Jul 25, 2024  
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2019-2020 
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2019-2020 [-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 Expectations and 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.

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 School of Graduate Studies does not prescribe any particular way to assess students for this breadth or depth of knowledge and the ability to integrate ideas. It is left to each program to decide if such knowledge is best determined by a Comprehensive Examination or by some other format instead. All doctoral programs are expected to assess and provide feedback to the Ph.D. candidates, as early as possible and as frequently as possible, on the breadth or depth of their knowledge, critical thinking and independent research skills. This assessment and feedback will normally begin between the 12th and 20th month after the student begins doctoral-level work at McMaster University, with an upper limit of 24 months. The assessment may consist of an examination, but it may also be achieved by other approaches, as appropriate for the field (portfolio, external evaluations such as a co-op work term report, completion of seminars, etc.). The approach taken, composition of faculty members involved in the assessment, and its administration are the responsibility of the program in which the student is registered, not of the student’s supervisory committee.

Any assessment practice of comprehensive knowledge, including but not limited to the traditional comprehensive examination, must include a description of a second opportunity for assessment should the student fail the first attempt. This second assessment is given in place of any “re-read” of a comprehensive evaluation, which is explicitly excluded from the Student Appeal Procedures, and in recognition of the fact that the failure may occur on oral or written parts of the assessment. The second opportunity will normally occur between one to six months after the student was notified that they had failed the original assessment. A failure at the second assessment will require the student to withdraw from the program.

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

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

Approved assessment procedures must be clearly communicated to graduate students at the earliest opportunity after registration.

4.3 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 defence. 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 defence will not be arranged until a majority of the supervisory committee has approved the thesis for defence and an agreed date of defense has been received.

Selection of the Examining Committee

Selection of an external examiner is the responsibility of the Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies or their delegate. To aid in that selection, the supervisory committee may be required to provide, through the Chair of the Department (or equivalent), the names and contact information for potential examiners. 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. The external examiner will provide a written report to the Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies judging whether the written thesis is satisfactory for defence.

Normally 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. A Chair will also be present at the defence but is not considered part of the examining body.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. 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.

An eligible Examining Committee Chair is a tenured faculty member (or Professor Emeritus) who has supervised a doctoral student to completion, and who has also participated previosuly in the McMaster Ph.D. defence process.

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 Defence)

There are two ways that a Ph.D. defence can be coordinated: through SGS or in cooperation with the supervisor via the Accelerated Model. There are blackout period over the course of an academic year that affect defences coordiante by SGS.  Please refer to the sessional dates in order to prepare your defence appropriately.

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 may 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.

The external examiner must provide a report to the School of Graduate Studies with a written assessment of the thesis at least one week before the scheduled defence. If the report is not received in time, candidates will be given the option to postpone their defence. Whether the assessment is positive or negative, the School of Graduate Studies will send the report of the external examiner to the supervisory committee.  The committee must give a copy of the report to the student. Should the assessment be negative, the appropriate Associate Dean will communicate with the supervisory committee and student to discuss the outcome of the review. This is normally followed by a supervisory committee meeting to specifically discuss the plan if the external examiner indicates that the thesis is not acceptable for defence. The supervisory committee and candidate (in consultation with the Associate Dean) may wish to withdraw the dissertation and defend with the participation of the same external examiner. A second possible outcome of the review is that the associate dean will recommend to the Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies that the thesis be reviewed by a different external examiner. A candidate may withdraw the thesis only once. In all cases, despite a negative assessment, a candidate has the right to proceed to a defence.

If the external report has not been received five business days before the defence, the candidate and the committee will be notified that the defence is at risk of being cancelled.

If the external report has not been received two business days before the scheduled examination, SGS will notify the candidate that the defence will be rescheduled.

Subsequent to the receipt of the external examiner’s report, an oral defence will be convened by the Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies, chaired by themselves or their 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. In the case of the Accelerated Thesis Defence Process the presence of the external is mandatory at the defence, either in person or electronically. 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 defence. Normally, examination of the candidate will not take more than two hours.  In no case should it take more than three hours.

After a discussion of the examination, the Chair will ask for a vote on the success or failure of the defence. If the examiners approve the defense, the Chair will ask the examiners to complete the Examination Report by initialing 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, if any, (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 defence, and a reconvened oral defence 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 defence. The reconvened defence 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 defence, except that one or two substitutions are permitted in order to expedite scheduling of the reconvened defence. If the defence 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 ). 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 Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies.

A final thesis is the corrected, approved version of the thesis which is submitted to SGS following the Final Oral Examination.  Note taht there is no grace period at the end of December or April for final thesis submission and completeion of degree requirements.

4.4 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. The supervisor must be declared within the first 5 months of study and the supervisory committee must be declared within the first 12 months of study. 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 Vice-Provost & Dean of Graduate Studies. For more information please consult the policy. 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 defence 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 defence 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.

4.5 Program Progression

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. The commitee will assess the student’s progress in their program.  Students must receive a grade of at least satisfactory.  If the committee reports that progress is marginal one or more times the student may be required to withdraw from the University. A student who encounters difficulties arranging a meeting of this committee should consult the chair, director, or graduate coordinator of the graduate unit in advance of the relevant deadline for doing so.

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”.

Please note, students who choose to move from part-time to full-time or from full-time to part-time will be governed by the time to completion and fees associated with the degree to which they were admitted. For more information please see Section 2.5.2  - Definition of Full/Part-Time Status.

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 defence of the thesis. In all cases, the department must first declare that the submitted thesis is ready for defence 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. If a student needs more than one term to complete they should be readmitted to program and pay regular fees until all the program requirements are complete.