PhD Program

UBC School of Information’s Doctor in Philosophy in Library, Archival and Information Studies is a four-year funded program that combines coursework with focused independent study and research. Our students have ready access to faculty members and benefit from unique opportunities at a comprehensive, world-class, research-intensive university.

We designed our PhD program to provide advanced research education for outstanding and highly motivated students who have already obtained a Master of Archival Studies (MAS) degree, a Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) or an equivalent related degree.

  • Information seeking, retrieval and use
  • Human-computer interaction and design
  • Critical approaches to information systems and services
  • Information appraisal, classification and organization
  • Social computing
  • Information ethics and information policy
  • Personal archives, digital archives, and online communities
  • Records and information management
  • Data management and natural language processing
  • Blockchain technologies, information trust and governance
  • Digital cultural heritage and preservation
  • Digital humanities

  • Advanced education in information and archival studies
  • Focus on scholarship and research, with strong support for interdisciplinary approaches
  • State-of-the-art research and learning facilities at a world-class university

Identify a potential supervisor

The doctoral program is highly selective. The strongest applicants have research interests aligned with the faculty expertise in the School of Information. Identifying a faculty member who can support your application does not guarantee an offer of admission. Still, it can ensure that your application is read carefully in light of the limited number of positions available each year. The following paragraphs provide suggestions for reaching out to potential supervisors.

  • Familiarize yourself with program requirements. You want to learn as much as possible from the information available before reaching out to a faculty member.

  • Identify faculty members who are conducting research in your specific area of interest.
  • Establish that your research interests align with the faculty member's research interests.
    • Read up on the faculty members in the program and the research conducted in the department.
    • Familiarize yourself with their work, and read their recent publications and past theses/dissertations they supervised. Be sure that their research is indeed what you are hoping to study.

  • Compose an error-free and grammatically correct email addressed to your targeted faculty member, and remember to use their proper titles.
    • Do not send mass emails to everyone in the department hoping for a match.
    • Address the faculty members by name. Your contact should be genuine rather than generic.
  • Include a brief outline of your academic background, why you are interested in working with the faculty member, and what experience you could bring to the department.
  • Highlight your achievements and why you are a top student. Faculty members receive dozens of requests from prospective students, and you may have less than 30 seconds to pique someone's interest.
  • Demonstrate that you are familiar with their research:
    • Convey the specific ways you are a good fit for the program.
    • Convey the specific ways the program/lab/faculty member is a good fit for the research you are interested in/are already conducting.
  • Be enthusiastic, but don't overdo it.

Course requirements

Students entering the doctoral program with an approved master’s degree will be required to take a minimum of 24 credits of coursework before achieving candidacy.

Your advisor may recommend additional courses, and you may be required to take courses in the iSchool Master of Library and Information Studies program or the Master of Archival Studies program to provide sufficient background for your research focus.

In addition, we strongly encourage our doctoral students to take graduate-level courses from other UBC departments in their chosen area of research.

Program details

Upon entering the doctoral program, you will be assigned an adviser who will work with you to develop an appropriate coursework schedule relevant to your research plan. You will take advance study in the major and minor areas (LAIS 620 and 621) with your advisor or the faculty member(s) best aligned with your research focus.

The qualifying exams assess your knowledge of the relevant literature, analytic capacity, and skill in developing original written and oral presentations of ideas. Typically, your advisor becomes your dissertation supervisor through the qualifying examinations.

Upon successfully completing the qualifying examinations, you will enter the dissertation stage of the program. Working closely with your supervisor, you will assemble a dissertation committee of no fewer than two additional eligible faculty members; these may be the same faculty who assessed your qualifying exams.

You will develop and defend a dissertation proposal of not less than 30 pages following the guidelines in the Doctoral handbook of policies and procedures. The goal of the proposal is to ascertain your research readiness.

Upon the successful defence of the proposal, you are recommended for candidacy.

