PhD 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, and their more specific elaboration by SCARP as detailed below and available 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.

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.
Academic Progress, Residency, & Time Limits

Students are expected to make adequate progress in their degree programs. Research Supervisors are expected to submit two Progress Reports each year (January and July) advising on a student's academic progress. In the first year, the reports will be based primarily on performance in courses. After the second year, emphasis is on the Comprehensive Examinations and development of the Research Prospectus. In subsequent years, primary concern will be with the quality, progress, and timeliness of the student's research effort as assessed by the Committee. Copies of these reports are also to be provided to the student, the Director, and the Graduate Administrator (for the student's academic file). If, after consultation with the student and the Supervisor, the Chair of the PhD Program concurs with a committee's recommendation that the student has not made adequate progress, the Chair shall recommend to the Director that the student be asked to withdraw from the program.

G+PS requires two years of residency as a full-time student, permits up to three years for completion of Candidacy requirements and up to six years for completion of the PhD degree. Recommendations for extensions beyond these regulation periods must come from the Research Supervisor on behalf of the Supervisory Committee, and be submitted to the Chair of the PhD Program. Recommendations must include a rationale and a reasonable schedule for completion of the student's work. Upon recommendation of the Chair, the Director will make an appropriate recommendation to G+PS or ask the student to withdraw from the program.

Introductory Committee & Supervisory Committee

The Introductory Committee

On arrival at SCARP, incoming PhD students should meet as soon as possible with their Research Supervisor (who must be a SCARP faculty member with the position of Assistant Professor or higher) and their Introductory Committee. The Introductory Committee will consist of the Research Supervisor and at least one other faculty member who, during the admissions process, has expressed interest in working with the student.

The purpose of the Introductory Committee is:

  • to orient the student to doctoral studies at SCARP
  • to determine an initial program of studies, and
  • to assist in the timely establishment of the permanent Supervisory Committee.

The Introductory Committee will meet early in September and will assist in the initiation the student's PhD Program Record form.

The Introductory Committee should move towards becoming the permanent Supervisory Committee as soon as the research focus becomes clear and suitable members are identified.

The Supervisory Committee

The Supervisory Committee is normally confirmed by the end of the first year so that they are able to work closely with the student in defining their Comprehensive Examination and in developing their Research Prospectus.

The Supervisory Committee will consist of the Research Supervisor and two other members, at least one of whom must be a SCARP faculty member. G+PS suggests that: "it is desirable to have one member from outside the graduate program in which the student's degree is to be taken" but, when appropriate, all three Committee members may come from SCARP.

Supervisory committee membership may include senior instructors, professors emeriti, honorary faculty, adjunct faculty, or off-campus professionals, or faculty members from other universities. A request for approval for these members submitted to G+PS, including a copy of the individual's curriculum vitae and a supporting memo from the Chair.

Where appropriate, a supervisory committee may contain more than three members, but the majority of the committee must be from UBC.

Responsibilities & Conduct of Introductory & Supervisory Committees

The Research Supervisor is responsible for:

  • ensuring the candidate's Introductory and Supervisory Committees are properly constituted;
  • ensuring the program of studies both satisfies the student's educational needs and SCARP's academic requirements;
  • chairing the Introductory Committee and Supervisory Committee; and
  • ensuring that the student is fully aware of the academic and related requirements of the PhD program from the beginning of their studies at SCARP.

The Committee(s), in consultation with the student, shall:

  • determine the student's program of study;
  • agree to changes as required;
  • monitor the student's progress; and
  • meet with the student at least once each semester during the required residency period.

The student is responsible for:

  • distributing to committee members copies of minutes detailing decisions made at the meetings (within one week of committee meetings);
  • sending a copy of each approved minutes to the Graduate Advisor;
  • ensuring that the Committee functions adequately; and
  • ensuring their Program Record forms are complete and up to date.

Students are invited to bring problems that cannot be resolved by discussion within their committees to the attention of the PhD Program Chair. Problems concerning Committees that cannot be resolved at this level will be referred by the Program Chair to the Director.

Changes in Research Supervisor & Supervisory Committee

Students are advised to take great care in exploring their research interests with potential members of their Supervisory Committee and, before seeking commitments, should discuss potential committee members with their Research Supervisor. The objective should be to assemble a Supervisory Committee that is able to guide the student in meeting their specific research interests.

As the student's research interests develop, it may occasionally become evident that one or more members of the Supervisory Committee, including potentially the Research Supervisor, are no longer appropriate and that they should be replaced by other individuals who better meet the evolving focus of the research. Every effort should be made by the candidate to avoid the need for such changes but it is important to identify the need for different members as early as possible. Any changes must be approved by the Research Supervisor and the Chair of the PhD Program.

In an extreme case, it may become evident that the student's research interests cannot be met within SCARP because faculty with appropriate expertise are not available. In such circumstances the student will be asked to withdraw from SCARP and every assistance will be provided in identifying alternative programs that might be appropriate.

