PhD Program

The objective of the Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology is to have students possess a comprehensive understanding of the general field of pharmacology, in addition to specific expertise in their particular area of interest. They build on their knowledge of pharmacology so that they are able to think critically about specific areas in pharmacology. They should be able to formulate and design, as well as carry out and interpret investigations. Their findings should be publishable. They should show capacity for continuing significant contributions in pharmacology and for conducting independent research.

All students, regardless of their academic background are required to undertake self-directed study, culminating in the demonstration of proficiency in pharmacological principles during the course of the graduate program. Evaluations take place throughout the Ph.D. program at a variety of stages (including during PCL1002Y).

With the exception of PCL1003Y: Seminars in Pharmacology, ALL course and breadth module requirements must be completed within the first three (3) years of registration in the program (four (4) years for direct-entry students).

Required Courses and Modules

Required Courses

  1. PCL1002Y: Graduate Pharmacology (must be completed in the first year of registration)
  2. PCL1003Y: Seminars in Pharmacology
  3. Full Minor course: A full (Y) graduate course equivalent (outside the student's main area of research) must be taken as a minor subject. Students should submit a Ph.D. Minor Course Form to the Graduate Coordinator for approval before attempting to fulfil this requirement.
  4. Any other graduate course(s) required by a Collaborative Program or as recommended by the Ph.D. Supervisory Committee

Breadth Modules / Tutorials

Ph.D. students must complete four (4) breadth modules/tutorials in specialized areas of Pharmacology unrelated to your specific research interest. At least one must be a Laboratory Module.

Students should select their modules in consultation with their supervisor and supervisory committee members within the first eight months of their Ph.D. program. These should be recorded on the Planned Ph.D. Module Sessions form.

A half course (which is IN ADDITION to your required minor subject) outside the student's major research area may be substituted for one of the breadth modules. Prior approval of the supervisor, supervisory committee and Graduate Coordinator is required.

Students must complete their module requirements by the end of their third year of registration in the Ph.D. program. Students should submit a Ph.D. Module Completion form for each module completed.


First Year Seminar

All Ph.D. students who entered the program directly from an undergraduate program (or who entered without prior screening), are required to give a seminar after one year in the program. Seminars are typically held in October/November. The length of your presentation should be 15 minutes maximum. A 10-minute question period will follow your presentation. If you have not progressed significantly on your thesis topic, you can still give a seminar focusing on scientific thought and rationale. You should present some data and explain how you are handling it (include any problems you are encountering).

Your supervisor is required to attend your Seminar (Ph.D. Supervisory Committee members are also encouraged to attend). Three Graduate Committee Members attend the Seminars given by all first-year Ph.D. students. The Seminar (and the Supervisory Committee Report) is used by the GEC to determine whether the Ph.D. student is progressing satisfactorily enough to be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program. Since supervisors are required to attend all of their students’ seminars, it is not possible for the Graduate Office to give students a choice of dates. We will do our best to distribute a tentative schedule early enough so that if there are any conflicts you and your supervisor can inform the Graduate Office before the final schedule is complete.

Mid-Point Seminar

As part of the PCL1003Y Seminar course, all Ph.D. students are required to give a Midpoint Seminar – usually scheduled during the months of May/June around the 3rd year of enrolment. This is an opportunity for you to become familiar with the expectations for the defence. At the midpoint seminar, you will be required to give a summary of work in progress or of particular projects or sets of experiments that have been completed. The length of the presentation should be 20 minutes. A 10-minute question period will follow your presentation. As with the First-Year Seminars, the Graduate Office will schedule the Midpoints around the dates the supervisor and supervisory committee members are available.

Students can request that their participation in the oral presentation component of the annual Visions in Pharmacology (VIP) student research day count as credit for the Ph.D. Midpoint Seminar. If you wish to do this, you must first ensure that your supervisor and most (if not all) of your Supervisory Committee members are available to attend VIP.

Exit Seminar

The Ph.D. Exit seminar is usually given between 2-3 months prior to the Senate Oral Examination. Students give an overview of all of the results of their research.

