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.

Candidates admitted to the Ph.D. program will be 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 advisor.

All Ph.D. students are required to present a research proposal within 18 months and pass a comprehensive examination on their research area within 24 months of entry into the PhD program.  Extensions beyond these time-limits will require approval of a Graduate Advisor, and will only be made under exceptional circumstances. Requests for extensions should be made well in advance of the deadline.

Required Coursework

  • FISH 500 – Issues in Fisheries Research: Seminars

    If it is their first year of doctoral studies, students should register in 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 students’ ability to critically analyze seminar presentations and improve their oral presentation and communication and essay writing skills.

  • FISH 699 – Ph.D. Dissertation

    This is the dissertation course. All Ph.D. students must register in their dissertation courses two times per year — once at the beginning of September for the winter term (FISH 699), and again in April for the Spring/Summer term (FISH 699).

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 the student take courses relevant to his or her 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.

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. There must be at least four members including the Supervisor, and at least half must be UBC faculty members (UBC requirement). The IOF requires at least two Committee members from the IOF and at least one from outside of the IOF. Students should check with the Graduate Program Officer to determine if Committee members fulfill the IOF and UBC requirements.
  • Register in FISH 500 and any other coursework the Committee has recommended. Courses must be completed with a passing grade of at least 68%.
  • 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. G+PS requires 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.
  • IOF 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 within 18 months of starting Ph.D. (G+PS/IOF requirement).

Following 2-4 years

  • Convene annual Committee meetings to discuss research results from first year, further research plans, coursework, and timeline to dissertation completion (Note: G+PS requires at least one Committee meeting every 12 months).
  • Complete research.
  • Complete writing dissertation by the end of the fourth year.

(Preferably) End of fourth year

  • At least three months before completing the dissertation, the Supervisor and Graduate Program Officer 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.
  • 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, and the Exam Chair).
  • Schedule dissertation defense date: 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 signed dissertation approval form and final dissertation.

See also: G+PS Doctoral Examinations Planning Tool and Checklist

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 Ph.D. 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, discussing research questions and methods.

To allow time for preparation for the Comprehensive Exam, the Committee meeting to discuss the research proposal should be held no less than two weeks in advance of the Comprehensive Exam. Thus, the Supervisory Committee should be given the proposal no less than four 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.

For procedure see: IOF Graduate Student Handbook

All Ph.D. students are required to take an oral comprehensive exam, given by members of their Supervisory Committee, on their research area within 18 months of their program start date.

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 dissertation 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

This examination must be completed within 18 months of initial registration. Thus, a M.Sc. student who transfers to the Ph.D. 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

Ph.D. candidates must include the exam Chair, who must be one of the members of the graduate Committee, in the initial scheduling emails and polls. If a Ph.D. candidate waits to contact the Chair until after he or she has scheduled the exam, it may be necessary to reschedule it if the Chair is not available.

Requirements and preparation

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

Proposal: Before taking the comprehensive exam, a student must submit to the Institute a written research proposal which has been approved by their supervisor and Supervisory Committee.

Examination Committee

The Examination Committee will consist of all members of the Supervisory Committee (minimum of 4, maximum of five) plus the Chair. If a Supervisory Committee has more than five members, then the membership of the Examination Committee must be limited to five. If one member of the Supervisory Committee is not available because of leave, substitution may be made upon the advice of the Graduate Advisor or arrangements made for teleconferencing. Although the Supervisory Committee may include members who do not hold professional board appointment in the research stream, pass or fail decisions will be made by UBC research faculty members only.

Examination protocol

The exam will begin by a brief introduction by the Chair. The student will then give a short presentation; this presentation should discuss the state of knowledge about the questions in the proposal, and defend the reasons for asking those questions. This presentation is not meant to be a discussion of the methodology in the proposal (which should have been discussed in a normal Committee meeting leading up to the exam).

Each member of the Examination Committee will then be given an opportunity to ask 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.

Each Committee member will be given the opportunity for a second round of questions. 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 (may be by written secret ballot). 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.

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

Please sure the Recommendation for Advancement of Candidacy form is completed after a successful Comprehensive Exam and submitted to the Graduate Program Officer.

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 at the G+PS website:

Structure of an IOF Doctoral dissertation

Although there is debate about ‘how’ research is done, the concept of the doctoral dissertation research in IOF is, in general, the same as in any graduate program. That is, there is:

  • a statement of an issue
  • a rationale of the significance of the issue
  • a set of research questions (these may be presented as hypotheses, objectives, questions, propositions)
  • a set of methods or tools from various disciplines that will be brought to bear to address the research questions
  • a discussion of theoretical and analytical frameworks relevant to the issue
  • research tools selected
  • expected results
  • a summary and/or conclusions of the research, and
  • a discussion of how the research has contributed to the overall issue

Specifics among the various sections will vary by the nature of the research topic, the graduate student and the supervisor/Supervisory Committee.

It is important that discussion take place early in a graduate student’s program on the issues of how to do the research and what will be expected from the dissertation. These discussions should be re-examined at formal meetings of the graduate student’s Supervisory Committee.

Final Oral Defence

The Final Doctoral Examination is a complex procedure, and advance planning is essential to reduce stress and help ensure smooth process. IOF doctoral students should carefully review the G+PS Final Doctoral Examination Guide at least one year before you plan to start on this process.

You are also encouraged to use the planning tool and checklist on G+PS website.

Note: Deadlines for scheduling these exams are sometimes quite early in the term. You can find defense, graduation, and dissertation submission deadlines by consulting the G+PS Deadline Centre.