Preparing your research proposal
Defining your research topic
Very early in your master’s or doctoral program, you will lay the groundwork, in collaboration with your supervisor, for how to approach your object of study and plan your work to achieve your program objectives within a realistic timeline. There are a few steps that need to be taken before you can begin your actual research.
Your research topic is a brief description of your object of study and must be approved by your program director. You will have exclusive rights to this topic for the normal duration of your program, and any subsequent changes to it will require further approval from the program director.
The next step is to define and develop your research project in the form of a document that outlines the main aspects of your proposed research:
- Methodology, etc.
Each program has its own rules and procedures for presenting research topics and proposals. Contact your program director for details.
Developing a collaboration plan
The collaboration plan is a document detailing the work agreement established between you and your supervisor at the beginning of your master’s or doctoral program.
The collaboration plan is designed to:
- Organize work productively and to the satisfaction of all
- Lay the groundwork for long-term teamwork
- Reduce any ambiguity about who is responsible for what
- Maximize the chances of achieving one’s goals
Collaboration plans are compulsory for all research master’s and doctoral programs at Université Laval. Under the Academic Regulations, you must draw up a collaboration plan in conjunction with your research supervisor at a mandatory meeting held as soon as possible after your program begins, or no later than the end of your first year of study. The meeting is also used to determine who will be on your supervisory committee. Your supervisor must review the collaboration plan with you at least once a year and report on your progress to the program director.
The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has a collaboration plan template that is suitable for most situations. Ask your faculty for the document that it uses.
You and your supervisor will hold an initial meeting to discuss and jointly draw up your collaboration plan, and each keep a copy.
"Openness and transparency have always been important to me. Every person is different, and given that the relationships we develop with students span several years, it’s important to get to know each other better and clarify our expectations of each other from the start. Sitting down together to develop a collaboration plan is a good way to initiate these long-term projects on a sound basis.”
Johanna-Pascale Roy, Full Professor and Program Director, Faculty of Arts and Humanities
“Our research centres are located in hospitals all over the city, so we worked with Association des chercheuses et chercheurs étudiants at the Faculty of Medicine to develop a collaboration plan adapted to the working realities of our research students. It’s a useful communication tool that students and supervisors appreciate. It helps them clearly define expectations and responsibilities as well as organize work in a productive and mutually satisfactory way.”
Marie-Eve Chouinard, Academic Advisor, Faculty of Medicine
“My supervisor and I began drawing up a collaboration plan as soon as I started my PhD. We had numerous discussions to clarify our mutual expectations and set conditions regarding my thesis plans. Having this academic and administrative tool available early on made it easier for me to manage my PhD by helping me identify my goals, resources, and constraints. It’s very reassuring to have a good grasp of your project when it comes to navigating all the complexities that follow..”
Sacha Lafrance, doctoral student in earth sciences
“I signed my collaboration plan just two months after starting my PhD. It was like a guidebook for me. The timeline and the terms of supervision that my supervisors and I had agreed to in the plan provided me with a clear sense of direction and helped me achieve my academic objectives in four years.”
Elvire José Djiongo Boukeng, doctoral student in forestry sciences
For ideas on how to foster constructive student/supervisor relationships, see the document created by the organization Communauté Thèsez-vous:
Obtaining ethical approval for your project
Once your supervisory committee feels your project is sufficiently precise, you’ll need to fill out the Student’s Declaration form and submit it to your program director. All students must fill out the Student Declaration form.
Student’s declaration (PDF) - Available in French only
If your research project doesn’t involve human subjects and remains the same through to your final submission, you won’t need to do anything else for the ethics committee.
If your research proposal involves human subjects, your supervisory committee will be able to determine whether you need to file an application for approval or whether your project can be exempted.
If the title or content of your research project changes partway through, you will need to inform CÉRUL. Changes may require you to apply for approval again.
Change requests can be made at any time, regardless of submission dates, and are generally processed within days of receipt.
See the documents required and the time it takes to process a change request. (in French only)
CÉRUL approval is valid for one year. If at the end of one year you haven’t finished collecting your data or running your experiment with human subjects, you’ll need to request that your approval be renewed. You need to do this in writing at least 30 days before the approval expires.
See how to apply for renewal of ethics approval. (in French only)
If you are already in the process of analyzing your data, you don’t need to renew the ethics approval.