PhD Program Overview

The PhD program is designed to train students in advanced research in health sciences, and to provide them with the skills, content area expertise, analytical and critical-thinking capabilities required to pursue original research relevant to health. Consistent with the mandate and objectives of the FHS mission, the PhD program will introduce students to interdisciplinary approaches to research that will encourage them to develop cross-disciplinary research skills. Areas of disciplinary emphasis in the Faculty include: social science, epidemiology, biostatistics, policy analysis, ethics and laboratory-based biomedical science.

Interdisciplinary research areas include:

  • Global Health
  • Environmental Health and Toxicology
  • Maternal and Child Health, Epidemiology and Disease Prevention
  • Chronic and Infectious Diseases
  • Population and Public Health
  • Mental Health & Addiction
  • Social inequities and Health Outcomes
  • Adolescent and Child Development, Reproductive Health
  • Health policy

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Find out more information on admission requirements and the application process.


  • Min. 1.5 years enrolment requirement at SFU
  • Comprehensive Exam, Doctoral Research Proposal, and Doctoral Thesis required
  • Senior Supervisor required

Program Details

Enrolment Requirement and Degree Completion

A PhD candidate must be registered at SFU for the minimum number of semesters described in the SFU Graduate General Regulation 1.4.4.

The PhD program requires a minimum of three years of full-time study, and the Faculty will generally provide funding only for three years. Depending the student’s prior training in the Health Sciences, and whether s/he completed core courses while in the MPH/MSc program at SFU, the length of study will generally vary from 3-5 years.

Comprehensive Exam

The PhD program requires completion of a comprehensive exam and a doctoral thesis. In some cases, and depending on the judgment of the supervisory committee, the comprehensive examination and the thesis proposal presentation and defence may be combined into a single presentation and defence.

Doctoral Thesis

The candidate will prepare a written research proposal that integrates theory, current research, and methods in fields related to the selected research problem. The proposal will be organized and evaluated in accordance to policies and procedures established by the FHS Graduate Studies Committee. Briefly, these policies specify that the proposal:

  1. Reviews the relevant research literature;
  2. Reflects original work;
  3. Describes methodology appropriate to the principal research question(s).

PhD candidates will submit the thesis proposal in their 2nd year. The proposal and oral defence will be graded on the same basis, with the same possible outcomes, as the comprehensive exam.

A written thesis is based on the candidate's original contribution to research in the field of his/her expertise, and is the final requirement for the PhD Program. The topic must be approved by the student’s supervisory committee. The thesis may take two forms: the “traditional” document which outlines the research undertaken, methods, results, and discussion; and the “three paper” option, in which the candidate submits three published or publishable papers “bookended” by introductory and concluding chapters. Candidates must obtain human subjects ethics approvals, relevant animal handling approvals, and/or bio-safety hazards approvals prior to conducting their research, and must list approval numbers in the thesis.

Thesis Defense

All PhD candidates must pass a formal thesis defence that is conducted in accordance with University Graduate General Regulations (1.9.4). The candidate will be awarded the PhD degree upon the submission and successful defence of a doctoral thesis describing the results of independent research.

Supervision and Training

All doctoral students must have a Senior Supervisor.

The Senior supervisor, along with a minimum of two other faculty members with expertise relevant to the student’s program, will form the student’s Supervisory Committee. The committee’s role is to oversee student curricular planning and progress in the PhD program, and to assess student performance on the Comprehensive Examination, the Thesis Proposal and Defence, the Thesis Research, and the Thesis Defence.

At least once each year, the Supervisory Committee shall report on the student’s progress and plans for the upcoming year, including course work. The annual report will be submitted for approval by the Graduate Studies Committee with a copy to the student. Students are required to demonstrate adequate progress toward the degree as judged by their committee, and meet the minimum standards described in Graduate General Regulation 1.5.4