The PhD oral examination
Doctoral students must pass an oral examination on the subject of their thesis and matters relating to it before they may obtain their PhD degree. Here are the key tasks for preparing for and conducting the PhD oral examination.
On this page
- Examination attendees
- Prior to scheduling the oral examination
- Scheduling and advertising the oral examination
- Documentation for the conduct of the examination
- Conduct of the examination
- Following completion of the examination
- Video conference capabilities for examinations
- Checklist for the chair of the examining committee
- The examination will be conducted by the Dean of Graduate Studies or the Dean's designate chosen from among scholars of the University.
- The examining committee will include at least three members of the University of Manitoba academic staff, normally the same members as that of the candidate's advisory committee, and an examiner external to the University of Manitoba.
- The doctoral candidate, advisor, and all internal members of the examining committee must be present.
- The presence of the external examiner is strongly encouraged but not mandatory.
- The oral examination is open to all members of the University community. Graduate students are especially encouraged to attend.
Prior to scheduling the oral examination
It is the responsibility of the department to reserve the room for the oral examination and notify the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) of the date, time and location.
The examination must be held at one of the following:
- University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus
- University of Manitoba Bannatyne campus
- St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre
Ensure the internal examiners can attend
All internal members of the examining committee must be present at the defence, unless exceptional circumstances prevent this and prior approval has been given by the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS).
If an internal examiner is unable to be present in person, their participation via video-conferencing may be approved by FGS, depending on the constitution of the committee and the presence of other examiners.
Ensure the program information has been delivered
At least two weeks prior to the proposed date of the examination, the following information must be received by the Faculty of Graduate Studies:
- Thesis examining committee reports (both internal and external)
- Student’s examination program information (submitted in a Word document):
- Biographical data, if desired (e.g., birth place)
- List of degrees obtained: institution and date
- List of the candidate's awards, publications, and joint publications
- An abstract of the thesis (not more than 350 words)
Scheduling and advertising the oral examination
Once the oral examination has been scheduled by the department, the Faculty of Graduate Studies must be notified. A minimum of two weeks' notice is required.
The Faculty of Graduate Studies will then ensure that memoranda announcing the examination are sent to the department/unit and the event is posted on the Faculty of Graduate Studies events page.
Notices of the examination, including the invitation to graduate students, should be posted within the department/unit.
Documentation for the conduct of the examination
Upon receipt of the External Examiner’s report, FGS will forward the report and the “Guidelines for the Scheduling and Conduct of PhD Oral Examinations” to the department/unit head, advisor, and internal examining committee members.
Approximately one week prior to the oral examination, FGS will provide the chair of the examination with a package containing:
- copies of all of the examiner's reports, both internal and external
- the questions and expected answers, if provided, from the external examiner if not attending
- the examination programs
- release and copyright forms for the student
- “Guidelines for the Scheduling and Conduct of the Oral Examination”
Questions submitted by the external examiner will not be forwarded to the advisor or to the candidate prior to the examination, unless this is explicitly requested by the external examiner.
Conduct of the examination
The individual chairing the oral examination bears a very important responsibility. A thorough examination and defence of the thesis serves as the University's guarantee that the standards of the PhD are not only maintained, but strengthened. To this end, the procedures for the conduct of the examination must be consistent and adhered to strictly.
Prior to the start of the formal examination
The chair ensures that:
- the location, facilities and equipment are considered appropriate for a PhD defence
- copies of the examination program are distributed to the candidate, the examining committee and members of the audience
- the examining committee is aware of and understands the examination procedures
General introduction and welcome
The chair welcomes all of those in attendance. The chair impresses upon the candidate, the examiners, and the audience that this occasion is the senior academic event in the Faculty of Graduate Studies and is a formal examination process prior to awarding the highest academic degree of the University of Manitoba.
Introduction of candidate and examiners
Referring to the examination program, the chair:
- introduces the candidate, noting previous degrees obtained, awards, special achievements, and publications
- introduces the examining committee, beginning with a special welcome to the external examiner (if present) and proceeding with introductions of the non-departmental examiner, departmental examiners, and finally the advisor.
The chair should note that all members of the examining committee have read the thesis and submitted written reports. The advisor may or may not have submitted a report.
Outline of procedures for the oral examination
The chair outlines the procedures for the conduct of the examination for the candidate, examining committee, and audience as follows.
- The candidate will be asked to give a 25- to 30-minute presentation of the thesis to include the major objectives, content, results, and conclusions. The chair also notes that the candidate's ability to present the thesis clearly and concisely in a 25- to 30-minute period is an essential part of the examination process.
- At the conclusion of the candidate's presentation and before the questioning period, the chair should allow sufficient time for those members of the audience who wish to leave the session to do so.
- The chair then invites the examiners to pose questions. The chair is not permitted to pose any questions of his/her own to the candidate. The chair must remain neutral at all times.
