The purpose of the Thesis Defense is to demonstrate in an oral form the knowledge and skills acquired to carry out research that provides new information on a significant problem. The Thesis Seminar, whenever possible, should immediately precede the Thesis Defense. The following are recommended guidelines for conducting the Thesis Defense.
At the commencement of the defense, the student should be excused and the Chair (and/or mentor) will then provide a profile of the student’s background, course work, and publication record. The Chair, in consultation with the examiners, will then determine how the Thesis Defense will be conducted.
If any of the examiners expresses a serious concern with the content of the Thesis, a strategy should be developed whereby the questioning can address these concerns in a constructive manner.
The student will then be asked to return and the exam can commence. Normally, the external examiner will be invited to commence the questioning period. Examiners will usually be allowed a ~ 10 min question period in turn, with the opportunity to have a second round of questioning. Alternatively, questions will be permitted to follow logically from the initial set of questions, with examiners sharing the examination period.
The mentor or co-mentors may be present during the defense, but cannot ask questions, and are not expected to answer any questions for the student unless clarification is asked for from the examiners.
The Chair should ensure that the defense is conducted in a professional manner, and that each examiner has the opportunity to ask questions. The Chair should also ensure that the length of the exam is appropriate. A typical exam period is 1 to 2 hours.
After the Chair has determined that the defense is at an end, the mentor and the student are asked to leave the room. The Thesis Defense Committee vote is confidential and the mentor should leave the room together with the student during the voting procedure. The defense is discussed, and a decision is made. The decision is determined by majority vote, which may be written or oral, and the decision should reflect a consensus of the committee. Students may receive a grade of ‘Pass’, ‘Conditional Pass’ or ‘Fail’. If the vote is for “pass”, with minor revision of the dissertation requested, then the mentor is usually given the responsibility of checking the final document. If the vote is for “major revision”, one or more members of the Committee are assigned to review and accept the corrections on behalf of the parent committee. A decision for “major revision” results in the grade of Conditional Pass (see below).
When the examination is complete, the members of the Committee will sign the form acknowledging satisfactory completion of requirements for the degree.
A grade of ‘Conditional Pass’ will require the student to complete additional work on the thesis as set forth by the Committee. This may be either in the writing of the Thesis or additional experiments. The report of the Committee will contain any recommendations for rectifying deficiencies if a grade of ‘Conditional Pass’ has been given. Unless specified otherwise by the Committee, all deficiencies must be corrected within a period of three months of the date of the examination. The revised thesis must be submitted to the Chair of the Thesis Defense Committee three weeks prior to the final deadline date. After review by the Committee (or a designated sub-committee), additional revisions may be required. If the deficiencies are not corrected to the satisfaction of the Committee (or a designated sub-committee), or the revision is not completed within the three-month deadline, the grade of ‘Conditional Pass’ will be changed to ‘Fail’.
In the event of a grade of Fail, re-examination is at the discretion of the student’s Advisory Committee. Working together with the student and mentor, a written plan to address deficiencies for completion of the degree must be submitted to the Associate Dean. The grade of Fail may lead to dismissal from the PhD program.