Master in Environmental Studies
The Masters in Environmental Studies (MES) Program in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) is self-directed and interdisciplinary. In place of a fixed set of curriculum offerings, the MES approach to learning supports students’ ownership of and responsibility for their studies, fostering program coherence and depth through a plan of study. The plan of study anchors a student-centred learning model that allows students to define both substantive areas of study and approaches to learning with the supportof their faculty advisor.
Since its inception in 1968, FES has taken an interdisciplinary approach to the study of natural, social, and built environments. Hence, the range of subject matter addressed in plans of study over the Faculty’s history has been as diverse as students themselves
The MES Program
The MES degree is a full-time, six-term, two-year program. Students should be registered (i.e., accepting fees) and be enrolled in courses during Fall, Winter, and Summer terms until completion of their program.
The MES degree requires 36 credits of coursework and research requirement (with no credits assigned). Students normally take 12 credits/term in the first three terms allowing them to fully focus on their research in the second year of the program. Students accumulate coursework credits through regular courses (3 credits each), individual directed studies (3 or 6 credits/course and maximum of 18 credits/program) or experiential learning (3, 6, 9, 12 credits/term and maximum of 18 credits/program). A student admitted in the 72-credit program (prior to Fall 2018) may apply for residual credits at the final exam.
There are two required courses in the MES program: ENVS 5100 Interdisciplinary Research in Environmental Studies (term 1) and a method/research design course (of your choice) in the first three terms of the program.
The MES program is organized around three progressive stages:
MES I (term 1)
Preparation of the initial plan of study in parallel with coursework/learning activities supporting the exploration of the area of concentration.
MES II (terms 2-3)
Consolidation of knowledge within the area of concentration through coursework/ learning activities culminating in a final plan of study and research proposal.
MES III (terms 3-6)
Completion of the learning outlined in the plan of study and completion of the major research demonstrating competence in the area of concentration.
Every incoming MES student is assigned a faculty advisor to assist students in developing their plan of study and progressing through the program. It is possible to petition for a change in advisor (in the Graduate Dossier System) at the MES II stage with the approval of the faculty member.
A student prepares their MES II-III exam with their final plan of study and proposal for major research (paper, project, portfolio) after identifying and nominating their research supervisor (in the Graduate Dossier System). Supervisors are normally FES faculty members, but can also exceptionally be a faculty member from another program at York, or even someone outside York (with the approval of the Graduate Program Director). Your advisor can become your supervisor, in which case a second FES faculty member needs to be present at your MES II-III Exam. Students considering a thesis for their major research must refer to the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ thesis requirements.
Graduate Dossier System
A student’s MES program is recorded in the Graduate Dossier System. The dossier includes students’ enrolment forms, plans of study, examinations reports, and grades/qualitative evaluations for each course. Students are responsible for maintaining the accuracy of their dossiers. Prior to the MES II-III exam, the Graduate Program Advisor (based in OSAS) will meet with each student to review the dossier and check that the information is accurate and complete (grades, credits, etc.). For technical assistance with the Graduate Dossier System, please contact OSAS.
The interdisciplinary nature of the program encourages exploration, creativity and breadth of study by using a Pass/Unsatisfactory grading system in conjunction with qualitative feedback from the instructor.
Students do not receive letter grades for their work and official York transcripts show grades of Pass (P), Withdrawn in good standing (W), or Unsatisfactory (U) only. A Pass grade is equivalent to a ‘B’ letter grade or better; anything less is unsatisfactory. A ‘U’ grade in a course normally triggers a Dean’s Exam to assess the performance of the student in the program. Two ‘U” grades automatically leads to a withdrawal from the program for failure to maintain good academic standing.
Graduate students are expected to complete all course work by the last day of classes each term. In exceptional circumstances, if course work is incomplete at the end of the term, a student may request a short extension from the course director and may receive a temporary incomplete (I) grade. Students are not permitted to carry more than one incomplete grade into the next term. Students cannot advance to MES III (research) with an incomplete grade.
If applying for external funding or to another graduate program, a student may request a letter grade evaluation of a course from the course director or an overall grade assessment of their entire program by contacting OSAS. The Graduate Grade Assessment Committee reviews the student’s evaluations and assigns an overall letter grade for their work. Grade assessments are not necessarily required by other programs but have been used by students to successfully apply for scholarships and to other graduate programs.
