Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
PhD Program Policies
Approved by the Department 30 April 2009
Amended version approved by the Department 28 February 2017
Amended version approved by the Department 25 October 2018

These policies govern the operation of the PhD programs in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

  1. PhD Comprehensive Exam
  2. PhD Proposal Exam
  3. Processes Governing the Comprehensive and Proposal Exams
  4. Deadlines
  5. Committees
  6. Course Requirements
  7. Seminar Requirements
  8. Direct Transfer to PhD Program from an MASc Program
A. PhD Comprehensive Exam

The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to determine if the candidate has a sufficiently strong background in their research field and in related areas of fundamental engineering principles to conduct PhD level work. The comprehensive will focus primarily on the student’s research field and related areas of knowledge. Questions in the comprehensive exam should test fundamental principles and knowledge in the undergraduate fields related to the candidate’s field of research, and can also include knowledge gained from relevant graduate courses and from the candidate’s early preparation for their thesis work. In keeping with the idea of a “comprehensive” exam, it should be fairly broadly based, and not concentrate exclusively on knowledge directly related to the thesis topic.

The following regulations govern the comprehensive:

  1. The comprehensive examination is an oral examination that is normally the first part of a
    combined session with the proposal examination (described below). The total duration of this
    combined exam is approximately three hours.
  2. The advisory committe can return one of three verdicts
    1. Pass – the student can proceed in their program
    2. Supplemental Exam – the student generally shows a satisfactory Background for PhD work, but has a weakness in a particular area. In this case the committee may assign a written supplemental exam in that area, and may recommend particular reading or study to strengthen the student’s background in preparation for the supplemental. If the committee is then satisfied with the student’s performance in the supplemental, the mark will be revised to a Pass; otherwise, it becomes a Fail. The supplemental must be completed within two months of the initial attempt at the examination.
    3. Fail– the student shows insufficient knowledge of the field to proceed with the PhD program.
  3. If the comprehensive examination is failed, it may be repeated once only. Failure of the second attempt at the comprehensive will result in withdrawal from the program.
  4. The syllabus for the comprehensive examination is set by the student’s advisory committee and is conveyed to the student in writing. This syllabus should include a list of topics and directions as to which courses or textbooks should be reviewed in preparation for the exam.
B. PhD Proposal Exam

The purpose of the thesis proposal is to determine whether the candidate has acquired sufficient knowledge of the intended thesis topic area to formulate and carry out a viable PhD research plan.

The following regulations govern the PhD proposal:

1.The candidate shall prepare a written research proposal of not more than 50 pages in length which contains the following elements:

– introduction and outline of the problem;
– a critical survey of the literature related to the thesis topic, assessing the current state of the field, and showing how the proposed thesis topic fills the knowledge gap revealed by the literature survey;
– an outline of the work proposed for the thesis, including the major tasks required, the methodologies employed, and a rough schedule of work. The choice of methodologies and the tasks proposed should be justified by reference to the literature.

The proposal may also contain the results of preliminary research work if the student wishes, although it does not have to.

2. The written proposal must be given to the advisory committee a minimum of two weeks before it is examined.

3. The proposal examination consists of an oral presentation and defense of the written proposal before the advisory committee.

4.The advisory committee can return one of two verdicts:

a). Pass: the student can proceed in their thesis research. To be granted a pass, the candidate must, through the written proposal and the oral examination,

– demonstrate a critical knowledge of relevant recent literature in the field,including a sound understanding of the fundamental principles and the important phenomena, methodologies (experimental, computational, etc.) and conclusions;

– demonstrate that the proposed research plan is feasible;
– demonstrate that they are capable of independent work.

b. Fail: the student has insufficient knowledge and preparation to proceed Further with their thesis research.

A majority of examiners including the supervisor must agree on the verdict; i.e. the supervisor must be in       agreement with the verdict.

5. If the proposal examination is failed, it may be repeated once only. Repeating the examination will require         submission of a new research proposal document. Failure of the second attempt at the proposal examination       will result in withdrawal from the program.

