PhD Students

PhD in Environmental Studies

The Faculty adopts an interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies where the social sciences, humanities, arts and natural sciences meet and inform each other. The Faculty encourages the use of different theoretical approaches to explore environmental issues in their historical and comparative contexts, considering social, ecological, political and economic constraints and possibilities. It also encourages exploration of how theoretical and practical matters intersect, and how reflexive, rigorous, critical and creative thinking can inform interpretations and policies.

Since the program was established in 1991, doctoral students in the Faculty of Environmental Studies have engaged with an extremely diverse array of environmental concerns and approaches related to natural, built, social, cultural, political, economic, organizational, spiritual, philosophical, literary and virtual environments. The environment and Environmental Studies are far from static concepts and change over time with varying societal norms and understandings.

Program Details

The PhD Program requires full-time registration for a maximum of 18 terms (not including leaves of absence and other exceptional circumstances).

Our doctoral program follows three stages: the Program Plan stage, the Comprehensives Examination stage and the Dissertation stage. The two first stages are regulated by the Faculty of Environmental Studies while the Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation are regulated primarily by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Program Plan Stage

The program plan stage normally spreads over two terms. In the first term of the program, PhD candidates develop their program plan with their supervisor and via the required PhD Seminar ENVS 8102. The program plan serves as the student’s proposal for comprehensive examinations. The program plan should include precise statements about the context of research inquiry (including definitions and main debates, relations between the comprehensive areas and key questions arising from them), the specific content of two or three comprehensive areas with a short description and a preliminary bibliography, and a program timeline. The program plan generally outlines the first comprehensive area in detail and broadly maps out the subsequent area(s). Detailed outlines for subsequent comps are developed and approved prior to subsequent comprehensive exams.

The student also assembles their Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee normally made up of the supervisor (from FES) and two additional members (typically, with at least one of the additional members from FES).

In the second term, the program plan is reviewed, revised and approved by the Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee. Once approved, the student uploads their program plan in the FES Graduate Dossier System.

Students are normally expected to have an approved program plan before the end of the 3th term.

Course Work

During the program plan stage and the comprehensive examination stage, students are encouraged to take courses in FES and in other graduate programs at York University.

There is only one mandatory course in the PhD program, ENVS 8102 PhD Research Seminar (Fall Term) for incoming PhD candidates in the first term of their program. The Fall seminar offers an introduction to select interdisciplinary themes in environmental studies. It is intended to stimulate interaction and discussion of substantive issues, theoretical frameworks, epistemological and methodological approaches related to intellectual praxis in environmental studies. Critical exploration of interdisciplinary research problems assists with the preparation of the program plan and addresses questions emerging from the students’ comprehensive research fields. The course also provides opportunities to explore the various facets of academic life, including engagements in teaching, research and writing.

Students must receive a “Pass” grade in ENVS 8102 (Fall term) in order to continue in the program. An “Unsatisfactory” grade will result in automatic withdrawal from the program.

An elective ENVS 8102(b) PhD Research Design in Winter term is highly recommended for second and third year students preparing their dissertation proposal. The purpose of the Winter seminar is to assist PhD candidates in developing their dissertation proposals through a critical and interdisciplinary exploration of research design and methodology.

Comprehensive Examination Stage

Following the approval of the program plan, students enter the comprehensive examination stage. This stage allows students to gain a comprehensive knowledge of particular fields and theories (and their respective epistemologies and methodologies). The comprehensive fields should be broad enough to encompass a range of theoretical debates or methodological approaches related to their proposed dissertation work. During this stage, students are asked to read widely, yet in a focused way, in order to draw out prevailing themes, issues, and debates in chosen literature.

The purpose of the PhD comprehensive examination is to ensure that the student: 1) has in-depth knowledge of the fields in which their research is situated; 2) is capable of critically and rigorously engaging with core readings of pre-identified fields’ current theoretical, methodological or empirical debates; and 3) is capable of undertaking the independent work needed to successfully complete a dissertation and contribute to academic debates.