MES Program Options
Students enrolled in the MES program can pursue a specialized graduate program or diploma. A student must first declare their interests for such a program and/or diploma in the Graduate Dossier System (where respective requirements checklists are available).
MES Planning Program
The MES Planning Program is recognized by the Ontario Professional Institute of Planners and the Canadian Institute of Planners. It offers an interdisciplinary master’s program in planning, which addresses the complex social and environmental problems related to planning in an era of profound transformation in climate, urbanization and nature. The program has a history of attention to social and environmental justice as an underlying theme for planning education. We have a strong faculty complement supporting research in urban and regional planning, environmental planning, critical sub/urbanism and political ecology. Each student customizes what they learn and contribute to the emergent planning fields in the plan of study. Our graduates have become planning leaders in Canada and abroad.
Our faculty is a mix of academics and practitioners who conduct research and practice in a broad range of planning fields. Our strength is in guiding and facilitating student-driven research. We have a strong faculty complement supporting research in urban and regional planning, environmental planning, critical urbanism and political ecology. Other areas of planning that attract students to our Program include resource management, social and environmental impact assessment, arts and culture, and public participation.
Graduate planning education aims to develop students’ capabilities to think critically across and within a range of fields in planning and to develop skills to necessary to mobilize their knowledge to effect positive lasting change in the world. FES Planning students come to the program from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and professions. They represent a diversity of cultures from across the globe, reflecting the diversity of Toronto itself. The structure of our student-centred program is attractive to mature students and those seeking a career change. This mix of students encourages creative exploration of new directions in planning.
The Planning Program in FES is dedicated to educating skilled professional planners committed to sustainability, justice, and fairness. Our objective is to provide planning students in FES with a broad array of learning opportunities through which they will gain competencies, knowledge and skills to excel in their professional careers. In addition to our strengths in urban and regional planning and environmental planning, our Planning Program provides students with opportunities to expand the boundaries of planning through:
- planning for diversity and social justice – multicultural planning, planning with indigenous communities, gender planning, and planning in international settings;
- planning for emerging environmental problems – climate change, sustainable energy and food security;
- planning with communities – participatory planning, action learning, community organizing, community development, facilitation, negotiation and mediation.
Planning in FES also underscores the Faculty’s understanding of planning as a set of practical interventions comprised of a process of policymaking and implementation and a subject of multidisciplinary investigation.
Planning in FES is approached from diverse perspectives theoretically, substantively and practically. Each student prepares an individualized Plan of Study, within which certain requirements must be met to ensure your program qualifies for recognition by CIP/OPPI. These requirements are set out in the Planning Checklist (in the FES Graduate Dossier system) but can be summarized as follow:
- Identifying Planning Program (OPPI/CIP Accreditation) in the Plan of Study;
- Having “Planning” in the title of your Area of Concentration;
- Developing a Specialized “Planning” Component;
- Having a learning objective dedicated “to obtain the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to meet the program requirements of the Canadian Institute of Planners and Ontario Professional Planners Institute for Candidate membership”
- Completing all MES requirements and mandatory planning courses (see checklist);
- Completing a minimum of 3 credits of planning-related (ENVS 6699) experiential learning (a work placement of 8-10 hours per week for 12 weeks typically is equivalent to 3 credits.)
With the successful completion of the program’s requirements and following convocation, students receive a certificate from FES confirming completion of their Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) and the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) accredited program. The breadth and depth of planning education at York provides an enriching, diverse learning environment and prepares students for the complexity and magnitude of the real-life problems planning practitioners face in today’s world.
The MES/Juris Doctor program is the first and only program of its kind in Canada, bringing together one of Canada’s top law schools with one of its most innovative environmental studies faculties. Through cutting edge interdisciplinary teaching and research in law and environmental studies, the program provides insight into the ways in which humans define, manage, and transform their environments, and equips students with the knowledge and tools to participate in that process.
Offering students the opportunity to earn a MES degree at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and a JD degree at Osgoode Hall Law School in four years, the MES/JD program encourages students to integrate these two critical fields and prepares them for a range of careers in environmental affairs, law, and planning, including positions in private law firms, government, business corporations and the non-profit sector.
