Research thesis

The research thesis is the final and most significant milestone in the Master of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management (MES). Refer to the requirements for theses in Sustainability Management.

Step 1: Approval of committee and scheduling of defence

Students are advised to begin this process a minimum of one month prior to the desired defence date.

The student and supervisor should solicit one or more faculty members to serve on the thesis defence committee. The Master’s thesis Examining Committee shall be comprised of:

  • at least one tenured or tenure track faculty member of the student's home department who will normally be the student's supervisor(s).
  • an additional tenured or tenure track faculty member from the University of Waterloo.
  • and at least one additional examiner (reader) whose expertise can support the evaluation of the Master's thesis. The reader is an independent / arms length evaluator of the final thesis and acts as an examiner only at the final thesis defence.
  • The Supervisor(s) will serve as the Chair of the thesis defence.

Note: Any exception to the above committee structure may be discussed with the Associate Director(s), Graduate Studies for prior approval.

External adjunct appointments require the approval of the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies from the student's home Faculty. No more than one adjunct faculty member (including Professors Emeriti) may serve on the Examining Committee. Adjunct requests are sent to the MES Graduate Program Coordinator. 

Supervisor and the committee member sign off on the Confirmation of agreement to proceed with a thesis defense form. Once committee members have been chosen, the student and supervisor(s) should select a date and time for the defence and ensure desired committee members are available to attend. This should be done as far in advance as possible.

To finalize the defence date and obtain committee approval, the student or supervisor(s) must contact the MES Graduate Program Coordinator with the following information to set up the defence:

  • Thesis title and abstract
  • List of all committee members, specifying supervisor(s), department, or adjunct
  • Proposed date and time of defence

Once this information is received, the MES Graduate Program Coordinator will draft a notice of thesis defence and obtain approval by the Associate Director(s) of Graduate Studies. Confirmation will be sent to the student and all committee members in the form of the said notice. The MES Graduate Program  Coordinator will book a room, circulate the notice to the graduate student, faculty members and other UW community members and provide necessary/approved logistical support. The MES thesis defence is open to the University community and interested public, and defending students may invite anyone as guests/audience members.

Defences should not normally be scheduled during the last two weeks of August or the week before the University closes for the December holiday break.

The University of Waterloo expects that graduate theses to meet appropriate standards of clarity and coherence in written English. Thesis formatting requirements are specified by the University. SEED defines additional requirements for theses in Sustainability Management. Students are encouraged to visit the GSPA website for general information on preparing your thesis.

Step 2: Submission of thesis & agreement form

At least 10 days prior to the defence date the following must be submitted to the MES Graduate Program Coordinator:

  • Electronic copy of thesis (email a .pdf file). A hard copy of the thesis is not required for submission purposes, however, may be requested by committee members and is the responsibility of the student

The MES Graduate Program Coordinator will forward the thesis to the committee/reader.

The MES Graduate Program Coordinator will send a Certification of Thesis Acceptance Form to the Chair with all necessary details incorporated into it.

Step 3: Thesis defence/oral examination format

The defence begins with introductions and brief comments by the Chair on the order of proceedings, followed by an oral presentation by the candidate outlining the key contents and conclusions in the thesis. The student may make use of computer and projector presentation equipment and/or other suitable visual aids. The oral presentation should be no longer than 25-minutes.

Following the presentation, the examining committee members will ask questions. Normally, questioning takes place in two rounds, with the first round lasting no more than 45-minutes (up to 15-minutes per examiner) and the second round lasting no more than 30-minutes (up to 10-minutes per examiner). The Reader in the examining committee asks questions first, followed by the committee member(s) and then the supervisor(s) in each round. Co-supervisors share a 15-minute (round one) or 10-minute (round two) time block. Once both rounds of questioning from examiners are completed, the Chair may, at his or her discretion, invite members of the audience to ask questions.

In their questioning, examining committee members should focus on issues, themes and topics arising from the submitted thesis. However, examining committee members are free to ask any questions needed to test the students knowledge and understanding of the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of the scholarly area in which the thesis is situated. Questions should be brief and succinct to ensure the majority of time is available for the student to respond.

At the end of the question period, the candidate and the audience are excused while the committee deliberates on a decision.

The candidate is then asked to return, and the decision of the Examining Committee is communicated to the student by the Chair.

Typical Schedule for the Oral Defence

The thesis defence takes place within two and half hours, maximum, from start to finish. The following is a typical schedule:

  • Introductions and instructions by the Chair (10 minutes)
  • Presentation by the student (25 minutes)
  • First round of questioning (45 minutes – maximum 15 minutes for each examiner; co-supervisors share the 15 minutes)
  • Break (10 minutes, if required)
  • Second round of questioning (30 minutes – maximum 10 minutes for each examiner; co-supervisors share the 10 minutes)
  • Deliberation of outcome (20 minutes)
  • Reporting of results (10 minutes)
  • Total: 150 minutes

It is the responsibility of the Chair to record the decision of the Examining Committee in the Certification of Thesis Acceptance Form and obtain their approval in the form of signatures and submit it to the MES Graduate Program Coordinator.

Outcomes of the defence

The Certification of Thesis Acceptance Form provides for five possible outcomes from the defence.

  1. Accepted
  2. Accepted with Minor Modifications (To be approved by Supervisor / designated Committee Member)
  3. Accepted with Major Modifications (Indication of requirements in undertaking the modifications)
  4. Decision Deferred (Indication of requirements in undertaking the modifications)
  5. Rejected

Step 4: Final thesis approval & submission

  • After the defence, the Chair (Supervisor) should return the Certification of Thesis Acceptance Form duly signed by the committee members, preferably on the day of defence by 4:30pm.
  • If any revisions are required to the thesis, the student must submit the final thesis to supervisor and/or committee members once completed for approval. These requirements will be agreed to at the defence, according to the outcome determined.
  • The supervisor must advise the MES Graduate Program Coordinator by email when the final version of the thesis has been reviewed and approved.
  • Completion paperwork will then be prepared by the MES Graduate Program Coordinator and submitted to Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA).
  • Once approved the student will receive notice from the University to submit the final thesis to UWSpace. Submissions to UWSpace will normally be reviewed within 3 to 5 business days of GSPA receiving the final completion paperwork from the student. In certain cases, GSPA may ask for further formatting revisions before a thesis is accepted. Please allow for delays.
  • For details, consult the UWSpace submission instructions. Please visit the GSPA website for information on preparing your thesis (formatting requirements, etc.).

Step 5: Apply to graduate in Quest

Immediately after submitting their final thesis to UWSpace, the student should apply to graduate in Quest. Login to Quest, Navigate to My Academics > Graduation, and select Apply for Graduation. Students should select the term in which they will complete their degree requirements (not the convocation ceremony). Notify the MES Graduate Program Coordinator when this step has been completed.

Step 6: Degree completion

  • Once the thesis has been approved by UWSpace, the MES Graduate Program Coordinator will approve the student’s graduation on Quest. Once processed, the degree will appear as "complete" on the student's unofficial transcript.
  • Students must return their office key to the MES Graduate Program Coordinator upon degree completion.

Important deadlines:

The 100% and 50% tuition refund deadlines are indicated in the calendar each term. The thesis must be approved by UWSpace (step 4) on or before a deadline to avoid penalties or for any refund to be automatically applied to the student’s account.

Deadlines to apply to graduate in Quest are fixed: Spring Convocation - April 30; and Fall Convocation - August 31.

Important links:

For more information please refer to the Guide for Graduate Research and Supervision.

Requirements for SUSM thesis.