You will then undertake the research and writing to prepare the dissertation following the guidelines of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS). When the dissertation is completed and successfully defended, you will be recommended for your Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

Qualifying examinations


The qualifying exams for the School of Information PhD consist of coursework (LAIS 620 and LAIS 621) as well as a formal examination with written and oral components.
This overview of the qualifying exam process is meant as a guide for students and faculty. While specific details of each student’s exam preparation, writing and defence will vary, there are consistent timelines, objectives and expectations of all doctoral students. This document sets out a process for preparing for, writing, and assessing the qualifying examination as a key milestone in a student’s progress toward degree.

Students receive course credit (and faculty receive teaching credit) for LAIS 620 and LAIS 621. As such, the policies related to student resources, academic concession, academic integrity, academic accommodation, and conflicting responsibilities that apply to all other coursework also apply to the qualifying examination. Students who have needs or concerns related to these policies can negotiate adjustments to the exam procedures with their advisor and the Doctoral Studies Chair. Details of the policies and how to access support are available here.

Upon completion of all other degree coursework requirements (See: degree requirements), a student is enrolled in LAIS 620 (Advanced Study in the Major Area) and LAIS 621 (Advanced Study in the Minor Area) by the Program Assistant. The courses are six credits each, and should be taken over the course of the Winter 1 & 2 terms of the second year of doctoral study. These courses represent the preparation for the qualifying exam (50%) as well as the exam itself (50%). The preparation portion of each course is satisfied through a directed study with the student’s advisor or potential committee member. The advisor may recommend additional coursework for credit course auditing, depending on the student’s background or intended topic of study.

Through the LAIS 620 and 621 coursework, the student provides evidence that they are able to:

  • Identify and describe Major and Minor areas of focus that will frame the examination process;
  •  Read for both depth and breadth in the areas of focus;
  • Curate bibliographies of academic sources that represent key concepts, ideas, theories, or methods in the areas of focus;
  • Develop research relevant questions that emerge from the reading;
  • Connect the research focus area(s) with the broader discipline;
  • Communicate clearly and effectively to academic audiences, in written and oral forms.

Key outputs from the LAIS 620/621 coursework are materials that guide the examination process, specifically:

  1. An overview document for the Major and Minor areas (length determined by the advisor, however 1500 to 3000 words is typical) that provides a fulsome description of the areas of focus, important concepts and definitions, and key questions that emerge from reading in these areas; and
  2. A guiding bibliography of 40-50 sources for each of the areas of focus.

The Major and Minor areas of focus are developed with the approval and consultation of the advisor and examination committee. The Major and Minor together should support the development of student thinking, but not encapsulate exhaustively the thinking within a discipline. The level of specificity and scope are important considerations. The Major and Minor areas should be complementary but not overlap. For example, the Major area may be the central focus of a student’s intended inquiry, with the Minor area a complementary theory or method, or a cognate area related to but not a subset of the Major.

The qualifying exam has two overarching objectives: 1) to assess the student’s knowledge of current trends, theories, and methods in the areas of focus; 2) to determine if the doctoral student is sufficiently prepared to design their dissertation project.

  • Through the qualifying exam, the student provides evidence that they are able to:
  • Identify and critically read relevant literature in the areas of focus;
  • Comprehend and evaluate arguments in the areas of focus;
  • Integrate and synthesize ideas within the areas of focus;
  • Put their research focus area(s) in conversation with the broader discipline;
  • Communicate clearly and effectively to academic audiences, in written and oral forms.

The student will be expected to demonstrate their knowledge, and critical analysis in the discipline through:

  • Knowledge of the main issues or problems in the areas of focus;
  • Incisive evaluation of current and past research;
  • Rigorous analysis, organization and synthesis of information;
  • Clear written, and oral communication of ideas, concepts and arguments.

Students are expected to read carefully and write to issues that are contained within these bibliographies, but cannot be expected to read or write outside them as part of the examination process.

The faculty member who advises a doctoral student through their course work and qualifying exams is known as an adviser. This is usually (but not always) the same person who supervises their work as they write their dissertation, the supervisor.

The student and their adviser will assemble an Examination Committee that will adjudicate the Major and Minor focus areas by setting the exam questions and assessing the answers. The Examination Committee will consist of the adviser and two or three additional faculty members. These are typically faculty who have served as instructors to the student, have supervised reading courses in one or more of the areas of study, or have expertise related to the focus areas. The student's adviser will chair the committee.

