MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination

The MSc-to-PhD Transfer Oral Examination must be completed within 18-21 months of your initial IMS registration. The decision to transfer from the MSc to PhD program should be made 12-15 months into your MSc program.

Student should also be mindful of the Guidance on the Appropriate Use of Generative Artificial Intelligence in Graduate Theses from SGS.

  • Open to any qualified IMS MSc student who wishes to enter the PhD program without first finishing the MSc degree; the exam is intended to allow exceptional students to transfer and accelerate completion of the PhD degree
  • The purpose of this exam is to closely review the research proposal, recommend revisions, and test your knowledge of the field of study in order to determine if you qualify for transfer to the PhD program
  • When you transfer to the PhD program, the time spent and credits earned in the MSc program will be counted as part of your PhD degree

Transfer Exam Guidelines

  • Review the MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination Guidelines (below) thoroughly by the second PAC meeting or by the end of your first year in the program
  • Discuss the process with your Supervisor and PAC members by the second PAC meeting
  • Complete current degree program course requirements early in your program (ideally in the first 12 months)
  • Send a draft of your Research Proposal to your supervisor and PAC members to review (allow at least one month for this). Revise the Research Proposal according to PAC members’ suggestions
  • Once your proposal has been reviewed by your PAC members, hold a final PAC meeting to approve your readiness to proceed with the transfer exam and prepare you for your exam

Exam Rules of Procedure

IMS examinations are normally held in-person. Due to COVID-19 protocols all examinations are now conducted remotely (effective March 18, 2020 - present).

IMS MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination Rules of Procedure for Remote Examinations

IMS MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination Rules of Procedure for In-Person Examinations

For more information, see Exam Tips.


You must meet all of the requirements below (no exceptions) to proceed with the MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination process:

  1. Achievement of a high level of research productivity and scholarship (i.e. scientific presentations, published abstracts and manuscripts)
  2. Preparation of a PhD research proposal
  3. Recommendation Letter from your supervisor(s)
  4. Completion of a Pre-Exam PAC Meeting
  5. Supervisor must hold a Full Graduate Faculty Appointment in the SGS and IMS to be eligible to supervise you as a PhD student
  6. Completion of course requirements as follows*:
    • One full graduate course equivalent (1.0 FCE) with a cumulative A- average
    • MSC 1010H – MSc Seminars in Translational Research (0.5 FCE)
    • 0.5 FCE modular courses (two courses at 0.25 FCE each)

*If you entered the program BEFORE September 2020, you must complete only full graduate course equivalent (1.0 FCE) with a cumulative A- average.

Supervisor Responsibilities

  1. Ensures IMS appointment is up to date and they are eligible to supervise a PhD student (see below).
  2. Provide appropriate guidance and timely feedback to student to enable completion of the research proposal within the program transfer timeframe and to the standards of the IMS.
  3. Formally approve the student’s written research proposal, and readiness to proceed to the exam, during a Pre-Examination PAC meeting that includes a full practice examination to prepare the student for the exam (see Pre-Exam PAC Meeting below).
  4. Responsible for striking the examination committee by contacting eligible examiners AND confirming their willingness and availability to participate in the prescribed roles (see Examination Committee below).
    • Student may subsequently contact examiners for availability once they have agreed to participate.
  5. Assist student with finalizing an exam date (in accordance with SGS and departmental scheduling conditions) that is subject to IMS approval.
  6. Assist student with exam logistics for off-site in-person examinations and/or remote examinations when the IMS Zoom account is unavailable.
  7. Ensure student is able to submit a complete examination package for IMS approval a minimum of six working weeks prior to the intended exam date.
  8. Must provide a recommendation letter outlining the student's capabilities and strength as a strong candidate for a PhD transfer.

Supervisor Eligibility

Supervisor's must hold a Full Member Graduate Faculty Membership to supervise a PhD student. If supervisor is currently an Associate Member, they must  apply in advance of the transfer to the Graduate Faculty Appointments Committee for a change of status to Full Member.

