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.

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

Table of Contents

  1. Graduate Studies Committee
  2. Applications and Admissions
  3. Financial Support of Students
  4. Student Responsibilities and Professional Conduct
  5. Supervisory Committees
  6. Research Publication, Data Ownership and Intellectual Property
  7. Research of a Confidential Nature
  8. Safety in Lab & Field
  9. Course Requirements
  10. Graduate Course Structure
  11. Transfer from MSc to PhD
  12. PhD Qualifying (Comprehensive) Exam
  13. Time Limits for Completion
  14. Thesis Formats and Exit Seminars
  15. Thesis Defences
  16. Review of Academic Decisions
  17. Appendices

1. Graduate Studies Committee

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 (GSC), 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, at least 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 includes at least one member from each of the major research areas in the Department, and from different career stages. All decisions by the Graduate Studies Committee are subject to approval by the Head of the Department.

1.2. Mandate.

The Graduate Studies Committee:

  • sets standards for admission to graduate studies and recommends students for admission to Graduate School;
  • maintains the integrity and academic standards of the graduate program;
  • annually reviews the graduate program, including methods of graduate student assessment and training, and course changes;
  • annually reviews the financial support of graduate students, and recommends changes in funding;
  • evaluates and ranks scholarship candidates;
  • evaluates briefs from staff or graduate students concerning matters of graduate training in the Department;
  • formulates departmental policy for graduate studies;
  • 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 most issues relating to enrolled students. The Coordinator signs all registration and academic change forms, etc., for continuing students, and is responsible for the review and acceptance of prospective graduate students. The Associate Coordinator is responsible for recruitment, awards, newsletters, and the well-being and morale of enrolled students, and serves as Acting Coordinator in the absence of the Coordinator.

2. Applications & Admissions

2.1. Advertisement.

Detailed information regarding the Departmental program in graduate studies is available on the Biology Graduate Studies website and the SGSPA website. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to explore these websites for a broad range of useful information. Prospective students are also strongly encouraged to survey the research programs of our faculty members, and to reach out to faculty members to determine whether they are accepting new students, and to discuss potential projects. You can also learn about our excellent research facilities both on our website and through our promo video.

2.2. Application Procedure.

The Biology Graduate Program Advisor deals with most enquiries about the Biology graduate program. Prospective students are also strongly encouraged to contact one or more faculty members to determine whether they are accepting new students. Applications and accompanying documents are submitted directly to the SGSPA online via their website. A file is kept on every applicant at both the SGSPA 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.

2.3. 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 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 standing (B+ or 75%) or better in a BSc for acceptance to the MSc program; normally an upper second-class degree or better in an MSc program for acceptance to the PhD program, although direct entry from a BSc program into a PhD is possible in exceptional circumstances), availability of an appropriate supervisor, and availability of both financing and space. Formal acceptance is made by the Dean of Graduate Studies based on the recommendation made by the 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.

2.4. 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 Coordinator.

3. Financial Support of Students

3.1. Minimum Support.

The Biology Department guarantees a minimum level of financial support (i.e., stipend) (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, supervisor contributions, and salary from Teaching Assistantships (TAships). See Minimum Financial Support document for details on the current academic year, and the SGSPA Funding website for additional information. Tuition and student fees are paid by the student out of this support. A one-time award of $6000 may be available to PhD students in term 13, contingent on the availability of QGA funds, and the recommendation of their Supervisory Committee.

3.2. Teaching Assistantships.

TAships are often a required part of a student’s funding package. We also recommend that every graduate student do at least one TAship during their degree program, even if not part of their funding package (e.g. students with large scholarships), because of its value as a teaching experience. The weekly workload varies across courses, but should total no more than 65 hours per TAship. Teaching assistants are part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Union 901; TAs are encouraged to read the Collective Agreement. See also Section 4 below.

TAships are allocated to funding 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;
  • employment equity, inclusion and diversity.

Application forms are available to all current and incoming students in June. Positions are allocated by the Graduate Studies Assistant with input from the Graduate Coordinator, and posted before the end of August. 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. Supervisors must sign TA application forms.

Graduate students are placed in four categories with respect to TAship allocation, depending on the student’s funding package. (Please note that these categories are not equivalent to PSAC 901 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 the guaranteed minimum level of support. This category does not distinguish between incoming and continuing students. Students in this category are eligible for 3 TAships per academic year, each typically involving 65 hours work in a single term, with salary set by PSAC.

Category 2

Students on scholarships valued between $15,000 to 17,500. These students are eligible for 1 TAship per academic year.

Category 3

Students whose term has extended beyond the time limit (first 4 years of a PhD; first 2 years of an MSc). When available, 1, 2 or more TAships per academic year may be allocated (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 TAship is guaranteed. Normally, students on major scholarships who have not held a TAship during their graduate student career will have higher priority.

3.3. TA Agreements.

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 term in which the course is being taught. A student evaluation of the TAs will be conducted at the end of the term. In considering this document a few things should be kept in mind: (a) 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. (b) Although recognizing that there are differences among courses and among TAs, a TAship constitutes 65 hours of work. (c) 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. (d) In general, we try to assign students with the same TAships each year since this eases the qualification issue. (e) If faculty require 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 reassigning the student. (f) All set up of laboratories, contact with students (in lab or tutorial, answering questions, emails etc) and marking are part of the TAship. (g) With respect to (f) 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.

3.4. Additional Employment.

According to SGSPA regulations, “It is expected that a full-time student will limit paid employment unrelated to the student's research to a total of ten hours per week (average)”. 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 most 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.

3.5. 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.

3.6. Financial and Supervisory Statement.

By the end of September, each student MUST submit a completed and signed Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement to the Biology Graduate Assistant outlining (i) list of committee members and date of last committee meeting, (ii) completed and required courses including safety courses, (iii) arrangements for authorship on publications, (iv) all sources of financial support (salary) for that year, (v) safety considerations, (vi) Land acknowledgements and potential environmental impacts, (vii) workload expectations and vacations, (viii) expected progress timeline including research to be performed during the year and financial support for research expenses (non-salary). This form is to be completed and 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. Completion and submission of the form is the student’s responsibility. Students and supervisors are both also strongly encouraged to read the Senate Graduate Student Supervision Policy, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of graduate students, supervisors, and supervisory committees, and to complete the SGSPA Resource Guidebook for Graduate Students and Supervisors.

3.7. Vacation.

Each graduate student receiving a stipend from the supervisor is allowed 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. Times when the University is closed for statutory holidays, and the period between Christmas and New Year's Day, do not count toward this vacation time.

4. Student Responsibilities & Professional Conduct

All students accepted by the SGSPA are required to adhere to the University's Code of Conduct, and to be fully aware of the University’s Information Security Policy and Acceptable Use of IT Services Policy. Graduate students should also understand the seriousness of all forms of departure from academic integrity, and be aware of the policies governing departures from academic integrity at Queen's, as outlined in the Graduate Calendar, including use of artificial intelligence.

Queen's University recognizes that all members of the University Community have the right to be free from harassment and discrimination. “This includes harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, gender identity, ancestry, gender expression, place of origin, age (18 years or older), colour, record of offences (employment only), ethnic origin, marital status, citizenship, family status, creed, sexual orientation, sex, and disability” (University Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and Response Policy). 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 Harassment and Discrimination 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 in class, tutorials, or labs, or in material to be graded. Neither will graduate students engage in discriminatory behaviour, harassment, or microaggression: students who violate the University's Code of Conduct or its Harassment and Discrimination Policy could be subject to sanctions described therein.

Similarly, graduate students can expect to be treated in a professional manner by all university faculty and staff, and should report any cases of unprofessional or inappropriate treatment to university authorities.

