Guide to Grad Studies


This Guide outlines the policies and procedures followed by the Department of Biology with respect to Graduate Studies. Graduate studies at Queen's are administered under the regulations of the School of Graduate Studies and Research as described in the current Graduate Studies Calendar. Thus this Guide is meant to extend and interpret, for the Biology Dept, the regulations of the School of Graduate Studies which are, of course, the ultimate authority on many of these subjects. Links to some of the relevant documents on the school of Graduate Studies website are provided below.

Coordinator: Dr. Daniel Lefebvre
Associate Coordinator: Dr. Lonnie Aarssen
Graduate Studies Committee: Drs. Wm. Bendena, C. Eckert, J. Monaghan, Wm. Plaxton, R.M. Robertson, J. Smol, V. Walker
Graduate Studies Assistant: Ms Joanne Surette
Graduate Student Reps:  Katie Birchard
Graduate Office: Room 3109b BioSciences Complex, email: surettej@queensu.caphone 533-6138,

All correspondence, enquiries, academic change forms and registration forms should be directed to the Graduate Studies Assistant, Joanne Surette, in the Graduate Office (Room 3109b). All forms mentioned in this guide are available on the Biology Graduate Studies website.


1. Biology Graduate Studies Committee
2. Applications and Admissions
3. Financial Support of Students
4. Student Responsibilities and Professional Conduct
5. Supervisory Committees
6. Collaborative Research
7. Research of a Confidential Nature
8. Safety in Lab And Field
9. Course Requirements
10. Graduate Courses in Biology
11. Transfer from MSc to PhD
12. PhD Qualifying (Comprehensive) Exam
13. Time Limits for Completion
14. Thesis Formats
15. Thesis Defenses
16. Review of Academic Decisions
17.  Harassment and Protocols

APPENDIX Teaching Assistantships


1.1 Composition. The Graduate Studies program in the Department of Biology is administered by the Coordinator of Graduate Studies, assisted by the Graduate Studies Committee, under the authority of the Head of the Department. Graduate Studies Committee members are appointed on 1 July each year by the Head of the Department, usually for a three-year term. The Graduate Studies Committee consists of the Coordinator, the Head of the Department, five members of staff (including both the Associate Coordinator and, when possible, the Past Coordinator), and one graduate student representative (elected by the graduate students). The Graduate Studies Committee should comprise at least one member from each of the major research areas in the Department. All decisions of the Graduate Studies Committee are subject to approval by the Head of the Department.

1.2 Mandate. The Graduate Studies Committee

  1. sets standards for admission to graduate studies and recommends students for admission to Graduate School
  2. maintains the integrity and academic standards of the graduate program
  3. annually reviews the graduate program, including methods of graduate student assessment and training
  4. annually reviews the financial support of graduate students, and recommends changes in funding
  5. evaluates and ranks scholarship candidates
  6. evaluates briefs from staff or graduate students concerning matters of graduate training in the Department
  7. formulates departmental policy for graduate studies
  8. advises individual students or staff members concerning specific matters related to graduate research and training

1.3 Coordinator’s Responsibilities. The Graduate Coordinator is responsible for the operation of the Graduate Studies Committee and the Graduate Office and for all issues relating to enrolled students. The Coordinator signs all registration and academic change forms, etc., for continuing students. The Associate Coordinator is responsible for the review and acceptance of prospective graduate students and serves as Acting Coordinator in the absence of the Coordinator.


2.1. Advertisement. The Departmental program in graduate studies is advertised on the Biology Graduate Studies website, and by a pamphlet distributed by the Graduate School.

2.2. Applications. The Associate Coordinator deals with all enquiries about the graduate program. Applications for Graduate Studies are available on-line at the School of Graduate Studies.

2.3. Application Procedure. Applications and accompanying documents are submitted directly to the School of Graduate Studies via their website. A file is kept on every applicant at both the Graduate School and in the Biology Department. Completed applications are made available to potential supervisors and may be seen by faculty in the Graduate Studies Office. Potential supervisors include all regular Biology faculty members, who may also co-supervise students with other regular, cross-appointed and adjunct staff, as detailed in Section 5.

2.4. Acceptance. Faculty members are encouraged to correspond directly with applicants. Wherever possible, potential supervisors should interview prospective graduate students before the students are accepted into the graduate program. Recommendation for acceptance of each student is handled by the Associate Coordinator who may consult with the Graduate Studies Committee in complicated cases. Acceptance is recommended on the basis of academic ability (normally an upper second-class degree or better), availability of an appropriate supervisor, and availability of both financing and space. Formal acceptance is made by the Dean of Graduate Studies on the basis of the recommendation made by the Associate Coordinator.

The source(s) of financial support for each graduate student must be stated at the time of acceptance and must cover the entire minimum period of guaranteed support (2 years for MSc, 4 years for PhD). Queen's scholarships are not awarded before April 1st each year, and funds from the Queen's Graduate Awards to this Department are usually finalized for the coming academic year (starting in Sept) by June 30th.

2.5. Rejection. If no faculty member is willing to supervise an applicant, or insufficient funds are available to cover the minimum guaranteed level of support, the application is rejected by the Associate Coordinator. Letters of rejection should be sent by potential supervisors who have corresponded with the student.


3.1. Minimum Support. The Biology Department guarantees a minimum level of financial (i.e., salary) support (i) for the first four years of full-time study in the PhD program, whether the student has completed an MSc first, has transferred from an ongoing MSc program in the department, or has directly entered the PhD program without an MSc, and (ii) for the first two years of full-time study in the MSc program. This guaranteed financial support is provided by a combination of scholarships and fellowships, Queen's Graduate Awards, research assistantships and stipends (paid by the supervisor), and salary from Teaching Assistantships. See Minimum Financial Support web page for details on the current academic year. Tuition and student fees are paid by the student (see Graduate Calendar for details). A one-time award of $850 may be available to PhD students in year 5, contingent on the availability of QGA funds, and the recommendation of their Supervisory Committee. 

3.2. Teaching Assistantships. The Biology Department is committed to employment equity. TAships are allocated without discrimination to eligible women and men, including visible minorities, aboriginal people, persons with disabilities and persons of diverse sexual orientations. TAships are allocated to eligible students (see below) for specific courses based on several factors including:

  • the request by the student as outlined in the application form,
  • the student’s prior academic or teaching experience either in the course concerned or as assessed from the student’s transcripts,
  • the requests of the course coordinators.

Application forms are made available to all current and incoming students in May/June, and the positions are allocated by the Graduate Studies Assistant and the Graduate Coordinator and then posted at the end of July.  A TAship cannot be allocated to a student if an application form has not been submitted. The responsibility for submission of applications for students that have not yet registered for the first time lies with the supervisor. The supervisor may have to bear the cost of making up the minimum stipend if the student fails to apply and thus is not allocated a TAship.

There are four main Categories of graduate students with respect to TAships and the makeup of the Biology Graduate Minimum Guaranteed Stipend (this does not pertain to the PSAC Preference Groups A-D) :

Category 1: Students within time limits (first 4 years of a PhD; first 2 years of an MSc), whose funding from other sources is less than that guaranteed as the minimum level of support. This category does not distinguish between incoming and continuing students. Eligible for 3 TAships, each typically involving 65 hours work in a single term.

