PhD Candidacy Exam Proposal Guidelines

General Information

Five (5) copies of the proposal are to be submitted. The proposal consists of the following parts:

  • An application form (see below for more detail). The form has the following sections:
    • Application profile
    • Plain language summary of the proposal
    • Proposed expenditures
  • Free form sections in the following order
    • Budget justification (1-2 pages)
    • Literature review and background (5 pages maximum)
    • Proposal (5 pages maximum)
    • References (2 pages maximum)

General Presentation

When you prepare your application, follow these guidelines:

  • Print must be in good quality black ink and legible.
  • Text must be single-spaced, with no more than six lines per inch.
  • The accepted font is Times New Roman regular 12 pts, or any comparable font – nothing smaller.
  • Condensed font, and applications completed strictly in italics, are not acceptable.

Free Form Sections

  • Use white paper, 8 1/2 x 11 inches (21.5 cm x 28 cm), portrait format, with a single column.
  • Set margins at 3/4 of an inch (1.9 cm) (minimum) all around.
  • Enter your name and student number at the top of every page, outside the set margins.
  • Number your pages sequentially.
  • Print on one side of the page only.
  • Avoid using acronyms and abbreviations or explain them fully.
  • Adhere strictly to the page limits given above. Pages in excess of the number permitted will be removed!


All text, including references, must conform to these standards. Incomplete proposal and/or proposals that do not meet the presentation standards will be returned and the examination will be postponed until corrections are made.

Completing the Application Form

  • Download the form
  • Use Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Reader to fill out the form and print it. (Note that Acrobat Reader will not let you save the filled out form!!)
  1. Title of Proposal: The title should describe the subject of the research to be supported. It should not contain a company or trade name. Spell out scientific symbols and acronyms.
  2. Research Subject Code: Consult the NSERC Code Tables.
  3. Key Words: Provide a maximum of 10 key words that describe the proposal.
  4. Certification Requirements: Ignore this section.
  5. Plain Language Summary: The summary is intended to explain the proposal in language that the public can understand. Using simple terms, briefly describe the nature of the work to be done. Indicate why and to whom the research is important, the anticipated outcomes, and how your field and Canada will benefit. If you wish, you may also provide a summary in the second official language in the text box identified for that purpose.
  6. Proposed Expenditures: Before completing this section, consult the Use of Grant Funds section of the NSERC Program Guide for Professors for information about the eligibility of expenditures for the direct costs of research and the regulations governing the use of grant funds. Use the Budget Justification section (free form section) to explain and justify each budget item. Provide a five-year budget.

Free Form Sections

Budget Justification

Provide a detailed explanation and justification for each budget item identified in the Proposed Expenditures section. Provide sufficient information to allow reviewers to assess whether the resources requested are appropriate.

  • Salaries and benefits: You should request funding for one or two PhD students and undergraduate  summer students as needed for your project. Give a salary of $12,000/yr (research supervisor’s portion) for each PhD student and a stipend of $7,000 for each summer student.
  • Equipment or facility: Give a breakdown of the items requested, models, manufacturers and prices. Justify each item requested. Items costing more than $7,000 may not be included in a Discovery Grant application.  If your research proposal requires such items you may assume that they are either already available or have been applied for under the Research Tools and Instruments program. Also report the need for beam time or other special facilities, and how much time has been allocated for these.
  • Materials and supplies: Provide details and explain major items.
  • Travel: Explain briefly how each activity relates to the proposed research.
  • Dissemination: Provide details of publication costs, user workshops or other activities.
  • Other expenses: List all items not relevant to previous categories and provide a brief explanation for major items.

Literature Background

In a maximum of five (5) single-sided pages describe the following:

  • the over-arching goals of research in the field of the proposal;
  • recent progress in attaining those goals; and
  • specific issues in the literature pertinent to the proposal


Using the headings below and in a maximum of five (5) single-sided pages, describe the research to be supported. Provide details on:

  • objectives of the research program – both short- and long-term;
  • methods and proposed approach;
  • anticipated significance of the work; and
  • training to take place through the proposal.

Images and graphics are included in the above-mentioned page limitations.


  • Use this section to provide a list of literature references. Your list of references should not exceed one 2 pages on the printed copy.
  • Do not refer readers to Web sites for additional information on your proposal.
  • Do not introduce hyperlinks in your list of references.