PhD candidacy examinations


All PhD students must pass candidacy exams in two fields within the discipline. Each PhD candidate must enroll in POLI 693 (Candidacy Examinations) for the duration of their preparation for their two candidacy examinations. This begins at the time a student first enrolls in the PhD program and continues until candidacy requirements have been completed. Each candidacy exam is composed of a written exam followed by an oral exam.

The purpose of the exams is to provide all students receiving a PhD in Political Science at UVic a broad understanding of the literature and issues in the discipline, to expose students to concepts in a different area of the discipline, and to prepare students for teaching competence in their two chosen fields. The exams are thus meant to be generalist in orientation, in contrast with the specialist nature emphasized by their dissertation research and graduate course work.

The department offers exams in six major fields of political science:
  • Canadian Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Political Theory
  • Public Policy and Governance (not available 2019-20)
  • Indigenous Nationhood

Normally, students will complete a field seminar in each of the areas in which they will write a candidacy exam.

Cultural, Social and Political Thought
Students who are enrolled in the CSPT program must successfully complete one candidacy exam in CSPT and the second in one of the following fields: Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory.

Certificate in Indidgenous Nationhood
Students who are enrolled in the Certificate in IN are required to take one candicacy exam in Indigenous Nationhood and the second in one of the following fields: Canadian Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory.

Public Policy and Governance
In Public Policy and Governance, administered jointly with the School of Public Administration, two seminars are required, POLI 607 and POLI 610.

However, the field seminars are not designed to be sufficient for exam preparation. Preparation for candidacy exams is meant to go well beyond the field seminar, to include other departmental seminars and to be the focus of the student’s time between the end of Spring term of their first year and end of Spring term of their second year.


Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations stipulate that all students must complete both exams within two years of their initial registration in the PhD program. Students normally take their comprehensive exams during the second year of their program.

PhD candidacy exams will be offered in the Fall and Spring of each year. The Fall exam will be held in October (beginning of first week to the end of the third week), and the Spring exam will be held in March (beginning of the first week to the end of the third week). Students are required to give written notice to the graduate advisor of their intention to write.

For the October exam, notice must be received by May 1 of the previous academic term. For the March exam, notice must be received by November 1.

All candidacy exams consist of an oral and written component. The oral exam will follow within two weeks of the written exam. If a student receives an outcome of retake on the candidacy exam, a retake of the exam will be allowed within two to four weeks or in the following term. If the student fails the retake, the student must leave the program.

Upon receipt of convincing documentation, the Graduate Advisor and Section Head concerned may reschedule written or oral exams within the timing window in which the student was scheduled to write, or, on a discretionary, case-by-case basis, outside that timing window.  In cases involving the delay of a Fall exam for reasons of medical emergency or significant personal or family exigency, the student will be entitled automatically, where relevant, to a corresponding delay in the timing of their Spring exam as well.

Reading list development

The committee within each field in which an exam is offered must decide and inform students of the content of the reading list and the makeup of the examining committee within two weeks of the Exam notification date (May 1 for Fall and Nov 1 for Spring).

At this time, the committee must meet with students who have expressed intent to write the exam in the next exam period and discuss with the student the reading list, including areas or items that the student may like to add to the reading list.

The length of the reading list should be realistic in relation both to the time available for covering it and the generalist purpose of the exam. The Graduate Advisor (or in the case of CSPT, the Graduate Advisor in consultation with the Director of CSPT) is responsible to ensure that there is rough parity in the workload requirements for the different exams.

Exam procedures

Students will be given the questions for the written portion of the exam 24 hours in advance. It will consist of at least six questions, with students required to answer no more than four and no fewer than three.

The written component of the exam will be completed in a sit-down five-hour period. Exams are to be written on electronic equipment that has been approved for this purpose.

The oral portion of the exam will be scheduled within two weeks of the written portion. Assessment of the exam is based on both the written and oral components together. In cases where the committee has judged the exam to be a retake, the student must retake both portions of the exam.

The examining committee should consist of a minimum of three examiners and a chair. A candidate's supervisor is invited to participate in the oral exam in an ex-officio capacity.

Eligible examiners include regular full-time faculty within the department, within the interdisciplinary program (in the case of CPG and CSPT) who are members of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. The Graduate Advisor or designate shall chair the candidacy exam.