Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA)
Needles Hall, second floor, room 2201
The PhD thesis examination is the culmination of the candidate's research program. The exam is intended to allow the candidate to demonstrate their mastery and expertise in the chosen area of study through a presentation of their research. The exam also presents an opportunity for the candidate's work to be subject to scholarly criticism by members of the academic community. Through the process of defending the thesis, the candidate further demonstrates their capacity to engage meaningfully in scholarly discourse in their chosen area.
Based on an evaluation of the written thesis and the candidate’s performance in the thesis examination, the examining committee will render a decision as to whether the candidate’s work has satisfied the requirements for a PhD.
Prior to submitting the thesis, it is recommended that the candidate meet with their supervisor and/or advisory committee (if applicable). The candidate should seek endorsement that the research is of sufficient quality to proceed to defence and that the candidate is able to meet the requirements of the oral defence. Although a negative assessment does not prohibit the candidate from proceeding to defence, this should occur only in rare cases and is not recommended.
The Graduate Officer of the department in which the candidate is enrolled will recommend to the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies a PhD Thesis Examining Committee for approval. Sufficient information should be supplied in order to facilitate the Associate Dean’s decision, including notes on adjunct appointments and declarations of any conflicts of interest.
A date and location for the examination will be set according to availability of Examining Committee members. The candidate should be prepared to defend the thesis within 4 - 6 weeks of depositing it in the Faculty Graduate Studies Office (see Display Period below).
The Examining Committee consists of a minimum of five voting members:
The PhD Thesis Examination is chaired by an impartial faculty member with ADDS status from outside the candidate's department. The Chair is appointed by Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA). The Chair is responsible for proper conduct of the examination and does not vote.
The external examiner must hold a doctorate and be knowledgeable in the field of the candidate’s research. In addition, to ensure fairness and impartiality, the external examiner must be at arm's length from the candidate’s thesis, candidate and supervisor(s), and must not be in a potential conflict of interest with regards to the outcome of the thesis examination. There is a conflict of interest when:
In cases where the candidate’s thesis research has involved collaborations with other local members of the examining committee beyond the supervisor(s) within the past six years, the external examiner must be free of potential conflict of interest under the guidelines above with those members as well.
Recommendation of an individual to serve as external examiner is made by the supervisor(s) or Graduate Officer/Associate Chair, Graduate Studies, as appropriate, to the Faculty, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies for approval. The Graduate Officer/Associate Chair is responsible for determining that the requirements for arm’s length have been met, and the recommendation must be accompanied by a curriculum vitae covering the past six years and a conflict of interest statement, as well as full disclosure of any past affiliations involving the candidate and supervisor(s) to assist in confirming an arm's-length relationship.
The Associate Dean is the contact for the external examiner regarding the thesis and its defence. At no point should the candidate be in communication with the external examiner prior to the defence. The Department may communicate with the external only for the purposes of other arrangements not related to the defence (e.g. arrangements for a research talk).
The external examiner must provide the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies with a written assessment of the thesis at least one week before the scheduled defence. Whether the assessment is positive or negative, the Associate Dean will copy the report of the external examiner only to the supervisor, who will inform the candidate of any major criticisms of the thesis, so that the student can respond to these, but the evaluation must not be shown to the candidate. The candidate may be shown the evaluation after the defence, with the permission of the external examiner. Should the assessment be negative, the Associate Dean may wish to advise that the candidate withdraw the dissertation and defend with the same external examiner at a later date. A candidate may withdraw the thesis only once. Despite a negative assessment, a candidate has the right to proceed to a defence.
Supervisor or Co-supervisors
The student’s supervisor serves on the Examining Committee.
In the case that there is more than one supervisor, all co-supervisors are expected to attend the defence and the supervisor vote is divided fractionally among the co-supervisors such that each may vote independently but the total supervisor vote (one) remains unchanged.
Only with the approval of the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies may a co-supervisor be absent from the exam. In that case, the other co-supervisor, who must have ADDS status, will represent them.
