Academic Progress

UPDATE: Students may request Bb Collaborate (video conferencing) for virtual meetings, defenses, group work, etc. Email the Graduate Office with your UTORmail for access.


Q: How should I obtain wet signatures for my form?

A: Ideally, all participants should digitally sign the pdf form. If faculty members are unable to sign/edit the pdf, consensus requires a response from each committee member/examiner, which could stand in place of wet signatures. The Chair (or student) should email the meeting/exam form to the Graduate Office and copy (cc) all participants with explicit instruction for members to respond. Then all committee members should confirm their approval of the form in a response to the Graduate Office using REPLY ALL.

Q: University's COVID response

Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. Changes will likely occur as the province and its municipalities adjust to new data about the virus. In these circumstances, please be advised that the manner of delivery of courses, co-curricular opportunities, programs, and services is subject to change, in accordance with university policies. The University thanks its students, faculty, and staff for their flexibility during these challenging times as we work together to maintain the standards of excellence that are the hallmark of the University.

Program Milestones

Research-stream Program Milestones

MilestonesTarget (by end of)
1Establish supervisory committee & thesis topicYear 1Year 1
2Supervisory committee meetingAnnuallyAnnually
3Qualifying exam(NB1)N/AYear 1
4Achieve candidacy (NB2)N/AYear 2
5Permission to write thesisYear 1Year 4
6Permission to conduct defenseYear 2Year 5
7Thesis defense (departmental exam)Year 2Year 5
8Final oral exam (senate exam)N/AYear 5
9Electronic thesis submissionYear 2Year 5
10GraduationYear 2Year 5

NB1: The qualifying exam may also serve as the bypass exam for students from the MASc program who wish to transfer to the PhD program.

NB2: To achieve candidacy, students in doctoral program must:

  • complete all requirements for the degree exclusive of thesis research and courses such as ongoing research seminars that run continuously through the program; and
  • have an approved thesis topic, supervisor, and supervisory committee.

Establish Supervisory Committee

Milestone 1-2: Establish supervisory committee & thesis topic

All research-stream students must have an identified supervisor and supervisory committee as early as practicable in their program. Both student and supervisor should be involved in the selection and approval of supervisory committee members, the thesis project to be undertaken, and coursework required to support the proposed project.

The supervisory committees should be established no later than by the end of year one. Together, the supervisory committee and student should jointly work toward successful completion of the thesis and student degree requirements by adopting best practices from the Supervision Guidelines outlined by the School of Graduate Studies.

The students are also expected to schedule a meeting with the supervisory committee on a yearly basis to discuss their progress.

PhD Qualifying Exam

Milestone 3: PhD Qualifying Exam

Doctoral students are required to conduct a qualifying exam to ensure that they possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully complete the PhD program. The PhD qualifying exam may also serve as the bypass exam for students from the MASc program who wish to transfer to the PhD program. It is recommended that the qualifying exam be held by the twelfth month, but it must be completed by the fourteenth month of study at the latest. Successful completion of the qualifying exam is a condition of continued program registration. Thus, it is recommended (albeit optional) that students hold a supervisory committee meeting three months before the exam date to receive guidance on preparation, procedures, and expected outcomes of the qualifying exam.


Outcomes: PASS/FAIL

PASS: The student is granted permission to continue in the PhD program.

FAIL: The student fails the exam if there is more than one negative vote (or abstention).

  • First failure: The student may be granted a second (and final) opportunity to retake the qualifying exam within six months of the initial exam date. Alternatively, the supervisory committee may recommend program changes (e.g. transfer to the MASc program) for the candidate.
  • Second failure: The student is recommended to withdraw from the PhD program by the end of the term. Moreover, students who failed their second qualifying exam are not in good academic standing and are not eligible for transfer to the MASc program.


Permission to Write

Milestone 5: Permission to write thesis

Students are always encouraged to write early and often. Whereas numerous reports and articles are generated throughout the student’s graduate career, the thesis is a unique piece of writing, which acts as the formal record of knowledge gained and produced by the student during academic training. The thesis writing process formally commences with permission granted by the supervisory committee and the thesis itself could take several months to draft. Schedule a supervisory committee meeting to discuss thesis writing as soon as reasonably practicable.

Writing resources:

Permission to Defend

Milestone 6: Permission to conduct defense

Once a draft of the thesis is completed to the satisfaction of the primary supervisor (and co-supervisor if applicable), and after obtaining their explicit consent, the student should submit the thesis to all members of the supervisory committee for evaluation and decision on whether the thesis is ready for defense. Committee members should be given sufficient time (typically a month) to provide analytical and constructive commentary on the thesis.

After the appropriate review period has passed, the student should call a supervisory committee meeting. At this meeting, the committee should provide the student with feedback and instruction for thesis corrections, modifications, and next steps in the graduate program. The committee should also notify the student of whether the thesis is ready for defense. If a decision is made to move forward with defense, then the committee should take this meeting as an opportunity to discuss defense procedures, timelines, expectations, and recommend internal-external examiner(s). Otherwise, the student should repeat this process until permission to conduct the departmental defense is granted by the supervisory committee.

