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MSc Thesis

Research Topic

Any research topic related to the health of human populations is considered suitable for a thesis in the School. Specific research topics will be constrained by the availability of faculty with suitable content and methodological expertise to supervise the work. Students are encouraged to meet with many different faculty members to discuss potential research topics.

Thesis Supervisor

The supervisor’s role is to guide and support a student throughout the course of their degree program. Supervisors provide experience, expertise, resources, and mentorship, and help develop academic, research, and leadership potential. A supervisor would:

  • support a student’s application to the program
  • support award applications and assist in finding more information about funding sources
  • help the student to select relevant elective courses in the initial 1-3 years
  • help interpret school and faculty policies
  • assist in developing the thesis and building research skills
  • serve as chair of the supervisory committee
  • assist in finding information about employment opportunities, where appropriate
  • support the student in planning professional development relevant to career goals

The thesis supervisor should be an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor of the School.


The School also supports co-supervision of MSc students by two faculty members. In this case, the Nominated Supervisor is an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor of the School, an the Co-supervisor may be a faculty member in another department or a clinical faculty member. For Co-supervisors not approved for supervisory privileges by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, students and Nominated Supervisors should request approval from the program by connecting with the Program Manager.

How do I choose a supervisor?

You are responsible for choosing your thesis supervisor. See Looking for a supervisor? to find out the best way to contact a potential supervisor, as well as a list of available faculty. You may also review a list of the School’s full-time faculty.


The supervisory committee consists of the supervisor and two or more other committee members. All committees must have at least three members. You work together with your supervisor to identify suitable committee members. At least one committee member should be a Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor of the School, or an Associate member of the School faculty. The majority of the members on the committee must also be members of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Appropriately qualified individuals who are not members of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (such as clinical faculty, faculty with partner appointments, adjunct faculty, professors of teaching, senior instructors, visiting faculty, honorary faculty, UBCO faculty, affiliate professors, faculty members from other universities, and off-campus professionals who are academically qualified to advise graduate students) are welcome to serve on committees, but must be approved through the program. Students and Nominated Supervisors should request approval from the program by connecting with the Program Manager.

Can I change my supervisor or committee?

If your research interests or plans change, you can change your supervisor and/or committee members, although you should be aware that this may delay your progress towards graduation.

Roles and Responsibilities

An online guide, the Handbook of Graduate Supervision, has helpful tips to facilitate the interactions between students and supervisors.

Also see UBC policies and procedures for graduate studies for information about responsibilities of supervisors, policies regarding thesis preparation, deadlines, and much more.

Thesis Proposal

Presentation of the thesis proposal to the Thesis Screening Panel is optional.

Thesis Format

There are no specific rules regarding thesis length or content. This should be determined by the student and the supervisory committee. Typically, a Masters thesis focuses on one main research question, which may or may not be closely linked to a faculty member’s research. The School strongly encourages students to publish their research results in the peer-reviewed literature. The written thesis must adhere to the formatting requirements of the University.

Final Oral Examination

Due to COVID-19, all Oral Exams are taking place virtually. Please refer to the MSc Virtual Exam Protocol.

The Final Oral Examination, or thesis defence, is the last step toward the conferral of the masters degree. The exam process aims to provide students with the opportunity to showcase their work and have it reviewed by members of the academic community at the School.

The thesis defence is 20-minute presentation of the student’s thesis, followed by questioning from examiners, committee members, and the audience. Defences are normally open to all members of the university community and have a maximum duration two hours.

  • Current MSc students can find more information here.
  • Supervisors of current students can find more information here (if you do not have access, email the MSc program to request it).
  • The MSc PPH Final Oral Exam Procedures and Eligibility document can be downloaded here.

Scheduling a Thesis Defence

Prior to scheduling a thesis defence, the student must have approval to proceed from their Thesis Supervisor and their Committee. After the thesis has been approved to proceed, it is the joint responsibility of the student and the Supervisor (or Nominated Supervisor) to select a thesis examiner and schedule an oral examination. Once the examiner is selected, the student and Supervisor (or Nominated Supervisor) schedule the date and time of the defense. The student is responsible for submitting the MSc Thesis Defense Form to the program at least three weeks in advance of the oral defense date. Students should ensure that examiners are provided a copy of the thesis at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled defense date.

