Have a look at our Guide to Graduate StudiesQueen's University School of Graduate Studies, and the school of graduate studies FAQ. Still stuck? Then read on!

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I need counselling help for stress or concerns of violence or harassment?
You should not hesitate to contact the Campus Grad Counsellor for confidential and professional assistance (see below). You can also contact the Grad Chair for confidential advice. In addition, a list of safety contact information can be found here:

There are a number of resources to help students who are coping with stress, harassment, or other challenges or safety issues you may be facing:

1. Here is a list of safety contact information: Safety contacts and Steps to Follow After a Sexual Assault

2.  Here is a link to Queen's Policy of Sexual Violence.  This document includes important definitions, advice and contact information; please read it.

3. SGPS (School of Graduate and Professional Students) has student advisors available via email at advisors@sgps.ca Phone:  613 533 3169.

4. SGS Embedded Counsellors:  Dave Neary and Anja Troje - To book a counselling appointment, call 613 533 2136 (32136).  This is a dedicated phone line and has confidential voicemail.

5. Here is a link to a variety of specialized support services available on campus:


Who is on my MSc supervisory committee?
For an MSc student, the SVC consists of the Supervisor (and sometimes also a co-supervisor ) and at least two other faculty members, one of whom must be a regular (i.e. not Cross-appointed or adjunct) faculty member in Biology, and one of whom should be from a different research area either inside or outside the department. You can have more people on the SVC if you want. 

Who is on my PhD supervisory committee?
For a PhD student, the SVC consists of the Supervisor (and sometimes also a co-supervisor ) and at least two other faculty members, one of whom must be a regular (i.e. not Cross-appointed or adjunct) faculty member in Biology, and one of whom must be from a different research area either inside or outside the Department. In some circumstances a student may have a committee member who is not a member of the School of Graduate Studies, or is not even a faculty member at Queen's. In such cases, a request must be made in writing to the Graduate Studies Committee, stating reasons for the request and qualifications of the proposed committee member. You can add more people to the SVC if you wish, but oversized committees can be cumbersome when it comes to scheduling meetings.

How often should I meet with my committee?
The SVC  MUST meet at least once each year with the student. For this meeting the student should send a brief written summary of research progress (usually 2-5 pages) to the SVC at least five working days prior to the committee meeting. This summary should include a month-by-month plan for completion of the thesis. The supervisor will keep copies of these research summaries. It is the responsibility of the supervisor and student to ensure that these meetings take place. Students (or supervisors) should also call a supervisory committee meeting any time there are academic problems or difficulties with the research program, or when a thesis defense or comprehensive exam is to be scheduled in the near future.

When should I hold my first committee meeting?
You should hold your first meeting within 6 months of enrollment in the graduate program.

What if someone from my SVC is on sabbatical?
You are welcome to use  Skype or any other method of teleconferencing system to hold meetings, even thesis defense exams, when a committee member is out of town. You should make arrangements with any members of your SVC regarding any deadlines or related issues if a SVC member is expected to be unavailable for an extended period.

What if I want to change the composition of my SVC committee partway through my program?
As long as the composition fulfills the requirements (see above), you are welcome to change the composition of your SVC at any time. Make sure that the graduate administrator is made  aware (in writing) of the composition of the revised SVC

What if, due to personal conflicts, I want to change supervisors during my program
Occasionally, situations arise where it may be in the student’s best interest to seek external advice/support about changing supervisors. Go to the  SGS site for further information. 


How many hours am I expected to work for each TAship?
65 hours

Does that 65 hours include preparation time, including attendance at lectures if the prof thinks I need to?
Yes. Each course instructor completes a TA-agreement form that indicates time-on-task and expectations. This form is signed by both the TA and the course instructor.

