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Biological Sciences Policy on Completion Times and Thesis Lengths
The most important goal of the Biological Sciences graduate programs is excellence in research training, mentorship, and discoveries. The main purpose of this policy is to set norms or expectations for completion times and for thesis or project lengths that nudge most students toward short theses and fast completion but allow flexibility for students and supervisors to achieve excellence in a way that best suits each student’s goals and circumstances. A second purpose of this policy is to promote short completion times and high graduation rates that will improve funding to support all Biological Sciences graduate students and will allow our department to admit and supervise as many excellent students and thesis projects as possible.
This policy was developed in response to the 2022 external reviewers’ recommendations. Important context for this policy includes the completion time requirements and funding eligibility rules set by the Faculty of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, as well as variation in research traditions and subdisciplines among current department members.
The thesis or project should be completed and defended in no more than the time needed to carry out the planned research to a high standard of excellence and meet the other thesis or project criteria. Important time limits include:
• the 6-semester (MPM, MSc) or 12-semester guaranteed funding period (PhD) (set by BISC);
• the 9- (Master’s) or 15-semester (PhD) limit on eligibility for graduate fellowships (GPS);
• the 9- or 18-semester limit for defense and graduation (SFU); and
• the 6-semester limit on extensions (maximum 15 or 24 semesters in the program; SFU).
• a Master’s thesis or project should be completed & defended in ≤9 semesters; and
• a PhD thesis should be completed & defended in ≤15 semesters.
Students and supervisors are urged to discuss these expectations when the supervisory committee is formed, compare progress against these expectations at each annual committee meeting, give a realistic evaluation of that progress in each annual progress report, and adjust mentoring and goals to meet these expectations whenever possible.
THESIS OR PROJECT LENGTHS
The thesis or project should satisfy three criteria: (i) the work should be excellent; (ii) the effort and achievements should satisfy the minimum expectations for a graduate degree in Biological Sciences and in the student’s subdiscipline; and (iii) the achievements should satisfy the student’s aspirations for breadth and depth of research training and experience. Within the space defined by those criteria, thesis or project length may vary among students in different subdisciplines or among students with different research training goals or career aspirations.
• Normally a Master’s thesis (MPM, MSc) or project (MET) should consist of a single study organized into 1 or more chapters consistent with norms for the subdiscipline and with the organization of the study. Students who aspire to carry out >1 related studies will be expected to complete and defend the thesis in ≤9 semesters (the normal time limit). Students and supervisors who plan a thesis with >1 studies or chapters that requires an extension past 9 semesters will be required to give in the APR a convincing justification for that plan.
• Normally a PhD thesis should consist of 3 or 4 related studies organized into several chapters consistent with norms for the subdiscipline and with the organization of the studies or thesis. In some subdisciplines or for some students, a thesis consisting of fewer distinct projects or fewer chapters may satisfy the criteria for excellence. Students and supervisors who plan a thesis with >4 related studies or projects will be expected to complete and defend the thesis in ≤15 semesters. Students and supervisors who plan a thesis with >4 studies or chapters that requires an extension past 18 semesters will be required to give in the APR a convincing justification for that plan.
All students will normally be required to form the supervisory committee and meet with committee members before the end of the 2nd semester. That meeting should include a discussion of the student’s plan for thesis research and a review of the requirements set out in this policy.
At the first annual committee meeting (normally before the end of the 4th semester), the committee members and student are required to discuss the training aspirations of the student and agree on a plan for research. That first annual progress report (APR) should include a provisional list of topics for individual research projects (e.g., titles of thesis chapters) and a provisional date by which the student plans to defend the thesis. Those aspirations, topics, and dates should be revisited and updated as necessary in each subsequent APR. Students are encouraged to ask for meetings with committee members more than once per year as needed or desired, and supervisors are urged to make themselves available to meet with students as often as asked or needed. Frequent conversations about goals and progress should be the norm.
Before the end of the 6th (MET, MPM, MSc) or 12th semester (PhD), students and supervisors are expected to have either a plan for a defense in the coming 12 months or a convincing justification in the next APR for continuing in the program past 9 or 15 semesters. Master’s students with >1 thesis chapters nearing completion are expected to transfer to the PhD program before the end of the 6th semester or defend a Master’s thesis before the end of the 9th semester.
Students and supervisors are urged to meet these expectations. Shorter completion times benefit students and supervisors by increasing our BASS funding, our financial support for current students, and our ability to admit and mentor new students.
Admission of new MPM, MSc, or PhD student applicants may be limited for supervisors of students who are on extensions past 9 or 18 semesters:
• A supervisor with 1 current MPM, MSc, or PhD student on an extension may normally admit only 1 additional student into any of those programs until the supervisor no longer has any students on extension; and
• A supervisor may normally admit no new students into those programs if 2 or more other students in those programs are on extensions.