Doctor of Philosophy in Geography

Graduates are expected to have acquired autonomy in their ability to teach, conduct research and prepare scholarly publications. They are also expected to have developed self-learning abilities and to apply critical and innovative thinking to problem-solving. This objective is achieved by providing a broad knowledge of theoretical and practical geography through courses and seminars, instructional experience through teaching assistantships and giving lectures, as well as basic research training and technical expertise through independent projects and research assistantships.

Broad knowledge in the field of geography is verified through the successful completion of course requirements and the passing of a comprehensive examination. Achievement in independent research is verified through the writing, presentation and successful defence of a thesis embodying the results of original research that provides significant contributions to geographic knowledge. 

Admission Requirements

There are two routes of entry into the doctoral program. The first requires a master's degree in geography or equivalent. Normally only a master's student with an A- average on all graduate work will be admitted. The second route allows exceptional students early entry to the PhD program from the master's program. Such applicants must have completed all MA/MES/MSc requirements except the thesis, have demonstrated a superior academic record, and satisfied other conditions (details of which can be obtained from the director of the program).

Program Requirements

To meet the program requirements, students must satisfactorily complete the required coursework, the comprehensive examination and must successfully defend the dissertation.

Course Work

The course load at the doctoral level is normally one research seminar (selected from GG600 - Foundations in Spatial Data Handling, GG620 - Foundations in Human Geography, GG640 - Foundations in Environmental Science, GG660 - Foundations in Resource and Environmental Management). Additional course work may be assigned subject to the needs of individual candidates. To continue in the program, students will be required to attain a minimum grade of B+ in each course.

GG800 - Professional Skills Development for Doctoral Students is required of all students. While in residence, all doctoral candidates must participate in GG800.

Comprehensive Examination

GG891 - PhD Comprehensive Examination focuses on the student's field of specialization and includes both a written and an oral component. The comprehensive examining committee includes the student's advisor and three other members, one of whom will be from outside of the program. At least two members of the comprehensive examining committee must be members of the Waterloo-Laurier Graduate Program in Geography. A chair of the comprehensive examination is appointed by the graduate dean or designate (UW); the departmental graduate coordinator (WLU).

The examination will normally be completed by the end of the fourth term of registration in the doctoral program. (This requirement assumes continuous registration once admitted into the program.)

Decisions in the Comprehensive Examination

When the Chair has determined that the Examiners have asked all their questions, the student will leave the room and then the Chair will (i) ask the Examiners in turn to indicate verbally their evaluation of the written and oral parts of the examination; and (ii) call upon each Examiner to vote as to whether or not the student has adequate knowledge in the chosen field of study and has identified a major research issue to be pursued in the dissertation research, as demonstrated in the written and oral parts of the examination.

Evaluating both the written and oral components of the examination, the members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee will vote one of the following three outcomes:

Passed: the student successfully completed all requirements of the examination. 

Passed conditionally: the student will be considered to have completed the exam successfully upon having satisfied conditions established by the examining committee. The conditions shall:

  • be communicated to the student in writing; 
  • contain the date by which the conditions must be satisfied; 
  • identify the member(s) of the Examination Committee responsible for determining that the conditions have been met. Normally, this determination will be made by at least one member of the committee other than the student's supervisor or co-supervisors.

Failure to satisfy the conditions within the designated time limit shall result in an outcome of Re-examination.

Re-examination: The student will be required to repeat the exam. In this case, the student shall be provided written communication that identifies the deficiencies in the exam that led to this outcome and the deadline by which the re-examination must take place. In the case of re-examination it is anticipated that the committee membership will be the same as the initial committee. Any changes in membership must adhere to committee guidelines and be approved by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or designate.

When a student is re-examined, the outcomes are limited to:


Exam Unsuccessful: the student will be deemed to have failed to satisfy the program's comprehensive exam requirement. In this case, the student shall receive written communication identifying the deficiencies in the exam that led to this outcome.

A student who is deemed to have failed to satisfy the comprehensive exam requirement (Exam Unsuccessful) may not continue in the current PhD program. The student's status will change to Required to Withdraw in the term immediately following the term in which the examination took place. 

The outcome of the exam is determined by the majority vote of the examining committee. The following rules govern the voting process:

  • In the case where the student is co-supervised, the co-supervisors' votes shall count collectively as one vote. In the case where co-supervisors vote for different outcomes, these votes shall count as 0.5 votes for each outcome.
  • In the case where only two outcomes receive votes and the number of votes is equal for both outcomes, the decision shall be for the less positive outcome, provided that outcome is not exam unsuccessful.
  • If the previous case results in an exam unsuccessful outcome, or if no majority is obtained, the case shall be referred to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (or delegate), who shall make the final determination of the outcome of the exam.

Any appeal by the student concerning a negative evaluation should be taken to the Graduate Student Appeals Committee. 

In programs where the comprehensive exam involves multiple components, a student may obtain different outcomes on each component of the exam. The comprehensive exam will be considered failed if the candidate receives an exam unsuccessful outcome on any component. No component may be repeated more than once. 

PhD Dissertation Requirements

The regulations and procedures at the university in which the student is registered will govern both the dissertation (GG899 - Doctoral Thesis) and the examination formats.

Residence Requirements

Normal: six terms from master's degree, nine terms from honours bachelor's degree.
Minimum: four terms from master's degree, six terms from honours bachelor's degree.