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Athabasca University

3. The Candidacy

At the time specified by the supervisory committee, normally within the first three years after admission to the program, but in no case later than one year prior to anticipated graduation or the maximum time for completion of the program, whichever is sooner, the student must take the formal candidacy examination.

The candidacy examination should determine whether the student is adequately prepared to continue as a doctoral candidate. Students must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the examination committee that they possess:

  • an adequate knowledge of the discipline and of the subject matter relevant to their program of research; and
  • the ability to pursue and complete original research at an advanced level.

The requirements that the student must meet in order to become a doctoral candidate may vary by academic unit. The requirements may comprise one of the following:

  • a written and/or oral examination that tests the student on both their knowledge gained from their program of study (which includes their coursework) and their written dissertation proposal; or
  • a written or oral examination that test(s) the student on their knowledge gained from their program of study (which includes their coursework), and an examination on their written dissertation proposal. The student must pass the examination on their program of study (coursework) before they can be examined on their proposal.

FGS is responsible for establishing detailed examination procedures for the candidacy (see Guidelines and Procedures for Oral Examination for Master’s Thesis Route and Doctoral Programs). These procedures are available on the FGS website and should be made available to faculty members and students in the academic unit. A diagram illustrating the Overview of Doctoral Candidacy Process can be seen in Figure 2.

3.1 Preparation for the Candidacy

Before the proposal is forwarded to the examination committee, the supervisory committee members shall declare in writing to the supervisor either:

  • that the proposal is of adequate substance and quality to warrant that the proposal is ready to be reviewed by the examination committee and that the student is ready to proceed to the candidacy; or
  • that the proposal is unsatisfactory (that further work is needed), and the student should not be allowed to proceed to the candidacy.

It is important that this preliminary acceptance of the proposal is conducted in order to protect and uphold the reputation of the program and the University, for excellence in graduate programs. It is also critical to ensure that the examination committee members are not asked to invest time reading a substandard document.

If the supervisor considers the proposal ready for the examination committee, the “Preliminary Acceptance of Proposal by Supervisory Committeeform must be completed by the supervisory committee indicating their opinion of the readiness of the proposal and the student to proceed to the candidacy. This form must be completed and submitted to FGS 4 to 6 weeks prior to the anticipated date of the examination. At this time, the supervisor may also submit their recommendation for the external examiner for the examination committee to FGS (see Section 3.3 of this document).

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3.2 Responsibilities of the Supervisor

It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that the guidelines and procedures for Oral Examinations. are followed, and that proper arrangements are made for the examination(s). The student is not required to make any of these arrangements. In the absence of the supervisor, a designate shall be responsible for these arrangements.

3.3 Selection, Composition, and Approval of Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee

Regardless of the nature of the candidacy examination chosen by the academic unit, only one examination committee will be struck to oversee and evaluate the student’s ability and knowledge to meet these requirements as set out in Section 3 for the candidacy.

The examination committee will consist of the supervisory committee and the addition of one or two other members. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to nominate the additional member(s) of the examination committee to the academic unit graduate program designate, and then to the FGS, for approval, using the “Nominees for Candidacy External Examiner” form. The proposed examination committee members must meet the eligibility criteria, and must not be in a position of conflict of interest (see AU Policy 150 002).

A maximum of five members shall comprise the committee:

  • The supervisory committee members, and normally the addition of one or two new faculty members;
  • At least one of the new members shall be from outside the student’s academic unit;
  • At least one of the new members must be at arm’s length from the student and the proposal development; and
  • All members must agree to participate in the examination.

3.4 Written Candidacy Examination(s)

The questions and the format of the responses (such as length, writing style, deadline for submission, etc.) are developed by the examination committee, according to the regulations of the academic unit, and then submitted to the graduate program designate, with a copy for FGS. The graduate program designate distributes the questions and instructions to the student. The student submits their responses to the graduate program designate, within a specified time period as set out in the regulations of the academic unit and FGS. The graduate program designate then distributes the responses to the examination committee. The committee has a specified time within which to grade the responses and submit their adjudication results to the graduate program designate.

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3.5 Adjudication Categories and Procedures for Written Examination(s)

Normally, one of the following outcomes of the written examination must be recorded on the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal Pass, Resubmit with Revisions, or Fail.

The decision shall be that of the majority. Each committee member, including each co-supervisor holds one vote. If a decision cannot be reached, the supervisor’s report should record the recommendation of each committee member on the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form which is submitted to the FGS, who will determine an appropriate course of action.

