Dean of Engineering Office
Carl A. Pollock Hall (CPH) 4301
519-888-4567 ext. 32718
Comprehensive exam milestone
As a PhD student at the University of Waterloo, you are required to successfully complete the PhD Comprehensive Exam milestone.
The PhD Comprehensive Examination consists of an oral examination conducted at the University of Waterloo with the candidate and members of the Comprehensive Examining Committee present. The examination consists of the following two parts*:
- an examination of the research proposal that the candidate intends to develop into a successful PhD research thesis,
- an examination of the breadth of the candidate's knowledge of the academic field of the thesis and the adequacy of the candidate's background preparation to pursue the proposed research.
*Beginning in Fall 2015, Electrical and Computer Engineering has implemented a 2-part Comprehensive Exam format:
- PhD Comprehensive Background Examination (set up by ECE)
- PhD Comprehensive Proposal Examination (set up by EGSO)
Comprehensive Examination Research Proposal Document:
A research proposal will consist of a double-spaced report of no more than fifty (50) 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 defence of the PhD thesis.
For more information on the Comprehensive Examination milestone, please refer to the Faculty of Engineering Graduate Calendar
- Students with no previous studies at the PhD level are required to successfully complete the comprehensive exam no later than the end of their seventh term of studies or the student will be required to withdraw from their program.
- Students who have completed previous studies in another PhD program at the University of Waterloo or at another university, are required to successfully complete the comprehensive exam no later than their fourth term of studies in their current program or their seventh term of studies at the PhD level, whichever is longer.
- 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
- A student's first attempt at the comprehensive exam will have an outcome of Catergory 1 (passed), Category 2 (passed conditionally), Category 3 (re-examination). A re-examination will have an outcome of pass or fail.
- If a student fails their comprehensive re-examination, they will be required to withdraw from the program.
- Please review the Graduate Calendar relating to Academic Integrity and the Comprehensive Exam.
How do I set up my comprehensive exam?
Work with your supervisor to establish your PhD Examining Committee and determine your thesis title.
The comprehensive examination committee must include at least four examiners who (normally the examining committee will not exceed five examiners):
- hold a PhD degree
- three of whom are not the student's supervisor(s)
- at least one of whom is a tenured or tenure-track member of the student's Department of School, and
- at least two of who hold regular faculty appointments at the University of Waterloo.
Once you have date and time set, submit the PhD Comprehensive Examination Form to your department coordinator at least four weeks ahead of the proposed date of the exam. Forms should be submitted to EGSO three weeks prior to date of comprehensive exam. The proposal needs to be submitted to the committee two weeks prior to date of comprehensive exam.
The composition of the comprehensive examining committee will be approved by the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
The comprehensive exam shall be chaired by a tenured or tenure-track faculty member at the University of Waterloo with Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervision (ADDS) status.
When should I complete my exam?
Students with a Master's degree (PhD2)
The Faculty of Engineering requires that students complete the Comprehensive Exam by the end of term four of their PhD program.
Students without a Master's degree (PhD3/PhD3-tr)
This refers to students who joined the PhD program by direct entry from a bachelor's or transferred into the PhD program without a master’s degree completed.
Your Comprehensive Exam must be complete at the minimum of either four terms from the first term registered in the PhD program or in term seven from the beginning of your master’s – whichever occurs first.
- If you transferred to PhD in term 2 of your MASc, your exam would be required by term 5.
- If you transferred to PhD in term 6 of your MASc, your exam would be required by term 7.
- If you began your PHD directly from your Bachelor's degree, your exam would be required in term 4.
Blackout dates and holidays
Please note: there is a "blackout period" for Comprehensive Exams.
Spring 2018: Monday, August 20 - Friday August 31
Fall 2018: Monday, December 10 - Friday December 21
Winter 2018: Monday, April 15 - Friday, April 26
Examinations are not to be scheduled during the blackout period, unless you are required to complete your comprehensive examination by the end of the term and your committee has limited availability. In this case, permission must be granted from the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. Your supervisor will be required to find a Chair for the exam. The Chair must be from outside your department, but within the Faculty of Engineering.
Comprehensive examination evaluation
On a candidate's first attempt at the comprehensive exam, the outcome shall be one of:
Category 1: Passed
The candidate successfully completed all requirements of the examination
Category 2: Passed conditionally
Students who receive a category 2 will be given an amount of time, up to a year after the date of their examination, to complete the conditions of their pass. Conditions may include taking additional graduate courses, preparing a report on specific aspects of the proposal, and/or presenting a seminar on the revised proposal.
The conditions shall:
- be communicated to the student in writing;
- contain the date by which the conditions must be satisfied; and
- identify the member(s) of the examining committee responsible for determining that the conditions have been met. Normally, this determination will be made by at least one member of the committee other than the student's supervisor or co-supervisors.
- Failure to satisfy the conditions within the designated time limit shall result in an outcome of re-examination.
Category 3: Re-examination required
Students who receive a category 3 will have to schedule a re-examination, no earlier than six weeks after, but within one calendar year of their unsuccessful attempt. Students who fail to meet this condition will be required to withdraw.
The student shall be provided written communication that identifies the deficiencies in the exam that led to this outcome and the deadline by which the re-examination must take place. In the case of re-examination it is anticipated that the committee membership will be the same as the initial committee. Any change in membership must adhere to committee guidelines and be approved by the student's Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
When a candidate is re-examined, the outcomes are limited to:
- Category 1: Passed
- Category 4: Exam Unsuccessful
Students who receive a category 4 will be deemed to have failed to satisfy the program's comprehensive exam requirement. In this case, the student shall receive written communication identifying the deficiencies in the exam that led to this outcome.
A student who fails their comprehensive exam will be required to withdraw from the PhD program in the term immediately following the term in which the examination took place. The student may seek admission to another PhD program or to any Master's degree program at the University of Waterloo.
For more information regarding the outcome of the comprehensive examination, please see the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar
The outcome of the exam is determined by the majority vote of the examining committee. The following rules govern the voting process:
- In the case where the student is co-supervised, the co-supervisors' votes shall count collectively as one vote. In the case where co-supervisors vote for different outcomes, these votes shall count as 0.5 votes for each outcome.
- In the case where only two outcomes receive votes and the number of votes is equal for both outcomes, the decision shall be for the less positive outcome, provided that the outcome is not exam unsuccessful.
- If the previous case results in an exam unsuccessful outcome, or if no majority is obtained, the case shall be referred to the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, who shall make the final determination of the outcome of the exam.