Modified Guidelines for Remote Final Oral Exams (PhD, Master’s) and Candidacy in Response to Covid-19

13 March 2020

Note: The information presented on this page is now out of date. Please check the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research website for the updated Modified Guidelines for Remote Final Oral Exams (PhD, Master’s) and Candidacy Exams.

The University of Alberta has advised all campus community members to be prepared should a facilities closure become necessary due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Accordingly, academic staff are advised to ensure they are ready to move all remaining course material to on-line delivery via eClass with 48-hours notice of a directive from President Turpin’s office. This includes graduate courses.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research is prepared to support students and supervisors as they navigate issues related to Covid-19. Limitations in travel, self-isolation protocols, and other restrictions may impact graduate student final Master’s and PhD oral exams, and candidacy exams in the coming days and weeks. 

FGSR’s established teleconferencing guidelines for examinations, as currently published in the University of Alberta’s academic calendar, state: 

Teleconferencing Guidelines for Examinations: The term 'teleconferencing' is used here generically to include all forms of distance conference facilitation including telephone, video and synchronous electronic communication.

Departments may wish to use teleconferencing for one or more of the examiners (including the External). No more than two participants may attend by teleconference. Teleconferencing may be used for master's or doctoral examinations. Examiners participating in examinations by this means are considered to be in attendance.

Students must attend their candidacy examinations in person. In exceptional circumstances, for the final examinations, students may participate by teleconferencing. It is recommended that if the student is the remote participant, no remote committee members be used.

Use of teleconferencing must be submitted for approval to the Dean of the department's Faculty at the time the examination committee is approved, following the Faculty's established procedures.

In a public health emergency, like Covid 19, it may not be possible to physically convene all the required committee members in one location; thus, effective immediately, FGSR will relax the teleconferencing guidelines for examinations to allow students to complete the final oral examination or candidacy for their degree program. These modified guidelines will remain in place until the pandemic is declared over. 

Modified Guidelines for Examinations: Procedure

Issue 1: More than two individuals (this can be any two individuals on the committee including the external) are unable to attend the exam in person.

If oral exams are already scheduled the graduate program chair will contact the supervisor, committee, student, and external (Note: only the graduate chair or graduate administrator may contact the external) as soon as possible, to determine how many people are unable to attend in person. 

  1. If that number exceeds more than two people (and it can be any two people on the committee including the external examiner), FGSR can appoint a ProDean to attend the exam in person or to be available as a resource by telephone during the course of the exam. To clarify, FGSR can appoint a ProDean should you decide it would be helpful; however, during these exceptional circumstances it is not required that one attend the examination.
  2. If that number does not exceed more than two people please proceed as usual and adhere to the regulations. 

The role of the ProDean is to ensure a successful defence and to provide direction and support should anything unforeseen happen (e.g. problems with telecommunications). In these extraordinary circumstances, the ProDean can be an FGSR Associate Dean, a Faculty Associate Dean Grad/Research or equivalent, a graduate program chair, or an Associate Professor, Full Professor, or Professor Emeritus from any faculty across campus who has experience chairing final oral exams. FGSR will appoint the ProDean and provide them with an information package on teleconferencing procedures for oral examinations. 

The defence can take place in the scheduled location with individuals attending remotely provided that location has telecommunications infrastructure to support it. 

When scheduling new exams during the pandemic period, departments should follow the same procedure, determining at the earliest possible time whether they require FGSR’s support to appoint a ProDean.

Issue 2: The graduate student is unable to attend the exam in person.

The student can attend via teleconference. Please note whatever technology you use must be in real time rather than pre-recorded or with significant time lags.  

In the event the student is unable to attend the exam in person, no one else (other than the student) can be present at the student’s location during the defense. 


Prior to the scheduled oral examination, the entire committee must choose an appropriate, preferred technology that considers the following:

  • The technology must be reliable (an alternate back-up must also be available should the first choice fail);
  • The technology must be secure and appropriate (e.g. a social media platform would not be appropriate);
  • The technology must support effective communication and not be a detriment to the student’s defence;
  • The department is responsible for ensuring that all committee members have access to and are familiar with the technology that is chosen;
  • The technology must allow for deliberations to occur in private with only the examination committee, the chair, and if applicable, the ProDean present; and,
  • The technology must allow the student to reconnect communication with the committee, chair, and ProDean (if applicable) once deliberations are complete. 

Examples of appropriate and preferred technologies used for teleconferencing at the University of Alberta include Adobe Connect, Blue JeansGoogle HangoutsZoom, and Skype.

All other regulations governing the conduct of the final oral examination for Master’s and PhDs, and the candidacy oral exam apply as written in the University of Alberta Academic Calendar. 

Please note that these modified guidelines are based on information we have now. As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we will update them should other contingencies arise. 

FGSR will contact those departments that have exams scheduled in the coming weeks to support them.

For further information, please contact:
Andrea Riewe (Executive Coordinator) at 780-492-2816
Medha Samarasinghe (Operations Coordinator) at 780-492-2344