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Master's Thesis

Composition of Thesis Supervisory Committees

The Department of Biology appoints a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) for each candidate consisting of a supervisor and two additional members, chosen in consultation with the supervisor. At least one of the two additional members must be a member of the department. The supervisor and committee members must be members of the graduate faculty at Laurier.

Should it be deemed desirable to invite a member of the graduate faculty of another university (or another qualified individual) to act as a member of the thesis advisory committee, this person should function as a member of the committee so that no committee would consist of fewer than three members of the graduate faculty at Laurier. An appointment to graduate faculty may only be made by the dean of Graduate Studies upon receipt of a written recommendation from the department.

The dean of Graduate Studies shall be informed of the appointed thesis advisory committee membership as soon as the candidate's thesis topic is approved. Any change to the advisory committee composition must be made in writing to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (FGPS) office.

Monitoring of Graduate Student Progress

Students have a responsibility to maintain regular contact (i.e., at least monthly at the thesis stage) with their thesis supervisor.

Minimally, graduate students should meet with their Thesis Advisory Committees twice in the first year of the program and at least once per year thereafter. The initial committee meeting should be held within the first month of the student’s enrolment in the program, with subsequent meetings in by then end of the second (MSc proposal), in the fourth (progress update), and in the sixth (thesis defence) terms. A committee meeting should also be held when major changes to a student’s program are contemplated, such as a major change to the student’s proposed research project, or if the student is not meeting program expectations.

The first committee meeting should be used as an opportunity to introduce the student to the members of the committee, for the student to outline in brief the plans for the thesis research, and for the committee to recommend courses that the student should complete as part of the program. At the end of the meeting, the committee will establish a time frame for the student to complete a formal research proposal.

Graduate student committee meetings must be documented with the Graduate Student Progress Report Form. Graduate student progress is monitored by the Biology Graduate Studies Committee. Once a date and time have been chosen for a committee meeting, students should inform Graduate Program Assistant Melanie Whitwell, who can then assist with room bookings and preparation of meeting documentation.

The Graduate Student Progress Report Form should contain sufficient detail to fully document issues discussed, student progress in the program, courses completed or in progress, and anticipated deadlines for research and writing outcomes as determined during the committee meeting prior to all committee members signing the document. Graduate students should take the opportunity to officially document any of their concerns or respond to committee members’ comments on the form prior to signing it.

Note: When a graduate student’s progress has been deemed unsatisfactory, the committee will meet again within six months to evaluate the student’s progress. Students may be dismissed from the graduate program after two successive committee meetings in which their research progress is deemed to have been unsatisfactory.

All documents relating to student progress should be submitted to the administrative assistant, who will obtain the program officer’s signature, make copies for distribution to the student and committee members, and submit a copy to the FGPS for inclusion in the student’s official file.

Research Proposal

A research proposal must be written by the student and submitted to the thesis advisory committee. The proposal will normally be presented during the second term, but not later than the first half of the third term.

The proposal should comprise a body of 10–12 pages, references, tables, figures, details of methodology, and any necessary appendices.

An abstract is required. In the body of the document, the student should outline the relevant literature and rationale supporting the research; explain any hypotheses and predictions relevant to the study; outline the species that are the focus of the research and the rationale for choosing them; and give a general outline of the methods including facilities to be used and a rough timeline for the progress of the research. The proposal of the thesis should demonstrate how it fits within the objective of the program.

The document should be laid out as follows:

  • title page
  • body of the proposal
  • lay summary
  • references
  • tables
  • figures
  • additional methodological details
  • appendices

General 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 1/2 x 11 inches (21.5 cm x 28 cm), portrait format, with a single column, unless specified otherwise.
  • Set margins at 1 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.

Proposal Defence

Steps to follow:

  1. A master’s thesis proposal approval form is to be completed at the proposal defence (plus a Committee Report Form) and submitted with one hard copy (electronic copy will not be accepted) of the proposal to the FGPS via the Biology graduate administrative assistant, who will retain a copy of the form and proposal for the student’s file and send the originals on to FGPS.
  2. The MSc proposal is to be defended in an oral examination conducted by the thesis advisory committee; this will normally be the second committee meeting. The committee should receive the written proposal no less than one week prior to the examination. Failure to do so may result in the delaying of the proposal defence date.
  3. Proposal defences will be advertised within the department by the Biology graduate administrative assistant. All members of the department are invited to attend the first part of the defence. The committee in consultation with the student will decide if the audience may remain through the question period.
  4. At the examination, the student will make a short presentation (approximately 15-20 minutes) outlining the key details of the proposal. The committee members will then have an opportunity to question the candidate on the proposal. The committee members will agree to the order and duration of questioning prior to the beginning of the exam. At the end of the questioning, the committee will deliberate on the evaluation of the examination. There are three possible outcomes: satisfactory, marginal, and unsatisfactory. If the outcome is marginal, the student will normally be required to revise a section of the proposal. This may be completed in consultation with the members of the committee, and no further examination will be necessary. If the outcome is unsatisfactory, the student will be given an opportunity to rewrite and present the proposal for examination. The proposal defence is chaired by the student’s supervisor, and the examining committee is the TAC.  

