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PhD Thesis Proposal

The intent of this exam is to determine if the student has chosen a reasonable topic for the PhD, and has the necessary background to work on it. It should normally take place within one year of the completion of the first-stage comprehensives, and must be held at least one full semester before the PhD defence.

The examination committee will consist of:

  • The departmental members (two) of the committee for the PhD defence
  • An impartial Chair (either the Graduate Officer or, more usually, another member of the Department who is not an examiner)

The general format of the exam will be the same as for the PhD defence; that is, a presentation by the student of up to 30 minutes, followed by questions from the examiners. The presentation should provide a comprehensible description of the problem(s) on which the student proposes to work for his or her PhD. The aim should be to convince the examiners of the following:

  • That they understand the significance of the problem.
  • That they have a reasonably thorough knowledge of the related literature.
  • That there is a reasonable chance of success.
  • That they have the necessary technical skills for work in the proposed area.

The student is not required to have already obtained worthwhile results on the proposed problem, although these would go some way towards settling (c). It is also possible that the eventual topic of the student's thesis could be somewhat different from that proposed, due to unforeseen difficulties or successes.

Students should prepare a brief (up to 10 pages) set of notes; these should be distributed to the examiners and deposited with the departmental grad office one week in advance of the examination. The notes are to be kept confidential. The aim of these notes is to make it easier for the examiners to follow the student's presentation. The presentation itself should nonetheless be accessible to audience members who have not seen the notes. The examiners' evaluation will be based in large part on the oral presentation.

The tone of the examination is to be “advisory” rather than “pass/fail”. If the student addresses the four points above in convincing fashion, then he/she has passed. In some cases the examiners may suggest further reading and/or course work, or offer suggestions concerning the direction of the proposed research. In very unusual circumstances the examination may reveal serious problems. In this case the student has failed, and must retake this examination until the examiners are satisfied that these problems have been overcome. Whatever the result, the examiners will supply the Graduate Officer with a written report of their conclusions; the Graduate Officer will then communicate these to the candidate.

The candidate is expected to respond in a scholarly way to the advice offered. A student who chooses to ignore substantive advice may well be required to produce good reason for this at the Oral Defence of his or her thesis. Failure to do so may affect the Examining Committee’s evaluation of the thesis. Students are free to discuss the advice offered before they submit their theses; indeed this is recommended. (Once the thesis is submitted, the examiners are neither obliged nor expected to discuss it with the student.)

Second Stage Comprehensives are open to the Department’s graduate students, faculty, adjunct faculty, and post-doctoral fellows, and no others.