PhD Students

For detailed information and policies about the PhD program requirements, courses, and resources, refer to the Graduate Student Handbook.

Students are advised to form a dissertation supervisory committee as early as possible after entering the program, but in practice, this step is usually delayed until the topic of the dissertation has been clearly identified.  The supervisory committee consists of at least three faculty members, including the research supervisor, who must be a regular research-stream faculty member of this department. At least two of the committee members must be in our department; at least one primarily affiliated with the student's program; and at least one is primarily affiliated with another program in the department. Note that the composition of the PhD committee differs from that of the MA committee.  With the approval of the research supervisor and the Graduate Student Progress Committee (GSPC), the student can make changes to the committee after it is formed. Where helpful, the student may add additional members. A faculty member from another department can act as a co-supervisor only if the primary supervisor from this department holds the rank of Professor.

Completion of the PhD degree requires coursework (which varies across programs), a comprehensive examination, and a dissertation. The required coursework entails both core program courses and breadth courses as detailed in the following table. The same course cannot be used to complete different requirements. With approval of the GSPC, courses taken while enrolled as an MA student (but that did not fulfill any MA requirement) can be used, where appropriate, to fulfill PhD requirements. Students are also encouraged to consider additional courses offered in our department or in other departments of the university.

Minimum coursework requirements (expressed in terms of course credits where a typical one-term course is weighted 3 credits) for each program are as summarized below.

Programcore programquantitative methodsbreadth
Behavioural Neuroscience (BNS)633
Clinical (CLI)933/6
Cognitive Science (COG)633
Developmental (DEV)633
Health (HLH)633
Quantitative Methods (QM)903
Social/Personality (S/P)603

Six credits of graduate-level statistics courses are required over the course of the MA and PhD degrees combined. In the QM and S/P programs, both courses are taken at the MA level. For the remaining programs, one course must be taken at the MA level with the other typically taken at the PhD level. For the second 3- credit course that completes the required 6 credits, students may choose any PSYC 546 statistics course (e.g., 546B, 546E). Note: EPSE and STAT courses cannot be used to fulfill the basic 6-credit statistics requirement.

A breadth course is any substantive graduate course offered by our Department outside the student’s own program.  By “substantive”, we exclude courses focused on teaching or professional issues (e.g., PSYC 508) rather than on the substance of psychology. Note that a directed studies course (PSYC 547) cannot be used to fulfill the breadth requirement. A breadth course cannot be one offered by another department – it must be from with the department but outside the student’s program. For the PhD, 3-6 credits are required, depending on the program. (Recall that these 3-6 credits cannot also be used to fulfill any other requirement).

Note students in the Clinical program have more complex breadth course requirements due to accreditation.  For more detailed information, refer to pages 11-12 of the Graduate Student Handbook.

Each program requires 6 or more credits of its students, as indicated below. Courses other than those listed (e.g., upper-level undergraduate courses, graduate courses offered by other departments or other universities) may be considered as meeting core program requirements, on a case-by-case basis, if approved by the supervisor, area coordinator, and GSPC.

  • Behavioural Neuroscience: 6 credits – chosen from 514, 516, 517, 520, 522, 523, 524, 592, 593, 594, 595
  • Clinical: 9 credits – 3 credits from each of the following categories:

(a) 3 credits of advanced assessment (532, 538, or another advanced assessment course);

(b) 3 credits of psychopathology (535 or 536); and

(c) 3 credits of advanced treatment (533, 556, 557, or another advanced treatment course)

Note that one of the courses from the above three categories must focus on children.

In addition, clinical students are required to complete a community-based practicum and an accredited clinical internship (PSYC 559), both at approved settings. The clinical program requires additional competencies before students are eligible and approved to apply for internship. Details of these competencies and requirements can be found on the Program Requirements section of the Clinical program’s webpage and in the Practicum and Internship Policies and Procedures Handbook.

  • Cognitive Science: 6 credits – chosen from 521, 570, 571, 578, 579, 582, 583
  • Developmental: 6 credits – chosen from 513, 521, 584, 585, 586, 587, 588, 589
  • Health: 6 credits – chosen from 502, 503, 504
  • Quantitative Methods: 9 credits – to be chosen from PSYC 546, 500-level statistics courses in EPSE, undergraduate or graduate courses in the Department of Statistics
  • Social/Personality:  6 credits – chosen from 507, 512, 525, 527, 528, 529, 567, 569, 590, 591

Students who take 12 credits in a program outside their own may declare that program a minor, on approval of the area in which the minor is declared and the GSPC. The credits for the minor may be accumulated over the MA and PhD programs. Note that a minor in Quantitative Methods requires 12 credits beyond the basic 6 credits required of all students.

Comprehensive examinations are normally completed by the end of the second year of the PhD. Exact timing and format are set by each research area and details can be found in the Graduate Student Handbook.

