Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biology

At the PhD level, students work closely with a supervisor and their research is supported by that supervisor. Thus, no student is accepted into the program unless a faculty member agrees to supervise that student.

Degree Requirements


PhD student Thomas van Zuiden examines slides through a microscopeSatisfactory progress in research constitutes credit for the mandatory BIOL 7021 3.0 (first year), BIOL 7022 3.0 (second year), BIOL 7023 3.0 (third year) and BIOL 7024 (fourth year) courses, which are the annual PhD Research Progress Evaluation exercises.  All entering students develop a research proposal with their supervisor in the first two terms of their degree studies and hold a committee meeting in their first term of study.   Progress in research is monitored by the Supervisory Committee (usually the supervisor plus two other faculty) through meetings with the student.  The PhD Research Progress Evaluation, usually in the spring of each year, requires that students submit a written report of their research findings, present and review their research and course work progress with their supervisory committee, and satisfy the requirement of regular attendance at the graduate student seminar series and two presentations during the degree program.  In the event of failure to achieve satisfactory progress, the student will normally be required to withdraw from the program.

Students may be required to take a maximum of 6 credits of graduate courses (or equivalent) in biological sciences, if this is deemed necessary to strengthen the student’s background.

Students who transfer internally from the MSc to PhD program,  (PhD preliminary Transfer Examination) must have completed the 6 credit course requirements for the MSc.

Preliminary Examination

Candidates (PhD II) must satisfactorily pass a preliminary examination before advancing in status to PhD III.
For students entering the program with a master’s degree, the examination must be held within 18 months after the student begins the PhD.  For students converting from a master’s to a PhD program, the examination must be held within 20  months of  first registering in the master’s program.
If the preliminary examination falls within two months of the  annual Research Progress Evaluation reports, the student is exempt from such a report that year.
MSc students transferring to the PhD program must pass their Preliminary Exam but also must apply to the PhD program by April (for September entry).

The objectives of this examination are to determine whether:

  • the candidate has adequate background and intellectual ability to pursue independent research in the field approved by the supervisory committee;
  • the proposed research is suitable for a PhD research program and
  • the candidate has demonstrated aptitude for conducting the proposed research by means of adequate progress and productivity.

During the two to three hour oral examination, based on a substantial written research proposal and two separate literature reviews, students must demonstrate adequate knowledge and understanding of the proposed research field, and the broader areas of knowledge related to that field.

PhD Dissertation and Oral Examination

Candidates must prepare and submit a suitable dissertation based on original research carried out under the supervision of a supervisory committee. The research should demonstrate the candidate’s independence, originality, and understanding of the area of investigation at an advanced level.  Some, or all, of the dissertation is expected to be sufficiently meritorious to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  However, the dissertation research is not required to be submitted for publication, or published, prior to the oral examination.  After the formal submission of the dissertation, which requires supervisory committee approval, an oral examination is held centering on the dissertation and related topics. The PhD dissertation must be approved by a majority of the examining committee prior to final submission to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Normal Time Limits

Candidates may expect to spend, on the average, between four to six years to complete the requirements for the PhD degree.  Students have a maximum of six years to complete their degree either full or part-time.