Guidelines and Policies

Supervisory Committee and Research Proposal

Supervisory Committee Composition

The Supervisory Committee for M.Sc. students usually consists of the Supervisor and one Committee Member.  The Supervisory Committee for Ph.D. students usually consists of the Supervisor and two Committee Members. Both the supervisor and the committee member(s) must be members of the Biology graduate program.

If a student is supervised by a Biology graduate faculty member whose primary graduate program is not Biology, at least one the other Supervisory Committee member must be from the Biology Department.  Where students are co-supervised, the Supervisory Committee will consist of the co-supervisors plus the normal composition of other committee members.

The supervisory committee should be established in the first term of study and the signed Supervisory Committee Approval Form (.pdf) must be submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant by the beginning of the second term.

Additional information about FGS Graduate Supervisory Principles, Policies and Practices can be found at Faculty of Graduate Studies - Thesis and Dissertation.

Committee Meetings

First year students should meet with their supervisory committee at least twice per year.  The fall meeting does not require a formal Research Progress Evaluation and the supervisory committee can advise on what reports, proposals  or presentations they will require.  The spring meeting is a formal,  pass/fail  Research Progress Evaluation  for all graduate students and must follow the graduate program’s format.

Research Proposal for FGS

A research proposal, approved by the supervisory committee must be submitted to FGS in the second term  of study; this requirement is in addition to completing the requirements for the departmental Research Progress Evaluation course. The approved FGS proposal must be on file in order for a student to apply for internal awards or defend a thesis.

A research proposal outlines the recent pertinent literature, describes the objectives of the research project, outlines the experimental approach, and clearly states the significance of the research to the field. The Supervisory Committee should be consulted as to the expected content of the proposal, as this varies among fields of study.

For M.Sc. students, a draft research proposal (5-10 pg) should be submitted to their Supervisory Committee by the end of their first term of study so that an approved proposal can be submitted to FGS early in the second term. This FGS proposal can be subsequently revised and improved for the Research Progress Evaluation several months later.

For Ph.D. students, a research proposal (5-10 pg) must be approved by their Supervisory Committee at the end of their second term of study, usually at the same time that they conduct their first Research Progress Evaluation. Ph.D. students must also complete Forms TD1 and TD4 and provide a copy of their research proposal for FGS (not just their Supervisory Committee).

For all students in the first year, a copy of the research proposal, along with Form TD1: Thesis/Dissertation Research Submission and (where applicable) the TD4 Form for research approvals (human participants, animal care, biohazards) must be submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant. The GPA will keep a copy in your student file and also submit a copy to FGS.

TD1 Form:

TD 4 Form:

The proposal, along with the Supervisory Committee Approval Form (.pdf), must be submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant who in turn submits to FGS.

Approvals Required Prior to Research

Students working in laboratory settings must complete WHMIS and other safety courses, as applicable, prior to research.

Students usually must also obtain other approvals from York U (ethics, animal care, off campus trips and field work) and external agencies (i.e. collecting licenses, import/export permits) prior to beginning their research. To avoid research delays, such approvals (see below) should be obtained by the second term of study. Students can get assistance,
approvals, advice from their supervisor.

Ethics, Animal Care, and Biohazards

FGS requires valid copies of all ethics, animal care and biohazard approvals. The student and supervisor should fill out TD4 Form for research approvals (human participants, animal care, biohazards) and attach a copy of the supervisor’s most recent approval notice. This should be updated annually – and be attached to the Research Progress Evaluation form.

If the research involves animals the student must take the online Animal Care course and complete the Medical Surveillance; contact Julie Panakos  for more information.

Research Progress Evaluation

Once per year, usually in April, graduate students undergo a formal pass/fail  Research Progress Evaluation by their supervisory committee. Students must register for the 3 credit, pass/fail BIOL 6021/6022 (MSc years 1 & 2) or BIOL 7021/7022/7023/7024 (PhD years 1-4).  Students whose progress is unsatisfactory may be required to do remedial work and be re-evaluated, or may be required to withdraw from the program.

First year students are required to hold a first term committee meeting to discuss their proposal research, and to submit a signed Research Progress Evaluation form to the Graduate Program Assistant in 327D  LSB.


The Research Progress Evaluation requires students to submit a research report to their committee one week prior to the meeting,  present a 10-15 minute seminar to their committee and answer questions about their research.

The report should outline the pertinent literature, describe the objectives of the research project, outline the methods and experiments, present results (including key figures and tables) and clearly state the significance of the results to the field. Progress reports do not normally exceed 10 pages (excluding tables/graphs).

As part of the Research Progress Evaluation courses  (M.Sc. 1 and 2, 6021, 6022,
Ph.D. 1 to 4,  7021, 7022, 7023, 7024) 
students must also attend at least 70% of the
Graduate Student Seminar  and present their work (1  presentation for  M.Sc.
students,  2 presentations for Ph.D. students) during their degree program.  Graduate
Student Seminar,  Day/Time:  During the Winter 2018 session - Tuesdays - 1:15 p.m. - 2:15 p.m.,  Location: T.B.A.

