PhD Program

The PhD is a challenging degree that takes a minimum of four years. It is a unique opportunity for those students who are very sure that they want to devote a number of years to advanced study, much of which time will be spent conducting self-directed research on a very specific topic. Applicants to the PhD should do careful research on the limited career opportunities available in contemporary academia and consider whether a doctorate is necessary for their career ambitions. The department is committed to supporting doctoral students in pursuing research and teaching positions within and outside academia, including non-professorial careers within higher education and roles in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Our PhD program requires *18 of graduate-level courses (usually 6 3-credit courses). All PhD students are required to take POLS 680; as one of their courses, which is offered every year, typically in the fall semester, as well as the Grad Lab which prepares you for your Comprehensive Exams. All PhD students should also select two areas of specialization from among: Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, Gender and Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. The remaining courses should be selected from 500 and 600-level courses in Political Science at the University of Alberta. 

In year 2, doctoral students complete a comprehensive exam in each of their two areas of specialization.

After passing the comprehensive exams, doctoral students prepare for and sit an oral candidacy exam, in which the dissertation proposal is examined. This exam and all other degree requirements except the dissertation must be completed by the end of year 3 of the program. Upon passing the candidacy exam and provided all other degree requirements (including language requirement and ethics training) are met, the student becomes a PhD candidate, or "ABD" (All But Dissertation).

Beginning in year 3 students write their dissertation under the direction of their supervisor and with the assistance of two other faculty, who constitute the supervisory committee. Students may, in consultation with their supervisor(s) and supervisory committee, opt for either a traditional-format thesis or dissertation-by-publication.

Dissertation - Traditional

A doctoral dissertation is typically 50,000-80,000 words long, containing 4-7 linked chapters, an introduction, conclusion, bibliography, and any other appendices or presentation of data. "A doctoral thesis, at a minimum, 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. It must constitute a substantial contribution to the knowledge in the student's field of study" (FGSR Graduate Manual § 8.4.1).

When the dissertation is complete to the satisfaction of the supervisory committee, it is sent to two other arms-length examiners, one of whom must be an expert in the field from outside the University of Alberta. All five examiners participate in an oral defence.


Students may, in consultation with their supervisor(s) and supervisory committee, opt for either a traditional-format thesis or dissertation-by-publication. Students should consult with their supervisor early in their degree program to determine which format is best for the nature of their research area and the time frame for their program completion. A decision must be made prior to the candidacy examination, and approved by the supervisory committee. A change of thesis format (from or to the thesis by publication from or the traditional dissertation) must be approved by the supervisory committee and the Associate Chair (Graduate Studies) must be informed.

Traditional and publication-based theses contrast mainly in terms of the "body" of the thesis - that is, the portion between the introduction and conclusion. A traditional thesis is a monograph consisting of chapters. A dissertation-by-publication includes introduction and conclusion chapters, but the documents in-between are independent papers in journal-article format.

Language Requirement:

Every PhD student must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. This requirement can be fulfilled by having successfully completed a second-year undergraduate language course in the previous five years. It can also be fulfilled by completing a translation exercise, which entails the translation of a 400-500 word passage from a scholarly journal into grammatically correct and coherent English. Students may qualify in a language that is spoken in the geographical region on which their research focuses or the language of origin of the political thinkers whose work they engage. Students taking Canadian Politics as a field will normally be required to take French. A student whose native language is not English and who does not require supplementary language competency to conduct her/his dissertation research (as determined by her/his doctoral supervisor and communicated in writing to the graduate chair) will be deemed to have met the language requirement.

Ethics Requirement:

All graduate students at the University of Alberta are required to take eight hours of Graduate Ethics Training (GET). Five hours of this requirement can be met by registering through the FGSR website to take a self-guided online course. The remaining three can be met by taking a department seminar on academic integrity offered every spring, or by taking three hours of approved seminars offered by FGSR or other units on campus.

Professional Development:

All students entering a graduate degree program at the University of Alberta from September 1 2016 will be required to complete a professional development requirement. See Professional Development.

Residency Requirement and Time to Completion:

There is a residency requirement for doctoral students of two academic years of full-time attendance at the University of Alberta. The maximum time to completion for a doctoral degree is six years.


Doctoral students are admitted when there is a strong academic fit between their proposed research project and a faculty member who agrees to supervise it. This arrangement will be interim until students make the designation official - or nominate a new supervisor - by the end of their first year.

A more detailed document that sets out internal policies and procedures relating to the doctoral degree is available from the Graduate Advisor (