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Theses, Examinations, and Graduation

Table of Contents

    Supervisory Committee

    A supervisory committee will be appointed for each PhD candidate immediately upon his or her acceptance into the PhD program (or by the end of the first year, for direct-entry PhD). This committee will consist of the supervisor and two other Faculty members of the Graduate Department of Physics who are appointed upon the recommendation of the supervisor, in consultation with the student, and with the approval of the Associate Chair. It is recommended that the committee consist of one experimentalist and one theorist, and that, as far as possible, one should be in the same research field and the other in a related field. The supervisory committee is intended to monitor the student's progress and be available to provide guidance and assistance to the student. Informal meetings between the student and individual members of the committee are encouraged. However, both student and supervisor have the right to call a formal meeting at any time. The Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, or a faculty member whom he or she appoints, may attend any formal meeting of the supervisory committee. The first formal meeting of the supervisory committee will normally be at the PhD Qualifying Examination.

    Annual PhD supervisory committee meeting

    The PhD supervisory committee must meet with the student at least once a year to assess the student’s progress in the program, and to provide advice on future work. At least one week prior to the meeting, the student should distribute a written report, typically about 5 pages long, which gives an update on their thesis problem, the progress made to date, and future plans. At the meeting the student will present a 20-minute overview of the status of their research, with an emphasis on where the major problems and challenges lie. Once the student is beyond their 5th year of graduate studies, meetings of the supervisory committee can be  held more frequently. For these meetings the student should include a statement an explicit time line for PhD completion, in addition to the usual report. 

    The committee will then help the student assess the nature of the problems encountered and suggest ways ahead. It will also assess the overall appropriateness of the research scope of the thesis. The committee submits a report detailing its observations of the student’s progress and its recommendations; the student may append a response if desired. If any member of the committee is unsatisfied with the situation then the report should reflect this. In the case of unsatisfactory progress, details must be provided and another supervisory meeting scheduled. Copies of the report are given to the student and filed with the Department. Further comments on responsibilities of the student, supervisor, and supervisory committee are given at .


    MSc Oral Examination (for students in MSc Option II)

    Within three terms of their initial enrolment, candidates for Option II of the MSc (without thesis) will be given an oral examination on the Research Project which they have been pursuing. The Examination Committee will consist of the supervisor and two Faculty assessors appointed by the Department, in consultation with the supervisor. The two Faculty assessors will provide two grades, one based on the written report of the Research Project (PHY3400Y), and the other on the oral presentation and defence of the Research Project (the 7000-series Seminar course).

    PhD Qualifying Examination

    PhD candidates must present themselves for examination within two terms of enrolment in the PhD program (or within five terms for direct entry students), or within five terms of enrolment in the School of Graduate Studies, whichever comes first. For students with a September enrolment, this is typically around April in the second academic year of graduate studies. The intention of the Qualifying Examination is to assess the candidate's ability and readiness to promptly carry forward and successfully complete independent PhD level research. This assessment will be based on the candidate's graduate record to date, including three full graduate lecture courses and the research performed, together with the presentation and defense of a research plan for the PhD thesis.

    Students who have not completed their Qualifying Examination by the end of their third term in the PhD program will fall out of “good academic standing” and will not be eligible for scholarship support until they successfully complete the Examination. Students (and supervisors) should understand this means they will not be subject to the minimum funding guarantee for the time they are not in good academic standing. Making a first attempt before the end of the second term in the PhD program allows for a second attempt before the end of the third term. Between these two attempts the student remains in good standing and their support is subject to the minimum funding guarantee. It is the responsibility of the student to schedule the first attempt in a timely fashion, or risk losing financial support if they have not successfully completed the Qualifying Examination before the start of their fourth term in the PhD program.  

    The examination committee will normally consist of the three members of the supervisory committee and a Convener, who is a member of the Standards and Evaluations Committee who is not a member of the candidate's proposed supervisory committee. The student should provide each of the four members of the examination committee with a written outline of the proposed thesis project (about 5 pages or less), one week prior to the PhD Qualifying Examination.

    One of the Convener's important duties is to ensure that departmental standards are maintained across the wide spectrum of disciplines in the Department. As a full member of the examining committee, the Convener will lead a discussion to assess that the candidate's academic and research performance to date, as determined by the grades obtained in graduate lecture courses, the 6000 series Research course (if taken), and the MSc `Report' course (if taken). Members of the supervisory committee will comment on their perception of the candidate's ability to perform independent research at the PhD level and on the quality of the research carried out by the candidate.

