Thesis Proposal Exam

By the end of the first year for the MSc program or 18 months for the PhD program, the student will submit a thesis proposal document, which will be evaluated by an examination committee, and the student will be required to defend his or her proposal orally to that committee in response to questions.

Examination Committee Composition

  • The chair, appointed by the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute from among the members of the graduate committee
  • The student’s supervisory committee

Committee membership must be ratified in advance by the graduate co-ordinator.


Purpose of the Examination

The purpose of the evaluation is to determine the student’s ability to formulate a hypothesis based on existing evidence, and to design an experimental test of that hypothesis. The student must demonstrate a knowledge of the literature relevant to the problem to be addressed, and must show an appreciation of good experimental design and the technical difficulties and pitfalls inherent in the chosen methodology.


Role of the Examination Committee

The evaluation committee will review the student’s performance in formal course work and the student’s competence as revealed by the thesis proposal itself and the student’s ability to defend the content of the proposal. Committee members will assess the feasibility of the project within the projected timeline and determine whether the project is of sufficient quality and quantity for the degree proposed. Following this review, a determination will be made on the student’s future status within the program and recommend any further courses that may be deemed necessary to attain an acceptable level of knowledge. Committee members are encouraged to provide feedback to improve the quality of the research project and identify potential obstacles or pitfalls.  


Thesis Proposal Document

At least one week prior to the date of the evaluation, the student will provide each member of the evaluation committee and the chair with a copy of the thesis proposal document. This must include a brief introduction to the research topic, a summary of the student’s work done to date and an outline of the research plan, including methodology and anticipated time lines for completion. Typically, the thesis proposal document should be between 10–20 double-spaced pages (not including figures or references).


Preparing for the Examination

At least three weeks in advance of the exam, the supervisor will provide the NMHI administrator with the date, time and place of the exam. The administrator will then appoint the chair and notify the committee and the student.


Format of the Examination

At the evaluation:

  1. In the presence of the student, the chair will summarize the student’s performance in course work to date.
  2. The student will give a short (no longer than 20 minutes) presentation summarizing the thesis proposal.
  3. The student will defend the proposal in response to questions from each committee member in turn. Questions may include more general areas of relevant neuroscience so that the committee may be satisfied that the student has an appreciation of the subject adequate to pursue the proposed research.
  4. Discussion among the committee members concerning the outcome of the evaluation is carried out in the absence of the student.
  5. Following the conclusion of the exam, a “Report of Supervisory Committee” form must be completed, signed and returned to the NMHI office.
  6. If an MSc student intends to transfer in to the PhD program and successfully completes a PhD thesis proposal, an FGSR “Change of Category” form must also be completed and returned to the NMHI office immediately following the exam.

Possible Outcomes of the Examination

For students registered in the MSc program:

  • Proceed unconditionally — Excellent performance with no or minor areas of weakness that do not require remedial action. Allows for continuation in the MSc program, or, if appropriate, transfer to the PhD program.
  • Proceed conditionally — Adequate performance with some areas of minor weakness identified. Committee recommends remedial action. Allows for continuation in the MSc program, or, if appropriate, transfer to the PhD program.
  • Repeat Evaluation — Only given if the committee feels that there are extenuating circumstances or if the performance is much poorer in one or more areas than anticipated from the student’s record.
  • Transfer to PhD Program — In addition to any conditions set, the student is granted permission to transfer to the PhD program.
  • Withdraw — The student is asked to withdraw from the program. The student may choose to remain in the program for the remainder of the academic year. Students who fail will not be considered for readmission to the program.

For students registered in the PhD program:

  • Proceed unconditionally — Excellent performance with no or minor areas of weakness that do not require remedial action. Allows for continuation in the PhD program.
  • Proceed conditionally — Adequate performance with some areas of minor weakness identified. Committee recommends remedial action. Allows for continuation in the PhD program.
  • Repeat Evaluation — Only given if the committee feels that there are extenuating circumstances or if the performance is much poorer in one or more areas than anticipated from the student’s record.
  • Transfer to the MSc Program — In addition to any conditions set, the student is asked to transfer to and complete an MSc program.
  • Withdraw — The student is asked to withdraw from the program. The student may choose to remain in the program for the remainder of the academic year.

Transfer to PhD Program

Transfer to the PhD program will be based on both the student's performance in course work and demonstrated ability to conduct PhD level research. A comprehensive evaluation of the student's progress will be carried out (normally at the end of the first year) and, after successful completion of a PhD thesis proposal committee meeting, the supervisory committee may recommend transfer to the PhD program. 

There are two options for MSc students to complete a PhD thesis proposal exam: 

  1. The MSc student can prepare a PhD thesis proposal with the prior approval of the supervisor and supervisory committee, and not hold an MSc proposal.
  2. The MSc student can prepare a PhD thesis proposal following his or her MSc thesis proposal if it is decided following the MSc proposal that the student wishes to transfer to the PhD program.