Civil and Environmental EngineeringWestern Engineering

PhD Comprehensive Examination

Students are required to take a comprehensive examination, which must be set within the first 3 terms of PhD study, and must be passed before the end of the 4th term of PhD study.  To schedule the PhD Comprehensive Examination, the student must submit a PhD Comprehensive Examination Submission form to the CEE Graduate Office during the student's 3rd term of study. The comprehensive exam is a test on the background that the student will need to carry out the proposed research.  Hence, the exam will also focus on fundamental engineering science of relevance to their area of research. The student is required to submit a written proposal of their PhD research (2500-3500 words, double spaced, up to 10 figures/tables) no later than the end of their third term to the CEE Graduate Office.  The Proposal should include the following content/sections:

The format of the written proposal would follow that of a MESc/PhD thesis.

Examination Committee

The PhD Examination Committee shall normally consist of at least three members of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies with a Chair appointed by the CEE Graduate Affairs Assistant in consultation with the Graduate Chair. The membership of the Examining Committee shall be proposed by the Chief Advisor and be submitted to the CEE Graduate Office for approval by the CEE Chair. The Chief Advisor may be a member of the Examining Committee, but he/she must not be the Chair.

In consideration of the purpose of the Examination the members of the Committee should be chosen such that:

(a) as a Committee they are competent to examine the candidate in accordance with the scope and content of the examination topics as will be approved by the CEE Graduate Committee.

(b) normally at least two of the members will hold Doctoral Supervisory Membership in the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and have demonstrated success in supervising Ph.D. students in the general area of the students proposed research or in a closely related area. Such members can draw on their experience in making recommendations relevant to the program of studies to be followed by the student.

(c) normally a majority of the members will be members of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering.

Before the Examination

The Examiners will review the proposal and make recommendations.

If the proposal is deemed acceptable by the majority, the Chief Advisor will consult with all examiners to set a time and date of exam, and the graduate assistant will set a location and appoint a Chair.

If the proposal is deemed unacceptable by the majority, the student is given two weeks to revise and resubmit the proposal.

Regardless the proposal is deemed acceptable or not, the Chief Advisor will consult with all examiners to set a time and date, and the graduate assistant will set a location and appoint a chair.

Examination Format

The Comprehensive Examination shall consist of an oral examination of at least one and one-half hours duration. The candidate will first make a 15 minute presentation based on the research proposal, then answer questions from examiners.  The order of questions will be determined by the Examining Committee at the beginning of the examination in the absence of the candidate: often two rounds of questions are selected. The candidate may take a five-minute recess after the first round of questioning if he/she so desires.

The candidate is expected to be conversant with the fundamentals covered in the Civil & Environmental Engineering undergraduate program and with the engineering field in which he/she is working towards their Ph.D. degree. The Examining Committee members will establish the boundaries of the candidate’s knowledge by asking some questions that he/she will be able to answer and others that he/she may not be able to answer.

Decision by the Examination Committee

After the Comprehensive Examination, the results shall be submitted to the CEE Graduate Office on the forms provided. These results are intended to be of assistance to the student, Chief Advisor, and the Advisory Committee in recommending a Program of Study.

The results of the examination will be of assistance to the student and the thesis supervisory committee in recommending a program of study. The results of the examination shall be stated as: 

(i)     Passed without condition, or

(ii)    Passed with specific conditions to be satisfied for continued registration, or

(iii)   Failed.

After a student has passed his/her Comprehensive Examination, the Chief Advisor shall review with the student and the Advisory Committee the proposed Program of Study as soon as possible. A final program proposal shall be prepared having due regard for the recommendations of the Comprehensive Examination Committee. The proposal shall be submitted by the Chief Advisor to the CEE Graduate Committee for review and approval. (Note that proposed credit for courses taken previously must be included in the proposal).

A student who has passed with conditions but fails to satisfy the conditions shall be required to withdraw.

Failure to pass the examination will initiate a process that may require the student to withdraw from the program. The Examination Committee will recommend that the student should either:

1. write an examination prepared by members of the Examination Committee to further probe the general topic areas covered in the Oral Examination. Should the student receive a mark of less than 70% on this examination, the Examining Committee shall recommend to the CEE Graduate Committee that the student be required to withdraw. The CEE Graduate Committee will meet with the Chief Advisor and the members of the student’s Advisory Committee to discuss the Examining Committee’s recommendation. Unless the written examination is deemed to be unfair, the CEE Graduate Committee will recommend to the Dean of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies that the student be required to withdraw; or

2. attempt the Oral Examination again. A student may be granted permission to reattempt the Oral Exam only once.

Time frame:

1. Comprehensive exam committee:  no later than the end of the third term after the student's registration;

2. Proposal submission: no later than the end of the third term;

3. Examiners review of proposal: two weeks;

4. In the case that the majority of examiners has rejected the proposal, the student must resubmit in two weeks;

5. Examiners have one week to re-review the proposal;

6. Exam: no later than end of the fourth term;

7. Conditions of exam: must be met no more than 1 year after the exam;

8. Written exam or the 2nd oral exam: must be held no more than three months after the first failed exam.