PhD Regulations and Information

Two students sitting and talking

PhD Comprehensive Exams

PhD students in Arts programs at the University of Waterloo are normally required to successfully complete the PhD Comprehensive Exam milestone. The exceptions are Philosophy and Psychology, where courses ensure breadth coverage, and Economics where doctoral students write Qualifying exams as a cohort.

PhD Comprehensive Examination Milestone

Comprehensive exams serve multiple purposes, specifically to ensure that:

  • PhD students have the appropriate academic background – a foundation and breadth of knowledge in the field of study – to be successful in their PhD program;
  • PhD students have the capacity to engage in scholarly communications – both oral and written – necessary to be successful in their PhD studies;
  • PhD students have developed a novel research topic to be evaluated during their PhD studies.

Comprehensive Examination timing

Students admitted to the PhD program from a completed Master’s degree must complete their Comprehensive Exams by the end of the seventh term of their PhD program. 

Students should consult their departmental websites for more specific information about the exams in their particular doctoral programs.

Students who have previously completed studies in a PhD program at another university are required to successfully complete the Comprehensive Exam in their University of Waterloo doctoral program.

Students who anticipate not meeting these requirements may seek an extension to the deadline to complete the Comprehensive Exam. The student is required to submit a petition providing evidence of extenuating circumstances to the student's Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.  

In extenuating circumstances, students may petition for an extension of the time limits for completing the Comprehensive Examination. Petitions are to include proper documentation and justification of the reason for the extension request. Students who wish to petition on the basis of medical grounds, must register with AccessAbility Services and provide them with all required medical documentation. Medical documentation should not to be provided to your Department. AccessAbility Services will determine if the medical condition justifies an accommodation. Petitions must include a plan and timeline for Comprehensive Exam completion and an account of the extenuating circumstances.

PhD Defence Guidelines

Defence room - PAS 2464

The dissertation defence is the final requirement of your doctoral studies.  PhD candidates are judged not only on their written submission (their PhD thesis or dissertation), but also on their ability to defend it during an oral examination.  In the Faculty of Arts, PhD defences can take place in one of three ways: an in-person defence, a remote defence, or a hybrid defence where some examination committee members are in person and others join remotely.  Both in person and hybrid defences take place in the PhD Defence Room – PAS 2464.  The defence room is equipped with a large board table and excellent technology to ensure all participants (whether in person or remote) can see and hear the candidate’s presentation as well as the questions from the committee members.  Washrooms (including a designated all gender multi-stall bathroom) are located just outside the Defence room. 

The defence room can also be used for writing Comprehensive Exams – there are multiple computer stations that are unconnected to the Internet, which means students can write their exams in a quiet space and with integrity.  If you will soon be defending your doctoral work, be sure to come and check out the Arts PhD Defence Room.

Preparing for a thesis defence

Once the supervisory committee has approved a final draft, the student's supervisor should send it to the department's Associate Chair, Graduate Studies, along with the following:

  • ranked list of internal/external reviewers and external reviewers. The lists should include short biographical details and contact information for each individual. Conflict of interest rules apply to the selection of all reviewers. Guidelines are posted on the GSPA's PhD Thesis Examination Regulations.
  • a list of available dates and times that the candidate and the supervisory committee have agreed will suit for the defence. Please keep in mind that the defence could be carried out in person, remotely or hybrid and that we are likely to be dealing with several people located in several time zones. Note as well, that the defence must be scheduled within the operating hours of the university -- from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Waterloo time -- because we rely on technical support as well as our faculty colleagues to chair the defence.
  • The department Associate Chair, Graduate Studies confirms the appointment of the internal/external and external reviewers. If the department Associate Chair is also the supervisor, this step will be done by the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
  • Department graduate coordinator checks the availability of PAS 2464 (if needed) and books the room for the defence and sends the Graduate Studies and Research Officer, the online form for the PhD Dissertation Defence Memo, External examiner CV, digital copy of the dissertation, and a contact list for the defence participants. 
  • Defences can be held remotely, in-person or hybrid. For hybrid defences, we recommend the use of room PAS 2464.

Defence Timeline

We recommend that Arts students refer to the PhD Thesis Defence Backwards Planning Tool Faculty of Arts.

General PhD Thesis Information