The program information below is valid for the fall 2020 term (September 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020).

The Graduate Studies Academic Calendar is updated 3 times per year, at the start of each academic term (January 1, May 1, September 1). Graduate Studies Academic Calendars from previous terms can be found in the archives.

Graduate research fields

  • Biomedical Engineering 
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics 
  • Machine Learning and Intelligence 
  • Mechatronic and Physical Systems 
  • Modelling, Simulation and Systems Theory 
  • Optimization and Decision Making 
  • Societal and Environmental Systems 
  • Vision, Image and Signal Processing 
  • Admit term(s) 
    • Fall
    • Winter
    • Spring
  • Delivery mode 
    • On-campus
  • Length of program 
    • The minimum period of registration for a PhD degree is four terms. Degree requirements must be satisfied within four calendar years following the date of admission into the PhD program, unless extensions are approved by the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Faculty of Engineering. Requests for extension must be supported by a written departmental recommendation along with a realistic timetable for the completion of the degree, and evidence of adequate progress in research. Extensions are not granted automatically and will be refused in the case of inadequate progress. University of Waterloo regulations stipulate that approval of an extension past three extended terms is at the discretion of the Associate Provost, Graduate Studies.
  • Program type 
    • Doctoral
    • Research
  • Registration option(s) 
    • Full-time
    • Part-time
  • Registration option(s) information 
    • A minimum of two terms of full-time residence is expected from students who wish to proceed on a part-time basis. Full-time residency means that a candidate is present on campus for at least three days a week, or a sufficient period of time per week to satisfy the supervisor. The most appropriate time for this residence period will be established in consultation with the supervisor(s) and the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies. Part-time students should be advised that the Faculty of Engineering expects at least 20 hours per week to be devoted to advanced study and research.
  • Study option(s) 
  • Minimum requirements 
    • Excellent background preparation and academic achievement in prior degrees, usually a relevant (i.e. thesis-based) Master's degree with an 80% average from a recognized university.
    • Demonstrated ability to formulate research problems and to execute the research required to solve problems (such as a Master of Applied Science (MASc) research thesis or published scientific/technical papers).
    • At the time of admission, each student must have an approved PhD supervisor or two co-supervisors (at least one of whom is an approved PhD supervisor) who have agreed in writing to supervise the academic program of a candidate. The Faculty of Engineering maintains a list of individually approved research supervisors ("LIARS", which is equivalent to the current University of Waterloo designation of "ADDS": Approved Doctoral Dissertation Supervisors). Additions and deletions to this list are made by the Engineering Graduate Studies Subcommittee upon the recommendation of the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the appropriate department.
    • Note: in the Faculty of Engineering, a minimum 80% standing in an applicant's appropriate Master's program is the usual requirement. A MASc obtained without a full research thesis is normally an inadequate qualification for admission to the PhD program. Admission to the PhD program is based upon the student's academic record and evidence of ability to pursue independent work. No candidate will be admitted to the program before a faculty advisor is appointed as the student's supervisor.
    • Transfer to the PhD program without completion of the MASc program: a student enrolled in a MASc program at the University of Waterloo may apply for transfer to the PhD program without completing a Master's degree. Transfer from a MASc program to a PhD program will normally be considered if an applicant:
      • Has an excellent undergraduate record.
      • Has obtained a grade average of at least 80% in courses that have been taken for graduate credit.
      • Has developed a clearly defined research program that seems likely to satisfy the research proposal component of the PhD comprehensive examination and has demonstrated an aptitude for research.
      • Presents objective evidence of adequate English language skills which should enable the candidate to write a thesis and to communicate orally.
      • Is not beyond the fourth academic term of a MASc program.
  • Application materials 
    • Résumé
    • Supplementary information form
    • Transcript(s)
  • References 
    • Number of references:  3
    • Type of references: 

      2 from academic sources that are able to comment upon academic preparation and research ability.

