Information for Current Graduate Students > Academic Progress > Defences and Qualifying Exams
This page is dedicated to all Master's students pursuing a graduate degree by thesis and students pursuing a PhD. In addition to all other requirements for graduation (courses, writing your thesis, etc.), defending your thesis and completing your qualifying exam (for PhD students) is an integral part of your degree and is required from you immediately after submission of your thesis.
To set up a defence and/or qualifying exam, you would see Wendy McGrattan, the Graduate Secretary in the department.
***There are separate deadlines for Master's candidates and Ph.D candidates when it comes to your defence. Please schedule your thesis submissions and submit paperwork in a timely manner so that you may graduate at your intended semester.
- Before the Day of the Defence
- On the Day of the Defence
- Miscellaneous: Additional Notes About the Role of the Examining Committee Chair
- Expectations of a Defending Thesis Student
This is a brief synopsis of the role of the chair in a typical Ph.D defence in ABSc, but it should be useful to all participants (last updated August 25, 2016).
- The chair should either get a brief "bio" of the candidate to introduce them with on the day, or ask the advisor if they would like to make this introduction at the start of the defence.
- The chair should remind the candidate to select a peer to ask as their Graduate Student representative (this student sits in on the whole defence except for the final deliberations).
- If one or more examiners is connecting in via video conference, be sure to get their Skype ID and phone number ahead of time and bring a spare laptop, so that skyping can quickly be used as a backup if the system should fail; also touch base with the advisor and the Graduate Secretary to ensure all audio/video settings are prepared.
- The depth of understanding and knowledge we expect of M.Sc and Ph.D students is outlined further below this page.
- Send everyone (student & examining committee) these notes, so that everyone can anticipate the process ahead of time.
- Ph.D only: prior to the exam, the external examiner's report should have arrived. That should be shared with the advisor and the student (Note: it may go straight to them, but double check).
This is 15 minutes prior to the defence, usually in the office of the person chairing the exam. If any examiner(s) is/are connected via video link, then the pre-exam meeting is held in the room where the exam is being held and uses the video link. No other members of the audience are permitted entry at this time until discussion is complete.
The Graduate Secretary provides a red folder with all of the paperwork (which the student must retrieve before the meeting). Within its contents, there are two sets of papers: one for the chair and one for the student. In the chair's papers are all the forms that require signatures and the student's grade summary. For Ph.D candidates, the external examiner's report will also be inside the folder. Then begins the pre-exam meeting:
- Introductions (especially if people do not know the external examiner);
- Course grades are reviewed (the grade summary is circulated);
- Any significant concerns from the committee is inquired (the external examiner excluded); then
- Examiner's orders and time per round is reviewed (see below).
General overview (updated August 25, 2016):
|Additional member: 15 minutes in Round 1 / 10 minutes in Round 2||External examiner: 20 minutes in Round 1 / 15 minutes in Round 2|
|Advisory committee member: 15 minutes / 10 minutes||Additional member: 15 minutes / 15 minutes|
|Advisor: 15 minutes / 10 minutes||Advisory committee member: 15 minutes / 15 minutes|
|10 minute break between rounds||Advisor: 15 minutes / 15 minutes|
|-||10 minute break between rounds|
There are two distinct parts within a defence: the first and second round of questions. Anyone who wish to attend the defence is allowed to do so until the end of the first round of questions, when they are required to leave before the candidate advances to the second round of questions.
Masters defences usually take up to 2.5 hours, while PhD defences usually take up to 3.5 hours
- The audience is welcomed and introduced to the Ph.D/M.Sc defence of the candidate, and the Examining Committee is introduced.
- The external examiner is thanked on behalf of the University of Guelph and the department.
- The procedures are outlined. This includes:
- Order and duration of rounds of questions
- Audience question(s) at the end of the first round
- The graduate student representative is identified by the candidate.
- The audience is reminded to leave in gaps between examiners.
- The candidate is introduced; the biography of the candidate is optional.
- The candidate presents his/her thesis with a presentation (30 minutes maximum).
- At the end of the presentation, the computer and A/V equipment is optionally shut down if the examining committee agrees.
- First round of questions commences.
- The examiners should ask the student if they are ready to move onto the next examiner's questioning between each of their allocated times and perhaps provide the candidate with a chance to catch their breath or have a sip of water.
- It is also advised to take notes regarding the areas of questioning raised by each examiner. This helps record the type of questions should an appeal is necessary later.
- It is advised to keep track of time for each examiner; you have discretion to adjust the time of questioning for the examining chair to extend a bit of time for an examiner who is exploring a thread that is worth finishing.
- Some time is allocated for the audience to ask any questions that they may have. One question per person is the recommended limit.
- Break - approximately 10 minutes; the graduate student representative is reminded to return after this break.
- Second round of questions commences (closed-doors; the audience is expelled, with the exception of the Graduate Student representative).
