Ph.D. Program Regulations

The School of Computer Science offers a world-class Ph.D. program. The program typically takes 3–4 years, and prepares students for doing advanced research in a wide range of areas relevant to Computer Science. Students conduct research under close supervision of our highly regarded research faculty, work with cutting-edge technology, attend international conferences and workshops, and build important, life-long contacts and relationships with colleagues and faculty. Graduates of our program are highly sought after, going on to work as university faculty, industrial or government researchers, or as leaders in business and development in the technology sector.

Have a look at our many exciting research areas and labs as well as our faculty.

Further, detailed information can found in the sections below. If you have any unanswered questions, feel free to contact the Graduate Coordinator.

Program Details

Successful completion of the Ph.D. program requires a minimum residency, some amount of coursework, and includes various stages of evaluation to ensure good research progress.


Ph.D. studies requires several years of study. Students may be admitted to either year 1 ("PhD1"), or directly to year 2 ("PhD2") if they already hold a completed M.Sc. degree in Computer Science. The main difference is in how many years of full-time residency is required. Students admitted to "PhD1" must complete four years of residency (eight terms), plus one more year as a full-time student, while students admitted to "PhD2" must complete only three years (six terms) of residency, plus one more year as a full-time student. Once these requirements are met, any further time in the degree program is considered additional-session.

Letter of Understanding

This form, which is required by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) for all graduate students admitted to thesis programs, is the starting point for a discussion between the Supervisor and the Student regarding expectations for the duration of the supervisory period. This is to be completed by the student after the discussion with the supervisor by the end of the first semester. Once signed by both parties, the letter should be uploaded directly to myProgress.

Progress Committee and Report

A student's progress through the Ph.D. program is monitored and evaluated on a yearly basis by a Progress Committee. Upon arrival at McGill a new Ph.D. student must, in consultation with his or her supervisor(s), form a Progress Committee. This committee will consist of least three professors---two members of the faculty of School of Computer Science, as well as the student's supervisor(s).

For the first year or two after entry into the program, progress is mainly evaluated when the student takes the comprehensive and proposal (area) exams. If either of these was taken in the last 12 months, there is no need for a detailed progress evaluation meeting, and the student just needs to submit a Progress Report Form (see below) directly to the graduate secretary.

At the beginning of September starting in the third year, the student is required to complete a Progress Report Form and submit it to their Progress Committee. At that time, an evaluation meeting is conducted by the Progress Committee, and the committee assigns a grade of either satisfactory or unsatisfactory with comments. If the mark is unsatisfactory, the Progress Committee offers specific comments to guide the student towards improving his or her performance. Note that earning an unsatisfactory mark twice may be cited as grounds for requiring that a student withdraw from the Ph.D. program.

Here is the progress report form: pdf format. Note that this annual progress report is different from the progress report used in the PhD comprehensive exam.

Comprehensive Exam

By the end of their first year in the program, Ph.D. students must complete a comprehensive examination. Exams are only conducted twice a year, in late August/early September, and again in early January. In order to take the exam, a student must register for COMP 700 in either the winter (January exams) or fall (August/September exams) semester.

The comprehensive exam consists of a Progress Report and a subsequent oral exam. First, several months before the exam is conducted, the supervisor (or co-supervisors), in consultation with other Progress Committee members and with approval from the Ph.D. Program Committee, gives the student a syllabus in an appropriate research area for the student to review. This syllabus is meant to cover significant contributions to a particular research topic, and consists of an organized and motivated list of approximately 15–20 publications, including conference proceedings, journal articles, and theses.

Based on the approved syllabus, the student writes a literature review. The review should demonstrate detailed understanding of some of the seminal developments in addition to familiarity with the broader chronological development of research in the area. The review report should be concise, but clear, and is typically between 12 pages and 15 pages in a single-spaced, 12 point font. This review, along with the rest of the formal Progress Report Form, must be submitted to the Evaluation Committee (via the graduate secretary) at least two weeks before the evaluation meeting takes place.

Here are progress report templates for the comprehensive exam, in latex format, or word format.

The actual Evaluation Committee is formed by the Ph.D. Program Committee and the supervisor (or co-supervisors). This committee evaluates the review document, and conducts the oral examination. The exam itself consists of two parts. During the first part (approx. 40–45 min), the student meets with the Evaluation Committee to verbally discuss the content of the progress report, and in particular answer questions from the committee pertaining to the literature review. A student's supervisor(s) also participates in this examination. Note that while questions are mainly based on the review content, students are also expected to know relevant computer science fundamentals.