Applicants to the joint program must apply and be accepted into both programs separately. Students may apply to both programs simultaneously, or during their first year in either program. For detailed information regarding application deadlines and admissions requirements see the Osgoode and Faculty of Environmental Studies admissions pages.
For complete details on the MES/JD Joint Program, please see the MES/JD Joint Program Handbook.
Environmental/Sustainability Education Diploma
The graduate diploma in environmental/sustainability education is offered jointly by the York University graduate programs in Education and Environmental Studies. It is designed to provide opportunities for graduate students and educators in schools, community organizations, cultural institutions and advocacy groups to develop expertise and to participate in research, theory, and practice in the field of environmental and sustainability education. Students must complete 4 required and elective courses (12 credits) in addition to a plan of study and major research related to environmental/ sustainability education. A requirements checklist for this diploma is available in the Graduate Dossier System.
Business and the Environment Diploma
The Business and the Environment diploma is offered jointly by FES and the Schulich School of Business. As part of either the MES or MBA degree, the diploma provides the perspectives, understanding, tools, skills and recognition for York graduates to become leaders in the field of business and sustainability. MES students must complete 4 required and elective courses (12 credits) in addition to a 12-week internship in an approved organization, a plan of study and major research related to business and the environment. A requirements checklist for this diploma is available in the Graduate Dossier System
Other York graduate diplomas
Other York graduate diplomas are also available to MES students.
The Plan of Study
Structure of the Plan of Study
The plan of study forms the basis of the MES learning model. Each student’s plan of study is developed in consultation with their assigned faculty advisor. The plan of study is a statement of intent and commitment that gradually becomes more detailed as students progress through the program.
In developing their plan of study, students decide on the focus of their MES program, establish what they want to learn and propose their path to acquiring the desired knowledge, methods, skills, and perspectives necessary to complete the degree. The plan of study is the basis for the student’s selection of courses and learning activities. The plan of study serves as the basis for advising sessions, examinations and progress through the different stages of the program.
While the content and approaches to plans of study vary considerably with each student, the basic structure is fairly consistent across all students. A template of the Plan of Study/Research Proposal is available in the Graduate Dossier System.
Students are required to upload iterations of their Plan of Study for different exams in the Graduate Dossier System by specific deadlines (see Calendar of Important Dates).
Plan of Study and Examinations
The plan of study is the basis of advancement to different stages of the program. There are different types of examinations to monitor the progress of students: the MES I to II exam, general examinations, the MES II to III exam, and the final exam. A Dean’s Exam might be called by the Graduate Program Director if a student is experiencing academic difficulties. Results and comments of each exam are recorded in the Graduate Dossier System.
MES I: Initial Plan of Study (term 1)
In the first term, and as part of ENVS 5100, students meet weekly with their advisors to discuss and receive feedback on the different elements of the plan of study. Advising sessions can be individualized or in a group. The MES I to II exam, held following the submission of the initial plan of study in the first term with the student’s advisor and an assigned second reader, determines whether the student’s plan adequately frames their program. The exam will likely specify revisions but an approved plan advances the student to the MES II stage.
MES II: Final Plan of Study and Research Proposal (term 2-4)
In the MES II stage, students continue taking courses and developing their plan of study. General Examinations are advising sessions (during MES II stage) in which the student and faculty advisor discuss an iteration of the plan of study and progress in the program. Students should complete at least one methods/research design course in the three first terms of their MES program – in order to better develop their research proposal (major paper, project, portfolio, or thesis).
Students entering term 4 will be required to enrol in ENVS 6102 Research Proposal if they have not already advanced to MES III. (This requirement does not apply to MES/JD students). The outcome of ENVS 6102 is a MES II-III exam before the end of that term. . 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 to III Exam (held in term 4 at the latest) ensures that the student‘s final plan of study and proposal for major research (major paper, project, portfolio or thesis — and human participants research ethics and Risk protocols, if applicable) demonstrate a substantive command of the area of concentration in the plan and proposal. The exam involves two faculty members: the student’s Advisor and the Supervisor for their MES III research work (or another faculty member if the advisor and supervisor are the same person). Students advancing to MES III then focus on their Major Research (ENVS 7899 with no assigned credits).
