1. Guidelines for Completion of a Doctoral Degree
    1. Supervisor & Advisory Committee
    2. Timelines
    3. Comprehensive Exam
    4. Doctoral Thesis Proposal
    5. Doctoral Thesis

For a list of all program requirements, visit Graduate Calendar | Programs | DSAAI.

Guidelines for Completion of a Doctoral Degree

Supervisor & Advisory Committee

Every Ph.D. student is assigned a Supervisor upon admission. See the Graduate Supervision – Responsibilities and Expectations Policy document from Graduate Studies for a detailed description of the role of Supervisors.

Some students may have more than one supervisor. In such cases, at least one supervisor must be a DSAAI Faculty.

In consultation with the Supervisor(s), an Advisory Committee must be constituted, consisting of the Supervisor(s) and at least one additional DSAAI Faculty member. The purpose of this committee is to assist the student in terms of the study plan, monitor the student’s progress, and help set up various committees (comprehensive, proposal, and defense) at appropriate times.

The members of the Advisory Committee will likely be in the Thesis Proposal Committee and the Examination Board for Thesis Defence for the student. Students are advised to discuss the annual Progress Report with all the members of their Advisory Committee.


The following completion times are estimates based on full-time study.

Program requirements To be completed by
The student and their Supervisor(s) should select graduate courses related to their area(s) of research and interests.

Approval from the DSAAI Program Director is only required for courses not listed as Approved Electives.

During the first term
An advisory committee of two to five faculty members must be established.

The DSAAI Program Director must approve the advisory committee.

Before the student declares their intention to complete the comprehensive exam.
All course requirements must be completed. Within the first four (4) terms.
The comprehensive exam should be completed. Within the first four (4) terms.
The student must submit a written thesis proposal and successfully defend it in an oral examination. Within the first six (6) terms.
The Ph.D. program is expected to complete. Within approximately twelve terms.
  • With the Supervisor(s) and DSAAI Program Director agreement, these deadlines can be extended.
  • The student must be and remain registered in their thesis before completing the comprehensive exam.

Comprehensive Exam

Every Ph.D. student needs to pass a comprehensive exam. The exam aims to assess the student’s ability to do doctoral research and serves as a starting point for the Ph.D. literature survey and selection of a research topic.

The student prepares and submits a document focusing on the problem statement, literature review, and gap analysis for the comprehensive exam. The student defends their submission in an oral exam, including questions from examiners, but no presentation.

The comprehensive exam includes a committee consisting of a chairperson from one of the participating units (a supervisor cannot chair the committee), two examiners from the participating units, and the Supervisor(s).

When a student fails the first attempt, they have one more try. A student who fails the comprehensive exam twice is withdrawn from the Ph.D. program. The deadline to pass the comprehensive exam in a term is the last day of exams (as set by the graduate calendar). Any term since admission counts towards this limit, but an LOA (Leave Of Absence) does not count.

Process and Evaluation

Step 1

The Supervisor initiates the process by establishing a general topic for the literature review and providing a list of relevant papers. It is the Supervisor’s responsibility to invite a chairperson and two examiners: ideally, one internal to the student’s home unit and one external.

Committee Selection

    1. The Supervisor identifies the chairperson and two examiners.
    2. The Supervisor invites examiners.
    3. The Supervisor informs the Graduate Administrator of the chairperson and two invited examiners.

In consultation with the examiners, the Supervisor may extend the list with additional relevant papers. The final list may typically contain 20 to 30 papers.

The Supervisor should submit the chosen topic title and list of papers to the Graduate Administrator at least one month before the comprehensive exam date.

Step 2

The student prepares a report consisting of a critical review of the papers provided in accordance with the following expectations. The student may include other cited work. The reference list should clearly identify which papers were from the initial list and which are additions. In a separate section, the student should provide a bullet-form justification for including each additional paper.

Task and Expectations

Building on the given list of research papers, the report includes:

      • Clear categories of the main challenges in the topic’s research area.
      • Clear categories of the current solutions and methodologies that address each of the current challenges and how they address them.
      • Based on these categories, the student identifies gaps in the research area. This item is a critical part of the report.

The student is:

      • Not asked to find new solutions.
      • Not asked to create a report that is suitable for submission for publications. The document is limited to a maximum of ten thousand words, excluding references.
      • Responsible for proper grammar and spelling checking of the document through a proper professional service if needed.

What is not acceptable:

      • A sequential summary of papers.
      • Joint work with anyone (including other students) in any form. The document should be solely the work of the student.
      • Failing to acknowledge existing survey papers in the area and pointing out how the presented document is not a copy of these papers.
      • The reviewed work should not include anything by the student themselves, e.g., a description of experiments that the student has designed or completed.

Step 3

The student should submit the report to the Graduate Administrator by three weeks before the exam date.The Graduate Administrator sends the document to all committee members. This starts the clock for two weeks (or more) from the oral exam. All rules are also shared with the examiners. They are made aware of the available grading options.