The following is a suggested format for the Pharmacology Ph.D. exit seminar:

  • 10 min general introduction (so that all attendees can fully appreciate the research topic)
  • 20 min core material (similar to what you will present at the departmental and senate defenses)
  • 5 min future plan/perspective
  • 15 min for questions

The Exit Seminar must be completed before plans can be made for the final oral examination. When choosing a date, please ensure that your supervisor and all (or a majority) of your supervisory committee members will be available to attend.

Program Progression

The School of Graduate Studies sets clear guidelines for monitoring the progress of Ph.D. students

In Pharmacology, all students participate in a research program and present their investigations in a thesis. In particular, a Ph.D. thesis contains publishable results of original research. 

The progress of all Ph.D. candidates is monitored by an approved Supervisory Committee selected by the thesis supervisor and student within six months of the student's enrolment in the Ph.D. program. Committee composition may include the thesis supervisor and two, or occasionally three, additional members. One member of the Committee may be invited from outside the Department or exceptionally, even from outside the University. Any subsequent changes to the committee composition must be approved by the Graduate Coordinator. 

The Committee evaluates the progress of the candidate and reports annually on the directions and prospects of the program. This written annual Ph.D. Supervisory Committee Report is a condition for re-registration in September for the next academic year and receipt is strictly monitored by the Graduate Coordinator.

One-Year Progress Report

In particular, within one year after entry into the Ph.D. program, and normally in conjunction with the first meeting of the Committee, the student must present a written report on their Ph.D. project to the Committee including a critical review of the pertinent literature and a clear outline of the proposed investigation, its objective(s) and research plan. The Committee shall thoroughly assess the report, the progress, and the standing of the student and may suggest the modification or even suspension of their program. It is recommended that students structure this initial report similar to a CIHR-style operating grant application (normally about 10 pages of single-spaced text plus references and tables/figures). A copy of the student's written report, along with the completed Ph.D. Supervisory Committee Report, must be submitted to the Graduate Office.

Progress Reports in Subsequent Years

At each subsequent meeting of the Committee, the student should prepare a concise written progress report that summarizes the developments since the previous meeting and the remaining items to be accomplished for program completion. A copy of the written report should be submitted to the Graduate Office. The final meeting of the Committee must involve a decision regarding the most appropriate organization of the student's thesis, and the report of the Committee must include an explicit written recommendation that a sufficient body of experimental work has been completed and that preparation of the thesis may proceed.

Three years after registration in the Ph.D. program, and every subsequent year, the Graduate Education Committee will review the progress of the candidate and the projections for the completion of the program. Two consecutive reports from the Supervisory Committee indicating unsatisfactory student progress may result in a recommendation to terminate the registration and eligibility of the student.

The Supervisor, members of the Supervisory Committee, or the student may report grievances directly to the Chair and/or Coordinator.

Ph.D. Thesis Approval

At the final Ph.D. Supervisory committee meeting, the committee decides whether or not a sufficient body of work has been completed and preparation of the thesis may proceed.

At this meeting, or shortly afterward, the Supervisory Committee nominates a Graduate Faculty member to serve as Thesis Reader. The Thesis Reader will be indicated on the final Supervisory Committee Report which must be submitted to the Graduate Office. We would normally expect this individual to be one of the Supervisory Committee members and to be familiar with the candidate's thesis research.

The Thesis Reader, along with the Supervisor/Co-Supervisor evaluates the thesis to ensure that it is in a suitable state for distribution to the Senate Oral Examination Committee members.  

The student then submits a copy of the thesis and the Ph.D. Thesis Approval for Distribution form signed by the Supervisor(s) and Thesis Reader confirming that they have read and approved the thesis. Upon obtaining permission from the Graduate Coordinator, the student can proceed to arrange the Senate Oral Examination.

The thesis can only be distributed to the External Appraiser and other Senate Oral Examination Committee members when permission has been obtained from the Graduate Office.

Note that the entire thesis material (i.e. text and all tables and figures - whether unpublished or already published) is subject to appraisal and recommendation for revision.

Senate Oral Examination

Begin by familiarizing yourself with the Program Completion procedures.

