Reclassification/Qualification Examination

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Reclassification exams are for students who wish to transfer directly from the M.Sc. program to the Ph.D. program without completing an M.Sc. thesis

Qualification Exams ensure that students who have entered the Ph.D. program directly successfully prepare and defend an original research proposal leading to a Ph.D. degree. It also tests a student's general scientific knowledge and technical skills. Students who have successfully defended an M.Sc. in the Department and are admitted into the Ph.D. program will generally be exempted from this exam if they continue on the same project and have an exemplary M.Sc. defence.


Reclassification/qualification exams will be held in the last three weeks of May of the 2nd year of studies, for students who started their program in September or the last three weeks of October of the 2nd year of studies, for students who began their program in January.

All proposals will be handed in on May 1 (October 1 for January admits). These deadlines are absolute.

To reclassify or qualify, a student who enrolled prior to September 2021 must have:

  1. completed and received an acceptable mark (determined by UofT, currently 70% or higher) in MMG1001 and MMG1002.
  2. completed and received an acceptable mark in MMG1011 and be in the process of completing MMG1021.

No Topic Courses are required prior to qualification/reclassification.

To reclassify or qualify, a student who enrolled September 2021 and onwards must have:

1) completed and received an acceptable mark in MMG1001 and MMG1003 as well as MMG1004 or equivalent* (determined by UofT, currently 70% or higher).

*Note that CBMG students will need an acceptable mark in MMG1344 and MMG1345 in lieu of MMG1004.

2) attended and evaluated the requisite number of seminars in MMG1111 and MMG1112 in year 1 and have attended enough seminars in year 2 to still be eligible to meet the requirements for attendance and evaluations for both MMG1111 and MMG1112.

3) completed and received an acceptable mark (determined by UofT, currently 70% or higher) in MMG1113.

4) have completed or be scheduled to complete Graduate Student Presentation I MMG1114.

No Topic Courses are required prior to qualification/reclassification.


Students must prepare a proposal describing the research they intend to carry out during their Ph.D. program. The proposal text should be a maximum of 12 double-spaced (23 lines per page) pages with 2 cm margins and 12-point font. Figures, tables, and references on additional pages are allowed, and the page limit will be strictly enforced. Failure to adhere to the page limits or handing in the proposal past the due date will result in a failing mark in this part of the exam evaluation.


Proposals must include some background information about the project and clearly identify the primary objectives of the work. In addition, the experimental methods to be employed and the student must describe their possible limitations. The recommended organization for the proposal is as follows:

  • Abstract: A 250-word summary of the proposal (not included within the 12-page limit).
  • Introduction (3 pages): The relevant background of the project. What is known about the system, and what is not known? What are the open questions in the field?
  • Relevant experimental progress (3-4 pages): The relevant work completed so far by the student. A brief mention of other relevant work done in the laboratory by others that have led to choosing this particular project may also be required to put the proposal into proper context.
  •  Rationale (1 page): What key question(s) are being addressed? Why has the student chosen to address this question using this particular system? What is the hypothesis or hypotheses to be tested?
  • Specific aims (4-5 pages): The student describes the specific experiments they intend to carry out during their Ph.D. studies. The purpose of the experiments with respect to the general rationale (part 2) should be made clear. The student should point out possible pitfalls in the experimental design and should suggest alternative approaches. Generally, the student should describe two to three distinct aims. Possible outcomes of the experiments and how to proceed, given these outcomes, should be discussed. Convince the Exam Committee that the experiments are feasible and will produce relevant and significant data.
  • Summary & Potential Impact on the field (~0.5 pages).

 The student is to write the proposal. Supervisors and other supervisory committee members may only assist the student in preparing the proposal by giving advice and opinions on its format and clarity. Supervisors should not rewrite students' proposals extensively (e.g., supervisors should not open the document on their own computers and work on it; they should instead write comments on a print-out of the student's proposal draft).

It is strongly recommended that students spend at least four weeks away from the lab to prepare the proposal and study for this exam. Supervisors should not pressure students to do experiments during this period.


The composition of the exam committee is as follows (normally six members in total):

  1. An Exam Chair, who is assigned by the Department.  
  2. Examination Committee Member (Organizational Structure). Assigned by the Department based on the student’s primary research field.
  3. External Committee member (a faculty member from outside or within the Department)
  4. Supervisory Committee members (usually 2)
  5. Supervisor

A minimum of four committee members must be present to meet quorum, including:

  • The supervisor
  • The exam chair
  • The external committee member

The four members must have read the complete proposal before the exam begins and must be at the examination for its entirety, including the student’s oral presentation.  Suppose no supervisory committee member attends the exam (not including the student’s supervisor) due to unforeseen circumstances. In that case, the exam can proceed only with the expressed written permission of the student, emailed directly to the Graduate Program Administrator.

