The purpose of the Oral examination of the thesis proposal is to:
- Ensure that proposed research will result in a successful PhD dissertation.
- To strengthen the thesis question, design, and methods through critical feedback.
- Examine the Students’ ability to conduct independent and original research.
- Examine sufficient content/substantive knowledge base relevant to their thesis topic.
- Provide a formal approval to proceed with the dissertation research.
Format: The proposal will include a brief and cogent review of the literature, justification of the research question, the objectives and hypotheses, design, data collection or data sources, proposed analysis strategies, timetable, ethics, and potential problems or issues. The proposal will conclude with references in proper bibliographic format. The proposal also will include a concise statement of the Student’s role in the development and conduct of the research. A title page, with word count, will include the names and signatures of the Supervisor and other Supervisory Committee members. The proposal will be printed using a 12-point font, and limited to 20 double-spaced pages. The bibliography and title page are not included in the page or word counts. Appendices should be kept to a minimum.
Oral examination of proposal:
The exam on dissertation proposal consists of a written outline of the dissertation proposal and an oral presentation. The completion of this process also counts as the protocol approval, which is required for candidacy. The examination will assess the following areas:
- The literature review is comprehensive and specific to the content area;
- The proposed work demonstrates scholarly impact and innovation with respect to methods and/or substantive contribution;
- Quality of research approach, including:
- Clarity of research question/objectives
- Completeness and relevance to study design/research plan
- Rationale for approach and methodology
- Appropriateness of research design
- Appropriateness of research methods and statistical analyses
- Feasibility of research approach including power calculation as appropriate
- Requirement, timeline, preliminary data etc.
- Anticipation of difficulties/limitations and plans for management
- Ethical considerations
- The project is adequate and appropriate for a PhD dissertation and manageable within the time-frame and expectations of the PhD program.
The proposal presentation must be attended by the Student, the Supervisory Committee. The evaluation will be carried out by two external reviewers identified by the Student and Supervisory Committee and approved by the Program Director and an additional Program Director’s Representative appointed by the Program Director. The presentation will be advertised within the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences, and students and faculty are encouraged to attend. At least one reviewer (Full or Associate member of SGS) should have research supervisory experience at the doctoral level in epidemiology. Reviewers should have had no previous involvement with the development of the proposal under review.
Process for evaluation:
- The Student’s Supervisory Committee approves the written proposal, at least three weeks before the anticipated date of examination.
- The Student contacts the Program Director, with a copy to the Administrative Assistant, to give notice that the proposal is ready for examination, together with the names and email addresses, and rationale for the 2 potential reviewers. The Program Director will appoint a third Program Director’s Representative to oversee the evaluation. The Examination committee for the dissertation exam will consist of the approved two external reviewers, Program Director’s Representative and Supervisory committee.
- The Supervisor contacts reviewers and arranges the date/time of the presentation, and informs the program Administrative Assistant of the arrangements.
- The Administrative Assistant reserves a room and any required audiovisual equipment specified by the student, and posts notices on bulletin boards and e-mail, including a confirmatory e-mail to the reviewers and Supervisory Committee.
- The Student distributes the proposal to the three reviewers, Supervisory Committee members, and Administrative Assistant, three weeks before the date of the examination.
- The examination will begin with a 20-minute presentation by the Student of the research proposal, followed by a period of questions and discussion. Presentation, questions are posed to the student in two rounds, with 10 minutes allotted to each examiner per round, with the three reviewers taking the lead in the questions. The Program Director’s Representative will chair the proceedings and act as timekeeper. The question period will typically be expected to last 60 to 80 minutes. The Supervisor and Program Director’s Representative will take notes of all issues raised.
- At the end of formal questioning, the Student and other attendees not part of the review panel will leave the room, and the reviewers and Supervisory Committee will have a general discussion of four elements (I – IV) outlined above. The reviewers will rate the performance of the Student using a standardized form and a Pass/Provisional Pass/Fail decision will be reached. The Supervisor and the Program Director’s Representative will take note of the feedback and the Director’s Representative will prepare a summary of the recommendations. The following outline the implications for the evaluation:
Pass: The Student may proceed with dissertation work and remaining program progression, taking note of all feedback received during the protocol defense and in consultation with the supervisor considering minor amendments to their doctoral research accordingly.
Provisional Pass: The Student must create a point-by-point response to the concerns/issues raised and make changes to the proposal 60 days of the examination. Once the Supervisory committee has approved the revisions, the proposal must be submitted to the Program Director and Administrative Assistant as a final record. A Pass will then be recorded.
Fail: A failure indicates that the performance was inadequate and/or the protocol has major deficiencies in any of the IV domains. In event that the Student fails the protocol examination in the first attempt, will be permitted one more attempt. Failure of the second attempt will result in a recommendation for program termination.
- At the conclusion of the discussion, the Student will be invited into the room to learn the general outline of the committee’s decision. The Program Director’s reviewer nominated as the Program Director’s Representative will be responsible for conveying the recommendations of the examination committee according to the standardized form. The decision will be conveyed to the Program Director and administrative assistant following the examination.