Thesis Defenses

15. THESIS DEFENSES 

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 Graduate Assistant usually takes vacation in August so you may have to make your own arrangements for Head's Delegate and Chair during that period. Please ask the 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 Division I (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; the Chair must be from a different department within Division I)

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 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.

ALL examiners with the exception of the supervisor(s) are to be at arms-length.

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 15.4, below)

1 Supervisor (or, in some cases, 2 Co-supervisors)

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.

ALL examiners with the exception of the supervisor(s) are to be at arms-length.

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 members of the examining committee must receive copies of an MSc thesis at least two weeks (10 business days), and for a PhD thesis, five weeks (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:

(a) fully familiar with all experimental or analytical procedures used in the thesis;

(b) prepared to discuss and defend all approaches to the problem, the procedures, the results, and the conclusions;

(c) prepared to discuss and defend the format and style of the thesis;

(d) prepared to evaluate the significance of the results and to suggest further experimental work.

15.8. Examination Procedure.

(a) The student may request to have an open examination subject to approval by the Head of Department and the Chair of the examining committee. If approved the audience will be present only during the presentation of the summary by the student and the subsequent questioning of the student by the examining committee.

(b) 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;

(c) 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;

(d) 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;

(e) 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.

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