Purpose Of Exam
Part A - Examination Areas
Part A - Procedures
Part A - Marking Guidelines
Part A - Appeal Procedures
Part B - Preparation
Part B - Procedures
Appendix A: Guidelines for the Preparation of a Ph.D. Research Proposal

Purpose Of Examination

It is expected that graduates from Queen's University with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy will be experts in a specific area of research and also have a sufficient breadth of knowledge and maturity of approach to tackle a wide range of problems in their discipline and allied fields.

Part A of the PhD Comprehensive Examination is formulated to ensure that candidates have an adequate base of knowledge in the discipline and an ability to communicate that knowledge to their peers before proceeding to PhD research activities. While candidates will have already passed many courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, they will be expected to demonstrate a good understanding of the basic mathematical, scientific, and engineering concepts relevant to the discipline. This part of the Comprehensive Examination will examine the candidates' grasp of basic concepts and their ability to apply these concepts to the solution of novel problems. The exam consists of three separate oral exams, with each one focusing on a specific area of study. Two of the three exams cover only undergraduate material. The major covers both undergraduate and graduate material.

In Part B of the PhD Comprehensive Examination, the candidates will present a research proposal to the Department in an open seminar format and will defend it before an Examining Committee. This is intended to ensure that the candidates have conducted a background investigation in sufficient depth to define an original research program and have acquired the experimental and/or analytical tools necessary to complete it.

To successfully complete the PhD Comprehensive Examination, candidates must pass both Parts A and B. For students who fail the Comprehensive Examination after the second attempt, a recommendation will be made to the School of Graduate Studies that the student be required to withdraw from the program.

Part A

Examination Areas

Part A of the PhD Comprehensive Examination comprises a set of oral examinations. The examinations cover two undergraduate subject areas of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, as well as a Major Field. A candidate must select three examinations, one of which must be in the Major Field. The list of available subjects is as follows: (click on the title for a detailed study guide).


The table below lists study guides and textbooks for students to prepare for their Comprehensive Exams.
Examination Area Equivalent Queen's Courses Recommended Texts
Mechatronics MECH 210, MECH 310

Nilsson & Riedel, Electric Circuits, 11th Edition. (2018).

Bolton,  Mechatronics : electronic control systems in mechanical and electrical engineering, 7th Edition. (2018).

Dynamics MECH 228, MECH 328 Engineering Mechanics: Dynamics, Meriam and Kraige, 5th Edition
Fluid Mechanics MECH 241, MECH 341 White, Fluid Mechanics, 5th Edition
Solid Mechanics MECH 221 (formerly CIVL 220), MECH 321 Hibbeler, Mechanics of Materials, 6th Edition
Thermodynamics MECH 230, 330 Morin & Shapiro, Fundamentals of Eng. Thermodynamics, 5th Edition
Heat Transfer MECH 346 Incropera & DeWitt, Fundamentals of Heat & Mass Transfer, 5th Edition
Experimental Measurements and Instrumentation MECH 215 or PHYS 352 Figliola, Beasley, Theory and Design for Mechanical Measurements, 3rd or 4th Edition
Mathematics and Numerical Analysis MECH 202 and MECH 203

Trench, Elementary Differential Equations (2013)

Heinold, An intuitive guide to Numerical Methods (2013).

Materials Processing MECH 370 Porter and Easterling, Phase Transformations in Metals & Alloys, 2nd Edition
Structure and Properties of Materials MECH 270, MECH 371 Callister, Materials Science and Engineering, 6th Edition
Machine Design MECH 323 Richard G. Budynas and J. Keith Nisbett, Shigley's Mechanical Engineering Design, 9th Edition
Automatic Controls MECH 350 K. Ogata, Modern control engineering, Fifth Edition
Major Field All advanced undergraduate and graduate courses related to the Major Field

Click here for additional comments on preparing for Part A

In the Major Field, the particular requirements for each candidate will be determined by the candidate's supervisor, the Supervisory Committee and the Coordinator of Graduate Studies. The scope (i.e. book, chapters in a book, etc.) of the major field must be clearly defined in a memo submitted to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies.

This information will be transmitted to the candidate in a memorandum from the Coordinator of Graduate Studies at least two months prior to the date of the examination. In general, a comprehensive understanding of the material covered by the examinations will be expected. The equivalent Queen's University courses corresponding to each examination area are given in the table. While each of the individual exams is linked to a certain body of material in the undergraduate program at Queen's University, it is expected that the examiners will explore the candidate's understanding of the broad concepts rather than testing specific details of the course work.


