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Doctoral oral defence

Doctoral Oral Defence 

On this page, you'll find essential information regarding setting up and scheduling the oral defence, and oral defence committee membership. 

Setting up the Oral Defence

When the Doctoral student initially deposits the thesis in Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, an Oral Defence form is sent to the Unit* so that it can set up the oral defence committee and notify the Thesis Unit as to its membership and date of the oral defence.  The Unit should arrange the defence and return the completed form, electronically or in person, to GPS as soon as possible. 

The Unit is responsible for confirming the defence date with all committee members and providing PDF copies of the thesis to all the members. Should an oral defence committee member require a hardcopy, the Unit should request one from the student. The Unit should refer to these guidelines when Inviting external examiners to the oral defence. The student should consult with their Unit to be informed of specific procedures and the student's role, if any.  The student should have a PDF copy of the initial e-thesis at the defence to project on the screen for committee members.

Any exceptional requests for exceptions to normal procedures (e.g., videoconferencing) should be referred to the Thesis Unit as soon as possible and prior to making arrangements. If a member of the oral defence committee must attend via videoconference (with the arrangements and cost to be borne by the Unit), approval must be sought as soon as possible - and prior to making arrangements. GPS does not permit the use of Skype because of issues with stability and quality of sound/image.

GPS will engage a Pro-Dean who will chair the oral defence as a representative of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. GPS will inform the Unit* and provide the Pro-Dean with a PDF copy of the thesis, the student’s transcript and the examiners’ reports.

Scheduling the Oral Defence

A notice is sent to the Graduate Secretary/Coordinator of the Unit indicating the earliest date (tentative, pending receipt of reports) that the defence may take place. The date chosen for the oral should be at least two weeks after the stated expected return of the examiners' reports. At least four weeks' notice must be given to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, to allow time to arrange for a Pro-Dean, check the student’s file, etc. Delays in obtaining consent of a nominee to serve or in receiving reports will delay the holding of the defence.

Should an oral defense need to be postponed at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, the Thesis Office must be informed immediately by telephone followed by documentation from the Pro-Dean including agreement of the candidate as to all particulars of the re-scheduled examination.

The Unit is responsible for the following (but students should check with the Unit to determine any specific policies for delegation) and should refer to these guidelines when inviting external examiners to the oral defence:

  • Contact all members to ensure their acceptance and availability to serve on the oral defence committee. This responsibility should not be delegated to the student, but may be delegated to the supervisor following approval of the committee composition by the Unit.
  • Ensure that all members of the committee are given a PDF copy of the thesis well before the oral defence.  Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will provide a PDF copy to the Pro-Dean.
  • Make local arrangements - booking the room and ensuring that any required audiovisual and videoconference equipment is available and functional
  • Refer to the Thesis Unit for any exceptional requests (e.g., videoconferencing)
  • Ensure that all course grades are submitted two weeks before the oral defence takes place.

Membership of the Oral Defence Committee

Members of the Doctoral oral defence committee should hold a doctorate or equivalent. The committee consists of a Pro-Dean (appointed by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies) and five or seven other members, including: 

  • The Chair/Director of the academic Unit* or delegate (who must not have been closely involved with the thesis)
  • The Supervisor(s) (see b) below)
  • The Internal Doctoral Thesis Examiner (who may or may not have been closely involved in the thesis research)
  • External Member(s)
  • Other members of the Unit* (see chart below)

External Member(s): The committee must include at least one person whose primary appointment at the University is outside the Unit* in which the student is registered and who has not been involved in the thesis research. External members should have sufficient knowledge of the discipline to read the thesis and question the student at the oral defence, but are not required or expected to be experts in the field of the student’s research. An important role of external members is to ensure that the written thesis and the student meet the standards of McGill University. Note that the external member is distinct from the External Examiner and does not submit a written examiner’s report.

The Doctoral oral defence committee is designed to ensure that a majority of the members have not been closely involved with the thesis research and to have an odd number of members to avoid a tie in case of a vote. To aid in determining the composition of the committee please consult the following chart:

 

Chair

Supervisor

Internal Examiner

External Member

Other Member

Total (must be 5 or 7)

not close

close

close

not close

not close

close

not close

closea

not close

1

1

1

n/a

1

0

1

2

3

1

1

n/a

1

1

1

0

2

3

1

1

n/a

1

1

0

1

1

4

1

2

n/a

1

1

0

0

2

3

1

2

1b

n/a

2

0

1

3

4

a)       A majority of the committee members must not have been closely involved with the thesis research.

b)       Students who have co-supervisors can choose if both or one co-supervisor will sit on the oral defence committee. If both are on the committee, the committee must have 7 members in total to ensure the majority of members are not closely involved with the thesis. All parties (co-supervisors and student) must agree to the composition of the oral defence committee and sign off on a written agreement prior to the oral defence. If a student is co-supervised and if both supervisors plan to participate in the defence, choosing a “closely involved” internal examiner will necessitate a 7 member oral defence committee to achieve a majority of members who were not closely involved with the work.

 


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