around 2 or 3 comprehensive areas.
    General guidelines for Comprehensive Papers/Exams at FES are:
  2. Each comprehensive paper/exam should take about 1 term of work.
  3. Ideally, exams are passed by the end of the 4th-6th term of study (i.e. after two calendar years)
  4. Standard comprehensive paper/output is 30-50 pages double spaced research paper or equivalent, and is composed of substantial readings with a maximum number of articles and books to be negotiated with your committee
  5. All exams include an oral defense of the comprehensive areas (this can be separately or as a package).

While the Comprehensive output for each area generally takes the form of a literature review generally presented as a standard paper, other formats are possible:

Standard Comprehensive Paper
Represents a synthetic, analytical and critical literature review of a topic or an expository or argumentative essay that deals with a specific problem in the literature. It can also focus on a methodological approach that the student anticipates to use in the dissertation.

Course Design
Design for an undergraduate introductory class, including rationale for course, readings, lecture topics and evaluation criteria, teaching philosophy, and lecture notes.

An assemblage of (3-4 pieces of) work such as a refereed publication, exemplary course paper, book chapter, book reviews and/or conference presentation paper.

Project and Report
Presenting oral, visual or other type of original work (film, video, sculpture, dance) accompanied by a written account that conceptualizes the intellectual debates and issues in the particular area.

Written Exam
Exam in which the candidate and/or committee members prepare a set of questions and agree on a completion time (1 or 2 weeks).

Dissertation Proposal
At the end of the PhD Comprehensive Examination Stage, the student prepares and defends their Dissertation Proposal. The Dissertation Proposal is reviewed and approved by your Dissertation Supervisory Committee (which may consists of the same members of your Advisory/Comprehensive Committee but all members should be appointed or appointable to the Faculty of Graduate Studies). The Supervisor and Supervisory Committee need to be nominated to the Faculty of Graduate Studies using the Supervisor & Supervisory Committee Approval form available at The form is submitted to OSAS for the Graduate Program Director’s recommendation and processing.

The Dissertation Proposal describes your research topic and design, and must include a working title, a detailed research statement, a literature review, a detailed methodological section, a schedule of activities, a detailed outline of the dissertation, ethics review forms and risk assessment if applicable. Following approval of the proposal by the Supervisory Committee, students must submit the TD1 Form: Thesis/Dissertation Research Submission (available at with all required signatures, along with a copy of the proposal and relevant research ethics forms and documentation to OSAS for the Graduate Program Director’s recommendation to FGS.
Risk assessment forms and relevant documentation are also submitted to OSAS and are available at PhD Forms (

Dissertation stage (terms 7 -18)

This stage begins once your Supervisory Dissertation Committee and the Faculty of Graduate Studies formally approve your Dissertation Proposal. During this stage, you research and write your dissertation under the guidance of you Dissertation Supervisor and Supervisory Committee.

The preparation of your dissertation must adhere to Faculty of Graduate Studies guidelines.

Academic Regulations

For more information, refer to graduate program Academic Requirements.

For a list of academic requirements for all graduate programs from previous years, please see the Program Requirements page.