A written dissertation proposal must be submitted to the PhD supervisory committee and presented orally by the candidate in a defense that is open to the department. In addition to providing details on the proposal meeting, the candidate must also submit a copy of the written proposal to the Graduate Program Assistant at least 10 days prior to the oral presentation.  An announcement will be posted, inviting all interested faculty members and graduate students.

After the oral presentation, the student's PhD supervisory committee and the other faculty members present will discuss the acceptability of the proposal. The committee will then reach a decision and communicate it to the student. If the committee deems the proposal to be unacceptable, the committee chooses a course of action.  An approved proposal is expected before the end of the second PhD year and must be submitted by the end of the PhD3 year.

G+PS expects the dissertation supervisory committee will meet with the student at least once every year that the student is in residence to discuss the dissertation and to ensure that satisfactory progress is being made.  Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) has mandated a structure and format to be followed for UBC theses and dissertations.  See the Thesis and Dissertation Preparation page for more information.

The Department expects that a typical doctoral student will advance to doctoral candidacy (i.e., complete all required coursework, comprehensive exam, and an approved dissertation proposal) on completion of a 2-year residency period (i.e., by the end of PhD2).  Admission to candidacy is noted on the student’s university transcript.  G+PS requires students to advance to candidacy within 3 years from the date of initial registration (i.e., by the end of PhD3).  This requirement is enforced, although it is possible to apply for an extension in unusual circumstances.  G+PS requires all PhD students to complete their degree within 6 years (not including time in the MA program).

Further information and recommendation for advancement to candidacy form can be found on the Advancement to Candidacy page.

The Dissertation Approval Meeting (DAM) is conducted by the dissertation supervisory committee. The purpose of this meeting is to certify that the dissertation is ready for independent appraisal by the external examiner and that the candidate is ready for the university oral defense conducted by G+PS. Note the DAM is mandatory for all students.

The candidate must provide a copy of the dissertation (either electronic or hard copy, according to the wishes of each committee member) to members of the committee and notify the Graduate Program Assistant at least 10 days before the scheduled meeting. The candidate should select one member of the committee (other than the research supervisor) to serve as the Chair of the meeting. Note that a quorum for this meeting is three supervisory committee members, at least two of whom must be physically present; the third may be present via distance technology (e.g., Skype) but must be able to see the candidate during the meeting as well as hear the entire discussion and contribute to it. The student must be physically present.  Unlike the proposal defense, the DAM is not open to the department.

The format of the meeting is determined by the supervisor, following consultation with the supervisory committee and the candidate. It may be structured like a traditional dissertation defense, or it may be a more informal discussion. Regardless of format, all members of the committee are expected to read the dissertation in advance of the meeting, pose questions to the candidate, and offer critique or suggestions as appropriate. At the end of the meeting, the candidate will be asked to leave the room, and the committee will discuss the meeting. The committee members will then decide on the acceptability of both the dissertation and the candidate's performance, in terms of whether the document is ready to be distributed to the external examiner and the student is ready to proceed to the dissertation oral examination.

Students should consult the G+PS website well in advance and especially consult the section on the Final Doctoral Exam for details regarding regulations, time-line, and forms.  Refer to the Formatting Requirements page as you are preparing the document. G+PS provides a pre-review of the format of the dissertation in order to ensure that the document meets the University’s specifications prior to sending it for external examination.

An external examiner (outside the university) will be appointed by G+PS in consultation with the student’s primary supervisor and the Associate Head for Graduate Affairs (aka Graduate Advisor).  Arrangements for an external examiner must be made well in advance (allow over 3 months) of the projected final doctoral examination date.  The process needs to be started (note the form involved for nominating external examiners) well in advance of the Dissertation Approval Meeting (DAM).  After the supervisory committee approves of the document as ready to proceed to external examination (i.e., successful DAM and completion of any required revisions) and G+PS approves the format of the document, an electronic copy is submitted to G+PS, along with a memo from the Associate Head for Graduate Affairs confirming that the department approves of the dissertation being forwarded.  G+PS then sends the document to the external examiner for evaluation.  (A hard copy of the dissertation may also be required, depending on the External Examiner’s preference).  A minimum of 6 weeks lead-time must be given for external examiner to review the document before the final doctoral examination (i.e., oral defense).

For the final doctoral exam, two university examiners must be appointed, one from the Department of Psychology (who is familiar with the discipline but who has not previously communicated with the student about the thesis) and one from another UBC department. These university examiners along with the members of the PhD supervisory committee and a non-Psychology university appointee chairing the defense form the University Examining Committee. For detailed instructions regarding the final defense and various forms to download as well as deadlines for submitting them, see the G+PS Final Doctoral Examination Guide page.

An application for graduation should be submitted through the UBC SCC well in advance of the projected date of graduation.  Students must apply in order to be eligible to graduate (i.e., receive a degree) regardless of whether the student plans to attend convocation. Visit the graduation page for more information.