During the second part, the committee meets (without the student) to discuss and vote on the student's performance. The committee considers the oral examination, the review itself, the student's performance in courses, and any other relevant academic or research accomplishments. Four Ph.D. Program Committee members (decided by the Chair of the Ph.D. Program Committee) and the student's supervisor are voters (in the case of co-supervision, a single vote is divided among the co-supervisors). A student must have a majority vote of pass in order to pass the exam.

In the event of a failure, the student is given one opportunity to retake the examination in the coming January or September, whichever is closer. After a second failure a student is required to withdraw from the program. Note that under special circumstances, and with approval of their supervisor(s) and the Ph.D. Program Committee, a student may delay the comprehensive exam, but under all circumstances the exam must be successfully completed within two years of initial registration in the Ph.D. program.

Ph.D. Proposal Exam

The proposal, or area exam is designed to test the research ability of the student in the area of the thesis as well as depth of knowledge in those areas of computer science closely related to the thesis topic. It is also used to evaluate a student's research progress, and suitability of their intended research plan.

Most students will take the proposal exam at some point late in their second year of registration. The proposal exam is a public, oral exam, and like the comprehensive exam the student must register for a special course, in this case COMP 701, in the semester in which he or she intends to take the exam. Unlike the comprehensive exam, however, proposals may be conducted at various times during the year, and are scheduled to fit availability of the proposal committee members.

The proposal committee consists of the student's supervisor(s), at least two faculty members from the School of Computer Science, and a representative of the Ph.D. Program Committee. At least two weeks prior to the exam date, the student must submit a 20-page (maximum) written report, single spaced in 12 point font, to the graduate secretary. This is distributed to the committee members, and is followed by the scheduled oral examination. The oral exam begins with an oral presentation by the candidate, summarizing the report, and lasting no more than twenty minutes. This is followed by a question/answer period with the members of the proposal committee, with each member given approximately 20-30 min of questioning (co-supervisor time is divided proportionally).

After questions, the exam moves to a closed session consisting of just the committee members, who, based on the student's progress, report, and performance in the exam vote on pass or failure. In the case of a first failure, the student will be given a single chance to retake the examination within six months. If the student does not schedule the exam within this time period, or fails a second time, the student will be required to withdraw from the program.

Note that proposal exams must be completed within three years of initial registration in the Ph.D. program, and after the successful completion of the PhD comprehensive exam; non-compliance with this rule will result in a failure.


The Ph.D. defense is a public, oral exam, and constitutes the final major stage in the Ph.D. program. This step requires that the completed thesis document has been transmitted to the thesis office, and that both the internal and external examiners have agreed to pass the thesis.

At this point a Ph.D. Defense Committee is selected. Like the proposal exam, a thesis defense may be scheduled for any time that the entire committee is available. The actual defense consists of a brief, pre-meeting of just the Ph.D. Defense Committee members, followed by the public part of the defense. The public part includes an initial, twenty minute presentation by the student, summarizing their thesis work, which is then followed by one or more rounds of questioning by the Ph.D. Defense Committee members. Questions may also be asked by the rest of the defense audience.

After questions, the exam again moves to a closed session consisting of just the committee members. Committee members consider the student's performance in the defense, as well as the written thesis reports, and vote on pass or fail, with a majority vote required to pass. After the meeting the thesis candidate is informed of the results.

Assuming a successful result, the supervisor verifies that the student makes all changes requested by the examiners and the defense committee. Once all changes have been completed, the final version of the thesis is transmitted to the thesis office and validated by the supervisor. This last step signifies that all necessary requirements of the Ph.D. program have been successfully completed.

The actual granting of degrees is done only a few of times per year, and thus while the final version of the thesis can be deposited at any time, convocation ceremonies only occur in the summer (May/June) and fall (October).

There are many specific regulations, forms, and deadlines to be observed in the thesis submission and evaluation process. Students and supervisors should consult the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies' thesis section for full details and to find detailed regulations on the process.


A detailed description of the admission process and requirements can be found on this page.

Note that as acceptance into the program requires a willing supervisor, Ph.D. applicants are strongly encouraged to contact potential supervisors ahead of time, or shortly after submitting their application.

Funding Opportunities and Fees

A detailed description of funding opportunities and required tuition and other fees can be found this page.

Contacts and Further Questions

If you have questions, concerns, or want to clarify anything, please contact the Ann Jack.

For general admission information, please contact Service Point. Other contact information can be found on our contacts page.

For PhD Graduate Program Director, please contact Prof Luc Devroye.