Guidelines for Graduate Studies in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences


This page addresses various guidelines for graduate students currently enrolled in a NRS program. The information below is designed to inform graduate students about their and the NRS department's role during their graduate studies. 

Click here for Graduate information session slides  

Click here for the pre-approved NRS Complementary Graduate Courses 

Click here for the PhD Comprehensive Exam Instructions 

Click here for MSc and PhD Thesis guidelines 

Course Requirements


In addition to the general requirements set out by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, each discipline in the Department has a defined set of minimum course requirements. Additional information can be found on the GPS website.

Undergraduate Level Courses

Students may, with the approval of, or at the request of, his/her supervisory committee, take courses to be passed at the undergraduate level. These courses shall not be among those designated as required for the degree. The decision to take a course "to be passed at the undergraduate level" must be made at the time of registration.

Advanced undergraduate courses may be considered for graduate level credit if approved by the student's supervisory committee and passed at the graduate level (> 65%).


Students are expected to pass all courses at the level for which they were registered. Should a student fail a course, the Committee on Graduate Studies would consider a recommendation by the student's supervisory committee that the student be permitted to write a supplemental examination if available or to repeat the course. The course of action must be decided within 1 month of the date of the original failure. Such a recommendation would be considered only once during the entire period that a student is studying for his/her degree. If the student fails the supplemental examination, or a second course during his/her program, he/she will automatically be required to withdraw, as no further recommendations will be considered. This pertains to all courses (undergraduate or graduate) required for the degree.

Department's Commitment to the Student

When a student is accepted for graduate studies in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, the Department recognizes its commitment to provide facilities and supervision for the student to enable completion of the program, under the regulations set by the University and Department. This commitment is conditional on the student maintaining satisfactory academic performance, and fulfilling the other obligations outlined below.

Duration of Graduate Programs

Successful completion of a M.Sc. degree in this Department generally takes 2 years. With a Masters it takes approximately 3 years to complete a Ph.D. although exceptional M.Sc. students may be considered for Ph.D. after only one full year of study in the Department. The decision is made by the Committee on Graduate Studies upon a unanimous written recommendation from the student's supervisory committee. Completion of the transfer to Ph.D. degree should then take approximately four years in total.

Financial Support:

Departmental assistantships, University scholarships and scholarships from outside sources normally limit their financial support to 2 years for a M.Sc. candidate and 3 years for a Ph.D. candidate.

General Admission Standards

Master’s of Science (M.Sc). Program:
Minimum Requirements:
The following list outlines the minimum requirements for admission to graduate studies and applies to both Canadian and International students.

  • A Bachelor's degree (or equivalent as recognized by McGill University) in a subject closely related to the one selected for graduate work. If you have obtained your educational credentials at an institution outside of Canada, they will be assessed for equivalency with a McGill University degree. Please consult the International Degree Equivalency page for more information. 
  • High academic achievement: The minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) is 3.0 out of a possible 4.0, or a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.2 out of 4.0 in the last two years of full-time studies. In some departments, however, a higher CGPA is required for admission. Consult the McGill programs page for details.
  • Proficiency in English: The primary language of instruction at McGill is English. Prior to admission, you may need to demonstrate an adequate level of proficiency in English. For more information, visit the English Language Proficiency page.

Applicants who, in the opinion of the Department Committee on Graduate Studies, do not meet the Departmental admission standards may be advised to enter a Special Undergraduate Program designed to improve their academic standing. Guidelines for this are indicated below. Mature students who do not meet the above admission criteria are also encouraged to apply and their background experience will be considered.

Ph.D. Program

Candidates holding a M.Sc. degree (or its equivalent) from McGill University or other recognized university can be admitted to Ph.D.2 to pursue studies in the same discipline. Candidates holding a M.Sc. degree in a discipline other than the area intended for the Ph.D. degree can be admitted at the level of Ph.D. 1 to allow time for re-orientation to the new discipline.

Qualifying Program and Other Requirements

Those students who meet the academic requirement, but whose background is inappropriate for direct admission to the regular graduate program (M.Sc. or Ph.D.) may be required to register as a qualifying student. No student will be accepted into the Regular or Qualifying Graduate Program unless a staff member has agreed to serve as the student's supervisor. Admission to the graduate program generally depends upon the students obtaining financial support. In the case of international students, proof of such support must be provided as part of the application. 

