Information for OCIP Students at Carleton University

The Ottawa Carleton Institute (OCIP) offers a wide range of possibilities for graduate work in Physics. This document discusses options available to you, and some of the requirements for the successful completion of a graduate program. This document is tailored for students registered at Carleton University.  For information concerning UOttawa Physics, please see 

For the detailed regulations, you will have to consult the calendar of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs  (FGPA, the “Grad School”).  Your most important points of contact in the Physics Department are the Graduate Supervisor (the faculty member who manages the program, who is also the OCIP Director or Associate Director), the Graduate Administrator, and your Thesis Supervisor.


The graduate calendar should be consulted for details.  At Carleton University a one term (3 h/week) course is designated as a half credit, whereas at the University of Ottawa it is three credits.

Qualifying Year

You could be admitted to a qualifying year program if you have a strong record but lack the relevant Honours Physics courses.  At Carleton the program will normally consist of four or five full course credits.  The courses should be chosen in consultation with the Graduate Supervisor to ensure that when completed successfully you will satisfy all the course prerequisites to be considered for Graduate School.  Although we hope that the investment of time and energy that students and faculty put into Qualifying Year does lead to Master’s admission and a successful MSc, it must be borne in mind that admission to Qualifying Year does not guarantee admission to the MSc program.  Near the end of Q-year one reapplies for MSc admission on the basis of previous studies plus the Q-Year.  The Q-Year should be thought of as a milestone in its own right, by which one completes Honours credits that one did not previously have opportunity to attempt.

MSc Studies

At Carleton Physics, the MSc is a research degree normally with five full course equivalents.  The typical split is 5 half-courses with the remaining weight for the thesis.  Officially, the research MSc program may be completed in one year (the residency period) but this is almost unheard of and nearly everyone takes two years. 

Course selection should be in consultation with the Graduate Supervisor and your Thesis Supervisor.  Indeed, for the MSc the calendar is fairly specific about the courses needed for the particle physics specialization and for the medical physics specialization.  The passing grade for graduate courses is B- at Carleton.  In exceptional cases a C+ may count, but one must maintain a B- average.   While some universities still offer “supplemental” examinations as a second chance to pass a course, here at Carleton there are no supplemental examinations for either graduate or undergraduate courses.

PhD Studies

At Carleton the requirement is 10 full course equivalents.  A normal division would be two full course credits of lecture courses, and eight credits for research with the thesis defended at an oral examination.  Note, however, that you may be asked to take additional credits depending on your background, especially if you have switched physics subfields between your MSc and PhD. 

In addition to passing the courses and obtaining satisfactory reports from your supervisor you are required to take a comprehensive examination, normally within the first full year of study.  The time limit for the PhD program is five years.

Transfer from MSc to PhD

In consultation with their Thesis Supervisor and the Graduate Supervisor, students may be given the opportunity to transfer into the PhD program without completing their MSc.  This would typically occur at the end of the first year of MSc study and as such reduces the time required to obtain the PhD degree.  The process is that you will be invited by the Graduate Supervisor to apply for the PhD based upon your MSc coursework and your research progress to date.


Be aware that some courses may not be given every year so that there may be only limited chances to take them during your program.  Courses which will be offered in a given term at Carleton and at UOttawa can be found from the links at


Your thesis supervisor is the person you will work most closely with during your degree.  This person’s responsibilities include starting you on a promising research project, provision of the tools you need for your research, guidance along the way, coaching in writing your thesis, and in most cases a significant part of your funding.  They can also help you with your next career step, whether that be further studies here or elsewhere, or employment.  There are important responsibilities and expectations of both your supervisor and you.  Please see 

In some cases students have two co-supervisors.  This usually happens when the research project spans two areas, and your two co-supervisors then bring different expertise to help guide your project. 

