Appendix I: Thesis Proposal Guidelines

I. Thesis Proposal Requirement

As a graduate student in the Department of Biology, you are required to write and defend a thesis proposal. This requirement has been formalized as a milestone credit. The thesis proposal is most helpful when it is completed in the first term, especially for M.Sc. students, but it must be completed by the end of the second term of your graduate program at the latest. For Ph.D. students this requirement must be completed no later than the end of the third term of your graduate program.

For students that transfer into the Ph.D. this requirement must be completed no later than the end of the sixth term of your graduate program.

II. Evaluation of the Thesis Proposal

The purpose of the thesis proposal is to clearly identify the scientific question(s) that will be the focus of your graduate research, explain why the question(s) are important, and describe how you will go about answering them. Your Graduate Supervisory Committee will evaluate the written proposal, which they should receive at least two weeks before the thesis proposal meeting. The examination normally consists of a short (20 minute) oral presentation followed by questions from the committee. Spectators are permitted to attend the examination and are entitled to ask reasonable questions after the committee has finished its questioning. The committee will take both your written and oral presentation, as well as your responses to all questions into account in reaching its decision. The decision may be (i) pass, or (ii) deferred. A deferred decision requires a written explanation by the committee and a fixed date for a revised proposal and subsequent examination. Decisions cannot be deferred a second time, a failure at the second meeting will require withdrawal from the program.

At the examination you should show the committee that you have suitable knowledge of your field, including the scientific context of the work, understanding of the necessary methods, and a credible plan for bringing the project to completion within the time limits for your program. The depth and sophistication of both knowledge and study design is naturally expected to differ between M.Sc. and Ph.D. proposals. Both should include clearly identified questions, or hypotheses, and an explanation of how the questions will be addressed. The committee will also expect to see a defined time-line, showing the major milestones and planned completion dates for your project. Any progress in your research should also be included in your proposal.

III. Thesis Proposal Format

A model for the thesis proposal includes the following sections:

1.Introduction and review of prior knowledge. This would typically take the form of a concise literature review to show that you know the background for your work and to show the reader the context and importance of your questions. You want the review to be up-to-date and representative of the field; it should not be limited to the writings of those associated with just one or two research groups.

2. Objectives of proposed research. Include long- and short-term objectives and testable hypotheses.

3. Proposed experiments.

4.Milestones/Time line. Provide a term-by-term list of objectives for your planned graduate program, including coursework, important goals for your experiments, data analysis and writing and defense of the thesis.

5. Research progress to date. A separate section to describe your own contributions to date may be appropriate. In other cases, it may be necessary only to indicate how you have managed to progress relative to the time line for your project.

The completed thesis proposal should be no longer than 12 pages of text, not including figures and references, double-spaced with 1-inch margins and size 12 font. Figures may be presented on additional pages only if they are informative and are mentioned in the text. References should be presented in full (no abbreviations other than initials and journal titles) in a format similar to a journal in your field of study. Deliver a copy to each committee member and an electronic copy to the Biology Graduate Coordinator, at least two weeks in advance of your scheduled meeting.

IV. Research Ideas

The supervisor and supervisory committee should be important resources as you develop your research questions and the rest of the proposal. Your questions, and even the major methods, may already be largely formulated for you by your supervisor, or you may be expected to develop them mainly on your own. Generally, more responsibility for formulation of the main questions and the approach to their solution is expected from Ph.D. candidates. In any case, you have the right to expect helpful discussion and guidance from your supervisor and the committee as you develop your proposal.

There are important similarities between a good thesis proposal and a good NSERC proposal.

Revised May 2019; May 2020; May 2021