PhD in Strategic Studies

This program is an innovative hybrid academic-quasi professional program designed for mid-career professionals looking to upskill or reskill in the fields of security and defence broadly understood. To be admitted students will normally have at least two years of professional, ongoing experience. Dissertation proposals for the application process and the eventual dissertation written by the student must be related to the applicant/student’s work experience and/or professional career goals.

PhD Thesis Program

Students in the PhD program in Strategic Studies have a maximum of six years to complete their requirements but are expected to complete their programs in four years.

Candidacy Requirements

Doctoral students will normally complete 15 units of coursework consisting of:

  • STST/HTST 655 Classics of Strategy
  • POLI 685 Strategic Studies
  • STST 647 21st Century Security Issues
  • STST 751 Reading Seminar
  • STST 751 Reading Seminar

We also strongly recommend that PhD students also take STST 610 and 612.

Field of Study Examinations

Upon completion of STST/HTST 655, POLI 685, and STST 647, students will begin preparing for second component of candidacy: their Field of Study (FoS) examinations. Students have two major fields of study. One of these is Strategic Studies, based on a common reading list. The other is the student’s dissertation area, for which a specialized reading list will be created by the student’s supervisor and supervisory committee upon which the student will be examined.

Students will write two take-home FoS examinations, one each on these fields (72 hours each). If students pass their written FoS, they sit one oral examination that covers both fields.

To assist with their preparation for these examinations, students are required to take 3 units of course preparation in each field: STST 751 (Strategic Studies) and STST 753 (dissertation area).

The FoS process and the rest of the PhD degree (dissertation proposal and dissertation project) will be overseen by the student’s dissertation Supervisor and a Supervisory Committee comprised of the Supervisor and two other faculty with expertise in the student’s dissertation research area.

Dissertation Proposal

The final component of candidacy is a dissertation proposal. The proposal sets out the student’s proposed research and will include:

  1. A focused research question and the context for the proposed question.
  2. The analytical or theoretical approaches to be used for the analysis.
  3. The research methodology to be employed.
  4. The contribution of the research to the relevant theoretical, empirical, and policy literatures.
  5. A realistic completion schedule outlining the relevant phases of the research and writing of the doctoral dissertation.
  6. The research proposal must also be properly cited and include a bibliography of no less than three pages that consists of works cited as well as other important primary and secondary work relevant to the student’s proposed dissertation research.

Normally, the dissertation proposal will be no longer than 3000 words, excluding citations, bibliography, and the dissertation completion schedule.

The dissertation proposal is approved by the student’s Supervisory Committee at a thesis proposal meeting.

Dissertation and Defence

Aside from the requirements present in the dissertation proposal, a dissertation should include:

  1. A topic that is to some degree related to the individual’s professional experience, in most cases.
  2. A relevant theoretical framework and methodology
  3. A clear contribution to knowledge

While there is no maximum page limit for the dissertation, projects should not be excessively long in order for students to complete all degree requirements, including the dissertation, in four years.

The dissertation is defended in an oral defense in front of an Examination Committee comprised of the Supervisory Committee plus two additional examiners, one from outside the University of Calgary. The committee evaluates the written project and oral defense. The defense is presided over by a Neutral Chair who is appointed by the CMSS Graduate Program Director.

The Supervisory Committee must approve the submission of the dissertation for defense. If the committee so approves, a notice of the date and composition of the examining committee should be submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies at least six weeks before the defense. The final copy of the thesis should be presented to the examiners, either in hard copy or electronically, at least three weeks before the defense.

Doctoral Candidacy Assessment Guidelines*

*currently under review 

CMSS ad hoc Candidacy Committee
Approved January 6, 2015

These assessment guidelines are part of the doctoral candidacy requirements for the PhD in Strategic Studies at the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.


High quality research is grounded in a solid command of the literature. The candidacy examination is intended to establish that the student is sufficiently well prepared in his or her major fields to go on to dissertation research and writing and can demonstrate competence to use such preparation. The Faculty of Graduate Studies Handbook states that:

The candidacy examination should focus on the background knowledge of students in their discipline, as well as their preparedness to conduct research of high quality in their particular fields of study.

Students should recognize that merely taking appropriate core and elective courses should not be regarded as sufficient in itself as preparation for the candidacy examination.


Our expectation is that the student should be able to succeed on the following components of the exam.