Category 2: Students on scholarships valued between $15,000 to 17,500.  Eligible for 1 TAship per year.

Category 3: Students whose program extends beyond the time limit (first 4 years of a PhD; first 2 years of an MSc). When available, 1, 2 or more TAships may be expected (although not guaranteed), contingent on satisfactory performance in the degree program, availability of TA funds, and financial need of the student.

Category 4: Students on scholarships valued over $21,000.  No TAships are guaranteed, but some may be available and these students are certainly encouraged to apply. Normally, students on major scholarships who have not held a TAship during their graduate student career will have higher priority.

We recommended that every graduate student do at least one TAship during their degree program because of its value as a teaching experience. Each TAship requires up to five hours of work per week, on average. Normally no full-time graduate student is permitted to be employed in excess of ten hours per week on average over the full year (12 months) on TAships (see Appendix) and other duties unrelated to their research. Major awards have their own limitations with respect to hours worked for extra salary and total remuneration, and award holders should consult their terms of award for this information. For example, NSERC expects award holders to devote the majority of their time to the expeditious completion of their degree program, and strongly suggests that award holders limit the total number of hours of employment per 12-month period to 450 hours.

Students who do not carry out their TAship duties in a fashion satisfactory to the Department may have their TAship(s) withdrawn. Unsatisfactory performance includes: not preparing adequately for laboratories, not giving the students adequate attention, failing to mark assignments promptly (usually within a week of their completion) or failing to attend TA meetings. The relationship between the TA and both the undergraduate students and the professor must be professional and TAs must avoid situations placing them in conflict of interest or favouritism. TAs whose performance is considered unsatisfactory will receive a verbal and then a written warning and subsequently will be required to resign the position if their performance does not improve. If a student is removed from a TA position the Department may assign other duties for which the student is better suited. Even if alternative duties are unavailable the student will continue to receive the remainder of the pay provided for in their contracts (see information here from the Graduate School). It is however important to stress that poor performance may result in the student receiving no further TA contracts. In such a situation neither the Department nor the supervisor has any obligation to replace the lost income and thus the guaranteed minimum support no longer applies.

Inability to teach effectively because of a lack of fluency in English constitutes a special case. Removal from a TAship on these grounds in any one term will not by itself preclude any offer of a teaching position in subsequent terms. However, the Department may require the student to demonstrate that the deficiency in English fluency has been made up before offering further teaching contracts to the student. In this case the supervisor will bear the responsibility for supplementing the student’s income to meet the guaranteed minimum (Senate Policies for TA's).

3.3. Waiving Support. The Biology Department prefers to accept students who can be assured of the minimum guaranteed level of financial support by the Department. In special cases academically qualified students having adequate personal financial resources may be admitted to graduate studies without the Department being committed to the minimum guaranteed level of support. In these cases, the potential supervisor and student must assure the Graduate Studies Committee, in writing, of the availability of adequate financing for the duration of the student's degree program.

3.4. Financial and Supervisory Statement.  By the end of September, each student MUST submit a  Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement form to the Biology Graduate Office outlining (i) all sources of financial support (salary) for that year, (ii) the research to be performed during the year, (iii) expected progress to and date of thesis completion, (iv) date of most recent committee meeting, (v) list of committee members, and (vi) availability of financial support for research (non-salary) for completion of the degree. This form is signed by both the student and the supervisor and copies should also be retained by each signatory. This form is a binding commitment between the professor and the student.

3.5. Vacation. Each graduate student receiving a stipend from the supervisor is allowed to take two weeks of paid vacation per year (in accordance with NSERC regulations). The supervisor and graduate student should agree upon a mutually suitable period for this vacation. When the University is closed for statutory holidays, and the period between Christmas and New Year's Day, does not count toward this vacation time.  See also School of Graduate Studies Vacation Policies and Procedures.


All students accepted by the School of Graduate Studies at Queen's University are required to adhere to the University's Code of Conduct, as described in Section 12 of the Graduate Calendar and to be fully aware of the University’s Computer Code of Ethics. Graduate students should also understand the seriousness of all forms of Academic Dishonesty, and be aware of the rules governing cases of Academic Dishonesty at Queen's.

Queen's University recognizes that all members of the University Community have the right to be free from harassment and discrimination. This includes sexual harassment, and discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, creed and sexual orientation. Procedures have been established at the University to guarantee these rights, so that each person feels that they are part of the community and is able to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the community. With the protection of these rights comes the responsibility to respect the rights of others. The University Anti-Harassment Policy should be read for details.

Graduate students are simultaneously students and teachers. Consequently, they should be familiar with the expectations of professional conduct in both the Supervisor - Graduate Student relationship, and in the Teaching Assistant - Undergraduate Student relationship. Graduate students are expected to treat each other, as well as faculty members, staff and undergraduates in a professional manner. For example, no graduate student shall subject an undergraduate to inappropriate, offensive or unwanted attention either in class, tutorials, labs or in material to be graded. Neither will graduate students engage in the telling of discriminatory jokes or in the use of racial slurs. Should such conduct occur, students would be in violation of the University's Code of Conduct and its Anti-Harassment/Discrimination Policy, and students could be subject to sanctions described therein.

In the same vein, graduate students should expect to be treated in a professional manner by all university faculty and staff.


5.1. Formation. Supervisory committees should be formed as soon as possible after the start of the student's first academic term of graduate study and should be chosen by the supervisor in consultation with the student. The members of the supervisory committee should normally be members of the School of Graduate Studies and must be listed on the student's Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement each year. The Graduate Studies Committee may recommend changes if the committee structure is deemed to be unsatisfactory (see below).

5.2. Composition. For an MSc student, the Supervisory Committee consists of the 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 is recommended to be from a different research area either inside or outside the department.

For a PhD student, the Supervisory Committee consists of the 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 from outside 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.

5.3. Supervisors and Co-supervisors. Any regular faculty member in Biology can supervise a student pursuing an MSc or PhD in Biology. Sometimes it might be useful for a student to have two Co-supervisors, for example when the thesis topic spans two disparate fields the particular expertise of each co-supervisor would be helpful. In such cases, a student and his/her co-supervisors must agree to one of the following arrangements, which is to be indicated on the Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement: (1) one of the co-supervisors is designated the major supervisor and will take primary responsibility for the student, especially in dealings with the Graduate Office, or (2) co-supervisors may share full responsibility for the student. In either case there should be a clear statement of financial responsibility for the student and the research. Cross-appointed and adjunct faculty may also co-supervise a student in conjunction with any other regular member of the Biology faculty. In such cases the regular faculty member will have ultimate financial and administrative responsibility for the student. Students with co-supervisors should discuss the details of collaborative research (see Section 6) with each of their supervisors, and include these details on their Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement each year.

5.4. Program Approval. The supervisory committee should meet with each new student as early as possible during their first term of study and plan the program of studies and research. This program may later be changed by consultation between the student and the supervisory committee.

5.5. Committee Meetings. The supervisory committee MUST meet at least once each year with the student. For this meeting the student should prepare a brief written summary of research progress (usually 3-5 pages) to be distributed to the supervisory committee members at least five working days prior to the committee meeting. 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 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.