The Examination Committee will set the questions for both the Major and Minor area exams. The questions will be based on the Major and Minor focus area descriptions and accompanying bibliographies approved by the committee by the end of January of their second year. After committee approval, the scheduling of the written exam and oral defense can occur.

  1. The qualifying examination occurs in the Winter 2 term of the student’s second year in the Doctoral Program, and must be completed within 24 months of starting the program, as required by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
  2. Writing of the Major and Minor areas will occur within a 30-day period, and the overall length of the examination should not exceed two months.
  3. The format for the written examination is a take-home examination to be completed during a 21-day writing period. The writing period must begin and end on a weekday. The dates can be negotiated, and a one-day extension granted if a statutory holiday, religious holiday or cultural observance falls within the writing period (see UBC policy on conflicting responsibilities).
  4. The examination is intended to be a sequestered writing period, during which the student should have minimal contact with other students and faculty. Peer editing and reviewing of draft answers is not permissible, nor should the student and advisor or examination committee consult on the questions once they are administered. Students who need accommodations such as an extended exam period or writing support should consult with their advisor and DSC Chair in advance of the examination scheduling.
  5. The examination will comprise two significant essays, one each for the Major and Minor focus areas. The essay prompts will be formulated by the committee, and reflect the depth and breadth of the Major and Minor. The major area essay prompt should be presented as an opportunity for the student to compose a “state of the field” review related to the student’s area of research focus. The Minor essay prompt should permit the student to focus on a theory, method or cognate area that complements the Major area, without being redundant. In terms of length, approximately 5,000 words (including references) would constitute a minimal answer for each essay, with 7-10,000 words judged more acceptable in most cases.
  6. An oral examination of not more than three hours will occur not more than two weeks following the completion of the writing period.
  7. The oral examination committee consists of at least three members of Examination Committee.
  8. The Chair of the DSC serves as examination chair, and there is no audience present.

Sample Exam Timeline (Actual dates negotiated among student, committee, and DSC Chair):

  • Supervisor submits questions vetted and approved by the examining committee to the Program Assistant one week before the exam writing period begins (February 24).
  • Student receives exam questions on Friday March 3 at 9am [21-day writing period begins].
  • Student submits written answers to Program Assistant on Thursday March 23 at 5pm [Writing period ends].
  • Committee has seven days to read and evaluate essays.
  • Committee communicates to DSC Chair that oral exam will proceed on Thursday March 30.
  • Oral exam occurs Friday March 31.

After a student submits the written qualifying exam essays, the examination committee will have no less than seven days to read and evaluate them prior to the oral examination. The committee should confer prior to the oral examination to confirm that the quality of the written essays is adequate to proceed. If the essays are adequate, the student will proceed to the oral examination. If the essays are deemed inadequate, the committee will recommend either a mark of FAIL, or Adjournment (see below). The committee’s agreement to proceed or not proceed to the oral examination should be a consensus decision sent to the DSC Chair at least one day prior to the oral examination.

The purpose of the oral examination is to allow the student to provide context for their written exam answers, to demonstrate additional depth and breadth of knowledge in the area, and to show their communicative competency. The questions of the oral examination will be related to the questions answered by the student in the written examination of the major and minor areas. Examiners' questions will be based on peripheral or related material that contributes to a complete answer to the questions posed.

The oral examination will be comprised of the following parts:

  • Introductions and clarification of procedures by the DSC Chair or designate
  • Student presentation (15 minutes maximum – see below)
  • Examination of the Major Area: At least one round of questions from each examiner, until all examiners are satisfied.
  • Examination of the Minor Area: At least one round of questions from each examiner, until all examiners are satisfied.
  • In-camera session: The student is dismissed, and the examiners meet with the Chair to discuss the outcome, feedback, and mark for the examination.
  • Feedback: The student returns to the exam session and the Chair or Advisor provide the outcome and next steps.

