Doctor of Philosophy in Oceans and Fisheries (Ph.D.)

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Oceans and Fisheries (OCF ) degree is expected to take four years, although faster progress is encouraged. Original research, supervised by a faculty member, constitutes the major component of work toward the Ph.D. degree.

Program Requirements

Candidates admitted to the Ph.D. program are required to take FISH 500. Additional coursework is to be selected in consultation with the student’s Supervisory Committee and is to be approved by the IOF Graduate Program Officer.

It is OCF policy that all Ph.D. students are required to present a research proposal and pass a Comprehensive Examination on their research area within 18 months of registering for the program.

Required Coursework

  • FISH 500 – Issues in Fisheries Research: Seminars
    If it is their first year of doctoral studies, students should register for FISH 500. FISH 500 is based on a weekly IOF departmental seminar series that runs through the Fall and Winter terms. The series focused on a broad range of ocean science, governance and conservation issues. The aims of this course are to broaden understanding of state-of-the-art scientific approaches and findings in oceans and fisheries and also to improve graduate student’s ability to critically analyze seminar presentations and improve their oral presentation and communication and essay writing skills.
  • FISH 699 – Ph.D. Dissertation
    All Ph.D. students must register for their dissertation course (FISH 699) two times per year — once at the beginning of September for the winter term and again in April for the Spring/Summer term.

Ph.D. students are encouraged to consider registering in elective courses of interest in their first and second years. The Supervisory Committee may recommend that a student take courses relevant to the student’s area of research. Ph.D. students can follow courses for credit or audit.

First month

  • Meet with supervisor to discuss expectations of both student and supervisor, degree requirements, policies and timelines. Sign the IOF letter of agreement.
  • Discuss coursework, composition of the Supervisory Committee, and research plan with supervisor.
  • Register in required coursework (FISH 500).


Eden Raines, Graduate Program Officer

Please contact the IOF Graduate Program Officer with any questions you might have.

Eden Raines
Location: Rm. 231

Within the first four months

  • Introductory meeting with Committee (minimum attendance: supervisor and one Committee member), to discuss coursework, composition of Committee, research plan.

After 8 months

  • Full Committee established. Supervisory Form submitted to the GPO. Note: having a committee member who does not have a research, tenure-stream faculty appointment at UBC requires formal approval by one of the Graduate Advisors and G+PS. This process can take weeks to months.
  • Register in any other coursework the Committee has recommended.
  • Apply for scholarship funding, if necessary. Note: NSERC, Affiliated Fellowships, and Killam scholarships have similar application processes, with a deadline of mid-September.
  • Identify research project.
  • Obtain reading list for Comprehensive Exam from each Committee member, or prepare a reading list and submit it to Committee members for approval (recommended). Begin preparations.
  • Convene Committee meeting to discuss proposed research. Note: G+PS requires that there be at least one Committee meeting every 12 months.
  • Begin research.

By end of first 15 months

  • IOF requires that the research proposal be prepared and approval obtained from Supervisor. Notify the Committee that the proposal is coming their way at least a week in advance. Distribute to Committee members at least two weeks in advance of Committee meeting.
  • OF requires that the Committee meeting be convened to discuss proposed research and the suitability of the research proposal. The Committee must approve the research proposal at least two weeks before officially scheduling the Comprehensive Exam.

By end of first 18 months

  • Comprehensive Exam must be held within 18 months of starting PhD (G+PS & IOF requirement). To schedule a Comprehensive Exam, students must check with the GPO.
  • Apply for Candidacy: Recommendation for Advancement of Candidacy form (PDF). To be completed after a successful Comprehensive Exam and submitted to the Graduate Program Officer.

Following 2-4 years

  • Convene regular Committee meetings to discuss research results, further research plans, coursework and timeline to thesis completion (G+PS requires at least one Committee meeting every 12 months).
  • Complete research.
  • Ideally, the student will complete writing the dissertation by the end of the fourth year.

