Graduate Program Constitution


  1. The department will have a Graduate Admissions Committee, consisting of 2-3 members, appointed by the departmental Chair, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Admissions, whose functions are, in general terms, to consider whether applicants are admissible and, if so, at what level, and to oversee the bureaucratic aspects of graduate application and admission.
  2. Membership of the Graduate Admissions Committee is determined by the departmental Chair in consultation with the Chair of the Admissions Committee. At least two members must change every year and no member except the Chair may serve more than two successive years.
  3. Students with only a BSc may be admitted directly into the PhD program, at the PhD1 level.
  4. Admission to the PhD program directly from a Bachelors degree will require a CGPA of 3.5 (or equivalent) in the prior two full-time years of academic study. Students with a CGPA below that will be admissible in the first instance only into the MSc1 year ('MSc1').
  5. Admissible doctoral applicants with an MSc (or a qualification equivalent to a McGill MSc) enter the PhD2 year, unless their MSc is not considered equivalent to a McGill MSc or is in a field significantly different from the subject of their proposed doctoral study, in which case they enter PhD1.
  6. Admissible MSc applicants, or those desiring the PhD but whose grades are too low for direct admission, enter MSc1.
  7. Students entering the department at the MSc1 or PhD2 level do so with an identified supervisor. Supervisors are assigned by the Admissions Committee, following consultation with the faculty concerned.
  8. During their first week at McGill new students will meet with a Preliminary Advisory Committee to discuss the student's goals and how to best achieve them.  The committee will help the student prepare for their research by making written recommendations concerning knowledge that the student needs to gain in order to be successful in their graduate studies at McGill and in their professional career.  This committee will consist of the student's supervisor and three other members of the department (one being an expert in a field similar to that studied by the student and the other two from different fields).
  9. Each graduate student has a Thesis Advisory Committee consisting of the Supervisor and one (in the case of MSc) or two (in the case of PhD) other faculty member(s), selected by the Supervisor in consultation with the student.  The function of the Thesis Advisory Committee is to supply regular advice to the student and to monitor his/her progress. It must meet with the student at least once a year and submit a written report to the department on the student's progress.
  10. New graduate students are expected to attend the majority of departmental seminars during their first year.  All other graduate students and post-docs are encouraged to frequently attend departmental seminars.  These seminars are important for broadening exposure to the range of current Earth science research.
  11. Students entering at the PhD1 level must take a minimum of 6 courses (18 credits) by the end of their PhD2 year. Assignment of courses in the PhD1 year is by the Thesis Advisory Committee.
  12. In the PhD2 year, students should take a minimum of 2 graduate-level courses (6 credits).
  13. With the exception of PhD students in the year that they are taking their comprehensive exam or their defence, all PhD students are required to give one talk to the entire department each academic year.  The talks will be ~20 minutes in length and will be given over lunch time during the academic year. The goal of these presentations to keep everyone abreast of the research performed in the department and to provide an opportunity for graduate students to practice giving talks to non-experts in their field.  Note that presentations to individual research groups will not fulfill this requirement.
  14. All PhD students must take their PhD Comprehensive Oral Examination before the end of their first semester of their PhD3 year. (Student may take the exam earlier, in consultation with their supervisor.) Students who begin their PhD program in September must complete their Exam by November of their PhD3 year. Students who begin their PhD program in January must complete their Exam by the end of March of their PhD 3 year. In preparation for this examination the student must submit a written research proposal to their committee at least 6 weeks prior to their exam. The written proposal must be prepared independently of the Supervisor, although the Supervisor may have provided advice in the scientific design of the project. Provided the committee considers the written proposal acceptable, the proposal and the science associated with it are the subject of an oral examination. The examination may include questions pertaining to the Earth Sciences in general, in addition to ones related specifically to the thesis proposal. Each graduate student is expected to demonstrate a knowledge base equivalent to that taught in our 100-level courses and/or EPSC 201 (Understanding Planet Earth) during this exam. During this exam the student is expected to demonstrate numerical competency, especially in the methods required for their own research.
  15. The PhD Comprehensive Oral Examination is conducted by a committee, distinct for each student, consisting of 5 faculty selected by the Supervisor in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. This committee examines the candidate orally and, based on its assessment of the examination and the written proposal, as well as the student's academic record, recommends either that the student has passed the examination, or that he/she has failed but may retake the examination, or that the student must take a written examination, or that (in the case of a second failure) the student has failed and must withdraw from the doctoral program.  The committee will provide the student with a written evaluation of the exam suggesting areas of the student's knowledge that need improvement and ways of improving that knowledge, such as guided reading or taking a formal course.
  16. If a student chooses to retake the PhD Comprehensive Oral Examination he/she must submit a new written proposal, which may be a revised version of the original one, by the beginning of the following semester and take the oral examination before the end of that semester. Under most circumstances the examining committee will be the same as for the first examination.
  17. A PhD student may back-track to the MSc program at any time. This MSc program is terminal (i.e., they cannot later enter the PhD program). Courses taken in the PhD program are in this case creditable towards the MSc requirements provided they meet the criteria for the MSc program.
  18. A student who fails the PhD Comprehensive Oral Examination may, on the recommendation of the Examining Committee, apply to back-track to a terminal MSc program (i.e., they cannot later enter the PhD program). Courses taken in the PhD program are in this case creditable towards the MSc requirements provided they meet the criteria for the MSc program.
  19. A student in the MSc program is required to take at least 4 graduate courses (12 credits) during his/her 2 years of graduate study.
  20. MSc1 students must submit a written statement of their proposed thesis research to the department by March 1st (November 1st for January entrants) and give a public presentation (~ 20 minutes in duration) of their plans to the department, followed by questions, later in the month.
  21. A student may apply to transfer from the MSc program into PhD2 at the end of MSc1 if he/she has taken 4 courses and has a GPA of not less than 3.5, with no course grade lower than 3.0 (B). Criteria that will be considered in assessing such an application are the grades and academic level of the courses taken and the progress reports from the Thesis Advisory Committee.
  22. Msc2 students must present a summary of their research during the second semester of their second year (an ~ 20 minute talk).  During this presentation the student is expected to demonstrate numerical competency, especially in the methods required for their own research.
  23. Following the submission of grades for each semester the academic performance of all students will be reviewed, based both on the grades and on the reports from Thesis Advisory Committees. Students who are perceived to have problems may be required to appear before a committee. This committee will have the power to require a student to withdraw from the graduate program, or to move from the PhD program to the MSc program, notwithstanding graduate-level passes in all courses, if the Thesis Advisory Committee reports are unsatisfactory, or if the committee considers that inadequate progress has been achieved by the student. The committee will also have the power to require changes in the constitution of Thesis Advisory Committees, not excluding the Thesis Supervisors.
  24. Any graduate student wishing to use the analytical facilities of the department and of neighbouring universities must attend WHMIS training.


    Andrew Hynes, 9 April 1993

    Don R. Baker Revised 28 July 2016

    Jeffrey McKenzie Additional Revisions 24 August 2018

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