Comprehensive examination

he comprehensive examination is a requirement for all students registered in the Doctoral Program in Criminology at the University of Ottawa. Students must be registered in CRM9998 in order to sit the comprehensive exam. 

Please note that the comprehensive examination is a closed (hence not public) defence and is intended to be an evaluation of the student’s knowledge and not a ceremonial rite of passage.  Students must successfully pass their comprehensive exam before proceeding to their thesis proposal defense.

Components with Deadlines

There are three components to the comprehensive exam: a reading list, a written paper and an oral examination.

Reading List

Description: Students must produce a personalized reading list comprised of significant literature, with a minimum length of 3600 pages in total. The list must contain the seminal works in their research area as well as a selection of broader criminological and theoretical readings that will inform their research project. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to identify any weakness in the students’ background and ensure these are addressed through the personalized reading list.

Deadline: The personalized reading list must be created and accepted by the student’s supervisor and doctoral committee prior to the end of the student’s first semester. It is the students’ responsibility to ensure that the reading list, accompanied by the Registration of Personalized Reading List (pdf) form is signed by all members of the committee, and is deposited in his/her file by December 21st of their first semester of studies.


Description: Students must submit a written comprehensive paper of approximately 50 double-spaced pages (excluding references). The paper should present a comprehensive overview of the main issues identified in the relevant literature for the student’s research area, provide a critical analysis of the student’s reading on her/his substantive area, demonstrate an advanced understanding of the subject area, and situate the issues/debates within broader criminological contexts. The paper is expected to be a solid and critical contribution and may not simply be a summary or literature review.

Evaluation of the paper

The committee and supervisor must be satisfied that the student has mastered the research and literature in their substantive area and demonstrates sophisticated and critical engagement.

Deadline: The paper must be accepted by the student’s committee prior to registration for the oral defense. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the Comprehensive Paper Report Form (pdf) is signed by the supervisor and committee members, appended to a copy of the final paper, and deposited in his/her file no later than October 1st of his/her fourth semester of studies.

Students whose comprehensive paper is not accepted for defence by their doctoral committee by October 1st of their fourth semester of studies will not be able to sit their exam and will be considered to have failed the exam. Students have one additional opportunity to sit the examination provided they deposit their approved paper appended to the signed “Comprehensive Paper Report Form” into their file prior to February 28th of their 5th semester of studies and defend their comprehensive exam before March 31st for their 5th semester of studies.

Oral Defence

Description: Students must orally defend their comprehensive paper before a jury comprised of (1) the supervisor, (2) one committee member who is also a professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa and a member of the FGPS, and (3) a professor in the Department who is not a member of the student’s committee but is a member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. 

Evaluation of Oral Exam: Students are expected to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the parameters of the literature in their chosen field of study, be able to engage with both the theoretical and substantive issues, reflect on the relevance for/with broader criminological and theoretical contexts and be capable of defending their written paper.

Deadline: The oral comprehensive defence must take place in the first week in November of the student’s 4th semester. Students who fail the comprehensive exam are entitled to one additional opportunity to successfully defend their comprehensive exam but must do so before March 31st  of their 5th semester of studies.

Registration of the defence: Following the thesis committee’s acceptance of the paper, the upcoming comprehensive exam must be registered with the department one month prior to the defence date. The first defence must take place no later than the first week of November of the second academic year of registration (4th semester). Therefore the defence must be registered with the department no later than October 1st of the student’s second academic year.  It is the supervisor’s responsibility to submit the Registration for Comprehensive Exam (pdf) form (indicating the date and location of the defence, naming the committee member and external evaluator who will serve as the jury, and identifying the defence chair) to the Secretariat. The chair must be a professor in the Department who is also a member of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Process of Oral Defence

  1. At the beginning of the defence the student will be asked to leave the room. During their absence the chair will confirm that the jury is satisfied that the paper is accepted for defence, review the rules of the process and ascertain the order of examiners. It is suggested (but not mandatory) that the order of questioning be as follows: questioning will commence with the examiner who is not a member of the committee, followed by the committee member and then the supervisor.
  2. The exam will be held in the language in which the student is registered unless the student requests otherwise. Unless previously agreed, all questions or comments are to be posed in the language in which the student is registered.
  3. There are at least two rounds of formal questioning (approximately 2-3 questions per round). The first round will focus on questions regarding the personalized reading list and the second round will focus more specifically on the paper. There may also be a third, more informal round of questioning or discussion if any of the jury members so desire.
  4. During the first two (formal) rounds of questioning it is expected that all jury members respect that this is an examination and refrain from intervening during another examiner’s questioning of the student.
  5. Students are not permitted to bring any written notes or documents whatsoever into the examination room; however, they are permitted to bring copies of their comprehensive paper, blank paper and writing instruments.
  6. At the end of the defence the student will be asked to leave the room and the chair will provide the evaluation forms to the jury members. In order for the student to pass the comprehensive examination, each member of the jury must give a pass mark (P). Each member must also provide a brief written report on the performance of the student highlighting strengths and weaknesses (also to be provided to the student). The transcript must indicate whether the exam was a success (P) or a failure (F).
  7. In case of failure students may repeat the examination once. The repetition must take place before March 31st of student’s third academic year.
  8. Students may appeal the results of the exam, as they may any other exam at the graduate level. The procedure for the appeal is described in the rules of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

The Responsibilities of the Defense Chair

The Chair is expected to:

  • Retrieve the required documents from the Secretariat;
  • Remind the jury that this is an examination and that jury members are to refrain from intervening in the process;
  • Establish the order of questioning, facilitate the process and ensure that, during the first two rounds of questioning, jury members do not intervene during another examiner’s questioning;
  • Take notes of key issues raised in the process;
  • At the end of the defence request that the student leave for the evaluation process and supervise the evaluation;
  • Advise the student if they have, or have not, been successful;
  • Following the defense, submit the completed documentation to the Secretariat.


* Please note that completion of the paper is a prerequisite for sitting the oral examination and should not be the sole basis of the jury’s evaluation.

The exam provides an opportunity to evaluate the level of the candidate’s knowledge regarding:

  • Literature and research in their area of specialization
  • Capacity to engage with the broad debates in the discipline of criminology

The jury will consider:

  • Cohesion and clarity of the arguments;
  • Advanced level of understanding of a student’s substantive area;
  • Ability to situate the student’s research area within the discipline of criminology;
  • Ability to engage in a critical dialogue with the literature on the subject
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