Doctoral Exams FAQ

Timelines and Planning

How long does the examination process take?
Why do I need to give 8 weeks of notice to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies before I submit my dissertation?

This notice enables us to reach out to prospective External Examiners in advance, with the aim of having an examiner confirmed before your dissertation is submitted to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for review. External Examiners are busy people. If we can give them advanced notice, it is often easier for them to accept our invitation. We have found that if we give these busy experts too much or too little notice then they tend to decline the invitation.

If you are unable to provide the requested 8 weeks advanced notice you will likely experience delays in the later stages of the examination process. The external review cannot begin until we have an approved External Examiner confirmed to review your dissertation. External Examiners are always given at least 4 weeks to review your work and submit a written report. To ensure your dissertation receives a thorough and comprehensive review, we will never ask an External Examiner to submit his/her report within a shortened timeframe.

How long should my supervisory committee have to review my dissertation before I submit it for external exam?

Review timelines vary depending upon the needs of the candidate and supervisory committee. You should allocate time to discuss expectations with your supervisory committee early on in your program. Tools to help guide you in establishing clear expectations can be found in the Supervision and Advising section of our website.

How long should I allow myself to make revisions recommended by my supervisory committee before submitting my dissertation for external exam?

This will depend upon the nature and scope of the revisions recommended by your committee. It is likely that your committee will review several drafts of your dissertation before they are able to approve your dissertation for submission for final examination. You will want to discuss expectations with your supervisory committee. Tools to assist you can also be found on Tools for Planning page.

What is the difference between program end date, degree awarding, and graduation?

Program end date is the date that your final, successfully defended and approved dissertation and all associated paperwork is accepted by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. At that point, your program is closed and your student status ends. Your program end date can be any business day during the year.

Your degree is awarded once it has been approved by Senate. Degrees are awarded four times per year, in February, May, September and November. Once your degree has been awarded notation will appear on your official transcript.

Finally, graduation is when you are able to walk across the stage at convocation and have the parchment handed to you (or mailed if you are not able to attend the graduation ceremony). Graduation takes place just twice per year at UBC - in May and November.

Please remember that you must formally apply for graduation online through the SSC in order to have your degree awarded, regardless of whether you plan to attend the graduation ceremony.

What are the deadlines for graduation, degree awarding, and program end date?

Please see the Doctoral Deadlines page.

If I miss a deadline, can I still graduate on time?

If you miss a deadline, it is possible that you will not be able to graduate in your desired ceremony. The deadlines posted on the Doctoral Deadlines page are there to assist you in completing within your intended timeframe. If you are absolutely counting on a particular graduation or program end date, it is essential that you submit the required documents on or before the posted deadlines. We cannot accelerate the process for candidates who have delays. If you know in advance that you will have difficulty meeting a particular deadline, please contact us to discuss options.

What if I have a job/postdoctoral fellowship lined up? Can my exam be expedited?

Unfortunately, no. All doctoral candidates at the University of British Columbia must undergo a thorough and comprehensive examination. To ensure the integrity of the examination, it is not possible to rush any stage of the process.

In fairness to other doctoral candidates undergoing examination, submitted documents are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Can we request that the External Examiner review the dissertation in less than 4 weeks?

No, External Examiners are always given at least 4 weeks to review the dissertation and submit a written report. To ensure your dissertation receives a thorough and comprehensive review, we never pressure an External Examiner to submit his/her report within a shortened timeframe.

Nominating the External Examiner

Who nominates the prospective External Examiners?
Should I/my supervisor contact the External Examiner nominess before submitting the form to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies?

No. The integrity of the final doctoral examination relies on a scrupulously impartial outside assessment of the dissertation by an expert who is clearly at arm’s length from both the candidate and the supervisor, and who maintains that relationship during the examination period. It is the responsibility of the research supervisor and graduate program to nominate qualified individuals to serve as External Examiner for your examination; it is the responsibility of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to review and approve those nominees, to extend invitations as appropriate, and to deal with all correspondence regarding your external examination. The candidate is to have no contact with the External Examiner about the examination until the oral defence is complete. If your supervisor would like to extend an invitation for the External Examiner to attend the oral defence or provide a copy of your abstract, s/he will be invited to do so once an invitation has been extended by our office. Failure to maintain an arm's length relationship throughout the examination process can result in the disqualification of the External Examiner.

See Selecting the External Examiner for more information.

What does "arm's length" mean?
When can I know who my External Examiner is?

Once your dissertation has been transmitted to the External Examiner, you will receive an email from our office informing you of his/her identity. Until the oral defence is complete, you are to have no contact with the External Examiner.

Submitting the Dissertation for External Examination

What is a speedchart and where do I find mine?

A speedchart is an account number that is used to invoice departments at UBC. The graduate program staff person in your department will be able to assist you with obtaining the appropriate speedchart.

Why does Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies need a speedchart when I submit my dissertation for external exam?

If your External Examiner has requested a paper copy of your dissertation (and more than 50% do), this speedchart is required to cover the associated courier expenses. We will be unable to transmit your dissertation to the External Examiner until a speedchart has been provided.