A Dean’s exam is scheduled at any time during a program if a student does not have an approved Plan of Study in place, receives an Unsatisfactory grade, or has otherwise failed to meet program requirements as specified in the Academic Regulations. This exam is held with the advisor, the Graduate Program Director and a Dean’s representative who chairs the meeting. A Dean’s exam may result in either withdrawal from the program or clearly defined steps and timeline to address the particular conditions that led to this exam.
Options for Major Research
There are four options for MES III major research work: major paper, major project, portfolio, or thesis.
MES Major Paper
A Major Paper synthesizes the area of concentration or explores one or more of its components in depth. The Major Paper is expected to contribute to a student’s knowledge and may also make a contribution to knowledge in general.
MES Major Project
A Major Project represents an applied activity. The output or representation of a major project will be determined by the nature and form of the activity; it may be written, oral, performed or graphic. A Major Project report accompanies the activity and reiterates the activity’s objectives, describes the problems or issues addressed, outlines what was done and learned, and connects back to fulfillment of the plan of study.
A Portfolio is a compilation of works (written and/or other media) that are integrated into a coherent whole. It offers students the opportunity to produce pieces (normally 2 to 4) in different media (e.g., academic essays, material for popular audience, visual media, performance work, etc.). The components of a Portfolio are usually introduced through a short synthesis paper.
Whether electing to complete a major paper, major project or portfolio, students enroll in ENVS 7899 Major Research (for no assigned credits) after advancing to MES III.
The desired length for a Major Paper, Major Project or Portfolio is 25,000 to 30,000 words (excluding bibliography, tables, charts and appendices).
MES Thesis (ENVS 7999)
Like the Major Paper option, the thesis synthesizes the area of concentration or explores one or more of its components in depth. The thesis is expected to contribute to a student’s knowledge and may also make a contribution to knowledge in general. In FES terms, there is therefore no substantive difference between a major paper and a thesis. A thesis, however, is regulated by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and all forms must be submitted to OSAS for recommendation.
MES III: Research and Program Completion (terms 4-6)
MES III students are normally enrolled in research work (with no assigned credits) in the second year of their program (terms 4 to 6) or earlier. Students must complete their major research by the end of term 6. Students should set up a schedule of meetings 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. 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 (see Important Dates). Extensions are not possible. Once all the documents for the MES final exam have been submitted to OSAS, a final examination is scheduled.
Theses have different requirements and timelines. A Thesis Supervisory Committee must be nominated before the end of the third term (or one year ahead of anticipated thesis submission) and consists of a minimum of two faculty members, at least one of whom must be from FES and acts as the supervisor. A Thesis proposal (and relevant ethics protocols) must be approved by the committee and submitted not less than three months prior to the date set for the oral examination to FGS via OSAS. Normally, the proposal is submitted substantially earlier since most research projects take longer than 3 months. The thesis will be examined by the committee and an external examiner prior to the MES Final Exam.
The MES Final Examination evaluates 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 research. It is normally held with three faculty members (supervisor, advisor and a chair who is arm’s length from the student’s program).
FES compiles students’ exemplary major research works in the Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Series. A database of titles of MES major papers, major projects, portfolios and theses are also available under Research.
Registration and Enrolment
MES students are expected to register (i.e., accepting/paying fees) in the York Registration and Enrolment Module (known as REM) and to enrol in courses for each term of the program in both REM and the FES Graduate Dossier System. Registration (i.e. accepting or paying fees) in REM is done using the Passport York online system. It is the responsibility of the student to register/accept fees in REM prior to the registration deadline to avoid a $200 late registration fee.
Course enrolment (to be discussed with your advisor) is open until the second week of the term. Enrolment involves adding courses in REM (using catalogue numbers) and also completing a ‘Course Advising/Enrolment’ form in the Graduate Dossier System. Enrolment in REM and Graduate Dossier system must always match perfectly. Students register and enrol in courses during Fall, Winter and Summer terms. Course offerings are limited in the summer term and so summer enrolment typically involves Individual Directed Study and/or Experiential Learning credits. Students must also enrol in major research even though such courses have no assigned credit value. Catalogue numbers are not provided for ENVS 6102, 6599, 6699, 7799, 7899 and 7999 as these courses require manual input by OSAS. You will be enrolled in these courses once OSAS receives complete paperwork in the Graduate Dossier System.
Registration and enrolment block
A student’s registration and enrolment may be blocked because of financial debt, an admissions requirement, or a problem with enrolment paperwork from a previous term, or per the request of a faculty advisor or supervisor. Students may inquire about the reason for any block by contacting OSAS.