The internal member is normally drawn from the student’s Advisory Committee and is from the student’s home department.
The internal-external should have suitable knowledge of the subject matter of the dissertation and is normally external to the student’s home department. The internal-external member ensures that the thesis meets university standards of quality and helps to assess the performance of the candidate at the defence.
In rare cases, identifying an internal-external who is able to make a meaningful contribution to the examination is problematic. In such circumstances, the requirement that the Internal-External be external to the department may be waived by the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies based on a rationale provided by the Graduate Officer. Holding an adjunct or cross appointment in the student’s home department does not preclude serving as an internal-external.
Normally, this committee member is drawn from the student's Advisory Committee. The member normally holds a tenured or tenure track position at the University of Waterloo or has another type of ongoing faculty appointment.
Adjunct faculty on Examining Committees
In some cases it may be beneficial for a student to have access to the expertise of a particular adjunct faculty member. The Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies may give permission for an adjunct faculty member to serve on the Examining Committee as the Internal-External or Member, provided that the Adjunct faculty members holds a PhD. No more than one adjunct faculty member (including Professors Emeriti) may serve on the Examining Committee, with the exception of cotutelle student defences, which may involve the participation of more than one adjunct faculty member.
When a candidate is ready to proceed to defence, they must deposit the thesis to the Faculty Graduate Office. Faculties may request either paper or electronic copies.
Copies are distributed to members of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee and a copy is held in the Faculty Graduate Office for at least four weeks, where it may be requested by any member of the University for examination. The Daily Bulletin announces the submission of the thesis and the date and location of its defence.
If a candidate is requesting a closed examination (see Guidelines for Thesis Examination without Public Disclosure below), the thesis will be displayed but with the requirement that a non-disclosure agreement be signed by anyone wishing to review the thesis.
Major criticisms of the thesis by members of the University must be submitted in writing to the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies no later than one week before the thesis defence. The Faculty Associate Dean will forward these concerns to the supervisor(s) and/or address these concerns and/or convey them to the Chair of the Committee, if necessary.
Members of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee who have major criticisms of the thesis are encouraged to submit written comments to the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies no later than one week before the thesis defence. The Faculty Associate Dean will share these concerns with the supervisor and candidate. If written comments are not submitted in advance, criticisms can be discussed at the defence but should not be discussed with other members of the Examining Committee prior to the defence.
Central to the University of Waterloo’s mission is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. As new scholars, graduate students are expected to disclose and publicly defend their research results to ensure review from their peers and acceptance and inclusion of their findings in open scholarly discourse.
At times, graduate students may wish to protect their research results, particularly when they contain material of commercial or marketable value, or when restricted by a publication agreement. It is expected that in the vast majority of these cases that protection of the intellectual property will be obtained in a timely manner, well before the preparation and examination of the student’s thesis (for example in the form of filing a patent application). In those rare cases where such protection is not obtained in advance, it may be necessary to restrict the disclosure of thesis results from the public arena. In cases where private companies or other supporting organizations are involved in the research through a research contract or agreement, this request may be required by the terms of that agreement. In these cases:
Failure to follow these guidelines in their entirety will result in the normal practice of public disclosure and circulation of the thesis.
L'université de Waterloo offre aux étudiants la possibilité de rédiger les thèses de doctorat et de maîtrise en français. Ceci n'est pas un droit de l'étudiant ou de l'étudiante. Mise à part la condition évidente de la compétence linguistique du candidat ou de la candidate par rapport au domaine étudié, il est nécessaire de satisfaire à d'autres exigences.
Lorsqu'un candidat ou une candidate demande à son département de rédiger sa thèse en français dans le cadre de ce règlement, il ou elle doit soumettre une déclaration d'appui de la part de son directeur ou sa directrice de thèse, des membres éventuels du comité de supervision et d'évaluation, ainsi que leur accord d'appartenir à ce comité.
Tous les membres du comité doivent posséder un niveau de compétence linguistique tel qu'il leur permettra d'évaluer avec pertinence, à la fois le contenu et la présentation du matériel examiné.
