Choosing the right degree program

Students applying to graduate school often ask if they should apply for a Master’s or PhD program. What you choose will depend on what you would like to do, and where you are in your academic career.


A Master’s student must spend at least one year, and will normally spend two years, in full-time study at UBC. In the first year, the student takes the required course work and begins research under the Supervisor’s direction. The student’s Supervisory Committee gives ongoing advice and guidance, and may recommend further course work. By the start of the second year, a provisional thesis research proposal should be approved by the Supervisory Committee, while the student continues research for the thesis. Following submission of the written thesis and a successful oral defense, the student is eligible for graduation.


Transfer to the PhD program may be permitted after one year of study in a Master’s program with 12 credits with marks of 80% or higher, of which normally at least 9 credits must be at the 500 level or above and at least 9 credits must be of First Class standing, and clear evidence of research ability. In order to transfer into the PhD program, students must establish a committee (generally includes the Supervisor, Chair and 1 – 2 additional members), and committee members are responsible for approving the transfer. The decision is generally made following the first committee. Note: transfer directly into a Doctoral program is not normally permitted beyond the first year of study and will not be permitted after the completion of the second year in a Master’s program.


A PhD student admitted with a Bachelor’s degree normally will spend a minimum of four years in full-time status at UBC. During the first year, the student will normally complete the required course work (see below) and begin research in his/her Supervisor’s laboratory. The student’s Supervisory Committee gives ongoing advice and guidance, and may recommend further course work. In the second year, the student will meet his/her Examining Committee and begin to prepare for his/her Comprehensive Examination, while at the same time continuing research work. A student normally will be Admitted to Candidacy when he or she has completed the residency period, completed all required course work, and passed the Comprehensive Examination, which includes approval of the thesis Research Proposal. Once the thesis has been approved by the Supervisory Committee and the External Examiner, the student presents his/her oral Defence before the University Examiners and the academic community.

Do you have questions? Email the Graduate Program Coordinator at