  1. Identify, display knowledge of, and make appropriate use of, key literature as specified by the strategic studies and second field reading lists. To be considered a pass on the candidacy exam, a student’s answer should be able to adequately describe the main argument(s) of the particular key text in question and adequately explain how the author supports his or her argument. These answers must go beyond a superficial level of analysis.
  2. Show a sound understanding of major debates and controversies. That is, the student must go beyond isolated explanations of individual texts to explain how the ideas of the various authors under consideration relate to each other. To be considered a pass, such an explanation must identify the main themes and debates within the literature.
  3. Demonstrate an overall grasp of all sections of both reading lists. It is understood that the entirety of both reading lists constitutes the foundation of the examination. That is, a lack of adequate knowledge of any section of the two reading lists has the same consequences for determining a pass or fail as any other section of the lists. Students must read every title on the strategic studies and second field reading lists.
  4. Demonstrate an ability to assess and critique the relevant literature in respect to specific issues or themes, to exercise a critical judgment with respect to it, and to analyze and present plausible positions on an issue. Critical judgment includes a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of specific ideas, texts, and themes that address the examiner(s)’ line of questioning. The student will support his or her critique by logically and coherently evaluating the idea under consideration.
  5. Answers must be as coherent as possible and supported by reference to the appropriate literature.

The student should provide a direct answer. To the extent that a student seeks to draw on material not covered on the reading lists, he or she will directly relate that material to the question at hand and connect it to the relevant literature under consideration.

If asked about a practical historical or present-day case the student will provide an adequate answer grounded in the relevant literature from the two reading lists. It is understood that examiners may ask students about such empirical cases as long as they are related to the student’s preparation as defined by the examination committee.

Doctoral Dissertation Proposal

A candidate must present a dissertation research proposal to his or her supervisory committee for its approval. As of Fall 2014, this should normally be no later than eight weeks after the successful completion of the oral candidacy exam. Students and supervisors should note that the development of applications for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and other competitive scholarships will greatly assist the development of this proposal. After the proposal is approved in a meeting of the supervisory committee, the student can go on to the dissertation research phase. Successful completion of the proposal phase will be a factor noted in the student's annual progress report.

The proposal should be of 15-20 double-spaced pages in length, not including a brief preliminary bibliography. Its content should general include the following components:

  1. It should concisely state the research problem and explain its context and significance in the relevant literature. This should include a brief review of the relevant literature.
  2. It should clearly identify the intent of the research project, including (if applicable) any hypothesis to be tested. In essence, it should note the general argument or thesis to be studied or presented, at least at this preliminary stage of the research. The expected contribution to knowledge should be identified and explained.
  3. It should identify subsidiary or component issues which should be addressed to further the research and the argument.
  4. It should address any relevant methodological concerns, including (as appropriate) information and data sources, data analysis methods, case selection and the like.
  5. It should suggest an initial general structure for the dissertation.

A copy of the final text of the proposal, after its acceptance by the supervisory committee, should be placed in the student's file. With the student's agreement, copies could be made available to others as a guidance.

Doctoral Dissertation Requirements

The PhD candidate is required to submit a dissertation for oral examination.

As a general guideline, Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations state the following with regard to dissertation requirements:

The doctoral thesis should employ original work and must be adjudged to constitute a significant contribution to knowledge in the candidate's field of study. It should contain evidence of broad knowledge of the relevant literature and should demonstrate a critical understanding of the works of scholars closely related to the subject of the thesis. The material embodied in the thesis should, in the opinion of scholars, merit publication.

The Centre strongly recommends that a PhD dissertation in Military and Strategic Studies should, in most cases, be no longer than 300 pages.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies Thesis Guidelines can be found on the Faculty of Graduate studies website.

Oral Dissertation Examination

Once the dissertation has been completed, the Dissertation Oral Examination Committee will examine the thesis. This Committee consists of the supervisory committee plus two other examiners external to the Centre, one of whom must be external to the University and a recognized authority in the thesis field of research. The Neutral Chair will normally be the Graduate Program Director or his or her designate.

A notice of the oral defence must be submitted to and approved by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, at least four weeks in advance of the defence date. Following approval, it must be posted at least two weeks in advance of the defence date. In addition, it may be necessary to allow an additional three weeks for Faculty of Graduate Studies approval of the examiner external to the University. The final draft of the dissertation should be supplied, in hard copy or electronically, to the examining committee at least three weeks in advance of the defence date. Candidates and Supervisors should keep these requirements in mind.

For Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations regarding examinations visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.