Thesis Format


Goal: Conduct an exciting research project and write it up!


  • Some departments/supervisors may impose specific deadlines for each section of your thesis – find out what these will be as early as possible.
  • Your thesis is typically due on the last day of April exams (but… start earlier than that).

Tips and general guidelines:

  • Stay in touch with your supervisor (and anyone else you’re working with, such as a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow) as much as possible!
  • Expected thesis length and format varies depending on your project, supervisor, and department – meet with your supervisor to find out what their expectations are.


Goal: Summarize and highlight the most exciting points of each section of your thesis. Someone with a science background (not necessarily in your field) should be able to read it and get a gist of what you did, why you did it, what you found, and what it means.


Goal: Produce a brief literature review summarizing what is currently known and pinpointing the questions that remain to be answered

  • Some supervisors have specific length requirements, and some have specific format preferences (ex: headers, sub-headers, etc…)  - ask a lot of questions to find out what is expected.
  • Make sure you include a section (towards the end) stating what questions your project aims to address and a potential hypothesis or expected results.
  • Not sure where to start? Look up past publications from your lab and read through the studies relevant to your project – this should help you out.


Goal: Summarize what you did (start to finish) with enough detail that a reader with a reasonable science background can understand and replicate it.

  • Write your methods as you do the experiment – it’s hard to remember concentrations of solutions, volumes used, specific timepoints, etc… months after you performed the experiment!
  • If you think you can enrich your methods with figures (timelines, schematics, etc…) and your supervisor likes the idea, do it!
  • Make sure to include a section overviewing your experimental design, as well as a section on statistics used!


Goal: Present the exciting data that you collected (without interpreting it).

  • Statistics are often challenging for a lot of people – make sure to ask for help from your supervisor.
  • Some supervisors will want figures to be in this section, and some will expect them at the end.
  • Find our what programs you’re expected to use for your statistics and figures, and make sure you have access to them and know/learn how to use them.
  • Your results section should include some text describing your figures/results, statistical significance, etc…


Goal: Interpret your data, comment on it, present limitations and future directions of your project.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of just restating your results! Try to synthesize and comment on your data. Is this what you expected/what is consistent with current research? Why do you think you found what you found? What are the implications of your findings?


Goal: Produce a poster of your research and present your research at Poster Day!

  • Your poster should contain similar sections to your thesis. Certain supervisors/departments will ask for an abstract and/or a summary section, but others won’t.
  • On Poster Day, be enthusiastic! A lot of different people will come chat with you, and they’ll all have different backgrounds in science. Be prepared to be flexible with your explanation!
  • If you run into a question you don’t know the answer to, be prepared to say that you don’t know, but feel free to offer a potential explanation/answer (as long as you make it clear that you are speculating)!


  • Early-mid March: Sign up for poster day! You need the title of your poster, an abstract, and the name(s) of your supervisor(s).
  • Early April: Poster day!  You need to have your poster printed and be ready to present it

Tips and general guidelines:

  • Most people use Microsoft PowerPoint to make their posters – if this is the first poster you ever make, get some help with getting started.
  • Visuals, visuals, visuals! The more graphs, schematics, and good use of colour and large text, the better!
  • Find out from your supervisor and department about what is expected in terms of size, layout, and information presented
  • Aim to have a first draft of your abstract a few days before the sign-up date – your supervisor will probably want to review it a few times before you submit it.
  • Similarly, aim to have a first draft of your poster about two weeks ahead of time – your supervisor will probably want to make some edits and you need time to print it!
  • In the week before, practice giving a 5-ish minute short presentation about your poster, and prepare yourself for potential questions.

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