PhD Comprehensive Examination

PhD Comprehensive Background Examination (students admitted before Fall 2015)
 

PhD Split Comprehensive Examination

The PhD Comprehensive Examination consists of two parts; an oral background examination to be completed by the end of your third term of registration and an oral proposal examination to be completed by the end of your sixth term of registration.

The Comprehensive Background Examination will examine the breadth of the candidate's knowledge in their area of specialization and the adequacy of the candidate's background preparation to pursue that area of research. The specific topics examined are defined by the list of background subjects (approved by the supervisor and examining committee members) in the PhD Comprehensive Background Examination form.

The Comprehensive Proposal Examination will examine the research proposal that the candidate intends to develop into a PhD research thesis.

If you have additional questions regarding the PhD Comprehensive Examination please contact the PhD Coordinator/Advisor.

Comprehensive Background Examination

(View the "How To" Video on YouTube)

The Comprehensive Background Examination would be held in your third term (fourth term if from an incomplete MASc), generally after all course work has been completed, and must successfully be completed before the Comprehensive Proposal Examination can be booked. Students who fail the background exam will be permitted to retake the exam before the end of the subsequent term. Students who fail the re-examination must withdraw from the PhD program.

Comprehensive Background Examination Committee

Your Comprehensive Background Examination Committee must consist of three members of the university, two of whom must be from ECE and one of whom must be external to ECE (referred to as the internal/external). It is the responsibility of your supervisor to form this committee.

A PhD Comprehensive Background Examination form must be submitted to the PhD Coordinator/Advisor at least four weeks prior to the desired exam date with the signatures of all committee members. The Comprehensive Background Examination Committee must be approved by the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies. The Comprehensive Background Examination Committee later becomes the Comprehensive Proposal Examination Committee and PhD Thesis Examining Committee. Your supervisor(s) are not present for the Comprehensive Background Examination.

Your supervisor will also need to select a neutral Chair from ECE for the Comprehensive Background Examination. The role of the Chair is to ensure that the examination is conducted according to University comprehensive examination guidelines. The Chair is not an examiner and cannot vote.

All committee members must be in attendance at the comprehensive examination; appointment of delegates for comprehensive examinations is not permitted. Participation via electronic means (teleconference or video conference) will be permitted at the discretion of the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies and only in cases of emergency. Should an exception be made, no more than one member may participate via electronic means.

Conduct of the Comprehensive Background Examination

The Chair will introduce himself or herself, the candidate and all committee members at the start of the examination. The Committee will begin the examination with the questioning of the candidate’s background technical knowledge. The first round of questions will typically last about 20 minutes each. The Chair may declare a short break during the examination, after which the second round of questions will continue for about 10 minutes each. Only the Chair and members of the  Examination Committee are permitted in the examination room. At the conclusion of the questioning period, the candidate must leave the room for the in-camera discussions.

Once a decision has been reached, the Chair will inform the candidate of the Committee’s decision in the presence of all Committee members, including any conditions imposed on the candidate as a result of the Examination. The chair will record the results of the Comprehensive Background Examination and submit the completed paperwork to the ECE PhD Coordinator/Advisor.

The PhD Comprehensive Background Examination is a closed book assessment and no aids are permitted. Recording of the examination process is not allowed, nor is the use of smart phones, video cameras, cameras, or tape recorders unless used for the purpose of the examination presentation.

Comprehensive Background Examination Decisions

The Examination Committee must choose from one of the following four decisions:

  • Category 1 - Passed
  • Category 2 - Passed subject to completion of recommendations
  • Category 3 - Decision deferred/re-examination required
  • Category 4 - Failed

Category 1 – Unconditional Pass

Category 2 - Passed subject to completion of recommendations means that the Candidate’s background preparation is generally adequate but certain deficiencies need to be rectified. The recommendations might require you to enroll in additional graduate courses, prepare a written report on designated aspects of the proposed research program, and/or present a public seminar on a background subject. The specific recommendations of the Comprehensive Background Examination Committee must be clearly identified on the appropriate forms by the Chair, along with completion dates and the committee member(s) responsible for ensuring that the recommendations will be satisfied.

