Information for OCIP Members Supervising Carleton Physics Graduate Students

Gerald Oakham 
Director and Graduate Supervisor 
Ottawa-Carleton Institute for Physics

This is an update to a document originally created by Pat Kalyniak to help orient supervisors of Ottawa-Carleton Institute for Physics (OCIP) graduate students. This document is available on the OCIP web site:

The various procedures, requirements, and requests that are part of either the departmental policy for graduate students or that of the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) are described below.  It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures in the Graduate Calendar.

Please note that in this document the term "graduate supervisor" refers to the Chairman for Graduate Studies who is also either the Director or Associate Director of OCIP. To contact me, I prefer if you send email to grad-supervisoratphysics [dot] carleton [dot] ca.  The term "supervisor" refers to the individual who is officially designated as the supervisor of an individual graduate student and who should be, in practice, actually supervising that student.  The Graduate Administrator in the Department is Eva Lacelle; she can be reached by phone at ext 6017, by email at eva_lacelleatcarleton [dot] ca or in person in room 3314.

Screening and Admission Procedures

Students must complete an online prescreening application. It is important that they include as much relevant information as possible so that an appropriate assessment can be made. Otherwise it can be a waste of their time and money (the application fee) if they misrepresent themselves on the prescreening application just to get it approved.

Because of the limited spots available the Department may consider domestic and international applicants only if they have a strong academic record with excellent grades in relevant courses. Note that academic accomplishment is just one factor considered; the references also need to be very strong along with the necessary language skill.

Details of our programs as well as instructions on how to complete an online prescreening application can be found at the following websites. 

If the prescreen application is approved the next step is to complete the application online and gather all of the necessary documents as outline on the website.

Each application is reviewed by the Department’s Graduate Studies Committee. Often applications are held for a considerable amount of time since we do not hear about grant requests until late spring.

Once we have a complete (or almost) application, including transcripts and letters of reference, it is either circulated among the Graduate Studies Committee or to the member of the committee whose general area of research coincides with the stated interests of the applicant. So, for instance, a medical physics application will first go to the med. phys. representative on the committee who may decide to circulate it within his own constituency before it goes to the general committee. Anyone who is actively seeking students should advise either the graduate supervisor or the appropriate person on the committee.

Once a student has been favourably reviewed by the committee and someone has agreed to act as supervisor, which includes a commitment of financial support, the graduate supervisor sends the departmental recommendation for acceptance along with a financial offer. The financial offer is of course made in consultation with the supervisor. If appropriate the recommendation for an International Student Scholarship is also made at that time. The offer of admission from FGS is good for three terms. However, the student is asked to reply to the offer within a month; after that time, we are no longer bound to the financial offer.

Financial Offers

Financial offers are submitted to FGS which then officially makes the offer to the student. They usually consist of three components, those being a University Scholarship, a Teaching Assistantship (TA), and a Research Assistantship (RA). The department is allotted scholarship money by the university according to the number and caliber of our students; we receive increased scholarship funds according to the number of our students who hold external scholarships. The university also allots us a number of TA's. Students must have an A- average or better to be awarded scholarship support by FGS. The RA is paid out of the operating grants of the student's supervisor. There are limits placed by the granting agencies on the amount of money that can be paid to students. The most convenient way for adjuncts to handle this payment is to set up an account on campus. Our Department Administrator (Eva Lacelle: 520-2600 ext. 6017; eva_lacelleatcarleton [dot] ca) can advise you about this. You will be asked to sign a payment authorization for your students at the beginning of each academic term

Presently, the Physics grad studies committee has a funding recommendation for students without external scholarships. As an Institute, OCIP has had a policy of minimum funding for full time students in good standing. Every eligible student should receive total funding support of at least $22,500 (MSc) or $23,500 (PhD) per year. In practice, our students in good standing are receiving more than this. Eligibility for continuing support is dependent on retaining good standing with respect to coursework and research. Students and supervisors should expect support to continue for two years in the case of MSc students and 4 to 5 years in the case of PhD students. Support can be extended beyond this time at the discretion of the supervisor. TA support from FGS is generally only available for four terms over five consecutive terms in the case of MSc students and for 10 terms over five consecutive calendar years for PhD students. Similarly, scholarship support from FGS will not continue indefinitely. Note that the Carleton academic year consists of three terms; normally, students will be offered a TA for only the Fall and Winter terms. The current value of a full TA (10 hours per week over two terms) is $9,600 and the scholarship amount we can usually allot is $2,000. The remainder of a student's financial offer must come from grant funds in the form of an RA.

The length of time we can expect some TA or scholarship funding from FGS is influenced by the fact that the University receives no funding other than tuition fees for students after a certain period. We cannot specify the exact period because it depends on each individual’s program in the postgraduate educational system. In the case of Ph.D. students, the subsidy for eligible students is quite substantial. Hence the University has become very vigilant regarding the length of time spent in the program.

The situation regarding International students is different. In the spring of 1996, the Ontario government decided to deregulate fees for International students and eliminate any funding to universities for these students, apart from the tuition fees set by each institution. In particular, International Fee Waiver Scholarships were eliminated. The tuition for international students is considerably higher that it is for Canadians and permanent residents.

