Comprehensive Exam

UBC requires that a comprehensive exam be taken before moving to candidacy for PhD. The purpose of the comprehensive exam is to assess whether the student has developed strong thinking abilities, required knowledge of the discipline, required academic background for the research to follow and ability to communicate knowledge of the discipline. Below are the guidelines for the exam. They apply to registered PhD students or to students transferring from a Masters to the PhD program. In either case, the comprehensive exam should be taken within 36 months of initial registration. It is held after the completion of required course work.  If transferring from M.Sc. to Ph.D., it is held after the transfer.

  • The IOP comprehensive exam will be based on testing the student's ability to integrate knowledge from course work taken (e.g. ONCO 502, ONCO 510, and ONCO 548) or their equivalent.

  • It will also be based on the student's ability to defend his/her proposed research. This could include background knowledge, ability to think through potential pitfalls of the proposed approach, consideration of alternative approaches etc.

  • The student will provide a proposal of his/her thesis work (5 pages of text, not including references tables and figures). The proposal should include background on the proposed research, goal and rationale of the project, preliminary results, and discussion on the potential impact, as well as tables, figures and references. The student will provide a 20 min presentation of the proposal before answering questions. Please note: students will not be permitted to use supplemental slides beyond those used in the presentation to answer questions from the committee.

  • The entire exam should normally not take more than 2 hours, but a 2.5 hour time slot should be scheduled.

  • The examination committee will be made up of a chair person (normally either the following: Dr. Wan Lam or Dr. Kevin Bennewith or Dr. Marcel Bally), the supervisor, a member of the student's research committee, and another IOP faculty member not on the student's research committee. Additional members may be added at the discretion of the chair person. Please send your list to the Director for approval.

  • It is the student's responsibility to arrange the date, time and location of the examination. Generally the schedule should be set four to 6 weeks prior to the exam.  The date and time and who the Chair will be, should be communicated to the IOP Coordinator at least 3 weeks before the exam.


This form (Comp Exam Form) needs to be filled out by the Chair and the committee.

Students not passing the comprehensive exam in the first attempt may be allowed to repeat the exam (one time only) based on the recommendation of the examination committee. The re- examination must be taken as soon as possible, but normally not more than 3 months after the first exam.  Students registered in a Ph.D. program will be asked to leave the program if they fail to pass the comprehensive exam after two attempts.


Please note: students are not permitted to audio or video record any portion of the comprehensive exam. Those students that are found recording any portion of the examination will be subject to disciplinary action that may include withdrawal of the student from the program.