The School of Public Health and Health Systems is a division of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences
Graduate student handbook
This handbook contains helpful information which is of importance to new graduate students. It is designed to assist you and make your time within the School of Public Health and Health Systems (SPHHS) as enjoyable as possible. Please become familiar with the handbook's contents and refer back to it when you have any questions.
Refer to the current University of Waterloo Graduate Studies Academic Calendar for all formal curriculum, registration, fee and residence requirements, course descriptions, and Academic Term Deadlines
Faculty, School, and Grad Program Organization
Interim Director, School of Public Health and Health Systems
|Ellen MacEachen, PhD|
Associate Director, Graduate Studies
Administrative responsibility for the MSc and PhD research programs; academic advising
|Samantha Meyer, PhD|
Graduate Coordinator, MSc and PhD Programs
Responsible for all academic issues that may affect MSc and PhD graduate students such as program registration, course enrolment, adding and dropping courses, thesis-related issues, annual progress reports, student records, tracking graduate student funding support, payroll, office keys and other administrative issues.
Academic Assistant, MSc and PhD Programs
Assists Graduate Coordinator with all matters involving MSc and PhD graduate students.
Professional Graduate Coordinator
Assists SPHHS graduate students who are working as MPH, MHI and MHE course preceptors or markers or who are interested in enrolling in PHS courses as electives
Faculty Graduate Studies Coordinator
Course scheduling and PhD Thesis Defence administration
Graduate office assignments and travel claims
Assists SPHHS graduate students who are working as TA’s or markers for undergraduate courses
Important Information For New Students
- HR Information
- Teaching and Research Assistantships
|Service||Brief description of services offered|
|Athletics and Recreation||
|Centre for Career Action||
|Conflict Management & Human Rights||
|Graduate Student Association (GSA)||
Health Services (for individual students)
Health Services (Family Health Clinic - for students with families)
|Information Systems and Technology (IST)||
|Student Success Office (SSO)||
|Writing and Communication Centre||
Degree Time Limits and Extensions
All requirements for the PhD and MSc degrees in Public Health and Health Systems must normally be completed within the following time periods (beginning with the term of initial registration), as stipulated by the University Senate:
MSc - Full-time (FT): 6 terms (2 years); Part-time (PT): 15 terms (5 years).
PhD - Full-time (FT) from master’s’ level: 12 terms (4 years); Part-time (PT): 21 terms (7 years).
Transitional students – time limits depend on their particular program requirements.
For computational purposes, a term of full-time enrolment is counted as 1.0, a term of part-time enrolment is counted as 0.5, and an inactive term is counted as 0. You will receive notification if you are nearing your time limit and must complete a "Petition for Extension of Program Time Limit" form indicating your plan of completion (see the GSPA website for more details). This form must be signed by yourself, your thesis supervisor, the SPHHS Graduate Officer, and the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies. You have until the registration deadline to complete this form. Students who register, but fail to have their extensions approved may be asked to withdraw. Students who have been granted an extension of time limit are considered to be on probation, and can be asked to withdraw from the program if progress is not deemed to be satisfactory.
MSc: Full-time Master’s students should complete most or all of their course work during the first two terms they are registered in the program (normally the Fall and Winter terms) and are encouraged complete their thesis proposal by the third term (Spring term).
Sample Timeline for Completion of Full-time
MSc: It is recommended for students to finish their coursework by the end of second or third term. They should complete their thesis proposal writing & defence in the third or fourth term. Students should work on the thesis research & analysis in the fourth or fifth term and the thesis writing & defence during their fifth or sixth term.
PhD: Full-time doctoral students are expected to finish their coursework by the end of the third term. Also, they should begin their comprehensive examinations during the third term and have their oral examination sometime in the 4th term (the Graduate Calendar stipulates that the comprehensive examination requirement must be completed within seven academic terms after initial registration).
Description of Degree Requirements
The School of Public Health and Health Systems offers thesis-based programs leading to the Master’s (MSc) and Doctoral (PhD) degrees in Public Health and Health Systems. The MSc and PhD degree requirements are specified below. The SPHHS research programs provide strong methodological training, combining an interdisciplinary approach to public health and health systems together with opportunities for concentration in various methodological domains (including qualitative research methods, statistical approaches, epidemiology, and health informatics) and areas of interest. Students may request to undertake a joint degree with another academic unit at UW or may wish to complete the requirements of one of the collaborative programs. Descriptions of PhD Collaborative Programs (involving several academic units in AHS) in Aging, Health, and Well-being; and Work and Health are provided later in this section.