For information on current fees please Carleton University's Finance website.

The RA cost for an International student is significantly higher than for a Canadian, if they are to receive the same amount after tuition, and no other source of support is available. In addition, Visa students are no longer (as of June 1994) eligible for OHIP coverage. A mandatory health care plan (UHIP) has been set up; the annual cost for an individual is in excess of $550.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies offers a limited number of international scholarships, which helps to bring the tuition fee for exceptional international students almost down to the same level as domestic students.


The major sources of scholarships are NSERC and OGS which have application deadlines in fall. The students are informed by the department administrator of these deadlines. The department requires that all eligible graduate students apply for these awards - some simply do not bother and there is talk of refusing FGS funding to students who do not at least apply for external scholarships. Typically, students must have maintained an A- average over the last couple years. It is extremely important to write detailed references for students; a couple of lines stating that someone is "outstanding" is actually not useful. It is very frustrating to receive application forms where a referee rates a student as outstanding but can't be bothered to justify that rating at all; it does not help the student's case. All these scholarships are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain so we have to do a very good job of recommending those students who we feel deserve an award.

Receipt of a scholarship has implications for the remainder of a student's financial offer. NSERC award holders cannot be paid RA funds from an NSERC operating grant. OGS holders usually are supplemented from grants. The offer of a full TA is usually cut to a half TA at most for NSERC holders although OGS holders sometimes get a full TA. This depends on the overall availability of TA's.

Student Responsibilities Apart from Research

Supervisors should keep in mind that, especially at the beginning of a program, the students have responsibilities beyond the pursuit of thesis research. They are expected to be involved in the departmental research and teaching undertakings. The first involvement should be accomplished by regular attendance at the department seminars. (Questions on seminars are fair game for comprehensive exams or thesis defenses.) They must commit time to demonstrating in the labs or marking assignments and labs to fulfill their TA duties. Also, at the beginning of their program, they have a heavy course load. While this does limit the time they can devote to research initially, it is also vitally important for their preparation to be successful in research and in fact in other career paths which they may ultimately pursue. Your financial investment in the form of RA funds is not one that pays off immediately.

Progress Reports

The progress of our graduate students is monitored formally in two processes. FGS requires an evaluation of the academic progress of graduate students whose academic standing is at risk. The review, when required requires the supervisor and graduate supervisor filling out a thesis progress form. We are requested to summarize progress in research and coursework. We also indicate departmental action which ranges from sending the student a letter confirming that progress is satisfactory to recommending to FGS that the student be requested to withdraw. The evaluations should be honest; it is useful to have a written record of any problems even if they don't warrant a letter informing the student of difficulties.

The second monitoring process is the annual meeting of each Ph.D. student's advisory committee. That committee consists of the supervisor, another Carleton associated person in the student's field, and a U. of Ottawa member. If the supervisor is an adjunct, one of the committee members should be a Carleton department member. Typically, the student will make a short presentation summarizing research progress; this is followed by fairly informal questioning and suggestions. This should be a very open process with the student fully informed as to the committee's assessment of progress. All members of the committee and the student complete a report on the meeting by filling out a form on the web site. If the committee finds it necessary, they should request the graduate supervisor to advise the student in writing of any particular requirements. The request to hold the annual meeting comes from the OCIP Director in fall with a January deadline, allowing ample time for the student's supervisor to arrange a meeting. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to arrange the meeting; typically, the student should not be assigned to make arrangements. It is up to the supervisor as to whether a student who begins the program in September and is occupied largely with coursework need have a meeting the first year.

Finally, the graduate supervisor will organize individual interviews with each graduate student toward the end of the academic year. Progress in their program is discussed but this is also an opportunity for the students to raise their concerns and make comments about the program.

Time Limits

There are time limits established by the Faculty of Graduate Studies for the completion of degree programs. For the M.Sc., this limit is six terms of full time study. For the Ph.D., the limit is five calendar years. It is possible to obtain an extension for a term if we make our case to FGS. However, ideally, the student should finish within the time limit. There is a financial consequence to going beyond the time limit. Even if an extension is granted, FGS will generally not give either TA or scholarship funding to students beyond the time limit. Hence, the student either suffers a substantial pay cut or the supervisor has a substantially increased RA bill. It is extremely important that each supervisor be aware of these time limits. As noted above, there is also the issue of "eligibility" which can have funding implications even before the time limit is reached.

Annual OCIP Newsletter

You will receive various requests from us through the year to supply information, the main one being for our annual Institute Newsletter. For this purpose, you are asked to supply information on the supervision of students and post doctoral fellows as well as publications and grants in a format consistent with the OCIP newsletter format. The Director puts the information together in the newsletter, and has copies printed for distribution, and makes it available on the OCIP web site. It is useful to check that your submission does not include materials that already appeared in the previous year's version.

