Graduate student handbook

post-it note with a quesion mark on a laptop keyboard

This handbook contains information which is of extreme importance to graduate students. It is designed to make your time within the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies (RLS) as enjoyable as possible.

Please refer to the University of Waterloo Graduate Studies Academic Calendar for information about the curriculum, registration, fees, course descriptions, and academic deadlines and events.

Key graduate studies contacts and researchers profiles can be found on the RLS website.

Chair's message

Welcome to the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies! Thank you for choosing Waterloo for your continued education. We hope you are as excited about entering our program as we are about hosting you here. I’m confident you will be happy with your decision, for RLS boasts an amazing group of faculty who are nationally and internationally recognized for their outstanding research and impact. Moreover, the department attracts bright and engaging students, such as you, from a variety of backgrounds who contribute to a rich intellectual environment and collegial culture. By all accounts, you’re in for an amazing growth experience. 

More than the accumulation of courses, the graduate degree you receive at the completion of your program—whether a thesis or coursework Master's degree or PhD—gives you access to meaningful interactions and activities that will undoubtedly contribute to your intellectual development. From getting involved in the events and activities of the Graduate Association for Recreation and Leisure Studies (GARLS) to providing teaching assistance to instructors, from working with professors on their research projects to getting to know them personally through everyday conversation and discussion, and from interacting with your peers in your program to volunteering for the many committees on campus, there are so many exciting ways to get the most out of your time at Waterloo. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. And be sure to challenge us as we hope to challenge you.

Ultimately, RLS aims to lead through its critical examination of leisure, broadly defined, and its relationship to individual and community well-being. Our department is committed to: modelling excellence and innovation through our teaching, research, and outreach; facilitating engaging and high impact student learning experiences to inspire passion, action, and leadership; fostering a sense of belonging through meaningful and ongoing relationships among students, faculty, staff, practice, and community; and working collaboratively to understand and transform individuals, practice, community, and society. We invite you to join us in making our vision and aspirations a reality. Doing so means taking an active role in your educational experience, but knowing that faculty and staff are available and excited to guide you through it. Your next adventure is about to begin, my friend. Come make the most out of it!    

Best wishes,

Troy Glover, PhD
Professor and Department Chair 

Mandatory training

All UWaterloo employees, including teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs), are required to complete certain mandatory training courses (employee version):

  • SO1001 Employee safety orientation
  • SO1081 Workplace violence awareness
  • SO2017 WHMIS 2015
  • AODA accessible customer service training (available through Waterloo LEARN)
  • Sexual violence awareness, referral and support training (strongly recommended; available through Waterloo LEARN)

Faculty of Health graduate students are required to complete an academic integrity milestone for each graduate degree before they are eligible to graduate, which includes the completion of:

  1. the online module (through Waterloo LEARN), Graduate Students and Academic Integrity, and
  2. a milestone form.

Instructions on accessing the online module and answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the Academic Integrity website.

Research ethics training is required for UWaterloo researchers. Please see the Research website for information on research ethics.

Degree and course requirements

PhD comprehensive examination

PhD students are required to complete a comprehensive examination consisting of a written component and an oral examination following completion of their coursework and prior to defending their thesis proposal. Full details of the requirements and process are available on the PhD comprehensive examination procedures page.


Financial support

Financial support is always a concern for graduate students. In addition to your fees and living expenses, you will likely encounter costs associated with courses (e.g., reading material) as well as your thesis (e.g., data collection) and conference presentations.

Please see the RLS website for information on funding and awards, including MA and PhD support, external scholarships, teaching and research assistantships and other available financial support.

Information on minimum funding and funding payment can be found on the Graduate Studies website.

Temporary faculty advisors and thesis supervisors

Master's of Arts (MA) thesis option students are assigned an initial supervisor upon acceptance into the program. This person may or may not be the student’s supervisor, but is someone who shares the student’s research interests and can offer guidance during the first few months of the program. The Graduate Officer serves as the graduate advisor for MA coursework option students and can assist students with course selection and other matters related to the program of study. Doctoral students are assigned a faculty advisor, based on student research interests and preferences, prior to their arrival on campus.

All students should set up a meeting with their advisor as soon as possible to discuss their individualized program of study, including the selection of appropriate courses. MA thesis students should select and confirm their thesis supervisor before the end of their second term of study. Before the end of the first year, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students should talk to their advisor about planning their comprehensive exams and their examination committee. The doctoral advisor may become the thesis supervisor as well, although if research interests change it is always possible to ask another faculty member to act as supervisor instead. In some instances, students may be required to have co-supervisors.

Course enrolment

Students can begin enrolling in courses about one month before the term starts. Specific dates are found in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar. Students can continue adding or dropping graduate courses using Quest for about the first four weeks of term. Some courses may require a permission number to enrol. Contact the Graduate Studies Coordinator for a permission number to use on Quest. 

Auditing a course requires completion of a graduate course drop/add form. Students may need to audit an undergraduate course to refresh their skills in quantitative or qualitative research. Or they may wish to audit a graduate course to gain additional background for their thesis research but do not require the course credit for their degree requirements. More information about add/drop dates can be found in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar. 

Students may wish to complete REC 609, Internship in Recreation Service as one of their elective courses. This course involves arranging an appropriate work experience for a minimum of 50 hours (paid or volunteer) in a leisure service agency under the supervision of a faculty member from the Department and a staff member from the host agency. More details and the procedures for setting up the internship are found on the REC 609, Internship in Recreation Services page.

There are two selected topics courses available for students to pursue a topic of special interest that is either not normally covered, or not covered in depth, in one of the existing graduate courses. REC 695 is available to MA or PhD students, while REC 798 is available to PhD students only. The process involves setting up a topic with a faculty advisor, completing the proposal form so the course topic is set up on Quest, and then enrolling in the course. 