5.6. Committee Reports. A committee report form must be filed with the Graduate Office after each committee meeting. This report should summarize the student's academic and research progress to date, as well as plans for the future including expected date of thesis submission. Progress reports must be signed by all members of the supervisory committee. On each report the student's progress to date must be indicated as "Satisfactory", "Conditional" or "Unsatisfactory". "Satisfactory" indicates that the student has received a passing grade on graduate courses and that the thesis research is progressing well and on schedule. "Conditional" indicates that due to poor marks or lack of research progress the student is not performing at a level that would allow the planned program to be completed successfully within the expected period. In such cases, another committee meeting must be held within four months to further evaluate the student's progress and to assess any conditions imposed at the previous meeting. In some cases this follow-up meeting might have to be delayed for up to eight months if a course has to be taken. At this second meeting the student's progress must be indicated as either "Satisfactory" or "Unsatisfactory". If an "Unsatisfactory" rating is indicated, another Committee Meeting must be held within two months to further evaluate the student's progress and again only a "Satisfactory" or "Unsatisfactory" rating can be given. Students receiving a second consecutive "Unsatisfactory" rating will be asked to withdraw from the program. All "Conditional" and "Unsatisfactory" ratings from committee meetings will be brought to the attention of the Graduate Studies Committee which may recommend further courses of action to the student and/or supervisory committee.

5.7. Supervisor's Absence. If a graduate supervisor leaves the University, or is absent on sabbatical leave, or is required by the University to perform other (administrative) duties, the supervisor should make formal written arrangements for an interim supervisor if this absence is likely to impair effective supervision.  Copies of this written arrangement must be given to both the student and the Graduate Office to be put in the student's file. Applicants for graduate study in this Department will be informed by the Graduate Office if their prospective supervisor will be absent from the Department for any prolonged periods during their first year of graduate work.

5.8. Student Grievance. A student who is dissatisfied with his/her progress, or feels that the commitments of the supervisor are not being fulfilled, should call a meeting of the supervisory committee to discuss the problem.

Alternatively, the student may request an interview with the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. In some circumstances, students may be advised to request an interview with the University grievance officers so that an official documentation of complaints can be recorded by an impartial party.

5.9. Change of Supervisor. The initial selection of a supervisor is usually considered a permanent arrangement by the student and professor. If, however, the student and the professor do not work well together, or find that their research interests are not compatible, a request to change supervisors may be made in writing to the Graduate Studies Committee. In all cases, it is recommended that the student discuss proposed changes with all members of his/her supervisory committee and with the Graduate Coordinator before a formal request for change is made.

5.10. Withdrawal from the Program. For students who withdraw for reasons other than unsatisfactory reports or failure of an examination, a letter and academic change form from the student and a letter from the supervisor detailing the reasons for withdrawal must be sent to the Graduate Coordinator.


6.1. Overview. Publication of results is a basic and integral part of research, so graduate students are expected to publish results from their thesis research in the scientific literature. Since thesis research is usually supported through the supervisor's research grant, and is normally a collaborative effort involving student and supervisor, some form of joint authorship is usually appropriate on all papers resulting from MSc and PhD thesis research. Incoming graduate students are encouraged to discuss authorship arrangements with their supervisor at the outset of their graduate program. Space is provided on the student's annual Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement to record the details of this arrangement to ensure both that the student and supervisor have discussed the matter and that some written record of the agreement is available in the student's file.

6.2. Guidelines. These guidelines reflect the general procedures followed by the majority of professors in the Department of Biology and are listed below to form the basis of discussion between student and supervisor.

  • The supervisor will retain copies of all data on which the thesis and publications are based. The supervisor has a right to both the raw data and any analyses derived from it.
  • The graduate student is usually first author on all publications arising directly from his/her thesis research; exceptions are sometimes made when the majority of ideas, data or analyses are provided by the supervisor or other researchers, but this should be discussed early in the research project.
  • The supervisor is usually co-author on all publications arising from the thesis research.
  • Where a significant amount of additional research or analysis is required to produce publishable results from a thesis, or where the student does not make a major contribution to the writing of publishable manuscripts, the supervisor is often first author.
  • Students employed as research assistants for data collection or analysis should not automatically expect joint authorship unless they have made significant original contributions to the research program.
  • 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.


7.1 Overview. Some research projects in the Department are funded under contract to private companies. This is particularly true for medical and biotechnological research where the end product of research might have commercial potential. A common requirement of such funding agencies is that all personnel engaged in the research must sign confidentiality agreements to prevent the dissemination of information about the project. This is done to protect an agency’s investment in a project from which it hopes to realise a financial profit.

A conventionally-funded research project can also generate a product that has commercial value and is then subject to a patent application. This can result in the research material becoming confidential and embargoed from publication for a period of time.

7.2 Recommendations. The Biology Department recognizes the important contribution that research of a confidential nature makes to the University and to the non-academic community. However, it also recognizes that an essential component of graduate education is to provide the opportunity for students to discuss the aims and results of their research within a wide audience including their peers, the Biology faculty, and research colleagues outside of Queen’s. Such discussion is prevented by undertaking a project protected by a confidentiality agreement. Therefore, the Department encourages Biology faculty to assign work of this nature whenever possible to postdoctoral research associates and technicians, rather than graduate students. The senate Document on Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment states that graduate students must not be assigned work in which non-academic considerations (e.g., commercial potential, financial gain, etc.) are a significant factor without the prior agreement of the School of Graduate Studies. When such an agreement is obtained, the Biology Department expects that confidential work will not comprise a large proportion of the work to be included in the student’s thesis. If, during the course of a project, a student generates results that require confidentiality, it is anticipated that the student will want to complete the project. Sometimes the need for a patent or a confidentiality agreement is not evident until a thesis project is well underway. In such cases, the student has the right to continue with the project and take it through to completion if she/he so desires.

All personnel in the supervisor's (or other relevant) laboratory as well as the Graduate Studies Committee) must be informed of any existing or planned confidentiality agreements associated with a graduate student's research.

7.3 Application Procedure. The supervisor of any student who wishes to undertake a research project protected by a confidentiality agreement must first ensure that the student is completely aware of the possible consequences of embarking on such a project. Such consequences include, but are not limited to: a) being prevented from presenting the results of their research at scientific meetings, b) being prevented from publishing the results of their research for some period of time, and c) being unable to recruit or retain the most appropriate faculty as members of their supervisory and examination committees (individual faculty are at liberty to sign or to not sign confidentiality agreements at their discretion, and may not wish to serve on a committee when such an agreement is necessary). Students who are unsure of the advisability of pursuing confidential research should discuss this matter with the Graduate Coordinator.

Permission for students to undertake confidential research must be obtained by applying in writing to the Graduate Studies Committee. This application should include: a) information on the nature of the research and the reasons why it must be confidential, b) an estimate of the proportion of the student’s thesis that will be confidential, c) an estimate of the length of time that the student will be prevented from disclosing this part of their research, d) an indication of how the student will still be able to participate in research discussions and meetings within the Department and the wider scientific community, and e) a signed declaration by the student indicating a desire to undertake the project and a recognition of the consequences of the restrictions. The Graduate Studies Committee will forward the application and a recommendation to the School of Graduate Studies. This application procedure should be followed either at the outset of a project protected in whole or in part by a confidentiality agreement, or when part of a project becomes confidential during the course of the research.

