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Courses & Requirements

The requirements for successful completion of the PhD program in Policy Studies are six one-semester courses consisting of:

  1. Three (3) required core courses

  2. One (1) required foundation course in their chosen field of study

  3. One (1)  required course in advanced methods

  4. One (1)  elective course

  5. Comprehensive Examination

  6. Doctoral Dissertation

1. Core Courses (Three required):

This course is designed to provide students with a critical examination of the intellectual and theoretical foundations of public policy studies. The course examines the history and evolution of policy studies and the various theoretical approaches and analytical concepts used in policy research. An emphasis is placed on policy theory and literatures from political science and several different disciplines to illustrate how different perspectives underpin various policy approaches. 

This course provides students with an overview of the wide range of qualitative and quantitative research methods used in public policy research and policy analysis. Various policy research methods are compared in terms of their connection to different theoretical approaches, their strengths and weaknesses, how they are used in combination, and how they are employed to research different public policy issues. This course provides the foundation for students to develop their dissertation proposal. It may be team-taught and faculty members from different disciplines may be asked to make presentations on their research to highlight different research methods and interdisciplinary approaches to public policy research.

This course focuses on the various forms of quantitative research that may be used in the development and analysis of public policy, such as surveys, observational studies, experiments, and the statistical analysis of secondary data. Foundational issues such as research design, the relationship between theory and research, ethical practices, sampling, and measurement will also be addressed. Students will learn the basic techniques needed to implement different quantitative research methods, but the focus will be on developing research literacy and the skills needed to evaluate published research results.

2. Field Foundation Courses (One required):

Each of the field foundation courses is designed to provide students with the theoretical and methodological background to pursue more specialized research in their field. PhD candidates are required to take the field foundation course in their chosen field:

This course focuses on the interface of public policy and public administration, particularly relations of the private, non-profit and third sectors; public sector reform and public policy; new theories and models of governance and their impact on public policy; and transformation of the policy process under different models of governance. The emphasis is on theories and research related to the policy process; policy design, policy instruments and implementation. 

This course provides advanced examination of policy challenges arising from global migration. A particular objective is situating Canada‚Äôs policy responses in a comparative context with other traditional countries of migration, as well as more recent countries of immigrant settlement. Attention will be devoted to analyzing the role of the state, markets and civil society in shaping migration-related policies. The role of research in policy development and analysis is a recurring course theme.  Topics of interest include the policy ramifications of immigration, settlement and diaspora related to such issues as: optimal population size, economic imperatives, multiculturalism, newcomer integration, dual citizenship, transnationalism and refugee admission.

This course takes a historical, comparative and critical approach to the study of social policy. The focus is on key theories and perspectives in social policy and the fluid boundaries between social policy, economic policy, health policy, environmental policy and justice policy underpinning interdisciplinary approaches to social policy research. Through an emphasis on the political economy of social welfare policy development at the local, national and international levels, the course provides students with an understanding of the evolution of social conditions and examines the influence of different policy ideas, institutions and interests on social policy development and change. This course also examines social capital, social cohesion, diversity and social justice movements. The emphasis is on defining and understanding the broad and inter-related field of social policy as a foundation for further research in a broad range of social policy areas. 

3. Advanced Methods Courses (One required)

i. Statistical Analysis of Social Science Research (SS8000)

ii. Advanced Qualitative Research  (SS8001)

4. Electives (One required):

 PhD candidates may take one elective from the following:

  1. other PhD field foundation courses

  2. one of the electives offered by Policy Studies (PD courses)

  3. a course selected from policy-related graduate courses outside of the program

  4. a specialized readings course in a theoretical or methodological area related to dissertation research


5. Comprehensive Examination

Doctoral candidates must demonstrate an overall command of theories and methods in policy studies by passing a written comprehensive examination. The examination will test the student's grasp of the history and state of knowledge in the field of policy studies, its central themes and major debates, and the key theoretical and methodological foundations and challenges. The comprehensive will be in the form of a written exam and will be based on core theory, methods and the student's chosen field. The successful completion of the examination indicates that the student is qualified to teach at the university level and has the level of knowledge in policy studies needed to begin work on the dissertation. Normally the comprehensive exam must be completed by end of the second year of registration.   

6. Doctoral Dissertation

Prior to moving to the dissertation students are required to prepare and present a dissertation proposal. Dissertation proposals will be presented orally and formally approved as part of the degree requirements normally after approval of the written proposal by the PhD supervisory committee. Normally the proposal will be presented by the end of the second year in the program. Students and faculty in the program will be encouraged to attend the presentation of dissertation proposals.

The doctoral dissertation requires the candidate to produce a substantial piece of supervised work that is worthy of publication and that makes an original contribution to knowledge in a particular field. The length of the dissertation is typically in the range of 60-70,000 words or a maximum of 300 pages. The dissertation demonstrates:

  • the candidate has a thorough grasp of the appropriate theories and methodological techniques and an awareness of the limitations of those theories and methods;

  • a distinct and original contribution to knowledge in the field;

  • an ability to communicate research findings effectively;

  • the author has written a careful, rigorous and sustained piece of work;

  • that research is complete and the author is admissible to the community of scholars with expertise in the policy field.