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Doctoral Candidacy Examination Policy

Classification number ACD 1517
Framework category Academic
Approving authority Academic Council
Policy owner Dean, Graduate Studies
Approval date February 23, 2021
Review date February 2024
Supersedes Academic Regulations, Graduate Academic Calendar 2020-21


The purpose of this Policy is to outline the requirements and outcomes for the doctoral candidacy examination.


For the purposes of this Policy the following definitions apply:

“Candidacy Examination” means an oral presentation by a graduate student for the purpose of evaluating the student's research proposal, knowledge of the research field and background preparation.

“Conflict of Interest” means a conflict between a person's duties and responsibilities with regard to the examination process, and that person's private, professional, business or public interests.

“Doctoral Degree” means an advanced degree in a specific area of disciplinary or interdisciplinary study that includes course work and a Candidacy Exam. It is normally completed after receiving a Master's Degree in a related subject area. A Doctoral Degree requires intensive research and the creation and defence before an examining committee of a thesis that constitutes an original contribution to a field of study.

“Graduate Faculty Appointment” means a faculty member with an academic appointment at the University who has been approved to participate in a graduate Program in one of the three categories: Graduate Faculty, Associate Graduate Faculty or Emeritus/Emerita Graduate Faculty.

“Graduate Program Director” means academic administrators with a Graduate Faculty Appointment within an academic unit and help to ensure the success of the Program and its students.

“Program” means a complete set and sequence of Courses, combination of Courses, and/or other units of study, research and practice, the successful completion of which qualifies the candidate for a formal credential (degree with or without major; diploma), provided all other academic and financial requirements are met.

Scope and authority

This Policy applies to graduate students completing a doctoral Candidacy Examination, examining committee members, supervisors, Graduate Program Directors and all others participating in a Candidacy Examination.

The Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or successor thereof, is the Policy Owner and is responsible for overseeing the implementation, administration and interpretation of this Policy.



  1. Each student in a doctoral Program is required to prepare a written thesis proposal and pass a Candidacy Exam.
  2. Normally, full-time students are expected to do so within 18 months of their initial registration in the doctoral Program.
  3. Exceptional students who have demonstrated superior academic credentials and outstanding research potential in their Master's Degree Program may complete a doctoral Candidacy Examination in accordance with the Graduate Program Changes and Program Transfers Policy.
  4. The examination is to determine whether the candidate has the appropriate knowledge and expertise to undertake a thesis in the selected field of study.

Doctoral Candidacy Committee
A candidacy committee conducts the examination.

  1. The candidacy committee must be established at least four weeks prior to the exam.
  2. The committee consists of the following members:
    • The student’s supervisor(s).
    • At least two additional members from the student’s supervisory committee. The student’s supervisory committee must be established prior to the Candidacy Examination in compliance with the Graduate Student Supervisory Committee Policy
    • Graduate Program Director (or delegate) as chair. The chair cannot be a member of the student’s supervisory committee.
    • A candidacy examiner is recommended by the Graduate Program Director.
  3. Candidacy Examiner
    • The candidacy examiner for a Candidacy Exam has expertise that is relevant to the thesis subject matter.
    • The candidacy examiner is normally a faculty member at the University outside the student’s home Program and should hold the rank of full or associate professor.
    • In exceptional cases, examiners external to the University may be appointed. If an examiner external to the University is appointed, they are unable to serve in the final exam as an external or university examiner.
    • Examiners should not have been an examiner for another doctoral student’s Candidacy Exam with the same supervisor within the last year.
    • The Conflict of Interest for Examiners section of the Thesis Oral Examination for Master’s and Doctoral Candidates Policy also applies to candidacy examiners.
    • The candidacy examiner is appointed by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in consultation with the Graduate Program Director. A curriculum vitae for the recommended examiner and a written rationale must be provided.

Committee Member Attendance at the Examination

  1. If a member of the candidacy committee finds that they are unable to attend the oral examination in person or remotely via synchronous participation, the Graduate Program Director should secure a suitable replacement.
  2. Should a suitable replacement not be found, the member is asked to submit questions or concerns to be read by the candidacy committee chair at the defence.
  3. Normally, no more than two members of the candidacy committee, including the candidacy examiner, may attend the defence remotely.
  4. At least one member of the supervisory committee must be physically present.
  5. In extraordinary circumstances, the Candidacy Examination will be rescheduled if one or more members of the candidacy committee are unable to attend.
  6. In the case of online Programs, alternate arrangements will be permitted.

Phases of the Candidacy Examination

  1. The Written Thesis Proposal:
    1. A written thesis proposal which must be distributed to the candidacy committee at least four full weeks prior to the examination date. The thesis proposal demonstrates:
      • The student’s mastery of the relevant background knowledge, including an appropriate breadth of knowledge in the discipline.
      • A coherent and achievable research plan that will result in an original contribution.
    2. Each candidacy committee member will prepare a written report, and will provide an overall evaluation of the written proposal. A copy of each report will be given to the chair by the time of the examination.
    1. The Presentation Phase:
      1. An oral presentation of the doctoral thesis proposal (preferably 20 minutes and not to exceed 30 minutes).
      2. Normally, the oral presentation is closed.
    2. The Question Phase:
      1. The oral presentation will be followed by open questioning of the candidate by the candidacy committee to ascertain the readiness of the candidate to carry out the proposed research.
  2. The Deliberation Phase:
    1. At the end of the oral exam, the chair asks the candidate to leave and the candidacy committee meets in closed session. The candidacy committee deliberates and makes a judgment of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
    2. All decisions of the examining committee are made by majority vote.
    3. All members of the committee, except a non-voting advisor are voting members. In the case of co-supervision, co-supervisors collectively have one vote.
    4. The chair of the examining committee is a non-voting member, unless the chair’s vote is needed to break a tie.
    5. A written report is prepared by the chair, signed by all committee members and is submitted with the committee members’ reports to the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies with copies to the members of the candidacy committee.
    6. The results are communicated to the student by the chair of the committee.
    7. Students who change their research area after successfully passing a Candidacy Examination must consult with their supervisory committee and may be required to pass another Candidacy Exam.

Outcomes of Doctoral Candidacy Examination

  1. A judgment of satisfactory allows the student to proceed with doctoral studies.
  2. If the judgment is unsatisfactory, the student is required to retake the exam within four months. For a second exam, the examination team must include an additional member of the graduate faculty who was not involved in the original examination.
  3. A judgment of satisfactory in a second exam allows the student to proceed with their studies. If a student receives an unsatisfactory judgment in a second attempt at a Candidacy Exam, or if a student does not retake the Candidacy Exam within four months after an unsatisfactory first attempt, the student shall receive a grade of Fail and be dismissed from the doctoral Program.
  4. For those students taking the Candidacy Exam to transfer from a master’s to a doctoral Program, a judgment of satisfactory allows the student to transfer. For further details, see transfer from a thesis-based master’s to a doctoral program policy.

Monitoring and review

This Policy will be reviewed as necessary and at least every three years. The Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or successor thereof, is responsible to monitor and review this Policy.

Relevant legislation

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Related policies, procedures & documents

Graduate Academic Calendar
Responsibilities of Graduate Program Directors, Faculty Advisors, Research Supervisors and Graduate Students Policy
Graduate Faculty Appointments Policy
Thesis Oral Examination for Master’s and Doctoral Candidates Policy
Graduate Student Supervisory Committee Policy
Graduate Program Changes and Program Transfers Policy