PhD doctoral dissertation

The PhD program culminates in the writing and defence of a doctoral dissertation. The dissertation must draw upon transdisciplinary inquiry and original research.

Basic forms

Two forms of presentation are allowed:

  1. A standard dissertation monograph with a maximum of 70,000 words, addressing a particular purpose and set of questions, involving the building of an argument based on an integrated conceptual framework and original research.
  2. A manuscript option, centered on three (or four) published or publishable learned journal-type manuscripts on related matters, packaged with introductory and concluding chapters that integrate the purposes/research agenda and findings/implications, with the required result forming a conceptual whole.

The particular requirements for the manuscript option in individual cases will be determined by the advisory committee. For example, depending on the nature of the core manuscripts, the committee may require inclusion of supplementary background or research material not in the manuscripts. In all cases, the following considerations apply:

  • The manuscript-based dissertation must reflect a consistent overall conceptual foundation and research agenda and the parts must be integrated to form a coherent package. The whole must be related to the overall purposes of the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) doctoral program, and the individual components of the dissertation must originate from the doctoral research.
  • The manuscripts must be dominated by the intellectual effort of the student. While members of the advisory committee and others involved in the research may, as appropriate, be listed as secondary authors on individual manuscripts, the manuscripts must be written by the student, and the student must be the first author on each manuscript.
  • Where multiple authorship occurs, there must be a preface statement in the thesis outlining the roles of the respective authors, and clarifying the extent and nature of the contribution of the student. Co-authors must sign the statement to indicate that they are in agreement with the evaluation of the roles and contributions of the various authors.
  • In no case can a co-author serve as an external examiner for the thesis.

In consultation with the advisor and other members of the advisory committee, each doctoral student in SERS is expected to define their own area of focus and research agenda, and to situate it in the larger context of social and ecological sustainability. This applies to all cases, recognizing that the thesis research may be a contributing part of a larger research undertaking, such as a funded research program under the direction of the student’s advisor.

Each student's work in developing the dissertation proposal, conducting the research, and completing the dissertation will be done in close communication with the advisor and assisted by other members of their advisory committee. The advisory committee must be formed during the student’s first year in the program.

Dissertation defence

Normally, and in keeping with University of Waterloo regulations, students should complete and defend the dissertation within a maximum of 12 terms of full time study. This time limit can be extended only by following the procedures outlined in the University of Waterloo's Graduate Studies Academic Calendar. Students are encouraged to complete the program more quickly.

Before the oral defence is scheduled, each student must have presented an element of their research at a faculty-graduate student research seminar (see above). Students are encouraged to present their work when feedback will be most beneficial, for example, soon after completion of data collection.

When the dissertation is ready for defence – after having been reviewed by the advisory committee and revised as needed to address committee recommendations – the supervisor and the committee member need to sign off on the Confirmation of agreement to proceed with a thesis defense (PDF) form and then the student will submit the dissertation formally and an oral defence will be scheduled.

The Examining Committee consists of a minimum of five members: an external examiner, either the supervisor and three other members of the university, or the co-supervisors and two other members of the university. 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. Normally, University of Waterloo members of the Examining Committee will be drawn from the student's Advisory Committee.

A Dissertation Examination Chair will be appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies.

Details about the dissertation defence requirements and decisions are available in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar.