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    McMaster University
  Oct 18, 2017
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2016-2017 [-ARCHIVED CALENDAR-]

Regulations for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree

4.1 General

The regular doctoral programs at McMaster have been designed for students who can devote full time to their studies. Academically, full-time Ph.D. study is the best and most efficient way to undertake the degree. However, some departments at McMaster University will consider individual applicants holding a Master’s degree whose circumstances preclude uninterrupted full-time graduate work to undertake Ph.D. studies. Because of the divergent nature of academic disciplines, part-time Ph.D. work is not feasible in some areas.

Accordingly, no Department or Program is obligated to offer part-time Ph.D. work. Consult the department listings for information as to whether a part-time program is available in any particular department, or correspond with the department directly.

4.2 Program Requirements

McMaster University does not have a minimum course requirement for the Ph.D. Instead, it is left to each graduate program to establish its own minimum requirement, subject to the approval of the appropriate Graduate Curriculum and Policy Committee, and Graduate Council. In accordance with OCGS requirements, no more than one-third of the program’s minimum course requirements may be at the 600-level.

Students should consult that section of the Calendar applicable to the graduate program in which they are interested.

The supervisory committee may also require a student to take courses in addition to the minimum prescribed by the program’s regulations. These additional courses must be relevant to the student’s program. They may be taken in another program and may be at either the undergraduate or the graduate level. The student who is required to take undergraduate courses may register for a maximum of 12 units of such work.

Students will be required to meet any additional requirements of the program, including special seminars or colloquia. Such requirements are subject to approval by the appropriate Committee on Graduate Curriculum and Policy.

4.3 Examinations

All Ph.D. candidates at McMaster are expected to acquire, during the course of their studies, a comprehensive knowledge of the discipline or sub-discipline to which their field of research belongs. The Comprehensive Examination is designed to test students for this breadth of knowledge and the ability to integrate ideas. The form of the exam and its administration are the responsibility of the department in which the student is registered, not of the student’s supervisory committee.

The outcome will be reported to the School of Graduate Studies as “pass with distinction”, “pass”, or “fail.”

If the Comprehensive Examination consists of multiple components, a second failure of the same single component will constitute a second failure of the Comprehensive Examination. 

If the result of the Comprehensive Examination is “fail”, the student must be given a second opportunity to take the examination, or those portions on which the failure occurred. This second opportunity is given in place of any ‘re-read’ of a comprehensive exam, which is explicitly excluded from the Student Appeal Procedures, and in recognition of the fact that the failure may occur on the oral part of the examination. If a student chooses to withdraw from the program prior to that second opportunity, the result “fail” will remain on the student’s record. A second failure will result in the student being withdrawn at the end of the month in which the decision is rendered.

Normally, for full-time students, the comprehensive examination will be completed between the 12th and 20th month after the student began doctoral-level work at McMaster University, with an upper limit of 24 months. Individual exceptions require the approval of the appropriate Faculty Committee on Graduate Admissions and Study. Programs which offer part-time Ph.D. programs must require such students to complete the Comprehensive Examination by the end of the 36th month.

Departments may hold transfer, qualifying, or entrance exams at the start of a student’s doctoral program, but those exams are distinct from the comprehensive exam.

There is no University-wide foreign language requirement for Ph.D. students. Many departments, however, do have such a requirement (see departmental regulations).

All departmental examination rules and practices are subject to approval by the Faculty Committee on Graduate Curriculum and Policy, which may refer questions to Graduate Council.

4.4 Thesis

Please note that thesis defences may not be initiated until all other degree requirements, including comprehensive examinations, have been completed.

A candidate must present a thesis which embodies the results of original research and mature scholarship. In the case of sandwich theses, mature scholarship specifically includes substantial and significant contributions to the composition of text in papers with multiple authors. The student must be authorised by a majority of the supervisory committee before producing the final version of the thesis for oral defense. Normally the thesis will be distributed to committee members and examiners in an electronic format (see Section 2.8 - Theses ).

When a majority of the supervisory committee have approved the final version of the thesis, it may be submitted to the School of Graduate Studies for examination. The oral defense will not be arranged by the Thesis Coordinator until a majority of the supervisory committee has submitted a report approving the thesis for defense and an agreed date of defense has been received.

Selection of the Examining Committee

Selection of an external examiner is the responsibility of the Associate Vice-President & Dean of Graduate Studies. To aid in that selection, the supervisory committee is required to provide, through the Chair of the Department (or equivalent), the names and contact information for three potential examiners, at least one month prior to the submission of the thesis. The nominees must not have primary appointments at McMaster University, and they must be at arm’s length* from all members of the supervisory committee and the student. To maintain this distance, all communication with a potential or selected external examiner that is related to the examination and defense of the student must originate only from the School of Graduate Studies. The external examiner will provide a written report to the Associate Vice-President & Dean of Graduate Studies judging whether the written thesis is satisfactory for defense or not. The external examiner will provide this assessment regardless of their ability to be present at the defense.