7.4. Restriction of Thesis. At the completion of a confidential research project a student may elect to protect the results by withholding the thesis from deposit in the library under the regulations set out in the Thesis section of the Graduate Calendar. This can be done by applying for successive six month periods of restriction up to a maximum of two years. A written application signed by both the student and the supervisor must be submitted to the Graduate Studies Committee who will then forward it with a recommendation to the School of Graduate Studies and Research. All parties must agree to the restriction. In the event that agreement cannot be reached the matter should be referred to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.


Safety is of utmost importance in all aspects of graduate work, and research in general. Queen’s is committed to helping students appreciate the importance of safety, and providing a safe working environment.

All Biology graduate students must complete WHMIS training at the start of their program, then do a refresher course at the start (Sept) of each academic year. WHMIS training is offered several times during the year, but primarily in September and just before the summer term begins. Mr. Dale Kristensen, the departmental safety officer, can be consulted concerning the scheduling of WHMIS courses. The WHMIS course consists of a few hours of instruction about lab safety procedures, followed by a take-home exam that can be completed on-line. Upon successfully passing the exam, students will be issued a WHMIS certificate. Students may also be required to take other safety-related courses, such as those dealing with radioactivity, or specific chemical environments, depending on their research.

Other 2-day courses are also offered, in First Aid and CPR, by the University. Notification of these courses are circulated on e-mail.

Laboratory environments have several potential hazards, with which the student should be familiar. MSDS sheets on chemicals are available on-line and should be consulted whenever you work with any chemical. Open dialogue with supervisors, colleagues and other staff can help ensure a safe working environment. Students are expected to be familiar with the location and operation of safety features in the lab, such as chemical showers, eye wash stations, protective eyewear, footwear and other clothing, fire extinguishers etc.

Students should understand the safety implications of their work. Any student who feels at any time they are working in an unsafe environment must immediately identify the problem to their supervisor or other faculty member. Students have the right to immediately refuse any work or responsibility that is not safe.

All Field Researchers must take the Field Safety Courses offered once or twice per year. Check with Dr. John Smol for dates at

It is a university requirement that all field researchers fill out, in consultation with supervisors, the on-line FIELD RESEARCH SAFETY PLANNING RECORD. This record must be approved by your supervisor and the Head of Biology before any field-work is undertaken. This record must be submitted at least one week before leaving for the field or any other off-campus activity related to graduate work, like conferences. These forms can be downloaded from the web sites noted above.

Students working with vertebrates must take the Animal Care WebCT course offered by Animal Care. For further information on this, contact Joanne Surette in the Biology Graduate Studies Office.

Memorize the University’s Emergency number: 533-6111 (or 36111 from an internal phone).


9.1. PhD Coursework. There are no formal course requirements for the PhD degree. PhD candidates may, however, be required by their supervisory committee to take (for credit or audit) courses relevant to their research program.

9.2. MSc Coursework. All MSc students must complete four graduate 3.0 credit courses (total of 12 credits required)  with a minimum standing of 70% in each course. Courses from other institutions or faculties may sometimes be transferred for credit toward an MSc but only after recommendation from the Graduate Studies Committee and approval by the Science Graduate Council and the School of Graduate Studies.

In certain instances, one 3.0 credit graduate course may be obtained by taking an advanced undergraduate (6.0 or 3.0 credit) course. In general, only 400-level undergraduate courses should be taken for graduate credit but if no suitable course is available, a 300-level can sometimes be taken. In all cases, students taking an undergraduate course for graduate credit must do additional work to bring the coursework up to graduate level. Students wishing to take one undergraduate 3.0 credit course for graduate credit must request permission in writing from the Graduate Studies Committee, stating reasons for the course of choice and what extra work will be required to raise the level of coursework. This then requires permission of the Graduate School.

9.3. Course Failure. A student who fails to obtain 70% in a graduate course taken for their degree program is normally asked to withdraw. In some cases, the student's supervisory committee may recommend to the Graduate Coordinator that the student should:

  • repeat the course requirements (examinations, term papers, etc) within one year after original examination, or
  • repeat the course, or
  • take a substitute course.

Such a recommendation should be made in writing to the Graduate Coordinator within one month of the grade being announced, outlining possible reasons for the student's failure in the course. The Graduate Coordinator will then send this request to the Chair of the Science Graduate Council for approval. If the request is not approved by the Science Graduate Council, the student will be asked to withdraw.


10.1. Overview. Graduate courses are an essential part of the program of graduate studies for the MSc degree in the Department of Biology. Apart from providing a formal means for students to increase their biological knowledge, courses should test and improve students' skills at scientific reporting—both written and spoken—and should stimulate the research interests of both students and instructors.

The experience of the instructor in presenting course material and leading well-focused discussion is generally crucial. It is suggested, therefore, that some formal seminars or lectures be given by the instructor(s) in each course. The guidelines listed below reflect the structure of many current courses in the Department. Instructors wishing to teach a course involving major deviations from these guidelines should discuss these with the Graduate Coordinator.

10.2. Course Outline. A written outline of the course should be given to the students at the beginning of the course and should contain a marking scheme, a list of weekly topics to be covered, a statement of deadlines (due dates) for all assignments, and a statement of the penalty for failing to meet a deadline.

10.3. Weekly Meetings. All graduate courses are expected to involve regular weekly meetings totaling approximately three hours/week.

10.4. Level of Instruction. Graduate courses should be presented primarily at the level of the current research literature in the field. Students lacking the necessary background to cope with such a course should be given preparatory reading or coursework.

10.5. Structure and Evaluation. The structural organization and the method of evaluation of students must be discussed and determined at the beginning of the course. At least 50% of the final mark for a course should be based on written work submitted by the students. All written material (i.e., research papers, exams) should be returned with a written evaluation.

10.6. Formal Critiques by Instructor. If student seminars or "participation" are graded, a written critique should be provided by the instructor and should cover content, style, approach, delivery, etc. In order to improve the effectiveness of future presentations, this critique should be made before the student's next presentation.

10.7. Deadlines and Grade Reporting. Grades for graduate courses will be submitted at the end of the term in which each course is given. Students who have not completed the course requirements when grades are submitted will be assigned an incomplete (IN) and a mark based on the work to date. That mark will be submitted as the student's grade for the course at the end of the next term (4 months after course completion) if no further marks are received. Thus extensions will not be granted for more than one term. If a deadline extension is granted for an assignment, this should be communicated to the student in writing (usually by email).

10.8. Number of Instructors. Whenever possible, two instructors (or more) should be involved in each graduate course. This provides students with a diversity of opinion and expertise and helps ensure objectivity of evaluation.

10.9.  Biol-897.  Biol-897 is a seminar course for MSc students that should normally be completed by the end of the sixth term of study.  If it is not completed within this time-frame then MSc over-time students must complete it in the seventh term.  All PhD transfers from the MSc program must complete the course by the end of the first term after the transfer occurs. 

Biol-897 may also double for the required MSc Seminar with the proviso that it is within one-term of the MSc defense.

