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Conduct of examination
Successful completion of the PhD examination ensures that the student has achieved and is able to demonstrate qualities consistent with scholarly endeavour in their particular area of specialization at the doctoral level. As such, the occasion of a PhD thesis examination demands as much formality, courtesy and decorum as any university exam (e.g. no interruptions due to discussions within or comments from the audience except when invited to participate by the Chair).
Powers of the Chair
The Chair, appointed by the office of the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, is responsible for the proper conduct of the examination and for ensuring that the exam begins on time (the Chair will use their discretion in the event of difficulties). The examination is public, but the Chair has the authority to exclude persons whose conduct disturbs the examination. It is within the power of the Chair to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are exercised by those in attendance. This should be communicated in a brief introductory statement at the beginning of the examination to all in attendance. The Chair is not to participate in questioning or deliberation of the candidate.
Use of cell phones, video cameras, etc.
Recording of the PhD thesis examination is strictly prohibited, as is the use of cell phones, video cameras, cameras and voice recording devices. In case of an emergency, a mobile device can be used to participate remotely.
Remote participation (teleconference/electronic media)
Participation through electronic media (teleconference, video conference) is limited to one member of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee. Only in exceptional circumstances may the remote participant be the supervisor. In exceptional circumstances, additional members may be allowed to participate remotely with approval of the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. Candidates may not participate remotely and must attend the examination in person.
In the event that remote connection is lost:
A. 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 examination.
- 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 in the case that remote participation was planned and a report was submitted in advance, then the report will be read by the Chair and the vote of the member participating through electronic media, as indicated in the report, will be counted. When there is no such report, the vote may be nullified.
B. The Chair’s report must note the lost connection, including the timing and whether or not the vote was included in the decision.
Closed PhD examinations
In rare cases, the thesis may be withheld from public display in order for the student and other involved parties to seek intellectual property protection, and a closed thesis examination is requested. In these cases, Examining Committee members as well as members of the University community who wish to attend the PhD thesis examination will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It is not the responsibility of the Chair to ask attendees to sign this agreement, but the Chair should ensure that, in such cases, only those who have signed such an agreement are permitted to attend the examination. Complete details regarding the handling of such theses and their subsequent examination is provided on the PhD thesis examinations regulations web page.
- Chair (non-voting)
- External Examiner
- Supervisor or Co-Supervisor(s) (share one vote - each co-supervisor may vote base on the appropriate fraction of one vote)
- Internal Member (from home department)
- Internal-external Member (external to the home department)
- Member (from the University)
Co-supervisors must be conscious of the overall time allotted for questions from the supervisor.
Absent Committee Members
In the case of an unanticipated, last-minute emergency absence of a committee member, the examination 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 through electronic media) to present their votes:
- External Examiner
- Two other members of the committee
Any exceptions to this regulation must be approved by the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. In the case of a university closure due to the weather, at the discretion of the Chair and in consultation with the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, the examination will proceed if the above committee members can attend.
When a co-supervisor is unable to participate in the examination, the other co-supervisor(s) can act in their place (represent their fractional vote). When co-supervision is required because one member does not have ADDS status or is adjunct, etc, the UW member with ADDS status must be the one participating, unless approved by the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
Welcome by the Chair
To begin the exam, the Chair should welcome everyone to the PhD Thesis Examination, introduce themselves and identify which department they are from, and then introduce the External Examiner followed by the Supervisor(s) and Committee members.
Oral presentation by candidate
The examination begins with an oral presentation of the thesis by the candidate 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.
Order of questions
The candidate’s presentation is followed by questioning. The Chair will give priority to questions from members of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee, starting with the External Examiner, followed by members of the Committee, and those of the Supervisor(s) last. Approximately 15 minutes should be allocated to each committee member for the first round of questions, with an additional 10 minutes for follow up (if needed). 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 as well as for any written criticisms submitted in advance by members of the university.
Relevance of questions
If the Chair is unsure regarding the appropriateness or relevance of a particular question, the Committee members will be asked if they wish to have the candidate answer that particular question.
Length of the examination
Examinations are normally 2 to 3 hours in length. If the examination continues beyond this time, it is very reasonable for the Chair to ask the Committee to begin to wrap up. If the examination is a difficult one, then it could take longer.
Termination of questioning and deliberations
The Chair, with the concurrence of the Committee, decides when further questioning is unnecessary. The candidate and audience are asked to leave the room and the examining committee will then deliberate in a closed session. The candidate is then invited back into the room and informed by the Chair of the decision.
Attendance by non-committee members during deliberations
The Departmental Graduate Officer, the Departmental Chair, the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs are permitted to attend the in camera deliberations of the Examining Committee. They have no vote unless they are members of the Committee. They do not participate in the discussions of the Examining Committee except by invitation.
Decision of the examining committee
The decision of the PhD Thesis Examining Committee is based both on the thesis and on the candidate's ability to defend it.
The following decisions are open to the Examining Committee:
The thesis and the oral examination 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 examination. If more time is required to make these corrections, the Committee should consider whether a decision of accepted conditionally is merited. If the thesis is not submitted within this timeline, the student will be withdrawn from the program.
The oral examination has been completed to the satisfaction of the examining committee. The thesis is acceptable but requires content changes which are minor enough that re-examination 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 examination or the student will be withdrawn from the program. At least two members of the Committee, only one of whom may be the supervisor or co-supervisor, must confirm that required changes have been made.
Any extension to the time limits for accepted and accepted conditionally must be requested in writing and approved by the Graduate Officer and the Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
Re-examination is required in either of the following situations:
- The oral examination is not to the satisfaction of the Examining Committee. The PhD thesis examination requires that the candidate demonstrates their mastery and expertise and engages meaningfully in scholarly discourse in their chosen area. If the candidate fails to satisfy these requirements, the Examining Committee may require reexamination. The PhD Thesis Examining Committee’s report must contain a recommended set of activities that aims to improve the candidate’s abilities to present their research and respond to inquiries related to their studies.
- The written thesis requires modifications of a substantial nature, the need for which makes the acceptability of the thesis questionable. The PhD Thesis Examining Committee's report must contain an outline of the modifications expected and indicate the time by which the changes are to be completed. In this case, the revised thesis must be re-submitted to the Faculty Graduate Office for re-examination.
Re-examination must occur within one year of the date of the first examination. A decision to reexamine is open only once for each candidate.
Failed (not an option at first examination)
If after re-examination the candidate does not achieve a decision of accepted or accepted conditionally, 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.
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 Faculty Associate Dean, Graduate Studies. The Associate Vice-Presdient Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs will consult with the Faculty Associate Deans, Graduate Studies and will make the final determination.
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 examination, 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.
It is the Chair’s responsibility to inform the candidate immediately of the Committee’s decision.
The Chair will ensure that all Committee members present at the examination sign the PhD Thesis Acceptance form. The Chair will note on the form any Committee members who participated remotely.
Report to the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs
The Chair must report in writing to the Associate Vice-President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs on the conduct of the examination using the enclosed “Report of the Chair” form. The Chair will ensure that all Examining Committee members know that their name will appear in the thesis and confirm on the "Report of the Chair" form that the Examining Committee members are accurately listed in the thesis. If there is need for revisions to the listing of Examining Committee members, these revisions will be confirmed by the supervisor prior to final submission of the thesis to Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.
Should there be any questions or concerns about the conduct of the examination, please contact Trevor Clews, ext. 37170 or Cathy Jardine, ext. 42657. Full PhD Thesis Examination Guidelines can be found on Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs website.
Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs