Selecting examiners

Be aware of University policies, and discuss potential examiners early in the degree

While selecting examiners often occurs when a student is nearing submission of the thesis, discussing potential examiners early in the program (e.g., when students are working on the comprehensive exam or research proposal) may help students better address their work to the reader. Both students and supervisor should familiarize themselves with McGill’s policies on examiners in order to ensure that appropriate individuals are selected.

 

Suggesting examiners is one of a supervisor's most critical tasks

Generally, supervisors discuss potential examiners with students; it is understood that students will have a good sense of the researchers in their field and who would do justice to the work.
 

Strategies for selecting an examiner: 

  • Consult the Thesis examination section of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website for: 

    • criteria and duties for internal and external examiners

    • a checklist of possible conflicts of interest

  • Keep potential examiners in mind when presenting at conferences and networking. Consider having the student or supervisor engage the interests and availability of a potential examiner with an informal inquiry before nominating them formally, but only if the inquiry does not influence impartiality.

  • Ask former graduate students or colleagues about their experiences with examiners, such as whether an examiner tends to meet deadlines and provide astute evaluations and feedback.

  • Follow your unit's procedures in nominating examiners through myThesis. 

What qualities are desirable in an examiner?

Is a potential examiner fair? Generous? Reliable? University criteria often stress avoidance of conflicts of interest in selecting external examiners. Thus, the external examiner tends to be someone with whom neither the supervisor nor the student is very familiar in person. Professional and personal qualities should be taken into account where possible.

 

Professional and personal qualities should be taken into account in looking for an examiner.

Professional qualities:

  • Topic/methodology fit
  • Experience in supervising and examining
  • Availability

Personal qualities:

  • High but fair standards
  • Intellectual courtesy and generosity
  • Reliability
     

How can you gauge such qualities in an individual you don’t know very well, without creating a conflict of interest or influencing impartiality?

Consider a potential examiner's experience level

In selecting examiners, supervisors and students may first think about the topic and methodology match. Selecting good examiners requires much more than simply looking for experts in the field. In addition to the professional and personal qualities listed in the ideas tab, level of experience with examining is an important factor to consider.

 

Experienced examiners


More likely to see the thesis within the context of the research education experience (i.e., the equivalent of 3-4 years of work)
 

During the oral defence, ask more questions about conceptions of research, knowledge contribution, critiquing the research, and synthesizing and linking concepts.

Both


Use similar criteria for assessment (e.g., coherence, consistency, quality of the research question, presentation).


During the oral defence, aim to engage with students on a scholarly level and provide them with an opportunity to explain their research.

Inexperienced examiners


Perceived to be more demanding. This may be because they have little knowledge of other theses against which to benchmark.


During the oral defence, ask less conceptual questions and more questions about the research approach and choice of topic, implications, and familiarity with the literature.

 

References

Kiley, M. (2009). You don't want a smart Alec: Selecting examiners to assess doctoral dissertations. Studies in Higher Education, 34(8), 889-903.

Kiley, M. & Mullins, G. (2004). Examining the examiners: How inexperienced examiners approach the assessment of research theses. International Journal of Educational Research, 41(2), 121-135.

Kyvik, S., & Thune, T. (2015). Assessing the quality of PhD dissertations. A survey of external committee members. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40(5), 768-782.

Mullins, G., & Kiley, M. (2002). ‘It's a PhD, not a Nobel Prize’: How experienced examiners assess research theses. Studies in Higher Education, 27(4), 369-386.

Trafford, V. (2003). Questions in doctoral vivas: Views from the inside. Quality Assurance in Education, 11(2) 114-122.

Further Reading

Bourke, S., Hattie, J., & Anderson, L. (2004). Predicting examiner recommendations on PhD theses. International Journal of Educational Research, 41(2), 178-194.

Delamont, S., Atkinson, P., & Parry, O. (2004). Supervising the doctorate: A guide to success. Second edition. Berkshire: SRHE and OU Press. (Chapter 9)

Joyner, R. W. (2003). The selection of external examiners for research degrees. Quality Assurance in Education, 11(2), 123-127.

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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