PhD Thesis Handbook

Overview and Milestones 

CEHCR PhD  – Overview

The PhD thesis is an original piece of scholarly research on a topic that has been selected by the student and approved by the supervisor and the student’s PhD thesis research committee. The PhD thesis is a major undertaking that reflects the highest standards of scholarship and makes a significant contribution to knowledge and practice in the field of health services research.

Work on the PhD thesis is conducted under the supervision of the supervisor and in consultation with the PhD thesis research committee. The first step is the completion of a written PhD thesis proposal which should be reviewed and approved by the supervisor, the thesis research committee and the program director. The proposal is then presented at a hospital or research institute clinical epidemiology rounds, with an external reviewer present (Step II). When the proposal is approved, the student can proceed with obtaining ethics approval and, once achieved, can begin their research. The student should meet with their supervisor and committee at regular intervals. It is important that the student keep both the supervisor and the committee informed of their progress.

When the thesis is completed and has met with the approval of the thesis committee, the student proceeds to the Final Oral Examination. 

PhD Major Milestones

  • Coursework
  • Form the committee and obtain approval (Step I) 
  • Submission of thesis proposal
  • Proposal defence (Step II)
  • REB approval
  • Research and writing
  • Submission of comprehensive proposal
  • Comprehensives project (unlike other concentrations, generally happens in conjunction with research and writing)
  • Committee approval of the thesis
  • Final Oral Exam (FOE)
  • Modifications and Thesis Submission

Supporting Activities

  • Intake meeting (complete Annual Progress Report form)
  • Once a supervisor has been approved by the program director (complete the Student-Supervisor MOU)
  • Once the committee has been identified (Committee Confirmation – Step I form)
  • Completion of the Annual Progress Report form each July/August, followed by a meeting with Program Director
  • Meeting with the committee at least 2 times annually [or equivalent communication about thesis progress] (complete Thesis Committee Meeting Report form)
  • Publishing your work

Selecting a Suitable Thesis Topic 

Purpose of a PhD Thesis

Although the courses are an important part of the PhD program, it is the research and thesis writing that provide the main opportunities for developing both a broad perspective and in-depth knowledge of a particular area of clinical or methodological (or both) research.

The PhD research work must be of sufficient breadth and depth to permit a thorough examination of the research topic. The need for breadth and depth is embodied in the ‘three papers rule’: that is, that a PhD should consist of sufficient work for publication of three-peer reviewed publications. If a ‘three paper’ approach is taken, these projects should be thematically related and appropriately linked through well-written introduction and conclusion chapters. If the ‘three paper’ format is not followed, this rule is intended to give a rough measure of the quantity and quality of work needed for a PhD.

Earning a PhD degree should prepare the student to be an independent clinical investigator in their area of expertise. The thesis demonstrates a wide, critical knowledge of the field; an ability to ask appropriate questions and set the research in its proper context; mastery of the appropriate research techniques; and the ability to effectively communicate ideas and results to a group of peers. The goal is to make an original contribution to a particular research field within a framework of research training. ‘Original contribution’ means finding a gap in knowledge and answering a question posed by that gap.

Original contributions in the field of clinical epidemiology may include:

  • Scholarly inquiry into the theoretical foundations of clinical epidemiology, in areas such as study design, measurement of health or health care, and approaches to analysis and interpretation of the data derived from such studies.
  • Development of new methods or tools pertinent to study design, measurement of health or health care.
  • Significant advancement of existing methods or tools in study design, measurement or analysis.
  • Application of existing methods or tools in such a way as to advance knowledge of health or health care.

See SGS for more guidance about the format of the thesis, including traditional and publication-based theses.

Guidelines for Choice of Thesis Topic

The following are proposed guidelines for the choice of thesis topic in the CEHCR program based on methodological approaches to data collection, not necessarily research design. Students who wish to pursue other topics should consult with their supervisor and the Program Director. As a rough guide, students should expect to spend 1.5 years FTE. Students may perform studies using some of the methodologies listed below (i.e., decision analysis or meta-analysis) during their coursework.  It is important to note that theses using methods learned during the student’s coursework must be distinct from work produced in the courses, although they can be related.  For example, the student could develop a protocol in the course, then carry out the study to fulfill the thesis requirements.

NOTE: Regardless of the thesis topic or design, ethics approval must be obtained for all thesis work prior to undertaking the research but after the proposal defence (Step II).