  1. Part A of the PhD Comprehensive Examination will normally be offered three times per year, in January, May and September.
  2. This examination must be taken at its first occurrence after the candidate's first term in the PhD program. For a candidate accepted into a PhD program as a preparatory student, the examination must be taken no later than at its second occurrence following the candidate's first registration in the PhD program.
  3. A memorandum identifying the three selected examinations must be sent by the candidate's supervisor to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies at least six (6) weeks prior to the examination date.
  4. Each oral examination will normally be between 30 minutes and one (1) hour in length. Each oral examination will be conducted separately, with two examiners for each area. One of the examiners will act as chair and lead the exam. Each candidate will be examined in private. Usually, all the examinations will be held within five consecutive days. Each examination will have an independent, non-participating observer.
  5. All examiners will be appointed by the Head of Department or delegate. An individual may serve as an examiner in more than one area. The primary supervisor of a candidate may not examine that student in more than two (2) areas. The supervisor cannot act as observer on their student's exams.

    It is required that all prospective examiners inform the Head of the following:

    1. Any known conflict of interest.
    2. Any circumstances which might conceivably be construed as a conflict of interest.
    3. Any other reason for a possible lack of objectivity.
    4. The examiners must meet before each examination to review their questions and expected answers.
    5. A Passed or Failed decision for Part A of the comprehensive examination will be based on an aggregate score from the three examinations.
  6. In the event of a Failed decision, as based upon the aggregate mark at the first attempt, a candidate may repeat Part A once at its next scheduled occurrence. Though three examinations must again be taken at the second attempt, they need not be in the same areas as in the first attempt.

    Candidates who Fail the second attempt at Part A will have failed the Comprehensive Examination. A recommendation will be made to the School of Graduate Studies that the student be required to withdraw.
  7. For each individual examination, the examiners will score the candidate by marking a card with one of two possible assessments:
    The card will be sealed in an envelope to be opened by the Coordinator of Graduate Studies after the examination period for Part A has ended. Individual examiner results will not be revealed until the end of the examination period.
  8. In order to Pass Part A of the comprehensive examination, a minimum level of acceptable performance is five Passed assessments from five examiners. A candidate who does not meet the minimum acceptable performance based on the aggregate mark has Failed Part A.
  9. The Coordinator of Graduate Studies will transmit the overall results to the Head of Department. The Head or, if delegated to do so, the Coordinator of Graduate Studies, will then inform the candidates of the results within one week of the end of the examination period.
  10. An examiner may be required to submit a written report to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies on the candidate's performance in the case of a Failed assessment.
  11. In the event of a second attempt at Part A, the Coordinator of Graduate Studies or a delegate knowledgeable with the subject matter to be covered in the examination will act as the silent observer. In no instance can the candidate's primary supervisor be a member of the second examination committee.

Marking Guidelines

  1. A failed assessment is defined as when an individual shows no or very little knowledge or understanding of the material.
  2. A passed assessment is defined as when an individual shows a satisfactory grasp of the material and understands it. This means that upon answering an initial question satisfactorily, the candidate goes on to demonstrate an underlying physical understanding of the material upon further probing by the examiners.
  3. All records will be kept for ten years.

Appeal Procedures

The right of the student to appeal any decision made in the process of the Comprehensive Examination or the composition of the examining committee is guaranteed. The procedures for an appeal are as follows:

  1. To initiate an appeal, a student must send a letter to the Head of the Department within two weeks of the end of the examination period. The letter should outline the reasons for the appeal. The Head will then request reports from the examiners.
  2. The Head will convene an Appeal Committee normally consisting of the Graduate Coordinator and the Undergraduate Coordinator, consistent with the conflict of interest guidelines given in Section 2.2.5.
  3. The decision to grant or deny the appeal will be made solely by the Appeals Committee.
  4. An examiner's decision will not be changed for academic reasons.
  5. The Head will put the decision and the reasons for the decision by the Appeal Committee in writing and communicate it to the supervisor and the candidate.

Part B


Part B of the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination is intended to be an integral part of the research programme. As soon as candidates have started a review of the literature and begun to formulate a research problem, they will have made a start towards preparing for this examination. The deadlines are intended to encourage candidates to define and to make a start on their research programmes as early as possible.