Comprehensive Examinations

Each Ph.D. student is required to pass a comprehensive examination which is held in May.  The written examination consists of three core questions, those being on classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and electromagnetism. The core questions are at the upper undergraduate level. The rest of the questions are specialized, typically at the level of M.Sc. courses. Each student must be provided with a total of at least six questions for which they have some background. They must answer four questions, including at least one core question. The written examination lasts eight hours. The pass mark is 66%. If a student obtains a high enough mark the written examination alone can fulfill their comprehensive requirement. If they are below this level of performance, they will be required to also take an oral exam. The orals typically take place a couple of days after the written exam, once all the questions have been graded. The examining board usually has many of the same members as the student's Ph.D. advisory committee. If a candidate fails the comprehensive examination, they have the right to take it again once, although the examining board can recommend against doing so.

OCIP members are often asked to submit a question for the comprehensive when they have been involved in teaching. The questions should be non-trivial however they should take under two hours to solve.

Student Seminars

We hold a session of seminars given by OCIP graduate students twice a year, in the late fall and the late spring. One of the purposes of these sessions is to enhance the contact between the two institutions. Another very important purpose is to provide the students with a relatively friendly venue to hone their presentation skills. Information is available to students on the OCIP website on how to give an effective seminar. During the course of their degree program, each student must give at least one seminar. Give your students constructive feedback after they've delivered their seminar. 

Typically, six seminars are presented at a given session, three from each of the Universities. Each student is allotted a half hour which includes about ten minutes for responding to questions. There is a refreshment break midway in the session. The sessions alternate between Carleton and Ottawa U. 

There is also an annual OCIP symposium held sometime in December which has roughly the same format as the Graduate Student Seminars but features the illustrious members of OCIP. This alternates by year between Ottawa and Carleton and is always usually followed by lunch. Graduate students are encouraged to participate fully and, more likely than not you, as an OCIP member, will be asked to speak at some time. 

Theses and Graduation

FGS and the Graduate Student Association put out a "Graduate Student Manual, Handbook and Daily Planner", which contains information on thesis preparation and regulations concerning the defence. These are made available to all students. Appropriate deadlines for submission of theses, in order to meet graduation times and avoid registering for an additional term, are all in the calendar. The policies and procedures for thesis exam and for thesis preparation are available on the FGS web site ( The students are reminded of these dates by the department but it is also useful for the supervisor to have them in mind. It is important to note that there is a length of time required from the time when a student submits a thesis to the time at which the defense can be held. That period is from around 4-6 weeks depending on whether the degree is M.Sc. or Ph.D. When you have a student writing up the thesis, you should consult with the graduate supervisor to get the ball rolling in terms of setting up the examination board. Another important point to note is that the external examiner for a thesis must attend the defense. The actual defense begins with the student giving a brief (~20 minute) talk and is followed by questioning in a two part format. An initial round of questioning is strictly one on one with the student responding to each examiner in turn. That is, there are to be no intercessions by other members of the examining board. The order of examiners proceeds from the "most external" person through to the supervisor. Generally, this first round of questioning is followed by a second less formal round wherein the board members may join in the discussion. The board then finds the defense either Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory and also makes a decision on the thesis, ranging from "acceptable as is" to "reject".

Departmental Recommendations on Preparation of Theses

It is highly recommended that you offer your students regular feedback while they are writing their theses. Having them submit an outline of the chapters for discussion and reading those chapters as they write each one can be very valuable. Refer them to the theses of graduated students which you know were well received; if you aren't sure, refer them to the Graduate Supervisor. The thesis is meant to be a stand-alone document of the student's research. This means that it must include sufficient introductory material to be meaningful to that infamous "intelligent non-expert"; after all, there will be at least one or two of them on the examining board! A thesis which is essentially a collection of papers stapled together is not acceptable at Carleton.

Some very mundane matters: the page numbering should progress through the whole thesis, not beginning again with each chapter. Details of the numbering of the preliminary pages are given at the website noted above. References should all be at the end of the thesis, sequential in the order of their citation. Figures and Tables should be inserted appropriately within the text, unless readability prohibits this. Appendices can be used very effectively to maximize the readability of the main document, without sacrificing rigour.

A well written thesis sets a very favourable tone for the defense. The supervisor should certainly not write the thesis but should definitely help the student to achieve a good document. The student's work is a reflection of their supervisor to some extent.

Supervisory Practice

Every individual has their own preferred style of working, their own set of priorities, and expectations. As the supervisors of graduate students, we have the very important role of guiding our students to learn about and to contribute to the fields that we find exciting. We also have a responsibility to maintain a realistic perspective on what we ask them to do; for instance, your M.Sc. student is probably not going to come up with the definitive answer as to whether the universe is closed or open! Ideally, the student - supervisor relationship is compatible and productive. However, we should also be sensitive to the fact that it is not an equal one; we are in a position of authority with respect to a major endeavour in our students' professional lives, their thesis research. Because of this inherent inequality, we should consciously monitor our own performance and expectations as individual supervisors in addition to the more obvious matter of monitoring our students' progress. We cannot necessarily expect our students to offer their constructive criticism to us even if we feel we have a good relationship. They have a lot at stake!