Graduate teaching assistants (TAs) and teaching fellows (TFs), graduate research assistants (GRAs) are governed by the Collective Agreement (CA) between Queen’s University and the Public Service Alliance of Canada 901, Unit 1 (https://www.queensu.ca/facultyrelations/psac%20901-1/collective-agreements/MoAs/LoUs). The purpose of the CA is to “… establish an orderly collective bargaining relationship between the Queen’s University at Kingston (hereafter referred to as the Employer) and its Employees represented under this Agreement by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (hereinafter referred to as the Union), to ensure the prompt and peaceful resolution of disputes and grievances, and to set forth an agreement covering rates of pay and other working conditions.”. The PSAC901 CA is the exclusive bargaining agent for Queen’s graduate students employed as TAs, TFs, or GRAs, but with some exceptions. Verbal agreements made between employment supervisors and graduate students as work as a GRA should be formalized in writing following any oral agreement, so that misunderstandings do not occur. Please note, the PSAC901 agreement does not apply to work that you do as a graduate student, including courses and research done as part of your thesis. However, if you are assigned work as a GRA that is not part of your thesis, then the GRA process would apply. We fully encourage students to be aware of the policies associated with this CA about TAs, TFs and GRAs. In biology, GRAs are not widely used, but if used, they need to follow the CA.

5. Supervisory Committees

5.1. Supervisors and co-supervisors.

Any regular faculty member in Biology can supervise a student pursuing an MSc or PhD in Biology. A student may have two co-supervisors, for example when the thesis topic spans two disparate fields and the particular expertise of each co-supervisor might be helpful or when two supervisors are collaborating on a project. In such cases, a student and their 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 share responsibility for the student equally. In either case, there should be a clear statement of financial responsibility for the student and the research in the Student Supervisor Agreement. Cross-appointed and adjunct faculty may co-supervise a student with a 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 in their Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement.

In some circumstances, a student may desire a co-supervisor who is not a member of the School of Graduate Studies, or from outside Queen's. In such cases, an application must be made to the Biology Department Appointments Committee for adjunct status for the co-supervisor, sponsored by two regular faculty members.

Students should meet with their supervisor within the first month of their program to (1) plan the program of studies, including courses, TAships, and research project, (2) formulate a committee, and (3) complete a Graduate Student – Supervisor Agreement (above).

5.2. Committee Composition and Formation.

The purpose of the supervisory committee is to provide scientific expertise additional to that of the supervisor(s), to help solve research-related problems, to anticipate potential future problems, and to generally support the student’s progress through the program. Specific responsibilities of supervisory committees include:

  • Meeting with the student, as a committee, at least once per year to assess the student’s progress in the program and advise on future work for completion of the degree requirements. A written summary of the meeting should be shared with the student as part of the Committee Meeting Report.
  • Providing timely feedback on the student’s progress, and whether the proposed research is scientifically sound and can be completed in a timely manner (2 yrs for MSc and 4 yrs for PhD).
  • Being accessible to students to discuss academic progress, for consultation on issues related to the research project (e.g., research frameworks), and/or for general guidance.

The Supervisory Committee consists of the supervisor(s) and at least two other faculty members: 1) a regular (i.e., not cross-appointed or adjunct) faculty member usually from the same research area within the Biology Department, and 2) a regular faculty member from a different research area generally inside the Department for an MSc committee, or from a different department for a PhD committee. Additional committee members are possible if desired. In special circumstances, a student may have a committee member who is not a member of the School of Graduate Studies, or who is from outside Queen's. In such cases, a request must be made in writing to the Graduate Coordinator, stating reasons for the request and qualifications of the proposed committee member. Note that the supervisory committee, the thesis examination committee, and the examiners for a PhD qualifying (comprehensive) exam may differ.

Supervisory committees should be formed as soon as possible after the start of the student's program, and should be chosen by the student in consultation with the supervisor (see below). Suitable members should be researchers who can provide valuable insight and assistance with the projects. They may be experts in an area of the student’s interest or a particular technique where the supervisor is less of an expert, they may provide a point of view that is more external to the specific field of study, or they may be closely aligned with the student’s project plans. The responsibility lies with the student, after consultation with the supervisor, to select and email potential committee members and coordinate schedules to plan committee meetings. Students who wish specific identity representation on their committee are encouraged to discuss this with their supervisor at the time of committee formation. Members of the supervisory committee are normally 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.

5.3. Committee Meetings.

Committee meetings are meant to benefit the student, by keeping them on track for timely completion of their program, and by helping them to produce the best possible thesis. The student MUST meet at least once each year with their supervisory committee. It is the responsibility of both the supervisor and student to ensure that these meetings take place at least annually. Additionally, students or supervisors should call a supervisory committee meeting any time there are academic problems or difficulties with the research program, and within 6 months of the anticipated date of the thesis defense or comprehensive exam. It is usually the student’s responsibility to schedule the meeting according to availabilities of supervisory committee members, but a supervisor may choose to schedule a meeting if they have concerns about the student’s progress.

For the first annual meeting, the student should prepare a brief research proposal (no more than 5 pages double spaced, font size 12). For subsequent meetings, the students should prepare a summary of research progress (no more than 5 pages double spaced, but appendices with preliminary results are permitted). See section 12 for specific format, length, and content guidelines for the required PhD research proposal. The proposal or report should 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.

Committee meetings usually begin with a ~15-minute (no more than 20-minute) oral presentation by the student outlining the research proposal and/or progress report. The proposal, report, and presentation should be accessible to committee members outside the student’s immediate field of study. The presentation is generally followed by an open, informal discussion between the student and committee members, although questions may sometimes be asked during the presentation. Students may present questions or concerns for discussion with the supervisory committee. Discussions can entail clarifications of material in the proposal/report, concerns or suggestions regarding methods or data interpretation, potential solutions to existing hurdles, and anticipated future problems. Committee meetings are usually 1-1 ½ hours in duration, and should maintain a positive and supportive tone. Students are encouraged to take notes during committee meetings, and should leave meetings with new ideas and alternatives to consider, and suggestions of papers or texts to read.

5.4. 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 future plans including expected dates for completion of any course work, TAships, comprehensive exam (for PhD students), data collection, data analysis, conference attendance, and thesis submission and defence. 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. If progress is deemed Conditional, another committee meeting must be held within four months to further evaluate the student's progress and to assess progress on any conditions imposed at the previous meeting. In some cases, the follow-up meeting may be delayed for up to eight months if a remedial course has to be taken. At the follow-up 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 according to SGSPA regulations. All "Conditional" and "Unsatisfactory" ratings from committee meetings must be brought to the attention of the Graduate Coordinator, who may recommend further courses of action to the student and/or supervisory committee.

5.5. Supervisor's Absence.

If a graduate supervisor leaves the University, or is absent from the University for an extended period due to medical or other leave, or is required by the University to perform intensive (e.g., administrative) duties that may impair effective supervision, the supervisor should make formal written arrangements for an interim supervisor. 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.

5.6. Student Grievance.

A student who is dissatisfied with their progress or feels that the commitments of the supervisor are not being fulfilled should call a meeting of the supervisory committee (with or without the supervisor) to discuss their concerns. Alternatively, the student may request a meeting with the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. In some circumstances, students may be advised to request a meeting with the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies or a university ombudsperson either for help and/or for official documentation of complaints by an impartial third party.

5.7. 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 Coordinator of Graduate Studies. In all cases, the student is encouraged to first discuss proposed changes with all members of their supervisory committee and with the Graduate Coordinator before a formal request for change is made.

5.8. 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 must be sent to the Graduate Coordinator.

