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PhD advisory committee

Formation of the dissertation advisory committee

Within one month of successful completion of the comprehensive examination, the dissertation advisory committee for the PhD student should be formed.

The Advisory Committee will normally have three or four members. At least two members of the committee must have majority appointments in SERS (at least one of whom must be a non-supervising member). At least one non-supervising member must be external to SERS, and is referred to as the “internal-external” member. If the Supervisor does not have a regular appointment at the University of Waterloo, then the Advisory Committee must include a Co-supervisor who has a majority appointment in SERS. Note that each member of the Advisory Committee must have a University of Waterloo appointment (be “a member of the university”) for the purposes of meeting the defence committee requirements. Adjunct professor status at UW qualifies.

The advisor or co-advisor/student are responsible for submitting the "PhD Advisory Committee Approval Form" to the Graduate Program Administrator. The committee must be approved by the Associate Chair, Graduate Studies of SERS and the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.

Basic requirements for the dissertation proposal

Each student must prepare and gain committee approval for a dissertation proposal following successful completion of the comprehensive examination, and no later than the end of his or her second year (sixth term) in the program.

The dissertation advisory committee will be responsible for guiding proposal development and for reviewing and approving the completed proposal. The expected form and contents of the proposal and the procedures for the committee review and approval are set out below.

Before approving the proposal in cases where the proposed dissertation research depends significantly on texts and/or interviews and/or other communication in a language other than English, the dissertation advisory committee must determine whether the candidate has sufficient proficiency in that language. If the candidate does not have sufficient proficiency in the view of the committee, the committee must prescribe suitable means for the candidate to achieve the necessary proficiency for the particular circumstances of the case. This may include requirements to take formal courses at the University and/or special training courses at the research location.

Upon formal approval of the proposal by the dissertation advisory committee, the candidate proceeds to the research and writing of the dissertation. In the absence of mitigating circumstances, candidates who fail to win approval for their thesis dissertation proposal within the established time frame will be required to leave the program. In cases where the candidate’s research agenda changes significantly following the proposal defence, the dissertation advisory committee will determine whether a revised proposal must be prepared and defended.

Preparation for the dissertation proposal

Preparation of the dissertation proposal is the responsibility of the candidate but is to be guided by the dissertation advisory committee. A key early step, therefore, is establishment of that committee.

In preparation for drafting the dissertation proposal, the candidate should, in addition to discussions with his or her advisor(s), meet with the full dissertation advisory committee to discuss the dissertation agenda and other key matters to be addressed in the proposal. The committee should attempt to ensure reasonable clarity and agreement about expectations for the proposal, beyond the general expectations set out below.

Expected form and contents of the dissertation proposal

The dissertation proposal is expected to:

  • set out the main purposes, scope and focus of the dissertation research and the core question or questions that the dissertation will attempt to answer;
  • outline the intellectual context within which the research will be situated, including the literatures immediately relevant to the dissertation agenda;
  • show how the proposed work fits with and aims to contribute to the broader contexts of transdisciplinary research and concerns related to the sustainability of socio-ecological systems;
  • outline the practical context of the research, including as appropriate the major ecological, social, economic, cultural, institutional and other aspects, and their interrelations;
  • outline the main anticipated contributions to knowledge, and the grounds for expecting that the contributions will be significant and original;
  • outline the methodology, including justification for the chosen research methods;
  • identify and provide justification for the basic form of dissertation presentation to be used (the standard monograph option or the manuscript option – see the explanations provided in the general guide to the SERS PhD Program); and
  • provide a timeline for completion of the dissertation.

The proposal does not have to address these items in the order adopted above.

The length of the proposal document is not limited, but 10,000 words should be sufficient and the document should not in ordinary circumstances exceed 15,000 words.

Requirements of and procedures for the approval of the dissertation proposal

The student will provide the complete proposal to the members of the advisory committee. The student's advisor will convene a meeting of the full advisory committee. At this meeting, members of the committee will have an opportunity to seek clarification from the student and to offer suggestions. If the committee decides that the proposal is satisfactory, then the members will sign the form Dissertation Proposal Approval Form and the student will be authorized to proceed. In the event that the proposal is deemed unsatisfactory, the student will be required to make revisions in a timely fashion. A subsequent committee meeting to consider the revised proposal is needed only in cases where substantial changes were required. Regardless of whether or not a further meeting is held, the advisor is responsible for ensuring that the Dissertation Proposal Approval Form is signed by the committee members.

A completed copy of the "Dissertation Proposal Approval Form" will be kept in the student's file.