This is not a trivial exercise nor an automatic one.

  • The dates and deadlines for applications to the Appointments Committee, along with criteria for appointment, are listed on the IMS website
  • The Full Member category is generally reserved for faculty members who have clearly established a continuing research program and demonstrated sustained evidence of scholarship

Applications to change graduate appointment status are not reviewed ad-hoc and out of cycle.

PhD Research Proposal

You must prepare a written, double-spaced research proposal (15-20 pages) for your examination. Your supervisor and PAC are responsible for guiding your proposal content and research completion.

Include these elements (possibly in the form of a research grant application):

  • Title Page
  • Background
  • Work-to-date
  • Hypothesis
  • Experimental design
  • Projected outcome
  • Relevance
  • Predicted time to completion of PhD research. Include a detailed timeline
  • References
  • Include appendices to illustrate preliminary results or details of a formal clinical trial

Frequent reviews of your research proposal by your supervisor and PAC will help you to make corrections and changes early and help you to maintain continuity throughout the writing process.

The Research Proposal may NOT be more than 20 double-spaced pages long including figures but excluding references. If your proposal exceeds this page limit it will be returned to you for revision and delay scheduling of your Transfer Exam.

Pre-Exam PAC Meeting

Your Supervisor and PAC must formally approve your written research proposal and readiness to transfer during a Pre-Examination PAC Meeting that includes a full practice examination to prepare you for the transfer exam.

  • The Pre-exam PAC meeting should not be held too far in advance of the exam
  • This meeting must include a 20-minute slide presentation and a question and answer period where PAC members pose questions typical of those asked during an examination
  • All PAC members must attend

A final draft of your research proposal should be circulated to the committee ~4 weeks prior to the Pre-Examination PAC Meeting.

The PAC must vote on your readiness to proceed to the transfer exam by attesting to each of the three check list items from the PAC Meeting Form (see below):

Ensure the PAC report is completed accurately, in its entirety, and that all PAC members have signed off. If the PAC is unable to attest to the above three questions the meeting will not be considered the Pre-Examination PAC Meeting, and an additional PAC meeting must be held until you are able to meet these requirements.

Recommendation Letter from Supervisor(s)

A recommendation of transfer letter must be submitted to IMS. The letter must outline your capabilities and demonstrate why you are a strong candidate for a PhD transfer.

Additional details to note:

  • 1-2 pages in length
  • Must indicate your supervisor's eligibility to supervise a PhD student
    • Check the graduate appointment status of your supervisor with them in advance of any anticipated transfer
  • Must include confirmation of your supervisor’s willingness to supervise you for the entire duration of PhD program and provide the minimum PhD student stipend for the duration of the PhD Direct Entry funding cohort (see IMS funding policy for details)
  • Bare signatures of your supervisor and co-supervisor (in cases of co-supervision)

Recommendation letters that do not comply with these requirements will not be considered.

Exam Committee

Your supervisor is responsible for contacting examiners and confirming their willingness to participate in the prescribed roles below. You may contact them for availability once they have agreed to participate.

Only the approved examination committee members may participate in your exam; any subsequent changes to the examination committee must be approved in advance by IMS.


Quorum is four voting members = 2 internal to the PAC (including Supervisor) + 2 external to the PAC. We recommend including 5 voting members to ensure the exam proceeds as scheduled.

*Normally one of the non-PAC examiners serves dually as the Examiner and  Chair of  the examination committeee. In cases where these roles should be kept autonomous, an additional faculty member may be included to serve as a non-voting Chair (this individual must hold an active IMS appointment and be vetted by IMS). 

Examiner Responsibilities

ALL examination committee members must:

  1. Review the research proposal (the committee should expect to receive the proposal a minimum of 4 weeks prior to the exam), prepare questions/feedback, and attend the oral exam
  2. Review, and comply with, the most updated IMS Examination Rules of Procedure
  3. Maintain an active graduate appointment (Supervisor's should ask UofT examiners to verify their SGS status when confirming their willingess to participate in the exam)

Refer to the Transfer Exam Guidelines for detailed information on choosing your examiners.