The examiners, with a written report on the proposed research before them, can develop lines of questioning which will reveal if the candidate is adequately prepared to pursue the work proposed.


  1. The Part B oral examination must be held within 16 months from the date of initial registration in the Ph.D. programme. One extension may be granted on the basis of extraordinary circumstances, following a written request to the Head.
  2. The examination will be Chaired by the Head of Department or delegate. (add) The Chair does not examine the candidate or take part in the decision of the Examining Committee. The examiners are members of the Supervisory Committee and any other persons the Head or delegate feel should be added to the Examining Committee.
  3. The exact date for holding Part B of the Comprehensive Examination will be determined by the candidate's Supervisor in consultation with the members of the Examining Committee.
  4. The candidate will prepare a report which will:
    • Formulate the problem, set out the objectives and the scope of research, and discuss the significance of the work.
    • Critically review the literature on the subject, identifying and interpreting the principal theoretical, computational and/or experimental contributions to the present state of knowledge in relation to the problem to be studied.
    • Propose and discuss plans for obtaining, processing and interpreting those data to be derived from experimental, computational or analytical investigations.
    • Describe the main features of the equipment and/or methodology that will be used or developed for use.
    • Estimate the amount of time required to complete the main stages of the investigation.

    The purpose of the report is to inform the Examining Committee of the nature and scope of the research and to provide them with a basis on which to examine the candidate's competence to carry out the programme of research. The length of the report must not exceed 40 doublespaced typed pages including graphs and diagrams. The candidate may prepare a supplementary report for their own use and for the use of faculty who wish more detailed information; however, it is felt that all thesis proposals can be effectively summarised to cover the information described above in less than 40 pages. Guidelines for the preparation of a Ph.D. research proposal are in Appendix A.

  5. A copy of the report will be given to each examiner at least two weeks before the date of the examination.
  6. The examiners will question the candidate on the material presented in the report and on any other areas which relate to the proposed research.
  7. The decision of the Examining Committee will be PASSED or REFERRED at the first attempt and PASSED or FAILED at the second attempt. If the Committee returns two or more negative votes, the decision will be referral, or in the second attempt, failure. The second attempt must take place within 3 months of the first attempt.
  8. The Examining Committee must reach a decision within one hour after completing the exam. The Head of the Department, or delegate, will then inform the candidate of the decision.

A referred decision will result if the Examining Committee feels that the candidate is not adequately prepared, e.g. has a superficial understanding of the problem, or lacks adequate knowledge of proposed techniques, or is not sufficiently familiar with other similar work in the field. A referred decision will also result if the Examining Committee feels that the proposed research would not meet the general regulations for a thesis in that it would not be original or be of sufficient value to merit publication.

A Ph.D. in Mechanical and Materials Engineering will represent a substantial and original advance in the state of knowledge, incorporating a major component of analysis in the subject area, and demonstrating original thought and effort on the part of the candidate. Collection of new data, or calculation for new conditions are important, and may merit publication, but they do not by themselves constitute a suitable Ph.D. project.

Candidates fail a repeated exam if they have not demonstrated adequate initiative and research ability to the Committee's satisfaction, or if deficiencies revealed in the first attempt have not been rectified.

Failure to meet the stipulated deadlines will constitute a failure of Part B of the Comprehensive Examination.


Guidelines For The Preparation Of A Ph.D Research Proposal

Part B of Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination Guidelines for the Preparation of a Ph.D. Research Proposal

Your research proposal should normally contain the topics shown below. The page numbers shown are guidelines only -- your proposal may require a different balance. It is important that you also satisfy the Departmental documentation for the Part B exam.


Background and Motivation (2 pages)

Previous Work (6 pages)

Proposed Work (1 page)

Contribution (1 page)

Research Proposal:

Hypothesis to be Tested or Objectives of Research (2 pages)

Theory (6 pages)

Experimental/Computational Methodology (8 pages)

Proposed Experimental/Computational Matrix (2 pages)

Analysis and/or Modelling of Results/Validation Approach (6 pages)

Anticipated Problems and Solutions (3 pages)


Plan and Scheudule (2 pages)

Required Support and Sources (1 page)


Total Pages Not to Exceed 40 (double-spaced)