Comprehensive Examination & Completion of Advanced Planning Theory Seminar (PLAN 602)

All doctoral students formally qualify to proceed with their thesis research upon successful completion of:

  • one comprehensive examination (substantive knowledge), and
  • completion of the Advanced Planning Theory Seminar (PLAN 602) with a minimum grade of A-.
  • If a student fails to achieve A- in PLAN 602, a make-up exam will be arranged. Should a student fail to achieve A- in the make-up exam, they will be asked to withdraw from the PhD program.

The purpose of these two exercises is to allow the student to demonstrate their mastery of:

  • substantive knowledge (including theory, cases, policy) and research methods in his/her chosen research field, and
  • planning theory relevant to his/her research interests.

In effect, PLAN 602 and the comprehensive exam provide PhD students with the knowledge necessary to define and "locate" their own research foci relative to the rest of the discipline. 

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam takes the form of a bibliographic and discursive essay and an oral exam. The essay should contain a comprehensive critique of the essential literature. That is, it should identify, discuss, and evaluate key issues, ideas, and paradigms relevant to the subject of the examination. The essay should also include an annotated bibliography covering those readings from the literature that the student found most stimulating in formulating their ideas. The examiners may require that specific titles be included.

The examiners are all the members of the student's Supervisory Committee. In consultation with the student, the examiners will agree on the breadth and depth of the essay, taking into account the student's specific research interests. At least four months before the essay is due, the examiners will approve terms of reference for the essay. A copy of the terms, signed by the student and approved by the PhD Program Chair, will be placed in the student's file. Draft terms of reference will be developed by the student in consultation with the examiners and the final agreement will include:

  • a goal statement or research question;
  • a definition of the breadth and depth of the literatures to be included;
  • a reading list including any required items;
  • a preliminary table of contents for the essay; and
  • a schedule for completion of the essay.

A typical student can reasonably expect to submit the completed essay toward the end of their second academic year (that is, approximately 18 months after first registration in the program). Thus, all course work, directed studies, etc., should be regarded as part of the preparation process and, whenever practical, should be used with this explicit purpose in mind. Students are encouraged to design the content of the essay so that it contributes toward the development of the Research Prospectus and ultimately the thesis document. In drafting the essay, students are advised to consult with their examiners.

When a complete draft is submitted, it will be read by the examiners in preparation for an oral at which the essay will be discussed with the student. To pass the comprehensive examination the content of the essay is expected to meet the standards of research publishable in refereed articles or book chapters. While the essay need not be in any specific publication format, students are strongly encouraged to develop the essay with early publication in mind. Comprehensive papers are typically around 15,000 words and should be no longer than 18,000.

In the event that a comprehensive essay is found to be unsatisfactory, a supplementary, closed-book, written examination may be permitted or required at the discretion of the examiners. In this examination the student may be asked to expand on points omitted from, or inadequately addressed in, the essay and to apply these to some specific problem context. Up to four hours will be permitted for such supplementary examinations.

The designated examiners determine the result of each comprehensive examination (essay, oral and any supplementary examination). The possibilities are:

  • pass,
  • pass subject to specified conditions, or
  • fail.

Decisions are made by consensus or, if necessary, by a vote with at least 60% of examiners in favour required for a pass. At the discretion of the Director (on the advice of the Research Supervisor and PhD Program Chair), a student may be permitted to rewrite a failed essay or supplementary examination.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, students who perform unsatisfactorily in a comprehensive examination a second time will be required to withdraw from the program. This decision will be made by the Director, in consultation with the Research Supervisor and PhD Program Chair.

Research Prospectus

SCARP assumes that all PhD students are engaged in developing their research ideas from the time that they first register in the program. The PhD Colloquium (PLAN 603) is primarily devoted to developing research ideas. As part of this preparation, each student is required to prepare a formal thesis research prospectus in consultation with their Committee. This proposal must be approved by an examining committee in an oral defense before the student can proceed be admitted to candidacy and the full-time research phase of the program.

The Prospectus Document will typically be between 10,000-15,000 words. It will:

  • address the theoretical framework, key research questions, and methodologies that will be used;
  • include a brief literature review that positions the student in their chosen field;
  • explain what contribution to knowledge is expected to come from this study;
  • and have a timeline for completion of the proposed research and writing.

It is the responsibility of the Supervisory Committee to ensure that the Prospectus document reflects PhD level work.

Oral Prospectus Defense

The Supervisory Committee and the student must reach an explicit consensus that the Prospectus document and the student are ready to proceed to the oral defense. The student should be aware that the Committee’s support for proceeding to the defense should not be taken as pre-judging the outcome of the exam.

Exam Committee

The Examining Committee consists of:

  • all members of the Supervisory Committee and
  • one external examiner, chosen for their knowledge of the proposed research field.
  • The external examiner may be from SCARP or from any other School or Department at UBC.
  • The Director should not serve as external examiner for any Prospectus Defense (to avoid compromising the role of the Director as final SCARP arbiter in any appeal).

