This page is intended for students currently enrolled in the Masters or Doctorate program in the Graduate Program of Neuroscience. Students interested in finding out about graduate admissions should see our prospective graduate students page. All information on the website can be found in our handy "Graduate student handbook".

Course of Study

Master's of Science

A Master's student will normally spend 2-3 years of full-time study at the University. In the first year, the student takes the required coursework (NRSC 500 and 501 and 6 additional elective credits) and begins research under the supervisor's direction. A Supervisory Committee provides guidance on research and may also recommend additional course work. It is the studentís own responsibility to organize committee meetings and to nominate an individual from the Committee to serve as Chair during meetings. It is suggested that the first committee meeting, which serves to introduce a research proposal for approval by the Committee, be held by the start of the second year of study. Near completion of the research project, a second committee meeting may be called before the student begins writing up their thesis. The written thesis must be submitted to the Committee and an External Examiner (requested from within the UBC Neuroscience department) at least 2 weeks before the date of the final defense. At the final defense, the External and the Committee will be present and if necessary, one member of the Committee may be absent. Following a successful oral defense and submission of the finalized thesis to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the student is eligible for graduation.

The minimum course requirements are 30 course credits of which at least 24 must be numbered 500 to 699 (including a 12 credit research thesis). A maximum of 6 credits at the undergraduate level in courses numbered 300 to 499 may be counted toward the requirements of a master's degree. See below for a suggested example MSc timeline.

Transferring from the MSc to the PhD Program

Students may be eligible to transfer from a masterís program into a related doctoral program ("fast track") if they have completed the following requirements:

Hold a bachelor's degree, and have completed a minimum of one year of study in a master's program with 9 credits at the 500-level or above and of first class standing (80% or better).
Transfer directly into a doctoral program may be permitted after completion of the first year of study at the master's level and will not be permitted after completion of the second year.

Students must establish a committee, and committee members are responsible for approving the transfer which usually takes place at the first committee meeting.

The start of the doctoral program will be the date of first registration in the masterís program when a student transfers from a masterís program to a doctoral program without completing the masterís degree.

In order to maintain registration in the doctoral program:

∑†††††† students must complete 12 credits with a first-class average
∑†††††† at least 9 of the 12 credits must be at the 500-level or above
∑†††††† at least 9 of the 12 credits must be of first class standing

Transfer must coincide with the academic year:

Signed and completed transfer to PhD form must be submitted to Neuroscience program office by:

December 1st for Transfer start of January 1st the following year (winter T2 session)
April1st for Transfer start date of May 1st (summer session)
August 1st for Transfer start date of Sep 1st (fall session)

Doctor of Philosophy

A Ph.D. student admitted with a Bachelor's degree normally will spend a minimum of four years in full-time status at the University. The Maximum time allowed for completing a doctoral degree is six years. During the first year the student will normally complete the core course work including NRSC 500 and NRSC 501, establish a supervisory committee, and begin research in his/her Supervisor's laboratory. The student's supervisory committee gives ongoing advice and guidance, and may recommend further course work. In the second year the student will complete any remaining course work and hold at least one supervisory committee meeting, while continuing research. UBC graduate student policy recommends successful completion of the comprehensive exam by the end of second year, which includes approval of the research proposal. The deadline for completion of the comprehensive exam is the end of third year. In the third and fourth years, the student will continue research work and is expected to have one supervisory committee meeting every year to monitor and guide research progress. The deadline to transfer down to a Master degree is the end of the third year of PhD. Students typically begin preparation of their PhD thesis during their 5th year in the program, after having gained approval to begin writing from their Supervisory Committee and Primary Supervisor. Once the thesis has been approved by the Supervisory Committee and the External Examiner, the student presents his/her oral Defense before the University Examiners and the academic community. See below for a suggested example PhD timeline.

A Ph.D. student admitted with a Master's degree normally will spend a minimum of three years in full-time study at the University. Course work requirements are normally completed during the first year of study. Ensuing studies follow the schema outlined above.

