Doctoral Program

The Doctoral (Ph.D.) program is designed to develop the candidates ability for independent research. Applicants to the program must have a high scholastic standing and demonstrate an aptitude for research to be admitted to the Ph.D. program.

A minimum of 24 credits of approved courses is required for adequate completion of this program. Courses are intended to provide both a general intellectual proficiency and specialization in a selected area. For those holding a Master’s degree or transferring from a Master’s program, appropriate credit will be given for courses completed.

Ph.D. students will normally be required to spend a minimum of three winter sessions at the University, although in some circumstances it is possible to complete in two years following a Master’s degree. Substantial completion of the Ph.D. requirements is expected within three years for students with a Master’s degree, and within four years for those students who have transferred from the M.A.Sc. program. UBC requires that students complete the Ph.D. program within six years.

Doctoral students are expected to study full time, and will normally be required to spend a minimum of two consecutive years of full time study at the University. The maximum time of completion is 6 years for the PhD program, but substantial completion of the Ph.D. requirements is expected within three years for students with a Master’s degree and within four years for those students who have transferred from the M.A.Sc.

Students must maintain continuous registration throughout all years until graduation and keep up with tuition fee payments.

A Qualifying Exam must be taken within 24 months of registration for a Ph.D. program following submission of the thesis proposal. This examination is based on the student's oral defence of a thesis proposal, which will state the objectives of the proposed research, summarize its significance and its relation to previous work, and outline the methods to be pursued during the course of the research.

In the final step of the Ph.D. program students are required to complete a Final Oral Defence. Ph.D. students will be required to defend their dissertation and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results and conclusions in a manner consistent with that of the doctoral degree being sought.

PhD Program Requirements

  • Minimum of 24 credits of approved courses
  • Qualifying Exam recommended at 24 months
  • Final oral defense and completion of thesis

Directed studies can only count for a maximum of 3 credits towards your degree

For those who hold a Masters degree or have completed masters-level coursework, appropriate credit (maximum 18 credits) will be given for courses completed. At the start of your PhD program, our program staff will inform you of your course requirements and how many credits can be counted from your previous masters degree. No paperwork or transfer forms are required, as our staff will review your transcripts to determine how many courses will be counted towards your PhD program. In most cases, for students who have completed a Masters degree prior to their PhD program, 6 further credits of coursework are required in your PhD program.

Students in the Ph.D. program must have a thesis supervisor upon being admitted to the program. The supervisory committee, comprised of two additional members, should be established by the end of the first year in the program.

Please click here for further information regarding the supervisory committee.

A comprehensive examination is a Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies requirement for the Ph.D. program. Normally, the examination will be held after the completion of all required course work. The comprehensive examination is in addition to any course examinations and is intended to test the students understanding of the chosen field of study as a whole and the students preparation for the thesis research to follow. A Ph.D. student must satisfy all the course work requirements and pass the comprehensive examination before being admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. In the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the comprehensive examination is in the form of the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination.

A student's first-year progress report will be used to confirm that the student is on track towards the PhD Qualifying Examination, which is recommended to be held within 24 months of a student’s program start date. If the student is not able to meet the 24 month deadline, he/she will be asked to submit another progress report requesting and explaining the need for a 3-month extension. Another progress report will be due every 3 months until the qualifying exam. If the qualifying exam has not been held within 24 months after the program start date, the student will prepare a status report for the supervisory committee and the department (Graduate Advisor) with a detailed plan for how to prepare for the examination. Based on the report, the supervisory committee and the graduate advisor will determine further deadlines for the student.

Guidelines for the Qualifying Exam:

1. Within 24 months of registering a Ph.D. candidate must take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination. Prior to the examination being scheduled a Ph.D. proposal has to be approved by the Graduate Advisor.

2. The purpose of the examination is to ascertain whether the proposed topic is suitable for a Ph.D. thesis and whether the candidate is capable of carrying out the work required to successfully complete the Ph.D. degree. Suitability relates largely to the possibility of making original and significant contributions. Capability relates largely to knowledge and understanding of material in the subject area of the proposal as well as areas related to it that affect the proposed research.

3. The examination consists of the presentation of the proposal for the thesis work, followed by questions from the examining committee. The questions are to address both the specific research topic and topics related to the general subject area of the proposal.

4. A two-hour period is scheduled for the examination. The first 25 minutes of which are devoted to the presentation of the proposal. Under no circumstances will the presentation be allowed to exceed 30 minutes.

5. Within 12 months of registering, the candidate should submit a draft copy of the proposal to the Graduate Advisor who will then advise the candidate on the acceptability of the format of the proposal and on the scheduling of the examination.

