Ph.D. Thesis Proposal

Procedures and Policy Guidelines

A. Procedures

The Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC) evaluates all Ph.D. Thesis Proposals. The GAC consists of at least seven (7) faculty members of the Department, and of one graduate student representative. Current GAC faculty members can be found online*.


  • Graduate students must present their Thesis Proposals in the 5th or the 6th semester of their graduate studies.
  • The Graduate Advisory Committee convenes twice a year to evaluate proposals (Fall and Spring).
  • Proposals are usually scheduled near the end of semesters (December, May).

Before the Examination

  • Graduate students must have passed (overall satisfactory) their yearly presentation in front of a Research Advisory Committee (RAC), with the more recent RAC no more than 6 months.
  • Permission to present a Ph.D. Thesis Proposal is required and should be clearly stated in the most recent RAC report.
  • The title of the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal must be submitted at least five (5) weeks in advance of the examination to Christine Laberge (Christine.laberge [at]
  • The complete written Ph.D. Thesis Proposal must be submitted at least three (3) weeks in advance to Christine Laberge.
  • The written proposal must be prepared and formatted as described in Appendix A below.
  • The student must prepare a twenty (20) minute oral presentation of their Ph.D. The presentation should not be longer than 20 minutes. Thesis Proposal (PowerPoint or the like) as instructed in Appendix B below.

Thesis Proposal Examination

  • Examinations are done in person and should take no more than 1 hour. This is usually conducted in room 908 of the Biochemistry Department.
  • Before the start of the examination, the GAC will meet without the student to review the student’s progress (RAC reports, course performances, Junior Seminar evaluation), flag any areas of concern, and discuss the written Ph.D. Thesis Proposal.
  • The student will deliver a 20-minute oral presentation of their Ph.D. Thesis Proposal. The overall question period should last no longer than approximately 40 minutes.
  • The student will then leave the room and the GAC will deliberate to determine:
    1. The meeting outcome (satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory)
    2. Identify any areas of concern and corrective actions
    3. Determine any other advice to be provided to the students
    4. Based on the outcome, set the date of the next meeting if necessary
  • The GAC Chair will summarize the examination outcome in a letter to be submitted to the graduate student and supervisor.
  • Graduate students must register to the BIOC702 (Ph.D. Thesis Proposal) course.

B. Policy on Ph.D. Thesis Proposal Procedure and Outcome

The Ph.D. Thesis Proposal examination consists of the following three (3) components:

  1. The written Thesis Proposal. The written proposal must be prepared and formatted as per Appendix A. Incomplete or poorly written proposals will impact the GAC’s decision and examination outcome. Failure to submit the written proposal in due time may also impact the student’s status in the program.
  2. The oral presentation. The oral presentation should summarize the content of the written document and be prepared as outlined in Appendix B. The student should be able to defend their Thesis Proposal based on the presentation. Presentations that are poorly prepared or that last longer than 20 minutes will impact the GAC’s decision and examination outcome.
  3. Answers during the question period. General competence will be assessed in the question period. Students must be able to discuss and explain presented experiments and provide details as needed. They must be able to elaborate beyond what is shown in the presentation (e.g. provide alternative questions, experiments, analyses, interpretations). They must demonstrate some general knowledge outside of their immediate research by answering connected and general questions in their research fields. Failure to demonstrate competence could impact the GAC’s decision and examination outcome.

Each component of the exam will be rated as Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory. The overall outcome of the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal is determined as follows:


When all 3 components are rated as Satisfactory, the student will be deemed to have completed all three components and will receive a “PASS” grade on the BIOC702 course (Ph.D. thesis Proposal). The next meeting will be with a RAC at their yearly presentation.


If one or more of the components is rated as less than Satisfactory and no more than one component is Unsatisfactory, the student will be graded as “CONDITIONAL”. In the letter submitted to the student and supervisor following the examination, the GAC will impose one or more condition and a timeline for the student to fulfill them (normally no more than 3 months). If the student fulfills the conditions set by the GAC, the student will be awarded a “Satisfactory”, be given a “PASS” for BIOC702, and be granted permission to continue in the program. If not, the meeting outcome will be deemed “Unsatisfactory”, and the procedures outlined in the following section will be followed.


When two (2) or more components of the exam are rated as Unsatisfactory, the overall meeting outcome will be graded as “UNSATISFACTORY”. In keeping with GPS regulations**, the following consequences will result:

In the case where a student is unsuccessful at the first attempt of the exam:

  1. A grade of “HH – to be continued” will be recorded for BIOC702
  2. The student will be required to repeat the entire exam at a time determined by the GAC. As per GPS regulations, this meeting must occur not sooner than 4 months and not later than 6 months after the first meeting.
  3. A student who is successful in the second attempt will be deemed to have passed the exam, and will be given a “PASS” for BIOC702.

