Oral Defence of the Dissertation
The purpose of the oral defence of a dissertation is to demonstrate to the examiners that the candidate fully understands the work that was completed, how the research was completed, and the meaning and significance of the findings and conclusions. The candidate must also have a clear understanding of how the work fits with the relevant literature and/or practice.
The Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) consists of all the members of the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) and an external examiner who is knowledgeable on the subject of the thesis and at arm’s length from the candidate and the dissertation advisor (DA). The external examiner must be approved by the graduate coordinator.
Normally, at least one member of the DEC must be from outside the academic unit/program of the candidate. Thus, if all members of the DAC are internal to the candidate’s academic unit/program, the external examiner may not be.
When the external examiner must come from outside Biology or Chemistry and Biochemistry, normally this person will be a faculty member from another Laurier department. Where there is no available faculty member with requisite expertise in another department at Laurier, a suitable member of another nearby university may be asked to serve as external examiner.
The chair for the defence, appointed by the PhD Program Committee, must be a member of the graduate faculty of the university and be external to the DEC, but may come from within Biology or Chemistry and Biochemistry.
An external examiner must be at “arm’s length” from the candidate and the dissertation advisor (DA). Arm’s length means not being a close friend, a regular or current collaborator, a former supervisor or a former colleague. It also means not being in a conflict-of-interest position with regard to the candidate or DA and not having a vested interest in the outcome of the oral defence.
Scheduling of the Oral Defence
- Obtain approval of the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) to schedule the oral defence and survey the committee for availability.
- Notify the graduate administrative assistant of the intention and request a room booking for this purpose. The administrative assistant will ensure that the request to schedule oral examination form is completed prior to scheduling the defence date, and will hand it to the student to obtain all signatures.
- The candidate is responsible for ensuring that the thesis is submitted in the format required by the current Laurier thesis format guidelines. The candidate is also responsible for ensuring that all members of the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) have received a copy of the thesis two weeks prior to the defence.
- Provide two additional copies to the Biology office for distribution to the external examiner and the defence chair. It is the responsibility of this office to distribute these copies; however, the costs associated with printing the thesis are to be covered by the student and/or the thesis advisor.
Conduct of the Oral Defence and Role of the Chair
Any member of the university community is entitled to attend the defence. However, the chair has the authority to exclude persons whose conduct disturbs the defence procedures. Non-members of the university community may attend but must receive the permission of the candidate, the dissertation advisor, and the chair of the defence.
Preliminary In-Camera Meeting
Once all members of the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) are present, the chair will ask the candidate and all other attendees to leave the room. The chair will then conduct an in-camera meeting to:
- Remind the members that the candidate is being examined on both the written dissertation and the oral defence;
- Remind the members of the time frame for the defence (normally two to three hours' duration);
- Decide in which order members will ask questions – the external examiner is always the first to question the candidate, the committee member from outside the academic unit of the candidate is usually the second to question, and the dissertation advisor (DA) is usually the last;
- Decide how many rounds of questions (normally two to three) will be used before other attendees can ask questions, and decide a rough limit on the number of questions or the time allotted to each member for each round of questions; and
- Agree on any other procedures that might be required for the defence.
The chair will invite the candidate and other attendees back into the room and inform them of the procedures that have been decided upon. Following this:
- The chair will then ask the candidate to present an oral summary of the dissertation (20-25 minutes) to begin the defence.
- The chair will ask the external examiner to commence the rounds of questioning (in the absence of the external examiner, the chair will ask his or her questions).
- When the members of the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) have no further questions, the chair will offer other attendees an opportunity to direct questions to the candidate.
Post-Defence In-Camera Meeting
Upon the conclusion of all questions, the chair will ask the candidate and others to leave the room. The dean of Graduate Studies, the dean of the candidate’s faculty, the departmental chair, and the graduate coordinator/program director are permitted to stay and observe the in-camera deliberations of the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC); however, they may not participate in the discussion except by invitation and they have no vote.
The chair will conduct an in camera meeting of the DEC to:
- Summarize the decision categories (see below);
- Review the voting procedures (see below);
- Ask all members, beginning with the external examiner, to summarize their evaluation of the written and oral presentation, indicate their vote, and identify any major and/or minor modifications they would like the candidate to complete before the final draft is submitted;
- Assist the committee to reach consensus both on a final category, the changes that must be completed, who will review the changes, and the date by which the changes should be completed (this information must be recorded on the Record of Dissertation Defence form);
- If the candidate meets criteria for a Medal for Academic Excellence, discuss whether the candidate is to be nominated (if nominated, the reasons for the recommendation must be recorded on the Record of Dissertation Defence form;
- Have members of the DEC sign the Record of Dissertation Defence form.
Delivery of Decision
Following the in-camera meeting, the chair will invite the candidate back into the room and:
- Inform the candidate of the committee’s decision;
- Offer the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) members the opportunity to provide feedback to the candidate on both the written dissertation and the oral defence;
- Review the revisions that are to be made to the dissertation and finalize the time frame for doing so;
- Have the candidate fill out and/or sign the necessary forms (i.e., Theses Non-Exclusive License form, Partial Copyright License form, ProQuest Subject Code Form).
Note: The defence is public and the chair has the responsibility to ensure that high standards of conduct are exercised by those in attendance. Thus, the chair has the right to exclude persons whose conduct disturbs the defence or to stop and reschedule the defence, if necessary.
If all but one member of the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) agree on a decision category (see below), the decision shall be that of the majority.
Where two dissenting votes are cast, discussion must continue to arrive at a decision on which there is consensus (i.e., no more than one dissenting vote).
When consensus is reached, all members of the DEC should sign the Record of Dissertation Defence form. As discussed above, if a DEC member is absent but has provided a preliminary vote, this vote will be shared with the committee during the in-camera deliberations, but the vote will count in the determination of a decision only if it is that of the external examiner.
Decision Categories for the Dissertation Defence
The following are the decision categories that are available to the Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC):
Accepted: The dissertation is accepted but may require minor typographical and/or minor editorial corrections to be made to the satisfaction of the dissertation advisor (DA).
Accepted with minor modifications: The dissertation requires minor changes in substance or major editorial changes, which are to be made to the satisfaction of members of the examining committee designated by the committee. The 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 should be completed. Normally, such changes should be completed within four weeks of the date of the examination.
Accepted with major modifications: The dissertation requires more substantive changes, but will be acceptable when these changes are made to the satisfaction of those members of the examining committee designated by the committee. The examining committee’s report must include a brief outline of the nature of the changes required, and the date by which the changes are to be completed.
Decision deferred: The dissertation requires modifications of a substantial nature, the need for which makes the acceptability of the thesis questionable. The examining committee’s report must contain a brief outline of the modifications expected and should indicate the time by which the changes are to be completed. The revised dissertation must be resubmitted for re-examination. Normally, the re-examination will follow the same procedures as for the initial submission. Normally, the same examining committee will serve. A decision to defer is open only once for each candidate.
Rejected: The dissertation and/or defence are not acceptable. The committee must report the reasons for rejection. A candidate whose doctoral dissertation has been rejected is required to withdraw from the PhD program.
Note: If the examining committee is not prepared to reach a decision at the time of the dissertation 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 about the delay.
After the Defence
Once the committee has made a decision, the candidate will be informed of the decision and will be given an opportunity to offer any comments about the defence, especially with regard to the fairness of the examination and the findings.
The student may be asked to make appropriate revisions. Once these are done in a satisfactory manner, the supervisor (or a person named by the committee) will accept the thesis as it is.
The student must then submit the dissertation/thesis electronically.