Doctoral Thesis Examination

As you approach completion of your research project(s), you need to start thinking about writing, submitting, and defending your thesis. Your first step should always be to sit down with your supervisor to discuss the content of your thesis and whether or not you are ready to write it. The candidate must write their own thesis. The supervisor can provide advice and feedback.

While there is no regulation requiring you to publish your thesis material in a scientific journal before defence, it is highly recommended that you have at least part of the material published in advance. Regulations require that doctoral theses contain novel and publishable results. The examination committee is mandated to confirm that the material is publishable before passing the candidate. If you have not yet published the material, then you will have to prove to the committee that it will be accepted for publication in the future.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies guidelines do not control the content or order of presentation of the material; however, they strongly control the style of the thesis. If you are using LaTeX to write your thesis in the university’s thesis style, you may download a style file. LaTeX is not required but the style guidelines must be met.

A male student works on a laptop computer.

Outdoors on campus.

Initial thesis submission

When you are ready to start the submission process your supervisor should contact the graduate program coordinator.

No less than seven weeks before your proposed defence date your supervisor must finalize the external examiner (external to the university) for your defence. At this time your supervisor must submit to the department the name, affiliation, birth date, mailing address and current curriculum vitae of the examiner. This information will be passed on to the Faculty of Graduate Studies for their approval. External examiners must have no involvement in your research project.

No less than five weeks before your proposed defence date, your supervisor must submit to the department the proposed defence date, time, and location; the name of the internal-external examiner; and the full title of the thesis.

The thesis should be delivered to the examining committee no less than three weeks before the exam date. The student delivers copies of the thesis to each of the exam committee members on or before this date. These copies can be submitted in paper form or emailed. Please check with your committee as to how they would prefer to read your thesis. Please remember that the thesis must follow all style guidelines.


Formal doctorate defence

The defence is similar in structure to the candidacy exam, but formalized and expanded. The defence lasts no more than two hours, with an examining committee consisting of:

  • The supervisor
  • Supervisory committee members
  • Internal-external examiner
  • External examiner

At present, all physics and astronomy final defence exams are open except for the deliberations. At the appointed time, the exam will commence and the candidate will be asked to leave the room. This is normal procedure. The candidate is then invited back into the room afterwards and asked to give a 15 to 20 minute presentation on their research. It is permitted for the candidate to choose not to give this presentation, but candidates in the physics and astronomy department are encouraged to present.

Following the presentation, the committee will question the candidate. After this the candidate will be asked to leave the room once again while the committee determines the result of the exam. The results are then announced to the candidate, marking the conclusion of the examination.

The committee may pass the exam and thesis, with minor revisions to be dealt with by the supervisor and candidate, or they can require more major revisions that must be approved by the full committee. They can also fail the exam and/or the thesis, requiring a re-examination or re-submission within six months. In principle, an outright fail is also possible, but this is very rare.


A group of students study together.

Final thesis submission

A degree is only considered complete once the Faculty of Graduate Studies has received all necessary paperwork, including the thesis approval form, and the final thesis has been uploaded. This must be completed by the relevant deadlines in September, January and May. All of the forms and requirements for paper and e-submission can be found on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website. 

Candidates are responsible for getting hard-bound copies of their thesis made for themselves, the department, and supervisor. The department will pay the costs associated with the binding of these copies. Students will submit a personal expense claim for reimbursement.

Once you have submitted the official copy of the thesis and sent the other copies out for binding, your degree is complete.