The oral defence is divided into three parts, which are summarized below. Please see GPS Oral Defence Proceedings for a detailed description of these parts, as well as a description of the Pro-Dean roles and responsibilities.
1) Private pre-defence meeting
- The Pro-Dean and the oral defence committee meet privately before the oral defence to verify that all committee members are present and to determine the Unit's normal procedures for the order of questions, time alloted for each question and for subsequent rounds of questions, and reading of the external examiner's questions.
2) Open (public) session
- The Pro-Dean chairs the open session, which is frequently held in another room from the private pre-defence meeting.
- Attendance by the public is under the control of the Pro-Dean, who must ensure good order throughout the examination.
- After the Pro-Dean introduces the student, the open session is also divided into two distinct parts:
- Introductory presentation: The student provides a 20-minute presentation, summarizing their research question, the results obtained, and the conclusions. The presentation should focus especially on the original contributions to knowledge. All oral defence committee members, with the exception of the Pro-Dean, are expected to have read the thesis, so that only salient points need to be presented. The student may use notes and audiovisual aids (according to the norms of the discipline), but reading from a script is frowned upon. Any visual presentation in the defence should be structured as for a presentation at an international conference.
- Question period: The oral defence committee asks the student questions (usually 60-90 minutes). The questions will be based mainly on the thesis and presentation, but the student's grasp of related subjects may also be tested. The student should have a copy of the thesis on hand, as there may be questions related to specific points in the thesis. Answers to questions should be concise, unless there is a request to elaborate. The idea is to engage the members of the Committee in a rich and scholarly discussion.
- The Pro-Dean may invite questions from the audience, taking Unit practice into account.
- The student will receive the comments of the internal and external examiners after the oral defence committee renders a decision.
3) Private session: Evaluation
Following the open session, the oral defence committee meets privately (for a maximum of 60 minutes) without the student to determine if:
- the thesis meets the academic standards necessary for partial fulfillment of the PhD; and
- the student effectively communicated a level of knowledge and understanding supporting the thesis and commensurate with that of the PhD degree in the oral defence.
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. Normally, a consensus is reached; however, the Pro-Dean may call for a formal vote.
Postponement and Rescheduling
An oral defence that has not yet started may be postponed at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, such as the absence of one or more committee members or suspected plagiarism. The Thesis Unit 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 Unit. This request must subsequently be supported by written documentation from the Pro-Dean.
Role of the Pro-Dean
The Pro‐Dean serves as representative of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and chairs the oral defence. The Pro-Dean's 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. 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 same Pro-Dean will be asked to participate.
The Pro-Dean is not present in an evaluative role and is not a voting member of the oral defence 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.