Doctoral Oral Defence

Consult these guidelines for assistance conducting remote or hybrid defences.

On this page, you'll find essential information on oral defences in the current context, as well as the membership of the Oral Defence Committee.

Setting Up the Oral Defence

When the Doctoral student initially submits their thesis to GPS, an Oral Defence Form is sent to the Unit*. This Form indicates the earliest date (tentative, pending receipt of examiner reports) the defence may take place. The Unit completes the Form, listing the members of the Oral Defence Committee and confirming the date and location of the oral defence. The completed form must be returned to thesis.gps [at] mcgill.ca at least four (4) weeks prior to the defence date. The four-week notice is necessary to allow time to secure a Pro-Dean.

A limited number of oral defences can be held on any given day. Once the Oral Defence Committee has confirmed their availability, the Unit should book the time through the GPS oral defence calendar (access restricted to graduate unit staff) before returning the Oral Defence Form to GPS.

In the event an oral defence must be postponed due to unforeseen circumstances, the Thesis Office must be informed immediately by the Graduate Unit.

The Unit is responsible for the following and should refer to these guidelines:

  • 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.
  • The Unit should refer to the guidelines below when inviting external examiners to the oral defence.
  • Ensure that all members of the Oral Defence Committee are given a PDF copy of the thesis well before the oral defence. GPS will provide a PDF copy to the Pro-Dean.
  • Should an Oral Defence Committee member require a hard copy of the thesis, the Unit should request one from the student.
  • Scheduling of the defence (date, time, location) remains the responsibility of the Graduate Unit.

Pro-Deans

GPS will secure 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, and the examiners’ reports. If a Pro-Dean requests to attend a defence remotely, GPS will contact the Unit to request a Zoom link. The link should be created by the Unit using a licensed Zoom Pro account.

Online or Hybrid Defences

If the oral defence is scheduled online or as a hybrid defence, the Unit is responsible for setting up the Zoom link for the confirmed date and time of the oral defence. The unit is also responsible for sharing this link with the student and members of the Oral Defence Committee. The Zoom link must be included on the Oral Defence Form submitted to the Thesis Office.

The Zoom link should be created using a licensed Zoom Pro account. It is recommended that the Oral Defence Committee’s Academic Unit representative (Chair or delegate) act as the Zoom host during the defence. GPS will no longer take on hosting duties for defences held on Zoom.

Consult this document for more information on conducting oral defences online.


Membership of the Oral Defence Committee

Members of the Oral Defence Committee must hold a doctorate or equivalent. The committee is designed to ensure a majority of members have not been closely involved with the thesis. All members must attend the oral defence.

The Pro-Dean is appointed by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and serves as the chair of the committee, but is not a voting member.

Committee Composition

The oral defence committee consists of five voting members. However, if three members are closely involved with the thesis, a seven-member committee will be required (see definitions below).

The composition of the Oral Defence Committee should ensure equitable gender representation among its members. For example, in a five-member committee, at least one member should be female. In a seven-member committee, at least two members should be female.

Five-Member Committee

  • Academic Unit* representative (Chair or delegate)
  • Supervisor
  • Internal Examiner
  • Internal Member (or Co-Supervisor as appropriate)
  • External Member (may be replaced by the External Examiner; in such a case, please refer to the guidelines)

Seven-Member Committee

  • Academic Unit* representative (Chair or delegate)
  • Supervisor
  • Internal Examiner
  • Internal Member
  • Internal Member (or Co-Supervisor as Appropriate)
  • External Member (may be replaced by the External Examiner; in such a case, please refer to the guidelines)
  • External Member

Definitions

Closely involved with the thesis

If a member of the oral defence committee served on a student’s supervisory committee or had any meaningful input into the body of work represented in the thesis, the member is considered closely involved with the thesis.

Not closely involved with the thesis

If a member of the oral defence committee did not serve on a student’s supervisory committee nor had any meaningful input into the body of work represented in the thesis, the member is considered not closely involved with the thesis.

The Academic Unit* representative (Chair or delegate)

The Chair or delegate is a McGill faculty member affiliated with the student’s Unit*. The Academic Unit* representative does not provide GPS with a written report.

Supervisor

The supervisor is a McGill faculty member affiliated with the student’s Unit*. The supervisor does not provide GPS with a written report.

Internal Examiner

The internal examiner is a McGill faculty, or affiliated, member. The internal examiner provides GPS with a written report. The internal examiner must not be in conflict of interest according to McGill’s policy (see University conflict of interest regulations). An important role of the internal examiner is to ensure that the written thesis meets the standards of McGill University.

Internal Member

The internal member is a McGill faculty, or affiliated, member who may be associated with the student’s Unit*. The co-supervisor, who may be from another Unit* at McGill or outside the University, can serve as an internal member. The internal member does not provide GPS with a written report.

External Member

The external member must not be from the Unit* and may be from outside McGill. The external member is distinct from the External Examiner and does not submit a written report. If the external examiner is invited to the Oral Defence, there is no need for an external member, as the External Examiner will be replacing the external member and fulfilling their role on the Oral Defence Committee. In such cases, the External Examiner still provides a written report on their evaluation of the thesis.

Inviting an External Examiner to the Oral Defence

McGill does not require the external examiner to be present at the Oral Defence. If the Unit decides to invite the external examiner to the oral defence, it must take note of the following:

  • Supervisor and student are not permitted to contact the external examiner once the thesis has been submitted
  • Graduate Program Coordinator or another Unit administrator will extend the invitation to the external examiner to the Oral Defence
  • Oral defence Form should clearly indicate that the external examiner (who provided a written evaluation report) will be attending the defence; in this case, the external examiner will serve as the external member of the Oral Defence Committee.
  • External examiners from other universities may attend in-person defences. Their presence is allowed under the "Sponsoring a Visitor" guidelines. Please consult this website to access the protocol for visitors on campus.

*Unit refers to a department, a division, a school, an institute, or a Faculty/University-wide program.

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Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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