Candidates who are required to complete additional requirements must satisfy the comprehensive background requirement(s) within one calendar year. Students who fail to meet these conditions will be required to withdraw. The designated committee member(s) must inform the ECE PhD Program Coordinator/Advisor when all recommendations have been satisfied.

Category 3 - Re-examination required means that the candidate's background is deficient. Re-Examination cannot take place within six weeks of the date of the first comprehensive examination but must be done before the end of the subsequent term. The re-examination date must be established by the Committee and the Candidate and reported as part of the recommendations. The same committee must be used for the re-examination.

Category 4 – The decision failed is only applicable to the PhD Background Comprehensive Re-examination and means that Comprehensive Examination procedure is closed and that the candidate will be required to withdraw from the PhD program. A candidate cannot receive this category on their first attempt.

Comprehensive Examination Research Proposal

(View the "How To" Video on YouTube)

A research proposal will consist of a report of, typically, no more than fifty pages including tables, diagrams and references. The proposal will identify the research problem, review the relevant literature, describe the tasks planned to solve the problem and propose a timetable for the completion of the project, and the defence of the PhD thesis.

The research proposal must be submitted to the Examination Committee (one copy to each member) at least two weeks before the date of the examination. The Department does not need a copy of the research proposal.

Comprehensive Proposal Examination

The Comprehensive Proposal Examination would be held no later than your sixth term (seventh term if from an incomplete MASc) and have the same committee as used for the Comprehensive Background Examination.

A PhD Comprehensive Proposal Examination form must be submitted to the PhD Coordinator/Advisor at least three weeks prior to the desired exam date. The Comprehensive Examination Committee must be the same as the Comprehensive Background Examination Committee. Your supervisor(s) also become part of the committee for your Comprehensive Proposal Examination.

The Engineering Graduate Studies Office will appoint a neutral Chair for the Comprehensive Examination. The role of the Chair is to ensure that the examination is conducted according to University Comprehensive Examination guidelines. The Chair is not an examiner and cannot vote. The Comprehensive Proposal Examination Committee later becomes, in part, the PhD Thesis Examining Committee (which additionally includes an external examiner from outside of UW).

All committee members must be in attendance at the Comprehensive Examination; appointment of delegates for comprehensive examinations is not permitted. Participation via electronic means (teleconference or video conference) will be permitted at the discretion of the Associate Dean of Engineering and only in cases of emergency. Should an exception be made, no more than one member may participate via electronic means and the supervisor(s) must be in attendance.

Conduct of the Comprehensive Proposal Examination

For the Comprehensive Proposal Examination you will begin with an oral presentation on the main points of the research proposal. This should be presented within 30 minutes. The Chair will then invite members of the Committee to examine the proposal. The Chair may declare a short break in the middle of the examination.

At the conclusion of the questioning period, only members of the examining committee are allowed to stay for the in camera deliberation session following the examination. Once a consensus has been reached, the Chair will inform you of the outcome of the comprehensive examination and of all recommendations and/or conditions imposed. The chair will record the results of the Comprehensive Proposal Examination and submit the completed paperwork to the Engineering Graduate Office.

Recording of the examination process is not allowed, nor is the use of cell phones, video cameras, cameras or tape recorders unless used for the purpose of the examination presentation.

Comprehensive Proposal Examination Decisions

The Examination Committee must choose from one of the following four decisions:

  • Category 1 - Passed
  • Category 2 - Passed subject to completion of recommendations
  • Category 3 - Decision deferred/re-examination required
  • Category 4 - Failed

Category 1 – Unconditional Pass

Category 2 - Passed subject to completion of recommendations where by the candidate's proposal preparation is generally adequate but certain deficiencies need to be rectified.

The recommendations might require you to prepare a written report on designated aspects of the proposed research area and/or to present a public seminar on the proposal. The specific recommendations of the Comprehensive Examination Committee must be clearly identified on page 2 of the Report of PhD Comprehensive Proposal Examination by the Chair, along with completion dates and the Committee member(s) responsible for ensuring that the recommendations will be satisfied.