Thesis Requirements

Acceptable Formats

The Department of Biology recommends that the text be organized into one of two formats that differ mainly in whether the information is arranged in a form publishable in biological journals or in a more traditional thesis style. In either case, there should be uniformity to the text, which should appear as one column, with a single font and a single size of font. The style, however, may be different if there is more than one manuscript included. The student must follow the below mentioned guidelines given by FGPS.

Thesis Style and Format Guidelines

  • The thesis must be double-spaced throughout.
  • Print size: standard throughout and not less than 11 point.
  • Paper used for the final copies should be 8.5 x 11 inches, 20 lb or similar equivalent. Paper used for the defence copies may be of a lighter weight, but must be 8.5 x 11 inches. Acceptable printers include laser and ink-jet.
  • Copies prepared for the defence may be double-sided, however, final copies must be single-sided.
  • The left margin must be a minimum of 1.5 inches to allow for binding. All other margins must be a minimum of one inch.
  • The first line of every paragraph should be indented five spaces.
  • Abbreviations may be used (if conventional in the particular discipline) but must be defined the first time they are used.
  • If there are alternative correct spellings of a particular word, either form may be used, but such use must be consistent throughout the thesis.
  • The thesis pages should be numbered in consecutive order with Arabic numerals, starting with the first page of text and continuing through to the last page of the entire thesis, including endnotes/footnotes, appendices and references. Pages preceding the text, starting with the first page of the abstract should be numbered consecutively with lower case Roman numerals.
  • The title page of the thesis must contain the Universal Copyright Notice ©.

Format Outlines

Below are the gross outlines, which must be followed for either of the two formats the student will have chosen.

Traditional format:

  • title page
  • abstract (350 words)
  • co-authorship (if necessary)
  • acknowledgements
  • table of contents
  • list of tables
  • list of figures and illustrations
  • ch. 1: general introduction
  • ch. 2: literature review (may be included in introduction)
  • ch. 3: materials and methods
  • ch. 4-n: results
  • ch. n+1: discussion
  • summary
  • literature cited
  • appendices

Manuscript or publication format:

  • title page
  • abstract (350 words max.)
  • co-authorship (if necessary)
  • acknowledgements
  • table of contents
  • list of tables
  • list of figures and illustrations
  • ch. 1: general introduction / literature review
  • ch. 2-n: manuscripts
  • ch. n+1: general discussion
  • summary (may be in chapters)
  • literature cited
  • appendices

Cover Page



(full name of the author)

(undergraduate degree, university, year)


Submitted to the Department of Biology

Faculty of Science

in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the

Master of Science in Integrative Biology

Wilfrid Laurier University


(name of author) 201_©  

Manuscript Format

Theses prepared using this format should generally conform to the style required for submission to the prospective journal. The Literature Cited section may be collected in one section at the end of the thesis or at the end of each manuscript. In addition, Figures and Tables should be numbered (Figure 3.1 etc.) to conform to Chapter numbers.

Manuscripts included as Chapters may be review, theoretical or data papers organized as required by the appropriate journals. The General Introduction should outline the subject and background for the research and indicate how the manuscripts are related to one another in addressing the subject of the thesis. Manuscript titles can be used as chapter titles. The General Introduction and Literature Review may be combined and it should have a broader perspective than the Data Chapters themselves. The General Discussion should briefly discuss the contributions to the field made by this work, highlighting the major findings and tying the Chapters together. In this discussion, a short section must be included outlining the link of the thesis research to other research done in the supervisor’s lab, in other labs at WLU or even in labs elsewhere. This section should be written in the context of integrative biology. The Summary (usually one or two pages) should list, numerically, the main subject and findings from the thesis research.

The student must be first author on the majority of manuscripts included in the thesis. Manuscripts on which the supervisor or another person is first author may be included in the thesis. Theses containing manuscripts that are included in another individual’s publication or thesis, or co-authored, must include a detailed statement in the General Introduction stating the student’s contribution to the work.

Copyright and the Graduate Student

Graduate students should be cognizant of Canadian copyright law especially with regards to their own works. Students who want to use material in their thesis or dissertation from their own previously published works must maintain copyright when the work is published. Publication agreements are signed between authors and publishers before a work is distributed. Students will need to ensure that the copyright transfer agreement does not transfer the right of copyright to the publisher. Most publishers will waive this agreement when asked. If you have already published your work without maintaining copyright and wish to include material from the already published work in your thesis or dissertation, you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holder, usually the publisher, to publish the material in your thesis or dissertation. By maintaining your own copyright over material you have created, you maintain the right to reproduce the work and to make derivative works. You may choose to publish your work in an open access venue where a Creative Commons license agreement ( allows you to maintain copyright. Be aware of your rights. You may have to sign a document to publish in your work but you do not have to include the transfer of copyright agreement.