Master of Science (MSc) in Public Health and Health Systems - Degree Requirements
The intent of the MSc program in Public Health and Health Systems is to produce graduates who have interdisciplinary training in areas including health promotion, disease prevention, public health biology, and health informatics and fundamental knowledge and research capabilities in public health and health systems. To obtain the MSc degree, students must complete the required coursework, participate in the graduate seminars, and complete a Master’s thesis.
A list of all courses is available on the Graduate Academic Calendar.
The course offerings for each term are available in the Schedule of Classes.
Coursework: 5 one-term graduate courses (3 required, 2 free electives) (or equivalents approved by the Graduate Studies Committee) and the graduate seminars (0 credit, Fall and Winter terms) are the minimum requirements for the M.Sc. degree.
MSc program course requirements (minimum 5 courses and graduate seminars):
Required courses (1)
- HLTH 601: Lifespan Determinants of Health and Disease
Two (2) of the following methods:
- HLTH 605A OR Equivalent or Advanced Statistics- Offered in Fall Semester
- HLTH 625 OR Equivalent or Advanced Qualitative Methods- Offered in Fall Semester.
- HLTH 606A OR Equivalent or Advanced Epidemiological Methods- Offered in Fall Semester.
- HLTH 619 OR Equivalent or Advanced Methods in Health Informatics- Offered in Fall Semester.
- It is highly recommended that MSc students with a strong background or previous training in one of these areas take the 700-level equivalent in place of the 600-level course requirement (e.g., those with a strong statistical background may opt to take HLTH 705). Such decisions should be made in collaboration with the supervisor.
Elective courses (2):
- 2 free elective courses, selected in consultation with the supervisor (may include courses outside SPHHS, or any courses offered by SPHHS, including additional courses from the required list, online courses, etc.)
- Graduate Seminar -All MSc students must register and complete HLTH 600A and HLTH 600B (Graduate Seminar). Please note that these courses are designated as CR/NCR and do not count toward course requirements.
It is important to keep in mind that these are the minimum MSc degree requirements. Both the student’s thesis advisor and their Thesis Advisory Committee may stipulate additional coursework if deemed necessary to ensure the student is adequately prepared. For instance, students who do not have strong methodological backgrounds may be required to take HLTH 433 (Experimental Methods).
At a minimum, and in accordance with University policy, students must obtain a final grade of at least a 70% in each of the courses presented in fulfilment of the MSc degree requirements. A failing grade (<70%) in any course will necessitate a review of the candidate’s status by the SPHHS Graduate Officer, and may result in a candidate being required to withdraw from the MSc program. A cumulative overall average of 75% is required in the courses presented in fulfilment of MSc degree requirement. In addition, students are required to attend at least 75% of the graduate seminar classes to receive credit for completing this milestone.
Master’s Thesis: For the Master’s thesis, an approved topic is required and both the thesis proposal and final thesis will be defended in oral examinations. The MSc thesis committee consists of a minimum of three faculty members and includes: the student's thesis supervisor and at least one other member of the School of Public Health and Health System’s faculty. One committee member may be from outside the School. If a committee member does not have a regular appointment with the University of Waterloo, they will need to have an Adjunct appointment with SPHHS to serve on a thesis committee. The composition of the Thesis Advisory Committee must be approved by the SPHHS Graduate Studies Committee prior to submitting notification of the MSc Proposal.
Master’s theses previously published by SPHHS graduates are available online at UWSpace.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Health and Health Systems - Degree Requirements
The intent of the doctoral program in Public Health and Health Systems is to provide students with an interdisciplinary focus, specialized training, and advanced research skills in health promotion, disease prevention, health informatics and public health and health systems. The PhD program will enable students to add depth and specialization to their work through the research apprenticeship model. To obtain the PhD degree, students must complete required coursework, pass a comprehensive examination, and complete a doctoral thesis.
A list of all courses is available on the Graduate Academic Calendar.
The course offerings for each term are available in the Schedule of Classes.
Coursework: 9 one-term graduate courses beyond the Bachelor's degree, including at least 4 courses beyond the Master’s degree, constitute the normal minimum PhD coursework requirement.
PhD program course requirements (minimum 4 courses):
Required courses (2)
- HLTH 701 (not required for students in the Work and Health Collaborative Ph.D. Program)-Offered in Fall Semester.