Candidates who are required to complete additional requirements must satisfy them within one calendar year of the exam. Students who fail to meet these conditions will be required to withdraw. The supervisor(s) must inform the ECE or Engineering Graduate Studies Office when all recommendations of the Comprehensive Proposal Examination have been satisfied.

Category 3 - Re-examination required where by the candidate's proposal is deficient. Re-examination cannot take place within six weeks after the date of the Comprehensive Proposal Examination. The re-examination must be scheduled no later than one year after the Comprehensive Proposal Examination. The re-examination date must be established by the supervisor(s) in consultation with the examiners and the candidate and reported as part of the recommendations. A student who fails a re-examination will be required to withdraw from the PhD program.

Category 4 - Failed where by the proposal examination procedure is closed and the candidate will be required to withdraw from the PhD program. Students who fail the re-examination must withdraw from the PhD program.

The Chair must inform you, in the presence of the Examination Committee, of the outcome of the Comprehensive Proposal Examination and of all recommendations and/or conditions imposed.

Time of Examination

The Comprehensive Background and Proposal Examinations will be conducted before the end of your third and sixth terms of registration respectively. Extensions will not be granted except in extenuating circumstances such as medical emergencies and need to be verifiable by a Health Services Verification of Illness form or a doctor’s note detailing the “date and length of illness and the degree of incapacitation.” Non-illness related rationale for these changes/exceptions will only be approved if the student has experienced exceptional circumstances as determined by the Associate Chair and Associate Dean to warrant this approval.

Students requiring an extension, due to the above outlined extenuating circumstances, will need to complete a PhD Comprehensive Examination Time Limit Extension Request form. The form must be submitted for approval to delay a Comprehensive Examination in addition to a written request outlining the reasons for the delay and a timetable for the completion of the comprehensive examination, the research program and the thesis defence. The request must be supported in writing by your supervisor(s) and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

Students will only be granted a maximum of one extension per comprehensive exam if they meet the above listed conditions. Students who failed to complete their Comprehensive Exams in the timeline’s specified will be required to withdraw from the program.


For students admitted to the PhD program before Fall 2015

This examination is conducted by the Department for each candidate. It is normally held 6 to 12 months, but not later than 16 months, after the initial registration for the PhD degree. The examination has two main purposes:

  • to examine and approve the thesis proposal, after which a Committee is identified which will assist the student with the subsequent research program.
  • to satisfy the Department that the candidate has a broad knowledge of the chosen field and a thorough technical background to pursue the proposed research.

Prepare for the comprehensive examination

To begin preparations for the Comprehensive Examination you must follow the steps provided below:

  1. Select your Committee Members comprised of the following people:
    • Your supervisor(s)
    • 2 ECE faculty members
    • 1 faculty member from another department (external)
  2. Set the date for your examination in consultation with your committee members.
  3. At least 3 weeks prior to the actual date of your Comprehensive Examination contact the PhD Program Coordinator/Advisor by email at bmcquarr@uwaterloo.ca and provide her with the following information:
    • Your name and UW ID number
    • Date and time of the Examination
    • Name and Department of the Committee Members (including Supervisor)
    • Title of your proposal
    • A list of background subjects

    Once the above information is submitted, the PhD Program Coordinator/Advisor will book a room for the examination and will prepare documentation for the Chair of the Examination Committee. The Faculty of Engineering Graduate Studies Office is subsequently notified of the examination and will assign a Chair for the examination.

  4. At least 2 weeks prior to the examination date you must provide a copy of your research proposal to each member of your Examining Committee.

After successful completion of the comprehensive examination

The Chair will submit Form 2 - Report of PhD Comprehensive Examination (Exam Decision) to the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Engineering, for an approval signature.

A memo from the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, Faculty of Engineering, indicating that the student has passed the Comprehensive Examination is subsequently sent to the student’s supervisor, with a copy to the student, and the PhD Program Coordinator/Advisor. At the same time, a copy of Form 3 – Appointment of PhD Comprehensive Examination Committee, with all signatures complete, is forwarded to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies for signing to indicate that the Comprehensive Examination requirement has been satisfied.

A copy of the completed Form 3, with all required signatures, is submitted to the GSPA (Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs) to record completion of the Comprehensive Milestones to your academic record.