Qualifying Examination (PhD)

Timing of the Qualifying Exam

Students entering the PhD program after completing a MSc degree or transferring into the PhD program must attempt the qualifying exam before the end of the second semester as a Ph.D. candidate. If a student does not complete their first attempt of the qualifying exam by the end of the second semester, they will receive an unsatisfactory for their first attempt (see Evaluation of the Qualifying Exam).

In the event that the student is unsuccessful in their first attempt of the qualifying exam, the second attempt must be completed before the end of the third semester. If a student has transferred into the PhD program, they may apply to transfer back to the MSc program if they fail their first attempt of the qualifying exam. If the student is unsuccessful in their second qualifying attempt they must withdraw from the PhD program and they are ineligible to transfer back to the MSc program.

If there are special circumstances preventing a student from meeting these requirements, a letter from the supervisor describing the circumstances must be submitted to the Graduate Program Committee. The graduate program committee will then determine whether an extension is warranted.

The Qualifying Exam Proposal

The qualifying exam process is initiated by the student, who must submit a 1 page abstract of their intended proposal to their supervisory committee. An abstract form is available on this page. This 1 page abstract will contain a brief background or rationale for the project, a hypothesis, specific aims/objectives, a brief description of the experimental plan and a significance statement. If the supervisory committee approves the 1 page summary, the student will collect signatures from all committee members and then submit the signed summary page to the Department’s Graduate Secretary. Once an abstract is approved, the student has 6 weeks to submit the full written proposal to their supervisory committee.

The written proposal will be:

  • A maximum of 20 double-spaced pages (not including references or figures).
  • Each page will contain a maximum of 23 lines/page and a minimum font size of 12 points.
  • Each page will have 1 inch margins.
  • A maximum of 3 pages of appendices are permitted (can be used for figures, diagrams, etc.)

The written proposal should include relevant background information (~8-10 pages of the proposal), hypothesis, objectives/aims, experimental plan, overall significance of the proposal and a brief timeline for completion of the proposed experiments. The experimental plan must provide enough detail that the examination committee can determine whether or not the student understands the proposed experiments. The experimental plan should also include appropriate controls for the proposed experiments, the number of experimental replicates, and statistical analysis that may be used.

Evaluation of the Qualifying Exam

Each component of the qualifying exam (written proposal, seminar and oral examination) will be evaluated by each committee member. Each committee member will provide a brief statement regarding the acceptability of the seminar, written proposal, and oral examination on the provided Qualifying Examination Evaluation Form.

The student passes the Qualifying Exam if no more than one member of the examination committee votes unsatisfactory. An abstention is considered an unsatisfactory vote. If more than one member of the Examination Committee votes unsatisfactory, then it is deemed that the student has failed the Qualifying Exam. The Examination Committee will decide whether all or a portion of the written/oral examination should be repeated. The same Examination Committee will conduct the second examination.        

In the event that a student receives an unsatisfactory rating in their second attempt, the student must withdraw from the PhD program.


For more information on Graduate Studies, please contact our Graduate Program Assistant

Graduate Programs Services
Stewart Building #45, Room 2509