    The candidate will then be asked to present, in approximately 20 minutes, a research plan that will lead to a PhD thesis. The examining committee will then question the candidate, who will be expected to explain and defend the research plan, to field questions on issues relating to the research, and to show the basic foundational knowledge needed in their research field. Finally, the Convener will lead a discussion to obtain a consensus on whether or not the candidate has presented a sufficiently realistic and well conceived program of research and has sufficiently demonstrated the academic ability, the required background preparation, the potential for independent research, and the scientific judgment to be permitted to continue in the PhD program.

    The examination committee may permit or deny confirmation of the candidate in the PhD program. The committee may recommend one or more conditions (e.g. additional course requirements) that the candidate must fulfill before being allowed to continue. In the event of a denial, the candidate may be re-examined within four months of the date of the first examination. Upon a second unsuccessful result, PhD enrolment will be terminated.

    PhD Defence Step 1: Departmental Examination

    Each candidate for the PhD and their thesis will be examined at a Departmental PhD Oral Examination upon receipt of a copy of the thesis (See "END GAME” – Summary Table for detailed information on the timeline.). The departmental examination committee normally consists of the supervisory committee and a Convenor, who is often the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. The candidate should prepare a lucid 20-minute discussion of the thesis contributions. Then, committee members ask questions about the thesis work and the subject matter more generally. The purpose of the departmental exam is to be reasonably certain that the candidate will be successful at the SGS Final Oral Examination (see below). The role of the Convenor is to ensure that the examination is conducted in a manner that is completely fair to the candidate. After the examination, the Convenor will lead the discussion to obtain a consensus of the Committee as to whether or not the candidate may go forward to the SGS Final Oral Examination. Note that it is our general observation that candidates are very well informed about their research, by the time they have reached the Examinations stage, but less forthcoming about the more general questions. One common outcome of the departmental Exam is to suggest topics of study (or refresher) before the SGS defence.

    PhD Defence Step 2: Final Oral Examination (FOE) at the School of Graduate Studies

    This examination is run under the auspices of the School of Graduate Studies by a committee which includes, besides members from the Department of Physics, one member from outside the University of Toronto, who provides an external appraisal of the thesis. The Final Oral Examination will be scheduled not sooner than eight weeks after the Department Ph.D. Oral Examination. This time cannot be reduced due to the time required to organize the meeting and the time required for the committee and the examiner to read the thesis. Students are strongly advised to allow for this time when planning their completion exercises. See "END GAME” – Summary Table for detailed information on the timeline for the submission of your dissertation and the FOE. The Guidelines for the doctoral final oral examination can be found on the SGS policies and guidelines page.

    The External Appraiser should be a recognized expert on the subject of the thesis and should be external to the University and to its affiliated research institutes. Such an individual must be an Associate or Full Professor at their home institution or (if from outside of the academic sector) must possess the qualifications to be appointed to an academic position at this level. A CV of the External Examiner will be necessary for review by the School of Graduate Studies.

    The external appraisal is the comments of the external examiner on the thesis. It will hopefully be constructive and will recommend acceptance, perhaps with some conditions and will almost certainly have some quite specific questions and comments about the thesis. It may say that some of these queries need to be answered before the thesis is acceptable. These questions and comments will certainly provide part of the discussion at the FOE, which the external examiner must attend, either in person or virtually. You and all members of the FOE should receive a copy of the external appraisal two weeks before the FOE to ensure that you have time to respond to the comments and queries at the FOE. It is an SGS regulation that the contents of the External Appraisal cannot be discussed with the External Examiner prior to the FOE.

    The conduct of the FOE is broadly the same as all other oral examinations: after a short in-camera discussion for the committee to examine the file and organize itself, the candidate is invited to give a 20-minute summary of the main results of the thesis after which the candidate is questioned on the thesis and the oral presentation. There are usually two or three rounds like this, and the questions may vary from particular questions about points in the thesis to general questions about the context of the research, the subject area and the research area in general. Both the thesis and the oral defense must be judged acceptable in order for the candidate to pass the examination.

    As of January 2016 the Physics Department has adopted the option for a public presentation of the thesis work to be given before the remainder of the FOE. This presentation is open to any member of the department as well as friends/family invited by the Candidate. The presentation will last for about 45-minutes and should include the ‘expert summary’ that is normally given in the first 20-minutes of the FOE. All members of the examination committee (including the External Examiner but not, necessarily the SGS chair) are expected to attend the public presentation as this will not be repeated. The committee will refrain from asking questions in public. Instead the candidate and committee members will move to a smaller room, where they will be joined by the SGS chair to complete the FOE with the questioning and conclude with a deliberation on the result of the FOE. The Candidate will be asked if they want to pursue the public presentation option with the FOE is being scheduled and the Graduate Office will make the arrangements for the rooms and inform the committee members at that time.