  • English language proficiency (ELP) (if applicable)

    Thesis option:

  • Graduate Academic Integrity Module (Graduate AIM)
  • Courses 
    • PhD candidates possessing a recent Master's degree in an appropriate discipline are required to take 3 Engineering courses at the 600 or 700 level (with unit weights of 0.50 each). The Department may require individual candidates to take more than 3 courses. In every case, a graduate course program is established by the supervisor(s) in consultation with the student, and is subject to the approval of the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. Candidates may also be required to take additional courses as a result of a comprehensive examination.
    • Candidates admitted to the PhD program who do not possess a recent and relevant Master's degree, or have transferred directly to the PhD program without a Master's degree, are required to complete a minimum of 7 courses (with a credit weight of 0.50 each) at least 5 of which must be at the 600 or 700 levels.
    • The Faculty of Engineering requires that no more than one-half of the courses used for credit towards a graduate degree may be taught by the candidate's supervisor(s). In the case of co-supervision in small research groups, it may be necessary to relax this rule, but the student's file must contain a statement of formal approval from the Department and endorsement from the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Faculty of Engineering.
  • Link(s) to courses
  • PhD Comprehensive Examination
    • Students are required to meet the University-level PhD Comprehensive Examination minimum requirements outlined in the “Minimum requirements for the PhD degree” section of the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar (GSAC), with certain noted differences that are specific to the Faculty of Engineering Comprehensive Examination minimum requirements:
      • Comprehensive examination purpose: Consistent with University-level minimum requirements.
      • Timing: Students must follow the Faculty of Engineering completion timelines whereby students shall complete their comprehensive examination before the end of their 4th term or 6th term in cases where the student is admitted to the PhD program without a completed Master’s degree. 
      • Committee: Students must follow the Faculty of Engineering committee composition guidelines which differ from the University-level minimum requirements in both number of committee members and committee makeup.
      • Who Chairs an examination: Students must follow the Faculty of Engineering Chair guidelines whereby the Chair is normally selected from outside of the student’s home department.
      • Format / Content: Consistent with University-level minimum requirements but with additional information provided in the Faculty of Engineering Comprehensive Examination minimum requirements.
      • Academic integrity: Consistent with University-level minimum requirements.
  • PhD Seminar
    • Students are required to present a research seminar on their thesis at the Systems Design Engineering Graduate Colloquium. The Department will contact seminar candidates with scheduling information after they have passed their comprehensive exam.
  • Seminar Attendance
    • Students are required to attend an average of four University of Waterloo research seminars per full-time term. It is the student’s responsibility to submit their "Seminar Attendance Certificates" attached to their activity report.
    • To earn the seminar attendance milestone, the Department records should show that the number of seminars a student has attended is, at least, four times the number of terms the student has been registered as a full-time student in the Department.
  • PhD Thesis
    • Candidates are expected to maintain continuous registration until the thesis is submitted to Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. Under exceptional circumstances, inactive terms or a leave of absence may be requested for a prior specified period with departmental approval. The role of a supervisor is to assist a candidate in establishing a research problem with an appropriate scope, to suggest alternative general approaches to the solution of a problem and to provide general advice on the structure and content of a thesis. It is imperative that the engineering code of ethics be strictly observed in the supervisor-candidate relationship.
    • The PhD degree in the Faculty of Engineering is awarded to a candidate who has successfully completed a program of advanced study and conducted original research. The program of research and its findings must be presented in the form of a thesis and submitted to the University for public examination prior to its oral defence.
    • The writer of a thesis must demonstrate a critical awareness and understanding of the literature in the research field, exhibit a capability of defining original and useful research problems and a capability of independent thought in solving a research problem. An ability to communicate research results verbally and in writing must be shown. The University of Waterloo allows students to submit theses in English or in French, the latter being governed by certain important constraints. The principles governing the submission of theses in French are specified in the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar. The oral examination of a thesis will assess the ability of a candidate to communicate orally the results of the research and to defend the contents of the thesis.
    • Originality in a thesis may be reflected in a number of ways. A candidate may have posed and solved an important new problem or have formulated an existing problem in a novel and useful way. A candidate may offer new and significant insights into problems examined previously by other researchers. Replications of previous investigations may be acceptable if, and only if, they incorporate [significantly new] elements in the design or execution of an experiment.
    • Objective criteria describing what is meant by a significant contribution to knowledge are difficult to specify. One way of gauging a candidate's contribution is to consider the extent to which parts of the thesis might be published in peer-reviewed technical journals with an international stature or as a monograph by an acceptable publisher. The ultimate test of the acceptability of a thesis is the ability of a candidate to satisfy, through an oral examination, to a University-appointed committee of research specialists in the general field of study, that a significant research contribution has been made and communicated adequately.
    • It must be emphasized however, that a PhD thesis in the Faculty of Engineering cannot consist of a collection of technical papers that may have already been published in peer-reviewed literature. PhD theses submitted for examination in the Faculty of Engineering should be prepared in accordance with the thesis regulations published by Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. Earlier theses should not be used as a guide, as the regulations are revised periodically. A candidate's PhD supervisor(s) should also provide important advice about the appropriate form of a PhD thesis and its content.