PhD dissertation

PhD dissertation

Before doctoral students can begin work on their doctoral dissertations, they must successfully complete their doctoral candidacy requirements

Departmental policies supplement the FGS regulations

PhD students should aim to achieve the best possible dissertation in light of the “Quality of Thesis” requirements as outlined in the FGS Graduate Calendar. Supervisory Committee members will be given the opportunity to read and comment on draft work of doctoral dissertations as each chapter is produced.

The Department strongly recommends that a doctoral dissertation should not exceed 250–300 pages (not including bibliography). Copies of completed dissertations are available. Please inquire with the Graduate Program Administrator or through the online Vault at the University of Calgary

Ultimately, the thesis must be the student’s own work. Editing should take place as part of a learning process, a collaboration between the student and his or her supervisor and other academics in the University. Working with a student to teach him or her how to edit the thesis is part of a learning experience; having a thesis professionally edited is not acceptable. However, permission for professional editing may be granted by the GPD in consultation with the Supervisor, when circumstances warrant.

Please see the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) regulations regarding thesis examinations and requirements.

The Departmental policies and guidelines below supplement the FGS regulations and are, in every case, subordinate to them.


All members of the Supervisory Committee must have reviewed the student’s draft dissertation document before an examination can be scheduled.

Please note the following time requirements:

  • At least six weeks are required for the approval of the external examiner by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
  • At least four weeks prior to the date of the examination, the original Notice of Doctoral Thesis Oral Examination form will be prepared by the Graduate Program Administrator and must be received in the Faculty of Graduate Studies office.
  • At least three weeks prior to the exam, the dissertation must be submitted directly by the student to the members of the examination committee for final examination. The dissertation must be in all respects a final, complete copy and not a draft.

Please note: It is the student’s responsibility to ensure the dissertation arrives in the hands of the examiners as intended. Normally the thesis will be sent electronically to the members of the examination committee as a pdf file. If a member of the examination committee requests a printed copy also, the student must allow time for it to be sent by mail our courier but the pdf version should be considered the official copy.


A student who has successfully completed all Faculty of Graduate Studies and program requirements has the right to submit and defend a dissertation even if doing so may be contrary to the advice of the Supervisor.

The exam begins when the dissertation is distributed. The examiners must not discuss the dissertation or their evaluation of it with each other (or anyone else) prior to the oral examination.


It is the responsibility of the Supervisor to contact the examiners and determine their willingness and availability to serve on the examining committee. The Graduate Program Administrator will prepare the necessary documentation.

The dissertation oral examination committee, at minimum, must consists of:

  • the Supervisor
  • the Co-Supervisor (if one has been appointed)
  • the Supervisory Committee
  • an Internal Examiner who may be internal to the home program.
  • an External Examiner.


Both the Internal External Examiner and the External Examiner normally must satisfy the FGS criteria for examiners (see the FGS Graduate Calendar “Internal & External Examiners”):

  • have well-established research reputation.
  • have expertise in the area of the student’s research.
  • have experience in evaluating theses at the graduate level.
  • have experience in supervising to completion at the graduate level.
  • not be a close personal friend of the Supervisor.
  • not have collaborated with Supervisor in past five years.
  • not be closely related to or have worked with the candidate.


In addition, the external examiner normally:

  • must not have been a supervisor in the candidate’s graduate program in the past three years.
  • must not have served as external examiner in candidate’s program in the past two years.


Thesis oral examination policies and rules for MA (Thesis-based) and PhD students

The Graduate Program Director or his or her designate will serve as the Department’s Neutral Chair. Normally, the Neutral Chair will be a member of the Political Science Department’s Graduate Committee and will normally not be in the same field as the examinee.

The exam is normally an open exam but only the Examination Committee members can question the candidate.

The oral examination begins when the thesis is distributed. The examiners should not discuss the thesis or their evaluation of it with each other (or anyone else) prior to the oral examination.

Before the oral examination, each examiner is required to prepare an assessment of the thesis, on the official Examiner’s Report on Thesis form. These assessments are to be submitted to the Neutral Chair before the oral examination begins.

The assessments are confidential until the final decision is made. After the examination the Examiners’ Reports are available to the student, upon request. The examiners’ deliberations are private and confidential.

Ordinarily, the oral examination should not exceed two hours. This does not include deliberation time of the Examination Committee.

The following oral examination procedures should be followed.

  • Student’s Opening Remarks: • It is a common (although not mandatory) practice for the student to present opening remarks (up to 15 minutes) which introduce the research and highlight its significance.
  • Rounds of Questions to the Candidate: No one other than a member of the Examination Committee is allowed to question the candidate. All examiners must be given an opportunity to question the candidate early in the examination, e.g., by rounds of questioning.
  • Questions to the candidate should be relevant to the subject matter of the thesis, clear and succinctly phrased.

At the end of the thesis oral examination, everyone except the committee and the neutral chair is required to withdraw from the room. Before the discussion, each examiner identifies, by secret ballot, whether she or he favours recommending a pass with no revision, a pass with minor revisions, a pass with major revisions, or fail on the thesis and pass or fail on the oral defence.

Following a count of the straw vote, the Neutral Chair will facilitate a post-examination discussion.

In addition to FGS required documentation, at the conclusion of the discussion, the Department requires that each examiner indicate and initial her or his recommendation for the thesis and oral on the Departmental Report of Doctoral Thesis Examination form.

Recommendation to the Dean of Graduate Studies must be unanimous. If it is not unanimous, the Dean of Graduate Studies will decide the outcome of the thesis and the oral examination.