    Reports and Theses

    An archival document is departmental approved and made available in the University’s digital library repository where it becomes a matter of public record. Accordingly it must be written in a clear and comprehensible manner in acceptable scientific language, free of both major and minor errors, well organized, and professionally bound and presented. It should provide a complete and accurate record of the research which has been performed. All references and sources must be carefully and comprehensively listed, and full details of calculations, experimental procedures, and equipment should normally be included (often in appendices). Theses are generally archival documents; reports are not.

    MSc Report (for Option I)

    The written account of an independent examination by candidates for Option I of an agreed minor research topic or literature survey carried out with the advice of a research supervisor. It is not expected to involve extensive calculations or the building of any new experimental equipment. It should be completed within three terms of full time graduate study in which three full lecture courses are also being taken. The report need not meet archival standards. It is considered to constitute the same workload as two full courses, with one full-course grade being given by the supervisor for the supporting research as the research course grade, and one full-course grade being given by an independent Faculty assessor for the M.Sc. report, which is listed as PHY3400Y on the candidate’s transcript. The format and length of the report are given below.

    N.B.: For candidates who start their M.Sc. studies in September, the M.Sc. Report must be submitted to the Graduate Office before the end of the third week of the following August.

    MSc Research Report (for Option II)

    Research carried out by candidates for Option II under the supervision of a faculty member resulting in a written report. The research should attack a significant scientific question, but need not involve extensive calculation or the construction of any new piece of experimental equipment. It should be capable of completion within three terms of full time graduate study where two courses are being taken simultaneously, and be brought to a point where the potential of the research is demonstrated and the candidate's ability to carry out independent research can be evaluated. The written report is not expected to meet archival standards. The format and length of the report are given below. The Research Project is considered to constitute the same workload as three full lecture courses. The grade for the Research course is given by the supervisor based on the student's work during the first two terms. Then, upon completion of the written report, the candidate will be given an oral examination by a committee consisting of the supervisor and two Faculty assessors appointed by the Department. The Faculty assessors will provide the remaining two grades at this examination: one based on the quality of the oral presentation and defence by the student of the Research Project (the appropriate ‘Seminar’ course) and the other based on the quality of the written report (PHY3400Y).

    N.B.: For candidates who start their M.Sc. studies in September, the written report must be submitted electronically to the Graduate Office before the end of the third week of the following August, and the oral examination must be taken before the end of the second week in September.

    Direct-entry PhD: Progress report for year 1

    At the end of their first year in the graduate program, direct-entry PhD students must submit a narrative about their progress towards establishing their thesis topic. This should include any research done to date, literature review, learning technical tools, and any results achieved so far. This should not be too detailed: year-1 progress reports are typically five pages. The report should be reviewed by your advisor before submitting to the graduate office. The intention is that it may provoke a useful discussion between the PhD student and their advisor, about progress to date and planning for the coming year.

    The reports should be sent to by August 31st of the summer of your first year. It should either be signed by your advisor (electronically or physically), or they should follow up with a "seen and approved" email to grad@physics. The report will not be graded, but it does document your progress towards the PhD.

    PhD Thesis

    The written report of original research carried out by the candidate in an independent manner, but under supervision as to quality and correctness. The research should result in one or more contributions to the scientific field of sufficient importance to be publishable in the scientific literature. The written thesis is to be of archival quality, and must represent the candidate's own work. The format and length of the thesis are given below. The thesis and the candidate will be examined at a Departmental Ph.D. Oral Examination, by a committee that will normally consist of the supervisory committee, convened by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. This committee will recommend whether or not the candidate should proceed to the Final Oral Examination.

    Report and Thesis Formats

    Technical Requirements

    A PDF document must be created, with LaTeX or software at a similar professional standard. For both MSc reports and PhD theses, follow the font size, line spacing, margins, page sizes specified at .
    MSc reports, however, do not need to follow the "Page Order" or "Title Page" format of the PhD. Bibliographies should follow Physical Review formatting by default, or an equivalent standard from your field of study.

    Length Limitations

    The limits on length for each degree option are as follows:

    • M.Sc. report, Option I : 6,000 words
    • M.Sc. report, Option II : 12,000 words
    • Ph.D. thesis : 45,000 words

    In all cases, size limits refer to the main body of the document, excluding prefaces, references, indexes, diagrams, tables, appendices and the like. However the document shall be examinable without reference to text other than that contained in the main body of the document. Reports or theses which exceed the limits above will not normally be accepted for examination. Explicit evidence of compliance with size limits will not normally be required, but will be requested by the Graduate Office as necessary.

    Convocation and Graduation

    Please see Convocation & Graduation Information provided by the Office of Convocation.