Grad Studies: Part-Time or at another Institution:

Students enrolled in the Department who wish to pursue graduate studies part-time and/or conduct part of their research at another institution (e.g. a Federal or Provincial Research Station), will be considered individually. Students registered in a Graduate Faculty at another university are welcome in the Department for a semester or a year of study. Such students will be required to register in Graduate Studies as "Visiting Students". 

The Committee on Graduate Studies may request that a student complete a Graduate Record Examination(s)(GRE), prior to acceptance, if transcripts cannot be assessed with accuracy.

Special Undergraduate Program (SPUG)

The SPUG program is an option for students whose grade point average is greater than 2.8 but less than 3.0, and who wish eventually to do graduate work in our Department. Although successful completion of the SPUG does not, however, automatically guarantee the student a place in the Department. The guidelines for the SPUG Program apply principally to McGill University students, but may be extended to students from other institutions at the discretion of the Department Committee on Graduate Studies.

To be considered students must:

Indicate their intention (in writing) to the Chair of the Department (The Department Committee on Graduate Studies will evaluate each case individually).

Once accepted for in the SPUG program:

 The Committee may recommend that the student take an additional semester of at least four undergraduate courses with the understanding that, if the student achieves, in this semester, a GPA of 3.0 or better with such a course load, he/she will be academically acceptable for graduate studies. The courses taken must be approved by the Department Committee on Graduate Studies. 

For information about complete graduate admission policies, please refer to our Programs, Courses and University Regulations guide.

For more graduate information for prospective students see the Future Graduate Students page.

Guidelines Concerning a Master's Thesis

Different universities and different disciplines may accord different status to the thesis as part of the requirements for the M.Sc. degree. We offer the following guidance for theses in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences.


The Master's thesis should be comparable to the substance of a full-length article in a refereed journal, but of more detail and greater length. The thesis should;

  1. Deal with a well-defined problem
  2. Contain a sufficient review of previous work
  3. Offer sufficient analysis of data
  4. Draw logical conclusions (shown in the context of the original problem)

The manuscript should consist of 80 to 100 pages including tables and bibliography, but may vary in length depending upon subject matter. The manuscript must be organized and the material presented according to McGill Guidelines Concerning Thesis Preparation

Visit the GPS webpage on graduate theses.


With respect to references, abbreviations, tables, etc., the format must be consistent with a scientific journal dealing with the student's discipline. Students should refer to the Council of Biology Editors' Style Manual and authors must be referred to by name in the text rather than by a number. The student should consult the McGill Guidelines Concerning Thesis Preparation. Find the link to BES manual on the McGill library website


The purpose of the Master's thesis is to demonstrate that the student can, with Faculty supervision and assistance, design and execute an experiment(s). It is not expected that it should necessarily demonstrate originality of concept or of conclusions; rather, the originality may be in the area of application of existing methods or theories, or in a comparison of existing methods or theories.

Examiners and Evaluation

A draft of the thesis for submission to Graduate Studies should be read and evaluated, at least by the supervisor, within a one-month period, and comments and suggestions returned to the student. The submitted thesis is evaluated by an External Examiner who is normally from McGill. The external examiner can be from within the department as long as he/she was not involved directly in the research. The selected external examiner has to be approved by the Graduate Program Director. The student shall be informed of the name prior to its submission.

Guidelines Concerning a Doctor of Philosophy Thesis

The requirements of the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies are outline in the publication entitled "General Information, Faculty Regulations and Research Guidelines".

Comprehensive examination

Information regarding the Comprehensive examination can be found here


A thesis for the doctoral degree must constitute the following characteristics:

  • Original scholarship
  • Be a distinct contribution to knowledge
  • Show familiarity with previous work in the field
  • Demonstrate ability to plan and carry out research, organize results, and defend the approach and conclusions in a scholarly manner
  • The research presented must meet current standards of the discipline
  • Clearly demonstrates how the research advances knowledge in the field
  • Must be written in compliance with norms for academic and scholarly expression and for publication in the public domain

Thesis evaluation

A draft of the thesis for submission to Graduate Studies should be read and evaluated, at least by the supervisor, within a one-month period, and comments and suggestions returned to the student. The submitted Ph.D. thesis is evaluated by Internal and External Examiners. The selected internal and external examiners have to be approved by the Graduate Program Director. The student shall be informed of the names prior to its submission.