10.10. Open courses Biol-951* - Biol-960* - Advanced Studies in …..

This option is available to provide instruction in particular areas in which there is no regular course available. Students may take each numbered course only once but double numbering in different disciplines allows a student to take a maximum of two Advanced Studies courses in their area of interest. Faculty members wishing to offer one of these modules must present a brief outline and rationale to the Graduate Studies Committee at least two weeks before the beginning of term in which the course will be offered. Modules should conform to one of the following two formats - only in exceptional circumstances will alternative formats be considered:

  • Seminar format. Requires a minimum of three enrolled students and at least two faculty. A written outline of topics will be given to students at the first or second meeting. Regular meetings will be held for lectures or seminars. There will be a final written examination.
  • Reading format. To be offered where less than three registered students are enrolled. Reading matter will be distinct from students' theses topics and will be the basis for a review-style report or a group of essays. The report or essays will be marked by at least two faculty members and there should also be an oral examination.


11.1. Rationale Students registered in the MSc program who show exceptional promise in their research may apply for transfer to the PhD program without completing their MSc thesis. This procedure is in place to rapidly advance qualified students to the doctoral program. The student is still required to complete all courses required for the MSc program but these need not be completed before transfer to the PhD. There are both pros and cons to transferring to the PhD as outlined on our information sheet.

To be considered for promotion to the PhD program, students must meet the following criteria:

  •  completed at least one term of the MSc program, full time, and have completed at least two graduate course (two half courses). Normally students will complete one full year of graduate studies before requesting this transfer
  •  have an overall first class average in graduate courses completed,
  •  have an undergraduate honours degree with a minimum upper second class standing or equivalent,
  •  meet departmental criteria for demonstrating promise and ability at research,
  •  apply to the Graduate Council for the Sciences (GCS) after one term of enrollment in the MSc program but prior to the end of the fifth term.

11.2. Procedure for Application to Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) The student will meet with the supervisor and the supervisory committee to agree upon whether he or she should transfer to the PhD program without completing the Master's thesis. During this meeting the ramifications of the transfer to the doctoral program are to be clearly defined for the student. If approved by the Graduate Studies Committee an application will be prepared for submission to the GSC.

The following documents are required for submission to the School of Graduate Studies :

  • all undergraduate and graduate transcripts (photocopies of originals are acceptable)
  • a letter of support from the Graduate Coordinator
  • a letter from the student to acknowledge that she/he agrees with the proposal to promote her/him and that she/he knows she/he cannot revert to the Master's program at a future date
  • a letter of support from the current research supervisor that addresses the student's outstanding research potential, as well as a statement of expected financial support and evidence that the current Master's project has the potential to be developed into a PhD dissertation
  • at least one other letter of support from a faculty member other than the current supervisor who has recently taught or supervised the student.  A report from the Departmental supervisory committee is acceptable in lieu of this letter
  • completed paper application (including 2 letters of reference) for admittance to the doctoral program (the fee is waived) including a decision sheet (the Biology Graduate Studies Assistant provides this form) for acceptance into the PhD program.

The request for promotion must be submitted at least 2 weeks prior to the last business day of the first term in which the PhD program will commence.

The application will be forwarded to the Chair of GSC who will either sign the decision sheet, thereby accepting the student into the PhD program, or will bring it to the next GSC meeting for discussion. Both the departmental Graduate Coordinator (or delegate from the Biology department) and the supervisor must attend the GSC meeting when this application is discussed.

11.3 Timing. Transfer to the PhD program will be made official at the start of the term following approval by the GSC.

11.4. PhD Qualifying (i.e. Comprehensive) Exam for Students promoted to the PhD program. The PhD Qualifying (i.e. Comprehensive) exam should be taken as soon as possible after promotion to the PhD program but must be completed within 12 months after the start of enrollment in the PhD, following the procedures outlined in section 12 of this document.


12.1. Objectives. To establish to the satisfaction of the Department that the student has a sound proposal for PhD research, an effective grasp of his/her main and related areas of study, and the ability to handle facts, new ideas, and concepts at the PhD level.

More specifically, the nature of the questions will be along those outlined for the scope of PhD thesis defences in Section 14. Due to the general nature of the Biology Department, specific areas of questioning cannot be listed here. Students should:

  • be familiar with experimental and analytical procedures used or proposed.
  • be prepared to discuss and defend all proposed approaches (and alternative approaches) to the problem: their rationale, the procedures, the objectives and the hypotheses.
  • be prepared to evaluate the potential significance of the results they may obtain and their relationship to further experimental work.
  • have a working knowledge of their general field of study.

12.2. Timing. PhD students must complete the qualifying examination within twelve months of registering in the PhD program. It is strongly recommended that students take the exam within 4-6 months of registering in the PhD program. Exceptions to the 12-month time limit will be considered only in special circumstances (e.g. part-time students) and must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee. The supervisory committee should meet with the student ahead of time to outline areas of expertise required by the student at the exam.

12.3. Proposal Format. The qualifying exam is an oral examination based on a written thesis research proposal prepared in a standard format, as follows

  • single-spaced text, 12 pt serif font (e.g., Times), with 1 cm margins on all sides
  • page 1 is a summary of the proposal written in lay terms so that any intelligent person might be able to understand it
  • page 2-6 comprises the proposal, usually organized under the following subheadings: Background, Objectives, Methods, Preliminary Results (if available), Expected Results, Expected Significance of the Research. Feel free to modify these or add other subheadings.
  • pages 7-n is a list of references quoted in the proposal. Use whatever format you like. There is no limit here but most proposals have no more than 2 pages of references
  • you may also add an appendix containing extensive tabular material, figures, and copies of the slides in your talk if you think this would be useful but the examiners are not required to read this appendix, and the proposal should stand alone without it.
  • number each page in the top right
  • feel free to add small in-text pictures and graphs to the main proposal pages if these help to clarify.
  • must include a signed cover sheet

This thesis research proposal must be made available to the members of the examining committee at least two weeks prior to the examination.

12.4. Qualifying Exam Format. At the beginning of the examination, the student may opt to give a 20 minute seminar or may be requested to do so by the examining committee (this request must be made at least two weeks in advance of the examination). The questions asked by the examiners will focus on the thesis proposal and may also involve related areas of biology and other scientific disciplines relevant to the proposal.

12.5. Examining Committee. The examining committee must include a minimum of 5 faculty, as follows:

  • 1 Chairperson (appointed by the Graduate Studies Assistant)
  • 2 faculty members from a different research area inside or outside Biology (these may be supervisory committee members; cross-appointees included)
  • 1 Biology faculty member from the candidate's research area (usually a member of the supervisory committee)
  • 1 Supervisor (or, in some cases, 2 Cosupervisors)

The Chairperson is usually a member of the Graduate Studies Committee and their role is to manage the exam and (usually) not to ask questions of the candidate, nor do they vote on the outcome of the exam.

Examiners may be regular full-time faculty members at a recognized university, emeritus professors (as long as they are still active in research), adjunct professors (provided this is covered in their letter of appointment and funds are available to cover the costs mandated by the faculty union), or other researchers in government agencies and NGOs (usually a PhD is required plus approval from the Graduate Coordinator and the Graduate School). Please consult with the Graduate Coordinator if you are unsure about the status of a potential examiner.

