Final Oral Exam Guidelines

JUMP TO

Guidelines for Committee Chairs

Purpose

The purpose of the Final Oral Exam is to answer any questions that the examiners may have about the thesis, and to determine how well the student understands the material. In addition, the committee should also determine if, in fact, the student did the work that is expounded in the thesis.

Examination Chair

Currently, experienced members of the department are asked to serve as Exam Chair. The function of the Exam Chair is to moderate the questions and ensure that the exam proceeds according to plan. The Exam Chair does not ask questions of the student, vote or sign the thesis unless they are a member of the examination committee. The Exam Chair, student, and all examiners should each have copies of the thesis at the examination. A copy of the thesis will also be in the student’s file.

Attendance at Examinations

Faculty members of the Department as well as members of the FGSR Council have the right to attend but should notify their intention to the chair of the examining committee beforehand. Participation in questioning can only be made by permission of the chair of the committee. All attendants of this group must withdraw before the discussion of the student’s performance commences.

The Dean and his Associates attend some final Ph.D. orals, to help gain an overview of the final Ph.D. orals. Additionally, the Dean also sends members of his Advisory Committee to represent him at as many of these events as possible. Nearly every visitation results in a report. Reception of Dean’s representatives should be enthusiastic and cordial.

Back to top

Making Arrangements for a Ph.D. Defense

⇨ Action item

8-9 Weeks (40-45 business days) prior to Ph.D. defense

Choose Examining Committee

For information regarding the requirements of an examining committee, please review the Committee membership checklist (PDF, 19KB).

⇨ Supervisor must complete form via Grad DB to select the examining committee members.

Choose External Examiner/Reader

Best option: External examiner attends the defense in person

Plan B: External examiner attends the defense by teleconference, consider using Skype or the remote conferencing solution provided by Cybera. This requires that the external examiner has access to a videoconferencing system (Access Grid or H.323/H.264); Cybera is working on a Skype-based solution as well.

Plan C: If the external is not able to attend and not able to teleconference in (and this is the only realistic external, etc.), you can propose the external as an "external reader", who will get instructions to produce an evaluation of the dissertation and a list of questions that the defense Chair reads to the candidate during the exam.

⇨ Supervisor must contact proposed external examiner/reader to determine interest and confirm availability for the exam and submit the following information to the Graduate Administrator:

  1. External’s CV, (current position, mailing address of institution, email address) 
  2. Will the external be present at the exam or participating by videoconference? (does not apply to external readers)
  3. Has the department, the student, or the supervisor had any association with the proposed external within the last six years? If yes, please describe the association.
  4. (a) Number of doctoral students supervised (previous and current), and (b) Number of final doctoral examining committees served on. This information must align with and be clearly indicated in the external’s CV.

⇨ Graduate Administrator submits the Approve External Reader or Examiner for Final Doctoral Oral Exam form to Faculty of Science for approval. 

  • The Graduate Administrator will notify the supervisor when the external has been approved. 
  • From that point on, the supervisor and student should not communicate with the external.

6-8 Weeks (30-40 business days) prior to Ph.D. defense

⇨ Student submits their final draft thesis to their supervisory committee for review. 

  • The supervisory committee has 2 weeks to read the thesis. 
  • The student makes the appropriate revisions and finalizes the thesis. 

Note: 8 weeks assumes that there are no major revisions to the thesis requested by the supervisory committee.

4-6 Weeks (20-30 business days) prior to Ph.D. defense

⇨ Supervisory committee must declare to the supervisor in writing that the thesis is either of adequate substance and quality to warrant that the student proceed to the final examination, or that the thesis is unsatisfactory and the student should not be allowed to proceed to the final examination.

⇨ Supervisor sends the thesis to the rest of the examining committee and the Graduate Administrator once the final thesis has been approved by the supervisory committee.

⇨ Graduate Administrator sends the official final draft of the thesis to the external and requests an external report. 

⇨ Supervisor then books a room and schedules the defense date in Grad DB

  • Scheduling the defense via Grad DB triggers the process for submitting the appropriate forms to FGSR. The Graduate Administrator will find an appropriate Exam Chair.
  • Note: ATH 4-45 is reserved for defenses but does not appear in the room booking system. To request this room for your defense, please send an email to the Graduate Administrator.

2-4 Weeks (10-20 business days) prior to Ph.D. defense

⇨ Student sends a copy of their curriculum vitae to the Graduate Administrator and publicly announces their seminar. By posting the seminar to the web, you can also generate an email announcement to be sent once it is approved.

One day prior to the defense, the ⇨ Graduate Administrator will provide the Exam Chair with a file including

Back to top

Making Arrangements for an M.Sc. Defense

⇨ Action item

6-8 Weeks (30-40 business days) prior to M.Sc. defense

Choose Examining Committee

For information regarding the requirements of an examining committee, please review the Committee membership checklist (PDF, 19kb).

⇨ Supervisor must complete form via Grad DB to select the examining committee members.

4-6 Weeks (20-30 business days) prior to M.Sc. defense

⇨ Supervisor books a room and schedules the defense date in Grad DB

  • Scheduling the defense via Grad DB triggers the process for submitting the appropriate forms to FGSR.
  • Note: ATH 4-45 is reserved for defenses but does not appear in the room booking system. To request this room for your defense, please send an email to the Graduate Program Administrator.