Note: Students that fail to achieve a mark of 80% or higher in NRSC 500 or 501 will be required to answer questions regarding these core NRSC courses at their comprehensive examination (Head of Graduate Program will be present).

Graduate Supervision and Work Schedule

Your supervisor is the key person in your graduate degree program. Graduate education is greatly affected by the nature of the supervision and the quality of communication between graduate students and their supervisors. When students work closely and effectively with their graduate supervisors, they will improve the quality of their dissertations or theses and their educational experiences.

Supervisors should be available to help their graduate students at every stage, from formulation of their research projects through establishing methodologies and discussing results, to presentation and possible publication of dissertations. Graduate supervisors must also ensure that their students' work meets the standards of the University and the academic discipline.

More information can be found in the Handbook of Graduate Supervision, here.

Vacation policies

Graduate students are entitled to 15 working days of vacation, not including major holidays, from their academic obligations per academic year. Students are expected to arrange time off such that it is minimally disruptive to their research and other academic obligations, and to seek supervisor approval of their vacation and work schedule. Supervisors are expected to approve and accommodate all reasonable requests for time off as is consistent with this policy. For detailed information see the UBC FOGS Vacation Policy.

Supervisory Committee

For more information, please see:

∑†††††† The Supervisory Committees: Assembling the Committee
∑†††††† The Supervisory Committee: Who can be a Supervisory Committee Member?
∑†††††† Supervisory Committees: Roles and Responsibilities
∑†††††† Supervisory Committees: Composition

With support from their supervisor, students choose their supervisory committee members and arrange to hold their first committee meeting in their first year of study. Students should take the initiative to select prospective committee members, with the input and approval of their supervisor. It is the responsibility of the student to contact prospective faculty and request that they act as committee members. Be aware that not all faculty are able to honor every request for committee membership.

One member of the committee will act as the Chair. This can be decided by the committee at the first meeting. The chair represents the Graduate Program for Neuroscience on the supervisory committee, and serves the functions of monitoring and reporting on the studentís progress. The chair may ask the student questions and offer advice, but is additionally responsible for ensuring that the student is being supervised adequately and fairly. If the chair has any concerns in this regard, they should be communicated immediately to the Graduate Program for Neuroscience.

Supervisory committees for MSc students must include at least two members in addition to the studentís supervisor. For PhD students, committees must have three members in addition to the student's supervisor. In general, UBC faculty members at least at the rank of Assistant Professor are eligible. Committee members may be from outside the student's degree program. If circumstances dictate, the committee may include non-members of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, but this requires specific approval. See the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for details.

Committee Meetings

It is the responsibility of the student to initiate and arrange committee meetings. This includes finding a suitable time for all members of the committee and booking an appropriate meeting space. Many faculty have significant travel schedules, so committee meetings are best arranged well in advance (2-3 months). Doodle or similar scheduling tools are useful and often necessary to find a suitable time.

The following are general guidelines for conducting a supervisory committee meeting. The committee is given considerable latitude to alter this format as they see fit:.

Generally, the student provides the committee with a written review of their progress 2 weeks prior to the meeting.

At the committee meeting, the chair calls the meeting to order, and the student is asked to present their recent progress, and then a general discussion of the project ensues.

The chair completes and signs the checklist with the input of the supervisory committee (see appendix) at the conclusion of the meeting. The meeting progress form is co-signed by the studentís supervisor, and must be returned to the Graduate Program for Neuroscience by the student. Completion and return of this form is required for documentation of the supervisory committee meeting.

Assuming that progress is satisfactory, no further action must be taken by the committee until the next meeting. If the studentís progress is not deemed satisfactory, the chair directs either the student or the supervisor to address these issues in writing to the Director of the Graduate Program and all members of the supervisory committee, and includes a note at the bottom of the progress form indicating that such a document will be forthcoming.