A. Primary Data Collection

  1. Randomized Controlled Trials
    Generally, it is difficult for a student to complete a RCT in a suitable time frame, even as a PhD. Students may undertake a project related to a RCT as one of their three projects, e.g., it may be possible for a student to undertake the design of a RCT and complete a pilot study. Alternatively the student could start the RCT and provide an ‘interim’ analysis of the trial for the thesis. There are some circumstances where a RCT could be completed during a PhD. These include questions where there are very large numbers of potential patients and where the required sample size is relatively small, around 50-60 patients (e.g. new epidural drug for obstetrical patients; paper & pencil versus videotape for patient education). Students should bear in mind that a very careful examination of feasibility should be undertaken, in order to avoid delays in degree completion due to slow patient accrual.
  2. Observational Studies
    1. Surveys
      Surveys, generally more complex in nature, may be appropriate for a PhD thesis. The circumstances should be that the sampling frame is large (e.g., physicians in Ontario), easily obtainable (sampling frame is available and accessible to students) and the sample size is manageable (e.g., one-time survey rather than longitudinal). Some examples include a survey of physicians’ attitudes toward prescribing a new drug; survey of patients’ satisfaction with a new intervention, etc. It is important to ensure methodologic rigorous survey development, using principles learned during coursework.
    2. Assessing patients’ preferences
      Interviewing patients or using a self-administered questionnaire about their preferences for treatment choices, waiting times, etc., can usually be achieved with a manageable sample size. Again the issue should be one where access to patients will be easily obtained and large numbers of participants can be anticipated (e.g., breast cancer, heart disease). A patient preference study may be included as part of a PhD thesis, or a methodological development to do with measuring patient preferences may be suitable.
    3. Other types of observational studies
      When primary data collection is undertaken,a case-control study may be more suitable than a cohort study, as a case-control study can often be performed in a more timely fashion. Cohort studies may be considered as long as feasibility is carefully assessed. Methods might include mailed questionnaires to cases/controls and/or chart reviews or interviews with patients. The question should be one in which there are large numbers of cases and controls (e.g. cancer, heart disease, diabetes) that can be easily accessed (e.g. cases/controls identified by patient registry, hospital patients, etc). 
  3. Instrument development and testing
    A PhD thesis might include the complete development (e.g., item generation, reliability and validation) of an instrument.
  4. Reliability/validity study of existing database
    One of the ‘three papers’ of a PhD thesis may involve the ascertainment of the reliability/validity of an existing administrative or clinical database. This might involve primary data collection such as a comparison of computerized records and hospital or physician hospital charts.
  5. Qualitative study
    This is an area of increasing interest among CEHCR students and faculty; the CEHCR Program has growing experience with qualitative research. Students should take the appropriate courses prior to undertaking this type of study and must have an experienced qualitative researcher as a member of their thesis committee. Qualitative studies can range from focus groups, key informant surveys or in-depth interviews with content analysis of interviews of patients or other groups. 

B. No Primary Data Collection

  1. Administrative data or clinical databases
    Administrative data studies (using existing databases such as those at ICES or other ‘purpose built’ clinical databases are commonly undertaken by students in the CEHCR program.  This type of study could comprise one of the three papers required for a PhD publication-based thesis. The scope and depth of the thesis topic or the complexity/novelty of the methods may also be considered to determine suitability for a PhD. As the student does not have to spend the time gathering their own data, they would not have the experience of their own data collection. If administrative data or clinical databases are to be used, then all the data analyses are typically performed by the student (help by a programmer can be given, but in principle, all the computer analyses should be carried out by the student). Linking external datasets may introduce feasibility concerns as this process may introduce delays and should be carefully considered by the student with the help of their supervisors. 
  2. Decision analysis
    A project using decision analysis is appropriate for one of the ‘three papers’ of a PhD thesis. Ideally, at least a portion of the project should involve some primary data collection (eg obtaining utilities from providers or patients). The student and supervisor should ensure that the scope and depth of the thesis topic is suitable for a PhD. 
  3. Meta-analysis
    Meta-analysis may be suitable for one of the ‘three papers’ of a PhD thesis. The review should comprise review of a large number of trials (> 100 studies) and the final number of quality studies should be more than 10. The quality of the studies should be assessed by at least two reviewers. The student and supervisor should ensure that the meta-analysis topic is of sufficient scope and the analysis of sufficient methodologic complexity to comprise a portion of a PhD thesis.

