Each student is required to submit a dissertation, written by the student, on the research carried out by the student on a topic approved by the advisory committee. The dissertation is expected to be a significant contribution to knowledge in its field and the student must indicate in what ways it is a contribution.

The dissertation must demonstrate mature scholarship and critical judgment on the part of the student, and it must indicate an ability to express oneself in a satisfactory literary style. Approval of the dissertation is taken to imply that it is judged to be sufficiently meritorious to warrant publication in reputable scholarly media.

Once the research is completed, the student will provide the advisor with drafts of the dissertation for feedback. Once the advisor is satisfied that the dissertation is well developed and well written, the student will submit this draft to the advisory committee.

Each member of the advisory committee will provide written comments on the different sections of the dissertation. The student will make changes to the dissertation in response to feedback from members of the advisory committee.

Dissertation Oral Examination

PhD students are required to present their dissertation and address questions at an oral examination. The student and advisory committee should begin preparing for the defense at least eight weeks prior to the anticipated date of the defense.

When the PhD student’s advisory committee indicates that the dissertation is ready for examination, members of the committee complete the Examination Request Form, which must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies.

The advisory committee and the student identify examination committee members according to the Graduate Calendar regulations. Membership of the examination committee is listed below.

At least four weeks prior to the anticipated date of the final examination, the department must complete and submit the Doctoral Final Examination Arrangements Form to the Office of Graduate Studies.

Copies of the dissertation are to be sent to the examination committee a minimum of four weeks prior to the defense date.

Examination Committee

The examination is conducted by a committee consisting of five members:

  • The chair of the examination committee (a member of the regular graduate faculty who is not a member of the advisory committee);
  • The external examiner (more details provided below);
  • A member of the regular graduate faculty who is not a member of the advisory committee;
  • Two members of the student’s advisory committee (typically, one of these individuals is the advisor).

External Examiner

For each doctoral thesis, an external examiner from outside the university is appointed on behalf of the Assistant Vice-President (Graduate Studies) by the Department Chair, in consultation with the advisor. The external examiner must be a recognized expert in the area of the PhD dissertation research.

The external examiner must not have a direct connection with the department. The external examiner must have had no direct connection with the student or the student’s research project.

The external examiner must not have served as advisor to the student’s advisor or have been a trainee of the advisor in the last six years, must not have directly collaborated in joint projects or coauthored publications with the advisor or the student in the last six years, and must not have an existing plan to collaborate with the advisor or the student.

In addition, the external examiner must not have been a student or member of the graduate faculty at the University in the last five years. Any individual who serves as an external examiner may not serve again until a period of three years has passed. The nomination will be made when the candidate's advisor declares that the thesis is about to be prepared, normally no later than the beginning of the student's last semester.

The external examiner is to receive a copy of the dissertation and External Examiners Report Form along with a covering letter. from the Department Chair, at least four weeks before the examination date.

The external examiner will submit a written appraisal of the thesis (at least seven days prior to the examination) to the Department Chair who will then provide these comments to the candidate and the Advisory Committee. The external examiner is expected to participate in the final oral examination and to assist in evaluating all aspects of the candidate's performance.

Oral Defense

The candidate will make a presentation on the dissertation, which should be approximately 20 to 30 minutes long. The oral examination will be open to the public; members of the audience may question the candidate only upon invitation of the chair of the examination committee after the presentation. The oral examination is typically 2 to 2.5 hours in duration, the maximum duration is 3.5 hours (See Box 2 for suggested timing). The oral examination consists of two rounds of questions about the dissertation itself as well as more general issues related to the field of study.

Box 2: Suggested Ph.D. Oral Examination Timing

  • Introduction by Chair- 5 minutes
  • Presentation of research findings/scholarly work by candidate – 20-30 minutes
  • Public Question Period -10 minutes (max)
  • Break - 5 minutes (max, public are free to leave)
  • Examination Period - 2 hours and 40 minutes (questions only from examiners)

Order of Two Rounds of Questions by Examination Committee:

  1. External Examiner
  2. Member of the Graduate Faculty (not on the Advisory Committee)
  3. Member of the Advisory Committee
  4. Advisor or second member of the Advisory Committee

Suggested time allotted to examination committee members:

Examiner Round 1 (minutes) Round 2 (minutes)
External 20-25 10
Graduate Faculty 20 10
Advisory Committee 15-20 5-10
Advisor/Advisory 15-20 5-10
Deliberation (in camera) 35 35

During deliberations, the members of the examination committee, including the external examiner, will report individually on the final oral examination and the written dissertation. The candidate will be deemed to have passed if no more than one of the five examiners votes negatively. An abstention will be regarded as a negative vote.

The Report on Qualifying Examination will record the decision as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. If unsatisfactory, the candidate may be given a second attempt. A second unsatisfactory result will constitute a recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies that the student be required to withdraw.

It is understood that final oral examination revisions arising from the external examiner’s report and from feedback from the examination committee may be necessary to produce an acceptable revised final version of the dissertation.

Dissertation Submission

After the candidate has successfully defended the dissertation at the final oral examination, has made any required revisions, and received final approval from the examination committee, the dissertation must be submitted electronically to the Atrium.

Also included in the electronic submission must be a copy of an abstract consisting of no more than 350 words. The Certificate of Approval signed by the external examiner and the members of the examination committee, a copy of the circulation waiver and the copying license must also be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies.

For further details on the Dissertation Submission Schedule, please visit the OPGS website.