Exam Scheduling

Your MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination package must be submitted for IMS approval a minimum of four working weeks prior to the proposed examination date - remember to build in this time when settling on the exam date.

Following a successful transfer examination, including completion of all required proposal corrections, your transfer into PhD will become effective: September 1, January 1, or May 1.

Additionally, please note these important scheduling conditions:

  • Exams are not permitted one full week prior to the official University closure date for the winter holidays nor in the first 3 business days after the University officially opens in January
  • Takes place Monday-Friday; 9am at earliest and 3pm at latest
  • Exams held remotely due to COVID-19 protocol are booked through the IMS Zoom account (where available) or other arrangements are coordinated through the Supervisor
  • Normally conducted in-person (on-site exams arranged through IMS are subject to MSB room availability); off-campus exams must include logistical details with the examination package
  • Scheduled on days the University is open
  • The University is closed for approximately 2 weeks during the winter holidays. These 2 weeks do not count toward the minimum 4 working weeks notice needed to schedule the exam.

See SGS sessional dates calendar for holidays and University closures

Scheduling Tips: 

  • Approach potential examiners well in advance
  • Include all Administrative Assistants (for all exam committee members) in your correspondences
  • Not all PAC members need to be present at your exam
  • For in-person examinations, up to two members of the examination committee can participate and vote via video/teleconference, if necessary, provided they are on the line for the duration of the defense
  • Doodle is a free online scheduling tool that can facilitate scheduling. Offering too many options can be counterproductive. Schedule times with your supervisor and one PAC member first, before scheduling via doodle with the rest of your exam committee.

Your supervisor is responsible for contacting examiners and confirming their willingness to participate. You may contact them for availability once they have agreed to participate.

IMS Approval and Required Documentation

IMS requires a MSc-to-PhD Transfer Examination package submitted electronically for approval through the online examination portal a minimum of four working weeks prior to your proposed exam date. The timeline allows for screening the research proposal, vetting the examination committee, and provides sufficient time for your examiners to read your proposal and prepare for the examination (especially the appraiser who submits their appraisal one week prior to the exam). The timeline allows for screening the research proposal, vetting the examination committee, and provides sufficient time for your examiners to read your proposal and prepare for the examination (especially the appraiser who submits their appraisal one week prior to the exam). Exceptions to the timeline are not possible due to the large number of examinations that we process.

SUBMIT EXAM PACKAGE (UTORONTO email and UTOR login required)

Submit your exam package online using the link above. The exam package comprises of: 

  1. An online Transfer Examination Nomination Form
  2. Copy of the PhD Research Proposal 
  3. Updated Student CV 
  4. Examiner/Appraiser CV only if the examiner is external to the University of Toronto
  5. Letter of Support from Supervisor

The online nomination form captures information about the student, exam logistics, and the proposed examination committee. The information entered into this form creates the official examination record, therefore it must be completed entirely and accurately. By submitting the form, the student agrees to have received approval/consent from your supervisor(s) to do so.

Helpful Tips and Reminders

  • You will need your UTORID and PASSWORD to access the online examination portal - click HERE if you cannot access it
  • Ensure all examiner contact information is correct (especially important when IMS needs to contact examiners for follow-up and/or in case of exam emergency)
  • Include all administrative contact information (for additional peace of mind)
  • The submitted examination date/time is final, subject to IMS approval, and has been agreed upon by all parties in advance
  • The responsibilities of potential examiners must be communicated to them at the time of their recruitment by the supervisor, and agreed upon by the examiner in advance

NB: Collaborations, conflicts of interest (including shared academic departments) and/or issues with faculty appointments can cause significant delays to the examination approval process and may result in the need to replace the examiner and/or submit a new examination date.