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Health Sciences Simon Fraser University Calendar | Spring 2018

Health Sciences

Doctor of Philosophy

This doctor of philosophy (PhD) program trains students in advanced research in health sciences, and provides them with the skills, content area expertise, and analytical and critical thinking capabilities required to pursue original research relevant to health. Consistent with the mandate and objectives of the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) mission, the 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. Research areas in the faculty are interdisciplinary and 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 and addiction; social inequities and health outcomes; adolescent and child development; reproductive health; and health policy.

Admission Requirements

Applicants will normally have previous training in a discipline relevant to their area(s) of interest in health sciences. Admission will depend on the availability of faculty to supervise the student. FHS requires applicants to identify from the faculty a senior supervisor who will agree to supervise the student, if accepted into the program.

To qualify for admission, applicants must satisfy all University admission requirements as outlined in the graduate general regulations, which include the following.

  • a master's degree from a recognized university, or the equivalent, or
  • a bachelor's degree with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.5 (on a 4.33 scale) from a recognized university, or the equivalent, or
  • completion of at least 75% of the course work units required for the relevant department's master's program with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.5. All graduate courses, whether completed at this university or another, shall be considered in the calculation.

In addition to the above, evidence is submitted showing that the applicant is capable of undertaking substantial original research. Normally, such capability will be judged from letters of reference from qualified referees, and the completion of a master's thesis, projects, published papers, or other scholarly work.

In addition, international students from countries where English is not the primary language must provide test scores from the Test of Written English (TWE), the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examinations. Minimum scores are indicated in graduate general regulation 1.3.12.

Admission is competitive. Meeting these minimum standrads does not guarantee admission to the program.


All applicants, except those transferring from a Faculty of Health Sciences master of science program or a master of public health program (for these, see below) must submit the following documents.

  • all post-secondary transcripts
  • a short curriculum vitae providing evidence of scholarships and awards, academic performance, publications, and relevant research and work experience
  • a statement of intent describing how the program fits the applicant's research interests and career objectives. This statement must artriculate the student's background and expertise, and will ideally evidence commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship.
  • three referees from academics/researchers who have first-hand knowledge of the applilcant's research capabilities and academic training
  • applicants whose first language is not English, and whose previous education has been conducted in another language, are required to submit official results of TOEFL and TWE or IELTS examsthat were taken in the last two years
  • students who have completed their undergraduate degree at an academic institution outside of North America may wish to supply the results of the graduate record examination (GRE)that was taken within five years of the applilcation date
  • Before admission can be finalized, a senior supervisor must be identified, and that individual must complete a supervisory committee form and submit a letter attesting to a willingness to act in this capacity. This letter must also indicate funding commitments, or if funding is not available, a statement explaining how the student will be funded in their program of study, and where relevant, commitments to obtaining that funding. Note that while applicants may apply to the program without identifying a senior supervisor, a final decision to admit depends on the commitment by a faculty member to serve in this capacity.

Student Supervision

By the end of the first term, and in consultation with the senior supervisor, students must have formed and met with their supervisory committee whose composition must be approved by the Faculty of Health Sciences graduate studies committee in accordance with Simon Fraser University policy.

The supervisory committee will comprise the senior supervisor and a minimum of two additional faculty members whose expertise will complement the student's research and program goals. The role of the supervisory committee is to oversee student curricular planning and progress, 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 will 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 as described in graduate general regulation 1.5.4.

Transferring to the PhD Program

Master of science (MSc) or master of public health (MPH) students who show exceptional abilities may apply to transfer to the PhD program only if the student can demonstrate their ability to carry out innovative, independent and original PhD level research in that field, has obtained high academic standing in previous university work, and has the support of their master's supervisor. All University regulations governing transfers must be met (see graduate general regulation 1.3.4). Transfers are only permitted when the student has been in the master's program for two but not more than five terms. Transfer applications must be approved by the student's supervisory committee, the FHS graduate studies committee, and the dean of graduate studies. Students transferring from the master's program will be eligible to earn only the PhD degree. Students will not be eligible to transfer to the PhD program beyond six terms of full-time equivalant course work in the MSc program.