Admission to Candidacy

A student normally will be admitted to Candidacy when he or she has completed all of the required course work, and passed the Comprehensive Examination, which includes approval of the thesis Research Proposal. Detailed information is provided in the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.

As per UBC Graduate Studies policy, it is recommended that students gain admission to candidacy within 24 months from the date of initial registration. A student who is not admitted to candidacy within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program. Extension of this period may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate Studies in exceptional circumstances. See appendix for the candidacy extension form.

Research Proposal

All students (M.Sc. and Ph.D.) are required to present a Research Proposal to their Supervisory Committee not later than 2 years after entrance into the Program. For students entered into the Ph.D. program, the written component of the Comprehensive Examination consists of the Research Proposal. Acceptance of the written Research Proposal by the candidate's Supervisory Committee is a necessary condition, together with passing the oral Comprehensive Examination, for admission to candidacy.

Comprehensive Exam

Purpose and Scope

In order to be admitted to candidacy and to continue in the Program, the candidate must have their Research Proposal accepted and successfully pass the oral comprehensive examination. Normally this will be completed by the start of the third year of enrolment in the graduate program. The purpose of the examination is to ensure that candidates have a comprehensive knowledge in their area of specialization and related fields of neuroscience.

The comprehensive examination has both a written and an oral component. The written exam requires that the student prepare a grant application according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant Application format. The topic of the grant application is decided upon by the student and his/her supervisor and is normally based on the student's immediate area of scientific interest. The scopes and levels of the oral exam will be discussed and mutually agreed by the Examining Committee and the student in the preliminary meeting.

Format of Examination

A comprehensive examination is held after completion of all required coursework. The student will initiate the process with their supervisor by first establishing an Examining Committee.† The Examining Committee consists of all members of the studentís Supervisory Committee, except the studentís supervisor.† The final member of the Examining Committee is the External Examiner, who is not a member of the supervisory committee.† The External Examiner will be identified by the student and the supervisor.† A chair for the examination will be appointed by the Graduate Program. Two meetings will be held: The pre-comprehensive meeting, and the comprehensive exam..

Pre-Comprehensive Meeting

The purpose of the pre-comprehensive meeting of the student and the Examining Committee (including the External Examiner, but not the Chair) is to set up parameters for the exam. The student will submit a title and one-page summary (subject to modification) of the Research Proposal at least one week before this initial meeting. At the meeting, the Examining Committee and the student will discuss and mutually agree upon the guidelines, scope and level of understanding required to complete the written and oral components of the examination satisfactorily. Among the issues which should be clarified at this point are the particular research topics associated with the Proposal that each Examining Committee member feels the student should concentrate on as they prepare for their exam. The student will act as secretary at the meeting, and will provide each member of the committee and the GPN office with a written summary of the discussion no later than one week following the meeting; any discrepancies in interpretation should be resolved at this time. The due date for the research proposal will be set at this meeting and will be no later than three months following the pre-comprehensive meeting. As with CIHR grants, if the student fails to meet the deadline for submission of the Research Proposal, the comprehensive examination will be automatically postponed for six months. The approximate date of the oral component of the comprehensive examination will also be determined at the preliminary meeting, and in all cases will be within 14 days of the student submitting a copy of the completed grant application to each member of the Examining Committee. Students should notify the GPN of the date of the Comprehensive Examination so that a Chair can be appointed.

The supervisor may provide guidance and feedback to the student in the preparation of the grant application. However, the research proposal and the essential experimental design should be written by the student.