To avoid prejudicing the result of the examination, and to ensure that the defence of the thesis is their own work, the candidate is instructed not to communicate with the External Examiner until the examination is underway. Therefore, it is the supervisor's responsibility to contact the External Examiner to ascertain their willingness to attend the senate oral examination. The External Examiner's full CV must also be requested by the supervisor.

To arrange the Senate Examination, the Graduate Office must receive the following 8 WEEKS before the Examination:

  • Thesis Abstract of not more than 350 words - properly formatted as per SGS regulations;
  • Ph.D. Senate Oral Examination Committee form - containing ALL of the required information on Pages 1 and 2;
  • Full CV of External Examiner (must be obtained by the supervisor - not the student)

Committee Composition for the Senate Oral Examination

[Quorum = Four (4) not including the Chair. If less than four (4) members show up for a scheduled examination, the examination will be cancelled. Maximum voting members is six (6)]. 

The Senate Oral Examination Committee comprises a maximum of 6 voting members and 1 non-voting member. 

  1. Thesis Supervisor 
  2. Two (2) voting Member(s). Must be a member of SGS Graduate Faculty. May include Co-supervisor and Supervisory Committee member(s). 
  3. External Examiner. (See below for the Definition of the External Examiner) 
  4. External Representative - A graduate faculty member whose primary graduate appointment is outside the Department of Pharmacology, but within the University and a member of the Graduate Faculty.  [Cross-appointees to Pharmacology can be used.]
  5. Departmental Representative - appointed by the Graduate Coordinator. 
  6. Non-voting Chair - appointed by SGS. 

External Examiners must be:

  • External to the University as well as to its affiliated teaching hospitals and their research institutes.
  • 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 defense. An Examiner from outside the academic sector must possess the qualifications to be appointed to an academic position at this level.
  • At arm’s length from both the candidate and the supervisor(s). Normally, this will exclude anyone who: has served as Ph.D. Supervisor/Supervisee of the Candidate or the Supervisor; or has, in the past six years, been a departmental colleague of the Candidate or the Supervisor, or has collaborated on a research project, scholarly work or publication, with either of them. The Vice-Dean (Students), in considering nominations of External Examiners, will assess whether the nominee is at arm’s length.

The External Examiner is asked by the Department to provide a 1-2 page report with brief, constructively critical and analytical comments two weeks before the scheduled examination. The Appraisal is then forwarded to the candidate and to all Committee members. To avoid prejudicing the result of the examination, and to ensure that the defence of the thesis is their own work, the candidate may not discuss the appraisal with the members of the Examination Committee until the examination is underway.

PLEASE NOTE: The External Examiner must be available to attend your Senate Oral examination either personally or via teleconferencing. If due to extenuating circumstances, the External Examiner cannot attend the Examination, then you must have another voting member of the Graduate Faculty from another Department (e.g., the External Representative) on your Committee. 

The thesis can only be distributed to the External Appraiser and other Senate Oral Examination Committee members when permission has been obtained from the SGS Vice-Dean. The Graduate Office will inform the supervisor and student as soon as permission is received.

Oral Defence Procedures

For information on the actual Senate Oral Examination procedures, see Final Oral Examination Guidelines.


The School of Graduate Studies provides a $100.00 honorarium to all External Examiners/Appraisers and $500.00 towards External Examiner travel/accommodation. Any expenses over and above $500.00 must be borne by the student's supervisor. Students preparing for Ph.D. examinations are advised to consult the Graduate Office in the early stages of planning so as to obtain the necessary documentation and direction.

Postponement of Examinations

An examination may be postponed if more than one negative vote concerning the suitability of the written thesis for defense is received in advance. In this case, only one postponement of an oral examination is permitted.

Adjournment of Examinations

During the examination, more than one negative vote (or abstention) in either the thesis or oral examination category causes the oral examination to be adjourned.

In situations where an examination was adjourned, a reconvened examination is to be held within one year of the adjournment. If the candidate is not successful at the reconvened exam, he/she will be ineligible for further M.Sc./ Ph.D. candidacy at the University.

A thesis defense held after an initial postponement is considered the first attempt at the oral examination [i.e. this is NOT considered a reconvened exam following an adjournment].