6. Research Publication, Data Ownership & Intellectual Property

6.1 Publication Overview.

Publication of results is a basic and integral part of research, and is fundamental to continued funding of research programs. Publishing our research findings also fulfills an obligation to those that support our research (often taxpayers). Graduate students are therefore expected to publish the results from their thesis research in the scientific literature. Because thesis research is normally a collaboration between the student and supervisor, joint authorship is usually appropriate on all papers resulting from MSc and PhD thesis research; additional people may also merit authorship depending on their contributions. Graduate students and supervisors are strongly encouraged to discuss authorship expectations and arrangements at the outset of the student’s program. Space is provided on the student's Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement to record the details of this arrangement to ensure both that the student and supervisor understand the expectations and that a written record of the agreement is available in the student's file.

6.2. Guidelines for Co-authorship.

These guidelines reflect general procedures followed by most professors in the Department of Biology and are listed below to form the basis of discussion between students and supervisors. Students and supervisors are strongly encouraged (1) to discuss publication plans (timing, authorship and contingency plans), (2) to document publication plans in the Graduate Student Supervisor Agreement, and (3) to revisit their plans each year.

  • The supervisor usually retains copies of all data on which the thesis and publications are based. The supervisor has a right to the raw data and, depending on the funding source, potentially also any analyses derived from it.
  • The graduate student is usually first author on all publications arising directly from their thesis research. Exceptions are sometimes made when most of the 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 a co-author on all publications arising from the thesis research.
  • When a significant amount of additional research or analysis is required to produce publishable results from a thesis, or when the student does not make a major contribution to the writing of publishable manuscripts, the supervisor may be first author, with the student included as co-author. Author order should be part of early discussions.
  • Students employed as research assistants for data collection or analysis should not automatically expect joint authorship unless they have made significant intellectual contributions to the research program.
  • Supervisors may wish to retain the right to publish any papers arising from the thesis that are not submitted for publication within a reasonable time after degree completion, if the student is not able or willing to do so.

6.3. Data Archiving

The University has set guiding principles for Research Data Management that students and their supervisors should adhere to. The Tri-Council is also implementing a required Research Data Management Policy that will require applicants to provide details on how agency-funded data will be managed and archived. Thus, students are strongly encouraged to back up their data, analyses, and written material frequently and in multiple sites. There are many options for archiving data and analyses, such as OneDrive, Dryad (https://datadryad.org/), Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/), BioRxiv (https://www.biorxiv.org/), and myLaminin https://www.mylaminin.net/). Students should consult with their supervisor to select appropriate platforms and timing for data sharing and archiving.

6.4. Research Ethics and Integrity.

Research at Queen’s is governed by various university boards and committees, as well as government and funding agency policy and guidelines, depending on the research area. Students and supervisors are jointly responsible for ensuring their work adheres to all relevant policies. This might include applying for permission from the University Animal Care Committee or General Research Ethics Board for all work involving vertebrate animals or human study subjects, respectively. Collection of biological samples often requires permission of local, provincial, and/or federal governments and landowners. Graduate students should discuss these permits and approvals early in their research planning, as applying for permits can be a slow and time-consuming process. For more information, consult: https://www.queensu.ca/vpr/ethics

A foundational commitment of Queen’s University is to strive for research and scholarly practices that exemplify honesty, truthfulness, fairness, respect, and responsibility. These values are reflected in the international movement to promote Open Science, many aspects of which are required by funding agencies and scientific journals (e.g., public accessibility of data, code, and research products and publications). The Canadian Government recognizes the importance of Open Science, which is reflected in the Tri-Council’s policy that any research publications arising from agency-supported research should be freely available, without subscription or fee, at the time of publication (e.g., published in open access journals). For more details, see the Tri-Council guidelines. https://science.gc.ca/site/science/en/interagency-research-funding/policies-and-guidelines/open-access.

Queen’s University expects all researchers will strive to maintain the overall integrity of the research and scholarly enterprise by reporting suspected instances of research or scholarly misconduct to the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). For more information, consult the Vice-principal Research general general and specific Queen’s policies.

SGSPA recently released its policy on use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) in graduate research. In general, AI is permissible if it is authorized and transparent. However, permissibility varies across disciplines, and use of AI may constitute a departure from academic integrity in some cases. Please familiarize yourself with the policy document, and check with either your supervisor or the Graduate Coordinator if you are uncertain about its use.

6.5. Data Ownership and Intellectual Property.

Raw research data are not typically considered a form of intellectual property, and so aren’t explicitly protected by university or SGSPA policy on intellectual property. Raw data might be protected by some aspects of intellectual property policies when they are important to protecting patents or copyright. Students and their supervisors are encouraged to read the University Policy on Intellectual Property and the SGSPA Guidelines on Intellectual Property. Funding agencies also set guidelines on Intellectual Property (e.g., see NSERC’s guidelines here). Data generated by students under faculty supervision are typically collected in part due to financial, intellectual, and other forms of support provided by the supervisor, and so will often be jointly owned by the supervisor and student, as well as by collaborators who made significant contributions to data collection. Because of the context-dependent nature of data ownership, graduate students and supervisors are very strongly encouraged to discuss data ownership at the start of research planning, and to formalize and record their agreements with respect to data ownership (e.g., in the annual Graduate Student-Supervisor Agreement).

7. Research of a Confidential Nature

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 practice protects an agency’s investment in a project from which it hopes to realize 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 with a wide audience, including their peers, the Biology faculty, and research colleagues outside 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 to postdoctoral research associates and technicians whenever possible, rather than to 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 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 the project to completion if they so desire. All personnel in the supervisor's (or other relevant) laboratory, as well as the Graduate Coordinator, 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 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.

For the above reasons, permission for students to undertake confidential research must be obtained by applying in writing to the Graduate Coordinator. 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, meetings, and seminars 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 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 Coordinator, who will then forward it with a recommendation to the SGSPA. All parties must agree to the restriction. If an agreement cannot be reached, the matter should be referred to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.

8. Safety in Lab & Field

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 to providing a safe working environment.

All Biology graduate students must complete the on-line Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training at the start of their program, and complete a refresher course at the start (September) of each academic year. Depending on their research, students may also be required to take other safety-related courses, such as those dealing with biohazards, radioactivity, specific chemical environments, boating, first aid, or firearms. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring students are aware of all required safety trainings and protocols related to their research. Courses in First Aid and CPR, Biosafety, Radiation, and Ladder Safety, among others, are offered by Risk and Safety Services at Queen’s.

Laboratory environments have several potential hazards, with which the student should be familiar. Safety Data Sheets on chemicals are available on-line and should be consulted whenever students 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. Every lab that routinely uses biological materials must have university-approved safety protocols that should be provided to all students when they start work in the lab.

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, the Coordinator of Graduate Studies, or Environmental Health and Safety. Students have the right to immediately refuse any work or responsibility that they feel is not safe.

All field researchers must take the Field Safety workshop offered in late winter or early spring. Check with Dr. John Smol for dates. The university requires that all field researchers fill out, in consultation with supervisors, the on-line Off Campus Activities Safety Policy form. This record must be approved by the 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, including conferences outside Canada.

Students working with vertebrates must take the Animals in Science Theoretical Training Course offered by the University Animal Care Committee, and their research must be covered by an approved animal care protocol, usually held by the supervisor. Students should consult with their supervisor on appropriate training and permits for handling animals. Field work may require additional permits from various government agencies and First Nations – students should consult with their supervisor, and requisite training and permits should be noted in the Graduate Student Supervisor Agreement and Committee Report.

Make note of the University’s Emergency number, and save it to your cell phone: 613-533-6111 (or 36111 from an internal phone).

9. Course Requirements

9.1. PhD Coursework.

There are no formal course requirements for a PhD degree. PhD candidates may, however, be required by their supervisory committee to take (for credit or audit) courses relevant to their research program. PhD students are encouraged to take or audit all or parts of the Gateway to Biology course (BIOL 824)

9.2. MSc Coursework.

Graduate students are strongly encouraged to discuss course options with their supervisor(s). All MSc students must complete 12 credit units (generally four courses worth 3 credit units each), with a minimum final grade of 70% in each course. MSc students are encouraged to take BIOL 824 (Gateway to Graduate Studies in Biology), as well as at least one data analysis course (e.g. BIOL 800; 812; 813; 847; 860 through 865;), the Seminar Course (BIOL 897), and one theory-type course in their research area (current offerings listed on the Biology Graduate website). MSc students may be advised to take different or additional courses by their supervisory committee.

