PHD Program in Critical Studies in Improvisation | College of Arts

PHD Program in Critical Studies in Improvisation

As a mode of being in the world, improvisation shows us that there are other ways of doing things, that social change is possible, that another world is possible.
Fischlin, Heble, & Lipsitz (The Fierce Urgency of Now, pg. 243)

The new interdisciplinary graduate program in the field of Critical Studies in Improvisation (IMPR) offers PhD Degrees incorporating foundations in critical inquiry, multidisciplinary improvisatory practices, performative agency, and community engagement, built on years of award-winning, arts-based research and training by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI). Through study and experiential learning opportunities, students will gain broadly applicable practical skills in research and project development, management and implementation, leadership, and collaboration.

PhD students will focus on Critical Studies in Improvisation as their Primary Area (part of the Qualifying Exam), which will involve an intensive literature review, preliminary thesis research focus development, and presentation at the Graduate colloquium. PhD students will also establish an area of disciplinary expertise through the combination of their course electives, the pedagogy lab, and the Secondary Area (SA), which is an opportunity to develop disciplinary expertise (particularly useful for those who seek academic employment), breadth, and pedagogical design experience, as well as to extend the particular vocabulary and research focus of Critical Studies in Improvisation in relation to other disciplinary engagements. Outcomes will include the development and design of specific courses in the Secondary Area including critique and response from faculty advisors of these course designs. We strongly encourage prospective candidates to reach out to potential faculty mentors to discuss the program and their research interests.

Through this program, students will acquire crucial transferable skills with broad relevance and application across a range of fields. Critical thinking, improvisational skills, collaborative competencies, and project management experience will all be fostered. These skills will enhance students’ effectiveness in academic, scholarly, artistic, business, and grassroots community contexts, maximizing graduates’ expertise and employability not only in the field of education, but in areas such as research, writing, public administration, policy analysis, communications, government and non-government organizations, not-for-profits, community leadership, arts programming and administration, and artistic practices spread across digital, traditional, and emergent media.


Applicants to the PhD should hold a four-year Bachelor’s degree or equivalent with a minimum GPA of 75%, in a field related to your proposed study.  Applicants to the PhD program may enter directly from an honours BA or already hold a Master’s degree.

IICSI and the interdisciplinary IMPR program have as an underlying pedagogical principle the desire to recognize ability and expertise beyond traditional degree formats. Therefore, in special circumstances, the program will follow established university policies for alternative admissions. Because Critical Studies in Improvisation is an interdisciplinary program that includes significant attention to practitioners and community-facing work, more expansive requirements for prospective students exist to facilitate admission of strong candidates without a bachelor’s degree or with a degree in a field not directly related to Critical Studies in Improvisation or with exceptional practitioner experience. Following established university procedures, these candidates will be evaluated for admission based on the contents of their portfolio, research proposal, and reference letters. The admissions process may also entail a face-to-face interview if deemed necessary by the admissions committee. Upon admission, students with this profile may be assigned additional courses to ensure adequate preparedness for research and practice in the field. If you have questions about your elibility, please reach out to us using the contact information below.

Application Deadline

January 15th of the anticipated entrance year.

How to Apply

The PhD program in Critical Studies in Improvisation requires multiple steps, so please read through all of the information below before preparing your application. Please note that all application materials are due by January 15th of the anticipated entrance year.

STEP 1: Complete the University's Online Application (OUAC)

Online application information can be found here. This part of the application includes a typed form. You will be required to submit the names of your two referees at this stage. The application fee is CDN $110. Within five working days of submission, you will receive an email with instructions on how to upload your documents to WebAdvisor. The account creation and referee requests cannot be expedited, so please work well ahead of deadlines. Once you receive this information, please proceed with Step 2. While you are waiting for the WebAdvisor instructions, please proceed with setting up your SlideRooms accounts and uploading the required materials, as laid out in Step 3.

STEP 2: Submit Application Materials to WebAdvisor

On WebAdvisor you will find a checklist for the items you will need to upload to the site. These may include:

  • Transcripts (Please note: if you have requested an official transcript through the OUAC application portal, please do not upload a version to WebAdvisor. Once the official version has been received, the request for it to be uploaded will be removed.)
  • Certification of English language proficiency (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS, MELAB) is required for applications whose first language is not English.

STEP 3: Submit Application Materials to SlideRoom

The following items (see below for details) must be submitted to the University of Guelph SlideRoom Portal:

  • 3-page statement of research
  • CV (including names of 2 references)
  • Portfolio
  • Writing sample

SlideRoom is open for submissions between November 1 and January 15.

Please note that SlideRoom will allow you to log in and edit your portfolio as much as you like, but no more changes will be allowed after you click submit.  A $10 fee (USD) will be charged to each applicant at the time of submission.

Statement of Research

Your research proposal should outline your critical orientation and proposed research activity for the program of study. The proposal should also include rationale outlining the way your profile and proposed research fit with the Critical Studies in Improvisation program and explain how you will contribute to the field and how your previous work prepares you for entry to the program. The statement should cover in some detail the substance of what you want to do, how it relates both to your formation and how you think the program might complement or add to that formation, the relationship of your project to other research (if any) that has been done, key people in the program who might advise you, and anything else the admissions committee should know. Practitioners or applicants with non-academic trajectories should feel free to describe their work in ways that situate it in relation to the proposed program of study. 


Your CV should outline work and education, as well as any relevant artistic activities, such as exhibitions, residencies, performances, collaborations, and grants.

NOTE: Please list the names of your referees and their institutional affiliation at the end of your CV.


A representative sampling of your best and most relevant creative, professional, and/or research practice, in relationship to the field of Critical Studies in Improvisation and to your proposed area of research. Portfolios can include music, artwork, digital files, writings, or other creative works, and must be linked to your rationale for admission to the program.