Comparison of MSc/PhD Thesis Expectations

Time needed to undertake the research5 months FTE1.5 years FTE
Primary data collectionOptionalEncouraged but not required
Innovation potentialPreferredEssential
Publishable projectEssentialEssential

Comparison of MSc/PhD Thesis Topics

RCTExceptionalSuitable in select circumstances
Administrative dataSuitableSuitable but with wide scope or as one of three papers
Reliability/validity of databaseSuitableSuitable as one of three papers
Observational studyCase-control preferredAny design
SurveySmall survey suitableLarge scale survey
Decision analysisSuitable in some circumstancesSuitable but with wide scope involving data collection or as one of three papers
Meta-analysisSuitable in some circumstancesSuitable or if using advanced methods or as one of three papers
Instrument developmentOne or two aspectsEntire instrument development and testing
Note: that these examples are not comprehensive

Review Past IHPME Thesis Topics

Selecting a Supervisor / Role of the Supervisor

Selecting a Supervisor

All PhD students are required to find a supervisor who will act as a mentor and guide as they proceed through their degree.

The choice of a faculty member who will supervise the thesis work required to fulfill degree requirements is one of the most critical decisions a graduate student will make and should not be taken lightly. A student will need not only a competent supervisor in a particular area but also willing to act as the student’s advocate when necessary. It is important that the student be able to work and communicate effectively with the supervisor and not feel overwhelmed or intimidated in the relationship. Each student requires the guidance of someone who will stimulate thoughts, who has sufficient interest in the student’s topic to produce insights jointly, and who will challenge the student to think in a novel manner about the research.

The following suggestions are included to help students find an appropriate supervisor:

  • Look through the list of IHPME Faculty (CEHCR or Non-CEHCR) and Research and Initiatives on the IHPME website to find a professor that fits you by:
    • Content area (e.g. cardiology), and/or
    • Methodological area (e.g. health services research)
    • (You are NOT restricted to content – someone out of your area with a “method” match can be great!)
  • Ensure that your potential supervisor has the appropriate SGS appointment level:
    • PhD students need a supervisor who is a Full SGS member 
  • See “IHPME Requirements to be a Supervisor” for additional requirements.
  • Students may get to know the potential supervisor whose research interests parallel their own. Consider doing a database (ProQuest, PubMed, Scopus) search to see what they’ve published – see if it sounds interesting to you.
  • If possible, talk to other trainees. They will tell you who is a good supervisor. Graduate students working with a specific supervisor are an invaluable source of information.
  • There are tradeoffs in picking a supervisor by seniority/eminence. A very experienced supervisor may help “fast-track” your career. On the other hand, a senior person may not have time for you.
  • A supervisor is also a mentor, often for the first few years of your career. Someone who is a good mentor can be really helpful.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach potential supervisors cold, i.e. without any personal connection or contact. They expect it. It’s their job (usually among many others) to teach and mentor students.
  • If you are really stuck, you may contact the Program Director of Clinical Epidemiology and they will work with you to find an appropriate supervisor.

SGS – Find a Supervisor: full information on supervision

Requirements for PhD Supervision

  • While other programs may have different guidance, CEHCR requires a single supervisor (i.e., 2 co-supervisors or co-supervision is not permitted).

Review the IHPME Requirements to be a Supervisor

Note that supervisory status does not equate with an authorship position on individual papers, which should be discussed and decided among the student, supervisor and committee for each potential publication, in accordance with the ICMJE authorship recommendations

Role of the Thesis Supervisor

  1. The supervisor provides advice on all aspects of the thesis project. Specifically, they are responsible for providing direction to the student, advice on data sources and potential avenues of approach, instructions on the proper content and form of the thesis, review of the student’s progress, and serving as the first reader of the thesis. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to help the student think through methodologic issues and to raise questions about possible methodologic decisions faced/taken by the student.
  2. The supervisor and student are expected to read and sign a Statement of Agreement (Student-Supervisor MOU) – [PDF] before undertaking thesis work.
  3. The supervisor and student are expected to meet on a regular basis at a mutually agreed schedule (many supervisors meet with their students on a bi-weekly basis)
  4. Additionally, the supervisor, in conjunction with the student, is expected to complete annual progress reports and meet with the program directors to discuss it.
    • In CEHCR,  the Annual Progress Report Student Study Plan is due by August 1 of each year the student is enrolled in the Program.  Return it to the CEHCR office.  PhD students are required to meet with the CEHCR director and their supervisor on an annual basis to discuss the student’s progress.