- This progresses in the same style as the first round but with less time allocated for each examiner. This also has a more casual atmosphere and interaction between examiners are allowed if the candidate appears to be relaxed and able to handle it.
- The audience is welcomed and introduced to the Ph.D/M.Sc defence of the candidate, and the Examining Committee is introduced.
- The candidate is asked if they have any questions for the examining committee. They are not required to ask any, however there may occasionally be times when they wish to know the answer to a specific question asked by an examiner earlier.
- The candidate and graduate student representative are excused and instructed to wait in the main office (or somewhere nearby).
- A non-binding vote is cast using paper ballots (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), but how each person voted is not revealed.
- The results are reviewed (one unsatisfactory is OK, however two is a failure).
- Discussion is held regarding exam performance, issues within the thesis, and the examiners' votes. If the vote was unanimously satisfactory ("SAT"), then it is directly proceeded to a discussion of the disposition of the thesis (unless 2 people wish to change their vote).
- If the vote contained one unsatisfactory ("UNSAT") vote, there can be two different situations:
- If the external examiner voted UNSAT, then a discussion amongst the entire committee is warranted, whether a second UNSAT vote is fair.
- If a local examiner votes UNSAT, it is appropriate to leave the vote as it stands to reflect the lower quality of the defence and/or thesis. In other words, the student still passes but it was not a stellar performance.
- From the Graduate Calendar: "The examination is passed and the thesis approved if there is no more than one negative vote. An abstention is regarded as a negative vote. The report to the Assistant VP of Graduate Studies will record the decision as unsatisfactory or satisfactory. If unsatisfactory, the candidate may be given a second attempt. A second unsatisfactory result constitutes a recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies that the student be required to withdraw (see Unsatisfactory Progress and Appeals of Decisions)."
- The disposition of the thesis is decided.
- The thesis is reviewed and revised for one last time by the examiners before signing off.
- The thesis is revised at the student and his/or advisor's discretion. The examining chair receives assurance from the advisor once changes are complete, which enables the examining chair to sign off.
- No revisions or the examining chair can decide to sign off immediately and leave it for the advisor to decide when the thesis is ready to submit.
- Forms are signed, the candidate is recalled, and the defence is concluded.
This section was written by Dr. Andy Robinson during his time as Graduate Coordinator (last updated March 2013).
General Role of the Examining Committee Chair
As an Examining Committee Chair, they have the authority over how the exam is conducted and the responsibility to guide the members of the examining committee to conduct a fair and thorough examination of the candidate's thesis. Being chair largely means that they are a timekeeper (and note-taker). Most scientists enjoy discussing about their field and will invariably go over time if they do not keep track! It can also be a challenge to stick to time if the student talks around the issue(s) and the examiners do not feel that they are receiving adequate answers to their questions.
There can be some extenuating circumstances in defences. It is probably redundant to say that the candidates tend to be highly stressed but this can result in unusual physiological responses and the candidate may need extra breaks. The candidate may be asked if they require an extra break if they appear uncomfortable. If the candidate is unable to continue, as the exam committee chair they can adjourn the committee for a specific or non-specific period of time. The exam is effectively on hold and there is no decision on the outcome until the exam committee resumes sitting. The chair should also formally adjourn the exam if there is a fire drill or some other event requiring evacuation of the room or building - that way, everyone knows that the period of time in question does not affect the outcome.
The adjournment approach can also be used in the case of unusual or disruptive behaviour during a defence. Defences are open to all members of the university community, thus there is always the potential for a diverse audience who may not agree with the candidate's research or may have pre-existing personal issues with the candidate, members of the committee or the area of research (e.g. animal activists). Basically, should an unusual situation crop up, it is relied upon the chair's best judgment. If disruptions happen, the chair shall politely ask the people to stop whatever it is or leave. It may be something as simple as asking someone to turn off their cell phone. Often a look in their direction is enough. If the disruptive situation continues and affects the examination process, the chair should not feel compelled to feel that they have to fix it themselves. The exam committee can be adjourned and the candidate and committee can be asked to join the chair in leaving the room; this way, the disruption remains behind rather than attempting to expel the person or group. You may choose to head to the main office (and potentially even lock the main office door) and the Graduate Secretary or Administrative Assistant can be available to call campus police (x2000 or x52000). Campus security is very helpful and very well trained in dealing with inter-personal conflict.
In the discussion after the examination, any positive or negative feedback can be bookmarked and used at the discretion of the examining committee chair to help summarize the committee's deliberations to the student. The students like to hear about the good stuff as well as being filled in on the areas for improvement. It is also a courteous role of the chair to remind the student to submit their thesis while there is momentum, especially if they have acquired a new position.