- Plus one of the following required methods courses:
- HLTH 704- Advanced Qualitative- Offered in Winter Semester
- HLTH 705- Advanced Statistics- Offered in Winter Semester
- HLTH 706- Advanced Epidemiology- Offered in Winter Semester
- HLTH 719- Advanced Health Informatics- Offered in Winter Semester
Elective courses (2)
- 1 methods elective course at the 600- or 700-level, selected in consultation with the supervisor (may include courses outside SPHHS, or courses offered by SPHHS, including additional courses from the required course list)
- 1 free elective, selected in consultation with the supervisor. Students without a background in public health and health systems, and focusing in research areas other than Health Informatics, should take HLTH 601 (Lifespan Approaches to Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). Students focusing in Health Informatics may choose to take HLTH 611 (The Health Care System) or an equivalent course approved by the SPHHS Graduate Officer.
It is important to keep in mind that these are minimum requirements. Both the student’s thesis supervisor, thesis committee, and the SPHHS Graduate Studies Committee have the right to stipulate additional coursework as necessary to ensure the student is adequately prepared. Many students complete at least three courses within their area of research interest which may require the addition of one or more extra courses to the minimum coursework requirement.
At a minimum, and in accordance with University policy, students must obtain a final grade of at least a 70% in in each of the courses presented in fulfilment of the PhD degree requirements. A failing grade (<70%) in any course will necessitate a review of the candidate’s status by the SPHHS Graduate Officer, and may result in a candidate being required to withdraw from the PhD program. A cumulative overall average of 75% is required in the courses presented in fulfilment of PhD degree requirements.
PhD Comprehensive Examination: Candidates must complete a comprehensive examination within seven terms of first registration. The comprehensive examination requirement is based on providing written responses to three questions and successfully completing an oral defense. The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to test the breadth and depth of the candidate’s comprehension of the methodological and theoretical aspects of their field of study. The process is designed to enable candidates to acquire a solid grounding in their core area of public health research that will provide a foundation for undertaking dissertation research. The examination will also test the candidate’s ability to critically evaluate the literature and synthesize information from diverse sources to identify knowledge gaps and recommend solutions.
Doctoral Dissertation: A written PhD thesis on an approved topic is required. Two oral examinations will accompany the written thesis. The first oral examination will be a defence of the thesis proposal; the second oral examination will be a defence of the complete thesis. PhD research is to be conducted under the supervision of the student's PhD thesis supervisor and the thesis advisory committee. The PhD thesis advisory committee consists of at least three members, with the thesis supervisor and at least one other committee member being faculty from within the School of Public Health and Health Systems. Note that only two members of the student’s Comprehensive Examination Committee may serve on the thesis advisory committee. The proposal will be defended orally before the thesis committee. The complete thesis will be defended before a five-person Examination Board that includes an appointed faculty member from another UW faculty and an invited External Examiner from another university.
PhD theses previously completed by SPHHS graduates are available at UWSpace.
Fast Track Option, Ph.D. Program
Occasionally, a student will enter the M.Sc. program with a clear intent to pursue the PhD in Public Health and Health Systems. A Master’s student may be considered for fast-tracking into the PhD according to the following criteria:
- Evidence of prior research achievements (e.g., first author peer-reviewed publications, first author scientific conference presentations, or equivalent evidence of demonstrated scholarly achievement)
- Review of original M.Sc. application materials.
- Minimum of an 85 average in the M.Sc. program
- Clear focus and support for Ph.D. research
Fast track applications are considered once annually. The applicant must submit to the Research Graduate Officer by July 1st, for admission to the fall term:
- Letter of support from the proposed PhD supervisor
- Cover letter explaining the rationale for fast-tracking, including a narrative addressing the above criteria
- Up to date CV
The applicant must submit a Program Change form to the Graduate coordinator within two weeks of approval to fast-track to the PhD program.
Please note that not all applications to fast-track will be approved. Applicants must be exceptionally strong and demonstrate clear research potential.
Note that, as above, 9 one-term graduate courses beyond the Bachelor's degree, including at least 3 courses beyond the Master’s degree, constitute the normal minimum PhD coursework requirement.
Graduate HLTH course descriptions can be found in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar
Thesis Committees, Proposals, and Defences
Detailed guidelines have been developed for SPHHS students concerning the Master’s Thesis, PhD comprehensive exams and PhD proposal and dissertation, respectively. These guidelines are available on the SPHHS website and address everything you need to know from how to select your committee, to how to develop the proposal, to writing the thesis, and finally, to the steps involved in scheduling your final defence. The purpose of this section is to outline the School, faculty and university policies that must be followed.
