Summer 2024 - EASC 910 G100

PhD Candidacy Examination

Class Number: 1263

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Location: TBA

  • Prerequisites:

    Enrollment in PhD program.



Candidates must pass an oral examination to demonstrate their ability to carry out the proposed thesis research. The examination comprises an oral presentation of the proposed research to an open audience, followed by a closed oral examination by the examining committee. The examination is usually taken prior to the end of the fourth term of enrollment, or within one term after transferring from the MSc program. It may not be taken more than twice. Graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.



PURPOSE: Candidates must pass an oral examination intended to assess their potential to carry out the proposed thesis research, as demonstrated by sufficient command of the studied discipline(s) and an ability to explain and defend a written thesis proposal.

PROCEDURE (see also Logistics below): Several months before the examination, the student and supervisor will agree upon two or three subject areas of focus normally related to the proposed research. The student will submit a written thesis proposal to the Examining Committee prior to the examination. The senior supervisor will inform the committee members of the focus areas and ensure that each member of the Examining Committee understands their responsibility in covering these areas. The Examining Committee includes the Supervisory Committee plus one External Examiner, who may be another departmental faculty member not on the Supervisory Committee. The strict arm’s-length requirements for External Examiners on the PhD defense do not apply to the candidacy examination.

The examination itself comprises a 20-minute oral presentation by the candidate to an open audience, followed by a brief opportunity for questions from the audience. A closed oral examination by the Examining Committee follows, where only the candidate, Examining Committee members and Chair are present. The Chair will normally be the EASC Graduate Program Chair or a designate. The Chair is not a member of the Examining Committee and does not ask questions or vote on the outcome of the examination. Prior to questioning from the Examining Committee, the Chair will remind the committee of the subject areas of focus agreed upon in advance.

The examination itself will be divided into two roughly equal parts, each comprising at least one round of questions from the committee: (1) an examination of the candidate’s background in the designated focus areas and (2) an examination of the candidate’s ability to explain and defend the thesis proposal. During the closed portion of the examination, the candidate must demonstrate graduate-level command of the focus areas and the potential to carry out independent doctoral-level research. The length of time for questioning by the committee is not defined, but will normally be 1.5 to 2.5 hours.
The outcome of the examination is summarized in a formatted report to be completed by the supervisor, in consultation with the Examining Committee (see below). This report identifies areas of strength and weakness in the candidate’s preparation and performance and may prescribe remedial action, especially in the case of an unsatisfactory outcome.

ASSESSMENT: The exam is graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory by majority vote (greater than 50%) of the Examining Committee. Students with an unsatisfactory outcome must pass a second examination within six months. A second unsatisfactory outcome will result in withdrawal from the program.

TIMING: Students entering the program with a Master’s degree normally complete the examination within the 4th term of enrolment and must do so by the end of the 5th term. Students entering with a Bachelor’s degree are permitted two additional terms, while those transferring from the MSc program must complete the examination by the end of the 2nd term of enrolment in the PhD program. Except under extenuating circumstances, failure to complete the exam within the required time frame will result in the student being withdrawn from the program. The objective of this timing is to ensure that students will have completed their required coursework and will have formulated a well-developed thesis proposal. Preparation for the candidacy exam, including the development of the written proposal, should require an effort similar to that of a graduate course.


1.   Student and Supervisory Committee: Agree upon two or three subject areas of focus for examination several months before the examination date. Focus areas are intended to have an intermediate breadth. They may be, for example, topics that would be treated in part or all of an advanced course or textbook. The committee is encouraged to guide the student toward appropriate background materials (e.g. course notes, books, literature) to study in preparation for the exam.  

2.   Supervisor: Identify an External Examiner for the candidacy exam.

3.   Student and Supervisor: Agree upon a date and time in consultation with the Examining Committee members. Inform the External Examiner of the subject areas of focus and ensure that each Committee Member understands their responsibility with respect to these areas.

4.   Supervisor: Request an Examination Chair through the Graduate Committee.

5.   Student and/or Supervisor: Request a room booking through the Graduate Secretary.

6.   Student: At least two weeks prior to the examination date:
  • Fill out Part I of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination Form and obtain supervisor signature, deliver to Graduate Secretary and circulate to Examining Committee
  • Provide the Examining Committee with a copy of the thesis proposal
  • Provide the Graduate Secretary with a hard copy of the thesis proposal for display in the EASC General Office
7.   Graduate Secretary:  When the date, time and room booking have been confirmed, and Part 1 of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination Form has been received, send an email including the student name, thesis proposal title, the subject areas of focus, examination date, time and location, and names of Examining Committee members and Chair to:
          easc-grads       (EASC graduate students)
          easc-info          (EASC undergraduates & other interested parties)
          earth-science   (EASC faculty & staff)
          External Examiner if external to EASC

8.   Graduate Secretary:  At least one week prior to the examination:
  • Create a poster for front door
  • Send a reminder email to:
         easc-grads       (EASC graduate students)
         easc-info          (EASC undergraduates & other interested parties)
         earth-science   (EASC faculty & staff)

9.   Supervisor:  After the examination, electronically fill out Part II of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination Form, including the outcome (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), a summary of the examination, including identified strengths and weakness and any recommendations for remedial action. Circulate the form for input, and then for signatures or approval by email. Deliver the signed/approved form to the Graduate Secretary.

10.   Graduate Secretary: Retain the copy of the thesis proposal as a resource for other students. Place a copy of the Thesis Proposal and the completed Doctoral Candidacy Examination Form (Parts I and II) in the student’s departmental file. Forward a copy of the completed Doctoral Candidacy Examination Form to the student. If the outcome of the examination is satisfactory, ensure that student receives credit for completion of EASC 910.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university.