In addition to graduate courses listed on the Biology website, students may take the following courses for graduate credit:

  • One 4XX or 5XX undergraduate course, on approval of the supervisor and course organizer.A 300-level course can sometimes be taken if no suitable graduate or senior undergraduate course is available, but must be approved by the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC). In all such cases, students must do additional work to bring the coursework up to graduate level. Students wishing to take an undergraduate 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, in consultation with the course instructor.
  • An Advanced Studies course (BIOL 951 through 969), detailed below.
  • Graduate courses from other units, e.g., Environmental Studies, Geography, Psychology, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences. See the SGSPA calendar for current offerings.
  • Courses from other institutions may sometimes be transferred for credit toward an MSc but only after approval from the Graduate Studies Committee.

9.3. Course Failure.

A student who fails to obtain a final grade of ≥70% in a graduate course taken for their degree requirements 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 assessments (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 consultation with the course instructor and supervisor 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 Graduate Council for approval. If the request is not approved by the Graduate Council, the student will be asked to withdraw.

10. Graduate Course Structure

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 communication — 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, who may recommend a course revision to the Graduate Council.

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.

Most graduate courses involve regular weekly meetings totaling approximately three hours/week. Exceptions are Gateway to Graduate Studies (Biol 824), which often includes a focused weekend at the Queen’s University Biological Station in lieu of first 6 weeks of classes; Seminars in Biology (Biol 897), which involves attendance at seminars over a 6 term period; and Field Course in Biology (Biol 848), which entails 2 weeks of intensive field study.

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 should anticipate extra reading.

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 most courses is based on written work submitted by the students (exception: Biol 897). All written material (e.g., research papers, exams) should be returned with a written evaluation within two weeks of submission.

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. 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 final 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. Two instructors are required for grading major assignments in courses with a small number of students and/or with the instructor’s own student(s).

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.

The seminar requirement for Biol 897 may also double for the required MSc exit seminar with the proviso that it is within one-term of the MSc defense, but may not double for the PhD exit seminar.

10.10. Advanced Studies courses Biol 951 through Biol 969

This option is available to provide instruction in particular areas with no regular course available. Students may take each numbered course only once, and have the option of 3.0 or 1.5 credits. 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 the term in which the course will be offered. Advanced studies courses generally conform to one of the following two formats, although alternative formats be considered by the GSC:

  • 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, seminars, or journal article discussions. There will be a final written assignment.
  • Reading format. To be offered where fewer than three registered students are enrolled. Reading matter will be distinct from students' thesis topics and will be the basis for a review-style report, a group of essays, or analysis of a pre-existing data set. The report or essays must be marked by at least two faculty members, and the student should also give an oral presentation.

11. Transfer from MSc to PhD

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 3.0 credit graduate courses. Normally, students will complete one full year of graduate studies before requesting this transfer;
  • have an overall first-class (A- or better) average in graduate courses completed;
  • have an undergraduate honours degree with a minimum upper second class (B+ [75%] or better) standing or equivalent, normally including a research thesis;
  • demonstrate promise and ability at research, as indicated by support from the supervisory committee;
  • apply to the SGSPA after one term of enrollment in the MSc program but prior to the end of the fifth term.

11.2. Procedure for Application to Transfer

The student will meet with the supervisor and the supervisory committee to agree upon whether the student should transfer to the PhD program without completing the Master's thesis. During this meeting the ramifications (pros and cons) of the transfer to the doctoral program are to be clearly defined for the student. If approved by the supervisory committee, an application will be prepared for submission to the GSC.

The following documents are required for submission to the SGSPA:

  • 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 they agree with the proposal to promote them, and that they know they cannot revert to the Master's program after their comprehensive exam;
  • 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, OR a document of support from the supervisory committee;
  • completed 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; because the admission fee is waived, this application must be completed in hard copy;
  • understand important research in their field and the gap in knowledge that their proposed research fills.

The request for promotion must be submitted at least 2 weeks prior to the beginning of the term when the student wishes to commence the PhD program.

The application will be forwarded to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies, who will either sign the decision sheet, thereby accepting the student into the PhD program, or bring the application to the next GSC meeting for discussion. Both the Graduate Coordinator (or delegate) and 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. The start of the PhD program is considered a new start, with potential for 4 years funding, i.e., previous time and funding in the MSc program is not counted toward the PhD program.

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, and 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. PhD Qualifying (Comprehensive) Exam

12.1. Objectives.

The general purpose of the qualifying exam is to establish to the satisfaction of the Department that the student has a sound proposal for PhD research, an effective grasp of their main and related areas of study, and the ability to critically evaluate and discuss facts, new ideas, and concepts at the PhD level. The exam also provides an opportunity for feedback from committee members, to maximize the potential for a strong, within-time thesis. 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

  • understand the theory and concepts that form the basis for their proposed research;
  • be able to place their proposed research within a broader conceptual framework, and understand that framework;
  • be able to critically evaluate and defend their study design, selection of methods, hypotheses, and predicted results;
  • have a working knowledge of their general field of study.

12.2. Timing.

PhD students must complete the qualifying examination within 18 months of registering in the PhD program. Students are strongly recommended to take the exam within 12 months of registering in the PhD program, to gain feedback from committee members on their project proposal as early as possible before beginning intensive research. Extensions past 24 months of registration must be approved by the Graduate Coordinator. The supervisory committee should meet with the student within 6 months ahead of the anticipated exam date, both to provide general feedback on the proposed project and to outline areas of expertise required by the student at the exam. Barring extenuating circumstances, if a student has not completed their comprehensive exam within two years of initial enrollment, the supervisory committee is encouraged to meet and mark progress as Conditional. A rating of Conditional is removed if the exam is held within the next term.

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 New Roman), with ≥2-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;
  • pages 2-6 comprise the proposal, usually (but not necessarily) organized under the subheadings Background, Objectives, Methods, Preliminary Results (if available), Expected Results, Expected Significance;
  • pages 7-n comprise a list of references quoted in the proposal. The student may use whatever format they prefer, provided all references are complete and consistent;
  • potentially an appendix containing tables, figures, a proposed timeline, and copies of the slides from their talk, if they think these would be useful, but examiners are not required to read the appendix, and the proposal should stand alone without it. Any essential figures or tables should be included within the main text, and do count toward the page limits;
  • number each page in the bottom right;
  • 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 qualifying examination. The unsigned cover sheet should be submitted to the graduate assistant at least 3 weeks prior to the anticipated defence date, so that a Chair may be found. It is the student’s responsibility to book a room and/or provide a zoom link for the exam. If your proposal file is very large, you may wish to provide it through document sharing platform such as Sharepoint.

12.4. Qualifying Exam Format.

At the beginning of the examination, the student may opt to give a brief (no more than 20 minutes) proposal presentation 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 presentation is followed by two rounds of questioning by the examiners, starting with the external examiner and ending with the supervisor(s). Each examiner usually has up to 20 minutes to ask questions, but the second round of questioning is usually shorter (~5 min per examiner). Examiners are encouraged to use the second round of questions for clarification or to pose new questions that might alter their decision on the outcome of the exam. Examiners can opt to waive their second round of questions if the first round of questions provided clear justification for a “pass” outcome. The questions asked by the examiners will focus on the thesis proposal but should also involve related areas of biology and other scientific disciplines relevant to the proposal.