(Preferably) End of fourth year

  • At least three months before completing the dissertation, the supervisor and GPO need to submit the external examiner form to G+PS. The supervisor must be confident that the dissertation is nearly ready to be submitted to G+PS.
  • Approval of dissertation by supervisor. This may be an iterative process.
  • Submit dissertation to Supervisory Committee members, at least four weeks before their approval is required.
  • Obtain approval by Supervisory Committee.
  • Identify members of the examining Committee (primary supervisor, a minimum of one and a maximum of two other members of Supervisory Committee, two university examiners, the external examiner) The exam Chair will be identified and appointed by G+PS.
  • Schedule dissertation defense date: should take place less than 8 weeks after submission of the request the external examiner form to G+PS, and 6-7 weeks before the proposed defense.
  • Defend dissertation.
  • Submission of dissertation approval form and final dissertation and dissertation cover sheet (electronically as a single pdf file to G+PS through the UBC online information system, cIRcle, and copy to the OCF Graduate Program).

G+PS Tool and Checklist

For more information, see G+PS Doctoral Examinations Planning Tool and Checklist

Each PhD student is required to submit to the Graduate Program Officer a research proposal that has been accepted by their supervisor and Supervisory Committee prior to scheduling the Comprehensive Exam. The Comprehensive Examination is separate and distinct from the evaluation of the dissertation proposal.

The proposal should be evaluated by the official Supervisory Committee, which means that the Supervisory Committee should have been already approved prior to the proposal defense (see Supervisory Committee section above). Note that this process may require time if one of the members do not have a research, tenure stream professorial board appointment at UBC.

Contents and Format

The candidate is expected to review the literature and develop the questions and methodologies to be used in the research carried out for the dissertation requirement of the PhD degree. The proposal should not exceed 25 double-spaced pages in length, using a 12-point font size. The proposal might spend 5-10 pages on background and 3-4 pages on each of 3-4 projects/chapters, discussing research questions and methods.


  1. The student should discuss the contents of the proposal with their supervisor.
  2. The supervisor should then approve a draft of the proposal before it is sent to the Supervisory Committee. This reading should be done in a timely fashion by the supervisor (within two weeks of receiving the draft). Committee members should be advised ahead of time that the proposal will be given to them on a particular date, so that time conflicts can be addressed.
  3. The Supervisory Committee should be given pdf copies of the proposal (or a hard copy if requested) and allowed a minimum of two weeks for reading and comments.
  4. The student and Supervisory Committee should meet to discuss the contents of the proposal and the proposed research. This meeting should be a discussion, not an examination, but the Committee must be able to make a decision about whether the proposed dissertation research is feasible for the student to do.
  5. At the end of this meeting, the Committee should make a decision (in camera if requested by any member) about whether to approve the proposal. Until the proposal is accepted, the student may not proceed with the Comprehensive Exam.
  6. The Comprehensive Exam cannot be officially scheduled until the proposal is approved, although a projected time may be set to be left free in everyone's calendars.

To allow time for preparation for the Comprehensive Exam, the Committee meeting to discuss the research proposal meeting should be held no less than 1 month in advance of the Comprehensive Exam. Thus, the Supervisory Committee should be given a draft proposal no less than six-seven weeks prior to the expected date of the Comprehensive Exam. Many proposals require some re-writing before approval, so allowing even more time before the expected Comprehensive Exam date is recommended.

All PhD students are required to take an oral Comprehensive Exam given by members of their Supervisory Committee. To schedule a Comprehensive Exam, students must follow the procedures outlined in the IOF Comprehensive Examination description and timeline information document.

Purpose of the examination

The comprehensive exam serves two functions:

  1. to create an opportunity for general learning in student's field of study, and
  2. to evaluate the preparation of the student for doctoral level study.

Scope of the examination

The Comprehensive Examination is intended to test the student’s understanding of the chosen field of study as a whole and the student’s preparation for the thesis research to follow. This examination is not a dissertation defense and is not designed to query the specifics of the student’s proposed research. The examination will cover the general area of the student’s research. Each candidate is expected to be able to discuss any other areas that are closely related to their own research work.

Timing of the examination

It is OCF policy that this examination must be completed within 18 months of initial registration. Thus, a MSc student who transfers to the PhD degree program after one year will have only six months after the date of transfer to complete the examination. Students are advised to complete the examination before becoming deeply involved in their research work.

