Rural Studies

Rural Studies core faculty are from within the School of Environmental Design & Rural Development (Capacity Development and Extension, Landscape Architecture, Rural Planning and Development), and draws associated faculty from units across the university, including: Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics, Geography, Political Science, and Sociology and Anthropology. Advanced studies and research on the integration of socio-cultural and bio-physical components for capacity development, design, or planning of landscape systems and rural communities are conducted through the following degree requirements.

Fields of Study

The PhD program focuses on two fields: sustainable rural communities and sustainable landscape systems. Sustainable rural communities are characterized by long-term well-being based on the integration of economic, social and environmental factors in their planning and activities. The sustainable landscape systems field examines structure, process, and change in the rural landscape through research on bio-physical and socio-cultural sectors. A number of different disciplines are represented and an interdisciplinary approach is taken to integrate across subject areas. Students may choose among fields and choose a sector within the field for relatively more-intensive study. Students may also study rural interdisciplinary topics that fall outside either of these fields.


Building from the core disciplinary strengths of SEDRD, doctoral students investigate issues that broadly or pointedly affect rural communities and landscapes. Many students develop international research that leads them to careers in non governmental organizations (NGO), faculty positions, environmental consultants and Federal Government (CIDA) to mention a few.

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission, an applicant must have a master's degree (or the equivalent) from a recognized university in a relevant discipline. Master's graduates in a range of humanities, social-science and applied-science disciplines are eligible for consideration for admission. As examples, master's graduates in geography, sociology, planning, landscape architecture, environmental science, capacity development and extension, and international development may be particularly suitable. Applicants who have not completed courses relevant to rural studies or gained experience in rural communities may be required to do so prior to admission or as part of initial phases of the PhD program.

The program's admission policy is governed by the availablity of graduate advisors and other resources, and by the need to admit applicants from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.  To determine advisor availability applicants should contact the Rural Studies Program Coordinator.   The interaction of students with diverse backgrounds greatly enhances the multidisciplinary approaches in the program. The program also seeks to achieve the significant participation of women and Indigenous people. Applicants should consult with a potential Advisor before applying. The Program Assistant ensures that application files are complete for review by the Admission Committee. If that review is successful, the Program Coordinator confirms the willingness of the Advisor to take on the applicant, and recommends the applicant for admission to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. 

Degree Requirements

Advisory Committee

Each doctoral student has an Advisory Committee composed of faculty members from a range of disciplines pertinent to the field, specialization, and research topic. Each committee consists of at least three members. At least one of the committee members must be in a department other than that in which the student is registered. Committees are broadly-based with at least two major disciplines represented by its members. The Advisor and the Advisory Committee provide guidance to allow for the student’s intellectual growth in the program.

The Advisory Committee assesses and approves the thesis-research proposal which is to be prepared by the student by the end of their second semester of registration, concurrent with preparation for the qualifying exam.

Course Requirements

The minimum course and credit requirements for the PhD in Rural Studies consist of a common 2.0-credit core of two integrative 1.0-credit courses (RST*6000 Sustainable Rural Systems and RST*6100 Integrative Research Methods), a 0.25-credit RST*6300 Research Seminar, and one elective graduate 0.5-credit course or the RST*6500 Special Topics course. Additional courses may be required by the student’s Advisory Committee. Make-up courses may be required prior to admission to the PhD program or early in the program. All courses will normally be completed prior to the qualifying examination. All or most of the courses should be taken in the first year of study.

To foster the interdisciplinary nature of the program, some courses are team taught. Please consult with the Rural Studies section of the Graduate Calendar for course related information.

Common Core Courses

  • RST*6000 Sustainable Rural Systems F-W [1.00] Sustainable development theory in a rural communities and landscape systems context.
  • RST*6100 Integrative Research Methods F-W [1.00] Research design and evaluation with a focus on measures of sustainability and on interdisciplinary applications.
  • RST*6300 Research Seminar W [0.25]

Sector Core Courses

  • RST*6500 Special Topics U [0.50]
  • RPD*6170 Rural Research Methods [0.50]
  • CDE*6260 Research Design [0.50]
  • LARC*6380 Research Seminar W [0.25]

Rural Planning and Development participates in the PhD in Rural Studies program.  This program provides opportunities for students to be advised by faculty in this school.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination for the PhD program in Rural Studies assesses the acceptability of the intellectual capability and research potential of students. The examination committee is constituted to represent a range of disciplines pertinent to the field.

The qualifying examination is used to determine if the student has an advanced level of knowledge and competence in the area(s) of specialization related to their research. The areas of specialization typically focus on one of the program fields, however, it is acceptable to have an area of specialization outside of these fields as long as it is agreed upon by the graduate student, Program coordinator, and the Advisory Committee. The qualifying examination has both written and oral components. The written component is based on the common core subject area of the related field and the student’s selected sector. The oral examination is devoted to discussion of the written materials. The examination evaluates the student’s ability to integrate disciplinary knowledge within the field and to undertake interdisciplinary research. The qualifying examination must be completed by the end of semester five.

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