The Chair reminds the examiners that they will each initially be allowed approximately 20 minutes to pose their questions. The chair will also stress that, because this is an examination on which candidates may, and do, pass or fail, their comments and discussions on the subject matter of the thesis, apart from those essential to the questions, should be made only at the post-examination meeting of the examiners.
- The order of questioning from the examiners is:
- external examiner
- non-departmental examiner
- departmental examiners
- The chair notes that ample time will be given to ensure that the examiners are able to complete their questions and that they may raise additional matters after hearing the initial round of questions.
- The chair also notes that, if the external examiner is not present, the chair (or advisor, as decided) will pose the questions from the external examiner to the candidate.
- If time permits, and after the questioning by members of the examining committee is completed, the guest member (if applicable and in attendance) may be given an opportunity to ask questions, followed by other members of the FGS and members of the audience.
After the candidate’s presentation and questioning period
The chair conducts the remainder of the oral examination as follows:
- The audience (and guest member, if applicable) is thanked for their attendance and support of the candidate and, along with the candidate, is asked to leave so that a confidential meeting of the examining committee may be held.
- Each examiner is asked, in sequence, to comment on the candidate's performance with respect to the answers to the questions and on whether the candidate should pass or fail the oral examination.
If the external examiner or two or more internal examiners indicate a fail, the candidate fails the examination.
- The candidate is invited back into the room and informed of the results of the examination, the nature of revisions, and the method of approval of the revisions.
- The candidate is reminded of the procedures for submission of the thesis to the UM’s digital repository, MSpace, and of the meaning and use of the copyright and partial release of copyright forms.
The candidate is congratulated (if appropriate) and members of the examining committee are thanked.
The decision of the Examination Committee is reported on the “Final Oral Examination of the PhD Thesis” form, submitted to FGS. The members of the examining committee are asked to sign the approval form, and indicate whether they assign the candidate a vote of “Pass” or “Fail” on their oral defence.
A second attempt at the oral defence of the thesis may be scheduled in accordance with the regulations of FGS.
The nature of required revisions, prior to submission of the final copy of the thesis to MSpace as well as the procedures for their completion is determined by the chair, in discussion with the committee.
Following completion of the examination
After the examination is complete, these participants are responsible for the following tasks.
The chair shall:
- communicate to the Dean of Graduate Studies, through the submission of the “Report for Final Examination of the PhD” form, the nature of the revisions and the procedures to ensure that the revisions are satisfactorily made.
The Dean of Graduate Studies shall:
- ensure that the external examiner is thanked for their services
The advisor shall:
- approve the revisions to the thesis according to the agreed upon directions from the Examining Committee
- obtain the committee members’ signatures on the "Final Oral Examination of the PhD Thesis" form, including any members who attended the defence remotely
- submit the "Final Oral Examination of the PhD Thesis" form to the Faculty of Graduate Studies office by the appropriate deadline
The candidate shall:
- submit all required forms to the Faculty of Graduate Studies office, including thesis release forms and, if applicable, copyright permissions.
- submit a digital version of the final thesis
Video conference capabilities for examinations
The Faculty of Graduate Studies encourages units to have external examiners participate in the PhD oral examination. This can be accomplished by video conference if it is too expensive or not possible for the external examiner to be present.
The University of Manitoba has excellent videoconferencing facilities. They may be used:
- for UM oral examinations with an external examiner at another institution
- for University of Manitoba faculty members who are external examiners when the examination is held at another institution.
Please contact Information Services & Technology (IST) to ask about current videoconferencing rates for oral examinations. Please refer to video recording and productions services for more information.
Checklist for the chair of the examining committee
Prior to the start of the examination
- Check seating, audio visual aids, etc.
- Ensure the means of presenting data is appropriate
- Ensure the examiners are present and they understand procedures
General introduction and welcome:
- Senior academic event at UM, awarding of highest academic degree
- Formal examination process; part of exam is ability of candidate to present thesis clearly and concisely (about 25 to 30 minutes)
- Introduction of examining committee (special welcome if external examiner present)
- Note that examining committee have read thesis and provided reports
- Refer to program and biographical information, awards, etc.
Outline the procedures that will be followed:
- Candidate will be asked to present the thesis (25 - 30 minutes)
- The examiners will then ask questions; about 20 minutes for each examiner:
- External examiner (if not present, chair will pose the external examiner questions)
- Internal examiner from outside department
- Internal examiner advisor (not compulsory)
Invite candidate to present thesis.
Conclusion of presentation:
- Formal questioning period, following the order of proceedings provided at the examination
- Second round, if examining committee have additional questions
- If time permits, questions from audience, beginning with other members of Faculty of Graduate Studies
- Thank audience for support of candidate and attendance. Ask everyone but examining committee to leave the room.
- Ask each examiner, in sequence, whether oral examination is "pass" or "fail".
- Determine nature of revisions and procedures to ensure completed according to wishes of committee, ask if committee prepared to "sign off" both written and oral parts of examination.
- Invite candidate back into room: Review determination from each examiner's comments.
- Ensure candidate understands procedures for submission of thesis and use of accompanying forms.
- Thank the examining committee.