Candidacy Exam

For PhD Students Only

Candidacy exams should be scheduled by the end of the second year in the program and held in the third year of the program at the latest. For students who began their program in September 2013 and later and who transferred to the PhD program directly from the MSc program, candidacy exams should be scheduled by the end of the third year in the program and held in the fourth year of the program at the latest.

This is a time when most, if not all, of the course work is completed and the thesis research is started or is well defined. The candidacy examination must be passed no less than six months prior to taking the final oral examination.


Examination Committee Composition

  • The chair is a member of the NMHI graduate committee who is not the supervisor and is appointed by the NMHI administrator. Effective September 1, 2013, chairs will also always act as examiners.
  • The student’s supervisory committee
  • At least two arm's length examiners. An arm’s length examiner must not be (or have been) a member of the supervisory committee or have been connected with the thesis research in a significant way. The examiner should not have been associated with the student outside of usual contact in courses or other non-thesis activities within the university, nor be related to the student or supervisor(s). Except in special circumstances (fully justified in writing to the vice-dean, FGSR), an arm’s length examiner should not be a close collaborator of the supervisor(s) within the last six years. The supervisor, often in discussion with the student, selects and invites the two additional examiners to be on the examining committee.

Purpose of the Examination

The purpose of the examination is for the student to demonstrate that he or she has a broad knowledge of neuroscience and of the subject matter relevant to the thesis and has the ability to pursue and complete original research at an advanced level. The questioning will not be directly related to the thesis research; rather questions will cover a broad scope which can include basic neuroscience concepts, broader concepts in the student’s research area as well as theoretical and technical aspects of data collection and analysis.


Role of the Examination Committee

During the examination the role of each examiner is to test the student's knowledge in specific topic areas previously outlined (see below) and related areas.


Preparing for the Examination

  1. The examination committee should be established well in advance of the examination. The student should then meet with each examiner to discuss general content areas that they will base their questions on and establish appropriate sources for background reading material. The specifics regarding the reading sources provided by examiners will vary depending on each examiner; examiners may provide a very specific "reading list" or a more general "reading area."
  2. At least five weeks in advance of the exam, the supervisor must provide the NMHI with the date, time and place of the exam as well as the names of the two extra examiners. The administrator will then arrange for the chair and notify the supervisory committee and the student of the chair.
  3. The chair is charged with ensuring that the exam is of a consistent standard. Students are expected to have good, general knowledge and chairs are instructed to ask general questions that have not be covered by other examiners. Effective September 1, 2013, the expectation of students will be that they could adequately explain all topics covered (including appendices) in Bear et al, Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain (either second or third edition).
  4. The administrator will provide the supervisor with a completed FGSR Notice and Approval of Doctoral Examining Committee & Examination Date form which the supervisor must print, sign and return to the administrator.
  5. The administrator will ensure that form is complete and submit the form to FGSR at least three weeks in advance of the exam.

Format of the Examination

The student does not present the committee with a written report. The examination will begin with a review of the student's progress including course work, awards, publications and presentations. The student will then provide a 15–20 minute oral presentation outlining their thesis. Emphasis should be given to describing the overall goals and hypotheses being tested. Key data can be presented to emphasize progress of the thesis work and the presentation should conclude with an outline of future plans for completion of the thesis. It should be noted that during the candidacy examination only minor attention should be given to the thesis work.


Possible Outcomes of the Examination

If all but one member of the committee agrees on a decision, the decision shall be that of the majority. If two or more dissenting votes are recorded, the department will refer the matter to the vice-dean (FGSR), who will determine an appropriate course of action. Notwithstanding the overall performance, if the chair and a majority of committee members agree that basic knowledge in the general area of neuroscience is not sufficient, the outcome will automatically registered as a conditional pass (see below).  The final outcome in this case will be determined following an additional oral exam to take place no longer than four weeks following the date of the original candidacy exam. The evaluation committee for this additional examination will be determined ad hoc and will consist of the chair and two other members of the neuroscience graduate committee.

One of the following outcomes of the candidacy is appropriate:

  • Pass: If the student passes the candidacy examination, the FGSR Report of Completion of Candidacy Examination form must be signed and submitted to the NMHI administrator immediately following the exam. The administrator will arrange for the final signature and will submit the form to FGSR.
  • Conditional Pass: If the candidacy examining committee agrees to a conditional pass for the student, the chair of the examining committee shall provide in writing to the vice-dean (FGSR), the student and the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute:
    • the reasons for this recommendation
    • details of the conditions
    • timeframe for the Student to meet the conditions
    • the approval mechanism for meeting the conditions  (i.e., approval of the committee chair or supervisor, approval of the entire committee, select members of the committee or the approval of the ad hoc evaluation committee)
    • the supervision and assistance the student can be expected to receive from committee members and/or ad hoc evaluation committee members

    Once the examining committee has agreed that the conditions have been met and have informed the NMHI administrator, the NMHI administrator will complete the Report of Completion of Candidacy Examination form and submit it to FGSR. If unmet, the subsequent outcome will be selected.

  • Fail: If the candidacy examining committee or the ad hoc evaluation committee agrees that the student has failed, the committee chair shall provide the reasons for this recommendation and the department’s recommendation for the student’s program in writing to the vice-dean (FGSR), to the student and to the NMHI administrator. For failed candidacy examinations, the vice-dean (FGSR) normally arranges to meet with the student and with department representatives before acting upon any department recommendation. A decision of the FGSR, which affects a student's academic standing (e.g., required to withdraw or transfer to a master's program), can be appealed.

    The following options are to be considered by the Examining Committee when the outcome of a Student’s candidacy exam is “fail:”

    • Repeat the candidacy
      If the student’s candidacy exam performance was inadequate but the student’s performance and work completed to date indicate that the student has the potential to perform at the doctoral level, the examining committee should consider the possibility of recommending that the student be given an opportunity to repeat the candidacy exam.

      If the recommendation of a repeat candidacy is formulated by the examining committee and approved by FGSR, the student is to be notified in writing of his/her exam deficiencies by the chair of the examining committee. The second candidacy exam is to be scheduled no later than three to six months from the date of the first candidacy. In the event that the student fails the second candidacy, the examining committee shall recommend one of the next two options.
    • Change of category to a master’s program
      If the student’s candidacy exam performance was inadequate and the student’s performance and work completed to date indicates that the student has the potential to complete a master’s program, the examining committee should consider the possibility of recommending a change of category to a master’s program or postgraduate diploma program.
    • Termination of the doctoral program
      If the student’s performance was inadequate and the work completed during the program is considered inadequate, the examining committee should recommend termination of the student’s program.