Students are permitted to refer to their proposal during the exam, but use of notes is not permitted without prior approval by the Graduate Coordinator.

12.5. Examining Committee.

The examining committee must include a minimum of 5 faculty, as follows:

  • 1 Chair (appointed by the Graduate Studies Assistant)
  • 2 faculty members from a different research area inside or outside Biology (these may be supervisory committee members)
  • 1 Biology faculty member from the candidate's research area (usually a member of the supervisory committee)
  • the Supervisor(s)

The Chair is usually a member of the Graduate Studies Committee, and their role is to manage the exam (order and duration of questioning, discussion of exam outcome), The Chair is responsible for familiarizing themselves with the exam requirements and protocols before the exam begins to ensure that it runs smoothly. The Chair does not ask examination questions of the candidate. The Chair does not vote on the outcome of the exam. All other members of the examining committee ask questions and 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 comprehensive exams are covered in their letter of appointment and funds are available to cover the costs mandated by the faculty union), or researchers in government agencies or NGOs (usually a PhD is required, plus approval from the Graduate Coordinator). Please consult with the Graduate Coordinator if you are unsure about the permissibility of a potential examiner. Other than supervisors, supervisory committee members who expect to be coauthors on publications resulting from the student’s research cannot be voting members on the examining committee. They should be notified of this restriction from the time they are invited to serve on the supervisory committee, and must be replaced by another faculty member or researcher as needed to meet the specified quorum of examiners. Thus, the supervisory and examining committees may differ in composition.

Other observers (e.g., faculty, students) may be allowed to attend the examination, but only if the candidate agrees and requests that the Chair allow them to attend. Observers are not allowed to ask questions.

Additional information on examiner roles and exam procedures from the Graduate Calendar is presented in Appendix 4.

12.6. Arrangements.

The student's supervisor is ultimately responsible for the arrangements for this examination. The completed and signed cover form and the proposal must be given to the Biology Graduate Office and each of the examining committee members at least 2 weeks prior to the exam.

12.7. Results.

The Chair 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 student 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 according to criteria clearly delineated by the committee at the end of the qualifying exam. 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. At least two examiners must vote for Fail for a student to fail the qualifying exam.

12.8 Appeal Procedures

A PhD student may appeal the decision of the Qualifying Exam Committee (see Section 16.2).

13. Time Limits for Completion

13.1. Normal Time Limits.

Graduate projects 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.

13.2. Time Limit Extensions.

If it becomes 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 cannot be held before the second half of term 7 (MSc) or 13 (PhD) (i.e., within 2 months of normal completion time), then a timeline and plan should be submitted to the Biology Graduate Studies Coordinator for approval. In this event, another supervisory committee meeting should be held toward the end of term 7 (MSc) or 13 (PhD) to assess progress. If a further extension is required, it must be requested before two weeks from the end of these terms, by submission of a request, a plan, and a proposed timeline to the Biology Coordinator of Graduate Studies, who will inform the School of Graduate Studies.

Extensions beyond the end of term 9 (MSc) or 15 (PhD) must be submitted to the School of Graduate Studies using their Time Limit Extension Request Form, before the end of those terms, along with approval from the Biology Graduate Coordinator.

13.3. Extenuating Circumstances.

The Biology GSC (and SGSPA) recognizes that extenuating circumstances can sometimes cause delays in thesis completion beyond the expected times to completion listed above. Such delays should be carefully documented and included in regular committee meeting reports as they arise.

14. Thesis Formats & Exit Seminars

14.1. Acceptable Formats.

According to the SGSPA General Forms of Theses, “The thesis must be expressed in a satisfactory literary form consistent with the discipline concerned and must display a scholarly approach to the subject and a thorough knowledge of it. Parts of the thesis may be prepared in a form suitable for separate publication or dissemination, but the thesis must comprise a coherent account of a unified research project rather than a collection of loosely connected studies. A critical review of previous work related to the subject and a concluding summation of the contribution made in the thesis to scholarship in the chosen field must be included in the thesis.”

The Department of Biology recommends that graduate theses be organized into one of the following two formats, which 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
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Ch.1: General Introduction
  • Ch.2: Literature Review (may be included in Ch.1)
  • Ch.3: Materials and Methods
  • Ch.4 to n: Results chapters
  • Ch.n+1: Discussion
  • Summary (optional)
  • Literature Cited
  • Appendices
Manuscript Format
  • Title page
  • Abstract (<350 words)
  • Co-authorship (if necessary; see note below)
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures & Illustrations
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Ch.1: General Introduction (including review of the relevant literature)
  • Ch.2 to n: Manuscripts
  • Ch. n+1: General Discussion, if and only if the thesis includes more than one manuscript
  • Summary (Optional)
  • Literature Cited
  • Appendices

14.2. Manuscript Format.

Theses prepared using the manuscript 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 (to reduce thesis length) or be included at the end of each manuscript. Figures and Tables should be numbered (Figure 3.1, etc.) to align with 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 most manuscripts included in the thesis. Theses containing manuscripts that are included in another individual’s thesis, including undergraduate projects (e.g., Biol537), or that are co-authored, must include a detailed statement in the General Introduction stating the student's contribution to the work. 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 is acceptable, if it helps to clarify the PhD thesis.

14.3. Co-authorship.

A separate section (1-2 pages) should follow the Abstract, outlining coauthors (if any) for each chapter and how they contributed to the research. You should also make clear here what your contribution was to each coauthored chapter. If there were no coauthors, do not include this section.

14.4. Acknowledgements.

Acknowledgements should include all people who contributed directly to the thesis, and if desired, and unlike Acknowledgements for a manuscript, those who also contributed indirectly (e.g., friends, parents). It should also include funding sources and permissions (e.g., animal care) – students are encouraged to consult with their supervisor regarding research funding.

Graduate students and their supervisors are encouraged to contemplate, discuss, and acknowledge the impact of their research on Indigenous People and the Land, and the value of recognizing that there are multiple Ways of Knowing, all contributing to knowledge legacies in both Indigenous and traditional academic communities. We can begin reading, learning, and reflecting on these issues through resources such as the Land Acknowledgements video and other videos on the Queen’s CTL youtube play list on Decolonization and Indigenization in the University, engaging with the Queen’s University Office of Indigenous Initiatives, or reaching out to the BGSC’s Indigenous Consensus Representative. You can also explore the Engineers’ Guide to Acknowledge First Peoples and Traditional Land and links therein, as an additional resource. See Appendix 2 for examples of acknowledgements included in graduate theses and publications.

Students also are encouraged to include an Environmental Impact statement, discussing potential impacts from any of their work (e.g., travel for field work or conferences, lab plastics) and measures that were taken to reduce or mitigate these impacts (e.g., carbon offsets, plastic recycling). See Murray et al. 2023 for a discussion of the “5-R Framework of environmental responsibility in research.” See Appendix 3 for examples from previous students.

14.5. Page Limits.

The maximum length for an MSc thesis is 100 pages inclusive of everything except appendices and front matter (title page, tables of contents, etc.). There is no page limit for a PhD thesis, but as a courtesy, students should notify their examiners of the approximate length of their thesis before submission.

14.6. Figures and Tables.

Wherever possible, the caption for a 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 figure 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 where you can put the figures and tables: (1) insert each figure or table on the page right after first mentioned in the text, (2) collect all tables and figures (in that order) at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the whole thesis, or (3) embed the figures and tables into the text on pages in the appropriate places, right after 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 acceptable (panels a,b,c, etc.). If you chose option (3), make sure that no tables or figures are split across multiple pages – this option is technically trickiest. Sometimes the separate parts of multipart figures need to be put on different pages to have a legible size. All the material on any pages with figures or tables must fit inside the required 2.5 cm margins.

14.7. Further Formatting Details.

Additional details on university's thesis format regulations are available from SGSPA and are the final authority on formatting.