Learn More:

What to do if you have challenges working with your supervisor

  • First, try to discuss it openly with your supervisor. Share your concerns and try to a reach mutual agreement.
  • If that doesn’t work, you may contact the Program Director or Graduate Coordinator
  • Contact the Centre for Graduate Mentorship & Supervision (CGMS) for expert advice

Selection of the Thesis Committee  

Purpose of the Thesis Committee  

The thesis committee gives meaningful input into the thesis proposal and supports you through the research.

PhD Thesis Research Committee

The thesis committee should have a minimum of three members (including the supervisor).   In consultation with the supervisor, the student selects two or more additional members for their committee.  Students and supervisors are encouraged to form a committee that can properly support the student, both methodologically and in content expertise.

  • The supervisor, who functions as the Chair of the thesis research committee, must have a full membership to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and an appointment through IHPME. See “IHPME Requirements to be a Supervisor” for additional requirements.
  • Committee members are chosen on the basis of their expertise in the student’s area of research and must have a graduate faculty membership (GFM).
    • For the CEHCR PhD committee, in addition to the supervisor, one other committee member must also have an IHPME appointment AND a graduate faculty membership (full or associate membership with SGS).
    • Committee members can have a graduate faculty membership (full or associate membership with SGS) elsewhere within the University of Toronto, these faculty do not have to apply for an appointment with IHPME.
    • Clinical faculty with appointments elsewhere in the university that do not have a GFM need to apply for it through IHPME.   They can send their CV to and will receive the details and a link for the application submission.
    • It is possible to appoint a committee member from outside the university. In this instance, the supervisor must obtain a copy of the outside member’s CV and forward it to the IHPME Appointments Officer who will explain the application process to obtain the GFM.

When all committee members have been selected and have agreed to serve, the Step I (Committee Confirmation) form should be completed by the student, signed by the student and supervisor, and submitted to the Graduate Assistant.  After the Step 1 form is approved by the program director, the student and supervisor should sign the Memorandum of Understanding.

Thesis Proposal Approval Process

Bound copies of theses by Clinical Epidemiology graduates are available in the CEHCR Program office for reference only and are also available online through the University of Toronto library system. 

There are two steps in the thesis proposal approval process:

Proposal Approval – Step I: Approval of the thesis question and the composition of the thesis committee

By the end of the first academic year of enrollment in the CEHCR program, the student is expected to have:

  1. Confirmed  supervisor (supervisor ideally identified at the time of application to the Program);
  2. Confirmed thesis topic; and
  3. Confirmed thesis committee membership. This information is to be submitted for approval to the CEHCR office by the end of May in the first year of enrollment.

Once the supervisor has been selected, the student should meet with their thesis supervisor to discuss the make-up of the remainder of the committee. It is important that the committee be balanced in terms of background/expertise and include content experts, if relevant.

This information should be forwarded to the CEHCR Program where it will be circulated to the Program Director and Associate Program Director for approval.

Note: the main purpose of Step I is to approve your topic, the composition of the committee and its relevance to your selected topic.

Proposal Approval for PhD and MSc to PhD transfer – Step II: Development of Full Thesis Proposal

Once the thesis topic and composition of the thesis committee (Step I) have been approved by the CEHCR Program Director (or Associate Program Director), students should work with their thesis committee to develop a more detailed proposal including the research design and procedures for data collection and data analysis.

The Supervisor (and student) must ensure that all members of the thesis committee are thoroughly familiar with the research proposal at an early stage of development and fully participate in all phases of the research. This is to avoid potential disagreements at a later stage.

The Thesis Supervisor should arrange for the proposal to be presented at one of the hospital or research institute based Clinical Epidemiology Rounds. The Supervisor and members of the Thesis Committee should be present for this preliminary presentation.

The Supervisor must inform the CEHCR Office of the time and date of the presentation at least 30 days in advance in order to adequately notify fellow students and clinical epidemiology faculty.

In addition, at the same time, the Thesis Supervisor and student should submit a 3-5 page outline of an MSc-quality thesis proposal including:

  • The research question(s)
  • Background and a brief literature review indicating the importance of the research
  • A preliminary research design, including the likely methods to be used
  • The data source(s), and
  • A preliminary analysis plan.

