Departmental Procedures

Change of Address
Changing Research Supervisor
Direct Transfer into the PhD Program (PhD Fast-Tracking)
Failure in a Graduate Course
Laboratory Safety | Leaving McGill
PhD Preliminary Oral Examination Procedures
Requesting a leave of absence
Research Progress Tracking
Vacation Policy
Withdrawal from a Degree Program  


Change of Address

In the event that you change your address during the course of your studies (sessional or permanent address) you should do the following:

  • Change your address on MINERVA
  • Notify the Departmental Graduate Program Coordinator (gradinfo.civil [at]
  • Notify Payroll, 688 Sherbrooke West, 15th Floor (only necessary if you are being paid by McGill, e.g. teaching assistantships, research assistantships).


Changing Research Supervisor

 Once a working relationship with a supervisor has been established, a student may feel it necessary to request a change of supervisor. Reasons for requesting such a change include:

  • a change in the direction of his/her research;
  • a sudden loss of funding;
  • conflict or incompatibility.

Changing one’s research supervisor in any circumstance is a serious step and should only be undertaken if the student believes that the change is truly in his/her best interest. The following questions should be considered in the case of conflict of incompatibility:

  • Has the student tried discussing the problems/situation with the supervisor?
  • Has the student tried informal conflict resolution? 
  • Have the discussions about the problems been sufficiently clear? Do both the student and the supervisor agree that there is a problem?
  • Have the student and the supervisor tried to remedy the problem?
  • Has the student sought advice from trusted colleagues and friends?
  • Has the student discussed the circumstances with the Graduate Program Director and/or Department Chair?
  • Has the student discussed with the supervisor (and/or Graduate Program Director/Department Chair) the implications of changing supervisor?
  • Has the student considered who else in the department will have the knowledge, experience, time, interest and funding to supervise him/her?
  • Has the student discussed changing supervisor with this prospective supervisor? Has he/she expressed an interest in supervising the student’s research? Is he/she willing to fund the student?

Student’s responsibilities when changing supervisor

While students do have the right to change supervisors, they also have certain responsibilities:

  • It is the responsibility of the student to provide sound reasons for requesting the change of supervisor.
  • It is the responsibility of the student to find a replacement supervisor, although the Graduate Program Director or Department Chair is expected to provide assistance, where necessary.
  • Once the student has found a replacement supervisor, he/she must inform the original supervisor in a timely fashion of his/her intention to leave, especially if the student is involved in ongoing research. It is important to be professional: the supervisor may have to find someone to replace the student and should be given a reasonable amount of time to find such a replacement before the student leaves.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to return any equipment, data, and resources that were entrusted to him/her by the original supervisor. The student must also ensure that the original supervisor’s intellectual property rights are respected within his/her new project.

Supervisor’s responsibilities

  • The supervisor is expected to treat the student’s request for a change of supervisor in a professional manner.
  • Supervisors are expected to guide their advisees through to final completion of their program, provided that the student’s documented performance remains satisfactory.  However, in some cases, a supervisor may decide to terminate the relationship (for instance, if an insoluble conflict develops).  If this occurs, the supervisor, in consultation with the GPD, must ensure that the student will have continuous supervision for the remainder of his/her program and that funding commitments will be respected.

Departmental responsibilities

  • Units must establish in writing clear procedures for dealing with changes of supervision and ensure that the resulting document is made available to students.
  • When the supervisor terminates the supervisory relationship, the department is responsible for assigning a replacement supervisor and ensuring that initial funding is maintained (if guaranteed in the department’s offer of admission).

Administrative procedure

If a student wishes to change his/her supervisor, the following procedure is to be followed:

  1. The student should first discuss the issue with his/her current supervisor. The GPD may serve as a conflict mediator if necessary.
  2. If the current supervisor agrees to the change, the student then finds a new supervisor who is willing to supervise him/her.
  3. Once the choice has been made, the current supervisor sends an email to the GPD indicating that s/he is withdrawing as the student’s supervisor. At the same time, the new supervisor sends an email to the GPD indicating his/her willingness to supervise the student.
  4. The Graduate Program Coordinator then makes the official request to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office (GPSO).
  5. Two possible results: a) GPS approves the change and amends the student’s record accordingly; b) GPS denies the request, at which point the GPD will be required to write a letter of explanation (this is rare).