14.8 Copyright permission.

Copyright permission is required

  • if your thesis contains someone else’s work; text, figures, maps, images, questionnaires, photos, etc.; AND/OR
  • if your thesis contains your own previously published materials (e.g., journal article) or material (e.g., a chapter, an article) that was co-written with another author.

You must obtain written permission to reproduce copyright material from the copyright owner (e.g., journal publisher and/or co-authors). Any copyrighted material including photos, pictures, charts, graphs, maps, etc. must receive full citation within your thesis, on the page of the thesis on which the material appears, or in a footnote or reference section.

14.8. Exit Seminars.

Prior to graduating, candidates for both PhD and MSc degrees are required to present the results of their thesis research to the Biology Department as part of a departmental seminar series. Seminars must be focused on the student's thesis research, be advertised to the department, and be open to any member of the Department. PhD seminars should fill a full 50-minute seminar slot; seminars for MSc students are 20-25 min long, and may double as their seminar for BIOL 897.

15. Thesis Defenses

15.1. Research Expectations.

According to SGSPA regulations, “the master's thesis should demonstrate that the student is capable of original and independent work; that of a doctoral thesis must be original and be of such value as to merit publication”. A Biology MSc thesis typically entails a single research project (chapter) but may sometimes encompass two. A Biology PhD thesis is expected to include at least three chapters of publication quality, in addition to a general introduction (including literature review) and general discussion.

15.2. Timing of Thesis Defenses.

Thesis defenses in May-August may be difficult to schedule 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 determine their availability. Furthermore, if the Graduate Assistant is on vacation you may have to make your own arrangements for a Head's Delegate and Chair. Please contact the Graduate Assistant at least 3 (MSc) or 6 (PhD) weeks in advance of your anticipated defense date.

It is strongly recommended that a committee meeting be held within 6 months of the expected thesis defense date, to discuss progress, data, interpretation of results, and scheduling the defense. The supervisor is responsible for arranging a time suitable for all members of the committee and booking a room, often with help from the student. Both the arrangements for the exam and the membership of the committee must be recorded on the appropriate Thesis Examination Form. This form must be signed by the supervisor and submitted with the thesis. The Graduate Assistant will secure signatures from the Graduate Coordinator and (for PhD students) the Dean of Graduate Studies.

15.3. Thesis Examination Committee Composition.

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.

The examining committee for MSc and PhD theses must include a minimum of 5 faculty:

  • 1 Chair (chosen by the Graduate Studies Assistant in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator, normally from a different department but may be from Biology if at least one examiner is from a different department)
  • 1 Head’s Delegate (usually a member of the Graduate Studies Committee, who provides an arms-length assessment of the thesis from the standard of the Biology Department)
  • 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; for MSc students, the Internal-external may be from a different research area within the Biology Department; the Internal-external is often a member of the student’s supervisory committee)
  • The supervisor(s)

In addition, PhD candidates must have

  • 1 External Examiner (a faculty member from another university or government agency, but must hold a PhD; see section 15.3, below)

The Chair's role is to manage the order and timing of questioning, and discussions related to the exam outcome; it is not to ask examination questions of the candidate. All other members of the examining committee including the Head’s Delegate ask questions and vote on the outcome of the exam.

Under SGSPA regulations, no member of the examining committee may be in conflict of interest with the candidate, i.e., “have a personal or family relationship with the candidate, and/or vested interest in the thesis or research for personal or financial gain. Further, the Chair, External Examiner, and at least one other examiner must be ‘arms-length’ to the candidate (e.g., must not have a prior supervisory relationship, must not have co-authored with or co-presented with the candidate).” A PhD candidate’s future postdoctoral supervisor also is not an appropriate examiner.

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). Please consult with the Graduate Coordinator if you are unsure about the acceptability of a potential examiner.

15.4. External Examiners. To ensure that the External Examiner for a PhD thesis 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. The External Examiner should be an expert in the research area of the thesis, chosen in consultation between the candidate and supervisor, and should have been contacted by the supervisor to confirm availability before the Request Form is submitted. The External Examiner must be arms-length to both the supervisor and candidate (above).

15.5. Deadlines for Submission.

The student must send members of the examination committee and the Biology Graduate Assistant (not the Chair) a copy of thesis at least 10 business days before the date of the exam for MSc theses, and 25 business days for PhD theses. Students are requested to inform the Graduate Assistant of the date of their exam at least one week ahead of the submission deadline, so that a Chair and Head’s Delegate can be found. The Chair of the examination committee receives a copy of the thesis from the Biology Graduate Assistant (MSc) or SGSPA (PhD) 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.

15.6. Scope of Exams.

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;
  • familiar with similar/relevant literature, and where their study fits into the broader literature;
  • prepared to discuss and defend the format and style of the thesis;
  • prepared to evaluate the significance of the results and to suggest future work.

15.7. Examination Procedure.

For MSc defences, examiners submitting a negative evaluation of the thesis (see below) must submit written comments to the Chair at least 3 working days prior to the defence. For PhD defences, all examiners must submit their evaluation to the thesis coordinator at least 5 working days before the defence. Examiners are requested to read the thesis in advance of these deadlines, in case they need to submit a negative evaluation to the Chair. If two negative evaluations are submitted (evaluations that indicate that the thesis is not, in the committee member’s opinion, suitable for defence), the student has the option to cancel the defence.

During the defence

  1. Student defences are normally open to the Queen’s community (e.g., other graduate students, faculty members) and to guests invited by the candidate (e.g., family members), except by special request by the student to the Associate Dean. The audience may be present only during the presentation of the summary by the student and the subsequent questioning of the student by the examining committee. The audience is not allowed to ask questions.
  2. In the absence of the student and any audience members, the Chair will read outloud any 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 <20 min summary that highlights the major findings of the thesis.
  4. The student is questioned by the committee members starting with the external examiner and finishing with the supervisor. Each examiner is given up to 20 minutes for questioning, although the External Examiner for a PhD thesis may take longer. There are two rounds of questions, with the second round typically being shorter. Examiners are encouraged to use the second round of questions for clarification or to pose new questions that might alter their decision on the outcome of the exam. Examiners can opt to waive their second round of questions, if the first round of questions provided clear justification for a “pass” outcome.
  5. In the absence of the student, the committee discusses the defense and indicates whether the student will be assigned a i) pass, ii) pass with major revisions, iii) referred, or iv) 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".

Students are permitted to refer to their thesis during the exam, but use of notes is not permitted without prior approval by the Graduate Coordinator.

16. Review of Academic Decisions

Steps to appeal course grades and outcomes of qualifying exams or thesis defences are detailed in the Academic Calendar under Appeals Against Academic Decisions.

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 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) 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.

(b) A student who is not satisfied by (a) may request the Coordinator of Graduate Studies to review the case.

(c) A student who is not satisfied by the outcome of (a) and (b) 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 SGSPA and reviews of these decisions should follow the procedure outlined under Appeal of Thesis Examinatino Committee Decision in the Graduate Calendar.


Appendix 1 – Full-time Study Status (from the Academic Calendar, Admission and Registration)


A full-time student is expected to engage in his/her studies on a full-time basis. It is expected that a full-time student will limit paid employment unrelated to the student's research to a total of ten hours per week (average); students wishing to exceed this level should consult their supervisor and graduate coordinator. A student who fails to meet program requirements or who fails to maintain progress consistent with full-time status may be required to withdraw from their program. Under no circumstances will a student be permitted to register as a full-time student while maintaining full-time employment (more than 30 hours a week) elsewhere. Full-time students employed as teaching assistants are limited to a maximum of ten hours a week (average) in this capacity. This is the total time spent by the student in this position and includes time spent on preparation, reading assignments, and marking tests and examinations. Full-time students are expected to maintain geographic availability to the university so that regular interaction can take place between the student and supervisor and the student can effectively use the resources available at Queen's. For this reason, full-time students are enrolled as On Campus students, by default and unless they receive permission to switch to Off Campus status. Clearly, implementation of this guideline must be sensitive to the context of electronic communication, but the central notion is that a full-time student is participating effectively in the academic life of the community.