At least three additional IHPME faculty members are required to be present at this presentation. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that these committee members are present prior to the start of the presentation. If three additional IHPME faculty members are not present, the defence must be cancelled and rescheduled. 


The supervisor and student are responsible for identifying an external reviewer of the proposal. The reviewer should be selected using the following criteria:

  • The supervisor and the student should select the reviewer and inform the IHPME office of the reviewer’s name at least 2 weeks prior to the defence date.
  • Students are required to provide the reviewer with a copy of their written proposal at least 2 weeks in advance of their presentation.
  • The reviewer should be external to the committee but can be internal or external to IHPME
  • The reviewer should be someone who has sufficient expertise in the student’s area of research
  • The reviewer is expected to actively participate in questioning the student. Ordinarily, the reviewer will be the first questioner and will be given more time for questions than other attendees.
  • No formal written comments are required from the reviewer.
  • The reviewer need not have an SGS appointment, as long as they are external to the student’s committee and a recognized expert in the field
  • If the reviewer has an IHPME appointment, two additional IHPME faculty members must be present. If the reviewer does not have an IHPME appointment, three additional IHPME faculty member must be present.

The proposal defence should consist of:

  • A 20 minute presentation
  • 20 minutes for questions and answers
  • 20 minutes for the committee and additional IHPME faculty to meet

Following this presentation, the student is excused and faculty who hold an IHPME faculty appointment and the thesis committee members will meet briefly to discuss and vote on the suitability of the thesis proposal.  Other faculty members should not attend this discussion.  The thesis supervisor will provide feedback to the student based on recommendations by the group.

After the Rounds presentation, the student must submit a revised proposal, incorporating feedback received at the proposal defence, to the CEHCR office for final approval. The proposal cannot exceed 5 pages in length, must be single-spaced and in 12-point Times New Roman font with 1 inch page margins.  The proposal should follow the format outlined below.

The full proposal must be accompanied by a letter from the supervisor (email correspondence is acceptable) including the following:

  • the date and location of the thesis proposal
  • the committee members who were present
  • a statement that the proposal has been approved by the thesis committee and that it incorporates feedback received at the presentation

The student cannot proceed with the study until this documentation has been received by the CEHCR office.

Format of Full Thesis Proposal for Submission to CEHCR Office

Note: SGS guidelines for formatting a thesis that is ready for defence can be found at the end of this Section.

  • Objective: The exact question(s) to be addressed by the thesis proposal.
  • Rationale/Relevance: The deficit in current knowledge to be addressed and the importance of the question.
  • Research Design: The nature of the study architecture (descriptive or analytic; retrospective or prospective; experimental or observational; randomized or non-randomized; cross-sectional or longitudinal; etc.)
  • Setting: The location of the study and the nature of the patient population.
  • Patients/Participants: The clinical disorder and key sociodemographics, the number and selection of participants.
  • Research Procedure: The intervention, exposure or investigational manoeuvre and proposed monitoring.
  • Main Outcome Measures: The primary and secondary outcome measures(s), their frequency and measurement characteristics (particularly in settings and populations similar to those proposed in the study)
  • Sample Size/Analysis: The number of subjects needed for the key outcome measures and the proposed plan of analysis.
  • Feasibility: The availability of data or subjects and the expected participation rate; resources available for the completion of the research.
  • Ethics Approval: Proposal should indicate that it will be submitted for ethics approval.

Submission of Thesis Project for Ethics Review

All students must obtain University of Toronto research ethics approval for their research in addition to any approvals required by other institutions such as those of research sites or the home institutions of their supervisors. Note that depending on the research site, risk level and other factors, ethics approval may take several months.

Note: for research based at Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN) hospitals, students need to obtain Research Ethics Board (REB) approval from the hospital first, and then submit the REB approval letter, approved application form, Research protocol, and appendices for administrative review by the University of Toronto REB.  Administrative reviews are normally approved within two weeks.

Applications for REB approval can only be submitted after the proposal has been approved by IHPME. Students must be listed as a researcher or investigator with the relevant Research Ethics Boards. Students conducting their research using data held at ICES under section 45 do not require REB review. While the University of Toronto sometimes exempts other student research from full ethics review, students must apply for such exemptions and supply the appropriate documentation to the IHPME graduate office. Students must never assume that their research is exempt from ethics approval. Students who do not have documented University of Toronto ethics approval will not be allowed to proceed to their defence.