The internal-external examiner may be a faculty member of the candidate's graduate unit and/or a faculty member of other departments, centres, or institutes of the University of Toronto. The internal-external member must have graduate faculty membership and expertise relevant to the student’s research topic but must not have been involved in supervision of the thesis (i.e. not a member of the student’s supervisory committee).

Departmental Defense

Milestone 7: Thesis defense (departmental exam)

After being granted permission to defend from the supervisory committee, the student may also receive recommendations for thesis corrections or modifications. The student must ensure that appropriate changes to the thesis be made prior to the departmental defense. The departmental defense is the last academic milestone for MASc students before graduation. Similarly, it is a penultimate chapter in the PhD journey, before the final (Senate) oral exam for doctoral candidates.

The student is responsible for coordinating the departmental defense with guidance from the primary supervisor. The departmental defense committee comprises:

  1. The primary supervisor (and co-supervisor if applicable)
  2. The supervisory committee members
  3. The internal-external member

The Chair of the departmental defense may be any member of the supervisory committee. The chairperson should ensure that all members adhere to the agenda and maintain order, and that the defense is conducted fairly such that all members are given an appropriate amount of time to question the candidate, and that the defense is adjourned in a timely manner.

TargetsPre-defense procedure
4 weeks priorSupervisor secures internal-external member
3 weeks prior Student sends thesis to defense committee
2 weeks priorStudent coordinates meeting time and location with defense committee
1 hour prior Student checks that all required documents and forms are printed and prepared for defense
Defense procedure
Step 1Chair confirms that all defense committee members and the candidate are present. The defense should be rescheduled if a member is unavailable.
Step 2Chair asks the student to temporarily leave the room for the committee to deliberate.
Step 3Without the student present, the Chair ensures that all members have sufficient knowledge of the thesis to form a judgement on the acceptability of its content. The committee should also decide on the question and answer sequence before asking the student to return.
Step 4The student presents a summary of the research and conclusions of the thesis (no more than twenty minutes).
Step 5Chair invites defense members to question the candidate sequentially (approximately 10 minutes per member). Multiple rounds of questioning may occur until there are no further questions.
Step 6Chair asks the student to temporarily leave the room for the committee to vote. All members must vote YES/NO on the question of whether the thesis and its defense are acceptable.
Step 7Chair invites the student to return and informs him/her of the defense outcome by providing the decision document (defense form) and next steps.
Post-defense procedure
ImmediatelyStudent returns defense document to the graduate office (email or drop-off in person)

PhD Final Oral Exam

Milestone 8: PhD Final Oral Exam (senate exam)

In compliance with SGS regulations, each graduate unit sets their own timeline requirements. BME requires at least 3 months of advance notice to prepare for your PhD final oral exam. This timeline starts with submission of the PhD External Appraiser Approval Request Form. The reason for this timeline requirement is to account for communication delays, national and international holidays, travel arrangements, and the coordination of multiple exams in parallel at the institute.

UPDATE FOE Remote Participation Guidelines

NOTICE Due to office and SGS closure on holidays:

  • Do not book your exam after the second week of December.
  • Do not book your exam before the third week of January.

TargetsPre-exam Procedures
4 months priorSupervisor solicits availability from eligible external examiner.
3 months priorStudent submits the PhD External Appraiser Approval Request Form to the Graduate Office.

2.5 months priorGraduate Office informs the student and supervisor of whether the external examiner is approved by SGS.
2.5 months priorStudent sends electronic thesis to Graduate Office.
2 months priorGraduate Office requests exam location and Chair from SGS (NB: Unlike the departmental defense, the senate exam location and Chair is assigned by SGS).
2 months priorGraduate Office sends thesis and requests thesis appraisal from external examiner.
2 months priorGraduate Office sends thesis to all exam committee members.
1 week priorGraduate Office sends abstract, appraisal, and program to all attendees.
2 days priorGraduate Office reminds everyone about exam date, time, and location.
Exam Procedures
Step 1The candidate is invited to present a summary of the research and conclusions of the thesis in no more than twenty minutes.
Step 2The Chair then invites each member of the examination committee to question the candidate in turns of approximately equal intervals.
Step 3When there are no further questions, the Chair asks the candidate to retire, and the examination committee then deliberates and proceeds to vote.
Step 4Voting members must decide whether the thesis and its defense are acceptable.

• If there is more than one negative vote (or abstention), the meeting is adjourned and constitutes a failure.

• Otherwise, the thesis is acceptable with three possible results: 1) accepted as is, 2) minor corrections, or 3) minor modifications.
Step 5The Chair informs the candidate of the committee’s decision.
Post-exam Procedures
ImmediatelyThe Chair returns the exam files to the Doctoral Examinations Office if the exam was held at SGS. If the exam was held elsewhere, the candidate returns the exam files to the BME Graduate Office. Exam files should be returned to the Graduate Office immediately following the exam if possible.
1 week afterIn the event that immediate return is not possible, the candidate has up to one week to return exam files to the Graduate Office.

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