Graduate Program FAQs
How do I apply to the biology graduate program?
In order to obtain a graduate position in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie you need to accomplish three things:
- Identify a research supervisor
- Obtain scholarship funding
- Formally apply and be accepted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies
How do I find a supervisor?
The first step in finding a graduate position is to look at the research interests of the various members of the biology department faculty or adjuncts and find some that interest you.
You will then need to contact those faculty members to find out if they have openings in their research group. It is generally advisable to provide a general statement about your background, research interests, research experience and academic background.
Some groups may have an immediate opening, but be aware that many research groups have a one to two year waiting list. So it is generally advisable to apply as early as possible.
Students who apply without selecting a supervisor or arranging funding (i.e., apply directly to FGS) may sometimes have their application accepted internally, but more frequently their application is rejected for lack of a position.
How do I get funding for my graduate studies?
A student will not be accepted unless this funding is assured. Every graduate student who is accepted into either a MSc (two-year) or PhD (four-year) program in the Department of Biology is guaranteed a minimum stipend of $12,000 to $13,000 after tuition and other fees (exclusive of health/dental care. There are a number of possible sources of funding.
Eligible Canadian students are strongly encouraged to apply for an NSERC scholarship in the fall of the year preceding their anticipated start date. Other scholarships may be available to international students from their country of origin.
Students with a four-year undergraduate honours degree who have obtained a minimum A- standing in at least their last two years are eligible for a Dalhousie Fellowship. This fellowship, of which a portion comes from the university and a portion from the supervisor’s research budget, covers the minimum graduate stipend. These stipends are awarded to eligible students accepted into the graduate program on a more or less first come, first serve basis. Every student is automatically considered for this award, there is no separate application form.
In some cases a supervisor may choose to fully or partially support a student who is not eligible for an external or Dalhousie scholarship entirely from their research grant. Such arrangement must be worked out between the supervisor and graduate student.
How do I apply to the graduate program?
Once you have identified a supervisor, and made arrangements for funding, you apply formally to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
- Application fee
- Original transcripts
- Letters of reference
The application may take from a couple of weeks to several months depending on the time required to verify all documentation and letters of reference.
Are GRE scores required/mandatory for my application?
No, but we do appreciate receiving them, as they rank you against many other students who have written the same test, which we find useful in our evaluation of your academic merit. Also, they allow us to compare you directly with other applicants who have submitted their scores to us.
What departmental scholarships should I apply for along with my application?
None. We will automatically consider you for any available scholarships if your academic record is of a high standard.
Can I apply without having already found a supervisor or funding?
Yes, but fewer than one in a hundred of such applications are successful.
Do I need a visa to study in Canada and how long will this take?
All international students require a student visa. The time taken to obtain a visa depends on the country of origin. You will need to consult the Canadian Embassy or consulate to determine this.
Do I apply to the MSc or PhD program?
If you do not already have a graduate degree you must apply to the MSc program. At your Admission to Candidacy exam, which occurs after four to eight months in the program, you may apply to transfer to the PhD program.
If you already have a MSc degree you can apply to either the PhD program or the MSc program and request a transfer to the PhD program at your admission to candidacy examination. Which of these options you select should be discussed with your potential supervisor.
Can I still apply if I don't have an honours undergraduate degree?
The research experience gained doing an honours research project is invaluable in assessing whether or not you enjoy research and have an aptitude for it. As a result students are rarely accepted without an honours degree.
Exceptions can, however, be made if an applicant has extensive relevant practical experience from work or other studies.
The other alternative is to enroll as a special undergraduate student and do an honours research project. Information on the honours program can be found on the biology web page.
Is there a minimum undergraduate grade requirement?
Yes, the Faculty of Graduate Studies requires a minimum B average in the undergraduate degree. In exceptional circumstances, this requirement can be waived at the discretion of the dean of graduate studies. This is done only if the candidate has considerable relevant experience after the undergraduate degree, or if there are extenuating circumstances that explain the low grades. Practically, however, admission to the program is competitive and often based on scholarship funding for which the minimum grade is A- in the last two undergraduate years.