Program Requirements

Students complete all of

HSCI 902 - Interdisciplinary Seminar in Health Sciences I (3)

Foundational elements to introduce MSc/PhD students to basic knowledge and skills needed for an interdisciplinary approach to the study of health sciences, drawing from a wide range of methods and approaches used in laboratory sciences, clinical research, health services, policy, social sciences, humanities and public health research. Prerequisite: Admission to the MSc program, or the MPH (thesis) program, or the PhD program in the Faculty of Health Sciences, or consent of the instructor.

HSCI 903 - Interdisciplinary Seminar in Health Sciences II (3)

Philosophical, disciplinary, and social groundings for inquiry, evaluation, and interdisciplinarity in health sciences research. Issues in research design, professionalism, engagement, and higher education. Prerequisite: HSCI 902 or consent of the instructor.

Section Instructor Day/Time Location
G100 Timothy Takaro
Th 9:30 AM – 12:20 PM
BLU 11401, Burnaby

Candidates will normally register in HSCI 902 followed by HSCI 903 during their first year of residence. Students who entered the PhD program from the Faculty of Health Sciences master's programs (MPH, MSc), and who have completed HSCI 902 and 903 need not repeat the courses, provided that they achieve a grade of A- or higher in each.

It is expected that most students will be required to complete additional course work or directed studies which will be determined by the student, together with the supervisory committee. A student's annual progress report includes the course work plans, and must be approved by the Faculty of Health Sciences graduate studies committee on an annual basis.

In addition to the required courses shown above, and as soon as the student commences preparation for the comprehensive exam, the student will register in

HSCI 983 - Comprehensive Exam and Thesis Proposal (6)

Comprehensive examination and thesis proposal preparation. Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.

Once thesis research commences, the student enrols in

HSCI 990 - Thesis Research (6)

Doctoral thesis research.

When the student begins writing the thesis, they must register in

HSCI 998 - PhD Thesis Preparation and Defence (6)

Preparation and defence of doctoral thesis.

Comprehensive Examination

The student must pass a comprehensive examination that consists of an oral defence of a major written paper, the topic of which will be determined by the supervisory comiittee. Details about the conduct of the exam are published in the PhD handbook and are found on the Faculty of Health Sciences website.

The comprehensive examination is normally completed by the end of the fourth term. There are four possible outcomes: pass, pass with minor comment and revision, pass with major revision and a requirement to rewrite and re-defend, and fail.

The comprehensive exam may be retaken only once. If a student fails the comprehensive exam, progress in the program is considered to be unsatisfactory and will trigger a review by the faculty's graduate studies committee as outlined in graduate general regulation 1.8.2, and the student will be required to withdraw from the program.

Doctoral Thesis Proposal

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 with policies and procedures established by the faculty's graduate studies committee. Briefly, these policies specify that the proposal reviews the relevant research literature; reflects original work; and describes methodology that is appropriate to the principal research question(s).

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

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

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 subject ethics approvals, relevant animal handling approvals, and/or bio-safety hazards approvals prior to conducting research, and must list approval numbers in the thesis.

Thesis Defence

All candidates must pass a formal thesis defence that is conducted in accordance with graduate general regulation 1.9.4. The candidate will be awarded the PhD degree upon the submission and successful defence of a doctoral thesis that describes the results of independent research.

Committee Composition

Normally the student's supervisory committee will conduct the doctoral comprehensive examination and thesis proposal defence.

In addition, for the doctoral thesis defence, and in consultation with the senior supervisor, the candidate will choose an internal examiner who is a member of faculty at the University, or a person otherwise suitably qualified who is not a member of the candidate's supervisory committee, and an external examiner who shall be specifically qualified in the field of the thesis and is not a member of faculty at the University, in accordance with graduate general regulation 1.9.3.

Residency Requirement

The candidate must be registered and in residence at Simon Fraser University for the minimum number of terms, as described in graduate general regulation 1.7.

The program requires a minimum of three years of full-time study, and the faculty will generally provide funding for only three years. Depending upon the student's prior training in the health sciences, and whether the student completed core courses while in Simon Fraser University's master of public health or master of science program, the length of study will generally vary from three to five years.

Academic Requirements within the Graduate General Regulations

All graduate students must satisfy the academic requirements that are specified in the Graduate General Regulations, as well as the specific requirements for the program in which they are enrolled.