Extensions beyond 18 months require the written approval of one of the Graduate Advisors. Students are expected to have successfully passed their Comprehensive Examination within 24 months from the date of initial registration. A student who is not admitted to candidacy within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program.

Scheduling the Exam

The first step for a PhD student is to contact the Graduate Program Officer with a tentative timing for the exam. The Graduate Program Officer will consult with the Graduate Program Committee to identify a Chair that is an IOF faculty member and not associated with the research. Once a Chair has been identified (this may take up to one week), the student will be informed. The student must include the Chair in the initial scheduling emails and polls. If a PhD student waits to contact the Chair until after the exam is scheduled, it may be necessary to reschedule if the Chair is not available.

Requirements and preparation

Readings: It is recommended that students contact all members of their Supervisory Committee at least three months in advance of the expected exam date for suggestions on readings and other preparation material needed for the exam. Students are encouraged to develop a reading list and submit this to their Supervisory Committee for comments and suggestions as part of their preparation for the Comprehensive Exam.

Proposal: Before scheduling the Comprehensive Exam, a student must submit to the Graduate Program Officer a written research proposal, which has been approved by their Supervisory Committee.

Examination Committee

The Examination Committee will consist of 4-5 members of the Supervisory Committee. If a Supervisory Committee has more than five members, then the membership of the Examination Committee must be limited to five. If less than four members of the Supervisory Committee are available because of leave, substitution may be made upon the advice of one of the Graduate Advisors or arrangements made for teleconferencing. Although the Examining Committee can include previously approved Supervisory Committee members who do not hold a professorial board appointment in the research stream (see above), pass or fail decisions will be made by UBC research faculty (i.e., G+PS) members only. The Chair must be an IOF faculty member. The Chair acts as a moderator, and does not participate in the questioning.

Examination protocol

The exam will begin with a brief introduction by the Chair.

The student will then give a 20-25 minute presentation. This presentation should provide an overview of the state of the knowledge of the dissertation topic and review the dissertation aims in this context. The student should discuss the specific expectation with their supervisors.

Each member of the Examination Committee will then be given a maximum of 15 minutes for questions assessing the student’s general knowledge of the subject area. The supervisor is the last one to ask questions, and the Chair does not pose questions.

Then each Committee member will be given the opportunity for a second round of questions, not to exceed five minutes each. This second round is intended for clarification of issues previously raised and not for new lines of questioning except in unusual circumstances.

Results of the examination

Following the examination, the candidate will be asked to retire from the room, and the Committee will hold an in-camera session. The Supervisor will be asked to introduce the candidate in general, but will not register an opinion on pass or fail until after all other Committee members have discussed the exam and registered an opinion. The Supervisor may then be asked to retire from the meeting. The remaining Committee members will discuss the candidate and then vote, which may be by written secret ballot if requested by the Chair or a voting member of the Exam Committee. The pass/fail decision made by the Supervisor will not be revealed to the Committee members until after completion of their discussion and vote.

The pass/fail decision will be by simple majority of the votes cast by members of the Examination Committee. In the event of a tie, the deciding vote will be cast by the Chair.

In the event of a marginal pass, the Committee may apply conditions (e.g., course work, directed readings). The Committee must then determine the arrangements for ensuring that the conditions are met. These should be included in the Chair’s report.

The Chair will then recall the candidate and Supervisor to the meeting and announce the result of the vote. Written notification of the decision made by the Examination Committee will be sent to the Graduate Program Officer.

The candidate will either pass or fail the examination. A candidate who fails the first attempt must pass a second examination that will be scheduled to take place within six months of the first examination. Failure to pass a second examination will result in the student being required to withdraw from the graduate program.

The Supervisor will then notify the Graduate Program Officer of the result of the Comprehensive Exam by email.

The Doctoral Dissertation exam is administered through G+PS. G+PS provides extensive documentation regarding most aspects of the defense and dissertation. Information about the deadlines and protocols for these examinations can be found on the G+PS website: Final doctoral examination

Please note that that the deadlines for scheduling these exams are sometimes quite early in the term.

More information is available:

Graduate Student Handbook

For more information please consult the IOF Graduate Student Handbook (Updated as of June 5, 2024)