The Ontario Visiting Graduate Student Plan (OVGS) allows students to take up to two graduate courses at another Ontario University to count towards your degree at Waterloo. The OVGS application form should be initiated prior to enrolling in the course. 

Incomplete coursework

An incomplete grade status (INC) may remain on a student's academic record for up to two terms. If a grade has not been submitted by the end of the second term and an extension has not been granted, the INC will convert to a failure to complete (FTC).

Full-time students who have incomplete courses are not eligible for scholarships.

See the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar for more information on grades and grading.

Enrolment, time limits and extensions

Graduate students normally enrol for the first time in September at the beginning of the Fall term (during orientation week). Enrolment deadlines can be found on the academic deadlines and events web page.

Residence requirements (minimum number of enrolment terms required) are outlined in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar.

Up to 3.0 terms' extension may be obtained by petitioning the Graduate Officer of the department. A petition for extension of program time limits form may be obtained through the Graduate Studies Forms website. Information about enrolment and time limits can be found in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar. See the Faculty of Health website for information about petitions for extensions

Timeline for program completion

MA program

  Course­work Proposal defence Final defence
Full-time (thesis) End of term 2 End of term 4 End of term 6
Full-time (coursework) End of term 3 N/A N/A
Part-time (thesis) End of term 5 or 6 End of term 8 End of term 15
Part-time (coursework) End of term 8 or 9 N/A N/A

PhD program

  Course­work Compre­hensive exam Proposal defence Final defence
Full-time End of term 2 End of term 4 End of term 7

End of term 12

Part-time End of term 4 or 5 End of term 8 End of term 13 End of term 18

Leaves, inactive status and withdrawal

In certain circumstances, students may wish to request a leave of absence from their studies. This includes inactive status, birth leave, partner leave and parental leave. Students may request up to two consecutive terms of inactive status by completing a change of enrolment status form.

Students who are unable to participate in their program of study for more than two consecutive terms should voluntarily withdraw from the program by completing a change of enrolment status form.

See the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar for more information on leaves, inactive status and withdrawal, including valid reasons for inactive status.


Students who fail to register or voluntarily withdraw will be required to register for at least one full term, without possibility of a refund in the first term upon readmission.

Evaluation and monitoring of progress

Your supervisor and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies will review your progress each term. In May of each year, every graduate student is required to fill in a Graduate Student Annual Report form, which will be reviewed in detail by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. Normally, graduate thesis students admitted directly into the graduate program in the Fall term should have completed all course work by the end of their first two terms and should be progressing with either their thesis proposal or their comprehensive examinations. Coursework students normally will have completed all their course work by the end of their third term.

Getting involved

At the beginning of the Fall term, graduate students in each unit elect representatives for a variety of committees and councils. In the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, graduate student representatives are elected to serve on the following committees:

  • Recreation and Leisure Studies Graduate Studies Committee
  • Department Meetings
  • Faculty of Health Faculty Graduate Studies Committee
  • Faculty of Health Faculty Council Meetings

The Associate Dean’s office will appoint a graduate representative from the Faculty of Health to the University Senate Graduate Council.

All graduate students are automatically members of the Graduate Association of Recreation and Leisure Studies (GARLS). Graduate students may also wish to get involved with the university-wide Graduate Student Association (GSA).

Graduate student resources

Please see the current graduate students webpage for information about resources on campus. The Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs Office also maintains a listing of campus resources and services, as well as information for life outside of academia for graduate students. 

If you encounter a problem that is personal, academic or related to interactions with others in the work environment, please talk to your supervisor or the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies for support. If the problem is not resolved, the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies or the Chair of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies can be approached for help.

Guidelines on the ethics of authorship

RLS strongly encourages graduate students to share their research findings, by publishing research in academic and professional journals and/or presenting at conferences.

The following guidelines have been developed to assist students and faculty in reaching mutually satisfactory agreements in terms of joint authorship of research papers and presentations:

  1. When student thesis research is published or presented, only second authorship is acceptable for the thesis supervisor.
  2. Second authorship would normally be expected if the supervisor makes a major intellectual contribution to the research study through the designation of concepts, variables, or theoretical applications and/or through the interpretation of the research findings and/or through a substantial contribution to the write-up of the published manuscript or conference paper.
  3. Second authorship is a courtesy if the supervisor designates the general area of concern and/or is involved in development of the research design and/or provides the data base and/or provides financial support.
  4. Second authorship is not normally acceptable if the supervisor only provides encouragement, critiques or editorial contributions.
  5. In all instances, agreement should be reviewed between student and supervisor before the writing for publication is undertaken and at the time of submission of manuscripts of conference abstracts. Manuscripts or abstracts should not be submitted without the approval of both authors.

The guidelines are based on the policy statement of the ethics committee of the American Psychological Association, but have been modified to make them more applicable to the Leisure Studies field. The guidelines are intended to apply to a variety of situations, including publications, research based on reading courses, or student involvement with faculty projects.

It is recognized that dual authorship is not always appropriate.

Computing information

All graduate students have Exchange email accounts. Email FAQs can be found on the Health Computing website.

Software is available to graduate students either free or at a reduced cost. Details about services for current students can be found on the Information Systems & Technology (IST) website.

Printing is available through W Print services on a printer located in the Expansion building (2nd floor) or other locations around campus. Use the Xerox virtual print queues to select black and white or colour printing and single or double-sided output.

Each semester, Information Systems & Technology (IST) offers courses for new users. Topics range from software languages to computer program packages. Additional computing information for graduate students can be found on the Health Computing website.

Additional resources

The following resources may be helpful in addressing any additional questions or concerns that you have:

Updated October 2019