Department of Global Development Studies


Global Development Studies

site header

PhD Program

The Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University extends its innovative approach to research and teaching with its newly approved doctoral programme. This four-year PhD offers focused training and supervision to build core skills and proficiencies for development research. First, our students attain strong specialisation in the central rubrics that have shaped development studies as a field, including political economy and cultural analysis. Second, the programme grounds students in the key analytical frameworks and methodologies for conducting research on development issues. They develop core skills in designing and conducting fieldwork in cross-cultural settings and reflect on the public purposes and ethics of development research. Third, the programme cultivates strong project design and management skills for applications within and beyond academia and development practice. The degree is ideal for graduate students seeking to advance globally-orientated research in the field of development studies, particularly in the areas of political economy, cultural politics, sustainability and indigenous studies. It provides essential skills for building careers in academia and the development field, alongside positions in public sector research and policy-making, journalism, education, teaching and education, the law and the private sector.



This unique doctoral programme offers focused graduate training and supervision to build core academic and transferable skills towards three primary objectives:

1) Fundamental Knowledge: Our PhD students attain deep specialisation in the central rubrics that have shaped development studies as a field. This includes a close familiarity with both the political-economic and the cultural dimensions of development studies and the ability to think creatively by linking and synthesising between such fields. For this, students will acquire advanced skills of perceptive reading, information management, data processing, oral and written communication.

2) Research Design and Implementation: Our programme requires students to thoroughly ground themselves in key analytical frameworks and methodologies for conducting research on development issues. This involves developing core skills in designing and conducting fieldwork in cross-cultural settings involving human subjects.  It requires deep reflection on the ethics and practices of research and exchange while generating a strong degree of reflexivity on the public purposes of development research.

3) Professional Skills Development: As part of the ability to clearly relate complex ideas in both written and oral forms, we train students in the communication skills necessary to present research plans and outcomes to an audience of both specialists and non-specialists.

The programme cultivates strong project design and management skills. Fostering a close familiarity with the practices of grant applications, ethics board procedures, and writing for different audiences provides key skills transferable beyond the academic realm.  Thematically, the department helps students build a programme of advanced interdisciplinary research across broad thematic areas in the field of development studies.  These include: (a) the political economy of development; (b) the cultural politics of development; (c) indigenous studies; and (d) development and sustainability.

Admission Criteria

An MA degree from a recognized university in a social science field or discipline relevant to the area of development studies. Our programme specifically caters to students looking to conduct social, political-economic and cultural analyses using primarily qualitative methods. Relevant background degrees include development studies, political studies, sociology, geography, environmental studies, indigenous studies, gender studies. Students with a background in humanities such as history, literature and cultural studies, or in education, economics, law or business administration would also be considered provided they demonstrate a requisite background in social sciences.

A minimum of a B+/78% average in the last two years of study

Where appropriate, the applicant will demonstrate a strong grounding in the necessary language skills suitable to undertake the proposed fieldwork or a clear plan to attain them during the first year of the degree.

Practical experience in the field of development or related areas is a welcome addition.

Degree Timeline

For those undertaking full-time study the programme is designed for completion within 48 months. Those wishing to undertake the programme on a part-time basis should consult the department for advice.

Year 1:

Fall and Winter terms:

o The programme requires all students to take four courses (12 units), taken during the first year, and our professional seminar. These units include our three core courses (DEVS 801, DEVS 802, DEVS 803) and one optional course from within DEVS or a cognate department. In addition, students take the professional seminar DEVS950 on a pass/fail basis. The latter runs on a monthly basis throughout the Fall/Winter terms.

o Students who have already taken our core courses as part of their MA degree will either be accelerated within the PhD or, if deemed appropriate by their supervisor and/or the Graduate Chair, will find alternate topics courses to complete this requirement.

Spring and Summer terms:

o Students establish their supervisory committee, begin to prepare their comprehensive exam literature lists, and consider the first stages of building their research proposal.

