PhD Qualifying Examination

The PhD Qualifying Examination must be completed within 18-21 months of your initial IMS registration.

All PhD students who entered the program on or after September 2022 must hold a Qualifying Exam.

Students who defended an MSc at IMS and are still continuing with the same supervisor are required to take the PhD Qualifying Exam 

If you entered the program BEFORE September 2022:

  • Must be completed if you are a Direct Entry PhD student with no previous Master’s degree to ensure that you have a well-formulated research plan and will be able to defend a PhD thesis
  • The purpose of this exam is to closely review your research proposal, recommend revisions, and test your knowledge of the field of study to determine that you may continue in the PhD program

Qualifying Exam Guidelines

Please contact for more information.

Writing up and completing your examination takes an AVERAGE of 3.5 months (1 month for writing up, 1 month for proposal proofing and review, and 1.5 months for the examination process).

To ensure timely completion, we recommend that you:

  • Review the PhD Qualifying 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 qualifying 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 PhD Qualifying Examination Rules of Procedure for Remote Examinations

IMS PhD Qualifying 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 PhD Qualifying Examination process:

  1. Preparation of a PhD research proposal
  2. Completion of a Pre-Exam PAC Meeting
  3. Completion of course requirements as follows*:
    • One full graduate course equivalent (1.0 FCE) with a cumulative B+ 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 one full graduate course equivalent (1.0 FCE) with a cumulative B+ average only.

Supervisor Responsibilities

  1. Provide appropriate guidance and timely feedback to student to enable completion of the research proposal within the qualifying timeframe and to the standards of the IMS.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Assist student with finalizing an exam date (in accordance with SGS and departmental scheduling conditions) that is subject to IMS approval.
  5. Assist student with exam logistics for off-site in-person examinations and/or remote examinations when the IMS Zoom account is unavailable.
  6. Ensure student is able to submit a complete examination package for IMS approval a minimum of four working weeks prior to the intended exam date.

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 Qualifying Exam.

Pre-Exam PAC Meeting

Your Supervisor and PAC must formally approve your written research proposal and readiness to proceed with your Qualifying Exam during a Pre-Examination PAC Meeting that includes a full practice examination to prepare you for the qualifying 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 this meeting.

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

PAC Final Report Checklist

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-Exam PAC Meeting, and an additional PAC meeting must be held until you are able to meet these requirements.

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.

The examination committee provides an objective analysis of your research proposal and background knowledge. The committee is composed of faculty members of good standing, who are familiar with the standards of scholarship required by the School of Graduate Studies. 


Exam Committee IMS UofT

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 Qualifying Exam Guidelines for detailed information on choosing your examiners.

Exam Scheduling

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

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 exam
  • 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 PhD Qualifying 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). 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 Qualifying 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. Pre-Exam PAC Meeting Report

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.