Skip to main content

Proposal and Qualifying Exam

The research proposal and qualifying exam are required of PhD candidates to demonstrate broad knowledge in their research area in addition to their specific research topic. They are normally completed in the fourth and not later than the fifth term after entering the program. Students should register in BH810: Research Proposal and Qualifying Examination during the term that they intend to defend the proposal and undertake the qualifying exam.

Qualifying Exam Committee

An impartial chair for the research proposal and qualifying exam is appointed by the program coordinator and must be a member of the graduate faculty of the university. The exam is performed in the presence of the Qualifying Exam Committee (QEC), which is composed of the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) and one member external to the committee, who may be a faculty member from outside the program. The external examiner of the QEC is approved by the program coordinator after consultation with the DAC. There is to be no direct contact with the student prior to the exam.

Approximately eight weeks (i.e. between weeks seven and nine) before the date of the examination, the student submits a written research proposal outlining the planned dissertation research and its interdisciplinary nature, and includes which area(s) of the program’s research strengths (Environment and Health, Biotic Interactions, Structure and Reactivity) their research falls into. Also at this time, the QEC decides the areas of knowledge with which the student will be expected to be familiar, and the committee distributes the particular areas or topics to each member. QEC members also provide the student with direction regarding appropriate resources. The student may then contact each committee member to discuss the topics in more detail.​

Presentation Guidelines for the Written Proposal

  • Print must be in black ink and of letter quality.
  • Text must be double-spaced, 12-point font.
  • Use white paper, 8.5 x 11 inches (21.5 cm x 28 cm), portrait format, with a single column, unless specified otherwise.
  • Set margins at one inch (2.5 cm) all around.
  • Enter your name and an abbreviated title in the header of every page.
  • Number your pages sequentially.
  • Print on one side of the page only.

Parts of the Proposal and Exam

The examination will be divided into two parts:

Presentation and Defence of Research Proposal

Presentation and defence of the research proposal will constitute the first part of the exam. In this part of the exam, the student gives an oral presentation of 20-25 minutes summarizing the research proposal, which will be followed by a period for questions from members of the audience, excluding the QEC.

Two Rounds of Questions

The second part of the examination will consist of two rounds of questions from the QEC to the candidate, and will be performed in camera in the presence of the QEC and the chair. Each round of questions should not normally exceed 60 minutes, meaning the total time for the examination should be two-and-a-half to three hours. The first round of questions should be directly related to the research proposal. The second round of questions from the QEC constitutes the “qualifying” portion of the exam, and should be related to topics chosen by the QEC in advance of the examination.

Pass, Fail or Deferred Decision

Based on the candidate’s defence of his/her research proposal and responses to questions, the QEC will render a pass/fail/deferred decision on the exam. Students must pass the research proposal and qualifying exam in order to continue in the program. Students will gain 0.5 credit if they pass both aspects of the qualifying exam (i.e., research proposal and assigned areas of knowledge)​.

If the student’s performance is deemed to be unsatisfactory (failed decision), the examination must be repeated no later than six months from the date of the first examination. Based on the candidate’s second defence of his/her research proposal and responses to questions, the QEC will render a pass/fail decision on the exam. If the student does not receive a pass following the second examination, the program coordinator will recommend to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies that the student withdraw from the PhD program.​​​

Chair Guidelines

The purpose of the PhD Research Proposal and Qualifying Exam (hereafter “the exam”) is to demonstrate to the members of the QEC that the candidate fully demonstrates broad knowledge in their research area in addition to their specific research topic.

The exam is normally two and one-half to three hours in duration and is conducted by the chairperson. Any member of the university community is entitled to attend the first part of the exam (Presentation and Defence of the Research Proposal), but the chair has the authority to exclude persons whose conduct disturbs the exam procedures. Nonmembers of the university community may attend the first part of the exam but must receive the permission of the candidate, the thesis advisor, and the chair of the exam.