Transfer from the MSc to the PhD

Transferring from the Master's to the Doctoral Program (Fast-Track)

Outstanding students enrolled in the MSc program may be allowed to transfer to the PhD program without being required to write a master's thesis.

Epidemiology (EPI) students must refer to these specific conditions and required documents to transfer to the PhD.

BCH, CMM, MIC and NSC students must meet the following conditions:

  • Obtain a minimum of A- in all MSc level courses and a minimum of B+ in the last 30 units.
  • Complete all the core courses required for the MSc.
  • Must be registered for the thesis (THM7999)
  • Successfully complete the transfer exam before the end of the 5th term.
  • Submit the required documents with the required approvals.
  • Obtain final approval from the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office of the Faculty of Medicine.

The Transfer Exam is a 2-part exam used to evaluate whether a student has the knowledge and skill to be successful as a PhD candidate.

The exam consists of both a written component (a thesis proposal) and an oral examination.

If an MSc student fails one of the components of the Transfer Exam, the MSc student will be asked to complete an MSc degree.

A second examination is not permitted.

If successful, the transfer exam will be accepted in lieu of the comprehensive examination.

Learning Objective
The transfer exam will evaluate whether a candidate has the knowledge and skills required to successfully complete a doctoral program, such as:
  • General and project-specific scientific knowledge
  • Knowledge of the scientific literature in the proposed field of study
  • Ability to generate a research question and to propose an experimental plan
  • Ability to use research methodologies and interpret results (generated during the first year of studies)
  • Ability to communicate science both written and orally
  • Ability to put the proposed work in the context of the broader field of research
  • Potential to identify limitations of their chosen approaches and make informed judgments in their specific field of research
Each of these learning objectives will be tested both at the time of the submission of the written report (the research proposal) and at the oral exam.
Writing a research proposal will develop:
  • scientific writing skills;
  • critical thinking skills;
  • scientific creativity, and will
  • expand knowledge in the field of research. These will be accomplished through the generation of both a research question and an experimental plan to address this question.

At the second meeting of the TAC committee, normally in the 4th term after first enrolment, the student’s research project and the Transfer Exam should be discussed.

The transfer exam must be successfully completed before the end of the 5th term.


At least six weeks prior to the transfer exam, you need to inform the Graduate and Postdoctoral Office (GPSO) by e-mail:

  • Of the date chosen by the supervisor and the evaluation committee for the examination, or
  • Of your dates of preference if your supervisor and committee members haven’t agreed on a specific date.

To your e-mail you must add your supervisor in cc and co-supervisor if applicable and attach the following documents:

  • your research abstract
  • The Transfer Exam (Fast-track) Examiner nomination Form (Names of potential examiners should be nominated by the supervisor)
    To download this form, under the Thesis section

The Program Director will approve the nomination of the committee members.

As soon as the GSPO has the approval of the director we will assist with the scheduling of the event by confirming the time and location of the exam.

At least 3 weeks prior to the event, you must circulate your research proposal by e-mail to the examination committee with the GSPO in cc.


The candidate will prepare a PhD research proposal on their own proposed thesis project.

This research proposal cannot be a summary of a grant proposal submitted by the research supervisor, but rather, must be specific to the research questions to be investigated by the candidate and reflective of research progress made in the first year of studies.

Examination Committee

The committee must be composed of 3 members:

  • Two TAC members, and
  • One additional examiner who will be nominated as the chair for the exam.

At least one of the committee members should be from the home graduate program.

Following submission of the written component, the members of the examination committee will be granted 1 week to complete its evaluation.

All examiners and supervisors are required to be present during the oral examination.

Roles of the Supervisor and Student

The thesis supervisor must support the transfer exam.

The transfer exam is intended to be an independent learning process.

The proposal is to be written by the student as an independent exercise. The supervisor will not edit the proposal, but rather provide feedbacks on the scope of the research and the hypotheses.

The supervisor may also be consulted on matters of methodology or format of the proposal.

Assessment and Evaluation

The exam is evaluated as Pass/Fail. The student can fail either the written or oral component. Each component (written and oral) is evaluated by the examination committee.

A minimum of 2 satisfactory votes are required to successfully pass the Transfer Exam.

Following a Verdict 1
The student will be asked to prepare for oral defense.

Following a verdict 2
A student whose performance on the written component is deemed to be not satisfactory (more than one not satisfactory vote) will be asked to write a Master’s thesis.

Part 1: The Research Proposal

General Requirements

  • The research proposal is a formal document that will be prepared based on your proposed research plan for the PhD.
  • While you will have already discussed your research direction with your supervisor and TAC, the research proposal required for the Transfer Exam is neither a TAC report nor a re-submission of your supervisor’s grant proposal.
  • Rather, the research proposal will cover the direction of your work from the time of the exam through to thesis submission.
  • Its scientific rationale will be based on your knowledge of the field as well as your own results.
  • You must, therefore, decide your topic in a very narrow scope and ensure that all of your experimental aims are sufficiently independent enough to allow you to make a significant contribution to scientific knowledge in your field by the end of your studies, a requirement for the completion of a doctoral degree.

Required Sections

1. Title Page

The title page should include the title of your proposal, your name and student number, your supervisor’s name, the date you began the PhD program, the date of submission of the research proposal and the following statement: Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Comprehensive Exam.

