Academic Progress

As members of the University of Toronto community, students assume certain responsibilities and are guaranteed certain rights and freedoms. The University has several policies that are approved by the Governing Council and which apply to all students. All students must become familiar with the policies, and the University will assume that they have done so. This page will focus on satisfactory academic progress for students in research programs at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering.



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. BME Students may request Bb Collaborate (video conferencing) for virtual meetings, defenses, group work, etc. Submit your request through the BME Help Centre.

Milestones overview

MilestonesTarget (by end of)
1Establish supervisory committee and thesis topicYear 1Year 1
2Supervisory committee meetingsAnnuallyAnnually
3PhD qualifying exam (or MASc bypass exam)N/AYear 1
4PhD candidacyN/AYear 2
5Permission to write thesisYear 1Year 4
6Permission to conduct defenseYear 2Year 5
7Departmental defense (optional for PhD students)Year 2Year 5
8PhD final oral examN/AYear 5
9Electronic thesis submissionYear 2Year 5
10GraduationYear 2Year 5

Milestones 1 & 2

Supervisory committee meetings

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 at least once every year (and more frequently if necesary) to discuss their progress.

A missed meeting is a failed meeting (i.e., unsatisfactory) on the student’s record for the relevant academic year. A student who fails to constitute a supervisory meeting by the annual requirement will lose good academic standing. In each of two consecutive meetings, if a student's supervisory committee reports that the student's progress is unsatisfactory, then BME may recommend the termination of registration and eligibility of that student. A student who encounters difficulties arranging a meeting of this committee should consult the Graduate Office through the BME Help Centre.


FAQ: For online meetings, how should I obtain wet signatures for my form?

ANS: 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, which could stand in place of wet signatures. The Chair (or student) should email the meeting 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.



Milestone 3

PhD Qualifying Exam (or MASc Bypass 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.



Milestone 4 (PhD only)

PhD Candidacy

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.


Milestones 5 & 6

Permission to write (and defend your thesis)

Whether it is preparing an award application, a conference abstract, and/or other publication work, students are encouraged to practice scientific writing early and often as training for this penultimate milestone. 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 from 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 practicable.

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. If a decision is made to move forward with defense, then the committee should discuss defense procedures, timelines, expectations with the student. Otherwise, the student should repeat this process until permission to conduct the departmental defense is granted by the supervisory committee.



Milestone 7

(*) This step is optional for BME PhD students. However, permission to omit the departmental defense (and proceed straight to the PhD final oral exam) must be granted by the primary research supervisor. This permission must be provided in writing to the Graduate Office. A brief statement from the supervisor’s institutional email is sufficient.


Departmental defense

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 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.

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).

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)

Milestone 8

PhD Final Oral Exam (FOE)

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.


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.


© 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering