MSc Thesis Handbook


MSc Major Milestones

  1. Coursework
  2. Form the committee
  3. Thesis proposal 
  1. REB process 
  2. Research and writing
  3. Committee approval of the thesis
  1. Thesis defence
  2. Modifications and thesis submission

Supporting Activities

  • Intake meeting (complete the MOU plus Annual Progress Report meeting form)
  • Annual review meeting with the emphasis lead and supervisor (complete the Annual Progress Report meeting form and financial declaration of employment and awards form)
  • Meeting with the committee at least two times annually [or equivalent communication about thesis progress] (complete Thesis Committee Meeting Report form)
  • Publishing your work  

Selecting a Suitable Thesis Topic 

The master’s thesis in HSR is designed to provide the student with research training above that acquired in courses. Courses cannot teach the student the nuts and bolts of carrying out actual studies, all of which have particular quirks and barriers to successful completion.

All thesis-stream students should learn about study design, writing a proposal, literature review and selecting methods for data collection and analysis. Students are strongly encouraged to choose a thesis topic that is original and publishable. 

Selecting a Research Topic

There are many suitable topics for research in Health Systems Research. The selection of a research topic should be the result of consultation between the student and supervisor.

A good research topic is one that:

  • Addresses an important real-life problem;
  • Fills in gaps in current knowledge and understanding;
  • Relevant to the field of HSR, and your emphasis (for HSR);
  • You are passionate about and interested in.
  • Is doable within the time frame allotted for the degree. For MSc, this necessitates scoping the thesis research clearly.

While it is acceptable for MSc students to take responsibility for part of a larger research of their supervisor, the student should gain a good understanding of study design and experience in executing and finishing a research project independently and, in many cases, writing a publishable paper.

Review Past IHPME Thesis Topics

Selecting a Supervisor & Role of the Supervisor

Selecting a Supervisor

All MSc 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 and Research and Initiatives on the IHPME website to find a professor that fits you by:
    • Emphasis they are affiliated with
    • Content expertise
    • Methodological expertise
  • Ensure that your potential supervisor has an SGS appointment: MSc students can be supervised by either Associate or Full SGS member.
  • Students may get to know the potential supervisor whose research interests parallel their own. Consider doing a database (ProQuest, PubMed, Scopus [2]) search to see what they have published and read some of their recent publications.
  • 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 a lot of 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.
  • You may contact the emphasis lead of your area of interest for suggestions

For more information:

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 participants’ recruitment and/or other 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 conceptual and methodological issues and to raise questions about possible decisions faced/taken by the student.
  2. Memorandum of Agreement
    The supervisor and student are expected to read and sign a Memorandum of Agreement (Student-Supervisor MOU) [PDF] before undertaking thesis work. In HSR, this MOU should be submitted to the emphasis lead at or before the intake meeting in the summer before the start of the program.
  3. Meet on a regular basis.
    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, but the frequency may change depending on need and the stage of the research).
  4. Annual Progress

    Additionally, the supervisor, in conjunction with the student, is expected to complete annual progress reports, annual statement of employment and awards, and meet with the emphasis leads/program directors to discuss it.

For more information:

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 reach mutual agreement.
  • If that doesn’t work, you may contact the Emphasis Leads (HSR) 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 to completion and defence of the thesis.

HSR MSc Thesis Committee

The thesis committee should have a minimum of two members (including the supervisor). In consultation with the supervisor, the student selects a minimum of one additional member for their MSc Thesis Committee. In the case of co-supervision, no additional members are needed to form the committee.  

Most MSc thesis committees will consist of two working members. However, in case additional expertise is necessary a third member may be added to the committee.

  1. The supervisor, who functions as the Chair of the thesis committee, must have a full or associate membership to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and an appointment through IHPME. See “IHPME Requirements to be a Supervisor ” for additional requirements.
  2. 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).
    • 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. This information will be placed in the student’s file. 

Thesis Proposal Approval Process

MSc Thesis Proposal 

The MSc Thesis Proposal is developed by the student in consultation with, and under the guidance of, the thesis supervisor and the supervisory committee in a series of iterative steps.  Normally the committee first meets to discuss the thesis project generally, after which, drafts of the proposal are submitted to the supervisor and committee for feedback and revision. There is no oral defence for MSc proposals in HSR. Once the committee is satisfied with the proposal, and ethics approval has been obtained, the student may proceed with their research.

The MSc Thesis proposal is usually 20-30 pages in length, double-spaced, excluding references and the work plan. The proposal should contain the following elements:

  • Title: The thesis title should give a clear indication of the topic being studied.
  • The Problem: The proposal should contain a description of the study problem which includes specification of the study question(s), justification for their selection in relation to previous research and to the literature, and the potential relevance of the thesis findings.
  • Theoretical Framework and Background Information: Whereas in PhD research, theoretical grounding, the MSc thesis is often more applied in nature. It is, however, strongly recommended for the proposal to describe the major theoretical premises and the salient concepts which underlie the problem or question(s) and to outline a framework, based on literature, for analyzing the problem and question(s).
  • Design and Methods (some aspects may vary depending on the nature of the study): The type of research design should be clearly explained (e.g., survey, descriptive, interpretive, experimental, etc.) as should the reasons for selecting it, including its merits and limitations. The questions and/or hypotheses for the thesis research are formulated clearly. Sampling and recruitment procedures should be clearly outlined, including theoretical and practical reasons for selecting the population or database from which the sample is to be drawn.  Sample size, or details of any database, should be included. Data collection methods should be described in detail as should their relationship to the theoretical and conceptual issues associated with the thesis research project.  The methods of analysis appropriate for the study design should be fully described and justified, including their strengths and weaknesses.  
  • Work Plan: The proposal should include a detailed work plan, with estimates of time needed to complete each phase of the proposed research. Alternatives should be outlined for those elements of the work plan which may prove problematic. As the time allotted for MSc is relatively short, the research must be scoped appropriately and presented clearly.

When the thesis committee is satisfied with the proposal, and ethics approval has been obtained, the student may proceed to collection of data and preparation of their thesis.

Submission of Thesis Project for Ethics Review

In accordance with the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans – TCPS 2, all students conducting research that involves human participants (or data collected from them) 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.

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. Once received, students should submit a copy of the REB approval letter to the Graduate Assistant to put in the student’s file.

Applications for approval can only be submitted after the proposal has been approved by the thesis committee. Students must be listed as a researcher or investigator with the relevant Research Ethics Boards. While the University of Toronto sometimes exempts 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.

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 is obtained, the student may begin working on their 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 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 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:

The Writing Centre, 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.

  • Many conferences offer travel fellowships for students to present their work. 
  • SGS also offers a conference grant for students to present at conferences.
  • The University of Toronto has signed agreements with a number of publishers to support open access publication of research.

MSc Thesis Defence

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 6 weeks as outlined below; thus, you will need to plan ahead.

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 send a booking request and full CVs of the proposed external and internal examiners to the graduate assistant
  • The external and internal examiners will then be approved by the IHPME Graduate Coordinator.  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 for sending the thesis to their committee. 

The graduate assistant 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

The Committee consists of those members approved by the Graduate Coordinator and will normally include four (or more) members.

  • External Examiner
  • Internal Examiner
  • Supervisor
  • Member(s) of Thesis Committee

A quorum is four appointed members, with at least two individuals with no prior involvement in preparation of the thesis.


For SGS, the examiners are those who have not been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis. Those eligible include 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 criteria:

The MSc external examiner should be external to IHPME. The examiner can be from the University of Toronto or another accredited academic university

The MSc external examiner should have an arm’s-length relationship with both student and supervisor, defined as follows:

  • No publications or grants with the student or supervisor for the last six years
  • The external examiner should not have served in a student/supervisor relationship in the past six years;
  • The examiner should not be in the same research institute or hospital division as the student or supervisor.

The MSc internal examiner may be internal to the department of IHPME

The MSc internal examiner should have an arm’s-length relationship with the student and supervisor.  The criteria for judging whether a relationship is arm’s-length will generally be similar to that of an external examiner.

Note: In rare cases, if an external or internal examiner cannot be found who meets the above criteria, the Graduate Coordinator can approve an internal examiner who meets the SGS criteria but not the stricter IHPME criteria.

What to Expect at the Defence

  • A quorum of the Defence Committee must be present.
  • The Chair appointed by the Graduate Department follows clearly established examination procedures
  • The student is asked to leave the room while the committee discusses procedure and order of questioning
  • 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. Student makes modifications to the thesis as required. These are reviewed by the faculty member(s) designated at the end of the oral defence (usually the supervisor).
  2. Supervisor informs the Graduate Department in writing that the student has made revisions/corrections
  3. 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.
  4. The Graduate Department prepares the Degree Recommendation for the School of Graduate Studies for MSc students. Note: To be put forth, students must have registered (ie., paid fees) up to and including the session in which they are graduating. 
  5. Students failing to complete all steps by the SGS deadlines will be required to register and pay fees for another term.
  6. The School of Graduate Studies notifies students about convocation arrangements four to six in advance.

Finance Your Degree

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

Learn More About this Program

HSR Program Co-Director

Emily Seto
Email Address: emily.seto@​

Co-leads the management of the HSR Program.

HSR Program Co-Director

Katie N. Dainty
Email Address: katie.dainty@​

Co-leads the management of the HSR 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.

HSR Program Assistant

Anita Morehouse
Phone Number: 416-946-3922
Email Address:​

Manages the HSR courses including enrolment, grades, and access to Quercus.