All supervisory committee members must be present, and the Research Progress Evaluation Form must be completed and submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant.

FGS requires valid copies of all ethics, animal care and biohazard approvals. The student and supervisor should fill out TD4 Form:  for research approvals  (human participants, animal care, biohazards) and attach the most recent copy of the supervisor’s approval notices. This must be attached to the Research Progress Evaluation form in order for it to be accepted by the graduate program.

Also the TD1 Form:  needs to be
attached to the Proposal Project report (5-10 pages or more),  together with the TD4 form and the Biosafety approval certificate,  as mentioned above.  All  these forms need to be submitted to the Graduate program office in 327D  LSB, Life Science Building,   after the Progress Evaluation meeting is complete. These evaluations (BIOL 6021, 6022, BIOL 7021, 7022, 7023, 7024)  will then be graded as a Pass or Fail.

Preliminary Ph.D. Examination

All Ph.D. students must pass a Ph.D. Preliminary Examination within 18 months of entering the program in order to continue in the Ph.D. program. The objectives of this examination are to determine whether the candidate is adequately prepared to conduct independent research on his/her proposed topic and to assess if the proposed research is suitable for a Ph.D. project.

Students are required to (1) submit a detailed research proposal (normally 10-15 pages) including results-to-date, (2) prepare two literature reviews on pre-assigned cognate areas (normally 10 pages each), and (3) complete an oral exam on the research proposal and cognate areas. Written materials are to be submitted to the examining committee, with a copy to the Graduate Program Assistant, at least 2 weeks prior to the exam.

The two cognate areas should be broad in scope to assess knowledge outside the immediate research area and should be identified at least 2 months before the preliminary exam date. Cognate areas must then be approved by the Graduate Program Director.

The Examining Committee normally consists of the Supervisory Committee (3 people) plus two (2) additional members of the Biology Graduate Program.

The 2-3 hour oral exam is closed and begins with a 30 min presentation by the candidate, followed by several rounds of questioning. The Examining Committee completes the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination Record Form and submits to the Graduate Program Assistant.

M.Sc.  students may transfer to the Ph.D.  program without completing the M.Sc. though in most cases students are advised to complete the M.Sc. and then apply to do a Ph.D.
Students who transfer internally from the M.Sc. to Ph.D. program must have completed the 6 credit course requirement for the M.Sc. before starting into the Ph.D.

M.Sc.  Students who transfer internally by  doing an  M.Sc.  Preliminary transfer examination  from the M.Sc. to Ph.D.  program,   must apply online to the Ph.D. program through Admissions. (Click the Apply now button).   Students who defend the M.Sc.  program and wish to do the Ph.D. program in Biology must also apply online through Admissions.
The application cost is $100.00,  please note this cost  is subject to change.

M.Sc. students who wish to transfer to the Ph.D. must first get unanimous approval from their supervisory committee and then must pass a Ph.D. Preliminary Examination within 20 months of beginning their M.Sc. In this case, the examining committee consists of the M.Sc. supervisory committee (2 people) plus 3 additional members from the Biology Graduate Program.

If the student passes the exam the transfer to Ph.D. occurs in September. The student will be a considered Ph.D.  1 student and will have a total of 4  years to complete his/her PhD degree requirements from the time of the transfer.  The student will be considered a new Ph.D. entry student and will receive a new financial offer letter from the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the program. (Please note: students must apply to the Ph.D. program online through Admissions,  Application cost is $100.00,  cost is subject to change.)

Thesis Defence

Time Limits

For the M.Sc. degree students complete all degree requirements (including successfully defending your thesis and submitting the thesis online) within 4 years (12 terms) of registration in the M.Sc. Program.  This includes both full-time (2 years maximum) and part-time (2 years maximum) registration.

For the Ph.D. degree the time limit is 6 years (18 terms) of registration in the Ph.D. including both full-time (6 years maximum) and part-time registration.   Ph.D. students in year 6  (18 terms)  do not receive a York University Fellowship.

Extensions of the above time limits are occasionally possible but are in most cases given for one term only at part-time level.  To request an extension, the student must petition via the Academic Petition Form (.pdf). A very strong academic rationale, supported by the supervisor, must be made and students can expect difficulty in getting extensions. Petitions for extensions should be submitted 2 months before the end of the normal time limits.

Thesis Format

Prior to writing your thesis/dissertation please visit Faculty of Graduate Studies - Thesis and Dissertation.

Content and style should be approved your supervisory committee well in advance. Students may write a thesis/dissertation based on publications and/or manuscript-style chapters but this format requires a comprehensive introductory chapter/review and a concluding chapter that discusses the overall findings and implications of the entire thesis.