The student is allowed to go to the oral exam regardless of the result of the written document assessment.

The written document assessment does not need to be sent to the chairperson but is shared with the committee during the oral exam. However, if an examiner recommends failure based on the submitted report, written feedback should be provided to the student and Supervisor(s) before the oral exam. The student may address the concerns before going to the oral exam.

The committee decides to pass or fail the student based on the combined assessment of the document and oral exam.

Doctoral Thesis Proposal

The Doctoral Thesis Proposal consists of a written document defining the specific problem addressed, relating it to the state-of-the-art literature, reporting on the hypothesis, goals, and any initial results, and outlining the proposed research methodology and validation procedure(s). The proposal summarizes what has been done so far and what is expected to be completed in the final dissertation. The Thesis Proposal must identify the final dissertation’s expected contributions and how these contributions will be validated.

Doctoral Thesis Proposal Committee

The Supervisor should establish a Ph.D. Doctoral Thesis Proposal Committee comprising three to five faculty members before the end of the fifth term of the initial registration. This committee must include the following:

    • Supervisor(s).
    • Two faculty members, at least one of which is a DSAAI Faculty.

The committee is responsible for the Doctoral Thesis Proposal Examination and grading. The Graduate Director must approve this committee.

Scheduling of the Oral Examination

In consultation with the committee members, the Supervisor fixes a date and time for the Oral Examination. This information is conveyed to the Graduate Administrator by completing the Scheduling a Doctoral Proposal form. This form should be completed at least three weeks before the proposed date of the Oral Exam. In addition to the Committee members, the Oral Exam requires a Chair, who is a faculty member at Carleton University (not from any of the participating units of DSAAI) familiar with the rules and regulations of the DSAAI program and Graduate Studies. It is the responsibility of the Supervisor to find a Chair for the examination. The Graduate Administrator will then prepare a formal notice of the Oral Examination.

Submission of the Written Thesis Proposal

The student must submit a Written Thesis Proposal to the committee at least four weeks before the Oral Examination. The student submits an electronic version to the Graduate Administrator. The Graduate Administrator is responsible for circulating the Thesis Proposal and the formal Notice of the Oral Examination to all the committee members, including the Chair.

Format of the Oral Examination

The Chair invites the student to make a succinct presentation (15-20 minutes) to the committee members. After the presentation, committee members ask, in turn, questions to the student about all aspects of the Thesis Proposal. Questions are asked in two rounds, where the first round is one-on-one questioning, and the second round has no set format. The student’s job is to convince all the committee members that what is being proposed is worthy of a doctoral thesis. The Oral Examination typically runs for 90-120 minutes.

Grading of Thesis Proposal

After the Oral Examination, the committee members deliberate on the acceptability of the Doctoral Thesis Proposal. The Chair of the Oral Examination Committee documents the results using the official grading sheets provided by the Graduate Administrator. If the Thesis Proposal is unacceptable, the Doctoral Thesis Proposal Committee will recommend appropriate actions on the grading form.

    • Note that all the requirements for the Thesis Proposal should be completed by the end of the sixth term of the initial registration.

Doctoral Thesis

According to the Carleton Graduate Calendar, the Doctoral Thesis must report the results of original research in an organized and scholarly fashion. The thesis must be a contribution to the advance of knowledge. It must demonstrate the ability to conceptualize, design, and implement research for the generation of new knowledge, applications, or understanding at the forefront of the discipline and adjust the research design or methodology considering unforeseen problems. All contributions must be identified in the initial chapter of the thesis (summarized in the abstract and conclusions of the thesis). All claims, particularly those about the originality, significance, correctness, and validation of the results, must be supported (through proper argumentation, formal proofs, references, empirical evidence, simulation, experimentation etc.). Scholarship and an in-depth understanding of the published state-of-the-art in the relevant research field must also be demonstrated. For this purpose, a section or chapter summarizing and discussing the state-of-the-art and detailed bibliography is recommended.

Throughout the thesis, all writings and works of others must be properly identified and referenced. Plagiarism (e.g., unreferenced paraphrasing or quoting) constitutes a serious academic offense. The Supervisor(s) have the right to refuse a thesis that does not meet the standard of quality discussed above or is poorly written (i.e., formatting or English grammar and spelling). It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that a well-written and grammatically correct thesis is submitted on time.

A thesis must be submitted and successfully defended at an oral examination within the program’s time limits. The expected completion time for the doctoral program is twelve terms from the initial registration. A thesis can only be submitted after all the other program requirements are satisfied (including courses, proposal, and comprehensive). Each student ensures they have satisfied all the other program requirements. Once registered in DATA 6909, a student must maintain continuous registration until completion. Failure to do so may result in losing status as a graduate student.