Thesis Proposal Checklist (MSc and PhD)
Title of thesis
- Is the title clear, simple to follow and self-explanatory?
- Does the title create interest in the topic?
- Have you included the School, month and date on your title page?
Abstract (optional for the proposal; consult your supervisor)
Table of Contents (a Table of Tables and Table of Figures may also be included, as appropriate)
- Have you included the heading and page number of all major sections?
Introduction and Overview (recommend: 1-2 pages)
The purpose of this section is to introduce the topic, generate interest in reading the proposal and provide a brief overview of what is to come (main sections of the proposal). In this section, it is appropriate to briefly describe the statement of the problem or issue to be addressed, the state of the art (what is currently known, what is not), and the general or overall purpose of the study.
Remember that here it is important to first generate interest in the topic and convince the reader that it’s worthwhile to keep reading. Do not dive into the literature immediately.
- Have you oriented the reader to the main theme of the thesis through a general introduction?
- Have you created interest in the topic of the thesis?
- Have you given a brief overview of the main sections and ideas of the proposal?
- Have you written a transition paragraph from the introduction to the literature review?
Literature Review (recommend: 5-10 pages in consultation with your supervisor)
Remember to organize the literature review according to a logical scheme. Avoid merely stating what other people have said without providing your own summary and critical analysis. Remember to synthesize, integrate, criticize. Keep in mind that “review articles” are the synthesis and opinions of others and should be described accordingly. Use primary sources (original articles) as much as possible
- Have you included key references and sources for your review?
- Have you synthesized and integrated the literature in a meaningful way? Where appropriate, tables or figures may be used in the text or appended.
- Have you shown how the existing literature relates to your research study question(s)?
- Have you avoided merely repeating what others have said or shown, without any organization or critical analysis?
- Have you included a summary and implications section?
Study Rationale (recommend: 2-3 pages)
In this section, you need to state (clearly and succinctly) how your study will contribute to the existing body of knowledge (published, scholarly literature) and/or has applied implications for program or policy planning, development and decision-making. Your contributions may be conceptual, methodological and/or practical in nature.
- Have you clearly described how your study addresses gaps in the field?
- Have you clearly stated the overall and specific purposes of your study in terms of study questions, hypotheses or issues that will addressed?
- Have you shown what are the scholarly implications (theoretical or practical) of your proposed study?
Methods (recommend: 10-12 pages of text)
This is one of the most important sections of your proposal. Regardless of whether you are proposing to collect new data (in either a laboratory or field setting) and/or perform secondary analysis of existing data sets, it is important that you describe your proposed methods clearly.
- Have you described the basic design or protocol you propose to use (or which was used to collect the data) in relation to your study questions (including advantages and limitations of this approach)? Diagrams are often helpful to illustrate protocols.
- Have you described in detail sample recruitment and selection criteria (including sample size calculations for statistical power when applicable)?
- Have you considered issues of obtaining approval from participating agencies (if applicable), approval from the University of Waterloo Office of Research Ethics and informed consent from study participants? Append draft consent forms if possible.
- Have you described in detail the data collection procedures and instruments? Append a description of the tools (or the tools themselves if in questionnaire form).
- Have you explained how you will analyze the findings? Regardless of whether the data are quantitative or qualitative or both (mixed-methods), you need to justify your choice of analytic procedures (statistical tests, verification procedures, etc.). In some cases, you may also wish to stipulate a priori expectations (consult your advisor).
Results and Discussion (recommend: 3 to 5 pages)
Even though you have not conducted your research it is often useful to think about the results you expect. Dummy (or mock) tables may be used to help develop your data analysis plan. In this section you should address your study’s strengths and limitations. Additionally, you can provide your thoughts on how your findings will advance knowledge in the field and how the knowledge can be translated into practice. The direction of future research can also be discussed.
- Have you checked that the references are accurate?
- Have you included all the references (and only the references) cited in the text?
- Have you followed an accepted reference style (e.g., American Physiological Society; American Psychological Association) consistently throughout your text and list?
- Have you placed supporting documentation in the appendices (e.g., tables summarizing prior studies, program information, proposed tools, assay procedures, draft of human or animal research ethics approval forms, clearance for biohazards etc.).
- Have you titled each appendix and lettered consecutively (A, B, C, etc.) in the same order as cited in the text.