Appendix 2 – Example Land Acknowledgements

“Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that much of the sampling for this project occurred on the traditional territories of the Inuit people. Without the help and support of Inuit communities this project would have never been possible. I want to acknowledge my position as a settler scientist and hope that any outcomes from this project are in accordance with the National Inuit Strategy on Research.” Lily Colston-Nepali, MSc, 2019

“I’d like to start by acknowledging that much of the sampling for this project was done in the Inuit Nunangat (ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᓄᓇᖓᑦ, the traditional homeland of the Inuit), particularly in Nunavut (ᓄᓇᕗᑦ), and Nunavik (ᓄᓇᕕᒃ). The contemporary sampling for this project would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of Inuit communities. I’d also like to acknowledge that due to the advanced age of some of the samples used in this project, many samples were taken by and for the Government of Canada at a time when forced assimilation of indigenous people was the national policy. These older samples were taken from indigenous lands, rather than given. Finally, I am a settler scientist and much of the work on this thesis was done at Queen’s University which sits on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe.” Emma Lachance Linklater, MSc, 2020.

Appendix 3 – Example Environmental Impact Statements

“I would like to further acknowledge the environmental impact of my project. Extraction of DNA requires numerous single use plastic tubes and pipette tips. The project also required long-distance travel by many researchers to collect samples and to attend conferences, and the use of high-performance computing clusters to analyze genomic data. Our lab has been working towards reducing our environmental impact, by attempting to recycle the plastic waste that we can and moving from the use of hazardous chemicals such as phenol and chloroform for extraction to more environmentally friendly methods such as salt extraction. I believe we still have a long way to go to reduce the impact that science has on the environment, and I will continue to work towards this throughout my career.” Lily Colston-Nepali, MSc, 2019

“I would also like to acknowledge the environmental impact of this research. All my samples were extracted using a salt extraction protocol to reduce the amount of harmful chemical waste produced, however, chloroform was still required to remove fat from many of the samples. My project required plane and/or boat travel to access remote regions for sampling, shipments of samples over long distances, storage of samples in ultra-cold freezers, use of a high-performance computing cluster, and thousands of single-use plastics in the lab. I estimated that DNA extraction, purification, and quality assessment required 2-3 plastic tubes, and 20+ plastic pipette tips per sample under our current extraction protocol. Our lab has collaborated with the Sustainability Action committee to work towards the diversion of recyclable plastics from landfills and will be implementing new protocols this year.” Emma Lachance Linklater, MSc, 2020

“The most environmentally impactful components of this project included travel to, from, and around the study site and the fuels used to power our vehicles. To mitigate the related carbon emissions, we carpooled to the study site whenever possible and limited the travel around the study site as much as possible. We also avoided unnecessary travel by ensuring that the trips we took from Kingston to the study site were absolutely necessary to collect data and ensure the upkeep of the experiment. Another impactful component of this project was the materials used,

including plastic sheeting, strips, and staples for the rainout shelters, and flags to mark each plot. To limit the waste of products we reused all possible materials and only used minimal material to set up the rainout shelters”. Julia White, BSc, 2023

“…many specific measures were taken by the authors to reduce the environmental impacts of the fieldwork associated with completing the science reported in this study (Appendix D).” Bonta 2023, Arctic Science

Appendix 4 – General Regulations on Graduate Thesis Defences from the Academic Calendar

[Differences between Biology and General Regulations are noted in square parentheses]

PhD Candidates
a. Scheduling of the oral thesis examination:

In preparation for the thesis examination, the PhD candidate must submit one copy of the thesis to the SGSPA and one copy of the thesis to each member of the Thesis Examining Committee, including the Chair of the Committee (normally six for a doctoral program), not later than five weeks (twenty-five working days) before the tentative examination date. The copy submitted to the School must be submitted electronically in PDF format. The copy of the thesis submitted to the School must be accompanied by the form PhD Oral Thesis Examination, duly completed with all details given, and signed by the supervisor(s) and Head of the Department (or delegate). The submission of this form follows the same deadlines as the distribution of the thesis copies, which is not later than five weeks (twenty-five working days) before the tentative examination date.

b. Membership and Convening of Thesis Examining Committees:

Membership: The membership of the Thesis Examining Committee and a brief overview of the role, is as follows:

Chair: Responsible for the conduct of the oral thesis examination in alignment with Queen’s standards and the SGSPA guidelines. Has the discretion to exclude members of the Queen’s community and/or visitors whose conduct disrupts the oral thesis examination processes. Responsible for managing the discussion on the evaluation of the thesis and for recording the outcome of the examination. The Chair is always a non-voting member.

Head of the Department (or delegate): Responsible for ensuring that the thesis meets departmental standards. Note: the Head of the Department (or delegate) is required to vote in the evaluation of the thesis, unless the Head of the Department (or delegate) is also the Chair of the examination committee as the Chair is a non-voting member. [Note that Biology does not allow these two roles to be combined.]

Supervisor(s): Must be a member of the SGSPA at Queen’s University and from the student’s department. The supervisor may or may not pose questions during the defence proceedings. [In Biology the Supervisor(s) usually ask questions.]

Examiner: Must be a member of the SGSPA at Queen’s University who may or may not be from the student’s department, but who is knowledgeable in the area of the thesis.

Additional Examiner: An optional examiner who is a field specialist, a relevant community member, or an additional faculty who is typically a member of the SGSPA at Queen’s. If not a member of the SGSPA at Queen’s University, the Associate Dean, SGSPA, may give permission for an additional examiner to serve on the Examining Committee, provided that examiner holds relevant expertise to examine the thesis in relation to the field of study.

Internal/ External Examiner: A member of the SGSPA at Queen’s University and not from the student’s department, who is knowledgeable in the area of the thesis. Responsible for ensuring that the thesis meets Queen’s University standards.

External Examiner: Must be a recognized expert in the field of research of the thesis. Must be external to the University. The External Examiner ensures that the thesis meets standards consistent with the field of scholarship.

Convening of Thesis Examining Committees: PhD candidates’ Thesis Examining Committee members are nominated by the Head of the Department and the student's supervisor. The authority for confirming membership of the committee and for confirming the date of the examination lies with the Dean of the SGSPA. Confirmation of these arrangements must be made, in writing, by the SGSPA to the members of the Thesis Examining Committee and to the student.

c. Examiner’s reports:

The thesis electronic report forms are forwarded from the SGSPA to the members of the Thesis Examining Committee. The thesis reports must be submitted, in confidence, to the Chair of the Examining Committee at the SGSPA no later than one week or five working days before the tentative examination date. Each member of the Thesis Examining Committee, in making out the report, should indicate whether the candidate should be permitted to defend the thesis, and should substantiate any criticism with specific references.

d. Negative reports:

If any two of the examiners' reports recommend that the thesis oral not proceed, the candidate, the supervisor and the Head of Department should be consulted by the Chair of the Examining Committee to see if they wish to proceed with the oral defence. The onus is on the candidate to make the decision to proceed or not. If the candidate agrees that the oral be postponed, the Chair must convey to the candidate, through the supervisor, the nature of the revisions to the thesis that are advised, and the candidate has the right to present the revised thesis at a later date. At the subsequent submission of the thesis, the oral defence must be held.

e. Remote Participation in Oral Thesis Examinations:

General: It is preferred that all examiners and the candidate being examined are physically present at Queen’s University for the oral thesis examination. However, in certain circumstances, it is acceptable for the oral thesis examination to be scheduled so that a member or members, or all members, and/or the candidate being examined could participate in the oral thesis examination remotely using some method of videoconference or teleconference or online meeting arrangement (e.g., via Zoom, Teams, etc.). Arrangements for the use of remote access services must be made by the graduate department/program.

f. Remote Participation in the PhD Oral Thesis Examination:

Notification of remote thesis arrangements must be received by the SGSPA when submitting the PhD Oral Thesis Examination form. All examiners, Chair, and/or the candidate connecting remotely must be present for the duration of the examination and if joining via videoconference are advised to keep their cameras on unless it interferes with communication and bandwidth. If the candidate is joining remotely, arrangements should be made to use a waiting room function during closed deliberation sessions of the defence.

