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Convening of Doctoral Examinations with an Oral Examination Procedure

Category Research
Type Procedure
Approved by Senate
Date Procedure Took Effect 30 June 2021
Last Approved Revision
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
Responsible Officer Dean, Graduate Research School
Review Date 30 June 2026

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 by the University. This procedure provides details on the steps to be taken by the Convener in overseeing a Doctoral thesis examination that includes an oral examination.

Organisational Scope

This procedure applies to all Doctor of Philosophy and Doctoral of Musical Arts degrees. The Doctor of Business Administration examination normally includes an oral examination and the Doctor of Education may include an oral examination; this procedure applies when an oral is required as part of the doctoral examination process.

Definitions

Convener of Examiners/Convener
An approved and independent facilitator who oversees the Doctoral Examination Process. 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 supervising department, but a candidate's supervisor cannot be a Convener.
Examiner's Reports
The individual written reports of the examiners of the Doctoral thesis, which each examiner formulates independently based on their reading of the candidate's thesis. Each report will be accompanied by an initial recommendation for the examination result.
Exceptional Thesis
A Doctoral thesis judged by the examiners to be in the top ten percent of theses examined. Final decisions on the granting of ‘Exceptional Thesis’ status are made by the relevant Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
External Examiner
An examiner external to the University of Otago.
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’.
Oral Examination Briefing Report
A form detailing the arrangements for an oral examination, including the date and time, location, attendees and proposed format.
Primary supervisor
The principal supervisor who provides academic advice and practical support. They are the main point of contact for the candidate and the administration of their postgraduate research.
Referee
An adjudicator from outside the University, not previously involved in the thesis examination, who makes an assessment and recommendation for a final examination result in a case where the examiners cannot reach agreement on a result.
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.
Supervising Department
The academic unit with which a Doctoral candidate is administratively associated, usually the unit in which the candidate's primary supervisor is based and/or the unit in which the candidate is physically located.
Thesis
The body of work submitted for examination. The term ‘thesis’ is used throughout this procedure, but note that for some professional doctorates, an exegesis rather than a thesis may be submitted.

Content

1. Induction into convening

  1. Conveners are normally more senior academic staff and must have some experience examining Doctoral theses. Conveners are nominated by the Head of the supervising department, and approval is given by the relevant Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Graduate Research School.
  2. The Convener must complete a brief (5 minutes) training session on eVision processes for convening via Blackboard in order to gain access to examination management in eVision. Before convening their first examination, conveners are strongly recommended to attend a workshop for Conveners of Doctoral examinations provided by the Graduate Research School.
  3. New conveners are added into the convener database (linked below) and are sent a resource pack with detailed information about the convening process, including template emails for liaising with examiners.
    List of PhD Convenors of examiners (PDF)

2. Nomination and approval to convene a Doctoral examination

  1. A Convener should be approached informally by the primary supervisor or Head of the supervising department, to determine their availability and willingness to act as a convener for a specific examination.
  2. Having confirmed availability, convener details are entered by the Client Service Administrator of the supervising department into the ‘Nomination of Examiner’ form in eVision. Following approval, once the examination begins, conveners are advised by an alert from eVision that provides details of the candidate and examiners, as well as links to key examination policies. They are asked to confirm that there is no conflict of interest in convening the examination, and acknowledge that any information received is given in confidence for use solely in relation to assessment of the thesis. In a separate email they are sent a link to a digital copy of the thesis, as well as word documents of the Oral Examination Briefing Report and Convener Recommendation Form.
  3. The Convener should find out from the supervising department who is providing administrative support for the examination process. Normally a Client Services Administrator from the supervising department would assist in liaising with examiners for logistical aspects of the examination, such as the timing of the oral examination.