What do I do if it looks like I am going to do a little (or a lot) more (or less) than 65 hours?
TA commitments may vary a bit from the TA agreement as unexpected issues arise (e.g. equipment problems in labs, more-than-expected student emails, etc.). It is important that TAs keep track of their hours and communicate with the course instructor if their hours are deviating by more than 10% (collectively) from the agreed upon plan. It’s a good idea to evaluate how much time you are spending at about the 6-week mark and inform the instructor or professor if you think you are doing more than you are being paid for. Please talk to the Graduate Studies Coordinator if you think you are doing too much work but do that early rather than when the course has finished or is nearing completion.


What courses do I have to take?
All graduate students (both MSc and PhD) must take AODA 800,  a 1-h module on equity training associated with disabilities in the workplace. A link (poorly) entitled "Accessible Customer Service Training" on the Queen's Equity Home page will take you to a login site and the module. You will not be permitted to TA until you have completed this module.  It takes about 1-h to complete—if you try to do it faster, it will not recognize your effort and, frustratingly, you will have to redo it.  Even if you are not TAing, you need to complete this module ASAP because of potential liability concerns associated with working in a public sector (university) environment and the need for disability awareness.  You will receive an email from the Equity Office after you complete the module—forward this to Joanne so that she can keep a record of it in your file.

All graduate students should also have WHMIS training, and those who work with animals must have animal care training.  MSc students are also required to take 4 graduate (half) courses, usually drawn from the list of graduate courses offered in the Biology Department.

PhD students are not required to take graduate course in addition to AODA 800, WHMIS and animal care training, unless their supervisory committee specifies course requirements.


When should I schedule my defense?
Before scheduling a defense, you should meet with your SVC and get their approval to submit and defend your thesis. Please indicate on the committee meeting report form that your project is essentially completed and ready to be written up in the form of a thesis. Once your supervisor deems your thesis complete, you should then schedule your defense. It is always your right to submit your thesis at any time whether or not your supervisor and committee approve.

Who will be at my MSc defense?

The thesis examination will be OPEN unless a request based on justifiable reasons has been approved by an Associate Dean (SGS) (see regulation here:  http://www.queensu.ca/calendars/sgsr/thesis.html  Attendance at the oral thesis examination)

You can choose to have an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ defense. For an open defense, an audience (eg. labmates, friends) is permitted to attend following your seminar presentation, but they are not free to ask questions. In a closed defense, only the examining committee is present. The MSc examining committee is comprised of a minimum of 5 faculty, as follows:

  • 1 Chairperson (chosen by the Graduate Studies Assistant in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator)
  • 1 Head’s Delegate (usually a member of the Graduate Studies Committee)
  • 1 or 2 Biology faculty members (usually from the student's supervisory committee)
  • 1 Internal-external Examiner (a faculty member from a different research area)
  • 1 Supervisor (or, in some cases, 2 Co-supervisors)

Either the Chair or the internal-external examiner must be from a different department

What is the role of the Chair during my defence (or comprehensive) exam?
The Chair is a university representative, from outside of Biology, who ensures that the regulations established by SGS are followed. Simply put, they ensure the process is fair, thorough, and all the required paperwork, procedures, etc. are looked after.

What is the role of the Head's Delegate during my defence?
The HD ensures that the quality of thesis and defence are up to departmental standards. The role of the HD is not to scrutinize your thesis for grammatical errors, formatting issues, etc—that is the role of the student and supervisor. The HD judges the examiners as well as the student to ensure that the exam is rigorous and challenging at the level expected of grad research in our department.  

Who will be at my PhD defense?
See the note above for ‘MSc defense’. In addition, a PhD examination committee has an external examiner, who is an expert in your field from a different university (i.e. they cannot be Queen’s faculty).  All committee members must be approved by the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.

How long do I have to revise my thesis and submit my thesis after my defense if revisions are needed?
In the case of a successful defense, but where thesis revision are required (very common), revisions should be done as quickly as possible and are expected to be completed and the thesis resubmitted within a week. Officially, however, you have up to one year to submit revisions but you will be charged tuition until the final version is submitted.

How late can I defend in each term and avoid all tuition fees?
Usually the thesis must be defended and corrections submitted before the end of the first month in a term if you want to avoid tuition fees for that term. 