Year 2:

During their second year, students undertake three tasks:

o First they prepare for and complete their comprehensive exams.

o Second, as part of their comprehensive exam process, the student also submits a course syllabus that they have prepared on their chosen research topic.

o Third, on completing the comprehensive exams, the student submits and defends a formal research proposal that provides the analytical and methodological basis for their PhD research. This is examined orally by a committee of three faculty members, including the student's supervisor and at least one examiner from within DEVS. After defending their PhD proposal, the student will progress to fieldwork (if applicable).

Year 3:

Students complete field research and/or equivalent data collection. In consultation with their supervisor and committee, they begin to write draft chapters towards their thesis.

Year 4:

Students write up their PhD thesis, which they submit for defence, allowing for a completion date within the stipulated 48 months from the beginning of the programme.

Students will typically teach a fourth-year undergraduate seminar course (or equivalent) as a teaching fellow.

Students pursue a programme of knowledge mobilisation under supervisory guidance – seeking to present their work at suitable academic/non-academic conferences.

Students are requested to host a session with incoming PhD students where they talk of the strategies developed and challenges faced conducting research or undertaking an internship.

For students needing to move beyond a fourth year of study in order to complete, a clear plan to completion following School of Graduate Studies guidelines is established in conjunction with their supervisor and the graduate chair.

Programme Milestones
Courses and Instruction

The first year is structured around a series of courses. The first two – DEVS 801: Political Economy of Development and DEVS 802: Cultural Politics of Development – instruct students in the core analytical approaches within development studies. DEVS 803: Fieldwork Methods then builds focused knowledge of the methodological and practical dimensions of planning and undertaking fieldwork. In addition to these core courses, students take a further graduate-level topics course from among those offered within DEVS or cognate departments. Finally, students take DEVS 950: Professional Seminar in Development Studies, a pass/fail course that includes a range of preparatory training around skill mobilisation. Sections include (1) writing for non-academic audiences, (2) effective conference presentations, (3) working within diverse institutional contexts, and (4) pedagogical approaches within development.

Comprehensive Exam

This is a take-home exam undertaken over the course of a working week, typically released on a Monday morning at 9am and returned at 4pm on the Friday. It consists of two questions set by the examining committee. It tests (1) the student’s understanding of the core themes of development studies as a field, as established in our core courses DEVS 801, DEVS 802 and a wider appreciation of core texts in the field as provided in a departmental core reading list (draft included in appendix); and (2) their chosen area of specialization.  The exam is intended to demonstrate a satisfactory breadth and depth of knowledge alongside strong analytical and communication skills.

Syllabus Preparation

As part of their comprehensive exam, in the period leading up to the exam the student will prepare and submit a course syllabus on their chosen area of research specialisation. The syllabus would typically be for a 400-level seminar course, although if the committee agreed an alternative pedagogical purpose (such as non-academic course for practitioners or community groups) would be accepted. This syllabus would be assessed alongside the answers to the two comprehensive exams as a means to demonstrate core competency and depth of knowledge in the field.

Research Proposal

Under close supervisory guidance, the student will prepare a proposal for PhD research that demonstrates close familiarity with the scholarly literature in their proposed research area and, on that basis, develops a defensible rationale, methodology and plan for original dissertation research.


The PhD in Global Development Studies is expected to culminate in a monograph style dissertation based on a period of original fieldwork, typically conducted in developing country contexts, indigenous communities, or development organisations / policy fields.

Within the monograph format, the department provides flexibility to incorporate some innovations, including a potential chapter on research outcomes written for a non-academic audience.

Fieldwork, Internships or Placements

All students are strongly encouraged to undertake fieldwork of an appropriate type for their programme of research as discussed with their supervisor and doctoral committee. Some students may have an interest in undertaking an internship of placement with a development-related organisation. The option to do an internship/placement option is considered only if it is closely tied to the broader research goals of the student in one or more of the following ways:

(a) Direct research opportunity. This would be an internship working within a development organisation that facilitates direct research activities. For example, some of our MA students have in the past worked for development organisations directly conducting research studies. Alongside producing reports for the host organisation and generating professional skills, the student benefits from the opportunity to use the data generated in their placement for their dissertation. An internship of this nature therefore gives the student an established institutional context in which to pursue research for his or her own degree.

