PhD candidacy exam

The Candidacy Exam is a program requirement of all PhD students and taken within the first 18 months of, and no later than 2 years after a student's registration in the PhD program.

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

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.


Normally a member of the Graduate Committee chairs the Candidacy Exam and the Supervisory Committee attends and determines the outcome. 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.

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

The length of the candidacy report is usually about 20-40 pages. The student should discuss the expected length and content with their supervisor and committee. The supervisor, committee members and exam chair should receive the report 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. The Exam Chair should be made aware of any changes to the procedure in advance of the oral exam, and ultimately decide on if they approve the proposed changes.

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

The Examining Committee 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 2 hours.

The Supervisory Committee through a majority vote determines a pass or fail. In case of a tie, the Exam Chair decides on the outcome of the exam.

In the event of a failure, the student has 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.

The student's Supervisory Committee may require the student to fulfill additional course requirements based on the result of the exam.

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.  The student and supervisor communicates this to the graduate program assistant through the Candidacy Program Outline form.