If a thesis or dissertation contains manuscripts or publications that are co- or multi-authored then it will be accepted for examination by the Faculty of Graduate Studies only if accompanied by signed written statements from the candidate and supervisor(s) that explains in detail the candidate’s contribution to the work.  The statement should contain details about each publication: authors, title, journal, candidate’s contribution, signatures of candidate and supervisor.

To use published work in your thesis/dissertation, you must obtain permission in writing from all other authors on the papers and the publishers of the journals in which the work originally appeared.  This is a copyright law.  In addition, a statement should be included from co-authors that would permit the microfilming of the thesis/dissertation.  The Faculty of Graduate Studies, Thesis Office will not accept your thesis/dissertation unless it is accompanied by these letters of permissions.

Setting up the Thesis Defence and Examining Committee

For M.Sc. thesis and Ph.D. dissertation, the thesis or dissertation must be approved as acceptable for examination by the student's Supervisory Committee before a defence can be scheduled. Getting approval from the supervisory committee, including any revisions that the committee requires, may take 4-6 weeks or longer.

For both M.Sc. and Ph.D. defence examinations, it is the responsibility of the Supervisor to assemble the Examining Committee and determine a date for the defence; this must then be approved by the Program Director via the Recommendation for Oral Examination Form Master’s Thesis (.pdf) or Doctoral Dissertation (.pdf). FGS must receive this form a minimum of 3 weeks prior to a M.Sc. defence and 4 weeks prior to a Ph.D. defence.

The Examining Committee for M.Sc. thesis normally consists of the Supervisor, the Supervisory Committee Member, one other graduate faculty member of the Biology Graduate Program (FGS Dean's Representative), plus one graduate faculty member from outside the Biology graduate program and who at arm’s length from the thesis (Outside Examiner).

The Examining Committee for the Ph.D. dissertation normally consists of the Supervisory Committee (supervisor plus 2 members from Biology), plus one other graduate faculty member of the Biology Program (FGS Dean's Representative), plus one graduate faculty member from another Program within York (Outside Examiner), plus an External Examiner from outside York University. A short version of the External Examiner’s biography and publication record is required by the Faculty of Graduate Studies to confirm his/her suitability to participate on the specific Ph.D. examination. Travel costs for the External Examiner must first be approved by FGS.

Students should not contact the external examiner directly themselves.  The supervisor must determine if the External Examiner is willing to participate and provide a copy of the dissertation at least 4 weeks prior to the exam. The supervisor should provide generic instructions and notification that the Dean’s official letter of invitation will follow. The supervisor is responsible for confirming successful delivery of the dissertation (normally by courier).

Format of Defence

Defences are open, though the audience is not permitted to ask questions and must leave prior to the final deliberations of the examining committee.

The student must present a seminar (M.Sc.: 20 min; PhD: 30-40 min) followed by a several rounds of questions from the examining committee. Total duration is typically 2 hr for M.Sc. and 3 hr for Ph.D.

The thesis/dissertation should be original, innovative, publishable and likely to make significant impact on the field of study. It should be well organized, clearly and concisely written and with adequate data presentation and tie the research accurately and adequately to the background literature.

The defence should start with a clear and logical presentation and demonstrate that the student has an acceptable understanding of the background literature, the technical and intellectual basis of the research, the way the research contributes to the general area of enquiry, and establish that the student has an appropriate ability to conduct independent research.

The quality of the thesis/dissertation and the performance of the student will be assessed via the Oral Examination Report Form (.pdf) and students may be required to complete minor or major revisions as necessary prior to the thesis being accepted by FGS.

Instructions for uploading the final, approved thesis to FGS can be found at Faculty of Graduate Studies - Thesis and Dissertation.

Academic Petitions

Any graduate student may petition through their program office to the Faculty of Graduate Studies for the waiving of one or more of the academic regulations and/or other requirements of the graduate program or of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Petitions are be required for leaves of absence and extension of program time limits. The Academic Petition Form (.pdf) should be completed and submitted with supporting documents to the Graduate Program Assistant.

See York Secretariat - Secretariat Policies and Faculty of Graduate Studies - Regulations for more information.

Only in exceptional circumstances will an academic petition for a retroactive leave of absence be granted. Graduate students may also submit a financial petition to Student Financial Services.

Academic petitions and appeals in the Faculty of Graduate Studies are governed by the Senate Guidelines.

Other Links

Faculty of Graduate Studies


The regulations of the Faculty of Graduate Studies generally apply to all students enrolled in graduate programs at York University. In a number of instances individual graduate programs have additional requirements; these are set out in the appropriate graduate program section of the academic regulations.

Please visit Faculty of Graduate Studies - Regulations for more information.

Policies and Procedures

The Faculty of Graduate Studies provides crucial information to current students as they progress through their degree, from registrarial processes to graduation.

Please visit Faculty of Graduate Studies - Current Students for more information.