These guidelines apply to all PhD students, whose supervisor or primary co-supervisor is a Faculty Member in the Department of Geography. This applies to all PhD majors, and any associated concentrations, in which the Department of Geography participates, including: 1. the PhD in Earth, Space, Physical Science; 2. the PhD in Biosystems and Biodiversity; and 3. the PhD in Population Studies and Health. The purpose of the PhD comprehensive examination is to test the PhD student’s knowledge and comprehension across a general field of study (e.g. Physical Geography, Human Geography, Archaeology, or Earth, Space and Physical Sciences) and areas of relevant specialization (e.g. remote sensing, climate change, certain spatial or field techniques).
All Ph.D. students must complete a Comprehensive Examination within the first 24 months of registration in the PhD program. The Comprehensive Exam has both a written and an oral component.
The written and oral components are completed separately and graded as Pass/Fail. The written component is completed and assessed first. A student who passes the written component continues to the oral component. A student who fails the written component is given one (1) opportunity to repeat the written examination. A student who fails the oral component is given one (1) opportunity to repeat the oral examination.
A student who fails any portion of the comprehensive examination must wait a minimum of two (2) weeks before re-examination. Re-examination should normally take place within four (4) months. A student who fails either portion of the comprehensive examination (written or oral component) for the second time may be required to withdraw from the PhD program and may transfer to a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree – subject to approval of the respective program committee and the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies.
The Comprehensive Examination Committee
The Comprehensive Examination Committee composition:
- A Chair: A faculty member of the University who is not the supervisor.
- Members of the student’s Supervisory Committee, including the supervisor.
- The Supervisory Committee can also nominate an External Examiner.
The Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair is responsible for developing and administering the comprehensive examination. The dates for the written and oral component of the comprehensive examination are set by the Comprehensive Examination Committee.
At least six (6) weeks prior to the scheduled date of the comprehensive examination, the supervisor will recommend the membership of the Comprehensive Examination Committee to the Doctoral Program Committee and will submit the Comprehensive Examination Notification form to the School of Graduate Studies. The Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee is a representative of the School of Graduate Studies and is required to be familiar with the policies and procedures related to the examination.
The Comprehensive Examination Format
During the comprehensive examination process, the student is only allowed to consult with the Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair concerning examination content. The student is expected to demonstrate proficiency in written and spoken English.
- The committee will provide the candidate with a seed reading list at least four (4) weeks prior to the written examination date.
- The written examination questions will consist of general discipline and the specific research area and associated methods, as follows: • Part A: two (2) or three (3) questions (from at least four (4) questions) from the general discipline (e.g. Geomorphology, Economic Geography, etc.) • Part B: two (2) or three (3) questions (from at least four (4) questions) from the specific research area and associated methods (e.g. data acquisition, statistical methods, etc.).
- The candidate can choose between:
- a take-home examination format lasting two (2) weeks, where one (1) week is allowed to compose answers to Part A, immediately followed by one (1) week to compose answers to Part B., or
- a sit-down examination format, where within one (1) week the candidate will answer two (2) or three (3) exam questions, with each exam session lasting not more than two (2) hours.
- The oral examination will follow the written examination within four (4) weeks after the written examination. The oral examination consists of two components: a public presentation session, followed directly by a closed question session.
- The candidate will deliver a 30 to 50-minute public presentation on their research topic, after which the public is invited to ask questions for a limited time.
- The Comprehensive Examination Committee members will ask the candidate questions about material presented at the Public Presentation as well as questions based on the candidate’s responses to Part A and Part B of the written examination described above. The maximum time for the closed question session is two (2) hours. Normally, the Chair of the Comprehensive Examination Committee does not ask questions.
- Immediately following the question period, the Comprehensive Examination Committee members will render a PASS/FAIL decision, and the candidate will be informed about the decision.