In the case where the examination committee recommends a resubmission to the FGS, the student has a second opportunity to re-write the examination. At the second attempt, the examination committee must select one of two adjudication categories – pass or fail. The student cannot proceed to the oral examination (if this is a requirement) unless they pass the written examination. Students will not be allowed to resubmit the examination after the second attempt.

If the student receives a fail at the first attempt, or after the resubmission, they are required to withdraw from the program and will receive a fail on their transcript.

Pass

Examination committee members approve the written examination(s).

Procedure:

Resubmit with Revisions

The responses to the examination question(s) lack adequate support from the literature, show limited knowledge of the research area, or do not reflect an advanced level of analysis and synthesis.

Procedure:

  • The supervisor shall inform the student of the recommendation and problems immediately after the deliberations.
  • The supervisor shall specify in writing to the student, with as much precision as possible, the nature of the deficiencies and the necessary remedial work that will be required.
  • The student is given one more opportunity to rewrite the question(s) on which they performed poorly. A timeline for rewriting of the examination may be identified, which shall be no later than 6 months from the initial submission of the responses.
  • The supervisor must complete the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form and submit it to the FGS.

Fail

The examination(s) is unacceptable.

Procedure:

  • The supervisor shall inform the student of this recommendation immediately after the deliberations of the examination committee.
  • The supervisor shall provide the reasons for the fail to the student immediately after deliberations and within two business days in writing. The nature of the deficiencies must be specified with as much precision as possible.
  • The “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form is completed by the supervisor and submitted to the FGS as soon as possible after the deliberations containing the signatures of the members, the reasons for the fail and recommendations for further action.
  • In exceptional circumstances, the FGS will arrange to meet with the student and the examination committee representatives before acting upon the committee’s recommendation.

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3.6 Preparation for the Oral Candidacy Examination

At least four weeks prior to the oral Candidacy examination, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to submit the “Notice of Candidacy Oral Examination” form to FGS that outlines the date of the oral examination, the preferred technology, back-up numbers of the examination committee members for during the oral examination, recommended name of the proctor (if applicable), and other information as listed in Section 2.0 of the Oral Examinations for Master’s Thesis Route and Doctoral Programs.

Unless a member of the examination committee is present with the student for the entire process, a mechanism must be in place to ensure both the identity of the student, effective application of the examination procedures, and the integrity of the examination. In the case when a proctor will be used, they must be preapproved by FGS as part of the “Notice of Candidacy Oral Examination”.

FGS will make the necessary arrangements for the technology. Upon FGS approval of the details related to the oral examination, the supervisor can then confirm the examination date, time, and other necessary arrangements with the student and the examination committee.

In the absence of the supervisor, the above responsibilities shall be carried out by a designate of the supervisor. The student is not required to make the arrangements for the examination.

3.7 Oral Candidacy Examination

The candidacy oral examination is considered a ‘closed’ examination. Only the examination committee members, the student, the neutral chair, and proctor (if required) are in attendance.

The oral examination shall be chaired by a neutral chair, appointed by the FGS. This neutral chair is normally from outside the student’s academic unit and is considered at arm’s length to the committee and student. The chair is responsible for moderating the discussion, directing questions, and ensuring the FGS “Guidelines and procedures for Oral Examinations for Master’s Thesis Route & Doctoral Programs are followed. The chair is not considered a member of the examination committee and therefore has no voting privileges. A report on the proceedings must be completed by the neutral chair, “Report of the Neutral Chairand submitted to FGS after the oral examination. In the case where a proctor is present, the “Report of the Proctor” must be submitted to FGS as soon as possible after the deliberations and no later than 5 days after the oral examination. The duties of the proctor are specified in the “Guidelines and Procedures for Oral Examinations for Master’s Thesis Route and Doctoral Programs”.

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3.8 Adjudication Categories and Procedures for the Oral Candidacy Examination

Normally, one of the following outcomes of the oral examination must be recorded on the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form: Pass; Fail; or Adjourned, Repeat Oral.

The decision shall be that of the majority. Each committee member, including each co-supervisor holds one vote. If a decision cannot be reached, the supervisor’s report should record the recommendation of each committee member on the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form with their signatures. This is submitted to the FGS who will determine an appropriate course of action.

In the case where the examination committee recommends ‘Adjourned, Repeat Oral’ to the FGS, the student will be given a second opportunity to conduct another oral examination. At the second attempt, the examination committee must select one of two adjudication categories – pass or fail. If the student receives a fail, they are required to withdraw from the program, and will receive a fail on their transcript. Under extraordinary circumstances, the student may obtain an adjournment on the second attempt.

