PhD candidacy exam

The candidacy exam is required of all PhD students and is normally taken within the first 18 months of, and no later than two years after, a student's first registration in the PhD program. Students who transfer from MSc to PhD must complete their candidacy exam within 36 months of first registration in their MSc program.

Students must register in PHYS 693 in the terms while preparing for, sitting and completing the candidacy exam.

The exam enables the Supervisory Committee and the Department to determine if the student is properly prepared to embark on a research program, the culmination of which will be the PhD dissertation.


The Candidacy Exam is normally chaired by a member of the Graduate Committee and is attended by the Supervisory Committee. The student should contact the Supervisory Committee members to schedule the exam. The student should also contact the Graduate Program Assistant, who will arrange for a member of the Graduate Committee to chair the exam.  The Exam Chair and the Supervisory Committee form the Examining Committee. Faculty members of the Department can be invited to attend. The Supervisory Committee can also invite members from outside the Department to attend.

The student provides an oral and written presentation which normally takes the form of a dissertation research project proposal. The Supervisory Committee may communicate a few questions to the student ahead of the exam date.

The length of the candidacy report is usually on the order of 20-40 pages. The student should discuss the expected length and content with their supervisor and committee. The report should be sent to the supervisor, committee members, and the exam chair approximately 2 weeks before the exam, but the student should set an agreed deadline with their committee to ensure adequate time for their reading.

The Supervisory Committee may, at their discretion and in discussion with the student, modify the candidacy requirements (such as report length and content) if appropriate. Any changes to the procedure should be communicated to, and approved by the Exam Chair in advance of the exam.

At the start of the exam, the student shall make a 15-20 minute presentation of their work, as presented in the candidacy report.

The Examining Committee and Faculty present at the exam shall pose questions to determine if the student has the appropriate background knowledge, skills and independence to undertake the proposed project, and that the project is likely to lead to results suitable for a PhD dissertation.  The presentation and questioning period of the exam should be limited to approximately two hours.

The Supervisory Committee decides if the exam is passed or failed by a vote. The decision of the majority of the Supervisory Committee is retained. In the event of a tie, the Exam Chair decides on the outcome of the exam.

In the event of a failure, the student will be given one opportunity to repeat all or part of the candidacy exam. A second failure would normally result in the student being required to withdraw from the university.

As a result of the exam, the student's Supervisory Committee may require the student to fulfill additional course requirements.

The Supervisory Committee, through the Graduate Advisor, will report the result of the examination to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Within one week after the Candidacy Exam, the student and supervisor formalize a proposed completion timeline with a goal defense date, to be submitted to the Graduate Secretary.