Your Guide to Progressing Through the Graduate Program

Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate Student Handbook


How long does it take?


The Master of Arts program is normally a 12-month program, extending from September to August, with formal instruction from September to April. The Master of Science Program extends over a two-year period that would normally be completed in the summer of the second year. Both the MA and MSc programs may be taken on a part-time basis, however, part-time students are not eligible for Base Funding.


Students admitted to the Doctor of Philosophy program from a master's degree are technically admitted to a "four-year” degree while students admitted as direct-entry students are admitted to a "five-year" degree. These designations are shaped in part by funding considerations (graduate students receive guaranteed funding for this period of time) and partly by provincial guidelines for counting time to degree. However, SGS rules allow up to six years for completion of the PhD, plus up to two one-year extensions in exceptional circumstances if these are supported by the Supervisor and the Department. Completion of an anthropology degree in four years is often only feasible for those students who have an exceptional background at the time of admission, and/or those whose research projects are readily in place, adequately funded, and do not require extensive language or other specialized training. Given the need to learn languages, and engage in fieldwork and field seasons, most graduate students in anthropology will take longer than four years. The chart below summarizes a typical trajectory through the graduate program (although, as noted, timelines may vary). For more detailed information on progressing through the graduate program, please refer to the Graduate Handbook.

Program Stage Completion Deadline if Admitted from Master's Degree Completion Deadline if Direct-Entry 
Complete Courses By August of year 1 By August of year 2

Complete Ethics Review, Language Requirement

and Present and Defend Thesis Proposal

By August of year 2 By August of year 3
Fieldwork/dissertation Research Year 3 – 4 Year 4 – 5
Write Dissertation Year 4 – 5 Year 5 – 6
Pass Final Oral PhD Examination Year 5 Year 6


Choosing a supervisor and a core committee

Upon admission to the graduate program, each student is initially assigned to a Faculty Advisor. An Advisory Committee (faculty advisor and two other graduate faculty members) will be set up for each doctoral student within the first year of the program. After acceptance of the thesis proposal, a Supervisor and Core Committee are appointed.

The supervisor/ee relationship

The relationship between a graduate student and their supervisor is one of the most significant of the graduate school experience. It is crucial to ensure that both student and supervisor meet their obligations to one another. For a comprehensive set of guidelines on graduate supervision,  please see the Policies and Guidelines page on the School of Graduate Studies website. Graduate Supervision: Guidelines for Students, Faculty and Administrators.

What is base funding?

Details about base funding.

How many courses and when to take them?

See details about the graduate program in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Thesis Proposal and Defense of Proposal

A student's research formally begins with the presentation of a thesis proposal. The thesis proposal is normally about 20 pages (not including references). In many ways a thesis proposal is like a grant proposal, though it is a bit longer than most, in order to give students more space for the development of their theoretical framework and for the critical review of relevant literature.  The format of the proposals can range widely, depending on the nature of the student's research project. Normally, the proposal lists the research objectives, contexts for the research (defined to include theoretical framework, a critical review of the relevant research literature, relevant historical background to the problem, and/or description of the site where research will take place, as appropriate), and a detailed account of methods.  The proposal may include a time-line for the research in the text or an appendix; it need not include a budget. Students should circulate their thesis proposal by May 1 of the second year (May 1 of the third year for direct entry PhD students.)  However, students are encouraged to submit their thesis proposals to their supervisors as soon as possible in their second year. In exceptional circumstances, students and advisors may petition the Associate Chair-Graduate for a later deadline. Failure to complete all pre-thesis program requirements by the end of the second year normally results in interruption of the UTF portion of funding until such time as student meets these requirements. It is a department requirement that PhD students will normally complete all required coursework and the language requirement before defending their thesis proposal. Please refer to the Graduate Handbook for a complete listing of the steps to acceptance of the proposal.

Fieldwork and Other Off-Campus Research

Most PhD students engage in field work as the most important part of their doctoral research project. Field work is a highly rewarding but challenging life event. Students beginning full-time field work off-campus must apply to the Associate Chair-Graduate for “off-campus status”.  All off-campus students must leave an official field address with the Graduate Office while they are away. All students who are registered off-campus and will be in the USA or overseas will also need to register with the Safety Abroad Office database. Further details available at the CIE website. Since it is each student's responsibility to apply for off-campus status, failure to apply could result in forfeiture of registration, fellowships and awards, and loss of full-time graduate status. University policy regarding Safety in the Field outlines a hierarchy of responsibility for safety, starting with the student's academic Supervisor. Before departing for the field to conduct field work, the student (in consultation with the Supervisor) must file a letter with the Department that acknowledges awareness of the risks in the proposed fieldwork. They must also attend a mandatory departmental workshop on field safety and sexual violence in fieldwork settings. 

Students preparing to conduct fieldwork must complete these mandatory forms and actions:

Funding issues beyond the 4th year

Students in unfunded cohorts can apply for teaching assistantships or arrange research assistantships, where available. Listed below are some other avenues of financial support available to unfunded students:

  • The Doctoral Completion Award (DCA) supports full-time Doctoral students who are beyond the funded cohort and within time limit for their degree. The DCA is administered by individual graduate units. Students should contact the anthropology department for application procedures and details.
  • Students who find themselves delayed by unfortunate personal circumstances can apply for an Emergency Grant, administered by the School of Graduate Studies. The intent of the Emergency Grant Program is to assist currently registered, full-time, graduate students beyond their first year of study who generally are not part of the funded cohort and who encounter an unanticipated serious financial emergency. It is not considered to be a source of routine or long-term funding.
  • Through SGS, students can also apply for Emergency Loans. These interest-free loans are intended to aid students in reducing cash flow problems, and must be paid back within a mutually-agreed upon time period.
  • The Master’s Tuition Fee Bursary is for Master’s students who are beyond the program length required for their degree, but who still have a small amount of work remaining, due to unanticipated factors that are beyond their control.

Please also visit the School of Graduate Studies website for information on other graduate scholarships and awards.

The Thesis Defence

The thesis defence (or Final Oral Examination - FOE) is the culmination of the PhD program. Once the student’s Core Committee decides that the thesis is defensible, the School of Graduate Studies procedures for the Final Oral Examination will be followed. At least seven to eight weeks are necessary to schedule a PhD Oral Defence, after the thesis has been approved by the Core Committee. The full procedure is outlined in the SGS Calendar. In addition, please review SGS’s Guidelines for the Doctoral Final Oral Examination.