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Comprehensive Examination

The PhD comprehensive examination consists of three components: researching and writing a review paper on a topic selected by the Examination Committee, presenting a public seminar on the topic, and a closed oral examination based on the review paper and oral presentation. All three components must be passed in order for the comprehensive examination to be passed.

The written report should be 3,000 to 5,000 words. The public seminar including questions should last approximately one hour and be aimed to an audience at the level of an MSc graduate student. Questions in the closed session must relate to the topic of the presentation, although the relationship can be indirect and questions can explore aspects of a topic in depth.

The PhD comprehensive examination should be attempted between 12 and 20 months after beginning the PhD, and must be completed before the end of the 24th month. The student’s Supervisory Committee, in consultation with the student, will suggest the most appropriate time to attempt the examination so that other obligations are at a minimum. Candidates are to be assessed on an absolute basis, not merely against other candidates who happen to be sitting comprehensives in a particular year.

The student or supervisor should contact Director Fiona McNeill, who will strike an examining committee for the candidate. The Examination Committee will consist of three faculty members, one of whom will chair the Committee. Where possible, the research interests of the Examination Committee members will represent the breadth of the program. The Graduate Chair will be responsible for the conduct of the examination including all communication with the Examination Committee, the student and the student’s supervisor, coordination with the graduate secretary, and ensuring that the examination guidelines are followed.

The Committee will draw up three topics to present to the candidate. These topics must be outside the candidate’s thesis research area and should, among them, cover a fairly wide range of Medical Physics or Radiation Biology. They should also not be in the specialist research areas of members of the examining committee. These questions are shown to the candidate’s supervisor to ensure that they do, indeed, lie outside the candidate’s thesis research area.

On a date prearranged by the Chair of the Examining Committee with the candidate, the questions will be given to the candidate, who has up to one week to select one topic. At the time of presenting the topics, the Chair will also provide the candidate with a written time table for the different components of the examination. The candidate is free to discuss the topics with the Chair of the Examination Committee in order to seek clarification or refinement of a particular topic.

Having selected a topic and informed the Examining Committee, the candidate has up to three weeks to submit a written report on the topic to the Examining Committee.

The Examining Committee has up to one week to review the report and advise the candidate as to whether he/she can proceed to prepare a seminar and answer questions.

The seminar will be scheduled up to one week after the candidate has been cleared to proceed. The seminar should be 45 – 50 minutes, followed by 10 – 15 minutes of open questions. The Chair of the examining committee should ensure that the candidate does not exceed 50 minutes maximum and should foreclose on open questions at or before one hour from the start of the seminar. After the open seminar, including questions from the audience, the candidate and examining committee will proceed to closed session for questioning. The candidate’s supervisor is required to be present at this closed session. The closed questioning session shall be no longer than one hour. This can be arranged so that each of three examiners has a first round of 15 minutes, and then each examiner has a second round of 5 minutes. The Chair is responsible for ensuring that the total time does not exceed one hour.

After completion of the questioning, the candidate will be excused. The candidate’s supervisor will be present but will not have voting privileges. Before proceeding, the Chair will ask the candidate’s supervisor to offer comments on the proceeding of the examination. At that time, the committee will make separate judgements on all three components of the examination, and a judgement on the examination as a whole. Possible judgements are:

  1. Pass with distinction
  2. Pass
  3. Fail

The outcome of the examination will be reported to the candidate in a timely manner and the Examination Committee Chair will communicate the result to the Program Director. Examiners will record their basis of assessment and these records will remain with the Chair of the Examining Committee. The Chair will provide feedback to the candidate based on the assessment of the Committee. The outcome of a comprehensive exam is not open to appeal.

In the event that a judgement of Fail is given on the examination as a whole, the examining committee will provide the candidate with reasons for failure. A second attempt will be permitted and must be completed at any time during the next 12 months. The second attempt will comprise an ab intitio examination and possibly with new committee members. A judgement of Pass with Distinction cannot be awarded on the second attempt. A judgement of fail on the second attempt will result in the dismissal of the student from the Ph.D. program.