Frequently Asked Questions
MSc and PhD Programs
Supervisors and the SupervisoryCommittee
Classes and Class Requirements
Teaching Assistant (TA) Requirement
Admission to Candidacy Examination (ATC)
Preliminary Examination (PhD students only)
MSc Thesis Defence
PhD Thesis Defence
Scholarships and Funding
How do I go about applying to the graduate programme?
In order to obtain a graduate position in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie you need to accomplish three things: 1) identify a research supervisor, 2) obtain scholarship funding; and 3) formally apply, and be accepted, to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
1) 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 (www.biology.dal.ca) 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 1-2 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., go directly to step 3) may sometimes have their application accepted internally, but more frequently their application is rejected for lack of a position.
2) 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. (2 year) or Ph.D. (4 year) programme in the Department of Biology is guaranteed a minimum stipend of $10,000 after tuition and other fees (exclusive of health/dental care. There are a number of possible sources of funding.
A. External scholarships. 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.
B. Dalhousie Fellowship: 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 programme on a more or less first come, first serve basis. Every student is automatically considered for this award, there is no separate application form.
C. Research Grant. 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.
Once I have a supervisor and we have arranged funding, how do I apply to the graduate programme?
Once you have identified a supervisor, and made arrangements for funding, you apply formally to the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Apply on line. Note that there is an application fee and that ORIGINAL transcripts as well as letters of reference are required. 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 programme?
If you do not already have a graduate degree you must apply to the MSc programme. At your Admission to Candidacy Exam, which occurs after 4-8 months in the programme, you may apply to transfer to the PhD programme. If you already have a MSc degree you can apply to either the PhD programme or the MSc programme and request a transfer to the PhD programme at your Admission to Candidacy Examination. Which of these options you select should be discussed with your potential supervisor.
I don't have an honours undergraduate degree - can I still apply?
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 programme 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 programme is competitive and often based on scholarship funding for which the minimum grade is A- in the last 2 undergraduate years.
How long will my graduate programme take?
Time required to complete your programme will vary depending on the success of your individual research project. In general, the MSc degree takes a minimum of 1 year and usually 2-2.5 years. The PhD programme takes a minimum of 2 years and usually 4-5 years to complete. If you transfer from an MSc to a PhD programme the TOTAL time allotted to the programme is still 4 years. It is important to note that internal scholarship funding, and many external scholarships, last for only 2 or 4 years for an MSc or PhD programme, respectively.
How much is tuition?
Current tuition levels can be found at the Student Accounts web site.
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.
What is an “Internal Supervisor”?
If a student is supervised by someone who is not a full-time faculty member in the Biology Department but is a faculty member at Dalhousie, NSAC, or another institution with a MSc programme in Biology, they must have an internal supervisor who is a faculty member in the Biology Department. The internal supervisor monitors the progress of the student and is a member of the supervisory committee. If a student is supervised by an adjunct professor not at Dalhousie NSAC, or another institution with a MSc programme in Biology, they must have a cosupervisor who is a full-time faculty member of the Biology Department.
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. 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, or the Chair of the Biology Department. Choose whom you feel most comfortable with.
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; 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 at Dalhousie or at the Nova Scotia Agriculture College); the others can be qualified scientists at any other institution.
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.
How many classes must I take?
If you already have a MSc (and so are a “2-yr PhD” student), you probably have a minimum requirement of two 1/2-credit graduate level classes. If you do not have a MSc (and so are a MSc student or a “3-yr PhD” student), you probably have a minimum requirement of four 1/2-credit graduate level classes.
Can I take classes in other Dalhousie departments?
Can I take undergraduate classes?
Yes, but these do not count towards your minimum number of graduate classes – they are “ancillary classes”. Sometimes it is possible to consider an undergraduate class plus some extra requirements to be a Special Topics graduate class. This is up to the instructor.
How do I register for classes?
Do this through Dalhousie University Online. You must also list your classes on your “Graduate Programme Form” or “Programme Update Form”. Please see the Graduate Coordinator or Stream Chair to add or change classes.
How do I arrange Special Topics Classes?
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 class on the web, and put it on your “Graduate Programme Form” or “Programme Update Form” (through the Graduate Coordinator or Stream Chair).
Do I have to take the Graduate Communications Class (BIOL5700)?
All graduate students (MSc and PhD) must take the Graduate Communications Class (BIOL5700) unless they have previously taken it at Dalhousie.
What is the TA requirement?
All Biology Graduate students must be a teaching assistant in at least two half-credit classes.
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 2nd floor.
Can I TA more than 2 classes?
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 classes previously you can apply to the Graduate Coordinator (in writing) to be excused the TA requirement.
What is the ATC examination?
Please see the ATC Guidelines.
When should I do my ATC examination?
Four to eight 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 proposals should be provided as hard copies to examiners, unless an examiner agrees to receiving them in electronic form.
What is the Preliminary Examination?
Please see 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 one extra faculty member 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 provided as hard copies to examiners, unless an examiner agrees to receiving them in electronic form.
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 programme (i.e., a member of a Faculty of Graduate Studies or equivalent) and can be anywhere in the world. The external examiner is sent the thesis by courier, returns comments by FAX or email, and does not usually attend the examination.
Who sets up the time and place for my MSc thesis defence?
The chairperson’s secretary, Carolyn Young, sets it up after consulting with the student.
Are MSc examinations public?
Yes, and members of the public can ask questions.
Who are the examiners for my PhD thesis?
Your supervisory committee members, including your supervisor, 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 programme. The external examiner is sent the thesis by courier, and usually attends the exam.
Who sets up the time and place for my PhD thesis defence?
The Faculty of Graduate Studies.
Are PhD examinations public?
Yes, and members of the public can ask questions.
What happens if my scholarship runs out before I have finished my graduate programme?When your supervisor agrees to supervise you they sign a document which guarantees that they will provide you with the minimum stipend for 2 or 4 years, for an MSc or PhD degree respectively. In addition, if your progress has been satisfactory, the supervisor must provide an additional 3 (MSc) or 6 (PhD) months support at 80 percent of the minimum stipend following the 2 or 4 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.