PhD thesis defence process

The PhD thesis oral defence is the last step in completing your PhD degree and is arranged by the Faculty of Environment Graduate Office. The PhD student and their supervisor(s) should reference the PhD thesis examination regulations and the Defence Backwards Planning Tool as the student reaches the final stages of their degree.

Format of the defence can be in-person, remote defence, or hybrid. The decision on the format of the defence will be agreed upon by the supervisor and student.

Learn more about the process: Stage 1: Prior to the defence | Stage 2: Day of the defence | Stage 3: After the defence

Process and duties

Stage 1: Prior to the defence

  1. Verify with your department graduate coordinator that all the courses and milestones required to graduate are completed.
  2. Confirm your PhD examining committee meets the Graduate Studies Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA) PhD committee regulations. Ensure that the committee has been approved by the Faculty Graduate Studies Committee.
    • The department graduate coordinator can verify this and prepare the PhD Examining Committee Form (PDF) for the Faculty Graduate Studies committee.
    • If the committee has changed since original approval, the Advisor must inform the graduate coordinator of that student's department of these changes. A revised committee approval form must be approved by the Faculty Graduate Studies Committee.
    • Supervisor to conform up-to-date adjunct or cross-appointment status of any committee members with the department administrative manager. 
  3. Submit your final thesis draft to the Administrator, Graduate Studies (Cynthiya Subramaniam) as a PDF file via email. The thesis draft must have been approved by all the committee members and be defence-ready before submission to the Associate Dean's Office. 
  4. When copies of the thesis are sent to the Administrator, Graduate Studies, the Supervisor should provide the following to the Associate Dean and CC the administrator, Graduate Studies:
    • Three-four possible examination dates agreeable to the Committee and the student. The suggested dates should be within a 6-7 week period following the submission of the thesis to give the external examiner time to read the thesis and to prepare an assessment of the thesis, which is due one week in advance of the defence. When considering PhD exam arrangements, keep in mind that external examiners are not always available during the summer months because of vacation, field work, etc. Please ensure the committee members keep all the dates provided blocked on their calendars until the defence has been scheduled. It can sometimes take a week or two to finalize an external examiner. 
    • Five-six names (in consultation with the Committee), with accurate email addresses and telephone numbers, for the selection of the External Examiner. Along with the list, there should be a brief biographical sketch for each of the possible External Examiners. If the Supervisor is unavailable for consultation during the scheduling of the examination, they should delegate a committee member to act on their behalf. The Supervisor should not contact the persons on the potential external examiner list. 
    • A statement on any potential conflict of interest or an indication that there is no conflict of interest with any of the potential external examiners. 
    • A copy of the thesis abstract, including title, candidate's name, and (ideally) the names of all the committee members.
  5. The Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, will select the External Examiner from the list provided by the Supervisor and confirm the date/time of the defence based on the External Examiner's availability.  
  6. Administrator, Graduate Studies, will submit a PhD Defence Chair request to GSPA.
  7. Apply to graduate for the next available Convocation after the defence date, using Quest.

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Stage 2: Day of defence

  1. For in-person or hybrid defences - Plan on arriving to the room booked for the defence 30-60 minutes before the scheduled defence to ensure the room is prepared and the equipment to be used are functional.

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Stage 3: After the defence

  1. The Chair will send the results of the defence to the Administrator, Graduate Studies.
  2. Revision and UW Space Submission:
    • Accepted: Thesis to be revised to the satisfaction of the Supervisor and submitted to UW Space within one month of the date of the defence.     
    • Accepted Conditionally: The PhD Thesis Examining Committee's report must include a brief outline of the nature of the changes required and must indicate the time by which the changes are to be completed. Changes must be completed to the Committee's satisfaction and submitted to the UWSpace within four months of the dare of the defence. At least two members of the Committee must confirm that required changes have been made.
    • Any extension to the time limits for A or B must be requested in writing and approved by the Graduate Officer and Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. 
    • If there are any changes in the thesis title, please inform the Administrator, Graduate Studies as the thesis may be rejected from UW Space otherwise.
    • Please refer to the PhD Thesis Examination Regulations page for more information and for next steps on Reexamination and Failed defence decision.

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