3. Overview of the examination process and role of the oral examination

  1. An oral examination is normally held as part of the examination process for the degrees of PhD, DMA and DBA; an EdD may include an oral. If the candidate first enrolled for their doctorate in 2013 or earlier, they may not be required to have an oral examination.
  2. The convening procedure for Doctoral examinations that have an oral includes five steps:
    1. initial organisation of oral examination
    2. receiving supervisor and examiner reports and finalising details for the oral examination
    3. holding the oral examination and facilitating a consensus result
    4. notifying the result
    5. approving required corrections or amendments
  3. The main objectives of the oral examination are to:
    1. celebrate the work of the candidate from a position of appreciative inquiry
    2. provide the candidate with a special opportunity to discuss their work in depth and defend their thesis;
    3. establish that the candidate fully understands the work and its wider implications;
    4. provide the candidate with an opportunity to reply to criticism or challenge;
    5. enable the examiners to clarify issues in the thesis which may be unclear;
    6. allow for discussion of publication opportunities arising from the research;
    7. help the examiners to decide on the nature and extent of any corrections or revisions which may be required;
    8. provide the examiners with an opportunity to clearly communicate required corrections or revisions to the candidate; and,
    9. allow the examiners to reach agreement on an examination result, including confirming whether the thesis should be recommended as an ‘exceptional thesis’.
  4. The oral examination should normally include assessment of the candidate’s ability to:
    1. display detailed knowledge of the thesis;
    2. locate their research in the broader context of their discipline;
    3. demonstrate the originality of the thesis and the contribution it makes to knowledge;
    4. defend the methodology and conclusions of the thesis;
    5. display awareness of the limitations of the thesis; and,
    6. authenticate the work (i.e. prove that it is their own work).
  5. The oral examination is normally conducted in English or Te Reo. It is not the purpose of an oral examination to test the candidate's command of spoken English or Te Reo; this is particularly important for candidates whose first language is not English or Te Reo and for some candidates with disabilities.

4. Initial organisation of the oral examination

  1. The Convener, with the administrative support of the candidate’s supervising department, should make arrangements for the oral examination.
  2. The date for the oral should be set once the examination has started, and pencilled in for about 12 weeks later.
  3. The oral examination is attended by:

    1. the Convener (in the Chair);
    2. the candidate; and,
    3. at least two of the examiners (typically the Internal Examiner and the New Zealand External Examiner); at the discretion of the Convener, the third examiner may also attend. If the examiners are in disagreement as to whether the candidate should pass, all three examiners must be invited to attend the oral examination.
  4. Following consultation with the candidate, the Convener may also elect to invite to the oral examination:

    1. the candidate’s supervisors (to whom the Convener may address questions during the oral examination);
    2. the candidate’s Head of Department or senior academic with relevant expertise (to whom the Convener may address questions during the oral examination); and,
    3. other parties as deemed appropriate, for example a support person for the candidate (such parties will not usually contribute to any discussions, but see 6(g)).
  5. The oral examination will normally be held on a University of Otago campus, and participants can either attend in person, or join by an audio or video conference link. If the candidate is joining by an audio or video link, this should occur from a site with reliable connectivity and privacy.
  6. The format of the oral examination will normally include:

    1. a brief presentation by the candidate (no more than 10-15 minutes);
    2. questions from the examiners on substantive issues communicated to the candidate in advance;
    3. other questions;
    4. free discussion; and,
    5. opportunity for questions or comments by the candidate.

5. Receiving supervisors’ and examiners’ reports and finalising details for the oral examination

  1. Administrators in Student Experience receive 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 emailed to phd@otago.ac.nz for processing. Administrators and/or the Dean of the Graduate Research School will follow up on any late reports, but may enlist the assistance of the Convener.
  2. 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, and providing the supervisors’ report contains relevant context, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The oral examination must not normally be held until two weeks after all the examiners’ written reports on the thesis have been submitted and circulated to the candidate. If getting close to the date for the oral examination and all the examiner reports have not been received, the Convener should contact dean.grs@otago.ac.nz for assistance in getting any remaining reports submitted.
  5. Prior to the oral examination, the Convener should circulate copies of the examiner reports to each examiner to assist the examiners in determining a preliminary consensus view and agreement over the main issues to be discussed in the oral examination. Liaison with examiners could occur by email, audio visual conference, or in a pre-meeting immediately prior to the start of the oral examination.

    1. If the initial recommendation of the examiners prior to an oral examination is that the thesis be revised and resubmitted for examination, an oral examination is normally deferred until the re-examination.
    2. Regardless of whether all examiners attend, the Convener should ensure the range of views on the adequacy of the thesis are represented at the oral examination.
  6. Once arrangements are finalised, the Convener should complete the Oral Examination Briefing Report. The Convener should identify by name all those who will be present in the oral examination (i.e. the names of the examiners who will be present can be disclosed at this point). The Convener should email:
    1. the Oral Examination Briefing Report, to phd@otago.ac.nz; and,
    2. the Oral Examination Briefing Report and copies of the examiners’ reports to the candidate, the supervisors, and the examiners, at least two weeks prior to the oral examination.

6. Holding the oral examination and facilitating a consensus result

  1. The Convener chairs the oral examination, which typically takes between one and three hours.
  2. Prior to the start of the examination (either by email or by a pre-meeting), the Convener should ensure the format of the examination is discussed with the examiners, and decide who will ask questions of any absent examiner.
  3. The Convener welcomes all participants and ensures introductions are made.
  4. The candidate provides a brief (no more than 10-15 minutes) presentation and may use this opportunity to address examiner concerns.
  5. The Convener oversees questioning by the examiners, trying to ensure no one dominates the questioning.
  6. Once questioning is complete, the Convener may ask the candidate if they have any questions for the examiners or any comments to make.
  7. The Convener asks the candidate, supervisors and any support people for the candidate to leave the room. On occasion, the Convener may ask the supervisors to remain behind to respond to questions the examiners may have.
  8. The Convener facilitates a consensus among 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).
  9. Possible outcomes from the examination are recommendations that the thesis:
    1. be accepted as is;
    2. be accepted with minor editorial corrections, and the degree be awarded;
    3. 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;
    4. be revised and resubmitted for examination;
    5. be rejected and referred to the appropriate authority within the University for consideration of the award of another degree; or,
    6. be rejected with no right of resubmission.
  10. A decision should also be made on whether the examiners recommend the thesis be nominated for ‘exceptional’ status (in the top 10 per cent 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. The Convener needs to provide commentary to back up the recommendation. The Convener must not disclose the recommendation to the candidate or supervisors, as the final decision to grant exceptional status resides with the relevant Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
  11. Following the deliberations of the Convener and examiners, the Convener invites the candidate, supervisors and support people back into the room. The Convener then verbally communicates the recommended result and may briefly outline any required corrections or revisions, noting that further details will be provided in a letter for the candidate. This is not an opportunity for the candidate to challenge the result, although they may seek clarification on the nature of required amendments to the thesis.
  12. 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.
  13. Once consensus is reached, the Convener should draft a letter for the candidate, containing the result and required amendments (this may refer to particular (or all) examiner reports), and circulate this around the examiners for final confirmation.

7. Notifying the result

  1. As noted in 6(k) above, the Convener may relay the recommended result to the candidate at the conclusion of the oral examination.
  2. The Convener should email the recommendation for the result on the prescribed form, along with a letter to the candidate (see 6(m) above), to phd@otago.ac.nz for processing. The Administrators at Student Experience will send this letter to the candidate with copies to the primary supervisor.
  3. For an ‘Accept’ result (see 6(h)i, ii and iii) the Administrators at Student Experience 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.
  4. For a ‘Revise and Resubmit’ result (see 6(h)iv) the Dean of the Graduate Research School will normally liaise with the candidate’s primary supervisor. 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.
  5. For a ‘Reject’ result (see 6(h) v and vi) 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.
  6. 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.
  7. A candidate has the right to seek leave to appeal if they believe there has been an unfair examination process.

8. Approving required corrections or amendments

  1. For an ‘Accept’ result (see 6(h)ii and iii), 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).
  2. For a ‘Revise and Resubmit’ result (see 6(h)iv) 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 phd@otago.ac.nz; the Convener will not be required until the thesis is resubmitted.
  3. Where minor corrections are required (see 6(h)ii), the Convener is solely responsible for checking that these have been made.
  4. Where amendments are required (see 6(h)iii), 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.
  5. 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 Administrators at Student Experience 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 administration of the examination process can be directed to the Administrators in Student Experience:

Email phd@otago.ac.nz

Complex queries can be directed to the Dean of the Graduate Research School:

Email dean.grs@otago.ac.nz

Complex queries relating to professional doctorates can be directed to the Associate Dean Postgraduate within the respective division:

Local contacts are also provided below for Christchurch and Wellington staff.

Christchurch

Coordinator of Student Experience
Shared Service Division
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel +64 3 364 0527 (or ext 80527)
Email postgrad.uoc@otago.ac.nz

Wellington

Coordinator Student Experience
Shared Service Division
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel +64 4 385 5543
Email postgrad.uow@otago.ac.nz