The thesis defence is an oral examination of the student by the student's PhD Thesis Examining Committee, chaired by an impartial faculty member with ADDs status from outside the candidate's department. Any member of the university may attend.
The Chair is responsible for the proper conduct of the examination. Candidates first present their thesis orally with whatever aids are required to make an effective presentation. This presentation should be limited to no more than thirty minutes with the focus being on the main contributions and conclusions of the work.
The presentation is followed by questioning. The Chair will give priority to questions from members of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee and any member of the university who has submitted written questions in advance. The oral examination should be structured in such a way that a period is set aside at the end of the examination for questions from non-Committee members. If the Chair of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee is unsure of the appropriateness or relevance of a question, they should ask the members of the Committee whether any of them wishes to have the candidate answer the question, thus in effect making the question posed one which would be authorized by a member of the Committee.
The Chair, with agreement of the Examining Committee, will decide when to conclude the questioning. The candidate and audience will be asked to leave the room (either physically or remotely) and the Examining Committee will deliberate in a closed session. The Graduate Officer, Departmental Chair, Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs may attend the closed session. Once a decision is made, the candidate is invited back into the room and informed by the Chair of the Committee’s decision. The Chair will provide a report to the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs on the conduct of the examination, any issues or problems that arose, and the decision of the Examining Committee.
The candidate, the supervisor(s), members of the examining committee, the Chair, and technical support staff (if applicable) are essential participants that must attend the defence (physically or remotely). Additional attendees may be permitted to attend with the caveat that the progress of the defence will not be interrupted if, in the case of remote defences, their connection fails. Some Faculties have limitations on the number of additional attendees for remote defences. Preapproval is required through the Office of the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies). If the defence is being held in person, additional attendees will also need to attend in person, and participation may be dependent on room capacity limits.
Recording of the thesis defence is not allowed, nor is the use of cell phones, cameras or any other recording devices unless used for the purposes of the examination presentation.
As a result of COVID-19, the University has provided the option for students to complete their thesis defence in a remote format. Based on the positive experience for many students, supervisors, and reviewers, we will continue with the option for students to participate in either an in-person or remote defence, or under a hybrid format. The decision on the format of the defence will be upon agreement between the supervisor and student.
Chairs should be prepared to support either an in-person or remote defence. It is the responsibility of the Chair to ensure the structure of the defence supports the integrity of the process and all can participate appropriately and equally either in-person or virtually.
Chairs will receive, regardless of format of delivery, the standard Chair package in electronic format from the Faculty Administrative Assistant that is coordinating the examination, one week prior to the defence. The Chair package will include the following: 1) Report of the Chair, 2) PhD Thesis Committee Composition, 3) PhD Thesis Examination Report, 4) External Examiner’s Report, 5) Committee Members’ Reports, 6) A guide to chairing a PhD thesis examination, 7) Instructions for the defence, including location of in person defence or process for remote defences.
Chairs will document the conduct of the examination on the "Report of the Chair" form. This form will be made available in Word format and/or in fillable .pdf so that defence Chairs can complete it electronically.
Chairs will document the decision of the examination on the "PhD Thesis Examination Report" and "Report of the Chair" forms. These forms will be made available in Word format and/or in fillable .pdf so that defence Chairs can complete them electronically.
Outcomes of the defence, regardless of format of delivery, will be communicated orally to the student by the Chair on behalf of the committee at the conclusion of the in-camera deliberations.
In situations where a student and their supervisor collaboratively decide to hold the defence in a remote format, Faculties will internally provide logistical guidelines on setting up remote defences. Please contact the Faculty Administrative Assistant to obtain Faculty-specific procedures.
As there are limitations to supporting hybrid defences, the expectation is that only one participant may participate remotely, with the balance of the committee in-person, unless there has been specific approval from the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. The Chair, student and supervisor must all be present in person for any hybrid defence arrangement. If any one of these individuals are not able to be physically present, the defence should be held in a remote format with everyone participating remotely.