All examining committee members (except for supervisory committee members) must have an arm’s length relationship with the student and their work. For example, Professors with whom the student has had collaborations during their graduate studies in our Department are not allowed to serve as an Examination or External Committee Member for the respective reclassification or qualification exam.

If necessary, due to scheduling problems, a reclassification exam may be scheduled, knowing that only one regular Supervisory Committee member can attend.

The Examination

  1. The examination will commence with the student's uninterrupted oral presentation of their proposal (no more than 20 minutes in length).
  2. The Exam Committee then questions the student on their knowledge of technical and theoretical matters related to their proposal and their general knowledge of the research area. The examination, including the oral presentation, should not exceed 90 minutes.
  3. The Exam Committee then has a close door discussion and votes on the reclassification/qualification. All committee members, including the supervisor, must vote. Abstentions are not permitted. Details of the reclassification/qualification exam evaluation can be found below.


The exam committee will evaluate the student and project in three general areas:

  • Feasibility: If possible, Ph.D. projects should be designed so that any outcome is likely to be of scientific interest and form a thesis's basis. In other words, if the results do not turn out as expected, the data might still have sufficient interest to be publishable and constitute the student's Ph.D. thesis. In some cases, a student may wish to start on a risky project where only one outcome would be interesting. In this case, it is essential to state why the payoff merits such a high-risk approach. The student should also note how long they will pursue this high-risk project before dropping it and what criteria will be used to decide that the project cannot be done. In addition, feasible backup projects should be proposed.
  • Understanding of the Project: The student is expected to understand all the concepts associated with their proposed area of research. They should also have a thorough understanding of the literature in all aspects related to their proposed area of investigation.
  • Ability to function in a Research Environment: The student must collect interpretable data, understand the importance of controls, and design and execute internally consistent experiments. To this end, it is crucial to include in the proposal information about the research that they have done during their time in the program. Even if this research is unrelated to what the student proposes for their Ph.D. thesis, it nevertheless provides an opportunity for the Exam Committee to evaluate their competence in a research environment.

 Evaluation of students at Reclassification and Qualification examinations has both objective and subjective components. Because of the latter and because the faculty members are evaluating both the student and the project, it is difficult to state unequivocally the weight given to each of the above components. The best way to ensure a positive outcome is to ascertain that one's proposal is feasible and consider as many potential pitfalls as possible. Students should also know the literature relevant to the proposed area of research. The best sources of information and help are the student's supervisory committee and senior students who have successfully defended a research proposal at this type of exam. It is beneficial to ask fellow students to hold a mock exam before the actual exam.


Following the oral defence, the student will leave the room. Before any discussion, each examiner will evaluate the student in several different categories. The criteria for which specific marks are given and details of the exam evaluation can be found on the Reclassification/Qualification Exam Evaluation Forms (available on the Departmental website). The committee chair will collate the evaluations, present a summary to the committee and determine the nature of the subsequent discussion. Once a decision has been reached, the student will be invited back and informed of the decision. Copies of the evaluations will be made available to the student.

Failure of a reclassification exam will result in one of the following four outcomes (to be determined by the exam committee):

  • The student is asked to retake the oral exam within 4 to 8 weeks without revising their proposal.
  • The student is asked to submit a revised written proposal and must retake the oral exam within 4 to 8 weeks.
  • The student is asked to complete and defend an M.Sc. thesis.
  • The Department terminates the student's enrollment in the program.

Failure of a qualification exam will result in one of the following three outcomes (to be determined by the exam committee):

  • The student is asked to retake the oral exam within 4 to 8 weeks without revising the proposal.
  • The student is asked to submit a revised written proposal and must retake the oral exam within 4 to 8 weeks.
  • The Department terminates the student's enrollment in the program.
  • In cases where the student does not have an M.Sc. in a field that is directly related to their current area of research, the committee may consider recommending to the student that they reclassify into the M.Sc. program.

Transferring To The Ph.D. Program

(For reclassifying students)

  • The Exam chair submits the evaluation forms to the Graduate Program Administrator to be kept in the student’s file.
  • A copy of the forms is forwarded to the student for their information. The student must bring the evaluation forms to the next supervisory committee meeting.
  • If a student passes, the Graduate Program Administrator will ask them to sign a “Program Transfer,” which is then forwarded to the School of Graduate Studies for approval.
  • The School of Graduate Studies notifies the student of a successful transfer in writing.