Choosing Courses and Enrolling
All enrolment forms should be submitted in the Graduate Dossier System and the same course enrolment needs to be entered in REM. Incomplete enrolment forms or packages will delay processing.
Graduate Course List
Students should check the list of graduate course offerings regularly for updates to the timetables. While most courses are offered every year, some specialized courses are offered only in alternate years.
This course list contains multiple pages and can be searched by course number, term, year or days of the week.
It is also possible for students to enroll in a course outside of FES, to take an existing FES course for extra credits, to design their own course in collaboration with a faculty instructor, or to gain credits for experiential learning.
ENVS 6599 Individual directed study (IDS)
If students’ Plan of Study requires them to acquire specific knowledge or skills that cannot be acquired through an existing graduate course at York or another nearby university, then the student may propose to enrol in ENVS 6599: Individual Directed Study for 3 or 6 credits per term for a maximum of 18 credits per program. To enroll in an IDS course, the student will need to submit a detailed description of the work (including a complete bibliography if relevant) to be undertaken in the term (see Graduate Dossier System) and add this course on their Advising/Enrolment form. OSAS will post the course in REM.
ENVS 6699 Experiential Learning
An experiential learning course earns students credit while they work or volunteer in the field. The field experience must be related to the Plan of Study and must be approved by the student’s advisor. Experiential learning can be taken for 3, 6, 9 or 12 credits per term for a maximum of 18 credits during the MES program. A work placement of 8-10 hours per week for 12 weeks is equivalent to 3 credits. A student wishing to enroll in this course must first secure a field experience position (receive an email confirmation from the on-site field supervisor) and discuss it with their faculty advisor/instructor.
Students enrol in this course under a FES faculty instructor who will evaluate their experiential learning report to be submitted by the last day of the term. In addition to the name of the organization, field supervisor (and email), and position title, the report (of 2,500 words maximum) should describe 1) the tasks/activities for which the student was responsible; 2) the learning experience and substantive knowledge and skills gained; 3) the relation of the experience to the student’s Area of Concentration and components.
York Courses Outside of FES
Students can request to take a course in another graduate program at York though the FGS petition. The student must obtain the permission of the course instructor and if possible the guest department (with a signature or by email). The form and confirmation must be submitted to OSAS for approval by the Graduate Program Director.
4000-level Undergraduate Course
Under exceptional circumstances and if directly related to their Plan of Study, a student can request to enroll in one 4xxx-level undergraduate course by filling in a request for a graduate student to enroll in an undergraduate course. An undergraduate or integrated course taken during the BES program cannot be taken again at the MES level.
Request to take an FES course for additional credits
Students can request to take a FES graduate course for an additional 3 credits in the Graduate Dossier with the course director’s permission when they want to substantially increase their work in the course.
All enrolment forms should be submitted in the Graduate Dossier System. Incomplete enrolment forms or packages will delay processing.
Changes in Course Enrolment
Before the deadline to change enrolment each term (usually two weeks into the term), students can change the courses they are enrolled in by completing the “Change Enrolment” form in the Graduate Dossier System.
Students will be able to add or drop courses in the Graduate Dossier System and in REM during the first four weeks of the term) using the petitions to add or drop a course. Past that one month deadline, students must use the “Petition to Retroactively Withdraw from Course” in the Graduate Dossier System to drop a course. A grade of Withdrawn (W) will be assigned. A student cannot carry more than 3 Ws during their program.
Leaves and Withdrawals
Students are eligible for leaves of absence under exceptional circumstances. There are two types of leaves: compassionate and elective. A compassionate leave of absence can be taken anytime after the first term of study for medical, personal or family reasons. An elective leave can be taken for one term only following the first term of study and prior to Term 5 of the MES program. Students cannot have any incomplete grades or outstanding course work from previous terms in order to petition for an elective leave of absence. Students cannot use an elective leave for activities which form part of a plan of study (such as a field experience, individual directed study, or individual research).
A student may petition for voluntarily withdrawal but only if their academic record is in good standing would they be eligible for reinstatement or readmission into the program.
Petitions for leaves and withdrawals using the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ “Academic Petition” form must be accompanied by relevant documentation and submitted to OSAS by particular deadlines for FES and FGS approvals.