IHPME students are required to take the online tutorial TCPS 2: CORE (Course on Research Ethics), an introduction to the 2nd edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2). Upon completion, you will be able to print or email a Certificate of Completion to be submitted to the IHPME graduate office.

Guidelines for Studies Using Data Held by ICES

ICES is a prescribed entity under section 45 of Ontario’s Personal Health Information Protection Act. Section 45 is the provision that enables ICES to conduct analysis related to the management, evaluation and monitoring of the health system. Section 45 authorizes health information custodians – like physicians, hospitals and long-term care homes – to disclose personal health information to a prescribed entity, like ICES, without consent for such purposes. Studies conducted wholly under section 45, by definition, do not require approval of a research ethics board (REB).

When students at the University of Toronto conduct studies (in connection with supervised undergraduate or graduate course work or supervised thesis or non-thesis based graduate analysis) within ICES they do so under the auspices, and as “agents”, of ICES. As such, their studies are legally exempt from REB approval so long as the studies use only personal health information and include specific and substantive objectives to conduct analysis related to the management, evaluation and monitoring of the health system. This also means that the University of Toronto REB does not need to review and approve the study.

In some cases – infrequently – REB approval may be legally required. This is the case if a study’s objectives fall outside section 45 parameters or use ICES data holdings governed by different laws or by data sharing agreements that specifically require REB approval.

All studies carried out within ICES are subject to a privacy impact assessment and approval from ICES’ Privacy & Legal Office prior to launch. The privacy impact assessment is the mechanism that ICES uses to confirm the legal authority for use of the data. Only studies conducted wholly under section 45 are exempt from REB review. If a study requires REB approval, ICES will identify and communicate this requirement. The student is then responsible for obtaining approval from the University of Toronto REB in accordance with its guidelines: REB Guidelines. If REB review is not required, please submit documentation from ICES that indicates to support this – email confirmation from the Privacy office confirming that the PIA is approved will suffice.

For questions, please contact the UofT REB at or 416 946 3273

UofT REB Application

The office of Research Ethics at the University of Toronto has launched an online application process. Here is the landing page to submit an application: My Research 

Please consult the Research Involving Human Subjects resource and Federal Guidelines (TCPS2)

For more information on Research Ethics, or if you have questions about submission, please contact: or 416 946 3273.

Research and Writing

Once the research proposal is approved and ethics approval obtained the student may begin working on their doctoral research including participants’ recruitment, data collection, data analysis and writing. Some parts of the research such as scoping or systematic reviews may begin before REB approval is obtained. However, it is not advisable to begin before the proposal is approved because the proposal examination committee may have some comments and suggestions to improve the study.

Research and writing are conducted under the guidance of the supervisor in consultation with the thesis research committee. The committee should meet as a whole at least twice a year and submit a meeting report to the graduate assistant after each meeting.

Writing support:

Many students find writing to be one of the hardest parts of PhD. The Writing Centre of the Graduate Centre for Academic Communication (GCAC) and the Health Sciences Writing Centre both offer support for graduate students including one-on-one consultations

Financial Support for Research and Publication

Ideally, your supervisor will have some grants to cover some research-related expenses you may incur, such as compensation to study participants, transcription of interviews, travel for  data collection, presentation at conferences, or publication in open access journals 

  • IHPME offers a small grant (currently $500) to support students
  • Many conferences offer travel fellowships for students to present their work. 
  • SGS also offers a research travel grant  and a conference grant for students
  • The University of Toronto has signed agreements with a number of publishers to support open access publication of research

Committee Approval of the Thesis

Committee members must read the thesis and each member must conclude that it is an acceptable piece of work. Students may choose to provide committee members with an entire completed first draft or they may provide the members with each chapter as it is completed (the latter may be a useful approach for busy committee members).  Either way, the readers will make whatever recommendations they feel are necessary for revision so that a final draft will be acceptable. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to get committee members and the student together to obtain a common understanding of what changes in the draft document(s) are necessary for an acceptable subsequent document. If the recommendations for change are at all contentious or detailed, the student is entitled to a written statement from the committee outlining exactly what has to be done.

