Queen's School of Computing

Ph.D. Depth and Research Proposal Information

Please note that this information only applies to Ph.D. students admitted prior to September 2013.

Ph.D. Depth Requirement



Graduate students enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Computing at Queen's are required to pass a Comprehensive Examination as described in

Calendar of the School of Graduate Studies.  In Computing the comprehensive examination is called the Depth Examination.


The depth 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 aware of open problems and research opportunities. Candidates should have acquired their own views of the area,  be able to be critical of previous work, and in general be able to discuss the area with other researchers at their own level.  Although they may not themselves have contributed to the area,  they should be as informed and analytical as those who work in it. The scope of a subject area suitable for a depth presentation should be appropriate for an advanced graduate course. The depth requirement is met by writing a paper presenting  a critical view of the depth topic (as defined below), presenting it orally to an examining committee, and answering questions about the depth subject area.



The candidate presents to his or her supervisory committee a brief description of the subject area  for the depth examination, and a proposed  topic for the depth paper. This is called the depth proposal.

1a) The scope of the subject area suitable for a depth examination should be appropriate for an advanced graduate course.

1b) The topic of the depth paper must be within the subject area of the depth examination, but need not be inclusive of all aspects of the depth area.

The depth proposal is normally not more than 2 pages in length (not including references).  The depth proposal gives a brief description of the depth subject area, (one paragraph, roughly comparable to a course description). This is followed by a brief description of the proposed depth paper topic.

At the beginning of the depth proposal you must clearly state both the proposed depth subject area and the proposed depth paper topic.

For example

DEPTH AREA:        Mobile Computing (this is followed by a one paragraph description of the depth area)


DEPTH PAPER TOPIC:Mobile Computing over Multi-Hop and Variable Topology Networks (this is followed by a brief description of the depth topic).

After the depth proposal is approved by the supervisory committee it is sent for approval by the Ph.D. program committee.  The Ph.D. program committee ensures that similar requirements are applied to all students. The Ph.D. program committee will notify the student in writing and a copy of this letter is included in the student's file. 


After the depth proposal is approved by the Ph.D. committee, the student reads literature in the approved depth subject area and writes the depth paper that surveys the proposed depth paper topic. The depth paper should give an analytical presentation of the topic and identify open problems in the depth area.

The depth paper should normally be between 20 and 30 pages long, single spaced, using a 12 point font and one inch margins. The depth paper should normally not take more than one term of full time work to prepare.


When the candidate is ready for the Depth Examination, he or she asks the Ph.D. program committee, through the supervisor, to schedule the depth exam. The supervisor is responsible for finding a suitable examiner.  The Ph.D. program committee appoints a Chair (normally a member of the PhD program committee) and schedules a time for the depth examination. A copy of the written presentation (depth 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.  Together with the depth paper, the candidate should distribute to members of the examination committee a copy of the previously approved depth proposal, in order to guarantee that the committee members are aware of the definition of the depth subject area. 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 within the subject area, normally concentrating on the depth paper topic. Members of the examining committee will then address questions to the candidate that may cover all aspects of the depth subject area.  The examiners may ask questions that allow them to judge the candidate's comprehension of the depth subject area, to assess the candidate's ability to undertake Ph.D. level research, and to evaluate the ability of the candidate to defend the claims in his or her depth paper.

The Chair is responsible for the conduct of the meeting and does not ask questions (other than those of absent committee members).


After the questioning, the examining committee meets and reaches one of the following three conclusions:

  a) The candidate has passed the depth examination.

  b) The candidate has passed the depth examination but the committee has significant concerns about either the candidate's mastery of the depth subject area or the quality of the depth paper.

The Chair writes the candidate a letter outlining these concerns. The letter may include a list of corrections/modifications for the depth paper that are a requirement for passing the depth examination. In this case the letter also specifies members of the examining committee who will verify that the changes have been satisfactorily implemented.

  c) The candidate has not convinced the examining committee of his or her deep understanding of the area, and has failed the depth examination. A second attempt is allowed.

The Chair writes to the candidate to this effect, and invites him or her to suggest a topic for a second depth examination (not necessarily a different topic). Once the topic has been agreed upon, the procedure is repeated. The examining committee normally puts a strict time limit on the second attempt at the depth examination. Only one failure of the depth examination is permitted.

The committee's decision on the depth 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 depth examination.  The committee can ask questions belonging to the general depth subject area, as well as, questions on the material in the depth paper.  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 depth paper before the examination.

If the committee does not reach an unanimous opinion, the committee votes on the outcome. A decision to pass the candidate on the depth examination can have at most one dissenting vote.  The Chair reports the result of the depth examination to the Ph.D. program committee.  If the depth examination is passed, the document is kept in a School library. The depth examination must be passed before the end of the fifth term after the initial registration in the Ph.D. program.




5a) If a student wishes to appeal the outcome of a Depth 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 Depth Examination. The Graduate Coordinator must respond to the appeal within two weeks of receiving the appeal.

5b) 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 Depth Examination.

When conducting the review of the appeal, the Graduate Committee shall interview the student and the members of the examining committee from the Depth Examination. The Graduate Committee may find either that

(i) The decision of the Depth Examination is academically and procedurally sound and the appeal is denied.

(ii) 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 Depth Examination. If the appeal deals with a first attempt, the new attempt is considered to be the first.

·         The Graduate Committee has also the option of changing the outcome of the Depth Examination from failed to passed.


5c)  If the Graduate Committee finds that a negative decision for a second attempt at the Depth 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 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 calendar.



Ph.D. Research Proposal

The third School requirement is a research proposal. This is a written document that should normally cover background material, the problem to be tackled, methods to be used, and results sought. It is proposal for research, not a demonstration that the research is feasible.

When the candidate has completed the research proposal he or she submits it to the supervisory committee for comment and approval. The supervisory committee may approve it or suggest that further changes are necessary, working towards a proposal on which it and the student agree. When the supervisory committee has agreed to approval, or when its members agree that they cannot reach agreement on the proposal, the proposal document and a report from the supervisory committee are sent to the Ph.D. program committee. If the supervisory committee has approved the research proposal, the Ph.D. program committee will normally approve the proposal as it stands. If there is substantial disagreement within the supervisory committee, the Ph.D. program committee takes whatever steps it feels necessary (meeting with the supervisory committee, meeting with the student and supervisory committee) to decide whether or not to approve the proposal.

If agreement cannot be reached the student is required to submit another proposal, for which the same procedures are followed. A research proposal must be approved within 3 years of initial registration in the program.

It is strongly recommended that candidates present their research to the School in some appropriate forum as soon as their results warrant it.