Format of Comprehensive Work

Each comprehensive field (generally for a total of two or three) is typically examined on the basis of an thorough literature review organized around the exploration of a problem, debate, theme, classificatory scheme, argument, trajectory or position within a (inter)disciplinary field. The output of a comprehensive exam is generally 30 to 40 pages double spaced (plus bibliography). Students are expected to review approximately 60 to 75 significant books or their equivalent in articles or works in other formats for their two or three comprehensive areas. Comprehensive work may take any of the following or other forms defined and agreed upon with Advisory (Comprehensive) Committees:

  • Integrated paper (25-30 double-spaced pages plus bibliography) that exhaustively elaborates a particular aspect of the comprehensive area;
  • Review paper (30-40 double-spaced pages plus bibliography) that systematically, synthetically and critically reviews a particular field;
  • Course syllabus (for an upper-level undergraduate course) including course rationale, readings, lecture topics, evaluation criteria, and assignments. Course design usually also includes a teaching philosophy statement and lecture notes for an undergraduate audience.
  • Take-home examination paper(s) based on questions developed by the Committee, with a clear deadline (not to exceed one term);
  • “In-situ” day exam based on questions handed out the same day or a few days ahead of time (materials and notes allowed);
  • Portfolio (2-3 pieces of work) such as a refereed publication, exemplary course paper, book chapter, book reviews and/or conference paper;
  • Oral, visual or other type of original work (e.g., film, video, sculpture, dance, performance, multi-media, art installation, etc.) supported by a written account that conceptualizes related intellectual debates and issues.

Each comprehensive area is typically examined separately but they may also be presented and examined collectively as agreed to the Advisory/Comprehensive Committee.

The outcome of a comprehensive examination can either be acceptable, acceptable pending specified revisions, or unsatisfactory. In the case of an unsatisfactory decision, the Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee shall give written instructions for revisions and schedule a second exam within a six-month period. Failure to pass a second exam will result in a withdrawal from the program for failure to meet academic standards.

Upon approval by their Advisory (Comprehensive Committee), PhD students are required to upload each comprehensive in the FES Graduate Dossier system.

Students are normally expected to finish this stage before the end of the 8th term.

Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation Stage

Following the successful completion of the comprehensive exams and coursework, a doctoral student prepares their Dissertation Proposal. After the successful approval of the dissertation proposal, the student advances to candidacy (ABD –all but dissertation).

The Dissertation Proposal is reviewed and approved by your (Dissertation) Supervisory Committee, which may consists of the same members of your Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee as long as they are appointed to the Faculty of Graduate Studies).

The Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation are regulated by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) so the Supervisor and Supervisory Committee need to be officially nominated to the Faculty of Graduate Studies using the Supervisor & Supervisory Committee Approval form. The form is submitted to OSAS for the Graduate Program Director’s recommendation and FGS approval.

The PhD Dissertation Proposal details the research topic and design, and must include a working title, a focused research statement, a succinct literature review, a detailed methodological section, a proposed schedule of activities, a tentative outline of the dissertation and an extensive bibliography. Recommended length varies between 3,500 and 6,000 words. The longer range (6000 words) exceeds the FGS recommended proposal length so as to allow inclusion in the proposal of a topical literature review that might otherwise have been covered in a third comprehensive exam Students should familiarize themselves with FGS Dissertation requirements and process.

Once approved, the Dissertation Proposal, including ethics protocols if human participants are involved in the research, are submitted to OSAS for the Graduate Program Director’s recommendation and FGS approval.

Graduate students undertaking research involving human participants are required to follow the appropriate procedures and obtain ethics approval before conducting research activities. All graduate student researchers must complete the TCPS tutorial to establish that they have completed the necessary education component and attach their certificate of completion to their protocols. Students also must maintain active registration status while conducting the approved research. For more information on the ethics protocols procedures for research involving Aboriginal/Indigenous Peoples, or funded/unfunded and minimal/more than minimal risk, see Research Ethics on the FGS website.

A risk assessment, if applicable, must be approved by the FES Research Committee via submission in the FES Graduate Dossier system.

PhD students are expected to have their Dissertation Proposal approved by their Dissertation Supervisory Committee before the end of the 10th term.

Once the student has completed a full draft of the dissertation, the supervisor and committee members must determine whether the dissertation is suitable for examination. The supervisor is responsible for assembling the Dissertation Examination Committee and scheduling the dissertation examination. A Recommendation for Oral Examination: Doctoral Dissertation form must be submitted to OSAS for graduate program director and FGS approvals.

The dissertation must be completed before the 18th term. A student will automatically be withdrawn after 18 terms but may petition for a short extension or reinstatement to defend.