Any member of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee, including the external examiner, participating by remote connection must make allowances for the possibility of a failed connection. In addition to the required report submitted by the external examiner, it is recommended that members planning to participate remotely submit a written report to the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies at least one week before the examination clearly identifying one of the categories pertaining to acceptability of the written thesis document.
In the event that remote connection is lost, the Chair will determine whether or not the duration of the disruption has had a material impact on the committee member's ability to assess the candidate's defence. If there has not been a material impact, and the connection has been reestablished, then the examiner may cast their vote as if the loss of communication had not occurred. If there has been a material impact, and there was a report submitted in advance, the report will be read by the Chair and the vote indicated in the report will be counted. When there is no such report, the vote may be nullified. The Chair’s report must note the lost connection, including the timing and whether or not the vote was included in the decision. Normally the defence can proceed as long as the supervisor, external examiner and two other committee members are present and subject to the agreement of the candidate and supervisor. The decision as to when to postpone the defence, if the technology fails, will be up to the Chair of the defence.
It is expected that all members of the PhD Examining Committee attend the defence (physically or remotely). If a committee member is unable to attend a defence being held in person, that member may be given the option to participate remotely. The alternative option may be to move the entire defence to a remote format. It is desirable to secure a new committee member if they are unable to participate in any format.
In the case of an unanticipated, last-minute emergency absence of a committee member, the defence can proceed subject to the agreement of the candidate and the supervisor(s) as long as the following committee members are available (in person or virtually) to present their votes:
Any exceptions to this regulation must be approved by the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
The decision of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee is based both on the thesis and on the candidate's ability to defend it.
The decision of the Examining Committee is made by majority vote. Should the external examiner’s vote differ from that of the majority, or if there is a tie vote, the decision shall be deferred and referred to the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. The Associate Vice-President will consult with the Faculty Associate Deans, Graduate Studies and will make the final determination
The following decisions are open to the PhD Thesis Examining Committee:
The thesis and the oral defence have been completed to the satisfaction of the examining committee. The thesis may require typographical and/or minor editorial corrections to be made to the satisfaction of the supervisor and submitted and approved in UWSpace within one month of the date of the defence. If more time is required to make these corrections, the Committee should consider whether a Category B decision is merited. If the thesis is not submitted within this timeline, the student will be withdrawn from the program.
B. Accepted Conditionally
The oral defence has been completed to the satisfaction of the examining committee. The thesis is acceptable but requires content changes which are minor enough that reexamination is not required. 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 and approved in UWSpace within four months of the date of the defence or the student will be withdrawn from the program. 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.
Reexamination is required in either of the following situations:
Reexamination must occur within one year of the date of the first defence. Normally, reexamination will follow the same procedures as for the initial submission except that the display period may be reduced or eliminated at the discretion of the Associate Dean. Normally, the same PhD Thesis Examining Committee will serve, with the exception that in some circumstances, a new External Examiner can be found. A decision to reexamine is open only once for each candidate.
If after reexamination the candidate does not achieve Category A or B, then the student will be withdrawn from the program. The PhD Thesis Examining Committee shall report the reasons for rejection to the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, who will confirm the decision in writing to the student within one week of the date of the examination, as well as the requirement to withdraw.
Deferral of Decision
If the PhD Thesis Examining Committee is not prepared to reach a decision concerning the thesis at the time of the thesis defence, it is the responsibility of the Chair to determine what additional information is required by the Committee to reach a decision, to arrange to obtain this information for the Committee, and to call another meeting of the Committee as soon as the required information is available. It is also the responsibility of the Chair to inform the candidate that the decision is pending. Candidates are not normally present at this second meeting of the Committee.
A request for reexamination of a graduate thesis is a type of academic grievance, as per Policy 70. A student who wishes to request a reexamination of their thesis should contact the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, who will form a committee of Associate Deans, Graduate. This committee will determine the appropriate course of action, which may involve a reexamination of the thesis or the denial of the student's request.
Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs (GSPA)
Needles Hall, second floor, room 2201
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