(b) Observation of the institutional dimensions of development work. An internship/placement gives students the opportunity to observe the inner workings of development organisations, their interactions with donors, governmental agencies, research communities, and the target communities of development practices. These kinds of internship/placements allow students to build strong professional skills – the day-to-day transferable skills from a practical work placement – alongside contributing to their understanding of the organizational processes that facilitate development as practice. The latter would form a core part of their dissertation topic.

(c) Network building for research. Some internship/placement opportunities provide students with an opportunity to work within a specific community to build up the necessary knowledge, skills and contacts for their own subsequent research or fieldwork. 

In all three cases, taking on an internship/placement would only be considered if there was a strong fit between the placement and the academic content of the student’s degree. For students seeking to undertake a placement, the rationale for the internship would be closely written into their doctoral proposal. The supervisor and committee would therefore judge the fit between internship/placement and the dissertation. They would ensure that the nature of the internship/placement, the projected tasks involved, and the timelines involved all facilitate the broader academic goal of the doctoral dissertation.

Supervision and Research Themes

The Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s has a wide range of faculty expertise. Four broad themes stand out as key areas of specialisation within our programme:

The Political Economy of Development

The Cultural Politics of Development

Indigenous Studies

Environment, Development and Sustainability

The Political Economy of Development

Rebecca Hall – natural resource extraction, feminist political economy; social reproduction, labour standards

David McDonald – municipal governance; public versus private services; urbanization; migration

Fahim Quadir – South-South cooperation, emerging donors, civil society, development effectiveness, democratic consolidation and regional development.

Susanne Soederberg housing insecurity and urban displacement; finance and debt (public and private); corporate power in development

Marcus Taylor – labour and livelihoods; agriculture and development; anti-poverty programmes and microfinance

Kyla Tienhaara – global governance; trade and investment agreements; corporations and development

The Cultural Politics of Development

Karen Dubinsky – global childhoods (adoption/migration history and the politics of childhood); Cuban musical cultures; Canadian/Third world relations; transnational historical perspectives

Marc Epprecht – social history in southern Africa; gender, sexuality and development; HIV/AIDS; pedagogies for development

Rebecca Hall – gender-based violence; intersectional feminisms

Paritosh Kumar – the politics of tradition and modernity; Hindu Right and religious revivalism in India; development ethics

Dylan Robinson politics of Indigenous inclusion and recognition in the arts; use of indigenous languages in public art

Indigenous Studies

Michael Doxtater – conflict resolution and organisational learning; indigenous languages and leadership

Robert Lovelace – aboriginal studies in Canada and North America

Dylan Robinson – indigenous public art; the politics of indigenous languages; Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Rebecca Hall – northern Indigenous peoples, development and livelihoods; decolonising methodologies; Indigeneity and Canadian resource extraction

Development and Sustainability

Marc Epprecht – environment and health, especially in urban contexts in South Africa

Mark Hostetler – political ecology; sustainability research; livelihoods approaches

Paritosh Kumar globalisation and agriculture; plant genetic resources

David McDonald – urbanisation and environmental justice; water politics

Susanne Soederberg cities, housing and vulnerabilities; disaster management

Marcus Taylor – climate change; agriculture and agrarian change; political ecology

Kyla Tienhaara – green industrial policy; environmental regulation within trade and investment policy

Cross-Appointed Faculty (can sole-supervise DEVS students)

Colleen Davison (Department of Public Health Sciences) – global health research; child and adolescent health, child rights, health equity and systems approaches to health promotion particularly for vulnerable groups; projects in Nunavut, Lebanon, Thailand and Mongolia.

Allison Goebel (School of Environmental Studies) – gender, environment and development in Africa; environmental justice; women, health and the environment; local food issues and movements; urbanization and housing; social impacts of climate change

Ariel Salzmann (Department of History) – world regions, past and present; state society relations in the historic Middle East; theories of state formation; histories of Mediterranean societies; the making of global capitalism

Awet Weldemichael (Department of History) – colonialism, decolonization, revolutions, nationalist movements, peace, conflict and security studies relevant to Africa and Southeast Asia; the political economy of conflict and piracy in the Horn of Africa.