Western University GeographyWestern Social Science

Proposal: Milestone 9089 (MA/MSc) and 9989 (PhD)


Masters proposal form
PhD proposal form

Overview (see also MA/MSc and PhD details)

The purpose of the proposal is for the candidate to demonstrate the requisite theoretical and methodological background as well as the necessary writing skills to proceed to concentrated thesis work.  A proposal typically refers to key background literature, methods/methodology, and expected contributions.  Further, the candidate must clearly describe the plan of study - what will be done, how, and when.  The proposal provides a learning opportunity for the candidate to interact with their thesis supervisory committee in a very focused way. 

Role of Committee and Draft-Edit Process

The thesis advisory committee's role is to provide detailed and constructive commentary to the point that the proposal may be approved by a majority, but preferably the entire committee. It is highly recommended that the proposal process for PhD candidates involves at least one face-to-face meeting with the entire thesis advisory committee; and this is also useful for Masters candidates. Typically, at least one draft-edit sequence between the candidate and the supervisor is required to produce a proposal that is acceptable for subsequent circulation to the rest of the thesis advisory committee. Several draft-edit sequences may be necessary before final approval.  


The content and structure of the proposal should be developed in consultation with the thesis advisory committee before writing.  It is useful to organize the proposal along the same lines as the final thesis (e.g., introduction, theory or background literature, methods or research design, results or findings, (expected) contributions.  The proposal is to be written in formal style and should include a reference list of (only) material cited.  Details of the format of a thesis are outlined in section 3 of the SGPS thesis regulations.  For those students who take the Research Design course (9099) (e.g., all Masters students), the proposal is generally an enhanced version of the one submitted for 9099.  After the proposal is approved (see below) the student engages in research, aimed at the production of their thesis. 

Ethics:  Research Involving Human Participants ("Subjects")

If a student is planning to conduct research involving human participants (e.g., survey, participant observation,  interviews) they need to obtain Ethics approval from the University's Non-Medical Research Ethics Board.  This is not a simple process and, since from start to finish the Ethics process takes about six weeks, the student and supervisor (along with the thesis advisory committee) need to plan accordingly.  The departmental procedures are listed on our Geography Ethics Application Screening Committee page.

MA/MSc Proposal Details 

Approval by: Supervisor and Committee. (use Masters proposal form form).

Timing: The proposal will be completed by the end of term 2 in time for diagnostics meeting, or at the very latest the end of term 3 or students may be withdrawn from the program.

Page limit: Most supervisors prefer a maximum 2500-3000 words (10-12 pages double spaced); figures, appendices, and the reference list are not part of the word/page count.

PhD Proposal Details

Approval by: Comprehensive Examination Committee (use PhD proposal form form) - majority required - full consensus preferred.

Timing: The proposal is submitted at the start of the written component of the comprehensive examination. The proposal may be questioned during the oral component of the comprehensive examination. It is typically approved in term 4 or 5 (i.e., Fall or Winter with a Fall start) and must be completed no later than the end of term 6 or students may be withdrawn from the program. Only in exceptional situations will deadline extensions be granted. An extension must be recommended to the Grad Chair by the Thesis Advisory Committee.

Page limit: Most supervisors prefer a maximum 3800-5000 words (15-20 pages double spaced); figures, appendices, and the reference list are not part of the word/page count.  

Monograph or Integrated-Article:  In addition to the format section above, it is important to identify clearly whether the thesis will be one of two SGPS approved formats   i) monograph or ii) integrated-article format.   If the thesis will be in integrated-article format, the student needs to clearly identify each of the manuscripts along with the individual problems, questions and methods involved with each.  

All But Dissertation (ABD):  Occurs once a student completes the comprehensive exam, and proposal.  A student can now qualify to teach a course, in lieu of a TA.