PhD Program

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Program Overview

SCARP's PhD Program provides students with a collegial and convivial environment in which to pursue interdisciplinary research at the intersections of planning theory and practice. We aim to foster planning scholars and practitioners who can think critically, research inventively, and communicate their ideas effectively.

Each year we seek to admit 4 or 5 students, and there may be up to 20 students in residence each year.

We have developed a lively PhD culture at SCARP which includes:

  • A forum, held every month
  • A lecture series, organized by students
  • A SCARP Student Symposium, organized by students and held every February on a topic of contemporary interest.

The SCARP PhD is primarily a research degree, with a flexible component of course work as well as certain specific Required Courses.  Doctoral students work under the guidance of a Supervisory Committee consisting of at least three faculty members, including the Research Supervisor.

Overall, Ph.D. candidates should expect to spend at least 3 years in the completion of their degree requirements. Typical programs run 4-5 years.To successfully complete the degree, students must satisfactorily complete the following:

  • Course work
  • two comprehensive examinations (theory and substantive)
  • A research prospectus
  • A two-year residency
  • Writing and defending a PhD thesis

The SCARP PhD Program is governed by the general policies and procedures of the UBC Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) and their more specific elaboration by SCARP.


Applicants to our PhD Program must hold a Master’s Degree (or its equivalent) from a recognized graduate program in planning or a closely related field, and should preferably have work experience. 

SCARP emphasizes the importance of diverse language skills - this reflects Canada's official bilingual status and recognizes that as planning issues become increasingly global, it is critical for planners to command more than one language. Accordingly, students with skills in languages other than English will receive special consideration, though language competence beyond English is not a formal prerequisite. If a student's research will involve communication in other language(s), we will require evidence of appropriate skills.

While graduates of SCARP's Masters programs can apply without prejudice to the PhD program, experience suggests that it is preferable for such students to broaden their academic experience and intellectual horizons by seeking admission to a suitable program elsewhere.

International students should visit the G+PS webpage regarding application and admission for international students to learn more about admittance of students from their home country. Unless an International student holds a Master’s Degree in Planning or Social Science from an English language University, the student must achieve minimum scores or higher in the TOEFL or IELTS.

Program Requirements

SCARP's PhD Program is governed by the general policies and procedures of the UBC Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS). See the Handbook of Graduate Supervision and Policies & Procedures webpages, as well as their more specific elaboration by SCARP (as detailed below and in the PhD Handbook) for Thesis Preparation, Internal Defense, Final Oral Defense, and Thesis Submission. The Chair of the SCARP PhD Program is responsible for ensuring that the administration of each student's program is in compliance with these policies and procedures. Students should be familiar with all information available.

Course Requirements

Students typically take 15-24 credits of course work in the first two academic years.

Required Courses

  • Introduction to Planning Theory - All incoming doctoral students will be required to audit PLAN 508 in their first semester of the doctoral program in preparation for Plan 602. Students who do not have a Master's in Planning will be required to take PLAN 508 for credit.
  • PLAN 559 Design of Planning- and Policy-Oriented Research (3 credits; one term course) 
  • PLAN 602 Planning Theory Advanced Seminar (3 credits; one term course)
  • PLAN 603 PhD Colloquium (6 credits total; taken in both the first and second year)
  • PLAN 649 Doctoral Dissertation (0 credits; but required throughout the program to maintain active registration status)
  • Advanced Research Methods - Advanced Research Methods is not offered at SCARP. An appropriate research methods course must be selected from another department with approval from the student's committee.

Additional courses

  • All Planning courses in the 500 and 600 levels are open to doctoral students.
  • The student may select other appropriate courses in consultation with their Supervisory Committee. The exact form and structure of the program-related course work is left to the discretion of the Committee and depends on the student's background preparation and research focus. PhD students generally use these courses to develop their expertise in a discipline relevant to their area of research.
  • Western Deans' Agreement Courses: Students may take courses offered by other universities in BC and Alberta under the Western Deans' Agreement. Courses taken under the Western Deans' Agreement will not be credited to their degree programs.

Additional Requirements

  • Doctoral students qualify to proceed with their thesis research upon successful completion of:
         -One comprehensive examination (substantive knowledge), and
         -The Advanced Planning Theory Seminar (PLAN 602) with a minimum grade of A-
  • Oral Prospectus Defense
  • Thesis (described more below)

The basic requirements for the status of "Admitted to Candidacy" are:

  • All required course work successfully completed.
  • Two comprehensive examinations (theory and substantive) successfully completed.
  • Completion of a thesis research prospectus that has been successfully defended and accepted.
  • Completion of a two-year residency as a full-time student in the PhD program.
  • Candidacy requirements should normally be completed within the first twenty-four months in the program and, in any case, within the thirty-six month limit established by G+PS.


Detailed requirements for the thesis document have been established by the UBC Library. The Faculty of Graduate Studies has developed regulations that govern innovative thesis formats and media.

Final Steps

When a PhD student has completed a final draft of their thesis and all Supervisory Committee members have approved it the thesis must be sent to The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) for transmittal to the External Examiner and for the final UBC Oral Examination. If a student wishes to proceed directly to the UBC Defense, the Supervisory Committee must agree that the thesis is ready and submit a memo to that effect to the PhD Chair (or Department Head, in cases where the PhD Chair is supervisor).

The thesis transmittal memo and the final thesis are due in the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies a minimum of six weeks before the University final oral examination.

University Final Oral Examination

The final step in the Doctoral Program is a formal oral thesis defense administered by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Regulations pertaining to the University's final oral examination can be found in a reference booklet entitled " The Final Oral Examination Guide for Doctoral Candidates ".

Important timelines highlighted in the booklet are:

Three months before the expected completion of the thesis, the Appointment of External Examiner form must be submitted by SCARP to G+PS

Six weeks before the final oral examination, submit the thesis and departmental memo to G+PS.

Six weeks is the earliest date that a defense can be scheduled after the thesis has been transmitted to the External Examiner by G+PS.

Four weeks before the final oral examination, the Research Supervisor must confirm the date and time of the final oral examination and submit the Examination Program and the Approval of University Examiners forms to G+PS.

Timelines are subject to change. Students should check for documentation updates a minimum of six months prior to their expected thesis defense date.

Formal Preparation and Submission to the Faculty of Graduate Studies

Course Summaries
PLAN 602
Planning Theory and Advanced Seminar
Instructor: Leonie Sandercock
Eligibility: for students in SCARP PhD Program only
Available during: Winter Session
This course requires students to think deeply about the intellectual place in the field of planning. By reviewing the bodies of work of leading planning theorists of the past fifty years students will understand which streams of planning thought to identify with, and why, and begin to imagine their own trajectory in and contribution to this field.
PLAN 603
PhD Colloquiam
Instructor: Heather Campbell
Eligibility: for students in SCARP PhD Program only
Available during: Winter Session
The PhD Colloquium is intended to provide a collegial setting in which students can discuss their research ideas and related issues with their peers.
PLAN 649
Doctoral Dissertation
Instructor: N/A
Eligibility: for students in SCARP PhD Program only
Available during: Winter and Summer Sessions
PhD Doctoral Dissertation.

For more information regarding course dates and times, please visit the UBC Course Schedule.  

If you are interested in applying please follow the steps outlined in our PhD Application Steps page.