The examining body will consist of the following members: the student’s supervisor, at least two members of the supervisory committee and an external examiner. The examining committee must not exceed five voting members. If there are more than four members on the student’s supervisory committee, the additional members are welcome to attend the defence and ask questions in the time allotted for audience members. If the external examiner cannot attend the oral defense, either in person or through tele- or video-conferencing, one additional representative of the faculty at large will be selected as an attending external examiner. In this case, the original (non‐attending) external examiner will remain a member of the examining committee, but their contribution to evaluation of the candidate will be restricted to the written thesis. In unusual situations where the supervisor is not available to participate in the defense for an extended period, the program Chair may designate a different faculty member to serve on the examining committee in place of the supervisor.

The definition of ‘arm’s length’ is as follows: The nominees should not have been a research supervisor or student of the supervisor or the student within the last 6 years; should not have collaborated with the supervisor or the student within the past 6 years, or have made plans to collaborate with these individuals in the immediate future. There also should be no other potential conflicts of interest (e.g., personal or financial). External examiners should not have been employed by or affiliated with the student’s or supervisors’ Department within the past 6 years, nor expect to become employed in the Department in the immediate future.

Scheduling and Conducting the Oral Examination (Oral Defense)

Dates scheduled for doctoral defences assume that the external reviewer will conclude that the written thesis is acceptable and ready for oral examination. When the external reviewer concludes otherwise, the defence date can no longer be held on the date as planned and the situation reviewed in accordance with the process around a negative external report as outlined below. Any travel and/or employment arrangements made by the candidate based on the original defence date are entirely at their own risk.

If the external examiner approves the thesis for oral examination, an oral defense will be convened by the Associate Vice-President & Dean of Graduate Studies, chaired by herself or her delegate and conducted by all members of the examining committee. Quorum for the examination will be the Chair of the examining committee and the supervisory committee plus one additional examiner. The oral defence will be open to members of the university community and the public who wish to attend as observers, unless the student requests a closed defence. The Ph.D. defence presents the culmination of a number of years of scholarly work which are publicly funded. It is important, therefore, that in all but exceptional circumstances the student presents the result of this effort to the public. The examination proper will be conducted only by the members of the examining committee. When they have completed their questions, the Chair may permit a few minutes of questioning by visitors. Normally the student will attempt to answer visitors’ questions, but these are not to be considered part of the examination for the degree. Observers will withdraw prior to the committee’s deliberations on the student’s performance at the defense. Normally, examination of the candidate will not take more than two hours.  In no case should it take more than three.

If the external examiner does not approve the thesis for an oral defense, the appropriate Associate Dean will convene a meeting with the student’s supervisory committee to discuss the external examiner’s report. The supervisory committee and student will make every effort to address the concerns of the examiner. A memo addressing the external examiner’s concerns as outlined in the report is to be submitted to the School of Graduate Studies along with the revised thesis.  SGS will then request that the external examiner re-evaluate the revised document to determine if it is suitable to go to defense. In rare cases, a new external examiner may be appointed by the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

After a discussion of the examination, the Chair will ask for a vote on the success or failure of the defense. If the examiners approve the defense, the Chair will ask the examiners to complete the Examination Report by initialling appropriately. The student will be invited back to the examination room for congratulations by the committee. In the event that minor revisions are required to the thesis, the Chair of the examination committee is responsible for ensuring that (1) the candidate is advised of the revisions, (2) the candidate receives and understands the ‘Final Thesis Submission form’ to be used by the Supervisor to confirm that the revisions have been made, and (3) the supervisor is also aware of the form. The Chair will complete and sign the Examination Report and return it to the School of Graduate Studies.

However, if there are two or more negative or abstaining votes, with at least one of these votes being from a member of the supervisory committee, the candidate will be deemed to have failed the defense, and a reconvened oral defense must be held at a later date. The candidate should be told as clearly as possible by the Chair and the examining committee what he/she must do to improve the defense. The reconvened defense is the candidate’s final opportunity to complete the degree. Membership on the reconvened examining committee should be the same as that for the original defense, except that one or two substitutions are permitted in order to expedite scheduling of the reconvened defense. If the defense fails a second time, that decision is final, and is not open to appeal.

After a successful defense, the candidate must correct any errors detected by the readers to the satisfaction of the Supervisor and then submit an electronic copy to the School of Graduate Studies via MacSphere (see Section 2.8.3 - Publication of Electronic Theses at McMaster University ). The fee for archiving the thesis is paid by the student. Students are normally expected to submit their final thesis within four weeks of a successful defence.