In Physics, students supervised by an Adjunct Research Professor are assigned a nominal co-supervisor in addition to their regular supervisor.  The same is true of PhD students supervised by faculty who are not yet tenured.  The nominal co-supervisor’s role is to monitor that the student is on track timewise, understands the admin rules for the degree, and so on.  The nominal co-supervisor should meet with the student twice per year, perhaps initially on arrival in August/September as a help to orientation.  The nominal co-supervisor is expected to be someone the student can speak to in case of difficulties in the program or with the thesis.  The nominal co-supervisor could sometimes act as an advocate for the student, but most of the time would probably help by referring issues to the appropriate people within Physics or elsewhere on campus.  This person's role will not normally involve your research work and this person will not normally be on your thesis examination, and in the case of doctoral students will not attend your annual PhD committee meeting.  The nominal supervisor's area of science will be usually be different, sometimes quite different, from your thesis area.

Advisory Committee

PhD students are assigned an advisory committee, consisting of their supervisor and two other faculty members.  This committee is usually set up after one passes the comprehensive exam, and its first meeting is in your second year.  It then meets formally every year, in January or February, to hear a presentation by the student and to review the progress since the last meeting.  In the event of some difficulty the committee forms a pool of experience to give advice to the student, or to provide a shared assessment in the event of unsatisfactory progress.  Reports from the annual meetings are entered by the committee members and the students onto a private web site.  All committee members and the student can see all of the comments:  the idea is to help communication and document the outcome of the supervisory committee’s meeting for everyone involved. 

Your PhD committee members should be considered as a potentially valuable resource to be used for guidance as your research progresses.  Students should feel free to consult with their committee members individually and, under special circumstances, to request extra meetings of the committee.


Attendance at seminars is compulsory.  These are a good and interesting way to broaden your knowledge beyond the narrow specialization of your own research topic.  PhD students, you may well be asked a question during your comprehensive about some seminar topic.  The Physics Department has a standard weekly seminar slot for invited speakers.  In addition, there are occasional seminars organized by OCIP, usually on topics of more general physics interest.  Furthermore the various research groups have their own seminars (e.g., the OMPI series), journal clubs and so on, and you will be expected to participate by attending and by presenting. 

There is a general meeting of OCIP in December each year, at which various faculty members and postdocs describe their research.  There are also graduate student symposia.  Typically one afternoon is set aside in November or early December, and two or three afternoons in late April or May.  Each consists of a series of short talks given by graduate students.  This is regarded in part as a training ground for public speaking, which is an important part of reporting research results.  Participation in this Graduate Seminar Series is a requirement for your degree program.  Advice on giving an OCIP seminar is given on the Joint Institute website at

Comprehensive Examination

All students enrolled in the PhD program are required to successfully complete a comprehensive exam, normally by the end of the first year in the program.

For students starting in September, the comprehensive exam is taken in May.  Should you fail the comprehensive examination then you must take and pass it at the next following examination, which would be scheduled a few months later.  Otherwise you will be required to withdraw. 

The format is a written paper lasting for eight hours, followed by an oral examination a few days later.  The exam is designed to demonstrate your overall ability at physics.  The written exam includes a minimum of six questions, three of which are the so-called core questions on Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Quantum Mechanics, at the upper undergraduate level.  The remainder is a selection of questions on the MSc level courses which the candidates have taken.  The student must answer four questions, at least one of which must be a core question.  You may use reference books, but you may not consult anyone during the examination.  The oral examination is sometimes waived if the written examination has been clearly passed which means that a uniformly high mark has been achieved in all four attempted questions.  The oral examining board will be four or more members of the Institute.  A typical format would be two rounds of questions.  There is no restriction on the area or the level of the questions which may be asked.  They may include undergraduate physics, general questions, recent topical developments or questions specific to your research topic.


The thesis is designed to show that you have carried through a competent piece of research, and not only understand what you have done, but also know how it fits into scientific knowledge as a whole.  Typically it might consist of 90 pages for an MSc thesis, and 140 pages for a PhD thesis.  The format of the thesis depends on the topic.  Care should be taken with the style and the grammar as well as the technical content.  An important part of research is the dissemination of the results to others, and once your thesis is written, it will be in the public domain forever.  Some advice, which is not meant to be particularly comprehensive, is given here: 

The thesis must follow the regulations laid down by the Graduate School.  It is your responsibility to check that it does.  The thesis must be accepted by your supervisor before being submitted for defense.  The Graduate School information and policies on theses are at 

An oral examination will take place after the examiners have made an initial favourable assessment of the thesis, usually about 3-4 weeks (for MSc) or 4-5 weeks (for PhD) after submission.  The thesis may be accepted as is, or with minor corrections which are left to your thesis supervisor to monitor, or with more serious corrections which a subset of the examining committee will be designated to verify, or finally, in an exceptional case, it could be rejected outright.