Guests are allowed during remote defence if the following protocols are undertaken: the Chair and/or Supervisor is responsible for obtaining everyone on the Committee’s permission (most importantly the candidate’s permission) to have guests enter the examination, but only for the candidate's presentation (if there is one) and general questioning period. Similar to the in-person procedures, guests may not be present during Committee deliberations.

All examiners, the candidate, and guests must verbally agree not to record the examination and not to be in communication with the candidate during the examination (e.g., sending texts, photos, or any messages during the examination). The Chair is responsible for ensuring that guests and the candidate are welcomed at the appropriate times and leave the online examination at the appropriate times. Departments are strongly advised to seek the ITS assistance in setting up remote defences.

  1. For the regulations on how to proceed with the oral thesis examination if one examiner cannot attend due to sudden illness etc., see Absence of Examiners above.
Master's Candidates
a. Scheduling of the oral thesis examination:

Regulations concerning deadlines and all procedures for the convening of Thesis Examining Committees for all Master’s degree candidates were established by the Divisions of the SGSPA and fall under the jurisdiction of the faculty-based Graduate Councils. Students must consult with their home department to determine the administrative procedures they are to follow and the deadlines that must be met. These deadlines and procedures will be strictly enforced by the department.

b. Membership of Thesis Examining Committees:

Rules on the membership of Thesis Examining Committees for all Master’s degree candidates were established by the Divisions of the SGSPA and fall under the jurisdiction of the faculty-based Graduate Councils. Students must consult with their home department to determine the administrative procedures they are to follow. These rules will be strictly enforced by the department.

c. Examiner’s reports:

It is the responsibility of the student’s home department to inform members of the examining committee of their procedures and deadlines for any pre-examination reports for Master’s oral thesis examinations. These deadlines and procedures will be strictly enforced by the department.

d. Negative reports:

If any two of the examiners' reports recommend that the Master’s oral thesis examination not proceed, the candidate, the supervisor and the Head of Department should be consulted by the Chairperson of the Examining Committee to see if they wish to proceed with the oral defence. The SGSPA should be immediately notified whenever two or more examiners recommend that the thesis oral not proceed, and should be informed of the status of the scheduled oral thesis examination. The onus is on the candidate to make the decision to proceed or not. If the candidate agrees that the oral be postponed, the Chairperson must convey to the candidate, through the supervisor, the nature of the revisions to the thesis that are advised, and the candidate has the right to present the revised thesis at a later date. The SGSPA should be notified that an oral thesis examination has been postponed due to the submission of two negative reports. At the subsequent submission of the thesis, the oral defence must be held.

e. Certification of outcome of Masters’ Oral Thesis Examination:

The student’s home department is responsible for submitting to the SGSPA the “Thesis Examination Results Form” duly signed at the time of the oral examination by the members of the examining committee, and clearly denoting the outcome category of the thesis (see above) and revisions required to prior to final submission for degree completion. This form must also denote the person or persons responsible for certifying to the SGSPA that all revisions have been completed. This task is normally carried out by the supervisor but could be designated to the supervisor and/or other members of the committee, in some cases.

Appendix 5 – Outcome Categories of the Oral Thesis Examination from the Academic Calendar

The outcome of the oral thesis examination is based on the acceptability of both the thesis and the defence of the thesis at the oral thesis examination. The purpose of the oral thesis examination is to ascertain that the student is able to adequately present and defend the thesis and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results and conclusions in a manner consistent with the degree being sought.

At the oral thesis examination, the examining committee will reach one of the 4 outcomes listed below and record it on the “Thesis Examination Results" form. The 4 potential outcome categories are Passed, Passed with Major Revisions, Referred or Failed. The lowest outcome category with two or more votes will result in the decision of the examining committee.

i. Passed:

A thesis is passed if it is acceptable in its present form or pending minor revisions, and its defence at the oral thesis examination was satisfactory. A thesis may be passed if no substantive changes are required. Changes in the form of corrections of typographical or grammatical errors, minor modifications to the thesis, editorial revisions to improve clarity and revisions to clarify results, findings or conclusions, or the like, may be recommended with a thesis classified as passed. A list of the required revisions must be provided by the Chair to the student and the supervisor, and the completion of the revisions must be certified to the SGSPA by the thesis supervisor or other designated person.

ii. Passed with Major Revisions:

A thesis is passed with major revisions if it is not acceptable in its present form or pending minor revisions but could be acceptable pending major revisions. Major revisions could include, for example, rearticulation and repositioning of research purpose, substantive integration of new literature, major additions or revisions to conceptual framework, methodology, results, and/or discussion. In cases of portfolio or manuscript theses, a passed with major revision outcome may be assigned if one or more of the manuscripts requires major revisions. A passed with major revisions may not require revaluation of the written thesis by the whole examining committee. Revisions must be certified to the SGSPA by those whom the examining committee deem responsible for oversight of revisions.

iii. Referred:

A thesis is referred if it is unacceptable in its present form and/or requires re-examination by the PhD oral thesis examining committee. For example, a thesis will be referred if it requires substantive changes such as rewriting a chapter, reinterpretation, reanalysis or recalculation of data or findings, or additional research in order to attain acceptable standards of coherence and integrity in argument and presentation. The committee may decide to reconvene the examining committee and hold another oral thesis examination of the revised thesis.

The examining committee may also use the referred category if it determines that the oral thesis examination itself, either separate from or in conjunction with the written thesis, is unsatisfactory. This means that the student did not adequately present and defend the thesis and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results and conclusions in a manner consistent with the degree being sought. In such cases, a second oral thesis examination must be held, and the committee must then return a decision of either “passed” or “failed".

In all cases of referral, the nature of the revisions and/or additional work, and/or the deficiencies associated with the oral thesis examination, must be specified in writing by the Chair to avoid dispute or ambiguity. When outlining the revisions and/or additional work required, and/or the holding of a second oral thesis examination, the Chair must be as specific as possible. These comments will be passed on to the candidate in a letter from the SGSPA as revisions and/or improvements that must be met for the thesis to be reconsidered.

Any outlined revisions in relation to a referred outcome must be certified by the Chair or delegate as having been completed satisfactorily. Usually, this certification is delegated to at least two members of the Committee. In all cases of referral, the examining committee continues to exist until it has agreed that the thesis outcome is either passed or failed. The decision of Passed with Major Revisions is not an option once the thesis and/or oral examination has been placed in the Referred category.

iv. Failed:

Failure can occur in 2 ways: [In Biology, at least two examiners must vote for Failed for a thesis to fail.]

  1. A thesis is failed if the document is unacceptable to the discipline even with substantive revisions. If the committee returns two or more votes of Failed on the basis of the document, this means that the committee recommends that the student be required to withdraw on academic grounds.
  2. Failure may also result from an unacceptable second oral thesis examination, where the student was manifestly unable to adequately present and defend the thesis and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results and conclusions in a manner consistent with the degree being sought. A decision of Failed on the basis of the second oral thesis examination requires agreement by the majority (more than half) of the examining committee.

The student will be notified of the result immediately by the Chair of the committee and the decision confirmed in writing by the SGSPA.