Direct Transfer into the PhD Program (PhD Fast-Tracking)

The fast-track route to a PhD degree is aimed at students who have demonstrated a superior record in the undergraduate program, and who would benefit from a faster progression through graduate studies.

MEng or MSc Thesis students may apply for fast-tracking to the Ad Hoc Graduate Admissions Committee (appointed by the Chair). The student will have to satisfy the following requirements:

  • Not more than 16 months of study in the Master's Thesis Program have elapsed
  • Completion of course work requirements of the Master’s degree
  • Minimum grade of A- in graduate courses
  • GPA for each of the last 2 years of undergraduate study >- 3.5
  • Letter of support from the current research supervisor
  • Two additional letter of reference (excluding co-supervisor if any)
  • Submission of an application outlining the reasons and full justification for entry to the PhD program. The application will also include a preliminary research proposal.

The Committee will review the application to judge the likelihood of successful completion as a PhD thesis. Following acceptance by the Committee, the student will proceed with the standard PhD preliminary oral examination, which must be scheduled within 6 months.

If the student passes the preliminary oral examination, they will be transferred to the PhD program at the level of PhD II. Should the student fail the preliminary examination, they may continue at the Master’s level.


Failure in a Graduate Course

Students who have failed one course required in their program of study may automatically retake that or an equivalent course.  A student with any further failures in that course, or a failure in any other course, will be required to withdraw from their program of study.  This policy does not pertain to the failure of comprehensive examinations, doctoral oral defenses, or thesis failures.  PhD students and Master’s students in thesis programs can also be required to withdraw from their program of study for documented lack of performance in research. Passing at the undergraduate level does not constitute a pass at the graduate level in 500 level courses. See GPS - Failure Policy.


Laboratory Safety

All departmental members have the obligation to conform to procedures established to provide for efficient and safe operation of the laboratories.  Laboratory operation is controlled by the Directors of the various laboratories, from whom information concerning procedures, etc. may be obtained.  Laboratory safety is an important concern; documented policies are in operation in some laboratories which users are required to sign. 


Leaving McGill

When you have completed your stay at McGill, you are required to sign and submit to the Administrative Assistant a Clearance Form to ensure return of keys, termination of computing codes, return of library books, transfer of relevant documents and data to your supervisor, etc. The form can be obtained from the Graduate Program Coordinator.


PhD Preliminary Oral Examination Procedures

The examination is administered as course CIVE 701 and registration should take place in the semester in which the oral is to be scheduled or before.

Aims and Objectives

  1. The examination is usually the first formal examination faced by the candidate in which he or she is asked to develop lines of thought.  Ability of this kind is essential for a PhD candidate.
  2. The examination is comprehensive.  Thus, the questioning not only relates to the candidate's specific research area, but seeks to ensure that he or she has knowledge and understanding of a broader nature affecting the discipline and profession (taking into consideration the candidate's educational background).
  3. The candidate, through questioning by a group of examiners with differing backgrounds, will be made aware of weaknesses in order that improvement may be effected.
  4. The examination procedures and the selection procedures for individual committees have been established so as to achieve a uniformly high standard amongst all PhD candidates in the department. Members are selected as follows:
  • Chair of the Department or alternate (Chair of the Committee, voting only if there is a co-supervisor) 
  • Research Director (with co-supervisor if applicable)
  • One member external to the Department at McGill University
  • One member from the Department with a similar field of interest to the student
  • One member from the Department with a different field of interest to the student
  • One other member from the Department.

The total number of voting committee members should be an odd number.
The committee is nominated by the Research Director in consultation with the student, and is approved by the Chair of the Department.


  1. The members of the committee require a written research proposal as described in (2) below. This must be received for distribution by the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC) at least two weeks before the anticipated date of the examination

    Scheduling of the exam will be done only after the GPC has received the proposal.