Please note that the examination and any subsequent revisions must be completed in time for final submission of the thesis to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to meet graduation deadlines.

Structure of the Oral Defence

**Due to COVID-19, all Oral Exams are taking place virtually. Please refer to the MSc Virtual Exam Protocol. The MSc Final Oral Exam Procedures and Eligibility guide can be downloaded here.

  • Defence chair (appointed by Program Director) introduces student and thesis title
  • Student makes a public presentation of the dissertation (approximately 20-30 minutes)
  • Examining Committee (including External examiner) question the student
  • Members of the audience are invited to ask questions of the student
  • Examining Committee holds an in camera discussion (student leaves the room)
  • Chair conveys the findings of the Examining Committee to the student

Role and Procedures for the Exam Chair

The role of the chair is to represent SPPH and G+PS and act as a moderator for the defence proceedings, ensuring fairness. The chair must ensure that the student addresses any questions raised during the question period. The procedure the chair should follow is:

  • Determine whether a quorum is present (see below). Establish the order in which examining committee members will question the student. When the examiner is participating s/he should be called upon first. The research supervisor is normally called upon last.
  • Instruct all present to turn off mobile phones, alarms, etc., for the duration of the defence. Recording of the defence is not normally permitted.
  • Announce that no latecomers will be admitted, and that any member of the audience who leaves the examination room will not be permitted to re-enter. Ensure that the door is closed (in lengthy sessions, the chair may allow a brief recess after the student’s presentation or during the question period).
  • Announce that the meeting has been called for the public examination of (student’s name) for the degree of Master of Science in Population and Public Health.
  • Invite the student to present a synopsis of the dissertation research. The student may speak from notes and use audio-visual equipment, but must not read the synopsis. The presentation should last between 20 and 30 minutes (chair to enforce time limits) and should not be interrupted by questions.
  • Call upon each member of the examining committee in turn to question the student. Exercise discretion in managing the question period; intervene if the questioning or behaviour becomes inappropriate or interferes with the proper conduct of the exam. Try to limit each question to approx. 5mins to allow all questions.
  • Ensure that all relevant questions from the examiner are put to the student.
  • Call for questions from the audience.
  • Call for final questions from the examining committee, and, if necessary, ask the student to address/clarify any points not adequately covered previously.
  • Instruct the student and all persons not on the examining committee to leave the room. Note Evaluation criteria: Discuss the student’s performance in presenting the synopsis, in responding to questions, and in defending the work.
  • Call the student and in the presence of the Examination Committee inform the student of the outcome.

Role of the Examining Committee Members

  • Represent her/his academic discipline
  • Scrutinize the thesis in preparation for the defence
  • Formulate an independent opinion of the work
  • Question the student at the defence about the contents of the thesis and their relevant knowledge
  • Participate in the in camera discussion and provide an opinion on the recommendation to the Dean of Graduate Studies


A minimum of three faculty are required to be present for the defence. This includes:

  • the Supervisor
  • the External Examiner
  • one member of the Supervisory Committee (this member must also be an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor of the School, or an Associate Member of the School)

There is usually a minimum of five faculty present at the defence: thesis supervisor, two committee members, the examiner, and the chair.

Evaluating Thesis/Amendments

The evaluation criteria for the committee are based on the student’s performance in presenting the synopsis, in responding to questions, and in defending the work. Attempt to reach a consensus on an appropriate category for the thesis based on the following:

Category 1
Minor revision that is typographical or editorial in nature. Requires approval by supervisor only.

Category 2
Substantive revision affecting the content of the thesis. Requires approval by the supervisor and supervisory committee.

Category 3
The thesis is unsatisfactory in its current form. Major rewriting and rethinking are required to produce a satisfactory thesis. Requires approval by the supervisor, supervisory committee, and external examiner.

If it is agreed that the thesis has met approval of the examining committee (category 1 or 2) for recommendation to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for acceptance, a Masters Thesis Approval Form must be signed and submitted.