6. At least one week before the examination, the candidate must give a copy of the proposal to each member of the examining committee.

7. The written proposal should have 3 chapters:
Introduction and Overview: in which the background to and motivation for, the proposed topic is succinctly discussed. It is only this chapter that the necessary details of the work of others are to appear. This work must be clearly and properly referenced.

Work Accomplished: In which any original work that the candidate has done on advancing he state-of-knowldge on the proposed topic is described. The candidate is expected to show evidence, commensurate with the period since registering in the Ph.D. program, which demonstrates the viability of the thesis proposal and the plans for future work.

Work Planned: In which the procedures to be implemented in carrying out the remaining and probably major part of the work are outlined. A tentative time schedule for completion is also to be included in this chapter.

8. The written proposal must not exceed 30 pages of normal typescript (12-point font, double-spaced with approximately 26 lines per page and 6.5-inch line length), plus extra pages for the list of references.

9. The examining committee is comprised of the candidate’s supervisory committee (supervisor plus at least two other members), plus Head’s nominee who acts also as the chairperson and is nominated by the Graduate Advisor who is either a full or associate professor. In event that the Graduate Advisor is the supervisor or is on the supervisory committee, the chairperson is to be appointed by the the Department Head.

10. The chairperson ensures that the committee uses good judgement about questions on related topics. She/He does not normally participate in the questioning except to clear up misunderstandings or at the end of the questions by the other members of the committee, to expose possible important weaknesses. The chairperson votes in a riving at the committee decision.

11. The examining committee may make one of the following recommendations:
The candidate continue on the Ph.D. program.

The candidate be given a conditional pass.

The candidate be re-examined within 3 months time.

The candidates case be reviewed by an arbitration committee.

The candidate be asked to withdraw from the Ph.D. program but permitted to complete requirements for the M.A.Sc. degree.

The candidate be withdrawn from the University.

12. All recommendations of the examining committee must be submitted in writing to the Graduate Advisor of the Department and be signed by all members of the committee.

13. If the vote of the examining committee is unanimous, the recommendation stands.

14. In the event of recommendation 11B, the pass is subject to satisfactory correction of specified deficiencies of a minor nature. Assessment of these corrections is to be the sole subject of a meeting of the committee and the candidate. The outcome of this assessment cannot be again category 11B.

15. In the event of recommendation 11C, the re-examination is a completely new examination. The outcome of this examination cannot be again category 11C.

16. If the vote of the examining committee is not unanimous, the case will be referred to an arbitration committee. The arbitration committee will consist of all the full professors in the Department and will be chaired by the Graduate Advisor of the Department. The candidate’s supervisor must be present and the proposal must be available during the discussion. The supervisor will not be present during the vote. Where a member of the arbitration committee (full professors) is the candidates supervisor, she/he must withdraw during the vote. The chairperson of the arbitration committee votes but if there is a tie the supervisor’s vote will also be counted.


To obtain department approval of the thesis for submission to the external examiner of the Final Oral Defense

Exam Committee:

The exam committee for the Department exam is typically the same committee as for the PhD Qualifying exam

The committee consists of four members; the supervisory committee (Supervisor/Co-supervisor/Committee member) and the Head's Nominee/Chair.


- The Department exam is not public
- The Candidate makes a presentation of the dissertation (roughly 30 minutes)
- The Examining Committee questions the Candidate
- The Examining Committee holds an in-camera discussion
- The Head's Nominee conveys the findings of the Examining Committee to the Candidate
- The Department Exam usually lasts two hours


To ensure the Candidate is able to present and defend the dissertation and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results and conclusions in a manner consistent with the doctoral degree being sought;

To communicate the results of the work to the campus community


The Candidate makes a public presentation of the dissertation (roughly 30 minutes)

The Examining Committee questions the Candidate

Members of the audience are invited to ask questions of the Candidate

The Examining Committee holds an in-camera discussion

The Chair conveys the findings of the Examining Committee to the Candidate

The Final Oral Defense usually lasts two and a half hours.

A positive report from the external Examiner is required for the Final Oral Defense to occur.

For more details on Oral Defense Procedure, Roles of the Examining Committee, and Evaluation Protocols:

Applicants to the PhD program must have a course and thesis-based Master's degree and references must include a detailed letter from the Masters thesis supervisor. Applicants who have completed a course-based only Master's program are only eligible for the PhD program through "Direct Entry", which requires a strict set of admission requirements, listed on our admissions page. Applicants who have completed a degree by research only may have to complete a year of additional coursework as part of their PhD program.

Applicants should review our admission procedures and deadlines to ensure they qualify before submitting an application to our doctoral program. These can be found under admissions.