How long will my graduate program take?
Time required to complete your program will vary depending on the success of your individual research project. In general, the MSc degree takes a minimum of one year and usually two to two and a half years.
The PhD program takes a minimum of two years and usually four to five years to complete.
If you transfer from an MSc to a PhD program the total time allotted to the program is still four years.
It is important to note that internal scholarship funding, and many external scholarships, last for only two or four years for an MSc or PhD program, respectively.
How much is tuition?
MSc and PhD programs
Can I study part-time for a graduate degree?
This is only possible in the MSc program and is rarely recommended.
Can I switch from the MSc to the PhD program?
You can apply to switch from the MSc to the PhD program at your ATC examination. If interested, you should discuss this possibility with your supervisor and write your ATC proposal for a more substantial PhD project. Transfers from MSc to PhD are only approved when both the student is well prepared and the project suitable.
Can I switch from the PhD to the MSc program?
Yes. If interested, you should discuss this possibility with your supervisor and then the graduate coordinator.
Supervisors and the supervisory committee
If I am having problems with my supervisor, whom should I see?
It is best to sort this out with the supervisor, but if this is not possible or does not work, there are a number of people you can see. Choose whom you feel most comfortable with. These include:
- The graduate coordinator
- The internal supervisor (if the supervisor is not a faculty member in the biology department)
- Members of the supervisory committee
- The chair of the biology department
Who decides on who is on a student’s supervisory committee?
The student, but the student should consult with their supervisor and ask potential supervisory committee members.
Who should be on my supervisory committee?
You should have at least two members on your supervisory committee in addition to the supervisor/co-supervisors; there is no maximum. At least half the members of the supervisory committee (including the supervisor) must be full-time Dalhousie faculty (in any department) and regular member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. All members of the committee must be member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
Can I change my supervisory committee?
Yes. If you want to change your supervisory committee, tell members you want to drop, ask those you want to add, and see the graduate coordinator to formalize the change(s).
Can I change my supervisor?
This is sometimes possible, but is usually difficult.
Courses and course requirements
How many courses must I take?
If you already have a MSc (and so are a two-year PhD student), you probably have a minimum requirement of two half-credit graduate level courses. If you do not have a MSc (and so are a MSc student or a three-year PhD student), you probably have a minimum requirement of four half-credit graduate level courses.
Can I take courses in other Dalhousie departments?
Can I take undergraduate courses?
Yes, but these do not count towards your minimum number of graduate courses – they are ancillary courses. Sometimes it is possible to consider an undergraduate course plus some extra requirements to be a Special Topics graduate course. This is up to the instructor.
How do I register for courses?
You can register through Dalhousie University Online. You must also list your courses on your graduate program form or program update form. Please see the graduate coordinator or stream chair to add or change courses.
How do I arrange Special Topics courses?
Talk to a potential instructors (usually biology faculty)
Fill in the Special Topics form together with the potential instructor and then give it to the graduate coordinator for approval
Register for the course on the web, and put it on your graduate program form or program update form (through the graduate coordinator or stream chair).
- Download the Special Topics form [PDF-7kB]
Do I have to take the Graduate Communications course (BIOL5700)?
All graduate students (MSc and PhD) must take the Graduate Communications course (BIOL5700) unless they have previously taken it at Dalhousie.
Teaching Assistant (TA) requirement
What is the TA requirement?
All biology graduate students must be a teaching assistant in at least two half-credit courses.
Am I paid extra for TAing?
How do I arrange to become a TA?
Contact the TA coordinator and/or look at the advertisements for positions near the photocopiers on the second floor.
Can I TA more than two courses?
Yes, but those who have not fulfilled their requirement have higher priority.
Can I get out of the TA requirement?
If you have TA’d, or taught, the equivalent of two half-credit courses previously you can apply to the graduate coordinator (in writing) to be excused the TA requirement.