PhD supervisors act as mentors and advisers on research areas and program progress. Supervisors meet regularly with their supervisees to provide feedback and help explore substantive and professional aspects of doctoral studies. They introduce students to literature and contacts in their field. If possible, they provide recommendations for students’ grant and job applications. They are encouraged to collaborate with their students on research projects. Supervisory expectations (e.g., submission requirements, timelines and meeting schedule, etc.) should be discussed early on with the supervisor and other committee members. Faculty sabbatical and research leaves must be discussed so that students are aware of their supervisor’s availability during such absences and so that alternative arrangements can be made where necessary, with the approval of the PhD Program Coordinator and Graduate Program Director.

Students and supervisors should refer to the FGS Policy on Graduate Supervision for guidelines.

Supervisor and Committee Members’s Responsibilities

The program plan and comprehensive exams are developed under the supervision of the Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee. The (interim) supervisor chairs this committee and guides the student in the development of the program plan and comprehensive proposals. Committee members consult with students and give substantial feedback within a reasonable timeframe. Committee meetings are scheduled for the purpose of approving the program plan and holding comprehensive exams. The (interim) supervisor is expected to submit a progress report in the FES Graduate Dossier System every time the committee meets with the student or whenever a substantive decision is made about the student’s program. Changes in the composition of the Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee (including interim supervisor) require the approval of the PhD program coordinator.

The supervisor and members of the (Dissertation) Supervisory Committee approve and guide the development of the dissertation proposal. They assist the student in the planning and implementation of research as well as the writing phase of the dissertation. They provide substantial feedback on written materials. During the dissertation stage, the supervisor shall report on the student’s progress at least once a year in the FES Graduate Dossier system.

Doctoral Students’ Responsibilities

Students must adhere to the principles of academic honesty. Students are expected to know and meet the administrative requirements of the PhD program, including continuous registration. Students must keep in regular contact with their supervisor.

They must inform their supervisor, the PhD program coordinator and the graduate program director about proposed changes to their student status (leave, withdrawal, etc.) or other issues that may affect the course and timing of their doctoral program.

Per the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ regulations, no later than the end of the fifth term of study, a student must officially nominate their supervisor by submitting the PhD Supervisor and Supervisory Committee Approval form (available on FGS website) to OSAS for the graduate program director and FGS’ approvals. Furthermore, the student is expected to officially nominate all members of (Dissertation) Supervisory Committee members (by submitting the same PhD Supervisor and Supervisory Committee Approval form to OSAS for the graduate program director and FGS’ approvals) no later than the end of the eighth term of study. Supervisor and supervisory committee nominations required (signature or email) confirmations from faculty members.

During the dissertation stage, students are expected to keep in regular contact with their supervisors, seek advice from supervisory committee members when necessary, and periodically update their Committee on the progress of their dissertation.

PhD Program Coordinator

The PhD program coordinator chairs and coordinates the PhD Program, Curriculum and Admissions Committee. The PhD program coordinator provides liaison among OSAS, FES and the graduate program director, PHESSA, faculty supervisors and students. The coordinator monitors student progress, approves committee decisions, and relays information to supervisors, students and the PhD Program, Curriculum and Admissions committee when appropriate. The PhD program coordinator is available for consultation with current and prospective doctoral students.

Graduate Program Director

The graduate program director is responsible for the administration of the graduate programs, including but not limited to enrolment and advising/supervision, scholarships, student progression and status, program and curricular changes, etc. The graduate program director recommends petitions to FGS and addresses conflict between graduate students and faculty members (in consultation with the PhD program coordinator or FGS when appropriate). The graduate program director is available for consultation and advice with current and prospective doctoral students.

Registration and Enrolment

Students must be continuously registered full time in the program for a maximum of 18 terms. Students must register (i.e. accept fees) into York University’s Registration and Enrolment module (REM) every term (Fall, Winter and Summer) using Passport York.

Registration deadlines are posted in the FES Academic Calendar. 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.

The doctoral program is activity-based and for no credits but course enrolment is achieved by logging into 1) REM (course catalogue number needed) and 2) the FES Graduate Dossier system — making sure that enrolment in REM and the Graduate Dossier system matches exactly.

In the first year, students enrol in ENVS 8102 PhD Research Seminar and other courses of their choice (maximum of 12 credits/term). Course selection should be discussed with supervisors. If you enroll in courses after the first term, a PhD Course Advising/Enrolment form in the FES Graduate Dossier System can be provided by OSAS. Students should check the FES website regularly for updates to the timetables and course listing.

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