Acceptable formats include jpg, png and gif for images; mov, wmv, flv, and mp4 for videos; and mp3 for music. To optimize image quality and upload speed, please ensure that image files are approximately 1024 x 768px at 72dpi and please keep video files under 60MB each. Our SlideRoom portal offers additional instruction for submitting work and links for technical assistance.

Writing Sample

Please submit a sample of scholarly writing, such as an essay, article, or book chapter. Full books and large manuscripts will not be accepted.

For more information regarding your application, please contact

Funding & Fees

Accepted students will typically be offered student stipend funding and Graduate Teaching Assistantship positions within the program and in affiliated departments. This program also features opportunities for Graduate Research Assistantships funded by faculty research grants, as well as internships with community partners.

PhD students will be offered baseline packages of 12 Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA) and/or Graduate Student Assistantships (GSA) plus the University Graduate Scholarship (UGS) funding over four years. In some cases, students may be offered a Sessional teaching appointment in place of one of the GTAs in year 3 or 4.

All international PhD students will receive an International Doctoral Tuition Scholarship (IDTS) if they qualify with the minimum eligibility requirements. At $11,000 per year for up to four years, these scholarships essentially cover the difference between international and domestic doctoral tuition. 

International doctoral students admitted to a full-time program with a minimum 80% (A-) admission average, and who are billed at international tuition rates, are eligible subject to meeting all other criteria. International doctoral students admitted with an average lower than 80%, and who meet all other criteria, will be eligible in the semester following successful completion of their qualifying exam, for the remainder of the four-year period of eligibility. Please click here for full eligibility information. (Note: The IDTS is for PhD students only. This offset is not available for MA students.)

The University of Guelph has established a number of ACCESS awards which provide bursaries for students in financial need. To be eligible for these bursaries, students must complete a needs assessment application available from Student Financial Services, or check the website. A variety of competitive research scholarships are also available. Information on awards and funding assistance is available from the Faculty of Graduate Studies calendar Link. 

Prospective applicants, including foreign student applicants, are strongly encouraged to apply for the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) in advance of applying for admission to the IMPR program at the University of Guelph. Please review deadlines and application details at this link. 

Prospective students who are Canadian citizens or permanent  residents are also encouraged to apply for the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant in advance of applying for admission to the IMPR program at the University of Guelph.  Please review deadlines and application details at this link

Additional scholarships and awards may be available. Please visit the Graduate Studies funding page for more details and information.

For information on University of Guelph tuition and fees, please see this page.


International Applicants

Applications from international students are warmly encouraged, though the application procedures are somewhat more complex. If the applicant’s first degree was completed in a country where English is not the first language, certification of English-language proficiency must be documented at the time of application. Examples of acceptable assessment of proficiency include official scores or results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) of the Educational Testing Service, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB), and the Canadian Academic English Language (CAEL) assessment. The minimum acceptable score is 550 for the paper-based TOEFL, an overall score of 89 with no individual component below 21 for the Internet Based TOEFL, 6.5 for IELTS, 85 for MELAB, and 60 for CAEL. However, the Admissions Committee will also assess the essays submitted as part of the application to determine whether the applicant is likely to be able to work adequately at the graduate level. Graduate courses at the University of Guelph are completed in approximately 12 weeks, and students must therefore be proficient in the use of English, both written and oral, when they begin their studies at Guelph. There is no provision for upgrading English language skills during the course of the PhD Program.

In addition, international applicants should be realistic in their estimation of the cost of studying and living in Canada, which are currently between $18,000 and $25,000 Can. per year. Financial assistance is normally guaranteed for all entering students, but at best, such funding would only cover a portion of the total cost of a year’s study. International applicants are strongly encouraged to consult the University’s Centre for International Programs website for additional information, and also the International Graduate Student Funding Guidelines on the University’s website. In addition to special tuition fees for international graduate students, there are also some other non-academic fees, and all international students and their dependants must enroll in the University Health Insurance Plan as soon as they arrive in Ontario.

Collaborative International Development Studies (IDS) Designation

Students can also choose to combine their PhD program with an IDS designation (PHD.IMPR+IDEV). The IDS PhD collaborative specialization provides an opportunity for advanced students to engage with interdisciplinary development theories and to conduct research on international development. This combination provides the necessary disciplinary qualifications for the academic job market as well as the interdisciplinary breadth required for development policy and practice.

In addition to the Critical Studies in Improvisation PhD requirements, students take an interdisciplinary course on theories and debates, and a course dealing with development research methods and practice. Completion of the IDS collaborative specialization adds the designation "International Development Studies" to the PhD degree. Visit the IDS website for more information or e-mail the IDS PhD Program.

Contact Information

Critical Studies in Improvisation, University of Guelph

Interim Graduate Coordinator, Critical Studies in Improvisation

Professor Alyssa Woods
519-824-4120 x54985 

Improvisation Academic Program Assistant

International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation

Professor Ajay Heble, Director

Julia Busatto, Project Manager

The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) is a partnered research institute hosted at the University of Guelph. The partners include eight academic institutions (University of Guelph, McGill University, Memorial University, University of Regina, Carleton University, the University of British Columbia, Queen’s University Belfast, and 17, Institute of Critical Studies), a foundation partner (Musagetes), and over 65 community-based organizations. The Institute’s mandate is to create positive social change through the confluence of improvisational arts, innovative scholarship, and collaborative action. Our team engages, connects, and mobilizes scholars, students, creative practitioners, and community partners in order to create a vibrant intellectual hub, and a focal point for leading-edge research and critical inquiry in the field of improvisation studies. For more about the institute and a full list of team members and partners please visit our website.

Guelph Colloquium Performance Research: Navid Navab Stories of Impact: Heather