PhD Program

PhD program


Information for new students

Welcome to the School of Environmental Sciences! 

Here are a few notes that will help you with getting started in the PhD program at Guelph: PhD Welcome Package


SES graduate policy document

All SES graduate policies can be found here: SES Graduate Student Policies (2021/01/18)

The Graduate Calendar is the foremost source for information concerning university-level regulations of graduate studies in general and SES academic programs in particular.


Program Requirements

The PhD program requires:

  • Completion of one mandatory 0.50 credit course (Research Seminar in Environmental Sciences).

  • Successful completion of a qualifying exam within five semesters of first registration in the program

  • Successful defense of a thesis describing original research, carried out under the direct supervision of a core faculty member.

The required Research Seminar in Environmental Sciences (ENVS 6900) focuses on developing writing and communication skills by having the students develop a research proposal that is both written and presented to the class. 

In consultation with your advisory committee, you may choose to take additional courses from a number of disciplinary specific seminar courses, independent study courses and lab or field courses spanning the following broad areas of expertise within the school: Earth and atmospheric science, soil sciences, and environmental biology.  Students may also select related courses from other departments on campus.  

Successful completion of the PhD thesis occurs when the research is judged to be sufficiently meritorious to warrant publication in reputable, peer-reviewed journals in its field. PhD students are normally expected to have published, or have “in-press”, one or more papers in peer-reviewed journals prior to the defense. In cases involving intellectual property, it is recognized that publication may not always be immediately possible. In such cases, a Pass will require that the committee is satisfied that, in their opinion, the work is of sufficient quality and originality that it would meet the standards for peer-reviewed publications.

For more information see the full program requirements in the graduate calendar.

Common Policies and Procedures

Scholarship search tool

Students may receive external scholarships (e.g NSERC, OGS) and/or internal scholarships.  For more information, please consult the graduate studies Scholarships and Awards website.  You may also use the Graduate Award Search Tool to find internal scholarships.

Other useful links:


Research/writing course enrolment

For each semester that you will be registered, you must choose one of the following: UNIV*7510*01 Active Full-time Registration or UNIV*7520*01 Active Part-time Registration. Registering for one of these courses serves only to activate your registration.

In addition to this basic selection, you must be registered in at least one other course: UNIV*7500*01 Research/Writing or any real course for which an active section exists. Failure to do this will result in the term simply not appearing on any official transcript of record.


Commonly used forms


Advisory committee

The Advisor is responsible for forming the Advisory Committee in consultation with the student. The minimum committee must be your advisor and two other faculty members, at least one of whom must be from outside your home department. We advise inclusion of a fourth faculty member.  All members of the Advisory Committee who are not regular graduate faculty at the University of Guelph must hold Special Graduate Faculty status. Co-advisors must hold Associated Graduate Faculty status. If they do not have current Graduate Faculty status, they must be nominated by your Advisor and approved by the Departmental Graduate Studies Committee and the University Board of Graduate Studies.

Preferably, the Advisory Committee should be established and should meet before the end of the student's first semester. The Advisory Committee must be formed and the advisory committee appointment form submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant no later than the tenth week of the student's second semester. 


PhD Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination provides an opportunity to ensure that students have acquired an in‐depth understanding of their area of research and in the broader aspects of scientific research and knowledge. For faculty, the Qualifying Examination provides an opportunity to assess the student’s breadth and depth of understanding of the subject area and related fields, technical competence, analytical skills, capacity for critical thinking and to identify a student’s weaknesses that can be addressed within our graduate program. As the name implies, upon successful completion of the Qualifying Examination, a student qualifies for the status of PhD Candidate. Thus, the Qualifying Examination allows the School to determine if a student is ready to progress to the dissertation stage of the doctoral degree.

Preparation for the Qualifying Examination involves a period of study and preparation, typically 2‐3 months. Please submit the PhD Qualify Exam Information Form to   According to SES policies, this examination should be completed at the beginning of the 5th semester.  For students upgrading from an MSc to a PhD without completion of an MSc, the qualifying examination should be completed by the end of the 6th semester.

PhD Qualifying Exam Info Form

Full details about the process can be found in the SES policies and guidelines document.


PhD Defense

Timeline calculator and checklist

PhD Defense Checklist/Timeline

Please refer to the Office of Graduate Studies link on thesis completion for important information.

SES specific policies related to the defense and thesis completion can be found in the SES policies and guidelines document.


General guidelines

The thesis results are defended in a process that includes a presentation of the work and defense of the thesis results through oral questioning. Both are open to the public.

The PhD examination committee normally consists of five members appointed by the Associate Director (Graduate Studies), as follows:

  1. Examination chair
  2. A member of the Candidate’s Advisory Committee (normally, the Advisor);
  3. A member of the graduate faculty or the associate graduate faculty or special graduate faculty who may be a member of the Advisory Committee;
  4. A fourth member from among graduate faculty normally from another Department or School at the University of Guelph (the “internal external”).
  5. A fifth member who has a doctoral degree, is an expert in the area, and is from outside the University, is the external examiner. The external examiner is selected by the Associate Director (Graduate Studies) from a list of two or more nominees provided by the Advisory Committee. To facilitate this, CVs may be requested by the Associate Director (Graduate Studies). The external must be free of conflict of interest and may not have worked with or published with the Candidate or the Advisor(s) within the previous five years, not be adjunct, associate or special faculty in any Department or School at Guelph, must not be a previous student or supervisor of the Advisor(s), and must declare that they are free of any conflict of interest. 

The Defense consists of a 40-50 minute presentation by the student, followed by questions from the public.  Following a short break, the examining committee members have two rounds of questions for the student.  The first round is 15-20 minutes per examiner, whereas the second round of questions is usually 5-10 minutes per examiner.  At the end of the examination, the student and public are asked to leave and the committee deliberates the results of the examination.  The chair will then inform the student of the outcome as well as give an overview of any corrections or revisions required.  


Forms that need to be filled out in consultation with your advisor prior to defense


Forms for the external examiner


Forms and information needed after defense


Graduate courses

Please refer to the SES Graduate Courses page for information on SES courses and current semester offerings. You may also wish to refer to the University Graduate Calendar course listing for information about all SES Graduate courses.

Students must register for courses through WebAdvisor (see Tutorial). You may also search for course availability by semester through WebAdvisor.

NOTE: Students may need to fill out a course waiver/request form with instructor consent to register in some of our courses.  For Special Topics courses (section 01) where the graduate coordinator is listed as Instructor: please be advised that students will need to identify a faculty advisor who will work with them on a one-on-one basis to complete the course BEFORE the form is signed by the graduate coordinator. When submitting the form for signature, please state the name of faculty advisor you have identified.  All forms need to be complete, filled out in full and in one .pdf file to be accepted. This includes collecting the signature from instructors that are not the Graduate Coordinator.  Students should send completed forms to the Graduate Secretary;  she will ensure that the forms are signed and returned to students in a timely manner.


Contact Information

If you require more information or assistance, please contact:

SES Graduate Program Assistant

Jean Woltin (Acting GPA)
phone: 1-519-824-4120 ext. 53937
office location: Alexander Hall 275

SES Graduate Coordinator

Prof. Asim Biswas
phone: 1-519-824-4120 ext. 54249
office location: ALEX 135