Thesis Proposal

Having formalized a thesis supervisor and having successfully completed the RPE, the student will continue with the development of a PhD thesis proposal. This proposal must be presented in written form to the supervisory committee by the end of the second year of the PhD program.

The PhD thesis proposal should satisfy the following:

  • It should be no longer than fifty pages;
  • It should have a balance between literature review and proposed research;
  • It should demonstrate the ability of the student to carry out the proposed research; and
  • It should contain expected research milestones.

There is no requirement that a PhD thesis proposal contain research results.

Procedure for The Thesis Proposal Examination

The thesis proposal examination, administered by the PhD supervisory committee and the Chair, should be scheduled two to four weeks after submission of the thesis proposal. The purpose of the examination is to determine whether:

  1. The proposed work is considered PhD thesis material;
  2. The student has the ability to conduct the research and complete the thesis as outlined in the proposal; and
  3. The supervisory committee has sufficient expertise to guide the student’s research. If the committee decides that it does not have the sufficient expertise to guide the student’s research, the defense can be adjourned without any repercussions for the student. The proposal examination will reconvene once the proper membership is determined.

The Chair of the examination should be:

  • external to the Supervisory Committee, but they can be any faculty member in the research or teaching stream, as well as Professors Emeriti.
  • selected by the student’s thesis supervisor

The thesis proposal exam meeting should be scheduled for two hours. There are three phases to the meeting. The members of the examination committee may choose to question the candidate in either or both of the first two phases.

In Phase I, the candidate presents his/her thesis proposal in an open portion of the meeting. The candidate’s presentation should last at most thirty minutes. The Chair then calls upon each member of the examination committee to question the candidate, and invites questions from the audience.

In Phase II, the Chair of the exam requests all audience members to leave the room so that the candidate can be examined in a closed session. The Chair then calls upon each member of the examination committee to question the candidate.

In Phase III, the Chair calls for an in-camera discussion for the examination committee to determine the outcome of the examination. There are three possible outcomes:

  1. Approval to proceed with the thesis,
  2. Failure, with the possibility to retake the thesis proposal exam exactly one more time within six months; or
  3. Failure, resulting in withdrawal from the PhD program.

The Chair should send a report via email to the examination committee, the student, the Graduate Program administrator (, and the Associate Head of Graduate Affairs containing:

  • The type of exam (ie Thesis Proposal Exam) and the name of the student taking the exam;
  • Date, time, and location of the proposal;
  • A list of committee members, including  the supervisor(s), the chair of the exam, and which member was present;
  • The outcome (as laid out in the document: approved, failed but repeat, or failed and needs to withdraw);
  • Any feedback you feel like should be in there for posterity.

Under outcomes (b) and (c), the reasons for failure must be clearly stated in the Chair's report and this Chair's report must be made available to the Chair of a subsequent examination.