6. The comprehensive examination must be passed before the proposal can be examined.

C. Processes Governing the Comprehensive and Proposal Exams

Prior to the Exams

  1. Note that the comprehensive exam and proposal exam must be submitted, and the proposal examination must be completed within 4 terms FT or 8 terms PT of initial registration in the PhD program.
  2. Before the examination date, typically 4-6 weeks prior to the exams:
    1. The thesis supervisor will identify an examination committee, consisting of the supervisor, any co-supervisors if applicable, and 2 other members of the full-time research Faculty in the department. The supervisor will also, with the help of the department, identify a Chair for the exams.
    2. The committee and thesis supervisors will agree on a body of knowledge that would be appropriately expected for the student to master, given the nature of the thesis topic and breadth of expertise required. They will advise the student in writing of this expectation, possibly including suggested reference works that cover the appropriate breadth and depth of knowledge.  A copy of this written advice must be provided to the Graduate Administrator and to the Assoc. Chair for Graduate Studies, for their approval.
    3. The student will submit their final thesis proposal to the examining committee.
    4. The thesis supervisor will notify the grad administrator of the committee membership and work with the administrator to schedule a time and place for the exams.
  3. On the day of the exams, the Graduate Administrator will provide the Exam Chair with a copy of the student’s academic audit.


The Exams

  1. The exams will consist of three parts:
    1. A presentation by the student, typically about 15 minutes in duration, summarizing their thesis proposal [1]
    2. A comprehensive exam, where the student is tested on their fundamental knowledge (as outlined in 2b).
    3. A proposal exam, where the student is expected to defend the specific substance of their thesis proposal.
  2. Normally, the exams will proceed in the following order:
    1. The student’s presentation, immediately followed by
    2. the comprehensive exam,
    3. in camera deliberation by the committee determining the result of the comprehensive exam (during which the student may also take a short break),
    4. the proposal exam, if the comprehensive exam was deemed to be a pass, and finally
    5. in camera deliberation by the committee determining the result of the proposal exam.
  3. The format of the exams:
    1. Both the comprehensive exam and the proposal exam follow the format of a thesis defense, i.e.
      1. A one-on-one round of questioning, with each examiner (including the thesis supervisors) asking questions one-on-one with the student
      2. A second round that is more open and participatory, if necessary.
    2. The comprehensive exam is expected to adhere to the topics agreed to in 2b.
    3. The proposal exam is expected to focus on the substance of the written proposal and the student’s presentation.
  4. The entire process is expected to be completed in under 3 hours.


After the Exams

  1. The Exam Chair provides a written summary of the examination outcome and any required remedial actions to the departmental Graduate Administrator and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

[1] Starting with the presentation is generally a benefit to the student, to help them “warm up” before questions begin. However, with the agreement of the student and committee, the order of items 4a and 4b can be reversed.

D. Deadlines
The comprehensive exam and proposal exam must be submitted and the proposal examination attempted before the end of the fifth semester of registration in the PhD program. The comprehensive examination must be passed before the proposal exam may proceed. In the event of a delay caused by a second attempt at either the comprehensive examination or the proposal examination, both requirements must be completed by the end of the sixth semester of registration in the PhD program (24 months).
E. Committees
The advisory committee comprises the supervisor plus a minimum of two other professors from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University. The final thesis examination board is comprised as per the FGPA Thesis Examination Policy
F. Course Requirements
The course load for the PhD will be maintained at the present level of 3 courses, with the understanding that the Department (through the graduate officer) can assign additional courses on admission to the program to students who show particular deficiencies in their background.  Graduate courses offered by departments in other disciplines may be taken for credit with pre-approval by the Department (through the graduate officer).
G. Seminar Requirements

  1. Participation in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Seminar Series must be complete within the 6 terms of initial registration.
  2. Presentation of a Seminar on the candidates works must be complete within 6 terms of initial registration

The seminar requirement for the PhD program is:
– attendance at a total of 15 seminars
– presentation of a seminar on the candidate’s work

Seminar attendance will be monitored by the Graduate Officer. Professors and students attending the seminars will fill out evaluation forms for each seminar. If the candidate fails to give a satisfactory seminar as judged by the results of this evaluation they will have to repeat the seminar until a satisfactory performance is achieved.
A similar regulation is proposed for an MASc student, except that attendance is required at only 10 seminars.

H. Direct Transfer to PhD Program from an MASc Program

1.Students with strong performance in courses and research during their first year of the MASc can be nominated by their supervisor to fast track into the PhD, subject to approval of the department admissions committee, without completing the MASc thesis.

2.  A student who transfers from the MASc to the PhD program must complete:
(a) all course requirements for both the MASc and the PhD (i.e. 5+3= a total of 8 courses);
(b) seminar requirements for both the MASc and PhD;
(c) all other Senate and Department requirements for the PhD degree.

3. The deadlines for the PhD Comprehensive Exam, PhD Proposal Exam and program completion shall be with respect to the date of transfer into the PhD program.