Admission to Candidacy Examination (ATC)
What is the ATC examination?
For more information on the ATC visit the ATC guidelines page.
When should I do my ATC examination?
Four to nine months after starting your program (double for part-time students).
Who are my ATC examiners?
They are your supervisory committee members and one extra faculty member nominated by the graduate coordinator on the advice of your supervisor.
Who should read drafts of my ATC proposal?
Your supervisor but not other members of the supervisory committee (although they can read specific parts which relate to their area of expertise).
Can I retake the ATC examination?
Are ATC examinations public?
No, but people can watch the presentation and questions sections of the ATC at the invitation of the student.
Should I give the examiners a hard copy or a PDF of the proposal?
The ATC proposal should be submitted electronically. Note that each examiner has the option to request a hard copy of the proposal.
Preliminary examination (PhD students only)
What is the preliminary examination?
Please see the Preliminary Examination Guidelines.
What am I examined on?
A critical review essay in an area which relates to your thesis work, and a report on progress towards completing your thesis.
When should I do my preliminary examination?
At the latest 30 months after starting the program (this means 30 months after your ATC examination if you transferred from a MSc to PhD), and at least 12 months before defending your thesis.
Who are the examiners for my preliminary examination?
Your supervisory committee members and an external examiner nominated by the graduate coordinator on the advice of your supervisor.
Are preliminary examinations public?
No, but people can watch the presentation and questions sections at the invitation of the student.
Should I give the examiners hard copies or PDFs of the review essay and progress report?
The review essays and progress reports should be submitted electronically. Note that each examiner has the option to request a hard copy of the review essay and/or report.
MSc thesis defence
Who are the examiners for my MSc thesis?
Your supervisory committee members, including your supervisor, and one external examiner appointed by the chair of the biology department on the advice of your supervisor.
The external examiner must have nothing to do with the student, or Dalhousie, but should be connected to a graduate program (i.e., a member of a Faculty of Graduate Studies or equivalent) and can be anywhere in the world.
Who sets up the time and place for my MSc thesis defence?
The graduate secretary, Carolyn Young, sets it up after consulting with the student and supervisor.
Are MSc examinations public?
Yes, and members of the public can ask questions.
PhD thesis defence
Who are the examiners for my PhD thesis?
Your supervisory committee members, including your supervisor/co-supervisors, and one external examiner appointed by the Faculty of Graduate Studies on the advice of the chair of the biology department.
The external examiner must have nothing to do with the student or Dalhousie, very little to do with the supervisor, but should be connected to a graduate program
Who sets up the time and place for my PhD thesis defence?
How do I arrange for my PhD thesis defence?
The Biology Department Graduate Secretary sets up the time and date of the examination. PhD thesis defences are held in a central location on campus.
First your supervisor should send the graduate coordinator at least three names of potential external examiners, in order of preference, including contact info. Also include a tentative title for your thesis and proposed dates (can be a few days or weeks, e.g. Aug. 1-Aug 15). The selection process to find an external examiner takes time so please submit the names of potential examiners at least 4-5 months before the proposed date of the defense. Once a potential external examiner is identified you will need to complete the "Request to arrange oral defense" form adn submit it to the Graduate Secretary.
Information on how to complete this form and what you need to do next is outlined on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website - https://www.dal.ca/faculty/gradstudies/currentstudents/thesesanddefences/defense.html
Are PhD examinations public?
Yes, and members of the public can ask questions.
Scholarships and funding
What happens if my scholarship runs out before I have finished my graduate program?
When your supervisor agrees to supervise you they sign a document which guarantees that they will provide you with the minimum stipend for two or four years, for an MSc or PhD degree respectively.
In addition, if your progress has been satisfactory, the supervisor must provide an additional three (MSc) or six (PhD) months support at 80 percent of the minimum stipend following the two or four year deadline.
After this time has elapsed there is limited emergency funding from the department and university but availability and amount of this funding cannot be guaranteed. Students in need may apply for Lett Funding [PDF-16kB].