  2. The research proposal should be of maximum 10 pages, typed single-spaced, in a single column format in a 12 pt font.  It should have 6 sections as follows:
    • Background material and literature survey
    • Description of the project and its objectives
    • Description of research methodology, mathematical models, analytical or numerical solution methods, and preliminary results
    • Experimental procedure (if applicable) and/or validation of models
    • Expected original contributions
    • Schedule of program
  3. At the beginning, the candidate will be invited to describe his or her particular research program in 15 to 20 minutes
  4. A 45 minutes to one hour period of questions on matters related to the research will then follow.
  5. After a short break, questioning of a more general nature will be resumed. The general session will also last of about 45 to 60 minutes. The purpose of the break is to give the candidate a brief rest, and to ensure a change in the direction of the questioning.
  6. Topics considered to be open for discussion include the following:
    • Engineering fundamentals at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
    • The candidate is assumed to have a good knowledge of the mechanics and relevant mathematics included in the McGill undergraduate program.
    • Furthermore, competence in other fundamental courses which relate to the specific area is assumed.
    • The fundamental aspects of graduate courses which have been taken by the candidate.
    • Current activities in the practice of the candidate's chosen field.
    • Any topic in which the aim of the questioning is to discover the candidate's way of thinking and approach to problem solving.
  7. It is not assumed that the candidate will be able to cope with every question.  It should be clear to all that a searching examination must at times go beyond the candidate's capacity.
  8. The duties of the Chair of the examination are to invite questions in turn from the committee members, and to ensure that the candidate is neither pressed unduly nor aided unduly.  The Chair has the prerogative to curtail any line of questioning.
  9. The candidate will be judged on the basis of the response to questioning and on the overall performance in the program to date as to the suitability to continue studies toward the PhD degree.  The result of the examination is reported on a PASS/FAIL basis.
  10. The candidate's performance in the research examination and the general examination are rated separately:
    • A pass is required in both the general examination and in the research examination.
    • In the case of a failure, the candidate will be invited to be re-examined on the failed portion, that is either of or both of the general examination and the research examination, within a period of time stipulated by the examining committee. Until re-examination takes place, a grade of HH will be recorded on the candidate’s record. The candidate will be informed in writing of the assessment and the reasons for failure. A second failure of either the general examination or the research examination will result in a grade of F being reported and will require a withdrawal from the program.


Requesting a leave of absence

 This procedure is administered by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. A formal request must be filed: see GPS Leave of Absence. 


Research Progress Tracking

All graduate students working towards a thesis degree must comply with the mandatory research progress tracking procedure established by the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office (see University Policy).

Research progress tracking reports are due in the Winter semester on the Monday following the Study Break. Blank report forms will be e-mailed to students in mid February. Electronic versions (scanned with signatures) shall be e-mailed to gradinfo.civil [at] The reports are reviewed by the Graduate Program Director and students are notified by e-mail if any follow-up action is required.

The following steps must be followed for each graduate student in a thesis program:

  1. At the end of their first semester, thesis students and their supervisor(s) must agree on and provide a written statement of specific academic (coursework) and research objectives/expectations for the year on Form #1 (Graduate Student Research Objectives Report Form).  For returning students, Form #1 is to be filed yearly with the rest of the research progress tracking report.
  2. At least once a year, and until the thesis is submitted, the student and supervisor(s) must review the progress that has been achieved toward the recorded objectives.  The student should record his/her accomplishments and progress for the year by completing Form #2 (Graduate Student Research Progress Record).  This completed form is then evaluated by the supervisor(s)  on Form #3 (Graduate Student Research Progress Report Form).  All parties sign Form #3.  A student who does not agree to sign the form must write a statement detailing his/her objections.
  3. In the event that recorded research progress is unsatisfactory, a new set of objectives should be developed for the student and recorded on Form #1.  These new, or interim, objectives apply only to the next semester.  Evaluation of progress should take place after that semester has concluded, following the steps described in point 2, above.
  4. In the event that a student has any two unsatisfactory evaluations, they may be required to withdraw from their program of study.  These two unsatisfactory evaluations need not be successive.
  5. All forms are to be kept in departmental files. 


Vacation Policy

Graduate students should normally be entitled to vacation leave equivalent to university holidays and an additional total of fifteen (15) working days in the year. Funded students with fellowships and research grant stipends taking additional vacation leave may have their funding reduced accordingly. Notify your supervisor(s) a few weeks ahead of time when planning a vacation or an absence exceeding 3 days.

Withdrawal from a Degree Program

Candidates whose work is considered by the Department to be unsatisfactory may be asked to withdraw.

Any student who decides to withdraw from the university must first consult the University Policy on Withdrawal. An online withdrawal form is accessible at