Comprehensive Exam

The second meeting is the comprehensive exam. In this oral examination the student may be questioned on any aspect of the grant application and will be asked to elaborate upon or defend issues arising from the literature review and the research plan contained in the application. The range of questioning may include topics that are not discussed directly in the application but that are deemed relevant by individual members of the Examining Committee as discussed in the pre-comprehensive meeting. The purpose of the oral examination is to have the student demonstrate to the Examining Committee that he/she has a thorough understanding of those areas of neuroscience relevant to the research proposal, can expand upon and defend those ideas verbally, and has attained sufficient intellectual understanding of the subject matter to proceed with primary research likely to lead to submission of a competent Ph.D. thesis. In the event that the student has not achieved a score of first class in both NRSC 500 and 501, the scope of the comprehensive examination will be wider: under such circumstances the examination committee has a mandate to determine whether or not the student has sufficient breadth and depth of understanding of general topics in neuroscience to permit advancement to the candidacy. The examination will normally include a round of 20-minute questioning from each examiner, followed by another round of questioning, as appropriate. A student may be given the opportunity to re-sit either or both components of the examination if he/she is considered inadequately prepared at the first sitting. In the event that re-examination is required, it must take place within 6 months of the first attempt. No student is permitted to sit this examination more than twice.

Guidelines for Chairs of Comprehensive Examinations

The chair represents the Graduate Program for Neuroscience on the examining committee, and serves the functions of monitoring and reporting. The neuroscience program will assign a chair for the comprehensive exam once a written summary of the pre-comprehensive meeting has been submitted to the program secretary. In the event that the student has not achieved a score of first class in both NRSC 500 and 501, the head of the program will chair the comprehensive examination. At the comprehensive exam, the chair has the prerogative of asking questions, but is primarily responsible for ensuring that the examination is fair. The chair calls the meeting to order, assures that each member of the committee has had sufficient opportunity to read the proposal (normally two weeks), and reminds all members of the committee of the scope and purpose of the examination.

The chair then assigns an order to the questioning, with the External Examiner usually asked to go first, allowing each member of the examining committee ~20 minutes to question the student. After this initial round of questioning, the chair may ask questions (optional), and then each member of the committee is asked whether they have any further questions for the student. Such questioning continues until all members of the committee have satisfactorily arrived at a conclusion regarding the suitability of the candidate for progressing to candidacy. Throughout, the chair should ensure that questioning is fair and relevant, and that the student has adequate opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the field.

At the conclusion of the exam, the student is then excused from the room, and the committee discusses the performance of the candidate. The examination is pass/fail: each examiner (including the chair) is asked to rate the student's performance.

If all members of the committee rate the student's performance as passing, the student is called back to the room and informed of the committee's decision. At this time, the student should also be given constructive feedback on specific areas of strength and weaknesses. If a minority of members of the examining committee rate the student's performance as failing, the student should be informed that they have attained a conditional pass, and that further examination on a subset of the topics covered is required - since these situations are rare, the committee is given considerable latitude in designing such remedial work as it sees fit. If a majority of members rate the studentís performance as failing, the student has failed the first sitting of the comprehensive examination, and they must be re-sit the exam within six months' time. If the student fails the second sitting of the comprehensive examination, they must withdraw from the program.

Although the thesis proposal is used as a vehicle for the comprehensive examination, passing the exam does not necessarily indicate acceptance of the thesis proposal. The key criterion to be applied is whether the student has a viable and well-considered research program, likely to lead to generation of high quality Ph.D. thesis (the committee should not necessarily expect that the research proposal as written would be funded by CIHR). If the research program is sufficiently well designed, the research proposal is accepted and the chair should so indicate in their letter to the GPN office. If it is not sufficient, then the examining committee may suggest re-evaluation of the thesis proposal by the supervisory committee. The student is admitted to candidacy following obtaining a passing grade in the comprehensive examination and acceptance of the thesis proposal by either the examining or supervisory committees. The chair should send a brief memo to the Graduate Program in Neuroscience indicating the outcome of the comprehensive examination.

Thesis, Defence and Graduation

PhD Thesis Preparation

Students must consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies website on the instructions for the preparation of graduate thesis. Students must contact the Faculty of Graduate Studies or Special Collections with queries before beginning their final draft. The supervisor should read the complete thesis in draft form, and the appropriate revisions be made before the other members of the student's Supervisory Committee read the thesis. The examination copy of the thesis should not be prepared before the revisions suggested by the rest of the Committee have been incorporated.