Financial Support

Financial support comes from a variety of sources, and not all students are eligible for all of these.  The preferred option, from both your point of view and the Department's, is that you obtain outside support.  The most readily available are NSERC (Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council), OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarships), QE2GSST (Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarships in Science & Technology), and CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) awards.  The Grad School maintains a page of information.  To win a scholarship typically requires an average of A-/A or better.  They are quite competitive, and thus while we strongly encourage you to apply, you cannot be certain that you will get one.  The number varies from year to year, so even if you are unsuccessful one year, it is worthwhile for you to try again the next year.  Only OGS has scholarships available to visa students, but these are very limited in number.  Your applications for scholarships are usually due in September, so check with our Graduate Administrator.  

Much of the support for students comes from the individual operating grants of the faculty and these are often not known until April, which sometimes delays admission offers to new students. 

Graduate teaching assistantships are allocated by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs.  The number of terms you will receive an FGPA TA is given in your letter of offer.  Nearly all full-time graduate students are offered a TA of 10 hours per week.  The actual assignment of teaching duties (which may be marking, demonstrating in the laboratory, or giving tutorials) is decided by the Chair of the Department in late August, and you should speak to him or her if you have specific requests.  

It is our intention that every eligible student in the research degrees receive total funding support of a certain minimum each year.  See for the current values.  The actual amount will depend on your status and, in practice, support is often higher.  Support is subject to the availability of grant funds.  Eligibility for continuing support is of course dependent on the student’s good standing with respect to research progress and coursework.  Students in good standing should expect to receive this support for the duration of the financial offer received on admission.  These are usually two years for MSc and five years for PhD.  In exceptional cases, partial support can be extended beyond these time periods at the discretion of the thesis supervisor. 

Note that the above information on financial support does not apply to students enrolled in the master’s program in Physics in Modern Technology.  These students may receive support from TA, scholarship, and from the summer work term.  The total funding awarded is not subject to the minima referred to above. 

There are also internal scholarship funds available to students.  There is no need to make formal application for these:  we submit names of our strongest students into the university’s competitions.

Changes in Programs, Appeals, Etc.

If you feel you have been unfairly treated in a course, examination, or while performing your research, your first move should be to talk directly to the person involved.  If this fails, talk to the members of your Advisory Committee, the Graduate Supervisor or the Chair of the Department.  Almost all problems can be sorted out informally in this way.  A formal appeal can be made to the Department Chair, to the Associate Dean of FGPA, and ultimately to the Senate of the University.  Please see the Graduate School website for policies,   and in particular 

To change courses, first speak to your Thesis Supervisor and to the Graduate Supervisor.  This is to ensure that the courses are satisfactory for the program you have in mind. 

For a variety of quite valid reasons, you may decide to change thesis supervisor during a program.  This should obviously be done as amicably as possible.  In addition, you should be aware that coursework and work done for the first supervisor may no longer be usable in your thesis.  This is especially likely to be true if you are changing fields.  Hence changes like this should be done as early as possible. 

Furthermore, since much of the funds for graduate student support comes from individual research grants, your financial support may change.  If you wish to change university within OCIP, i.e. move from Carleton to UOttawa, or vice versa, the process is to apply for admission to the other university.


In 1999, students at Carleton University formed the Graduate Association for Students in Physics, or GASP for short.  More information can be found at their site   The primary goal of this organization is to encourage interaction amongst fellow students and between students and faculty.


Travel between UOttawa and Carleton is enabled by your U-Pass.  Take the O-train north two stops to its Bayview terminus, then take any major bus route east on the bus transitway and get off at the Campus station.  Budget about 40 minutes for this.