Planning Your Defense: A Practical Guide to Dates & Process

Author: Taylor Nelles-McGee (with a good dose of info from Sandra, who we are so lucky to have!)

Remember finishing up your undergraduate degree? Likely, you simply clicked “apply to graduate” by a certain date and were all set! Wrapping up a graduate program is not so simple. Between committee meetings, your written thesis, and your oral defense there’s a lot to keep track of. Ensuring you’ve completed the requirements of your degree by a particular date can also be crucial for things like funding, remaining eligible for enrolment in subsequent programs and more. Below, we demystify the process so you can plan ahead! This process looks different for M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, so skip to whichever section applies to you.




Completing Your Master of Science (M.Sc.)

Program Requirements:

  • Successful completion of Neuro 700
  • A committee meeting in each program year
  • A written thesis
  • A successful oral defense

Steps to Graduate

  1.  Obtain permission from your committee to defend and find a date for the defense. Your defense meeting is in addition to your

         committee meeting for that academic year. Let Sandra know when your defense has been scheduled so that she can find a Chair

         for the defense. You must submit your written thesis to your committee and to Sandra at least 2 weeks prior to this date.

    2.  Prepare for the defense. This is typically a 15–20 minute presentation of your research, followed by two rounds of questions from

         your committee.

    3.  Following your successful defense, the Chair will send you your thesis submission paperwork and license agreement. You must  

         complete these forms and any revisions to your written thesis that were required by your committee members.

    4.  Submit the forms to Sandra and your revised thesis to MacSphere once your supervisor has given you the go ahead and has 

         signed the Final Thesis Submission form.

    5.  Sandra will then submit a Clear to Graduate Form and upload the meeting paperwork (Final Submission form and License to 

         McMaster form) to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). 

Important Reminders:

  • Funding is only available for 2 years
  • Transferring from the M.Sc. to the Ph.D. program typically happens in the first 10-12 months of your first year, but you are eligible to transfer until around mid-April of your second year (this year the deadline date was April 8th, 2021).
  • You may also choose to graduate from the master’s program before transferring into your Ph.D. - speak with Sandra and your supervisor if this seems like the path for you!
  • The date your thesis is uploaded is your final submission date. This is the date your degree requirements are considered complete. This date can affect things like tuition and funding. As such, don’t wait until the last minute to upload, just in case!

Important Dates:

  •  April 8th, 2021: last day to transfer to Ph.D. without completing your M.Sc.
  • To avoid paying tuition for Spring term: begin the defense process/submit your pre-defense thesis to Sandra by April 23rd, 2021 and submit your post-defense thesis to MacSphere by April 30th (your completion date will be April 30th or whichever date you submit to MacSphere, and your convocation date will be in the Fall)
  • To complete your degree on time and avoid registering and paying tuition for the Fall term: begin the defense process and submit your pre-defense thesis to Sandra by August 6th, 2021 and submit your post-defense thesis to MacSphere by September 27th, 2021. Note there is no graduate funding available to overtime M.Sc. students!



Completing Your Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.)

Program Requirements:

  • Successful completion of Neuro 700 and an additional 3 credit course from this list.
  • A committee meeting in each program year
  • Successful completion of the comprehensive exams which must be attempted within 20 months of program start
  • A written thesis
  • A successful oral defense

Steps to Graduate:

  1. Unlike the M.Sc. program, a Ph.D. defense must be initiated in Mosaic. Detailed steps are available on the McMaster Graduate Studies website here.
  2. Your supervisor will determine whether your defense will be a traditional or accelerated defense. Students are not able to elect to place themselves into the accelerated stream. The primary difference between the two streams is timing. From the McMaster PNB Graduate Handbook Wiki: The time between initiating and submitting the thesis is two weeks regardless of using the traditional or accelerated submission process. The time from initiating to defense is 2 + 6 weeks if using the traditional method and 2 + x weeks if using the accelerated process (where x depends on the time it takes for the supervisor to arrange the external, find a defense date, etc).
    •  Another important difference is that the external examiner must attend in an accelerated defence.
  3. An informative flow chart describing the Ph.D. defense timeline is available here, and a PowerPoint delineating all of the required steps including information for both streams is available here.
  4. Following your successful defense, the Chair will send you your thesis submission paperwork and license agreement. Complete these forms and any revisions to your written thesis required by your defense committee.
  5. Submit the forms to Sandra and submit your final revised thesis to MacSphere once your supervisor has given you the go ahead (and has signed the Final Thesis Submission Form).
  6. Sandra will then submit a Clear to Graduate form and upload the paperwork to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). 


Important Reminders:

  • External examiners must be approved by the program and by SGS
  • Funding is only available for 4 years
  • Any further questions about your Ph.D. defense can be sent to gthesis@mcmaster.ca
  • The pre-defense deadlines are not as straightforward for a Ph.D. defense due to the different streams and external examiner requirements detailed in the links above. To determine when you need to complete/submit your pre-defense thesis, work backwards from your ideal defense date (leaving room for changes!) so you are prepared to meet those benchmarks.

Important Dates:

  • There are blackout periods for traditional Ph.D. defense. In 2020/2021, these were August 15th to September 30th and December 1st to January 15th. If you are planning to defend next year, make sure you are aware of these dates and plan accordingly! The 2021/2022 dates will be available on the SGS website.
  • The final date to initiate the defense process in Mosaic is June 25, 2021
  • To avoid paying tuition for Spring term: submit your post-defense thesis to MacSphere by April 30th (your completion date will be April 30th or whichever date you submit to MacSphere, and your convocation date will be in the Fall)
  • To avoid registering and paying tuition for the Fall term: submit your post-defense thesis to MacSphere by September 27th, 2021. (your completion date will be September 27th or whichever date you submit to MacSphere, and your convocation date will be in the Fall)

Other Useful Links & Reminders:

  • If you have submitted your thesis work for publication, you may need to embargo (delay publication of) your thesis. Speak with your supervisor to determine if this is the case.
  • The McMaster guide to preparing a Master’s or Doctoral thesis can be found here. This tells you everything you need to know about how to format your thesis for submission.
  • Important dates and deadlines: deadlines pertaining to thesis submission (M.Sc. and Ph.D.)
  • Important dates and deadlines: convocation dates (M.Sc. and Ph.D.)
  • Important dates and deadlines: enrollment and start dates (M.Sc. and Ph.D.)
  • Important dates and deadlines: SGS academic calendar (M.Sc. and Ph.D.)
    • Find sessional dates, degree regulations, general information, financial information and more