PhD Program

The Ph.D. program in Pharmacology aims to equip students with a comprehensive understanding of pharmacology, while allowing you to gain specific expertise in your areas of interest. Through rigorous coursework and hands-on research, you will build on your knowledge of pharmacology, develop critical thinking skills, carryout and interpret investigations, and produce publishable findings.

Regardless of your academic background, you will engage in self-directed study, culminating in the demonstration of proficiency in pharmacological principles during the course of the graduate program. Evaluations occur at various stages throughout the Ph.D. program. We are committed to fostering a community of scholars capable of making significant contributions to pharmacology through independent research.

Required Courses and Modules

With the exception of thesis research and ongoing research seminars (e.g., PCL1003Y), all program requirements must be completed within the first three (3) years of registration in the program (four (4) years for direct-entry students).

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 your 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 Specialization or as recommended by your 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 should be a Laboratory Module.

You should select your modules in consultation with your supervisor and supervisory committee members within the first eight months of your 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 of your major research area may be substituted for one of the breadth modules. Prior approval of the supervisor, supervisory committee and Graduate Coordinator is required.

You should submit a Ph.D. Module Completion form for each module completed.


First Year Seminar

All Ph.D. students entering directly from an undergraduate program or without prior screening must present a seminar after one year in the program. The seminars are typically scheduled from October-December. Your presentation should not exceed 15 minutes. A 10-minute question and answer period will follow your presentation. If  your thesis research is still in its early stages, your seminar can focus on scientific thought and rationale, including any preliminary data and the challenges you are facing.

It is mandatory for your supervisor and highly recommended for your Ph.D. Committee members to attend. Additionally, three Graduate Faculty Members will be present to offer feedback. The Seminar, along with the Supervisory Committee Report, will be used by the Graduate Education Committee to assess your progress and determine your suitability to continue in the Ph.D. program.

Mid-Point Seminar

Typically scheduled during May or June of your third year, the Mid-Point Seminar gives you an opportunity to become familiar with the expectations for the defense. You will be required to give a 20 minute presentation of work in progress or of particular projects or sets of experiments that have been completed. A 10-minute question and answer session will follow your presentation. The Graduate Office will schedule the seminar around the dates your supervisor and supervisory committee members are available.

Students may opt to have their participation in the oral presentation component of the annual Visions in Pharmacology (VIP) student research day count towards their 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.

Exit Seminar

The Ph.D. Exit seminar is usually given 2-3 months prior to the Final Oral Examination and follows this format: 

  • 10 minutes: General introduction to help attendees understand the research topic
  • 20 minutes: Presentation on core material (similar to what you will present at your final oral examination)
  • 5 minutes: Future plans and perspectives
  • 15 minutes: Question and Answer period

This 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 can attend.

Monitoring Student Progress

The School of Graduate Studies sets clear guidelines for monitoring the progress of Ph.D. students. Each student involved in the Ph.D. program is required to produce a thesis with results worthy of publication, demonstrating original research. 

Supervisory Committee

Within six months of registration, every Ph.D. student must have an approved Supervisory Committee in place, selected by you and your thesis supervisor. The committee typically includes the thesis supervisor and two or three additional members. An external member from outside the Department, or exceptionally from outside the University, may also be included. Any changes to the committee must be approved by the Graduate Coordinator.

The Supervisory Committee is responsible for evaluating your progress and reporting annually on the directions and prospects of your 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 closely monitored by the Graduate Coordinator.

One-Year Progress Report

Within one year of entry into the Ph.D. program, and normally during the first meeting of the Committee, you must present a written report on your Ph.D. project to the Committee. This report should include a critical literature review and a clear outline of the proposed investigation, its objectives and research plan. The format should resemble a CIHR-style operating grant application (about 10 pages of text plus references, tables, and figures). The Committee will assess the report and may suggest modifications or even program suspension. The progress report, along with the Ph.D. Supervisory Committee Report, must be submitted to the Graduate Office.

Progress Reports in Subsequent Years

In each following year, you should prepare a concise progress report for the Supervisory Committee summarizing the developments since the previous meeting and the remaining items to be accomplished for program completion. This report should also be forwarded to the Graduate Office. The final committee meeting must involve a decision regarding the organization of your thesis, and the committee report must include an explicit written recommendation that a sufficient body of experimental work has been completed and that preparation of the thesis may proceed.

Review and Continuation

The Graduate Education Committee reviews each candidate's progress and projection for program completion annually. Two consecutive unsatisfactory reports from the Supervisory Committee may lead to recommendation to terminate the student's registration and eligibility.

The Supervisor, any member of the Supervisory Committee, or the student themselves may bring up grievances directly to the Chair and/or Coordinator for resolution.

By maintaining a structured and rigorous evaluation process, we ensure that each Ph.D. student receives the guidance necessary to achieve their academic and research goals.

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 Final 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, you can proceed to arrange the Final Oral Examination.

The thesis can only be distributed to the External Appraiser and other Final Oral Examination Committee members when permission has been obtained from the SGS Vice-Dean.

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.

Final 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 final oral examination. The External Examiner's full CV must also be requested by the supervisor.

To arrange the Final 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. Final 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

The Examination Committee should consist of four to six voting members. If less than four (4) members show up for a scheduled examination, the examination will be cancelled. The Committee must include:

  • At least 1 member, but no more than 3 members from the student's Supervisory Committee. Members must hold a Graduate Faculty Membership at the University of Toronto.
  • At least 2 examiners who have not been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis. This includes the External Appraiser and other graduate faculty members cross-appointed to Pharmacology or appointed elsewhere within the University.
  • Non-voting Chair appointed by SGS. 

The Examination Committee may also include up two (2) non-voting members. These members must be approved by the Vice-Dean, Students.

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, 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 Final 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., an External Representative) on your Committee. 

The thesis can only be distributed to the External Appraiser and other Final 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 Final 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].