Graduate students enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Computing at Queen's are required to pass a comprehensive examination as described in the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs Calendar.
The examination ensures that candidates:
- are well-versed of the state-of-the-art in the area in which they intend to pursue research,
- that they have a critical perspective of the area, and
- that they are able to formulate a research plan to explore open problems and research opportunities.
- have acquired their own views of the area;
- be able to be critical of previous work;
- be able to discuss the area with other researchers at their own level; and
- be able to outline a well-thought research plan.
Although they may not themselves have contributed to the area, they should be as informed and analytical as those who work in it.
The proposal requirement is met by:
- writing a PhD research proposal paper,
- presenting it orally to an examining committee and
- answering questions about the proposed research and the associated area.
1. Research Proposal
The PhD research proposal paper is a 40-page maximum (Queen's thesis format not including references) research proposal. The document should normally cover:
- background material (e.g., motivation and literature survey),
- the problem to be tackled,
- methods to be used (e.g., research plans and experimental design),
- results sought,
- evaluation metrics (i.e. how research success will be measured), and
- milestones (including progress to date).
The proportions of text for the literature survey and for the research plans will have already been communicated to the student through the feedback received on their topic proposal.
The PhD research proposal document is expected to be submitted before the end of the fifth term after initial registration in the PhD program. Please see the section on delays in examination.
When the candidate is ready for the examination, he or she asks the Ph.D. program committee, through the supervisor, to schedule the exam. The supervisor is responsible for finding a suitable examiner. The graduate coordinator appoints a Chair (normally a member of the PhD program committee) and schedules a time for the examination.
A copy of the research proposal paper must be delivered to the members of the examination committee by the candidate (Chair, members of the supervisory committee, and examiner) at least two weeks prior to the scheduled exam. Members of the examination committee who are absent may participate by submitting questions in writing. These questions are put to the candidate by the Chair.
At the exam, after a closed meeting of the examining committee, the candidate gives a 20-minute presentation of material. Members of the examining committee will then address questions to the candidate that may cover all aspects of the research area and the proposed research. The examiners may ask questions that allow them to judge the candidate's comprehension of the research area, to assess the candidate's ability to undertake the proposed research, and to evaluate the ability of the candidate to defend his or her claims from the research proposal.
The Chair is responsible for the conduct of the meeting and does not ask questions (other than those of absent committee members).
3. Outcome of the Examination
After the questioning, the examining committee meets and reaches one of the following three conclusions:
- The candidate has passed the comprehensive examination.
- The candidate has passed the comprehensive examination but the committee has significant concerns about either the candidate's mastery of the research area or the quality of the proposed research plans.
- The Chair writes the candidate a letter outlining these concerns. The letter may include a list of corrections/modifications for the research proposal paper that are a required for passing the examination. In this case the letter also specifies members of the examining committee who will verify that the changes have been satisfactorily implemented.
- The candidate has not convinced the examining committee of his or her deep understanding of the area and/or his research plans, and has failed the comprehensive examination. A second (and final) attempt is allowed.
- The Chair writes to the candidate to this effect, and invites him or her to suggest a research proposal for a second comprehensive examination (not necessarily a different proposal). Once the research proposal has been agreed upon, the procedure above is repeated. The examining committee normally puts a strict time limit on the second (i.e., final) attempt of the comprehensive examination.
The committee's decision on the proposal examination is based on:
- the quality of the written document,
- the quality of the candidate's oral presentation, and
- on the candidate's response to questioning during the comprehensive examination.
The committee can ask questions belonging to the general thesis subject area and topic, as well as questions on the proposed research and outlined research plans. The Chair is not a voting member of the examining committee and the Chair can use her or his discretion on whether or not to read the proposal paper before the examination.
If the committee does not reach a unanimous opinion, the committee votes on the outcome. A decision to pass the candidate on the comprehensive examination can have at most one dissenting vote. The Chair reports the result of the comprehensive examination to the Ph.D. program committee. If the comprehensive examination is passed, the final document, integrating all examination feedback, is kept in the School library.
The comprehensive examination must be passed before the end of the sixth term after the initial registration in the Ph.D. program.
4. Delays in Examination
The PhD research proposal document is normally expected to be submitted before the end of the fifth term after initial registration in the PhD program. If the PhD research proposal document is not submitted before the end of the sixth term, the student will receive an automatic failure -- leaving them with only one final attempt to pass the Ph.D. Research Proposal requirement. The Ph.D. supervisory committee will schedule the final attempt (normally within 1-2 terms) once the automatic failure has occurred.
5. Progress Report
Within one year of defending the Ph.D. Research proposal, the student should submit a brief 6-page maximum progress report (Queen's thesis format not including references). The report should summarize the progress over the past year and any significant changes to the plan that was detailed in the proposal (along with updates to the milestones). Failure to submit the progress report on time will lead to the student receiving unsatisfactory progress.
6. Appeal of a Failed Examination
- If a student wishes to appeal the outcome of a comprehensive examination on procedural and/or academic grounds, an appeal must be lodged formally with the Coordinator of Graduate Studies in the School of Computing. The appeal should explain in writing why the student believes the academic decision is unjust. This should be done as early as possible, and normally not more than ten working days after the comprehensive examination. The Graduate Coordinator must respond to the appeal within two weeks of receiving the appeal.
- If the matter has not been resolved by the Graduate Coordinator and the student continues to believe that the academic decision is unjust, a formal request may be lodged for a review of the appeal by the faculty members of the Graduate Committee.
- The faculty members evaluating the review shall not include members of the examination committee of the student's comprehensive examination.
- When conducting the review of the appeal, the Graduate Committee shall interview the student and the members of the examining committee from the comprehensive examination. The Graduate Committee may find either that:
- The decision of the comprehensive examination is academically and procedurally sound and the appeal is denied.
- An error in procedure or academic judgment has been made. In this case the Graduate Committee shall proceed to rectify the error. Normally this would mean that the student is given a new attempt at the comprehensive examination. If the appeal deals with a first attempt, the new attempt is considered to be the first.
- The Graduate Committee also has the option of changing the outcome of the comprehensive examination from failed to passed.
- If the Graduate Committee finds that a negative decision for a second attempt at the comprehensive examination is academically and procedurally sound, the negative decision has to be approved by the Director. If after a second failed attempt the Director and the Graduate Committee recommend to the Chair of the Science Graduate Council that the student will be required to withdraw on academic grounds: the student may appeal the recommendation to withdraw by following the procedures outlined in the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs calendar.