Resources and Timeline (recommend: 2 pages)
In this section, you should outline the resources, equipment and/or training needed to carry out your proposed study. You should also speak to your supervisor concerning the costs associated with the study in question and sources of support. Finally, you should diagram the study timeline (e.g., number of weeks or months) estimated for each phase (e.g., ethics approval, sample recruitment, each phase of data collection, analysis, write-up). Together, you and your committee will determine whether your proposed timeline is realistic and if the study needs to be modified.
- Have you identified the necessary equipment and resources to carry out your study?
- Have you made clear what funding you will need for your thesis?
- Have you asked your supervisor how much support you can expect and for what activities?
- Have you shown in chart form the phases of the project and what you will be doing during each step?
- Have you given a projected timeline for completion of the project (including number of months estimated for the various phases)?
Master’s Thesis Submission
Once approved, the MSc thesis must meet the specifications as outlined in the Thesis Regulations which can be found on the web under the Graduate Studies home page. Take your thesis over to be checked by the GSPA before you make any copies. Note: The School does not require a bound copy of your thesis but some committee members may request one. Students may be required to submit additional copies if they have more than one academic department and/or supervisor (please check prior to ordering bound copies).
PhD Comprehensive Examination
A comprehensive examination consisting of written responses to three questions and an oral examination on the answers must be successfully completed before a PhD student may begin their dissertation research. Normally, doctoral students will begin working on their comprehensive examination after completing all required course work. For full-time students, the process should normally begin in their third academic term and the oral examination should be held before the end of the fourth term. Part-time students are normally expected to begin the comprehensive examination process by the sixth term after first registration. The timing of the examination will be established by the candidate in consultation with their supervisor.
Candidates will be provided with three questions developed by their Comprehensive Examination Committee and a set of key readings. Full-time students are required to submit their written responses to the members of their comprehensive examination committee within eight weeks. Part-time students may have up to a four-week extension, for a maximum of 12 weeks (although many prefer to complete the process in eight weeks). The comprehensive examination committee must decide the part-time student deadline prior to the beginning of the exam. Students may seek writing support during their comprehensive exams, and the University of Waterloo Writing Centre is a recommended resource. Writing support must be limited to sentence-level issues, such as sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If students use any source of writing support, this must be disclosed in writing to the Chair of their comprehensive exam committee before the end of the comprehensive exam period.
The oral examination should occur within four weeks of submission of the written work. The comprehensive examination requirement must be successfully completed, and the credit approved, before proceeding to the formal presentation of the dissertation proposal.
PhD Proposal and Final Defence
As noted above, doctoral students must complete the PhD Thesis Proposal Notification Form and submit this form to the Graduate Coordinator at least two weeks prior to scheduling the PhD Proposal Defence meeting. The steps for scheduling the proposal defence and booking rooms are the same as for the Master’s Thesis Proposal, as are the policies regarding absent committee members. Similarly, the supervisor of the committee acts as the Chair for the PhD Proposal Defence and Meeting. At the end of the meeting, the PhD Advisory Committee decides whether or not to grant the student approval to proceed and the conditions of such approval. Similar to the Master’s Proposal, an addendum may be required stipulating changes to the original proposal.
As would be expected, the procedures for the Final PhD Dissertation Defence are more rigorous and set by the university. The PhD Examining Committee (Board) must be arranged at least 8 weeks prior to this defence. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to work with the faculty graduate studies personnel to obtain approval of the external examiner as well as the internal/external member of the examining committee (a UW faculty member from outside the School who is not on the Advisory Committee) from the Associate Dean of Graduate Affairs and members of the faculty graduate affairs committee. A Chair for the final PhD defence will be appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies for the university. While you and your supervisor can discuss suitable experts in your field who may potentially serve as external examiners, the student is not involved in any way with contacting the external examiner.
It is the student’s responsibility, however, to:
- Contact members of your advisory committee concerning possible dates for the final defence;
- Book a room, in consultation with the GSC in the Dean’s Office (most Ph.D. Defences are in BMH 3119);
- Provide copies of the dissertation to all members of your advisory committee, including the appointed internal/external (as well as two additional copies to the GSC--one for the public display and one for the external examiner) at least five weeks in advance of the scheduled PhD defence.
There are a number of policies regarding PhD Defences. For instance, a brief written report prepared by the external examiner is required one week in advance and sent to the Associate Dean’s Office. The supervisor will be allowed to convey general concerns that are outlined in this report to the student. The student is only allowed to read the external’s report, however, after the defence upon request.