As you start thinking about the end stages of your PhD, it’s important to understand the processes and timelines related to the thesis defence so that your degree completion is not delayed. Even if your thesis defence seems far away, there are several planning considerations you can consider early on to help the end stages of your PhD go smoothly.

On this page you will find videos, tools, and information about what the PhD thesis defence is, timelines for the PhD thesis defence, and tips for a successful PhD thesis defence.

All PhD students should also ensure that they read the PhD thesis examination regulations and review the thesis preparation guidelines prior to their oral defence. If your thesis defence will be conducted remotely, you should also review the process for a remote thesis defence.

What is the PhD defence?

Understanding the purpose, processes and possible outcomes of the thesis defence can help you feel more prepared for the defence itself. In this video, you’ll learn about what the defence is, who’s there, what happens, and the deliberation and range of possible outcomes.

Transcript - Demystifying the thesis defence at University of Waterloo (PDF)

You may wish to learn more about some of the topics discussed in this video. Here are some helpful links to learn more:

  • Examination committee members (including the external examiner): Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on the PhD thesis examining committee for more information about the committee members, including information about the external examiner and conflicts of interest.

  • Closed thesis defences and non-disclosure agreements: Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on guidelines for thesis examination without public disclosure for more information about closed thesis examinations.
  • Thesis defence decisions and outcomes: Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on  decisions for additional information about decisions and outcomes.
  • Thesis submission: Visit the thesis submission webpage for information about the thesis submission process, including approvals that must be obtained before submitting your thesis.
  • UWSpace: Visit the Library’s UWSpace webpage for information about what UWSpace is and how to submit, or deposit, your thesis to UWSpace.

Timeline to defence

Early planning considerations

Well before your defence date, there are several considerations to think about that can help make the end stages of your degree go smoothly and ensure your defence date and degree completion are not delayed:

  • Review the thesis formatting guidelines early
    • Being aware of formatting requirements will save you time on revisions later on – the last thing you want to be doing before submitting your thesis to UWSpace is updating page numbers or your table of contents! Consider using the Microsoft Word or LaTeX thesis template produced by Information Systems & Technology. 
  •  Access thesis planning and writing supports through the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC)
    • The Dissertation Boot Camp can help you develop effective writing practices and strategies for completing your thesis, while the three-part Rock Your Thesis workshop series will provide practical guidance for planning, writing, revising, and submitting your thesis project. You can also book an individual appointment to do backwards planning with an advisor. They can help you utilize the planning tools most effectively, while providing hands-on guidance and feedback.  
  • Ask about copyright, closed examinations and thesis embargoes
    • If you are using third-party content, including your own previously published work in your thesis, or seeking intellectual property protection (for yourself or another involved party), there may be implications for your thesis or defence. Learn more about copyright for your thesis, and email for help with copyright questions related to your thesis.
  • Confirm how your thesis draft will be approved for defence
    • Depending on your departmental or discipline’s norms, you may require approval from your entire committee, or just your supervisor. Ensure you talk with your supervisor and/or committee early on to confirm processes and timelines, so you’re not surprised later.
  • Confirm your examining committee
    • Depending on your departmental or discipline’s norms, your supervisor may select an external examiner themselves, or they may seek your input. Talk to your supervisor early on about this process, as in some faculties the external examiner may need to be vetted and approved as early as the term before you wish to defend. Remember that there are conflict of interest guidelines around the appointment of the external examiner, and the PhD candidate should not be in communication with the external examiner prior to the defence.
  • Understand the thesis submission and display period
    • A PhD thesis must be on display for a minimum of 4 weeks prior to the defence date. To accommodate, you may need to submit your thesis as early as 6-8 weeks prior to your defence. Review your faculty specific backwards planning tool for the thesis submission deadline in your faculty and learn more about the display period in the PhD thesis examination regulations.
  • Learn about defence outcomes and timelines for revisions
    • After your successful thesis defence, you will likely have some required revisions to your thesis. It’s important to understand revision timelines, especially if you’re hoping to become “degree complete” before a tuition refund or convocation deadline. Find tuition refund and convocation deadlines in the important dates calendar.
  • Review the UWSpace submission and approval process
    • Following your thesis defence, there are several steps to be taken before your final, approved thesis is accepted in UWSpace. Ensure that you’re aware of these thesis submission steps and timelines in advance.

Backwards planning tools

Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, in collaboration with the Faculties, have prepared faculty specific backwards planning tools to help PhD candidates map out the timelines related to their thesis defence and degree completion.

Select your faculty below to download a PDF copy of the backwards planning tool. We encourage you to discuss your ideal timelines with your supervisor(s) and your department graduate program co-ordinator.

Tips for success

The PhD thesis defence is the culmination of years of hard work! The tips outlined in this video, compiled from recent PhD graduates and experienced thesis defence chairs, cover tips for preparing for your defence, day-of logistics, and defending successfully.

Transcript - Your Thesis Defence: Tips for Success (PDF)

Will your PhD thesis defence be held remotely? We’ve compiled additional tips for success specifically related to the remote defence.