2. Abstract

A 350 word summary of the proposed research proposal. This abstract should include:

  • a statement of the problem
  • a rationale for the proposed research
  • the hypothesis and experimental aims
  • a brief description of the experimental plan
  • a statement about the significance and/or implications of the proposed work
3. Introduction

The Introduction section should include the necessary information and context to understand your research question. The introduction should aim to summarize the literature in the field as well as your own research progress in a concise fashion with the objective of setting the stage for the hypothesis (next section). The Introduction should inform the reader about the important facts while also hinting at the significance of the field.

4. Rationale and Hypothesis

This short section should briefly summarize the known information that serves as the foundation for your research question, followed by your specific (and testable hypothesis). This section should not be more than one paragraph.

5. Experimental Aims and Methods

In this section, you will typically describe 2-3 experimental aims that will test your hypothesis. These aims can be formulated as smaller research questions (eg. Is protein X necessary for process Y?). For each aim, you will develop an experimental approach that is modern and feasible, and that will answer your research question. There should be sufficient detail to allow an independent researcher to complete the work. Also, it is best to think of multiple ways to validate your findings and to test your hypothesis to demonstrate scientific rigor. Ask yourself “If I do experiment A and get result B, what else, other than a correct hypothesis, could cause this result?” Asking yourself this question will reveal important control experiments that will make your approach more comprehensive.

In this section, you should also summarize for the reader what results you expect to see based on your hypothesis and literature review. While this section will cover the experimental approach that you think is ideal for answering your question, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that you will have to find another strategy to address your hypothesis. Also use this section to briefly point out pitfalls to your approach and to suggest alternative ways to answer your research questions.

6 Significance

Use this section to convince your reader of the potential impact of your research. It should be brief, but should put your expected findings into the broader context of the field of research you work in.

7 References

Each reference should be numbered sequentially as it appears in the text. The numbers should be placed in the text as a superscript. The Reference section should follow the format for the journal Nature, as shown below:

39.  Schmidt, D., del Marmol, J. & MacKinnon, R. Mechanistic basis for low threshold mechanosensitivity in voltage-dependent K+ channels. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A109, 10352-7 (2012).

General Format

1. Page Length and Margins

The Research proposal should not exceed 15 type-written pages including figures but excluding references. Margins must be set to a minimum of 1 inch (2.54 cm).

2. Acceptable font

The document should be prepared using Times New Roman 12 pt. The document should be prepared single spaced.

3. Figures

Figures should be prepared in PowerPoint, Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator and saved as image files (jpg, tif) and inserted into the text with tight text wrapping using Arial 10 pt as a minimum font size in the final version.

Each figure should include a concise legend using the acceptable fonts in 3.2 that describes the experiment performed similar to what is appropriate for scientific publication.

Figures should be formatted to take 1 full page width or a half-page width or less. Figure that exceed one half-page width but do not extend to the full page width reduce readability. You will have to be very selective with the figures you include to manage your space efficiently.

Assessment and Evaluation

  • The Transfer Exam is evaluated as (S) Satisfactory or (NS) Not Satisfactory.
  • Each component (written and oral) is evaluated by the examination committee including the Chairperson.

Following submission of the written component, the examination committee will be granted 1 week to complete its evaluation with two possible verdict outcomes:

  • Verdict 1: The research proposal is ready to proceed to oral examination, the candidate will be asked to prepare for oral examination.
  • Verdict 2: The candidate will be asked to complete an MSc degree.  A second examination is not permitted.

A minimum of 2 satisfactory votes are required to successfully pass the written component of the Transfer Exam.

Part 2: Oral Evaluation
Submission and Approval of the Required Documents

Additional information is required to support your request to transfer from the MSc to PhD (fast-track).

The following documents must be submitted to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Office of the Faculty of Medicine through a Service request in uoZone:

  • PhD Disclosure Form
  • Annual Research Progress Report
  • Modification/Cancellation of Registration form

To download these forms

Please submit 3 separate Service Requests and inform your supervisor that his approval is required to process the requests.

In your uoZone, under Request Category:
  • Select Research Related / Modify a supervisor
    Attach the PhD Disclosure Form to your request.
    This request will document that your supervisor has agreed to take you on as a PhD student and that you will be properly funded.
  • Select Research Related/ Progress Report
    Attach the Annual Research Progress Report.
    This will document your annual requirement, in the event the Transfer Exam replaced your annual Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting.
    If a Progress Report has been submitted this year, with a TAC report, this request can be waived.
  • Select General/ Modification or Cancellation of Enrolment
    Attach the Modification/Cancellation of Registration form:
    • Note the change from MSc to PhD, for the upcoming term
    • Drop THM7999 (left hand side of the form)
    • Add THD9999 (right hand side of the form) and other relevant courses required to meet the PhD program requirements, such as the PhD seminar course and PhD Comprehensive Exam.
InformationStudents must be enroled to the MSc (THM7999) to request to fast-track to the PhD.
If not enroled to THM7999 for the upcoming term, attach a Graduate Registration form to add THM7999 for the upcoming term.
Final Approval from the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office

Once all levels of approval are received, your request to fast-track will be complete.

The Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office will process the change within 2-4 weeks; the student will be enroled for his/her PhD courses and receive a confirmation e-mail.

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