Can I submit my thesis as a PDF to my examiners?
Ask each of your examiners what they prefer.

Is there a maximum page length?
For an MSc thesis, 100 pages inclusive of everything but appendices and front matter (title page, tables of contents, etc.). For a PhD thesis, 175 pages inclusive of everything but appendices and front matter. If you wish to submit a thesis longer than these maxima, you must obtain written permission from each member of your supervisory committee before submission. See Section 13.3 in the Department Guide to Grad Studies.

What are the formatting requirements?
There are two acceptable formats: (i) traditional thesis format or (ii) manuscript format. See section 13 in the Department Guide to Grad Studies for details. The School of Graduate Studies also has important information on thesis formatting to help you out.

Do I have to include a general introduction and discussion?
Yes, even if you are using a manuscript format. Several pages of general discussion can be a useful place to speculate, to point to future directions, to raise new questions, etc. It is also a good place to present ideas that may fall outside the realm of what would be included in any manuscripts 

Can my data chapters be in a format that I would submit to a journal for publication?
Yes, see the above notes on ‘manuscript format’ for theses. But keep in mind that you are still required to abide by the formatting regulations provided by the School of Grad Studies (see link above for SGS format rules).

Can I use colour on my graphs?
Yes, but be sure to use high-contrast colours and avoid colours that may not be distinguishable to someone who is red-green colour blind.

What are the formatting requirements for graphs?
You should use the format that is most commonly found in journal articles in your field of research.

Where should I put my figures?
Figures should be embedded in the results section(s) of your thesis. They must be numbered and each figure should be embedded at the point-of-1st-mention in the text describing that figure.  The same rule applies for Tables. Extensive data tables (e.g. raw data) can be place in an appendix. Captions should be placed directly below a figure (or above a Table) wherever possible. When the image/table size prevents this, the caption should be on the facing page of the Table/Figure. Images and text within a figure must be legible so be sure to check this if you are using small fonts within your figures – use a minimum font size of 8.

Are there guidelines about the expectations of MSc and PhD degrees?
Yes, there are some basic guidelines, expectations, and learning outcomes described in documents of our Forms and Info page. These are simply general guidelines however and the specific expectations associated with your project should come from formal discussions with your supervisor and supervisory committee associated with your annual meetings and progress reports.


What is the minimum guaranteed annual stipend?
This changes from year to year, usually in consideration of inflation. As of September 1, 2019 the minimum stipend is $24,300/yr. for MSc students and $24,800/yr. for PhD students.

Where does this money come from?
The salary is a combination of funding from: TAships, QGAs (Queen’s Graduate Awards – generally guaranteed to every in-time student), supervisor’s research grant and, if available, internal or external scholarships. Students who have major scholarships are not  given first preference for TAing.

When do I get paid?
Typically, payment is monthly, on the last business day of the month, in equal installments.

Can I earn more money if I want or need to?
Depending upon the availability of TAships, and/or supervisor’s willingness/ability to contribute additional funding, it may be possible to earn more than the minimum stipend.

How long do I get this stipend for?
The guaranteed stipend for full-time students covers 2-years for MSc and 4-years for PhD students, from time of first enrollment. After these periods, students are considered ‘overtime’ and continued funding is at the supervisor’s discretion. 


Who pays for my books and supplies?
Stationary supplies should be provided by your supervisor. You will probably have to pay for additional texts, journal subscriptions (for journals not found in Queen’s library system), or other related books.

Who pays for my research expenses?
Your supervisor will probably pay all of your research expenses from their research grants but students often get (usually small) research grants on their own that will help to defray some of the costs.

How is the amount available for my research determined?
Supervisors are expected to anticipate and budget for all research-related expenses.

Who pays for me to go to conferences?
Funding for conference attendance is covered by research grants but a small amount is available each year from the Biology Department and/or the School of Graduate Studies. Typically, students must be presenting data at a conference in order to be eligible for this financial support. In addition, many professional societies (who organize conferences) set aside competitive funds for student travel.