The OCAV (Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents) Graduate "learning expectations" provide the following useful guide (adopted by Animal Biosciences on September 2015):
|Doctoral degree (This degree extends the skills associated with a Master's degree and is awarded to students who have demonstrated the following)||Master's degree (this degree is awarded to students who have demonstrated the following)|
|1. Depth and breadth of knowledge||A thorough understanding of a substantial body of knowledge that is at the forefront of their academic discipline or area of professional practice including, where appropriate, relevant knowledge outside the field and/or discipline.||A systematic understanding of knowledge, including, where appropriate, relevant knowledge outside the field and/or discipline, and a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, much of which are at, or informed by, the forefront of their academic discipline, field of study, or area of professional practice.|
|2. Research and scholarship||
a) The ability to conceptualize, design, and implement research for the generation of new knowledge, applications, or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the research design or methodology in the light of unforeseen problems;
b) The ability to make informed judgments on complex issues in specialist fields, sometimes requiring new methods; and
c) The ability to produce original research, or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, and to merit publication.
A conceptual understanding and methodological competence that:
a) Enables a working comprehension of how established techniques of research and inquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline;
b) Enables a critical evaluation of current research and advanced research and scholarship in the discipline or area of professional competence; and
c) Enables a treatment of complex issues and judgments based on established principles and techniques; and,
On the basis of that competence, has shown at least one of the following:
a) Development and support of a sustained argument in written form; or
b) Originality in the application of knowledge.
|3. Level of application of knowledge||
The capacity to:
a) Undertake pure and/or applied researched at an advanced level; and
b) Contribute to the development of academic or professional skills, techniques, tools, practices, ideas, theories, approaches, and/or materials.
|Competence in the research process by applying an existing body of knowledge in the critical analysis of a new question or of a specific problem or issue in a new setting.|
|4. Professional capacity / autonomy||
a) The qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex situation;
b) The intellectual independence to be academically and professionally engaged and current;
c) The ethical behaviour consistent with academic integrity and the use of appropriate guidelines and procedures for responsible conduct of research; and
d) The ability to evaluate the broader implications of applying knowledge to particular contexts.
a) The qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring;
i) Exercise of initiative and of personal responsibility and accountability; and
ii) Decision-making in complex situations.
b) The intellectual independence required for continuing professional development; and
c) The ethical behaviour consistent with academic integrity and the use of appropriate guidelines and procedures for responsible conduct of research.
|5. Level of communications skills||The ability to communicate complex and/or ambiguous ideas, issues and conclusions clearly and effectively.||The ability to communicate ideas, issues and conclusions clearly.|
|6. Awareness of limits of knowledge||An appreciation of the limitations of one's own work and discipline, of the complexity of knowledge, and of the potential contributions of other interpretations, methods, and disciplines.||Cognizance of the complexity of knowledge and of the potential contributions of other interpretations, methods, and disciplines.|
Another useful external list of tips on thesis defences written by Dr. Joe Wolfe from the University of New South Wales can be found here.
General information & regulations found in this page of the Graduate Calendar.
For governing principles please click here
For the oral exam, the committee meets in the exam room at the designated start time (no pre-meeting). The flow of the exam is explained to everyone and the student is excused from the room. If there was a written exam, the results for each examiner are briefly discussed. If there is no written exam, the prep process for the oral is briefly discussed. Then the advisor is invited to comment on the student’s progress on research. Once the lay of the land is established, the student is invited back for the exam to begin. Each examiner has 20 minutes in the first round and up to 15 minutes in the second round. The order of examination can be decided by the student and there is no audience or graduate student representative.
- First round of questions
- Keep track of time for each examiner. You have discretion to adjust the time of questioning for an examiner who is exploring a thread that merits finishing.
- Take notes regarding the areas of questions raised by each examiner. In case of an appeal, there is a record of the type of questions.
- Between examiners, the student is asked if they’re ready for next examiner and perhaps give them a chance to catch their breath or have a sip of water.
- Break – 10 minutes.
- Second round of questions
- Same style as the first round, less time each, more casual and you can allow for interaction between examiners if the candidate seems to be relaxed enough to handle it.
- First round of questions
- Ask the candidate if they have any questions for the exam committee. They don’t have to ask any but occasionally they have question they want to know the answer to.
- Excuse candidate and instruct them to wait in the main office (or somewhere nearby)
- Non-binding vote using paper ballots but how each person voted is not revealed
- Review results (one unsatisfactory OK, two is a failure)
- Have a round of discussion about SAT (satisfactory) / UNSAT (unsatisfactory). If the vote is unanimously SAT then unless 2 people want to change their vote go straight to a discussion of recommendations for the advisory committee
- If one UNSAT vote is there another? Especially for a major area examiner, if there are serious concerns it should be discussed further. If a minor area committee member votes UNSAT, it could be appropriate to leave that as it stands to reflect the lower quality of the performance – the student still passes but it is not a stellar performance.
- Decide on recommendations for the advisory committee (the advisor is still present to hear the recommendations)
- Sign forms, recall candidate and wrap up (package, forms etc).
Credits: Drs. Georgia Mason and Andy Robinson (for the above information on Defences and QEs, with permission to disclose to the public granted by Dr. Georgia Mason, Graduate Coordinator)
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