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Thesis examination

General information

  • A Master’s thesis must be examined by a single academic specialist
  • A Doctoral thesis must be evaluated by two examiners - one internal and one external.
  • Supervisors may not serve as examiners of Master’s or Doctoral theses.
  • For Doctoral theses, following the successful (written) examination, there is an Oral Thesis Defence.

Examiners are asked to evaluate the thesis according to a number of criteria as indicated in the grid in the thesis examination form. Examiners provide an overall judgment of 'passed' or ‘not passed’, assessing whether or not the thesis fulfills the requirement for the degree, even if minor changes are recommended.

An evaluation of 'passed' should be awarded unless the revisions required are major, such as:

  • The need for a new study, experimentation, or significant additional research or reformulation.
  • Stylistic or editorial changes are not normally considered to be major revisions, but if the quality of the presentation is so poor that extensive rewriting is required, the thesis should not be passed. Examiners are asked to identify such changes clearly in their reports.

Thesis examiners

Master’s Thesis “External” Examiner

For a Master's thesis, the “External” Examiner must be a scholar of established reputation and competence in the field of the thesis research.  The examiner may be from inside or outside the University. Units* may nominate a member from within the Unit* who is not in conflict of interest (see conflict of interest checklist on the nomination of examiners and thesis submission form).

Doctoral Thesis External Examiner

The Doctoral External Examiner must be a scholar of established reputation and competence in the field of the thesis research. They must be from outside the University and normally must hold a doctorate or equivalent. The External Examiner must be at “arm’s length” and have no other conflict of interest (see conflict of interest checklist on the nomination of examiners and thesis submission form).

Doctoral Thesis Internal Examiner

The Internal Examiner is expected to be knowledgeable in the area and topic of the thesis, though not necessarily to the same extent as the External Examiner.  The Internal Examiner also serves to ensure that McGill norms are observed with respect to quality of the thesis.

Normally, the Internal Examiner is a McGill faculty member (but not the Supervisor) affiliated with the Unit* in which the thesis originates, but they may also be nominated from other Units* at McGill. The Doctoral Internal Examiner need not satisfy the arm’s length conditions required of the External Examiner (but must not be in conflict of interest according to McGill’s “policy on conflicts of interest in academic supervision and evaluation”.  As such, a member of the student’s supervisory committee may be named as the Internal Examiner.  The Internal Examiner must attend the final oral thesis defence. 

Nominating examiners

In anticipation of the thesis examination, the supervisor must complete the nomination of Examiners and thesis submission form. The student, supervisor(s) and the Unit* must agree on the names listed for Internal and External Examiners. Units* should have specific procedures for selection of names. An academic from the Unit*, according to internal procedures, must confirm that the Examiners are willing to serve prior to submission of the nomination of examiners and thesis submission form.

The student submits the signed form along with the thesis to the Thesis Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. In exceptional circumstances, a student may elect to submit a thesis without the supervisor’s signature. In such a case—which is strongly discouraged—Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies should be consulted in advance of the submission and a letter of explanation from the student must accompany the form.

The following documents can be referenced to help guide you through this process:

Conflicts of interest in nomination of examiners

Any potential examiner who responds ‘yes’ to any of the following questions would be considered to be in conflict of interest:

  • Have you co-authored or otherwise carried out research in collaboration with the student or the supervisor (within the last five years)?
  • Do you knowingly have a financial interest in an entity that could benefit from the thesis research?
  • Have you previously read the thesis, or parts of it, or evaluated the student's thesis research (e.g., as an advisor, as a supervisory committee member, evaluator for progress tracking)?
  • Have you previously examined or been examined by the student's supervisor (within the last five years), e.g., the former student or former supervisor of the student's supervisor?
  • Do you have a former or pending affiliation with the student’s academic unit* (within the last five years), e.g. graduation from the same academic program or have you been offered an academic appointment in the Unit*? (examiners of doctoral theses only
  • Have you held an academic appointment at McGill within the last five years? (examiners of doctoral theses only)
  • Have you engaged in (or intend to engage in) discussions/ negotiations with the student or supervisor relating to future employment or supervision?
  • Do you have a personal or financial relationship to the student or the supervisor?   
  • Could your relationship with the student or supervisor appear to have a conflict of interest? Such relationships include:
    • A past or present spouse or partner
    • A close family member
    • A past or present business partner
  • Have you engaged in other activities that could be interpreted as introducting a conflict of interest? (please specify)

FAQs regarding_conflict_of_interest_in_the_selection_of_PhD_external_and_Master's_examiners

If the Unit* is unsure if a potential examiner is in conflict of interest, someone from the Unit* should bring the issue to GPS for a determination.

The Thesis examination

Objectivity of the examination process

Once the thesis has been submitted, no one outside of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies should attempt to communicate with the examiners regarding the thesis, nor should examiners communicate with one another or with the student or the supervisor(s) until the examination process is complete. Any contact with examiners by the supervisor, student or Unit* after the nomination process constitutes a conflict of interest and the examination process will not go forward. All questions regarding the examination or defence should be addressed to the Thesis Office.

Examination Procedures

When the examiner(s) are confirmed, the thesis is sent for examination. The examiners have 4 weeks to evaluate the thesis and return the thesis examination report. When the completed examers' reports have been returned to GPS, the procedures for Master’s theses and Doctoral theses are as follows:

Master’s thesis:

  • If the examiner has passed the thesis, GPS will send copies of the report to the student, supervisor(s), and the Unit*. The student must make any corrections and/or minor revisions in consultation with the supervisor before final submission.
  • If the thesis has not been passed see Section 7, Thesis Examination Failures.

 Doctoral thesis:

  • Both examiners must pass the thesis before the examination can proceed to the Oral Defence.
  • GPS will send copies of examiners' reports to all members of the Oral Defence Committee and to the Graduate Secretary/Coordinator of the Unit*. The student is not to see the reports until after the oral defence.
  • The student will be given copies of all reports and all available copies of the thesis at the conclusion of the defence.
  • The student must make any corrections and/or revisions (where required) in consultation with the supervisor, or other individual designated by the Oral Defence Committee, before final submission of the thesis.  
  • If the thesis has not been passed, see Section 7, Thesis Examination Failures.

Plagiarism

In cases where plagiarism is suspected, the examiner must return the thesis and report the suspected plagiarism, citing sources of the original material that was allegedly plagiarized. In cases where plagiarism in the thesis is charged, the thesis examination does not proceed and the case is investigated through a University disciplinary process.


*Unit refers to a department or a school or an institute or a division, in the case of Experimental Medicine.