There are numerous links to follow to grasp various aspects of a Doctoral Thesis. The DSAAI program follows the rules, guidelines, procedures, requirements, deadlines, academic integrity, and formatting instructions of theses, including citations, illustrations, title page, abstract, summary, etc., as specified by Graduate Studies. These can be easily found by following the appropriate links on the Graduate Studies website under Thesis Requirements. There are some additional sets of procedures followed in the DSAAI program, and they will be detailed here. There are many relevant workshops that Graduate Studies organizes to assist you in writing and presenting research. Please make use of these workshops.

For details on the Thesis Examination, it is best to consult the Thesis Examination Policy and Thesis Policy Forms on the Graduate Studies website.

Note that it is often the case that the Thesis will include some published articles by the student, and there may be co-authors associated with these publications. Carleton University has an Integrated Thesis Policy. If your Thesis may have such content, it is best to refer to Section 12.4 of the General Regulations of the Graduate Calendar.

Constitution of the Thesis Examination Board

Membership of the Examination Board includes:

    • An External Examiner from outside of Carleton University who is a recognized authority in the subject of the thesis and who has no conflict of interest with the candidate and the supervisor(s).
    • An Internal Examiner from a department other than that of the candidate and who has been at arm’s length from the thesis research.
    • Two members, one of which should a DSAAI Faculty member.
    • Supervisor(s).
    • Chair.

The Supervisor initiates the process of the formation of the Examination Board. After identifying the Board Members, the Supervisor informs the Graduate Administrator and the DSAAI Program Director about the possible composition of the Board. After consultation with the Supervisor(s), the DSAAI Director recommends membership of the Thesis Examination Board to the Dean of Graduate Studies. The DSAAI Director is also provided the abbreviated CV and justification for the appropriateness of the nominated external examiner in terms of expertise and conflict of interest.


Formation of the Board and scheduling of the defence is an elaborate process, and several administrative bodies are involved. The Supervisor(s) initiates the whole process by submitting the PhD Thesis Defence Committee Specification form. Note that this form is due to the Graduate Administrator at least six weeks before the defence can take place. Graduate Studies has automated aspects of thesis submission via Carleton Central. It is important to follow those steps as well. Please consult the Electronic Thesis Deposit, where the student uploads the examination copy of the thesis and some relevant forms. The Supervisor, DSAAI Program Director, and Dean of Graduate Studies are asked to sign off electronically.

Thesis Submission Process

The student is expected to submit an electronic copy (and hard copies depending on the requirements of the Examination Board members) of the Thesis at least six weeks before the actual date of the thesis examination. Students must also submit a signed copy of the Academic Integrity Statement- Thesis Submission with the Thesis. Student submits the thesis to their Supervisor(s). The Supervisor(s) forwards the approved copy of the Thesis to the Graduate Administrator. Only after receiving all these documents does the Graduate Administrator forward the Thesis to all the members of the Examination Board. In addition to this, please also consult Electronic Thesis Deposit. The student uploads the examination copy of the thesis and some relevant forms via Carleton Central.

Scheduling of the Examination

The Supervisor(s) coordinates with all the members of the Examination Board (except the Chair) to arrive at a date for the Examination. The Supervisor communicates this to the Graduate Administrator through the Ph.D. Thesis Defence Committee Specification Form. Upon receipt of this form and all other documents (Thesis, Thesis Defence Authorization form, Academic Integrity Statement, etc.), the Graduate Administrator prepares a Notice of Thesis Examination.

The Dean of Graduate Studies writes to the external examiner to review procedures followed in the defence, to outline judgments to be made, and to ask that any major concerns be communicated in the report to be submitted at least one week in advance of the examination. Note that only after receiving all the relevant documents from the Dean of Graduate Studies does the Dean announce the examination date, time, and place. Any special arrangements for the participation of the examiners (telephone, videoconferencing, etc.) are included in the examination notice. As directed by the Dean Graduate Studies, the date of this announcement must be at least four weeks in advance of the date of the examination. Please respect all these deadlines.

The Examination

Please consult the Thesis Examination Policy document for a detailed overview of how the whole examination runs. This includes an in-camera session, the oral presentation, two rounds of questioning on the thesis, closing statements by the student, deliberations on the grades for the Thesis and Oral Examination, and the outcome. Note that the outcome of this examination is whether the Oral Defence is Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory; whether the Thesis is Accepted, Acceptable after minor revisions, Acceptable after major modifications, or Rejected; and whether the Thesis grade is Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. Please consult the Thesis Examination Policy document to understand what these grades mean.

Final Submission

Thesis and Oral grades have further implications regarding submitting the final copy of the Thesis. Eventually, when the Thesis is ready after addressing all the minor and major changes, as required by the Examination Board, the student uploads the Thesis to Carleton Central for approval by the Supervisor(s). Once the Supervisor(s) approves the Thesis, it is forwarded to Graduate Studies. If Graduate Studies determines that the student has fulfilled all the requirements of the Ph.D., Graduate Studies transfers the Thesis to the Carleton Library and recommends to the Senate through the Faculty Board of Graduate Studies that the degree be awarded to the student. Please refer to the document on Thesis Examination Policy for all the logistics.