Ph.D. Qualifying Examination Guidelines

  • A graduate student registered in the Ph.D. program becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. degree only after successfully passing the Qualifying Examination.

  • The Qualifying Examination is scheduled whenever the graduate student feels that he/she is ready to be examined, subject to the following conditions:

    1. The Qualifying Examination must be taken no later than 18 months after registration in the Ph.D. program;

    2. A student who transfers from an M.Sc. to Ph.D. program prior to the completion of the M.Sc. program must take the Qualifying Examination within 6 months of changeover from M.Sc. to Ph.D.

  • The Qualifying Examination Board consists of the Advisory Committee of the Ph.D. student and a Chair. The Chair will be determined by the departmental Graduate Committee.

  • The Ph.D. student should inform the Graduate Chair and the Graduate Coordinator of his/her intention to take the Qualifying Examination and the approximate date. In scheduling the exam, the student must accommodate all members of the Qualifying Examination Board.

  • The student must prepare a thesis proposal, with an introduction, work already completed, and a plan of research to be carried out. The proposal should normally be four to five pages long (but not longer than 10 pages) and should have a short bibliography. Five weeks prior to the exam date, copies are to be distributed to the Graduate Chair, Academic Program Coordinator, Supervisor and all Members of the Advisory Committee.

  • Approximately one week after the distribution of the proposal, the Ph.D. student may meet members of the Qualifying Examination Board individually to discuss the broad areas on which he/she is expected to have comprehension and knowledge.

  • The procedures of the Qualifying Examination will be an informal variation of a Thesis Examination. The student will present a brief (20 minute maximum) account of the research already carried out, work in progress and a timeline towards completion. After the talk, the student will be asked questions by members of the Qualifying Examination Board, on the core subjects as well as peripheral areas relevant to the thesis topic, approximately 15 minutes each on the first round. The Chair may ask his/her own questions, as well as ask for elucidation or clarification of answers to questions from other members of the Qualifying Examination Board. Subsequent question rounds are allowed until the Qualifying Examination Board is satisfied.

  • At the conclusion of the questions, the student is requested to leave the room. The Board will discuss the performance of the student and a decision will be taken by majority vote. The Chair cannot vote except in the case of a tie vote. The decision of the Qualifying Examination Board can be:

    1. The student is declared passed and officially becomes a Doctoral Candidate (see PASSED EXAM below);

    2. The student is declared as having failed the Qualifying Examination (see FAILED EXAM below).


A student may be declared:

a) passed without recommendations, or
b) passed with recommendations for further study in weak areas identified during the exam.

In the latter case, the Chair will provide in writing to the student what remedial action is recommended and it will be the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that these actions are carried out prior to the thesis defence.


The Chair must provide a failed student with the reasons for failure and recommended remedial actions, which may include a list of undergraduate or graduate courses to be taken, and/or a list of texts/research papers to be studied.

A failed student is allowed a second opportunity to appear for the Qualifying Examination within six months of the initial Qualifying Exam. A grace period may be allowed if additional courses are recommended but are not offered during this period.

A student who fails the Qualifying Examination a second time will be required to either withdraw from the Ph.D. program or downgrade to a M.Sc. program.

Officially adopted by the Graduate Committee on November 3, 2009