Unpacking the project process

As a graduate student, there are different types of degree requirements to reach in order to finish your program. Requirements are assessed to ensure graduate students are achieving the necessary competencies relative to your program and degree level. 

What is a project?

If you have no idea what a project is, you're not alone! The reason it is difficult to find a description of the project is because project degrees are very flexible, looking different for every student and every discipline. A project is an activity focused on an initiative or opportunity within your discipline to apply your learnings to a specific context to both gain further skills and demonstrate your learnings. Some examples of projects include:

  • Research project with write up (like a thesis)
  • Publishable papers
  • Literature review or environmental scan
  • Program evaluation
  • Development of a model, tool, or framework

What your project looks like will be decided between you, your supervisor, and your committee member(s). At the completion of your degree, your project is graded by your supervisor and committee member(s). 






To apply knowledge and skills obtained from one's field of study and articulate the results of the investigation within a comprehensive written document To complete all stages of a research project and present the findings To apply knowledge and skills gained from one’s field of study to a real world context To demonstrate mature scholarship, critical judgement, and familiarity of methodology and methods relevant to the candidate’s field


Focuses on a specific problem rather than furthering a discipline’s theoretical understandings Should be original as much as possible and attempt to be significant enough for publication Uses the existing body of research to support one’s stance while contributing new ideas Provides a substantial and original contribution to the field

Breadth of Knowledge

Demonstrates the application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program Demonstrates a general knowledge of the field, related theories, and some appropriate methods Demonstrates the application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program Demonstrates the advanced application of theory, practice, and experiences gained from the program, its theories, and relevant research methodologies

What kind of requirements and structure should I expect?

Project Overview

The "look" of every project varies from student to student. Below is a general format that can be followed, but note that these sections may be unecessary, depending on your program and your project's objectives. Discuss your approach to the project with your supervisor and committee member(s). 

  1. Title page
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Introduction
    • This section is intended to ‘sign-post’ and contextualize your research question
    • Introduce area of focus
    • Introduce your main research objectives and your research question
      • Why is this important? Who cares?
    • Introduce major approach(es) you will take (conceptual, theoretical, empirical and normative, as appropriate) and rationale.
  4. Background
    • Summary of relevant findings from the literature review
    • Identify gaps in existing literature/research/practice
    • Discussion of how prior research informed the research plan
  5. Methodology
    • This section should portray the way your research was structured and your rationale for adopting this approach.
    • If your project involves empirical research, describe your data collection methods and analysis techniques
      • Include specific aims and objectives (e.g. ‘complete 20 interviews with members of group x’), response rates, timelines, etc.
    • Discuss any methodological issues encountered and solutions used to overcome obstacles
  6. Results
    • Describe your results in detail (this may include summary statistics, tables, graphs, and other products of your analysis)
  7. Discussion
    • This section takes the Results from above and discusses why we should care, what we should take away from the learnings, and the real-world and/or big picture implications
    • Discuss any conclusions and recommendations
  8. References/Bibliography
  9. Appendices


Degree milestones

Below we provide a series of the typical milestones common across degrees. Remember these steps are completed over a series of years. You can use these milestones as a guide and discuss them with your supervisors and/or department. The inclusion or sequencing of milestones will vary across programs and departments. 

*May be started before course work completed

1. Coursework & Other Program Requirements

  • Appointment of an advisor
  • Selection of coursework
  • Selection & formation of advisory committee
  • Completion of course work, internships and practicums (if applicable)
  • Candidacy/comprehensive exam(s) (PhD only)*

2. Project Development

  • Preparation and development of project*
  • Research Ethics Board approval (if applicable)
  • Minimum annual committee meetings and more as required

3. Executing Project/Capstone 

  • Begin data collection, analysis, (if applicable)
  • Begin product testing, development (if applicable)
  • Drafting, revising, completing report (if applicable)

4. Submission and Completion

  • Submit project to supervisor and advisory committee for grading
  • Revise and resubmit (if applicable)
  • Apply to graduate

Program Duration

Your timeline for your degrees starts with the first class credited towards your degree – make sure you’re within your timeline!

• Postgraduate Diploma and Master's degree students have four (4) years to complete their degree.
• Ph.D. students have six (6) years to complete.
• If you transfer from a Master’s to a PhD, you must remember that your timeline will continue from the start of your Master’s degree to a maximum of six (6) years.

In extenuating circumstances, an extension to time in program may be available. If you think you may need an extension, speak with your supervisor or the graduate chair in your academic unit. More information about extensions to time in program, and how to apply for them, can be found here.

Academic Help

Student Learning Services provides the following workshops and resources:

  • Grad Help workshops cover a range of academic topics and are delivered by experienced volunteer graduate students and occasionally faculty and recent PhDs. These workshops are delivered from September to March. 
  • Graduate Writing Workshops cover topics such as structure, style, formatting, writing proposals and revising your work. These workshops are scheduled from September through March. 
  • Book an Appointment to discuss graduate academic skills with a peer mentor or get graduate writing help with a tutor.

         1. UNPACKING         Crafting >


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