3-4 Weeks (15-20 business days) prior to M.Sc. defense

⇨ Student must provide copies of the thesis to the Graduate Administrator and the examiners at least three weeks before the examination. 

⇨ Student must also publicly announce their seminar. By posting the seminar to the web you can also generate an email announcement to be sent once it is approved.

One day prior to the defense, the ⇨ Graduate Administrator will provide the Exam Chair with a file including

Back to top

Proceedings

Preliminary

The student being examined should have already set up the room in advance of the oral. Once all of the examiners and the student have assembled the process can begin.

1. Introductions

Once the committee has assembled and been introduced, the procedure should be explained to the committee and the student (i.e. the order of questioning and the length of time allocated per question). Ask everyone to turn off cell phones, etc.

The committee should be cautioned to:

  • Limit interruptions to points of clarification
  • Avoid answering for the student,
  • Avoid informing the student in any substantive manner, and
  • Keep in mind that at the end of the examination, the examiners will be asked if the thesis should be considered for an award

2. Review (Ph.D. Only)

With everyone's agreement, the student should then be asked to leave the room. Once the candidate has left the room, the external examiner is asked by the Faculty to place the thesis in one of the following categories:

  1. The thesis is acceptable with minor or no revisions
  2. The external wishes to reserve judgment until after the examination
  3. The thesis is unacceptable - in this case the final examination may have to be adjourned.

Assuming their answer is either 1 or 2, the Exam Chair should quickly review the student's progress through the program, invite the supervisor for any additional comments. The candidate's file is available for review and should include a curriculum vitae provided by the candidate.

3. Presentation

The student should then make a presentation (15-20 minutes for M.Sc. or 20-25 for Ph.D.), describing the results of the dissertation and what the significant contributions are - including sufficient examples for the understanding of the committee. During this period only points of immediate clarification should be raised.

If the student has given his/her seminar presentation directly prior to the final oral examination and all the examiners attended the seminar, then this presentation is waived.

4. Examination

In examining the content of the dissertation, the most time should be given to the external examiner (for PhD) and the least to the supervisor. In this way, new and challenging questions are possible, instead of a reiteration of material already covered during the development of the thesis.

There should be at least two rounds of questioning with 10-15 minutes allocated to each examiner. Ph.D. examinations usually take two to three hours.

  • Examiners should avoid arguments amongst themselves that exclude the student. If such a discussion arises, the Exam Chair should intervene to either bring the student into the discussion, or to suggest that the discussion should continue after the examination is completed.
  • Examiners should not lecture or perform, but should ask detailed questions about the dissertation and occasional broad, disciplinary questions until they are satisfied on how they stand on the outcome of the examination.
  • Typographical and stylistic errors should not take up examination time, but should be held in writing for the student after the examination.

If a positive conclusion is reached quickly, some time should be spent discussing the future of the dissertation and the research area. At the close of the examination (before the student is asked to withdraw) the student should be asked for final comments or observations.

5. Adjudication

After the student withdraws from the room, the examining committee makes a decision based both on the content of the thesis and the student's ability to defend it.

Normally, if all but one member of the committee agrees on a decision, the decision shall be that of the majority. The dissenting committee member does not have to sign the form. If two or more dissenting votes are recorded, the case must be referred to the Associate Dean of FGSR who will determine an appropriate course of action.

Possible outcomes include*:

  • Pass
  • Pass subject to revisions
  • Adjourned
  • Fail

There is no provision for a final examination to be "passed subject to major revisions".

*Master's Final Exam outcome details (FGSR, see "Decision")
*Doctoral Final Exam outcome details (FGSR, see "Decision")

If the Examining Committee fails to reach a decision, the department will refer the matter to the Dean, FGSR, who will determine an appropriate course of action.

6. Recommendations for Awards

Before the student is invited back into the room, the Exam Chair should ask the committee for awards recommendation.

  • For Ph.D. students, the committee can recommend that the thesis be considered for international, national, university or departmental awards
  • For M.Sc. students the recommendation is for a departmental award only

The Exam Chair will note such recommendation on the departmental final examination results form. If the committee recommends that the thesis be considered for an award, the supervisor will be invited to submit a supporting letter to the Graduate Administrator within one month of the exam.

7. Announcement of Decisions

The student is invited back into the room and the announcement is made in front of all the examiners by the Exam Chair.

The Thesis Approval / Program Completion form should be signed by the examining committee. If revisions are required, the supervisor will withhold their signature until the revisions are complete. The Exam Chair can sign for committee members who are not in attendance.

8. Exam Chair's Report

The Exam Chair should complete the department's online Final Examination Results Form based on comments from the committee. Once submitted, the results are sent to the Graduate Administrator (who will forward them as necessary) and copied to the Exam Chair.

Back to top

After the Final Exam

The student's file should be returned to the Graduate Administrator.

Once revisions have been made (if required) and the thesis has been approved, the supervisor will need to sign the Thesis Approval / Program Completion form. The Graduate Administrator will have the Associate Chair (Graduate) sign the form, send it to FGSR, and send the student a notification to proceed to submit their thesis through ERA (FGSR, see "4.4 Register with Thesis Deposit and Submit Thesis").

Back to top