Research Aptitude Defence & Thesis Proposal Defence

The research aptitude project provides an early assessment of a Ph.D. student's ability to work through all stages of research methodology that includes clearly stating a problem, proposing some work that makes a significant step towards the resolution of the problem, assessing the merit of the work in relation to the problem and the research literature that surrounds the problem, and effectively communicating the work. The research aptitude Defence is also an opportunity for students to receive feedback at an early stage in their Ph.D. studies. It is similar to the depth-based Ph.D. comprehensive that is conducted in many universities. The Research Aptitude Defence is separate from the Thesis Proposal Defence Exam. Ph.D. students go through a three-stage process:

Research Aptitude Defence ==> Thesis Proposal Defence ==> Thesis Defence

The work towards the Research Aptitude Defence will be done as part of the two-term Directed Research Project course (CSCI 7900), normally taken after the course work is completed. The project will entail new research work and make a tangible research contribution. The supervisory committee is the best judge of the scope of the expected research contribution, which, as a guideline, should correspond to a fully refereed conference publication in an international conference. It should not just be a literature review or background reading. The project work would typically lead towards their Ph.D. thesis proposal, which will expand on open issues and future research identified by the research aptitude project. Students will complete the Research Aptitude Defence after the completion of CSCI 7900.


If the Research Aptitude Defence is not completed according to the suggested timeline for the Ph.D. program, a request for an extension from the supervisor must be submitted to the Graduate Committee, including an explanation of the status of the student's research and the reason for the extension, on the annual progress report form.

Report and Presentation

As part of the completion of the project, the student will submit a report and make a presentation.

A suggested guideline for the format of the report:

  • Approximately 25 double-spaced pages in length
  • Title page with names of the student and supervisor
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Survey/Background
  • Problem Statement/Objective
  • Proposed Idea/Methodology/Model/Approach
  • Validation of idea/methodology/model/approach
  • Results
  • Conclusions and future work
  • References
  • Appendices
  • The report should be a full description of the research work the student has undertaken, including experimental details, where applicable.

For students with prior publications on the research:

  • The publications should be attached to the report as appendices.
  • The body of the report can be an extended summary (at least 10 pages) highlighting the research contributions with reference to the publications concerning the detailed technical methods and results.
  • The summary should also identify the student's contribution to co-authored papers.
  • The presentation will be open to all students and faculty.
  • Length of the presentation is 30 minutes and the exam will be conducted in a manner similar to an MCS thesis Defence.

Examining Committee

The Examining Committee that will give feedback to the student comprises of the supervisor, two other members from the supervisory committee, and a member external to the supervisory committee. The external member will be selected by the Graduate Committee in consultation with the supervisor.

Outcome of the Defence

Three votes (one of which is the external member) out of four by the Examining Committee is required for a Pass recommendation, where Pass can be one of Pass/Pass with minor changes/Pass with major changes. On first attempt, the student is given a Pass/Reexamination recommendation only. On second attempt, a recommendation of Pass/Fail is given. The reexamination must be completed within three months of the examining committee's recommendation. In case of a Fail, the student is required to leave the PhD program.

Procedural Issues

Responsibilities of the Student:

1. Send the document title and abstract electronically to the graduate office no later than three weeks before the Research Aptitude Defence date.

2. Submit the scheduling form signed by the committee members three weeks before the Defence date.

3. Submit the research aptitude report to each examiner once the examining group has been chosen by the supervisor and the graduate office at least two weeks before the research aptitude exam.

4. Reserve all audio-visual equipment (including computers and data projectors) needed for the presentation.

5. Send an email reminder to the committee and moderator two days before the scheduled Defence.

6. Submit the final copy of the report to the graduate office.

Responsibilities of the Supervisor:

1. Select a date and time for the Research Aptitude Defence when the student, the supervisor, and the two committee members can attend the Defence.

2. Select and rank three external examiners from which the graduate committee will select the external examiner. The supervisor should ensure that the suggested individuals are willing to participate in the Defence. For the first choice of external examiner, the supervisor should confirm that he/she is able to attend the Defence at the proposed date and time.

3. Submit the names of the two committee members and the possible external examiners to the graduate committee no less than three weeks before the Research Aptitude Defence date on the requisite graduate form.

Responsibilities of the Moderator:

1. Perform the of duties of Thesis Moderation as listed here.

2. Prepare comments from the examining committee in consultation with the supervisor and submit to the graduate office.

Responsibilities of the Graduate Office:

1. Select an external examiner from the short list provided by the supervisor.

2. Notify the supervisor and the student of the complete examining committee membership at least two weeks before the Defence date.

3. Find a moderator for the Research Aptitude Defence.

4. Reserve a room for the Research Aptitude Defence.

5. Announce the Defence.