Doctoral candidates should begin preparation for the thesis defense at least 3 months before the completion of the theses. Prior to submission to the Faculty of Graduate Studies, the thesis must be read by at least 2 of 3 supervisory committee members of which one (1) will be on the final thesis examination committee.

PhD Thesis Oral Defence

Students must follow the Faculty of Graduate Studies oral defense procedures as posted on their website. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that all these procedures are carried out by the appropriate person (the student, the Research Supervisor, or the Chairman of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience), as indicated in the website, and in a timely fashion.

Application for Graduation Students must follow the graduation procedures on the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website.

The Neuroscience GSA provides free mock defense service. If students need help, please feel free to contact the GSA.

MSc Defence

Unlike the doctoral final oral exams, a masterís defense is conducted according to departmental guidelines. However you must follow UBCís standard layout and advice when writing your thesis.

Before the Defense
Obtain permission to write thesis. A student must obtain permission to write his/her thesis at a meeting of their Supervisory Committee, at which the student should discuss the proposed outline of their thesis. This meeting typically takes place 4 Ė 6 months before a student intends to defend their thesis. The report of the Supervisory Committee meeting must indicate that the Committee has given the student permission to write-up.

Write your thesis. Prepare your thesis according to the guidelines specified by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The research supervisor will read the complete thesis in draft form, and necessary revisions must be made before submission to the Examining Committee. The Examining Committee should receive the thesis at least 2 weeks before the examination. At the time the student should notify the Graduate Program office of the thesis title and the date, time, and location of the defense.

Establish an Examination Committee. The Committee must consist of:

  • At least 3 examiners, the majority of which are members of the studentís supervisory committee. One of the examiners must be external to the supervisory committee. The Examiners are responsible for assessing the quality of the written thesis and the oral defense.

  • A Chairperson. The studentís supervisory committee chairperson will normally act as the Chairperson for the Examination Committee and will ask questions as a member of the Examining Committee. In the event that the supervisory committee chairperson is not present at the exam, an alternative committee member can be appointed as the Chairperson.

During the Defense

  • You will give a 20 to 30 minute oral presentation of your research

  • This will be followed by a question and answer session (usually ~ 20 minutes per examiner). After the first round of questions, each Examiner will be offered the opportunity to ask additional questions for 5 Ė 10 min.

After the Defense

  • At the end of questioning, the Chairperson will ask everyone except the Examination Committee to leave. The Chairperson will then moderate a discussion of the studentís written thesis and performance during the oral examination. At the end of the discussion, the Chairperson will request a Pass or Fail vote from each Examiner. The final decision to pass or fail is by simple majority. The Chairperson will then ask for a consensus % grade. In general this grade should reflect both the performance in the oral exam as well as the quality of the written thesis.

  • The student will then be called back into the room and informed of the Committee's decision. At this time, the student will also be given constructive feedback on specific areas of strength and weakness and will be informed of any changes recommended for the final thesis.The Chairperson must write up a short report of the Examination which summarizes the oral defense, examination committee discussion and final grade.

  • The student must complete all recommended revisions and obtain committee signatures for the required Masterís thesis approval form prior to submitting your thesis to the Faculty of Graduate Studies

Recommended Timeline

Disclaimer: The purpose of the timeline is to provide relevant information to Neuroscience graduate students regarding the Neuroscience program in a succinct and cohesive manner. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information presented here is complete and accurate, the timeline outlined here is not mandatory, and is to be used at the discretion of the reader. Ultimately, the student is responsible for making sure that all his/her program requirements are met.


General Student Resources

Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Network (iGSN)
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Counselling, health and wellness
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Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies




Handbook of Graduate Supervision

Intellectual Property Guide

Graduate Program in Neuroscience Forms

Committee Meeting
Msc to PhD Transfer Form
Candidacy Extension Form
Mentorship Application