The Defense is chaired by:

  • PhD Program Chair or
  • a member of the SCARP faculty, in the case where the Chair is a member of the Supervisory Committee.


The Oral Defense is a public exam, and should be scheduled according to the following requirements:

  • There must be a notice period of at least ten working days in advance of the exam.
  • The Comprehensive Exam paper and Prospectus Document should be available to members of the Examining Committee so that they are properly informed of the degree to which this paper supports the Prospectus (also at least ten working days in advance of the exam). This is the student's responsibility.
  • The Supervisor and the PhD Chair shall schedule the date and place for the Defense. Details of the defense should be forwarded to the Graduate Administrator.
  • No Oral Defense should be scheduled unless all members of the Supervisory Committee can be present.
  • In exceptional circumstances, (illness, or when a Committee member is out of the country for an extended period on sabbatical), the exam may proceed with one absent member, but that person should provide written comments and questions on the Prospectus to the Research Supervisor and the PhD Chair.


The Exam begins with a 20-minute presentation by the student, and is followed by questions from, in order: the External Examiner, the Committee members, and the Research Supervisor. After they have finished their questioning, and if there is still time remaining, members of the audience may ask questions. The duration of the Defense is a maximum of 2 hours, after which the Examining Committee deliberates in camera.


The student is responsible for:

  • making available the Comprehensive Exam paper and Prospectus to members of the Examining Committee at least ten working days in advance of the exam;
  • assisting in the selection of the External Examiner; and
  • assisting in the scheduling of the date and place of the exam.

The Exam Chair is responsible for:

  • ensuring that an explicit consensus between the student and the Supervisory Committee has been reached that the Prospectus document and the student are ready to proceed to the oral defense;
  • ensuring that all members of the Examining Committee are familiar with the regulations and procedures;
  • ensuring that any examiner who is not one of the SCARP faculty receives a copy of SCARP PhD policies and procedures, including the procedure for the Exam;
  • preparing a written report of the Exam and its outcome no more than one week after the Exam; and
  • sending the written report to the Director of SCARP, the student, and the Graduate Administrator (to be placed in the student’s file).

The Chair of the Exam does not have a vote in the outcome. The Chair’s role is to conduct the proceedings, not to comment or take part in discussions, except where matters of procedure are raised.

The Examining Committee is responsible for:

  • determining the result of the exam (Pass, Pass subject to specified revisions, or Fail).
  • The Examining Committee may arrive at a consensus decision, or, if necessary, by a vote which requires all members of the committee except one to approve the Prospectus in order for a pass to be granted.

The Research Supervisor is responsible for:

  • informing the student verbally of the decision immediately after it has been reached;
  • ensuring that there has been adequate communication among all members of the Supervisory Committee concerning the Prospectus Document before the defense is scheduled;
  • choosing the external examiner (in consultation with the student and the PhD Chair); and
  • scheduling the date and place of the Defense (in consultation with the Exam Chair and student).


To be awarded a Pass for the Oral Defense a student must satisfy the Exam Committee that they are adequately prepared to begin their thesis research. This means demonstrating a grasp of the relevant literatures, theoretical and empirical, pertaining to their field, as well as the relevant research methodologies. This preparedness will be demonstrated in both the Prospectus Document and in the student’s answers to reasonable questions raised in the Oral Defense. The possibilities are Pass, Pass subject to specified revisions, and Fail. The outcome will be determined under the following regulations:

  • A decision is reached by consensus, or, if necessary, by a vote which requires all but one member of the committee to agree on the outcome.
  • A ‘Pass subject to specified revisions’ is intended to apply only to situations where the revisions are relatively minor and can be readily specified at the time of the Exam deliberation.
  • If there are serious conceptual or methodological weaknesses the student will Fail.
  • In the event that there is an absent member of the Supervisory Committee, their view should be brought forward in the form of questions to the student by the Supervisor. The absent member’s views will not, however, be taken into account in the event of a formal vote to reach a decision.
  • At the discretion of the Director (on the advice of the Supervisor and PhD Chair), a student may be permitted to re-take an Oral Defense that has received a Fail.
  • Except in extraordinary circumstances, students who fail an Oral Defense a second time will be required to withdraw from the Program. This decision will be made by the Director in consultation with the Supervisor and PhD Chair.

When a decision is reached:

  • the Supervisor will immediately inform the student verbally; and
  • the Chair of the exam will prepare a written report of the Exam and its outcome within one week of the Exam. The report will be sent to the Director of SCARP, to the student, and to the Graduate Administrator (for student’s file).

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.

The student's Research Supervisor is required to confirm in writing when each requirement is met. When all requirements are complete, the Chair of the PhD Program will recommend that the Director recommend to G+PS that the student be Admitted to Candidacy. Upon acceptance, Candidacy status is then entered on the student's Program Record Form and on the Student Information System.