The program information below was valid for the fall 2016 term (September 1, 2016 - December 31, 2016). This is the archived version; the most up-to-date program information is available through the current Graduate Studies Academic Calendar.

The Graduate Studies Academic Calendar is updated 3 times per year, at the start of each academic term (January 1, May 1, September 1). Graduate Studies Academic Calendars from previous terms can be found in the archives.

Fields (areas of research)

  • Resource Analysis and Stewardship
  • Socio-Ecosystem Function and Renewal
  • Sustainability Policy and Governance
  • Admit term(s) 
    • Fall
  • Delivery mode 
    • On-campus
  • Length of program 
    • The University has set the minimum required enrolment period for the Doctoral degree at six terms (two years) from completion of a Master's degree, and has set the maximum period for full time students as twelve terms (four years) from completion of the Master's degree, though time extensions may be granted.
  • Program type 
    • Doctoral
    • Research
  • Registration option(s) 
    • Full-time
    • Part-time
  • Registration option(s) information 
    • This program will not normally be offered on a part-time basis. In exceptional circumstances, students may assume part-time status after their formal course work has been completed.
  • Study option(s) 
  • Minimum requirements 
    • Students must hold a Master's degree with distinction (typically an overall average of at least 80%) or the equivalent.
  • Application materials 
    • Résumé
    • Supplementary information form
      • Outlining the main areas of academic and other expertise, experience and curiosity.
      • The main area(s) of research the student hopes to emphasize in course and thesis work.
      • Information on prior education, training, practical experience, field work, publications, or other accomplishments pertinent to areas of interest.
    • Transcript(s)
  • References 
    • Number of references:  3
    • Type of references: 

      at least 2 academic.

  • English language proficiency (ELP) (if applicable)

    Thesis option:

  • Graduate Academic Integrity Module (Graduate AIM)
  • Courses 
    • Students must complete the following 2 core courses:
      • ERS 701 Sustainability in Complex Socio‐Ecological Systems
      • ERS 702 Critical Analysis and Advanced Research in Environmental Studies
    • Students will be required to take at least 1 additional course. This coursework will be determined through discussions with the student’s committee, and will be based on previous training, area of specialization, and long‐term academic vision. The third course will to seek to fill the greatest “gap” in his or her portfolio, perhaps related to their research or even to obtain an additional “teachable” for academic job applications. In some cases, it may be decided that a student would benefit from further specialization related to their area of study. In other cases, it may be deemed beneficial for a student to take a course in the field in which they have least training, to enhance transdisciplinary capabilities.
    • The third course will be taken at the graduate level and as such will emphasize independent reading and research. The third course may be a course offered in another department, including the Department of Geography and Environmental Management and the School of Planning in the Faculty of Environment.
    • Students must complete the 3 one‐term courses in the first year and must maintain an overall average of 80% or greater.
    • Students may be required to take additional courses to ensure they have the requisite research skills in their field, particularly related to methodology and statistics. The Master of Environmental Studies (MES) curriculum includes both a methods course (ERS 669 Research Design and Methods) and a proposal development course (ERS 670 MES Research Development), but it is assumed that, normally, students coming into the PhD program will have equivalent training and experience. Students may also choose to take supplemental courses later in their program based on discussions with their advisory committee. They will also need to do so if they fail their comprehensive examination.
    • Students entering the PhD program from the MES may be required to take the PhD core courses but they may also be directed to alternative coursework if their committee concludes that this is warranted based on their previous training.
  • Link(s) to courses
  • PhD Seminar
    • Students must present a lecture on some aspect of their research and findings at a Faculty of Environment research seminar prior to the end of their third year.
    • Students will be required to present some part of their PhD research in the SERS seminar series during their time in the program. They will also be expected to attend the seminar lectures during their tenure in the SERS, especially during their first year in the program. This series will help to establish a community of scholars and will also nurture their awareness of research in other areas.
  • PhD Comprehensive Examination
    • Students must write a comprehensive exam within 16 months of beginning the program. Normally the exam must be completed before the end of the student‘s fourth term. The exam will be a “diagnostic”, with both oral and written components, which tests breadth and depth of comprehension of the leading literature and perspectives in their field of study and ability to situate that work in the broader context of concerns related to the sustainability of socio‐ecological systems.
    • The identification and delineation of the “field of study” will be accomplished through discussions between the student and his or her comprehensive examination committee. Because of the transdisciplinary nature of the work, the “field” may in many cases represent a conjunction of thought and practice in several areas and/or from several perspectives. Background preparation for this aspect of the comprehensive exam may include course work, previous training and/or independent or directed reading. These preparations will be guided through discussions with the major advisor and committee regarding areas of strength and weakness in the student’s knowledge.
    • The comprehensive examination will also test the student’s broader understanding of transdisciplinary approaches to sustainability in socio‐ecological systems discussed in the two core seminars. Specifically, students will need to situate their particular field of study in the broader context explored in the two core seminars.
    • The procedure for the comprehensive examination will be initiated by the supervisor, who in consultation with the student will identify appropriate members of the comprehensive advisory committee. That committee will be comprised of at least four members, including the supervisor (or co‐advisors), at least two faculty members who have majority appointments in the SERS, and at
      least one examiner from outside the Department. The Program Director, in consultation with the supervisor, will be responsible formally for establishing the comprehensive advisory committee as the examining committee for the comprehensive. The comprehensive question or questions will be proposed by the comprehensive advisory committee for the approval of the Program Director. The written comprehensive response will be subject to word and time limits, and an oral defence. Students must complete the comprehensive exam before proceeding to the dissertation stage. Failure to take the comprehensive exam within the first 16 months may result in dismissal from the program. Those who fail their exam may be permitted to re‐take it once, but will first be required to
      take specified courses or to undertake other specified supplementary work to relieve weaknesses revealed by the first comprehensive. Students who are permitted to re‐take the comprehensive after completing additional requirements must satisfy the comprehensive requirement within one calendar year after the unsuccessful attempt. Students who fail to meet these conditions will be required to withdraw.
  • PhD Thesis Proposal
    • After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, a PhD advisory Committee will be formed by the student with the agreement of the Program Director and the approval of the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. The Advisory Committee will normally have three or four members. At least two members of the Committee must have majority appointments in the SERS (at least one of
      whom must be a non‐supervising member). At least one non‐supervising member must be external to the 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 ERS. The supervisor or one of the co‐supervisors must be accredited at the University of Waterloo as an Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor (ADDS).
    • The candidate will be required to submit a dissertation proposal to his or her committee in time to defend it by the end of his or her second year (sixth term) in the program. In exceptional cases an extension to allow defence of the proposal in the seventh term may be permitted.
    • 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 supervisory 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 supervisory committee, the candidate proceeds to the research and writing of the dissertation. Candidates who fail to satisfy the dissertation proposal presentation and defence requirement within the established time frame will be asked to leave the program, unless an extension has been granted.
  • PhD Thesis
    • Doctoral students in the SERS are expected to define their own area of focus and research agenda, though in consultation with their advisors and other committee members.
    • 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 his or her advisory committee. The advisory committee must be formed during the student’s first year in the program.
    • Normally, and in keeping with University of Waterloo regulations, students should complete and defend the dissertation within four years of starting the program. This time limit can be extended only by following the procedures outlined in the University of Waterloo’s Graduate Studies Academic Calendar. Students may also fast‐track and complete the program more quickly, but in no less than three years. The dissertation must draw upon transdisciplinary inquiry and it must be no more than 70,000 words in length.
    • Before the oral defence is scheduled, each student will be expected to have presented an element of his or her research at a minimum of one academic conference and submitted at least one paper from the research to a refereed journal.
    • When the dissertation is ready for defence, including completion of revisions recommended by the committee, an oral defence will be scheduled. The Doctoral Dissertation Examination Committee will consist of all members of the Advisory Committee; an External Examiner chosen by the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies who shall be provided with a list of appropriate external examiners recommended by the dissertation supervisor and the Program Director; an internal-external examiner (normally already a member of the Advisory Committee) nominated by the supervisor; and a Dissertation Examination Chair appointed by the Associate Provost, Graduate Studies.