At the beginning of the oral exam the student may take the opportunity to expand on their answers to the written exam questions, amplifying the answers or outlining the key points. This speaking opportunity must take no longer than 15 minutes, and may be strictly oral or aided only by notes or a visual presentation (i.e., the student is not allowed to read a prepared paper). The student may bring into the oral examination only a copy of the written exam and the notes or software (e.g., PowerPoint) for the 15-minute presentation.

During the in-camera session of the examination, the faculty will evaluate the student’s written and oral performance on each of the Major and Minor areas of focus. The student will be given one of three marks for each the Major and Minor. Faculty will assess the written and oral examination for each area as a combined mark.

  • Unconditional PASS: The student’s performance in the written and oral examination meets all the indicators. The examination milestone is considered met and a grade is assigned.
  • Conditional PASS: The student’s performance in the written and oral examination meets most of the indicators, but may need additional writing or revision to satisfy the committee. A student who receives the mark of Conditional PASS must complete revisions under the direction of the Advisor within two weeks. The committee will assess the revised responses and either provide the mark of FAIL or Unconditional PASS. Further oral examination is not required.
  • FAIL: The student’s performance in the written and oral examination does not meet the exam indicators above. A student who receives the mark of FAIL must withdraw from the program. UBC procedures for appeal of assigned academic standing are detailed in the Academic Regulations section of the UBC Calendar.

A student may receive a split decision for the Major and Minor areas; that is, the mark assigned may be different if the written or oral performance is inadequate in either area. If a student receives a Conditional PASS in either area, the numerical grade will be provided after the revision period. If a student receives a FAIL in either the Major or Minor area, the milestone is not met, and the student must withdraw from the program.

A student receives a grade for each of the Major (620) and Minor (621) area examinations. This grade is a score that reflects their combined written and oral performance. The examination grade constitutes 50% of the grade for the Major or Minor area, the other 50% being the score assigned for the exam preparation. The Advisor should bring the preparation scores to the in-camera session. The grades for preparation and examination are averaged and submitted to the Program Assistant using the grading form provided on the school’s internal website.

A student who receives the mark of Unconditional PASS should receive a grade that is appropriate to their level of achievement, i.e., in the A to A+ range (85-95). A student who shows weaker performance in either the oral or written components, but not to the point where revision is necessary, may receive a lower grade. However, all grades for an Unconditional PASS must be above the B level (74+).

In the event the examination committee is unable to reach consensus on either the mark or numerical grade in the in-camera session, the DSC Chair (or their designate as examination chair) will serve as arbiter.

An adjournment may occur when the examination process needs to be halted for additional preparation, or for personal reasons arising from the student’s situation. There are two conditions under which the exam process may be halted or adjourned.

  1. Faculty requested adjournment: If one or both examination essays are of an unacceptable quality, but there is confidence they can be improved with additional preparation, the chair of the examination committee may request an adjournment. This request should be made between the submission of the essays and the oral examination. The request should be made to the DSC Chair.
  2. Student requested adjournment: If the student experiences a personal situation that puts their ability to complete the examination in question (significant illness, unexpected life incident, or emergency), they may request an adjournment. This request should be made during the writing period to the advisor and DSC Chair.

If an adjournment is granted, the student will have six months to complete the examination process. The student may not proceed to the oral examination until the written essays are deemed of sufficient quality. If the student does not produce passable essays on the second try, the student will be given the mark of FAIL and must withdraw from the program. The student must be informed of the committee’s decision in writing, and will have the opportunity to appeal to the DSC Chair. A candidate will be permitted to re-write the examination only once. The student is responsible for scheduling the re-writing.

All students can appeal the examination mark or numerical grade if they feel that the process for administration or assessment was unfair or in error. To appeal, the student must send a written note of appeal, along with any evidence to support their claim, to the DSC Chair within one week of receiving their examination feedback. The Chair will review the written essays and chair report to identify if any redress is appropriate. The outcome of the appeal will be provided to the student in writing no more than 30 days after receipt of the appeal.

Career outcomes

Graduates of the School of Information Doctoral Program have held positions in academia, including tenure track faculty at some of the world's leading universities, the IT industry, and leadership roles in libraries, archives, and other public sector institutions.

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