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Doctoral oral defence

Doctoral Oral Defence Committee

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 Office 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 insist on 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 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 (James Administration Building, Room 400) as soon as possible and prior to making arrangements. If a member of the oral defence committee must attend via telepresence (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, quality of sound/image, etc.

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies 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.

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)
  • 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)       Notice that, if a student is co-supervised and if both supervisors plan to participate in the defense, 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.

Doctoral oral defence procedure

The oral defence proceeds in three parts:

1)      The Pro-Dean meets with the Defence Committee privately and without the student, ensuring that

  • The Committee is complete
  • The Defence will follow the Unit’s normal procedures for the order of questions, time allotted for each question and for subsequent rounds, and for the reading of the external examiner’s questions 

2)      The Pro-Dean chairs the “Public Session” (frequently held in another room)

  • Attendance by the public is under the control of the Pro-Dean, who must ensure good order throughout the examination
  • The Pro-Dean introduces the student
  • The student provides a 20-minute summary of their thesis
  • The Committee asks questions as determined in the private session (usually 60-90 minutes)
  • The Pro-Dean invites questions from the audience, taking Unit practice into account

3)      The Oral Defence Committee meets privately (as briefly as possible) and without the student to evaluate the thesis and defence. Normally, a consensus is reached; however, the Pro-Dean may call for a formal vote. 

Evaluation by the Committee 

The Committee is to consider the reports of the Internal and External Examiners, the thesis, the student's defence of the thesis, and any other information relevant to the evaluation of whether the student has fulfilled the requirements of the Doctoral degree.

Postponement and Rescheduling

An oral defence that has not yet commenced may be postponed at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, e.g. absence of one or more Committee members, suspected plagiarism. The Thesis Office must be informed immediately by telephone followed by documentation, including written agreement of the student as to all particulars of the re-scheduled examination.

Once begun, an oral defence should not be postponed or re-scheduled; however, should this become necessary, authorization by telephone must be received from the Thesis Office. This request must subsequently be supported by written documentation from the Pro-Dean.

The Role of the Pro-Dean:

The Pro-Dean serves as representative of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and chairs the Oral Defence. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that the Defence is carried out with fairness to the student and with respect for the academic standards of the University. The Pro-Dean is not present in an evaluative role and is not a voting Member of the Committee.  The Pro-Dean is not to review or examine the academic quality of the thesis, except to ensure that it meets the format requirements of the University.  As a moderator of the proceedings, the Pro-Dean should ensure that exchanges between the Committee Members and the student are conducted in a productive and mutually respectful manner. In the event that the thesis or Defence is judged not to meet the requirements for fulfillment of the degree and another Defence is warranted, it is expected that the Pro-Dean will be asked to participate.  The Pro-Dean is provided with detailed instructions as part of the documents he/she receives.


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