Important! – The thesis supervisor must ascertain the written agreement from all the thesis committee members that the thesis is ready for final and formal defence. The thesis committee will need a minimum of two weeks for final approval before beginning the thesis defence process.

Final Oral Exam (FOE)

When the supervisor and thesis committee agree that the thesis is complete and ready for defence, they may proceed with setting up the Final Oral Exam (FOE). The process of setting up the FOE takes approximately two months as outlined below; thus, you will need to plan ahead.  Note that summer dates are especially hard to organize so students are encouraged to plan their defence outside of the summer months.

Please consider the SGS deadlines and recommended dates and timeline below:

Deadline Request for Defence (recommended dates)Last Scheduled Defence (recommended dates)Deadline for Submission of Completed Thesis to SGSExpected Convocation
PhD: June 24, 2024
MSc: July 8, 2024
August 19, 2024PhD: September 16, 2024
MSc: September 30, 2024
PhD: October 16, 2024
MSc: October 30, 2024
mid-December 2024PhD: January 15, 2025
MSc: January 24, 2025
March (in absentia*) or June
PhD: January 20, 2025
MSc: February 3, 2025
March 17, 2025PhD & MSc: April 11, 2025June
*in absentia (no ceremony)

Student or supervisor must submit the completed FOE booking request form and full CVs of all proposed external and internal examiners to the graduate assistant.

The external and internal examiners will then be approved by the IHPME Graduate Coordinator and then by the School of Graduate Studies.  This may take up to two weeks.

  • The student submits the thesis to the graduate assistant to send out to the external and internal examiners. The graduate assistant will send the thesis and letters to the examiners.    
  • The student is responsible to send the thesis to their committee. 

A written appraisal from the external examiner should be received 2 weeks before the FOE. The supervisor and student should discuss the written appraisal and how to respond to the comments during the FOE.

SGS will secure a chair for the FOE. The graduate assistant will notify the student, committee and examiners of the appointment of the chair and the time and location of the defence.

The student should arrive 15-30 minutes early to meet with the graduate assistant and set up the room.. 

The Examination Committee

SGS provides comprehensive guidelines for the FOE and the composition of the exam committee.  

The initial process for the FOE is to select an external appraiser and the members of the FOE committee.

a. The FOE committee includes at least 4 but no more than 6 voting members.  IHPME strongly encourages selecting a date and time that accommodates the entire FOE committee.

The FOE committee includes:

  • Up to 3 members of the student’s supervisory committee may vote at the examination. Additional members of the supervisory committee may sit on the FOE as non-voting members.
  • An external examiner. SGS distinguishes between external appraiser, who reviews the written thesis and provides a written assessment, and external examiner who is part of the examination committee. While SGS allows different people to serve as external appraiser and external examiner,  IHPME strongly prefers that the external appraiser also serves as the external examiner (who is a voting member of the FOE committee).
  • An internal examiner
  • Optional: a departmental representative (usually the emphasis lead, program director, or graduate coordinator) who is a voting member of the FOE committee.

b. Examiners and Appraisers

It is the responsibility of the Supervisor and Student to nominate a suitable External Examiner/Appraiser.  The supervisor recommends the External Examiner to the Program Director and the Graduate Coordinator for approval. 

  • An appointment with a graduate department (for examiners at the University of Toronto, this is the School of Graduate Studies).
    Note: Internal examiners may be granted a temporary appointment for the purpose of the thesis examination if sufficient advance request (greater than 2 months) is made to the Program Director (who in turn makes the request to the IHPME appointments committee).
  • Recognized expertise in the field being examined.

  • Must be external to the University of Toronto as well as to its affiliated teaching hospitals and their research institutes. 
  • Must be a recognized expert on the subject of the thesis, and an Associate or Full Professor at their home institution, and experienced as a successful supervisor of doctoral candidates through to defence. An appraiser from outside the academic sector must possess the qualifications to be appointed to an academic position at this level. 
  • Must be at arm’s length from both the Candidate and the supervisor(s). Normally, this will exclude anyone who:
    • has served as Masters or PhD Supervisor / Supervisee of the Candidate or the Supervisor;
    • has, in the past six years, been a departmental colleague (e.g. in the same research institute or hospital division) of the Candidate or the Supervisor, or has collaborated on a research project, grant, scholarly work or publication, with either of them. 

The Vice Dean (Students), in considering nominations of external appraisers, will assess whether the nominee is at arm’s length. 

