Guidelines for the PhD Candidacy Exam

Students must complete a PhD Candidacy Exam and register in BISC 892 PhD Graduate Candidacy Exam in the semester the exam is to be completed. The exam is normally taken prior to the end of the 4th semester (2nd semester after transfer from MSc).  See candidacy exam information below.

Purposes of a Candidacy Exam

  1. To stimulate preparation and defense of the written research proposal
  2. To ensure that you have sufficient knowledge of the relevant literature and background information
  3. To identify areas of weakness in the discipline or in the subject matter relevant to your general field of research and to permit the examining panel to recommend courses or reading well before the time of the defense
  4. To ensure that you are able to pursue and complete original research at an advanced level
  5. Only minor attention is given to work already done on the candidate's thesis

Paperwork for the PhD Candidacy Exam must be received by the Graduate Program Assistant 4 weeks before your exam.  Please contact the Graduate Program Assistant for the 'Step-by-step' guidelines. 

Composition of the Examining Panel

The examining panel is composed of the advisory committee, a faculty member external to the advisory committee to act as external examiner, and a member of the DGSC to act as chair.  The external examiner is chosen by the senior supervisor, in consultation with the DGSC.  For some candidates an external examiner from outside the department might be suitable. The external examiner should have some degree of expertise in your general area of research, and be able to provide an independent assessment of you as a candidate, but should not have attended any previous committee meetings.

Format of a Candidacy Exam

  1. Normally an oral exam of not more than 2 hours duration, closed to the public.
  2. Normally taken prior to end of 4th semester (2nd semester after transfer from M.Sc.).
  3. The examining committee should be provided with an original research proposal foryour intended doctoral research two weeks prior to the exam. The proposal should take the general form and approach of an NSERC Operating Grant Proposal; however, do NOT use any NSERC forms, and there is no need to refer to any NSERC materials; simply follow the guidelines described below.
        The proposal should include discussion of relevant background literature, a clear explanation of the rationale for the proposed research, presentation of     methodology to be used, and an explanation of how the results of the work should contribute to progress in the field. Progress to date and preliminary     results may also be included. A separate one‑page document outlining a research budget may be required at the discretion of the advisory committee.
        The proposal should be five pages maximum in length (not including references), with at least a 1 inch margin on all sides, in 12 point font. Any material     beyond five pages will be discarded and not considered.
  4. The exam will begin with a short (10-15 min) summary of the proposed research. Questioning by the panel follows. The exam will concentrate on the student's area of research. See section on "Nature of the Questioning" below for more details about questioning. After the questioning, the candidate retires and the committee considers the performance of the candidate and the quality of the proposal.
  5. Under the guidance of the Chair, the committee reaches a consensus and the exam is graded ‘Acceptable’, ‘Acceptable after conditions listed below are met’, ‘Re‑evaluation required’, or ‘Not acceptable’. ‘Not acceptable’ is only used for an unacceptable second exam.
    (5a).    Acceptable can include recommendations for additional work.  Course work or directed study may be suggested.
    (5b).    Acceptable after the conditions listed below are met should be used when the Examining Committee requires additional course work, directed study, or revisions to the proposal or other work, but no re-examination is necessary. In this case, the DGSC will approve the examination when the Senior Advisor indicates that the required work has been completed.
    (5c).    Re‑evaluation would require a second candidacy exam within 6 months. This grading is to be used following the first candidacy exam when there are substantial problems with the student's background preparation and/or research proposal.
    (5d).    If you receive a Not acceptable rating following the second defense you will not be permitted to continue in a Ph.D. program, except under unusual circumstances.

Nature of the Questioning

The following could serve as guidelines for posing questions and for appraising the candidate.

  1. Has the student satisfactorily demonstrated how the proposed research logically follows from existing scientific knowledge and previous investigations in the subdiscipline?
  2. Has the student satisfactorily demonstrated how the proposed research will contribute to the advancement of science in the particular subdiscipline?
  3. Is the candidate familiar with relevant literature?
  4. Are the objectives of the research clearly defined and achievable?
  5. Has the candidate demonstrated sufficient knowledge of experimental design, data collection and methods of analysis to ensure completion of the research program?
  6. Is the time envisioned to complete the research program realistic?
  7. Does the candidate possess sufficient skills in written and verbal communication to complete Ph.D. dissertation requirements?
  8. Does the candidate have sufficient knowledge of the discipline?
  9. Does the student need to improve his/her understanding of subject matter related to his/her general field of research?
  10. On the whole, is the student able to pursue and complete original research at an advanced level?