Graduate Programs

Doctoral Program

The Faculty of Law has recently instituted a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program. A PhD is quickly becoming a requirement in law faculty hiring in Canadian law schools and abroad. A PhD in law is also a very attractive qualification for careers in government, NGOs and international organizations.

Our PhD program is designed to provide outstanding students from Canada and around the world with advanced academic training and the opportunity to engage in original scholarly research resulting in a dissertation. Students enrolled in the PhD program must satisfy both the course work and written dissertation requirements.


Applicants for the PhD program must normally hold an LLM degree or its equivalent from this or another university, of a sufficient standard to satisfy the Faculty of Law’s Graduate Studies Committee as well as the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR), that they will be capable of undertaking and profiting by the program. On an exceptional basis, students enrolled in the Faculty’s LLM program can seek permission from their supervisor and the Graduate Studies Committee to bypass the LLM requirement and enroll as a candidate for the PhD degree.

Course Requirements

PhD students must successfully complete a minimum of nine course credits, normally consisting of the Graduate Seminar (LAW 696) and two other courses, often including a graduate-level independent research paper course. However, students may take graduate courses in other faculties instead of, or in addition to, these courses, with the approval of the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies after consideration of the student’s needs and experience and the availability of courses. For further information see Graduate Courses. FGSR also requires graduate students to complete eight hours of ethics training. For further information see Ethics Training.

PhD Dissertation

Students enrolled in the PhD program must write a dissertation (doctoral thesis) of approximately 250 to 350 pages (62,500 to 87,500 words) in length, inclusive of footnotes or endnotes and exclusive of the Bibliography and other material. The dissertation must embody the results of original investigations and analyses and be of such quality as to merit publication, meeting the standards of reputable scholarly publications. Furthermore, it must constitute a substantial contribution to the knowledge of the student’s field of study.

PhD Dissertation Process

The dissertation process is composed of the following steps:

  1. The student must write a detailed dissertation description and outline on a dissertation topic selected in consultation with the student’s supervisory committee and with the approval of the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.

  2. The student must pass an oral candidacy examination concerning the dissertation description and outline. The student is normally required to complete all course work before taking the oral candidacy examination.

  3. The student must complete and submit a written dissertation.

  4. The student must pass an oral defense of the dissertation.

PhD Dissertation Proposal and Oral Candidacy Examination

The PhD dissertation description and outline (proposal) serve as an introduction to the student’s dissertation topic. The proposal should provide a road-map for the reader with respect to the intended contents of the dissertation, and it should address the major arguments that will be considered in the completed dissertation. The proposal provides information for the student’s candidacy committee to determine whether the student is ready to proceed with the writing of the PhD dissertation or whether the student needs to conduct more research and planning before proceeding further.

The PhD dissertation proposal must include a description of the central thesis of the dissertation, an explanation of the methodological approach to be used, an indication of the dissertation’s intended contribution to existing scholarship (thus demonstrating the originality of the intended research and analysis), an outline of the intended structure of the thesis and focus of each dissertation chapter, and a description of the intended contents of each chapter.

The PhD dissertation proposal should be 20 to 25 pages in length, measured using double-spaced typed text, inclusive of footnotes. A bibliography must be included. The bibliography will contain all primary and secondary research sources collected to date in support of the proposal (including sources consulted but not cited in the proposal’s footnotes). A table of contents is recommended, as is the use of headings and sub-headings.

Residency Requirements and Length of Program

PhD students are normally required to complete at least one academic year (i.e. from September to May) in full-time residence at the University of Alberta. A student who holds a University of Alberta LLM may secure a waiver of residency, upon recommendation of his or her supervisory committee and approval of the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.

The time required to complete the PhD will vary according to the student’s previous education and experience and to the nature of the research undertaken. However, a minimum of two calendar years of full-time study is normally required. Students must complete the PhD program requirements within a maximum of six years.

Funding Opportunities

For Faculty of Law, University of Alberta and Canadian external funding opportunities, see Graduate Scholarships.