 For the defense, the thesis is examined by a committee of not less than five and not more than seven members, exclusive of the Pro-Dean. At least one of the committee members should be from outside the Department of Natural Resource Sciences. The Department Chair (or designate) and Thesis Supervisor are usually members of the committee.

For more resources and services for students consult McGill’s Resources and Services webpage

Obligations of the Student

The student is expected to display a norm of professional activity and to abide by the regulations of the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Students are expected to maintain a presence in the Department, as defined by their respective supervisory committees. The reference to Department here includes not only the central area of the Macdonald-Stewart Building but wherever the research and/or course work may require him/her to be.


Under the guidance of their supervisors, students are expected to write and publish at least one peer-reviewed scientific article during their graduate studies in the Department. Presentation of research results at scientific meetings is expected. As a minimum, it is expected that the draft(s) of a paper(s) for publication will be presented to the student's supervisor before the student leaves the Department.

To protect students and staff, copies of all original research data will be given by the student to the thesis supervisor as the data are collected. It should be recognized that McGill and its staff members are legally responsible to funding agencies for ethical conduct of research, and the completion and publication of research findings.

Supervision of Graduate Studies

Each graduate student registered in the Department is assigned to a Supervisor.

The supervisor’s role is to:

  1. Ensure proper development and execution of the project
  2. Assist the student in his/her selection of courses and in all matters pertaining to the student's program.

Supervisory Committee:

 Each student will have a supervisory committee comprised of a minimum of two members. One member must be the student’s supervisor and another must be a full-time member of the Department. This will serve as a resource for all aspects of the student’s graduate program. The supervisor committee must be approved by the Committee on Graduate Studies.

Supervisory committee members will have the opportunity to provide input regarding project and/or thesis preparation. In consultation with the supervisor, the student or any member of the supervisory committee may arrange for a meeting at any time.

The committee must:

  1. Approve the research or project proposal (to be submitted to the committee in writing).
  2. Approve the course program of the student.
  3. Conduct at least one annual review of the student's academic progress.

Note: Committee members who are absent for an extended period of time should be replaced. 

At the time of initial registration, a "Progress Report" form, for each student, will be provided to supervisors. Evaluation forms will be distributed by the Graduate Student Secretary; the supervisor, in consultation with the student, will then arrange a committee meeting to complete the report. The initial report must be completed and returned to the Chair of the Committee on Graduate Studies within 60 days after the student registers in the program. If this is not possible, a letter or email to the Graduate Program Director should so indicate with valid reason. Failure to comply by the deadline could result in the student not being permitted to register in the following semester.

For more information about progress reports visit the GPS website

Unsatisfactory Reports:

When a student receives an unsatisfactory report, the supervisory committee in consultation with the Graduate Program Director will recommend to the student a course of action to obtain a satisfactory report. The student is then re-evaluated by the supervisory committee three months later to hopefully obtain a satisfactory report. A positive evaluation puts the student back in good standing whereas an unsatisfactory report will require the student to withdraw from the program.


In the case of a disagreement between the student and his/her supervisor regarding his/her Graduate Program, the supervisory committee will be charged to resolve the problem. Alternatively, or if the problem cannot be resolved, it will be brought to the Committee on Graduate Studies which will make a recommendation to the Department Chair. The Chair will then either decide on the matter or take it to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for advisement. 

Teaching Assistantships

As a matter of policy, the Department recognizes that participation in teaching is a valuable part of a graduate student's program and students will be given the opportunity to assist with teaching. Teaching assistantship funds will be available if a major teaching commitment is requested of the student. A major commitment is defined as participation in more than four hours of lecture and/or two hours of laboratory sessions per semester. Students who are requested to mark quizzes and/or exams will also be paid from teaching assistantship funds.

For more information on Teaching Assistantships visit the Graduate Assistantships webpage

Vacations and Benefits

Vacations for graduate students are to be arranged with and approved by the student's supervisor; a total of 3 weeks per year is a guideline. Vacations must be arranged so as not to interfere with the student's research, requirements of the student's supervisor or the student's teaching obligations to the Department.

Since full-time students do not contribute to the McGill benefits plan, no maternity or sick leave is guaranteed by the University. Cases of absence due to illness must be reported to the student's supervisor. If a student is absent due to prolonged illness, consideration for continued financial support would be given on an individual basis by the student's supervisor and the Department Chair.


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