Tuition fees continue to be assessed until all degree requirements are met, including the successful submission of the final approved thesis to MacSphere.

Please note: when a thesis is submitted and published to MacSphere students must be aware that their name will appear as author of the document. In exceptional circumstances a pen name may be used subject to written approval of the AVP and Dean of Graduate Studies.

4.5 Supervision

The general regulations in regard to supervision, described earlier (Section 2.7 ), apply to doctoral students.

Students will be expected to confer with the Chair of the Department/Program and others in choosing a supervisor for their entire doctoral program, including the proposed research. As soon as possible, and in any case not later than six months following their arrival, a supervisory committee will be appointed by the department/program, on the recommendation of the students and their possible supervisors. The supervisory committee will consist of at least three members. Two, including the supervisor, must be from within the department/program. A third member, whose scholarly interests include the area of the student’s main interest, may be from outside the department/program. One member may be appointed from outside the University with the permission of the Associate Vice-President & Dean of Graduate Studies. If the need arises, the membership of a supervisory committee will be subject to change by the same procedures involved in its appointment (see Section 2.7 - Supervision ). Supervisory committee members, including supervisors, may not resign without the department’s/program’s approval. The duties of the Ph.D. supervisory committee will be as follows:

  • to assist in planning and to approve the student’s program of courses and research; 
  • to approve the thesis proposal; 
  • to decide, within departmental regulations, on the timing of the comprehensive examination and, where applicable, of the language and other examinations; 
  • to maintain knowledge of the student’s research activities and progress; 
  • to give advice on research, usually through the student’s supervisor; 
  • to provide the student with regular appraisals or progress or lack of it; 
  • to perform such other duties as may be required by the department;
  • to report on the above matters annually, in writing, on the approved form to the department, which in turn will report to the Faculty Graduate Committee on Admissions and Study;
  • to initiate appropriate action if the student’s progress is unsatisfactory, including any recommendation that the student withdraw, for approval by the department and the Faculty Committee on Graduate Admissions and Study; 
  • to decide when the student is to write the thesis and give advice during this process;
  • to act as internal examiners for the student’s thesis; 
  • to act as members of the examination committee for the final oral defense when so appointed.

The supervisory duties of the department/program will be as follows: to provide all Ph.D. students in its doctoral program with copies of the complete departmental regulations of the program (such regulations are subject to approval by the Faculty Committee on Graduate Curriculum and Policy); to approve the membership and work of the supervisory committee; and, when necessary, to make changes in the membership; to report this membership to the Faculty Committee on Graduate Admissions and Study; at least once a year to review each student’s course grades and research progress, as reported by the supervisory committee; to conduct comprehensive examinations; to conduct or arrange for language examinations when these are required; to attest to the Faculty Committee on Graduate Admissions and Study that all departmental and University requirements for the degree have been satisfied; to name any departmental representatives to the examination committee for the final oral defense of the thesis; to replace any members of the supervisory committee, including the supervisor when on leave of absence or, if necessary, when on research leave.

Part-time students must have their course grades and research progress reviewed at least once a year by the supervisory committee.

4.6 Program Duration

The minimum time in which to complete a Ph.D. program at McMaster is three calendar years beyond the bachelor’s level or two calendar years beyond the master’s level. However, the minimum time may be reduced by up to one year for graduate work beyond the Master’s level taken in a university or research institution approved by the Faculty Committee on Graduate Admissions and Study.

Completion of the Ph.D. degree is normally limited to six years from initial registration in a regular doctoral program at McMaster. The time for completion of the Ph.D. program for those admitted to a part-time program is normally limited to eight years from initial registration at McMaster as a Ph.D. student. 

Each student’s progress is reviewed annually by the department and on a more frequent basis by the supervisory committee. A student whose work is unsatisfactory may at any time be required to withdraw from the University. 

In those cases in which a student does not manage to complete the degree requirements before the end of the time limit specified above, the University has no further obligation to provide supervision. Upon consultation with the department and on its recommendation, the student will be shown as having been “withdrawn in good standing due to time limit”.

If a completed thesis is submitted, and is acceptable to the department, the student can be readmitted in order to defend the thesis. Students who have been withdrawn in good standing should be aware that they may be required to complete additional course work before being permitted to proceed to a defense of the thesis. In all cases, the department must first declare that the submitted thesis is ready for defense before the student will be readmitted. Students can only be readmitted to defend at the beginning of the academic term.

At the time of readmission to defend, the student will be required to pay a fee (equivalent to one term’s tuition at the current part-time level 5 rate - see section 5.1 ) to compensate for the costs of the defense and subsequent processing of the thesis.