Normally, if the student receives a fail at the first attempt they are required to withdraw from the program and will receive a fail on their transcript. Depending upon the reason for the fail in the oral examination, the committee may recommend to the FGS that the student be allowed a second attempt on the oral examination. If the recommendation is agreed upon, at the second attempt the examination committee must select one of two adjudication categories– pass or fail. Any student who is granted permission for a second attempt, and receives a fail on the oral examination at that second attempt, must withdraw from the program, and will receive a fail on the transcript.

The chair is responsible for completing the “Report of the Neutral Chair”. The report should include the recommendations, the distribution of the votes, a summary of the committee’s comments, and any remarks that the chair may wish that may help the Dean, FGS, in reaching a decision.

Pass

The student passes the oral examination.

Procedure:

Fail

The student did not demonstrate an adequate breadth or depth of knowledge.

Procedure:

  • The supervisor shall inform the student of this recommendation immediately after the deliberations, in the presence of the examination committee.
  • The supervisor shall provide the reasons for the fail to the student immediately after deliberations, and within two business days in writing. The nature of the deficiencies must be specified with as much precision as possible.
  • The “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form is completed by the supervisor and submitted to the FGS as soon as possible after the deliberations, containing the signatures of the members, the reasons for the fail, and recommendations for further action.
  • The “Report of the Neutral Chair” must be submitted to the FGS by the chair as soon as possible after the examination.
  • The "Report of the Proctor" must be submitted to the FGS as soon as possible after the deliberations, and no later than 5 days after the oral examination.
  • In exceptional circumstances, the Dean for FGS may arrange to meet with the student and the examination committee before acting upon the committee’s recommendation.

Adjourned, Repeat Oral

The candidacy examination should be adjourned in compelling, extraordinary circumstances.

Procedure:

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3.9 Adjudication Categories and Procedures for Written Dissertation Proposal

Each student is required to develop a written dissertation proposal in their chosen field of study. The dissertation proposal is developed under the mentorship of the supervisor and the supervisory committee. At the time of candidacy, the examination committee must formally approve the written dissertation proposal. Each academic unit offering a doctoral degree is responsible for establishing detailed examination procedures for the adjudication process for the dissertation proposal, in conjunction with the FGS.

One of the following outcomes of the written dissertation proposal must be recorded on the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal form: Pass, Resubmit with Revisions, or Fail. The decision shall be that of the majority. If a decision cannot be reached, the supervisor’s report should record the recommendation of each committee member, and the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form should be submitted to the FGS, who will determine an appropriate course of action.

At the second review of the proposal, after the resubmission, the examination committee must select one of two adjudication categories– Pass or Fail. Students will not be allowed to resubmit the proposal after the second attempt. If still inadequate, they will receive a fail, requiring the student to withdraw from the program with a fail appearing on their transcript.

If the student receives a fail at the first attempt, they are required to withdraw from the program and will receive a fail on their transcript.

The dissertation proposal shall be given one of the following ratings:

Pass

Examination committee members approve the proposal. The proposal may or may not require some minor revisions.

Procedure:

  • The supervisor may decide to withhold their signature until the revisions/modifications have been made. The nature of the revisions, and the withholding of the signature to ensure the changes have been made, should be indicated on the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal form.

Resubmit with Revisions

The revisions to the dissertation proposal are sufficiently substantial (e.g., major reworking of sections is required).

Procedure:

  • The supervisor must specify in writing to the student, with as much precision as possible, the nature of the deficiencies and the extent of the revisions required. It must be clear to the student what will be required to receive a pass.
  • The nature of the supervision and assistance the student may expect from the committee members in making the necessary revisions should be specified. A timeframe for completing the changes must be identified, which shall be no later than 3 months from the “resubmit” decision.
  • The supervisor submits the “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal form to the FGS, indicating the required changes and plans. If problems arise in the revision process, the supervisor may solicit opinions from the other committee members.
  • Other committee members may also wish to withhold their signature until they can verify that revisions have been made to their satisfaction.

Fail

The dissertation proposal is unacceptable.

Procedure:

  • The supervisor must meet with the student to inform them of the adjudication result and their reasons for the fail.
  • The reasons for the fail must be provided to the student as soon as possible after deliberations (verbally), and within two business days in writing. Specify, with as much precision as possible, the nature of the deficiencies.
  • The “Final Report of Candidacy Oral Examination and Proposal” form is completed by the supervisor and submitted to the FGS, as soon as possible after the deliberations, containing the signatures of the members, the reasons for the fail, and recommendations for further action.

The FGS may arrange to meet with the student and the examination committee before acting upon the committee’s recommendations.

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Updated October 29 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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