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PhD Policies and Procedures

Departmental policies relate to the required courses, MECH 700, 701 and 702, including the literature review, thesis proposal, preliminary oral examination and final defense.

Supervisors are responsible for forming an advisory committee for each incoming graduate student to provide general guidance, designate courses, develop the thesis project and track the student's progress in the PhD program. The supervisor is asked to submit an Advisory Committee Report during the candidate's first term in the program. Advisory committee members may ultimately serve on the committees for the preliminary oral exam or final defense.

Required Courses in the PhD Program

As of September 2010, there are three required courses (0 credits each) in the PhD program, as given in the calendar of studies:

  • MECH 700   (0)   Literature Review
  • MECH 701   (0)   Thesis Proposal
  • MECH 702   (0)   PhD Comprehensive Preliminary Oral Examination

MECH 700 Literature Review

Students must submit a literature review to their thesis supervisor within eight months of their initial registration in the PhD program. It is due on the last day of classes in the second term. 

Normally the literature review will be in an area of research close to the student’s proposed research topic and a condensed version of the review will be form a portion of the student’s thesis proposal. The written literature review should be five to seven pages in length (text only, not including references) and single-spaced in 12pt Times New Roman font with 2.5cm margins. Students should discuss with their supervisor the specific requirements for the literature review.

MECH 700 is marked Pass/Fail. If the literature review is evaluated to be unsatisfactory, the student will submit a revised literature review, together with the thesis proposal, within 12 months of registering in the program (i.e., the end of the student's third term or Aug 31 in the case of September entry into the PhD program). A second failure in this course, or any other course, means that the student must withdraw from the program, according to the regulations of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

MECH 701 Thesis Proposal

PhD candidates must submit a thesis proposal to their supervisor within 12 months of their initial registration in the program. It is due on the last day of the third term. The thesis proposal is graded Pass/Fail. In the case of a first failing grade, a revised thesis proposal should be submitted within one month. On receiving a passing grade, the student will prepare a final revised thesis proposal based on comments provided by the supervisor. This will form the basis of the PhD preliminary oral examination, which occurs 13-16 months after initial registration in the PhD Program (i.e., by the end of the fourth term).

Guidelines for Research Proposal and CV

The proposal should be 10 pages maximum, single-spaced, typed in a 12pt font (preferably Times Roman) with single-column formatting. Please be aware that any pages exceeding this limit will not be considered. It should have the following six sections:

  1. background material and literature survey
  2. description of the project and its objectives
  3. description of research methodology, mathematical models, analytical or numerical solution methods, and preliminary results
  4. experimental procedure (if applicable) and/or validation of models
  5. expected contributions
  6. references

The references should also be in 12pt font. Students should attempt to keep the list of references to one page, choosing only significant papers available in the literature and using consistent formatting.

    MECH 702 Preliminary Oral Exam

    Students must present their thesis proposal and undergo an oral examination of related material within 16 months of initial registration in the PhD program (i.e., in the fourth term). The exam is graded Pass/Fail. 

    The primary purpose of the preliminary examination is to assess whether or not students have the necessary research skills and academic background to successfully pursue a research program in their chosen area. It is not a comprehensive examination. The committee will normally use a student's research proposal as a starting point to ask questions focused on the following:

    • the student's knowledge and understanding of existing research in the area
    • the student's knowledge and understanding of the theoretical and/or experimental techniques being proposed to pursue the research
    • the student's understanding of the type of results expected from the research program
    • the student's provisional research plan
    • the expected contributions, particularly the originality thereof, in the student's research area

    If the committee detects weaknesses in the student's background in the disciplines related to the research program, the committee may pursue questions on the fundamentals of these academic topics.

    It should be stressed that this is not an examination of the project, it is an examination of the student's ability to pursue the project; however, committee members are encouraged to comment on the feasibility of the project and make suggestions on the proposed plan.


    The setup for the exam is initiated by the student's supervisor and includes the steps that follow.

    1. The supervisor  nominates two examiners from within the Department. These are normally the same people who were selected as members of the advisory committee at the outset of the student’s program. For interdisciplinary projects, a committee member from outside the Department may be added. 

    2. The Graduate Program Director (GPD) confirms the committee composition. This is communicated to the supervisor with a cc to all committee members. One of the two departmental members will be designated as the committee chair. The chair must be at “arms-length” from the supervisor, following the usual NSERC regulations (e.g., no joint publications within the last six years). If the two internal committee members work closely with the supervisor, then an additional member will be added to the committee as chair. 

    3. The supervisor or student schedules the exam. The Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) is contacted to obtain available time slots in room MD-268. The supervisor or student then e-mails committee members offering two to three time slots at least two to three weeks in advance of the proposed dates. In consultation with the supervisor, a day and time is chosen accordingly. If no suitable slot is found, the GPC is asked for a new set of time slots when MD-268 is available. Once a suitable time slot is found, the supervisor or student must confirm the room booking with the GPC and e-mail all committee members, informing them of the final, selected day and time.

    4. The student provides the GPC with PhD research proposal and curriculum vitae. This must be done at least one full week prior to the exam date. The GPC will need one copy of each document for each committee member plus one additional copy for the department files. These will be distributed as necessary. The CV (maximum three pages) should include a list of all graduate courses taken and grades obtained.

    5. One day before the exam, the student sends an e-mail reminder to all committee members. This should include time and place of the exam, and the GPC should be cc'd.


    Once all members of the examination committee are present, the chair asks the candidate to step out of the room. The chair then reviews with the committee

    • the student's starting date in program;
    • prior degrees, including type (e.g., bachelor's, master's), place, duration, thesis title;
    • courses taken and grades;
    • fellowships obtained;
    • publications; and
    • procedural terms. 

