Exams, Thesis & Proposal

Stack of books Students enroled in the PhD in LIS program are required to pass a Qualifying exam prior to beginning work on their dissertation. The purpose of the Qualifying exam is to ensure that the student has the requisite knowledge foundation to proceed and be successful in the program.

Once the Qualifying exam has been passed, students move on to their proposal and thesis.

Qualifying Exam


The comprehensive exam in the LIS doctoral program consists of the preparation and development of written essay(s) and other approved works as described below. The student may select, in consultation with their Academic Advisor(s), either of the following two options:

  • A complete first draft of their dissertation proposal (30-40 pages), OR

  • Both of the following:
    • A scholarly paper, 15-20 pages, on a topic selected in consultation with their Academic Advisor(s), that is related to the proposed area of inquiry for the dissertation; AND
    • A flexible format work, devised in consultation with the Academic Advisor(s), that may be one of the following:
      • Scholarly paper, 15-20 pages;
      • Course syllabus with accompanying rationale;
      • Research creation project;
      • Grant/Scholarship application;
      • White Paper


The Qualifying Examination is normally prepared and written during the final term of the student’s required course work and the term following (for full-time students, summer term of first year and fall term of second year). The precise timeline is set by the student’s Academic Advisor(s) and shall consist of, at a minimum, 12 weeks of preparation time after the completion of the required course work. For full-time students, the work(s) will normally be due by the first Friday of November of the second year of the program.


After consultation with their Academic Advisor(s), and no later than the first of April of their first year, students will declare in writing to the Graduate Chair their choice of exam option 1 or 2.

The Graduate Chair and the student’s Academic Advisor shall identify three faculty members with expertise relevant to the student's proposed topic(s) to serve as the Examination Committee. One faculty member will be appointed as Chair of the Examination Committee.

In consultation with the committee, the student will prepare and distribute a brief description of the proposed work to the Examination Committee. The description shall include a bibliography of at least 40 article-length works or equivalent. The Examination Committee and student will meet to discuss the proposed work and ensure the proposal reflects the shared expectations of all parties.

At this meeting, the Examination Committee may identify additional material beyond the student’s proposed bibliography that they feel is necessary for the Qualifying Examination. Such additional reading may consist of no more than 20 article-length items or equivalent.

The Examination Committee will either approve or reject the proposal. If the proposal is rejected, the student will revise and resubmit until it is accepted. Once the proposal is accepted, the Examination Committee will set the due dates for submission and evaluation of the comprehensive exam. During the Examination period, interactions between the committee and student regarding the Qualifying Examination shall be conducted at arm’s length to preserve the integrity of the Examination process.

Consultation with peers and other faculty during the Examination period is encouraged to help the student consolidate their thinking, identify additional resources, and brainstorm. The work(s) submitted in satisfaction of the Qualifying Examination, however, must represent the student’s independent work.

The student shall e-mail their written Qualifying Examination to the Examining Committee by 4 p.m. on the agreed upon due date.


Each examiner independently assigns a pass/fail grade along with comments and submits to the Chair of the Examination Committee. The Chair of the Examination Committee compiles the individual grades and comments. The final grade is determined by majority.

Within a week of the completion of the exam evaluation, the Chair of the Examining Committee or designate will submit an overall Pass/Fail grade for the exam along with a one-page overview of examiners' feedback to the student and to the FIMS Graduate Student Services Office.

If the student has passed the written exam, the program milestone will be recorded as complete on the student's record.

If the student has failed the written exam, the student will have four weeks from receipt of the initial grade to revise and resubmit the work(s).

If the written exam is failed on this second attempt, the student must withdraw from the program.

LIS PhD students who successfully complete the qualifying exam are expected to:

  • critically review the scholarly literature in a LIS-related major research area to gain expertise in the domain;
  • critically evaluate a range of research approaches and perspectives to identify and justify appropriate research methodologies;
  • apply major paradigms, theories, models, research areas, and methods studied in the courses to new contexts;
  • identify and justify appropriate research designs for particular research questions;
  • effectively describe, explain, and justify research decisions in writing;
  • appropriately cite authoritative sources of evidence

Proposal & Thesis

Proposal: If the student completed a thesis proposal as part of their Qualifying exam they will be expected to submit a final, further refined version of the proposal to satisfy the proposal milestone requirement. If no preliminary proposal was submitted, the student is expected to produce a 30-40 page proposal (plus bibliography) of the thesis research. The proposal is normally due no later than the end of the 7th term and must be approved by the student's Advisory Committee before work can commence on the thesis.

Thesis and Thesis Examination: Upon approval of the proposal, the student proceeds to undertake the research for the thesis. The completed thesis is approved by the student’s Advisory Committee and the student is permitted to proceed to the examination. For the examination, the student must give a public presentation of the results of the research, following by an oral examination, in accordance with the Guidelines of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS).

Specific dates will vary each year.

Sample Time Frame (Spring):

  • Deadline to submit a completed thesis - mid-March
  • Deadline for a thesis defence - mid-April
  • Deadline for final submission of the thesis - late April