Doctoral Program


The Ph.D. program offers opportunities for advanced research in the areas of socio-economic spaces and change, environmental governance and management, and biophysical systems and processes. There is also a collaborative PhD program that is offered with Guelph Institude for Development Studies.  These programs are distinctive in that they emphasize interrelationships among biophysical and human systems. A unifying theme is the emphasis on integration and evaluation. Scales of inquiry range from the local to the global, in both developed and developing countries.

Admission Standards

Applicants for the Ph.D. program should have a recognized Master's degree with an 80% (A-) average in their graduate-level studies. Applicants with excellent standing at the honours baccalaureate level who wish to proceed directly to doctoral study will first enroll in the Master's program. A superior record and a particular aptitude for research may, on the recommendation of the Department, allow transfer to the Ph.D. program without completion of the Master's degree.

Qualifying Examination

The purpose of the qualifying examination is to determine the student's competence in the broad field of the Ph.D. program in Geography, and his or her intellectual preparedness to undertake research for the Ph.D. thesis. The criteria for demonstrating such competence and preparedness include not only an understanding of the theory and methodology related to the proposed area of research, but also a familiarity with the scholarly fields that form the major building blocks of the Ph.D. program in Rural Resource Evaluation and Environmental Analysis. Students must complete GEOG*6100 Geographic Scholarship and Research and attain a grade of B prior to undertaking the qualifying examination.

The qualifying examination is to be taken no later than the end of Semester 4. Thus, the student and his or her Advisory Committee should jointly decide the scope of the examination as early as possible in the student's program to allow sufficient time to prepare for the examination.

Thesis Proposal

Following successful completion of the qualifying examination, approval to proceed with thesis research will be based on the submission of a written proposal to the Advisory Committee, and an oral presentation to the Department at large. Where the qualifying examination focuses on broader conceptual, theoretical and methodological issues pertinent to the student's scholarly fields and research areas, the thesis proposal provides a framework for the actual research.

The thesis proposal should not exceed 5,000 words, and should contain the following components:

  • Introduction providing the context for the research question
  • Description of the scope and objectives of the research
  • Elaboration of the research methodology
  • Discussion of the nature and significance of the anticipated results.

An extensive literature review is not needed. The proposal must be submitted and approved, and the oral presentation to the Department completed, by the end of the 4th semester of residency. The decision to approve the thesis proposal will rest solely with the Advisory Committee. Therefore, students should meet with the Advisory Committee as soon as possible to obtain approval for the thesis topic. One re-submission is permitted in the event that the initial proposal is not approved. This must take place within 2 months of the first attempt


University of Guelph regulations regarding the Ph.D. thesis state the following:

Each candidate shall submit a thesis, written by the candidate, on the research carried out by the candidate on an approved topic. The thesis is expected to be a significant contribution to knowledge in its field and the candidate must indicate in what ways it is a contribution. The thesis must demonstrate mature scholarship and critical judgment on the part of the candidate and it must indicate an ability to express oneself in a satisfactory literary style. Approval of the thesis is taken to imply that it is judged to be sufficiently meritorious to warrant publication in reputable scholarly media in the field.

These regulations permit different kinds of theses. Two options for preparing the thesis are available to Ph.D. students in the Department of Geography: the dissertation, and the manuscript option. Expectations regarding the quality, intellectual rigour and scope of the research are the same for both options. In both options, the thesis must be a coherent document that provides a complete and systematic account of the research.


Students can choose to combine their Ph.D. program with an GIDS designation (PHD.GEOG+IDEV). The collaborative GIDS Ph.D. program 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 Ph.D. Geography requirements, students take an interdisciplinary course on theories and debates, and a course dealing with development research methods and practice.  Completion of the GIDS program adds the designation "Guelph Institude of Development Studies" to the Ph.D. degree. Visit the GIDS website for more information or e-mail