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Thesis and VivaSubmitting and Defending the PhD thesis

When the thesis is completed it is submitted to the College Graduate Studies for examination. The thesis is read by an internal examiner who will be normally a member of the department other than the supervisor, and whose job will be to evaluate the thesis in the context of its contribution to the profession as a whole, and by an external examiner from another institution, who has detailed professional knowledge of the thesis topic and whose job will be to provide an expert assessment of the thesis.

Supervisors propose external and internal examiners to the Departmental Graduate Director, but external and internal examiners must be agreed upon by the School's Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate). Clearly, students may have views on who is best to serve as external examiner and they are thus encouraged to discuss this with their supervisors well in advance of the date of final submission; their supervisors will then discuss the matter with the Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate) who will make the final decision. In no circumstances are any students to approach and ask potential external examiners of their willingness to serve on the examination committee.

Once the thesis is read by both internal and external examiners, an oral (or viva voce) examination will be held, generally around 8 weeks after the thesis has been submitted to Graduate Studies. The examination is chaired by the Head of Department and should last about two hours and the internal and external examiners may ask questions on any aspect of the thesis and the theme with which it deals. At the student's request and with the agreement of the examiners, a supervisor may be present, although this is not in any way necessary. The role of a supervisor in the oral examination, if present, is to provide information and not to act as an examiner.

Detailed rules for submission of theses are contained in the College Calendar, Part 2, and these must be consulted carefully by the student before any plans for submission are made. The Calendar provides for students to submit theses without the prior approval of the supervisor, but in practice it is extraordinarily unwise for any student to do this. Both department and supervisor have a strong interest in having good theses accepted by examiners and, if they advise against submission, this advice should be taken very seriously by the student, as it almost certainly means that the thesis will encounter serious problems when it is examined.

After the thesis has been examined in this way, the examiners will recommend one of the following:

  • The thesis passes as it stands;
  • The thesis passes after minor corrections have been made (the internal examiner must certify that these corrections have been made before the final thesis is submitted and the degree awarded);
  • The thesis must be revised in a more major way, and then be submitted for re-examination to a nominated member of the committee;
  • A lesser degree (such as a Master's) should be awarded;
  • The thesis should fail outright.

The role of the Chair of the viva voce is to ensure procedural correctness and fairness is facilitated if he or she had the opportunity to form an impression about the submitted thesis. On request of the Chair, the students may provide the Chair with a copy of the thesis.