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Convening of Doctoral Examinations Procedure

Category Research
Type Procedure
Approved by Board of Graduate Studies, 7 August 2014
Date Procedure Took Effect 7 August 2014
Last Approved Revision 30 June 2017
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise)
Responsible Officer Dean, Graduate Research School
Review Date 20 December 2021

Purpose

The regulations for the PhD and professional doctorates require that doctoral thesis examinations be overseen by an independent Convener.  The role of the Convener is to ensure the examination is fair and run according to the high standards expected of the University.  This procedure provides details on the steps to be taken by the Convener in overseeing a doctoral thesis examination.

Organisational Scope

This procedure applies to all doctoral thesis examinations.

Definitions

Convener of Examiners/Convener     An approved and independent facilitator who oversees the doctoral examination process.   Conveners must have been previously approved to convene doctoral examinations and have completed their eVision training in order to have access to examination management in eVision.  The Convener is a facilitator, not an examiner, and need not be an expert in the subject matter of the examination.  They may or may not be drawn from the candidate’s department.

List of PhD Conveners of examiners (PDF)

Examiner’s Report    An independent report from an examiner on the candidate’s thesis, including written feedback and a recommendation for the result of the examination.

Internal Examiner    The thesis examiner from the University of Otago.  Where no Otago examiner is used, an external examiner shall be designated as the ‘internal examiner’.

Supervisors’ Report    A report by the candidate’s supervisor(s) on the thesis, including information on publications arising from the work, the role of the supervisors, and the supervision process.

Policy Content

1.     Receipt of supervisors’ and examiners’ reports

(a)   The Doctoral Office receives supervisors' and examiners' reports directly, and will upload and enter the results in eVision.  The Convener will receive a notification via eVision as each report is entered.  If the Convener receives reports directly from the supervisors or examiners these should be forwarded to the Doctoral Office via email (phd@otago.ac.nz) for processing.  The Doctoral Office will follow up on any late reports, but may enlist the assistance of the Convener in some cases.

(b)    The supervisors’ report is for the Convener’s information in the first instance.  It should not be circulated before the examiners’ reports have been received. In the interests of facilitating an examination result, the Convener may wish to make this report available to the examiners after all three examiners’ reports have been submitted. The candidate does not normally receive a copy of the supervisor’s report at any stage in the examination process.

(c)    The examiners should report independently on the thesis; the content of the independent reports should not be shared amongst the examiners until all three reports are received.  Occasionally a substandard report (in terms of length, tone or language) may be received.  If the Convener is concerned about the quality of the report they should confer with the Dean of the Graduate Research School, who may request a revised report from the examiner.

2.     Determining whether an oral examination will be held

(a)    An oral examination will be held if:
         i.    the candidate first enrolled for their PhD on or after 1 January 2014;
         ii.    the customary practice of the Department of the candidate is to hold an oral examination, as confirmed by the Head of Department;
         iii.    the candidate wishes to have an oral examination (see 2(b) below); 
         iv.    the examiners agree that an oral examination is necessary; or,
         v.    the Convener determines that an oral examination may be helpful in determining a result, including any required revisions to the thesis, or of benefit to the candidate.

(b)    If an oral examination is not to be held on other grounds, the Convener must ask the candidate if they want an oral examination.  This could occur at the time of submission, or after the reports are received (this is particularly recommended if the nature of the reports means that an oral examination may benefit the candidate).  In this case the Convener may provide the candidate with anonymised copies of the examiners’ reports to assist with their decision, but in no circumstances should the examiners’ result recommendations be released to the candidate.  Confirmation of the oral examination will occur following receipt of the examiners’ reports.


(c)    If an oral examination is mandated (under 2(a) i or ii), but not otherwise recommended (under 2(a) iii to v), and the agreed recommendation of the examiners is that the thesis be revised and resubmitted for examination, the oral examination may be deferred until the re-examination.

(d)    If an oral examination is held, the Convener should ensure it is conducted in accordance with the Oral Examination Procedure for the PhD Degree.

3.     Facilitating the reaching of consensus on a result

(a)    The Convener is responsible for facilitating a consensus amongst the examiners on the result of the examination and any required amendments.  Sometimes the Convener may need to take on an adjudicating role in order to assist this process, for example through assessing the evidence being presented by examiners’ for their positions, but at no time should the Convener become involved in judging the quality of the thesis itself (this is the role of the examiners).

(b)    Possible outcomes from the examination are recommendations that the thesis:
         i.    be accepted, or be accepted with minor editorial corrections, and the degree be awarded;
         ii.    be accepted and the degree be awarded after amendments have been made to the satisfaction of the Convener of examiners in consultation with the internal examiner;
         iii.    be revised and resubmitted for examination;
         iv.    be rejected and referred to the appropriate authority within the University for consideration of the award of another degree;
         v.    be rejected with no right of resubmission.

(c)    If an oral examination is not initially held, the following steps may be taken to reach a consensus:
         i.    circulating the examiners’ reports and outlining the available options and/or a possible way forward;
         ii.    discussing the situation individually with one or all of the examiners, or chairing an audio or web conference with all the examiners;
         iii.    in exceptional circumstances, following consultation with the Dean of the Graduate Research School, seeking clarification from the supervisor(s) about specific aspects of        the thesis; 
iv.    if consensus cannot be reached, scheduling an oral examination to settle particular points of dispute.

(d)    If an oral examination is held, the process followed to reach a consensus should be as detailed in clause 4 of the Oral Examination Procedure for the PhD Degree.

(e)    A decision should also be made on whether the examiners recommend the thesis be nominated for ‘exceptional’ status (in the top 10% of theses examined).  Such a recommendation requires that all three examiners agree that the thesis is of exceptional quality, which may be demonstrated through initial examiner recommendations or through written examiner statements confirming this recommendation following discussion and/or an oral examination.  Each examiner should provide brief written reasons for their judgment that the thesis is exceptional.

(f)    If a consensus on a result cannot be reached, the Convener should contact the Dean of the Graduate Research School, who will advise on next steps, for example the appointment of a referee.

(g)    Once consensus is reached, the Convener should draft a letter for the candidate, containing the result and required amendments, and circulate this around the examiners for final confirmation.

4.    Notification of result

(a) The Convener should email the recommendation for the result on the prescribed form, along with a letter to the candidate (see 3(g) above), to phd@otago.ac.nz for processing. The Doctoral Office will send this letter to the candidate with copies to the primary supervisor.

(b) For an ‘Accept’ result (see 3(b)i and ii) the Doctoral Office will formally advise the candidate of the result via an alert from eVision; the Convener’s letter and the examiners’ reports will be sent to the candidate and copied to the primary supervisor. The Convener may also inform the candidate of the result prior to formal notification being sent.

(c) For a ‘Revise and Resubmit’ result (see 3(b)iii) the Dean of the Graduate Research School will normally liaise with the candidate’s primary supervisor, who shall inform the candidate of the result in person. The Convener’s letter and anonymised copies of examiners’ reports will be emailed to the primary supervisor to share with the candidate, and documents will be copied to the Convener, and the Head of Department. This process is intended to provide additional support to the candidate.

(d) For a ‘Reject’ result (see 3(b) iv and v) the Dean of the Graduate Research School shall manage communications to the candidate. The result letter, the Convener’s letter and copies of examiners’ reports will be provided to the candidate, and documents will be copied to the Convener, the Primary Supervisor and the Head of Department. The candidate will also be advised of the process to seek leave to appeal.

(e) Where the result includes amendments or revisions, the Convener should be available to the candidate to provide clarification on the nature and scope of additional work required.

5.    Approval of required corrections or amendments

(a) For an ‘Accept’ result (see 3(b)i and ii), the Convener is responsible for ensuring that any required corrections or amendments have been completed. For this result the candidate should submit the corrected thesis directly to the Convener. The Convener should confirm with the candidate the format in which they would prefer the amended thesis (electronic, hard copy or both).

(b) For a ‘Revise and Resubmit’ result (see 3(b)iii) the thesis will be fully re-examined, preferably with the same examiners and Convener; in this case the candidate will work on revisions under the guidance of their supervisor(s) and the candidate should submit their revised thesis and a separate summary of changes made to the Doctoral Office; the Convener will not be required until the thesis is resubmitted.

(c) Where minor corrections are required (see 3(b)i), the Convener is solely responsible for checking that these have been made.

(d) Where amendments are required (see 3(b)ii), the Convener is responsible for checking that these have been made in consultation with the internal examiner. Note that the internal examiner is expected to check that the amendments agreed to by the examination panel are addressed; any specific concerns of the internal examiner should not be given undue weight in this process.

(e) Once any corrections or amendments required by the examiners have been completed and the Convener is happy that all amendments have been made, an email should be sent to phd@otago.ac.nz with the following text and the Doctoral Office will enter the result and upload the email to eVision. Please ensure that it is a separate email and not a reply, as the document will be uploaded to eVision as a permanent record

All amendments have been satisfactorily completed by NAME (ID) and my recommendation is that the degree can now be awarded.

The Convener may also inform the candidate of the result prior to formal notification being sent.

Related Policies, Procedures and Forms

Contact for Further Information

All queries regarding the examination process can be directed to the Doctoral Office at phd@otago.ac.nz, or to the Dean of the Graduate Research School. Local contacts are also provided below for Christchurch and Wellington staff.

Dunedin

Doctoral Administrators, Doctoral and Scholarships Office
Room G08, Clocktower North
Email: phd@otago.ac.nz

Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, Dean of the Graduate Research School
Room G02, Clocktower North
Phone: 03 479 5655
Email: rachel.spronken-smith@otago.ac.nz

Christchurch

Ruth Helms
Manager, Academic Programmes
Department of the Dean
University of Otago, Christchurch
Division of Health Sciences
Phone: 03 364 0527 (or ext 80527)
Email: ruth.helms@otago.ac.nz

Wellington

Trevor Williams
Postgraduate Liaison Officer
Postgraduate Office
University of Otago, Wellington
Division of Health Sciences
Phone: 04 385 5543
Email: trevor.williams@otago.ac.nz