    As part of the procedural terms, the chair might emphasize that the committee is primarily reviewing the candidate, not the project, but that it is also acceptable to give comments on the feasibility of the project or make suggestions on the proposed plan. The sequence of questioning might be set (e.g., external member, two departmental examiners, supervisor, chair). The amount of time allotted to each committee member might also be specified (e.g., 10-15 minutes per person in the first round). The chair conclues by addressing any questions.

    The candidate is invited back into the room to give a brief (i.e., 20-25 minute) presentation. A question-and-answer period, normally consisting of two rounds, follows. The candidate is again asked to leave the room. The committee discusses the candidate's presentation, responses to questions and proposal document. The main goal of this discussion is to determine whether the candidate has passed or failed. Normally, this decision is reached by consensus. However, the strict requirement is a majority of the committee.

    The committee may propose remedial measures (e.g., additional courses). The chair of the committee completes a PhD preliminary examination report and obtains signatures from all committee members. Following the examination, the student will be given a copy of the report. The supervisor will discuss the outcome of the examination with the student and convey the committee's feedback.

    In the case of initial failure of the PhD preliminary oral exam, the chair of the committee will inform the candidate (in writing) of the reasons for the failure and any time delay (at most six months) within which the examination may be repeated. A grade of HH (continuing) will be reported. In the case of a second failure, the student will be graded as such and asked to withdraw from the program.

    PhD Research Planning and Evaluation

    As part of a new University-wide policy, the Department of Mechanical Engineering recently launched a system by which students and supervisors can track research progress. The process may begin as early in the students' program as desired but it becomes mandatory after completion of MECH 700, 701 and 702.

    The first step in the process is for students and supervisors to jointly develop an annual research plan. Approximately twelve months later, the student submits a progress report, the supervisor submits an evaluation, and the student and supervisor together develop a new research plan for the coming year. The process repeats once per year until the student graduates. If an unsatifactory evaluation is given, the timeperiod is reduced to six months until a satisfactory evaluation is achieved.

    If two unsatisfactory evaluations are given, not necessarily in a row, then the student can be required to leave the program. It is therefore very important that students and supervisors understand and agree upon all aspects of the research plan because this forms the standard against which the student will eventually be evaluated. The Graduate Program Director or another third party within the department will advise to bring consensus on the research plan, if necessary. The Gradaute Program Director, or another departmental representative, will also review unsatisfactory evaluations. 

    The three elements of the new research planning and evaluation system--the research plan, the progress report, and the evaluation--can be completed online using the PhD Research Planning and Evaluation Webform. For those who are using the system for the first time, please know that login, using your McGill username and password, is required. The first step after logging in is to:

    1) Submit a research plan for the year. If the supervisor submits the research plan, the details will be emailed to the student, who will be asked to agree or disagree. The inverse happens if the student initiates the research plan. The Graduate Program Director will advise in cases where the student disagrees.

    Twelve months later, the following must be done.

    2) Student submits a progress report.  The supervisor will receive the details of the progress report via email and is expected to use this information when completing Step 3.

    3) Supervisor submits an evaluation. The supervisor evaluates the student based on the preceding research plan and recently submitted progress report. The student will receive the details of the evaluation via email and will be asked to agree or disagree. If an unsatisfactory overall evaluation is given, the Graduate Program Director or alternate departmental representative nominated by the supervisor will be asked to review the evaluation and associated research plan and progress report.

    4) Go back to step 1. The cycle continues on an annual basis until the student graduates. In cases where an unsatisfactory overall evaluation has been given and confirmed by the 3rd party reviewer, the timeframe for the next research plan, progress report and evaluation will be six months instead of one year.

    For those who wish to use a paper-based system, please contact the joyce [dot] nault [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Graduate Program Coordinator) for the appropriate forms and instructions. 

    PhD Final Defense: Setup and Conduct

    The final oral defense is the last step in a PhD student's doctoral work. It takes place after the thesis has been reviewed by an internal examiner and an external examiner. Below are the guidelines for setting up and conducting of the defense. However, please note that many of these steps are primarily the jurisdiction of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office (GPS).


    The setup of the PhD final defense is initiated by the supervisor as early as two weeks before the thesis reviews are due at GPS. Supervisors should be aware of this date as it is in the letter they receive from GPS when the review is requested. The supervisor should meet with the Department Chair to agree on the composition of the examination committee. The committee includes:

    • a pro-dean (selected by GPS)
    • the Department Chair or a proxy
    • the supervisor and co-supervisor(s), if any
    • an internal examiner
    • one additional member internal to the Department (an alternate internal member is also named)
    • one member external to the Department (an alternate external member is also named)

    The chair and supervisor agree on the above names and specify an approximate date for the exam. The supervisor completes the PhD Oral Defense form accordingly and gives the form to the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC).

    The GPC contacts the external member to secure an agreement to participate on the committee. If this is unsuccessful, the alternate external member is contacted.

    Once a willing external member has been identified, the GPC contacts all members of the committee, including the alternate internal member, with a list of tentative examination dates and times. Once a suitable date is found, all members of the committee and the student are notified. The GPC books a room for the defense.

    At least two weeks before the date of the exam, the GPC sends the completed PhD Oral Defense form to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, which then nominates a pro-dean.


    The PhD final defense is chaired by the pro-dean. As such, its conduct is primarily the jurisdiction of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office. It is customary in our department for the student to make a brochure containing a very brief curriculum vitae, list of publications, abstract and committee composition. It can be prepared using the PhD Final Defense Brochure template and should be forwarded to the GPC for final printing as well as made available to the examination committee and guests on the day of the defense.