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PhD Comprehensive Exam

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:

  1. PhD Comprehensive Background Examination (set up by ECE)
  2. 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

Key Points

  • 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.