In the case where a student is unsuccessful at the second attempt of the exam:

  1. The student will be deemed to have failed the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal.
  2. A grade of “FAIL” will be entered for BIOC702 replacing the previously recorded HH. The student will be required to withdraw from the program.


Preparing and formatting the written Ph.D. Thesis Proposal


The written Ph.D. Thesis Proposal should be prepared with the oral presentation in mind. This document should properly introduce the project, justify its importance, describe your research progress to date, and propose future experiments that will overall represent an important contribution to research. The Ph.D. Thesis Proposal should feature substantial preliminary experimental work and propose future experiments. The proposed experiments should be well thought of and feasible.

  • Approximately and not more than 5 pages single spaced including figures.
  • Figures should be inserted in line with the text, be legible, and not exceed 1 page of total space.
  • References are not included in the document’s 5 page maximum.
  • The main text should provide the following:
  1. Background
  2. Rationale
  3. Central hypothesis
  4. Specific Aims: these could represent your proposed thesis chapters. Three (3) proposed results Chapters is common but not required. In each of your Aims, specify the short and long term objectives.
  5. Significance
  • You can include extra pages reporting additional work that does not fit in the main Thesis Proposal. This is optional and should be clearly marked as an Appendix.


  • Document must be letter size (21.25 x 27.5 cm / 8.5 x 11 inches).
  • In the header on the left, indicate your name (the lab you are in).
  • In the header on the right, indicate the section title (Ph.D. Thesis Proposal)
  • In the footer, include the page number (center) and date (right)
  • A minimum margin of 2 cm all around the page is mandatory.
  • Use a font size of 12 point. Single line spacing. No condensed type or spacing.
  • Each section of your document should be properly separated (e.g. skip a line between sections, use bold font for section titles, etc.)
  • Figures must have legends.

As per GPS ruling:

“The work submitted for this assessment is expected to be your own. The use of technologies such as ChatGPT are prohibited and will be considered a violation of the Code of Student Conduct.”

Appendix B

Preparing the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal presentation

The Ph.D. Thesis Proposal presentation should summarize the written proposal. It should contain everything needed to explain and defend the project and proposed experiments. With the presentation, you should be able to convince the Examiners that the Proposal is Satisfactory. Importantly, the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal is not merely a progress report: it should also clearly propose future experiments.

Your oral presentation should last approximately 20 minutes and not more. You can choose to have questions during your presentation or only after. The question period should last no more than 40 minutes.


The presentation should:

  • Properly introduce the research question and project.
  • Clearly state the main hypothesis, Aims and proposed experiments.
  • Include substantial preliminary experimental work. You must clearly specify who did the presented experiments. Acknowledge the contribution of others where relevant. This includes figures or data published elsewhere, which must be accompanied by a citation.
  • Clearly outline future directions and propose new experiments.

Evaluation criteria

  • Quality and clarity of the presentation and it’s delivery.
  • Quality of responses to questions about the design, background, and potential of the project. This includes experiments already performed and those suggested as future directions.
  • Quality of responses to general background questions about biochemistry and molecular biology.
  • Response to criticism raised during the Research Seminar 1 (Junior) examination.
  • Feasibility of the proposed experiments.

Important note

  • It is the responsibility of the student to inform themselves of the Ph.D. Thesis Proposal Procedures, Policy and deadlines. Failure to comply can lead to expulsion from the program, unless strong justification is provided and confirmed in writing by the Supervisor.
  • The methods adopted for examination and evaluation are specified by Departmental regulations and are in agreement with the Graduate Studies guidelines approved by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

Quick Guidelines

Before the Examination:

  • Title of the proposal submitted five weeks in advance to Christine Laberge
  • Complete written proposal submitted three weeks in advance to Christine Laberge
  • Up to five pages single spaced
  • Describe research progress to date, and proposed (future) research for the Ph.D. thesis
  • Optional extra page indicating additional work not in the main proposal may be added and must be clearly marked
  • Present the background, rationale, central hypothesis, specific aims and significance
  • Include short and long term objectives
  • Three proposed results chapters is common but not required
  • Must include substantial preliminary experimental work

Thesis Proposal Examination:

  • 20 minute presentation to GAC, 40 minute discussion
  • Presentation summarizes the written proposal
  • Must include substantial preliminary experimental work
  • Questions about the design, background and potential of the project
  • Questions about general background knowledge of biochemistry and molecular biology

Evaluation Criteria:

  1. Presentation, background knowledge and insight into the proposed research
  2. Knowledge in related areas of biochemistry
  3. Response to criticisms raised during the Research Seminar 1
  4. Feasibility of the proposed experiments

Revised: April 2023

*   Graduate Advisory Committee Members (GAC)

** Graduate Student Supervision



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