According to SGS, the FOE committee must include “at least two examiners who have not been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis. Those eligible include: the External Appraiser, members of the faculty appointed to the Candidate’s graduate unit, and members of the faculty appointed to other graduate units of the University.”

However, in IHPME we apply stricter rules:

The external examiner:  

  • Although the external appraiser need only fulfill the role of Appraiser i.e., provide a written assessment of the thesis, and need not ultimately vote, IHPME strongly encourages Appraisers to act as External Examiner and to vote at the examination committee. The External Examiner can participate in person or by teleconference/ online.
  • If the external appraiser is unable to serve as an examiner, we expect the external examiner to meet the same criteria as the external appraiser in terms of their academic rank and conflict of interest.

Similarly, IHPME applies stricter criteria for the internal examiner in that:  

  • The PhD internal examiner should have an associate professor rank or higher
  • The PhD internal examiner may be internal to the University of Toronto. Preference is for an examiner who is external to IHPME, however, this is not a strict requirement and those who are internal to the department of IHPME are eligible
  • The PhD internal examiner must have an arm’s-length relationship with the student and supervisor as defined by the same criteria as the external appraiser.
  • In rare cases, when it is proven difficult to find an internal examiner who meets the above criteria, the Graduate Coordinator may approve an internal examiner who meets the SGS criteria but not the stricter IHPME ones.

What to Expect at the Defence

  • A quorum of the Defence Committee must be present.
  • The Chair appointed by SGS follows clearly established examination procedures.
  • The student is asked to leave the room.
  • The defence Committee discusses the internal and external reviews.
  • The student is recalled and presents their thesis (maximum 20 minutes, uninterrupted).
  • One or two rounds of questions are posed to the student. (*Note: Questions can be asked about both the oral presentation and written thesis.)
  • Student is asked to leave the room.
  • The defence Committee votes on the acceptability of both the thesis and the oral defence.
  • The Supervisor informs the student if modifications are required.

After the Defence

  1. After the defence, the Chair of the defence sends the signed and completed ballot to the SGS examinations office.  There are two possible decisions:
    • Adjourn: if there is more than one negative vote and / or abstention, the examination is adjourned and a reconvened examination must be held within one year
    • Pass: There are three options the thesis may be accepted “in present form”, with “editorial corrections” (one month to make changes with supervisor approval), or requiring “minor revisions” (three months to make changes with sub-committee approval). See Guidelines for the Doctoral Final Oral Examination (FOE) for more detailed information for each case.

      After modifications and approval, the supervisor or subcommittee convenor inform SGS that the student has made the corrections, and the student uploads the thesis to ProQuest.  

      As of September 1, 2009, the School of Graduate Studies will ONLY accept the submission of theses in electronic format. Please view SGS – Producing your Thesis webpage for information on electronically submitting your thesis.
  2. Students failing to complete all steps by the SGS deadlines will be required to register and pay fees for another term.
  3. The School of Graduate Studies notifies students about convocation arrangements 4 – 6 weeks in advance.

Finance Your Degree

At IHPME, we offer a variety of financial supports to help you succeed in our graduate programs.

Connect with Clinical Epidemiology and Health Care Research (CEHCR)

CEHCR Program Director

Sindhu Johnson
Phone Number: 416-603-6417
Email Address: sindhu.johnson@​

Oversees management of the CEHCR program.

CEHCR Associate Director

Nick Daneman
Email Address: nick.daneman@​

Co-leads the management of the Clinical Epidemiology and Healthcare Research (CEHCR) program.

Graduate Administrator

Zoe Downie-Ross
Phone Number: (416) 946-3486
Email Address: ihpme.grad.admin@​

Coordinates student records, graduate funding, and student-related awards.

Graduate Admissions

Christina Lopez
Email Address: ihpme.admissions@​

Manages admissions and responds to all related inquiries.

Graduate Assistant

Nadia Ismail
Phone Number: (416) 946-4100
Email Address: ihpme.grad.assist@​

Coordinates various graduate initiatives including defences, student events, and graduation.

Program Assistant – CEHCR

Aileen O’Dowd
Email Address:​

Manages the CEHCR courses including course enrolment, grades, and access to Quercus. For admissions inquiries contact

Graduate Placements

Christina Lopez
Phone Number: (416) 978-1108
Email Address: ihpme.placements@​

Coordinates details involving student placement and experiential learning