Other faculty may be invited by the Department Head to be members of the examining committee. All faculty are permitted to attend the examination but must obtain permission from the Chair to ask questions and cannot take part in the decision of the committee. Other observers (e.g., students) may be allowed to attend the examination but only if the candidate agrees and requests that the Chair allow them to attend.

12.6. Arrangements. The student's supervisor is ultimately responsible for the arrangements for this examination. Copies of both the comprehensive examination form, and the report itself, must be given to the Biology Graduate Office and each of the examining committee members. The Biology Graduate Office must be notified of the date of examination at least two weeks before it is held.

12.7. Results. The Chairperson will present the report of the Examining Committee to the candidate immediately after the exam and will discuss any written comments with the candidate.

The examining committee should rate the candidate's performance as one of the following categories:

  • Pass. The student is permitted to proceed with research and the writing of the PhD thesis.
  • Referred. The candidate is required to rectify some deficiency, either by taking one or more graduate courses for credit or completing a term paper for one or more of the examiners on a prescribed subject. The student must obtain a minimum 65% on any courses taken, or must prepare the term paper to the satisfaction of the committee. The supervisor must notify the Graduate Studies Office, in writing, when such conditions have been fulfilled.
  • Fail. A written report by the Chair is required in the event of a failure. The examiners may recommend either that the student retake the examination within six months or withdraw from the program.

12.8. Appeal Procedures A PhD candidate may appeal the decision of the Qualifying Exam Committee (see Section 15).

13. Time Limits for Completion  

13.1 Normal Time Limits Graduate programs in Biology should be designed so that they can be completed within 6 terms (2 years) for the MSc and 12 terms (4 years) for the PhD. To accomplish this an early supervisory committee meeting and a clear timeline should be established, and realistic timelines included with each supervisory committee meeting report. See here for regulations from the School of Graduate Studies.

13.2 Time Limit Extensions As soon as it is clear that the above time limits cannot be met, a supervisory committee meeting should be held no later than term 6 of the MSc or term 12 of the PhD to discuss and present a clear plan and timeline for completion. If a thesis defense can be scheduled no more than 2 months into term 7 (MSc) or 13 (PhD), no further action is needed.

If a defense is planned before the end of term 7 (MSc) or 13 (PhD), but more than 2 months into those terms, then a timeline and plan should be submitted to the Biology Graduate Studies Coordinator for approval.

Toward end of terms 7 (MSc) and 13 (PhD) another supervisory committee meeting should be held to assess progress. If a further extension is required, this must be requested before two weeks from the end of these terms, by submission of a request, a plan and a timeline to the Biology Coordinator of Graduate Studies, who will inform the School of Graduate Studies.

Extensions beyond the end of term 9 (MSc) and 15 (PhD must be submitted to the School of Graduate Studies on their Time Limit Extension Request Form, before the ends of those terms, along with approval from the Biology Coordinator of Graduate Studies. See here for details from SGS.

13.3 Extenuating Circumstances The Biology Graduate Studies Committee (and SGS) recognizes that there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that cause delays in thesis completion beyond the expected times to completion listed above. Such delays, however, should be carefully documented and included in regular committee meeting reports. It is too late to be thinking about extensions in the final term of your degree program.


See also information from the Graduate School.

14.1 Acceptable Formats. The Department of Biology recommends that the text be organized into one of the following two formats that differ mainly in whether the information is arranged in a form publishable in biological journals or in a more Traditional thesis style.

Traditional Thesis Format   

  • Title page
  • Abstract (<350 words)
  • Co-authorship (if necessary; see note below)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures & Illustrations
  • Ch.1: General Introduction
  • Ch.2: Literature Review (may be included in intro.)
  • Ch.3: Materials and Methods
  • Ch.4 to n: Results chapters
  • Ch.n+1: Discussion
  • Summary
  • Literature Cited
  • Appendices    Title page

Manuscript Format

  • Abstract (<350 words)
  • Co-authorship (if necessary; see note below)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures & Illustrations
  • Ch.1: General Introduction (incl review of the relevant literature)
  • Ch.2 to n: Manuscripts
  • Ch. n+1: General Discussion
  • Summary
  • Literature Cited
  • Appendices 

14.2. Manuscript Format. Theses prepared using this format should generally conform to the style required for submission to the prospective journal. The Literature Cited may either be collected in one section at the end of the whole thesis or be included at the end of each manuscript. Sometimes collecting all of the references at the end of the thesis is needed to meet the page limit. Figures and Tables should be numbered (Figure 3.1 etc.) to conform to Chapter numbers.

Manuscripts included as Chapters may be review, theoretical, or data papers organized as required by the journals to which they will be, or have been, submitted. The General Introduction should outline the subject and background for the research and indicate how the manuscripts are related to one another. Manuscript titles can be used as chapter titles. The General Introduction should include a review of the relevant literature and should have a broader perspective than the Manuscript chapters. The General Discussion should briefly discuss the contributions to the field made by this work, highlighting the major findings and tying the Chapters together. The Summary (usually one or two pages) should list, by number, the main subject and findings from the thesis research.

The student must be first author on the majority of manuscripts included in the thesis. Theses containing manuscripts that are included in another individual’s thesis, or are co-authored, must include a detailed statement in the General Introduction stating the student's contribution to the work.

14.3 Co-authorship. This should be a separate section (1-2 pages), following the Abstract, in which you outline who the coauthors (if there were any) are for each of the chapters and what their contribution was. You should also make it very clear here what your contribution was to each coauthored chapter. If there were no coauthors, do not include this section.

14.4 Page Limits. The maximum length for an MSc thesis is 100 pages inclusive of everything but appendices and front matter (title page, tables of contents, etc.). For a PhD thesis, the maximum number of pages is 175 inclusive of everything but appendices and front matter. If a student wishes to submit a thesis that is longer than these maxima, then he or she must obtain written permission from each member of the supervisory committee before submission.

14.5 Figures and Tables. Wherever possible, the caption for the figure or table should be on the same page as the figure or table and that page is to be numbered accordingly.  Traditionally, the legend for each figure has been placed on the facing page and this page was not numbered (legend plus fig only count as one page), but that style is a holdover from the days of ink and typewriter and should be avoided. You have three options as to where you can put the figures and tables: (1) insert each figure or table on the page right after where it is first mentioned in the text, (2) collect all of the tables and figures (in that order) at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the whole thesis [note that the Grad School regulations say otherwise but these are being changed as of 14 October 2010], or (3) insert the figures and tables onto text pages in the appropriate places, right after where they are first mentioned in the text. If you choose options (1) or (2), you should put no more than one figure on each page, though multipart figures are OK (a,b,c, etc). Sometimes the separate parts of multipart figures need to be put on different pages to have them a legible size. All of the material on any pages with figures or tables must fit inside the required 2.5 cm margin.

14.6 Further Details. The university's thesis format regulations are available from the Graduate School and are the final authority. The Department of Biology provides further information on thesis writing and defence.

14.7 Seminars. Prior to graduating, candidates for the PhD degree are required to present the results of their thesis research to the Biology Department as a departmental seminar. Candidates for the MSc degree are also required to present their thesis work before one of the Departmental Journal Clubs or, in special cases, as a Departmental seminar. These seminars, for either PhD or MSc students, must be a minimum of 30 min in length, focused on the student's thesis research, be advertised to the department, and attendance available to any member of Biology.


See also information from the Graduate School.

15.1. Timing of thesis defenses. It is sometimes more difficult to schedule thesis defenses in the May-August period due to faculty being away for field work and summer vacations. Thus if you plan to defend during these months you would be wise to contact potential examiners well in advance to be sure that they will be available. The Biology Graduate Assistant usually takes vacation in August so the paperwork for defences planned for August must be submitted to the Graduate Assistant before 15 July. Please ask the Biology Graduate Assistant for more information well in advance of your proposed defense date.

It is strongly recommended that a committee meeting be held within 6 months of the expected thesis defense date to discuss progress, the thesis, and the scheduling of the defense. The arrangements for the examination are made by the supervisor. The supervisor is responsible for arranging a time suitable for all members of the committee and booking a room. A Committee member may not be excluded from an examination (and a replacement obtained) without their written permission. Both the arrangements for the exam and the membership of the committee must be recorded on the Oral Thesis Examination Form. This form must be signed by the supervisor, the Graduate Coordinator, and the Chair of the Science Graduate Council (or the Dean of Graduate Studies for a PhD examination) and submitted with the thesis.

Final arrangements for the exam should not be made until the thesis is ready for submission.

15.2 MSc Thesis Examination. The examining committee must include 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 Cosupervisors)

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

The Chairperson's role is to manage the exam and (usually) not to ask questions of the candidate. 

The Internal-external Examiner cannot be a co-author on any papers contained in the MSc thesis.

Examiners may be regular full-time faculty members at a recognized university, emeritus professors (as long as they are still active in research), adjunct professors (provided this is covered in their letter of appointment and funds are available to cover the costs mandated by the faculty union), or other researchers in government agencies and NGOs (usually a PhD is required plus approval from the Graduate Coordinator and the Graduate School). Please consult with the Graduate Coordinator if you are unsure about the status of a potential examiner.

15.3. PhD Thesis Examination. The examining committee must include a minimum of 5 faculty, as follows:

  • 1 Chairperson (delegated by the Dean of the Graduate School)
  • 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 another department, but may be cross-appointed in Biology)
  • 1 External Examiner (a faculty member from another university, or government agency but must hold a PhD; see 14.4, below)
  • 1 Supervisor (or, in some cases, 2 Cosupervisors)

The Chairperson's role is to manage the exam and (usually) not to ask questions of the candidate. The Chair of this examination must approve Committee membership - confirmation of these arrangements will be made in writing to the members of the examining committee and the student.

The Internal-External Examiner is not permitted to be a co-author on any papers contained in the PhD thesis.  It must be confirmed that the External Examiner has not published with the supervisor within the last 5 years.

Examiners may be regular full-time faculty members at a recognized university, emeritus professors (as long as they are still active in research), adjunct professors (provided this is covered in their letter of appointment and funds are available to cover the costs mandated by the faculty union), or other researchers in government agencies and NGOs (usually a Phd is required plus approval from the Graduate Coordinator and the Graduate School). Please consult with the Graduate Coordinator if you are unsure about the status of a potential examiner.

15.4 External Examiners. To ensure that the external examiner is suitably qualified, the supervisor is required to submit an External Examiner Request Form to the Graduate Coordinator for approval well before the thesis is submitted. External Examiners must then also be approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies before the thesis is formally submitted.

15.5 Thesis Examination Committees. The examining committee is suggested by the student's supervisor and is approved by the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. Note that while this examination committee may include members of the student's supervisory committee, this is not a requirement. Examination committees are constituted to evaluate the thesis and the student's competence whereas supervisory committees are constituted to guide the student through the research program and preparation of the thesis.

15.6 Deadlines for Submission. The Graduate Assistant must receive the Oral Thesis Examination Form 15 business days for an MSc defence and 30 business days for a PhD defence so a Chair and/or a Head's Delegate can be secured for the defence.  The members of the examining committee must receive copies of an MSc thesis at least 10 business days, and for a PhD thesis, at least 25 business days, before the date of the exam. The Chair of the examination committee receives a copy of the thesis from the Graduate School three days before the exam. These deadlines must be strictly adhered to otherwise the exam may be cancelled. Final scheduling of the exam will not occur until the thesis is submitted.

15.7 Scope of Exams. The thesis examination is conducted according to the General Regulations of the School of Graduate Studies and Research as set out in the Graduate Calendar. The thesis examination is based primarily on the thesis although the student may be asked to demonstrate additional relevant background knowledge.

The student should be:

  • fully familiar with all experimental or analytical procedures used in the thesis;
  • prepared to discuss and defend all approaches to the problem, the procedures, the results, and the conclusions;
  • prepared to discuss and defend the format and style of the thesis;
  • prepared to evaluate the significance of the results and to suggest further experimental work.

15.8 Examination Procedure.

  1. The thesis examination will be OPEN unless a request based on justifiable reasons has been approved by an Associate Dean (SGS) (see regulation here: Attendance at the oral thesis examination)
  2. in the absence of the student, the Chair will read out the written comments of the committee members. There will be an opportunity for brief discussion of the student's progress, of any difficulties relating to the thesis or the defense, and how the exam will be conducted;
  3. at the beginning of the defense, the student must present a summary of the work in the thesis. For the MSc defense this should be a 15-20 min summary that highlights the major findings. For the PhD defense this can be either a 15-20 min summary, or a full-length (40-min) departmental seminar that will be open to the department;
  4. the student will be questioned by the committee members starting with the external examiner and finishing with the supervisor - typically two rounds of questions will be asked;
    1. in the absence of the student, the committee will discuss the defense and indicate whether the student will be assigned a i) pass, ii) referred, or iii) fail. If a student fails to revise the thesis in a satisfactory manner in the required period, the grade will be changed to a "fail". 

15.9 MSc Thesis Results in PhD Thesis. The results of an MSc thesis must not form a substantial part of a PhD thesis; citation of the MSc thesis is adequate. In some cases, limited inclusion of MSc results are acceptable if they help to clarify the PhD thesis.


16.1 Review of Course Grade. A student who wishes to question a grade in a graduate course should request, in writing, a review of the grade by the instructor. This request must be made within one month of the grade being announced. The instructor will notify the student and the Coordinator of Graduate Studies, in writing, of the result of the review.

A student who is not satisfied by the results of that request should ask, in writing within 5 working days of receiving the review of the instructor, for a review of the grade by the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.

A student who is not still not satisfied with the outcome may request the Coordinator of Graduate Studies to establish an independent committee to review the grade within 5 working days of receiving the review of the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. This committee shall consist of three professors of Biology, one of whom may be nominated by the student.The committee will submit a written report and this decision will be final.

16.2 Review of Qualifying Exam Decision. A student who wishes to question the decision of the examining committee should request, in writing, an interview with the Chair of the examining committee. This request must be made within one month of the examination. If the Coordinator of Graduate Studies was not present at the exam, the Coordinator must also attend the interview. The Head of the Biology Department must also be present.

