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PhD Program

Submitted by swbarnar on Tue, 07/05/2016 - 5:06pm

The PhD in Strategic Studies program at the University of Calgary addresses the critical need that exists for analysts who can study and assess the multitude of security threats that now exist. There is a need to understand these threats from both a theoretical and policy perspective. Thus, the CMSS PhD program is intended to teach a selection of scholars that can span both worlds.

  • Serving military officers (Canadian and others)
  • those interested working in the government as defence analysts
  • those interested working for security focused NGOs
  • Those interested in academic careers in institutions that understand and appreciate the value of multidisciplinary work.

A doctoral degree in this field will increasingly become needed and more importantly, required.

See a list of prospective supervisors

Students in the PhD program have a maximum of six years to complete their degree requirements, but are expected to complete their programs in four years. PhD Students receiving financial support through the University and the Centre will be funded through their first four years.


Browse our Frequently Asked Questions

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Applications for the PhD in Strategic Studies are made to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Applications open October 1st and close January 15th for Fall admittance.  


We offer highly competitive funding packages to our PhD students.

Learn more about our funding policy here.

PhD Admission Requirements

The Centre's PhD program is highly selective with an emphasis on matching high-quality candidates to our strengths within a common framework of courses and examinations. Applicants will be admitted only if the Graduate Committee is satisfied that adequate supervision is likely to be available for the duration of their studies. Successful applicants should be aware that admission to the program does not imply a Centre commitment to provide supervision for all research interests they may have. Students are also advised to consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies Handbook of Supervision and Examination.

Prerequisites for admission to the PhD program are:

  1. A completed Master's Degree.
  2. A GPA of 3.7 on a four point scale over all completed graduate courses in the Masters program; 3.4 in the Undergraduate program over the last 20 half courses or two years of study.
  3. A completed application to the Centre, along with supporting documentation.
  4. A detailed statement of the proposed thesis research.
  5. A representative piece of written work, normally a Master's Thesis chapter or major research paper.
  6. The Centre requires a tentative agreement from a faculty member to supervise, so students need to contact potential supervisors at the beginning of the application process.
  7. All students whose native language is one other than English are required to pass the TOEFL with a minimum score of 600 (written) or 92 (web-based) or 7+ on the IELTS, or 84 on the MELAB test, or 70 on the PTE test. The test must have been taken within the last two years.
  8. Two letters of reference.
  9. Official copies of all post-secondary transcripts.

Course Work Requirements

Each student must normally take four half-course equivalents including three core courses:

  • Political Science (POLI) 681: Advanced Analysis of International Relations
  • POLI 685: Strategic Studies
  • Strategic Studies (STST) 655: Classics of Strategy.

Students will have two major fields of study, one of these being strategic studies and the other the dissertation area, and will be required to take one half-course in each, namely POLI 685 and an appropriate elective (see the section "Courses"). This may include, with the approval of the Graduate Director, one or more of:

STST651: Reading Seminar*

STST653: Research Seminar*

STST751: Reading Seminar*

STST753: Research Seminar*

*These courses are to be arranged between student and supervisor.

With the approval of the Graduate Director and the student's supervisor (where appropriate), and upon presentation of a syllabus containing a course description, course requirements and a reading list, a student may take any other course pertinent to the student's program of studies.

NOTE: As of the Fall 2014 term, all incoming PhD students will be required to take seven courses, including the three core half-courses and Strategic Studies 603: Military and Strategic Studies: Questions and Methods. The other three courses should be selected from those offered under Areas of Concentration (see the section "Courses"). This may include, with the approval of the Graduate Director, one or more of:

STST651: Reading Seminar*

STST653: Research Seminar*

STST751: Reading Seminar*

STST753: Research Seminar*

*These courses are to be arranged between student and supervisor.

With the approval of the Graduate Director and the student's supervisor (where appropriate), and upon presentation of a syllabus containing a course description, course requirements and a reading list, a student may take any other course pertinent to the student's program of studies. Consult the program website ("Courses") for courses additional to those listed above being taught in specific terms.

Doctoral Candidacy Assessment Guidelines

Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies Doctoral Candidacy Assessment Guidelines

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. For the full requirements of the program please see:


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 here.

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 please click here