What is the normal length of time required to complete my degree?
The expected times-to-completion are 2 yrs for the MSc and 4 yrs for the PhD degree.

Will I get paid if I go overtime?
Students who are overtime need to consult with their supervisors about the possibility for continued funding after the date for the minimum guaranteed stipend has passed.

When and how do I apply for an extension if I go over the time limits?
Students need to apply to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) for time limit extensions. A one-semester extension is usually accommodated without an issue. Thereafter, more documentation and rationale for the extension may be requested by SGS. 


Who should be a co-author on papers that come out of my thesis work?
See Section 13.3 in the Department Guide to Grad Studies.

There should be a separate section (1-2 pages), following the Abstract of your thesis, in which you outline who the co-authors (if there were any) are for each of the chapters and what their contribution was. You should also make it very clear what your contribution was to each co-authored chapter. If there were no co-authors, do not include this section. In many cases, students will indicate, in this section, which figures (tables, etc.), or part-thereof, were generated by co-authors. In cases were data presented in a thesis is from an Honour’s student who was mentored by the graduate student, this information can also be indicated in this ‘Co-authorship’ section.

When can I publish my thesis?
Publications (journal articles) arising from a thesis are often published (or submitted for publication) before the thesis has been defended.

Can my supervisor (or anyone else) publish data that I collected for my thesis?
Supervisors have the right to write up and take first authorship on papers based on any material in the thesis or arising from the thesis that is not submitted for publication within one year of normal degree time limits (2 years for MSc, 4 for PhD). Since the student will be co-author on such papers, such thesis material may be used directly without infringing on the student's copyright. See Section 6 in the Department Guide to Grad Studies.

Updated October 18, 2019

Still need more help?

If you need more information, or want to arrange a meeting with an Academic Advisor, please contact the Graduate Assistant Joanne Surette.


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Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

It's a parts list... If I gave you the parts list for the Boeing 777 and it had 100,000 parts, I don't think you could screw it together and you certainly wouldn't understand why it flew

Eric Lander

What is true for E. coli is also true for the elephant

Jacques Monod

The world becomes full of organisms that have what it takes to become ancestors. That, in a sentence, is Darwinism

Richard Dawkins

Shall we conjecture that one and the same kind of living filaments is and has been the cause of all organic life?

Erasmus Darwin

Nature proceeds little by little from things lifeless to animal life in such a way that it's impossible to determine the line of demarcation


Cells let us walk, talk, think, make love, and realize the bath water is cold

Lorraine Lee Cudmore

In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history

Charles Darwin

It is my belief that the basic knowledge that we're providing to the world will have a profound impact on the human condition and the treatments for disease and our view of our place on the biological continuum

J. Craig Venter

Imagine a house coming together spontaneously from all the information contained in the bricks: that is how animal bodies are made

Neil Shubin

A grain in the balance will determine which individual shall live and which shall die - which variety or species shall increase in number, and which shall decrease, or finally become extinct

Charles Darwin

The stuff of life turned out to be not a quivering, glowing, wondrous gel but a contraption of tiny jigs, springs, hinges, rods, sheets, magnets, zippers, and trapdoors, assembled by a data tape whose information is copied, downloaded and scanned

Steven Pinker

We wish to discuss a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid. (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biologic interest

Rosalind Franklin

We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget

Mary Roach

The systems approach to biology will be the dominant theme in medicine

Leroy Hood

I've always been interested in animal behavior, and I keep reading about it because it's so surprising all the time - so many things are happening around us that we neglect to look at. Part of the passion I have for biology is based on this wonderment"

Isabella Rossellini

Because all of biology is connected, one can often make a breakthrough with an organism that exaggerates a particular phenomenon, and later explore the generality

Thomas Cech

Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution

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Biology is now bigger than physics, as measured by the size of budgets, by the size of the workforce, or by the output of major discoveries; and biology is likely to remain the biggest part of science through the twenty-first century

- Freeman Dyson

Nothing can be more incorrect than the assumption one sometimes meets with, that physics has one method, chemistry another, and biology a third

- Thomas Huxley