A Quick Overview of the PhD Process

Because the PhD is a research degree, the highlight of our program is a dissertation. But how does the Concordia program prepare you for this project?  This section explains.

  • About doctoral studies
  • Expectations of entering students
  • Key components of the academic program
  • Support from the academic committee
  • Additional components of our program

An Overview of Doctoral Studies at Concordia

A PhD is a research degree. It prepares students to independently conduct research.

So although the program includes coursework and, for those who have not completed a related master’s degree, some background study, the program is primarily driven by the initiative of the student.  That’s to prepare students for the expectations upon graduation—that they’ll be able to independently initiate research and conduct those studies with little or no assistance.

Although doctoral studies rely on the independence of the student, they are not solitary studies.  Subsequent sections describe the roles of others in the process and the different types of support we provide students.

In terms of time:

  • A typical full-time student takes between 3.5 and 5 years to complete the program
  • A typical part-time student takes between 5 and 7 years to complete the program

Because courses are scheduled in the late afternoon and early evening, our program is suited to both full- and part-time students.  Note, too, that students may change between full- and part-time status during the program, except for those studying as international students.

These estimates of time assume that you have:

  • Previously completed a master’s degree in a related field.  If not, you will need to complete a qualifying program so that you have a base of knowledge from which to pursue your doctoral research.
  • A dissertation topic that will not change

Expectations of Entering Students

Like all doctoral programs, ours assumes that students have had:

  • Prior study in the areas in which they plan to specialize.  As a result, students identify their intended area(s) of specialization on the application form.

We recognize, however, that some students develop an interest in Education after completing master’s studies in other disciplines.  Such students are encouraged to apply to our program but should be prepared to complete some additional study so that they have the foundational knowledge needed to conduct in-depth, independent research in the field.

  • Previous independent research experience.  As a result, applicants are asked to submit a sample of academic writing that demonstrates their independent research skills.

If you have not had such experience, we strongly encourage you to build it into your tutorials as well as work experience (such as working as a Research Assistant on an ongoing project).

Key Components of the Academic Program

Through its required courses and tutorials, the program of study focuses on preparing students to conduct their dissertations.  Figure 1 shows the progression of the program from a student’s perspective.

Note that the program also assumes that you will have chosen a dissertation topic early in your program; ideally by the second term following completion of your qualifying program (or your second term in the program, if you do not have to take a qualifying program).

You don’t have to choose your topic then.

But please be aware that delays or changes do have a cost—time.  Based on my experience:

  • If you are merely delayed in choosing a dissertation topic, add 2 months to the length of your program for each month that you delay in choosing a topic following the beginning of the second term following completion of your qualifying program.
  • If you change the topic, add a minimum of a year.  If you have not conducted any study or previous work in the area of your new topic, add an additional 6 to 12 months.

Figure 1: Overview of the Doctoral Program from a Student’s Perspective

Qualifying courses, which are required for students who do not have back-grounds in the field, and are intended to bring them up to speed. Although we do not require a master’s degree in the field, future work does assume that you have acquired that level of knowl-edge.  Starting with these courses also accli-mates students to the literature, language, and research traditions of the field.   Required courses, which explore  foundational theory and provide the skills needed to conduct empirical and critical research, as well as introduce the applications of research in the practice of Education   Tutorials, which let students develop additional expertise in their area(s) of focus, such as:

  • Applied Linguistics
  • Child Study
  • Educational Studies
  • Educational Technology
  Comprehensive exam, which involves:

  • Completing the readings on a custom-designed list (readings may include those from courses and tutorials) (this might sound like a lot of work, but many people find this to be one of the best opportunities to immerse themselves in the literature of the field)
  • Completing a three-part exam (one part on-site, a second  part take-home, and a third part before an academic committee)that assesses students’ familiarity with their area(s) of specialization and their readiness to conduct research independently.
  Dissertation, which involves:

  • Proposing a study that the student conducts indepen-dently
  • Completing the study
  • Presenting the study to a panel that includes an academic committee from the program, and two external reviewers.


See Attachment A for a worksheet for preparing for each of these phases.

Support from the Academic Committee

Throughout the program, you are supported by an academic committee.

The Interim Supervisory Committee is assigned when you are admitted to the program and supports you from the start of the program through the completion of the Comprehensive Exam.

You select your own Dissertation Committee, which supports you throughout the dissertation process.  Although the Interim and Dissertation committees can have the same members, you are also welcome to change them when you organize the Dissertation Committee.

Each committee includes:

  • Supervisor
  • Two additional committee members

Supervisors serve as the guides on the journey of doctoral studies.  Supervisors are people who share your professional interests and can oversee your work in the area in which you would like to conduct your research. At each juncture in the process, supervisors oversee and approve your work.

When you start the program, they provide an overview of the program and help you with course selection.  For those who need to take background courses, supervisors can provide the context of those courses and explain how they integrate with your study plans.


  As you begin work on the tutorials, your supervisor can help you clarify your goals, and identify tutorials that will provide you with research experience as well as develop expertise in the area of your research and develop a strong familiarity with prior research in that area.


  As you prepare for the comprehensive examination, your supervisor provides feedback on your reading list and oversees the examination process.


  As you prepare the dissertation proposal, your supervisor provides feedback on the initial proposal and determines its readiness for the formal presentation that is required at this phase.  Your supervisor also reviews and approves the ethics form that is submitted following the degree.


  As you complete your dissertation, your supervisor provides feedback on the initial proposal and determines its readiness for the formal presentation that is required at this phase.  Your supervisor also recommends the two external reviewers for the dissertation and makes sure that arrangements for the presentation are complete.

Committee members provide additional counsel and advice.  You should meet with each of their committee members during their first year.  If possible, you should also consider conducting at least 1 tutorial with each of the members of their committees.

Additional Components of Our Program

As part of the process of helping doctoral students become independent researchers, the doctoral program tries to introduce students to the communities of practice in their field.

The networks that students form through their interactions in these communities start to develop while pursuing doctoral studies often serve students for the rest of their careers.

These introductions often start in the classroom, but the majority of the participation continues outside of the classroom.

Specifically, you might pursue opportunities to:

  • Develop general skills that are beyond the scope of the curriculum through workshops offered by GradProSkills.  These workshops cover topics like interviewing for jobs, networking, and teaching in the higher education classroom.
  • Become active with other students, either by working on committees for student life within the Department of Education or through the Graduate Student Association
  • Participate in meetings of various associations for professionals and researchers in their areas of interest, such as the American Educational Research Association, Canadian Society for the Study of Education, Canadian Society for Training and Development.
  • Play leadership roles in organizations, such as manager of programs or treasurer, and develop skills and experience that will be beneficial later in the career.
  • Review articles for journals and proposals for conferences for organizations that publish materials or sponsor conferences.
  • Present research and theory at the conferences of professional associations and other industry events.
  • Publish articles for practicing professionals in trade magazines.
  • Publish research articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Each opportunity provides unique perspectives on research or practice in your area of interest—perspectives not possible solely through the classroom and journal research.

The opportunities are limitless; each student needs to decide for him or herself where their interests lie and what their time permits.  Many of these opportunities also provide students with chances to collaborate with other students, faculty, and people working outside of the Department of Education at Concordia.

To encourage student participation in these activities, a variety of types of support are available, from student discounts on memberships and subscriptions to various forms of financial and in-kind support for attending conferences.


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