Graduate students who use third party materials (someone else’s work) in their thesis or dissertation including figure(s), image(s), photo(s), graphic(s) and so forth, will require permission from the copyright holder. Just because the material is freely available on the Internet does not mean that the copyright or license agreement is not held by someone else you may be required to attribute the work to.

As of June 2, 2014, all graduate students in our department are required to submit their master's theses electronically. Students will deposit a Microsoft Word or PDF version of their thesis to Scholars Commons @ Laurier, Laurier’s institutional repository, where it will be made openly accessible to researchers worldwide. Currently, all theses and dissertations are made available online through Library and Archives Canada and subscription databases. However, making scholarship open access eliminates price barriers for both individuals and organizations and reaches a much wider audience than is allowed by traditional forms of distribution. A step-by-step guide for the submission of the electronic copy is available both as a PDF document and a screen cast. For further information, visit Scholars Commons @ Laurier.

Oral Examinations

The purpose of the oral defence of a master's thesis is to demonstrate to the examiners that the candidate fully understands the work that was completed, how the research was completed, and the meaning and significance of the findings and conclusions. The candidate must also have a clear understanding of how the work fits with the relevant literature and/or practice.

The defence shall not cover general course work unless it relates to the thesis in some definite way.

Procedures for Scheduling of the Oral Defence

  1. Obtain written approval of the TAC to schedule the Oral Defence and survey the committee for availability.
  2. Notify the Biology graduate administrative assistant of the intention and request a room booking for this purpose. The admin. assistant will ensure that the Master’s Thesis Defence: Request to Schedule Oral Examination form is completed prior to scheduling the defence date, and will hand it to student to obtain all signatures.
  3. The candidate is responsible for ensuring that the thesis is submitted in the format required by the current Laurier thesis format guidelines. The candidate is also responsible for ensuring that all members of the TEC have received a copy of the thesis two weeks prior to the defence.
  4. Provide two additional copies to the Biology office for distribution to the external examiner and the defence chair. It is the responsibility of this office to distribute these copies; however, the costs associated with printing the thesis are to be covered by the student and/or the thesis advisor.

Guidelines for Determining "Arm's Length" of External Examiners

An external examiner must be at “arm’s length” from the candidate and the DA. Arm’s length means not being a close friend, a regular or current collaborator, a former supervisor, or a former colleague. It also means not being in a conflict-of-interest position with regard to the candidate or DA and not having a vested interest in the outcome of the oral defence. If in doubt, consult the program officer.

The Examination Committee

The Examination Committee (TEC) must consist of all the members of the TAC and an external examiner who is knowledgeable on the subject of the thesis. The external examiner must be approved by the graduate coordinator. Normally, at least one member of the TEC must be from outside the academic unit/program of the candidate. Thus, if all members of the TAC are internal to the candidate’s academic unit/program, the external examiner may not be. When the external examiner must come from outside Biology, normally this person will be a faculty member from another Laurier department. Where there is no available faculty member with requisite expertise in another department at Laurier, a suitable member of another nearby university may be asked to serve as external examiner. The chairperson for the defence, appointed by the Biology department, must be a member of the graduate faculty of the university and be external to the TEC, but may come from within Biology.

Conduct of the Oral Defence and Role of the Chairperson

The chairperson must assume the responsibility of becoming familiar with the content of the thesis, thereby assuring that the thesis examination is fair. A document entitled "Procedures for Conducting Oral Defence Examinations of Master's Theses" is available from the FGPS office. However, the Biology admin. assistant will make them available to the chair.

The defence begins with a 18-20 minute summary of the thesis by the candidate. This presentation should conclude with a statement in which the candidate indicates the most significant contribution of the thesis to knowledge. Following the presentation, the candidate will be questioned by the members of the examining committee following the rules set out by the chairperson prior to the start of the defence. The chairperson is not a member of the examining committee per se, and should not, normally, address questions to the candidate about the thesis. The examination should normally be completed within 1.5 to 2 hours.

Following the questioning the candidate will be excused from the room while the committee deliberates. The chairperson does not have a vote. The following three decisions are available to the committee:

  • Acceptance:
    • unconditional
    • with editorial changes
    • with minor substantive changes
  • Decision Deferred: This option is selected when the thesis has not been adequately defended or when the thesis requires major revisions. The committee will specify the length of time of the deferral, and the work that must be completed in order for the thesis to be accepted. The committee may require a second defence.
  • Unconditional Failure: The student's candidacy will be terminated. The student may petition for readmission to write a new thesis.

Once the committee has made a decision, the candidate will be informed of the decision and will be given an opportunity to offer any comments about the defence, especially with regard to the fairness of the examination and the findings.                

The student will be asked to make the appropriate corrections. Once these are done, the supervisor (or a person named by the committee) will accept the thesis as it is. Four (4) hard copies of the thesis will be submitted to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies office for binding and an electronic copy (as a PDF file) will be submitted to the Laurier Library. In both cases, you will have to sign a license agreement allowing the copies to be accessed for scholarly research.

Contact Us:

Melanie Whitwell, Senior Administrative Assistant

T: 519.884.0710 x2905
Office Location: Bricker Academic Building, Room BA401, Waterloo campus