A student who is not satisfied by the results of that request should ask , in writing within 5 working days of the exam decision, that the examining committee be convened to reconsider the decision. Committee members from outside Queen's will not normally attend. Written and oral presentations will be accepted by the committee.

A student who is not satisfied with the outcome may request an independent committee of three professors from the Biology Department to review the case within 5 working days of the decision of the examining committee. One of these professors may be nominated by the student to the committee. The decision of the committee will be final.

16.3 Withdrawal on Academic Grounds (i.e., Unsatisfactory Progress).

  • A student who wishes to question a request by the Department to withdraw on academic grounds should request, in writing, a review of the case by the supervisory committee. This request should be made within one month of the decision being announced.
  • A student who is not satisfied by (a) may request the Coordinator of Graduate Studies to review the case.
  • A student who is not satisfied by the outcome of those two procedures may request a review of the decision by an independent committee of three professors of Biology, one of whom may be nominated by the student. The decision of this committee will be final.

16.4 MSc and PhD Oral Defense Decisions. Thesis defenses are conducted by the School of Graduate Studies and reviews of these decisions should follow the procedure outlined in the Graduate Calendar.

17.  Harassment and Protocols. 

Information for Graduate Students about Harassment and Harassment Protocols at Queen’s University
Queen’s University is committed to a working and learning environment that is free from harassment and discrimination. This document provides information and advice for graduate students who perceive they have experienced harassment or discrimination by academic faculty or by staff. Graduate students seeking advice about harassment issues where they perceive they have been harassed by another student(s) should refer to the Student Code of Conduct.1
The information provided here is not aimed at graduate students who perceive they have experienced harassment or discrimination in their capacity as employees, but at graduate students who are engaged in research or other academic activities. Graduate students who perceive they have experienced harassment or discrimination in an employment capacity should follow the provisions of their collective agreement (where applicable) and the Interim Workplace Harassment & Discrimination Policy.2
The Senate and Board of Trustees have developed a Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure.3 This policy deals with sexual harassment, harassment based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, creed and sexual orientation and other grounds covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code. These types of harassment and discrimination have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's or a group's work or academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working, living or academic environment .
The Harassment/Discrimination Complaint policy mentioned above does not cover “personal harassment” in the workplace or learning environment. “Personal harassment” is defined by the Ontario Human Rights Commission as a course of vexatious comment or conduct against another person or persons that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.4 The comments or conduct typically happen more than once. They could occur over a relatively short period of time (for example, during the course of one day) or over a longer period of time (weeks, months or years). Not all interpersonal conflict constitutes harassment. While there is a subjective element to harassment, there is also an objective element, and context is important. Workplace or learning-environment harassment does not include a supervisor or staff member’s properly exercised responsibilities such as evaluation of research progress or day-to-day management of the research operation. Allegations of harassment are taken seriously and can have serious consequences. Students are encouraged to seek appropriate advice as soon as possible.
Information for Graduate Students about Harassment and Harassment Protocols at Queen’s University 2
How to address concerns about discrimination or harassment by staff or academic faculty
Graduate students who have concerns about discrimination or harassment from a faculty or staff member should report the situation to the graduate coordinator or head of their academic unit, to an associate dean in the School of Graduate Studies, or to the Office of the University Ombudsman. They will help the student to assess the threat level, the type of complaint and the severity and will explain the applicable process and next steps that may be required as well as circumstances in which confidentiality can be preserved and when it cannot. These discussions will be kept confidential unless there is a compelling reason to divulge them (e.g., a threat to health or safety) or the student gives specific permission to discuss the issue with someone else. Where appropriate, the graduate coordinator, head, associate dean or ombudsman may engage in discussions with the faculty or staff member who is the subject of concern in an effort to informally resolve the issue. To be consistent with the Senate Harassment Complaint Policy and Procedure, “the emphasis is on informal resolution, using facilitation/negotiation, save where the nature of the matter necessitates a more formal process”.5
When the issue is such that it cannot be satisfactorily addressed by informal discussion, the next step depends on the type of harassment. Campus Security is contacted if there is a threat to health and safety of any person. The Human Rights office is contacted if the concern involves sexual harassment or discriminatory harassment related to human rights. The Department of Environmental Health & Safety is contacted if the concern is about personal harassment and the conduct complained of is non-violent but hostile, belligerent, abusive or invasive in nature. The graduate coordinator, head, associate dean in the School of Graduate Studies or ombudsman will then work with the student and representatives of other campus resources involved to develop and implement a plan of action. Additional individuals, who might be called upon, depending on the nature of the complaint, include representatives from Faculty Relations or Employee and Labour Relations and the faculty dean. Monitoring the effectiveness of the process will involve ongoing communication and follow up with the graduate student.
Graduate students who are involved in or witness activities that constitute an immediate threat to health or safety of any person should call 911 or Campus Security (ext. 36111 or 533-6111) to report the immediate threat before reporting the situation to a graduate coordinator, unit head or associate dean.
Information for Graduate Students about Harassment and Harassment Protocols at Queen’s University 3
How to obtain information or advice about harassment policies and processes
Graduate students who want to obtain information about harassment and sexual-violence6 policies and procedures can contact a graduate coordinator, head, associate dean of graduate studies, or the Office of the Ombudsman. Another source of confidential advice regarding harassment and discrimination policies and procedures is the Student Advisor Program of the Society for Graduate and Professional Students.
1. Student Code of Conduct
2. Interim Workplace & Discrimination Policy
3. Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure
4. Ontario Human Rights Commission definition of harassment
5. Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure
6. Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students

17.1 Response Protocol.


A Teaching Assistant Agreement with clearly defined expectations on behalf of the instructor and the department will be given to each TA at the beginning of the the term in which the course is being taught. A survey will be conducted at the end of the term. See also the Senate Document on Teaching Assistants.

In considering this document a few things should be kept in mind:

  • The Department of Biology uses its TA funds (provided by A&S) in support of our graduate program. This is not a requirement of A&S, as these funds may be used to hire TAs who are not graduate students.
  • Although recognizing that there are differences among courses and among TAs, a TAship constitutes about 65 hours of work.
  • A student is expected to be qualified for an assigned TA position. Thus, if the student has to learn the material in order to teach effectively, this is not counted within the TAship work hours.
  • In general we try to assign students with the same TAships each year since this eases the qualification issue.
  • If faculty demand that the student attend a TA meeting (expected to be <1 hour per week for a qualified TA), or attend the lectures, that this time is included in the TAship work hours. If this represents a large proportion of the TAship work hours then the Coordinator of Graduate Studies may consider whether this is a good use of such time.
  • All set up of laboratories, contact with students (in lab or tutorial, answering questions, emails etc) and marking are part of the TAship.
  • An agreement must be reached between the student and the faculty over what constitutes a reasonable expenditure of time (relative to other students and time available) for carrying out these various duties.
  • It is inappropriate to download heavier duties onto the students in cases where the Department and a given Faculty member cannot reach agreement on what constitutes a single TA.

updated 26 September 2017

I've spent more time than many will believe [making microscopic observations], but I've done them with joy, and I've taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?

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

Theodosius Dobzhansky

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