What happens if I submit my dissertation less than 8 weeks after submitting the Nominations for External Examiner form?

If you are unable to provide the requested 8 weeks advanced notice of your anticipated dissertation submission, you will likely experience delays in the later stages of the examination process. The external review cannot begin until we have an approved External Examiner confirmed to review your dissertation. External Examiners are always given at least 4 weeks to review your work and submit a written report. To ensure your dissertation receives a thorough and comprehensive review, we will never ask an External Examiner to submit his/her report within a shortened timeframe.

What if my dissertation is ready earlier/later than previously expected?
After I submit my dissertation, how long does it take to get to the External Examiner?

Once your dissertation and associated approvals have been received by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, we aim to transmit the dissertation to the External Examiner as soon as possible. We receive a lot of dissertations around deadline days. During these periods, it can take up to three business days to transmit your dissertation. Once the dissertation has been sent to the External Examiner, you will receive an email notification informing you of the External Examiner's identity, the date we are expecting his/her written report and your earliest possible defence date.

Please note that if your actual submission date is significantly different from the anticipated submission date provided on your Nominations for External Examiner form and you have not already been in touch to inform us of the change, there is likely to be a longer than usual delay before the dissertation is transmitted to the External Examiner. In these cases, we must first contact the External Examiner to ensure that s/he is still available to review your dissertation given the new timeframe.

Can I see the External Examiner's report before my oral defence?

No. The content of the External Examiner's report is considered confidential and may be discussed with you only at/after the final oral examination. This report will be circulated to your examining committee one week before the defence.

If the External Examiner recommends that you not move ahead to the oral defence at this stage, we will be in touch with you right away.

Preparing for the Oral Defence

When can I schedule my oral defence?
How long should I expect to wait after I submit my dissertation for external exam before my oral defence?

Normally, your earliest possible defence date will be 6-7 weeks after submission of your dissertation to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for external examination. If your External Examiner has requested a review period of longer than 4 weeks, a later defence date can be expected; we would be in touch with you if this applies to your exam. Delays may also be expected if you have not submitted all of the required documents or if your actual submission date is significantly different from the anticipated submission date provided on your Nominations for External Examiner form and you have not already been in touch to inform us of the change.

Once your dissertation has been transmitted to the External Examiner, you will receive an email notification informing you of the External Examiner's identity, the date we are expecting his/her written report and your earliest possible defence date.

Who schedules my oral defence?
Does my Research Supervisor need to be at my oral defence?

Normally the Research Supervisor is one of the supervisory committee members serving on the examining committee, but this is not required. If your Supervisor is unable to attend the oral defence, another member of your supervisory committee must be tasked with asking the questions posed by the External Examiner in his/her report.

How many members of my supervisory committee can be on my examining committee at the oral defence?

Normally, 2-3 members of your supervisory committee (including your supervisor) serve on the examining committee at your oral defence. If you have more than three members on your supervisory committee, you will want to have a discussion with them in advance to determine which members will be serving in this role. Additional supervisory committee members are welcome to attend the defence and to ask questions of the candidate, but cannot participate in the in camera discussion or voting.

Can members of my committee participate via teleconference or videoconference?
Can my exam be held outside of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies or off-campus?
Who is responsible for informing the examining committee of the date/time/location of my oral defence?

You and your research supervisor are responsible for ensuring all members of the examining committee (attending supervisory committee members and university examiners) are aware of the exam schedule. You and your supervisor will receive a formal booking confirmation email from our office once your booking is finalized.

Who is responsible for finding the Chair for my exam and providing him/her with a copy of my dissertation?
When should I submit my Examination Programme?
Can I reschedule my oral defence once it has been booked?

A number of processes, including the recruitment of an Examination Chair, begin as soon as your oral defence booking is finalized by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. As a result, you should think of your defence booking like an airline ticket - it's final once booked.

That said, unexpected emergencies do sometimes arise. If you will not have quorum for your exam and need to change the date, please contact the Doctoral Examinations Coordinator right away.

Can I have a practice session in my exam room before my oral defence?
When and how do I book a practice session?
What happens if my External Examiner does not recommend that I proceed to oral defence?

On the Day of the Oral Defence

What time should I arrive for my oral defence?

The room will be available 30 minutes prior to the start time of your exam and we recommend that you take advantage of this time to set up and settle in.

What electronics are provided for my doctoral defence?
Who can attend my oral defence?

Doctoral final oral examinations at UBC are public events and are therefore open to all members of the University and to the public. Anyone who wishes to is welcome to attend your oral defence.

What is quorum for an oral defence?
What happens if an examining committee member cannot attend the exam at the last minute?

Unfortunately, if the examining committee member in question is required for quorum, the exam will need to be postponed. If you learn that an examiner will be unable to attend, please get in touch with the Doctoral Examinations Coordinator right away.

What happens if an examining committee member is late?

If the examining committee member in question is required for quorum, we will need to wait for him/her to arrive before the exam can begin.

If the examining committee member is not required for quorum and the exam begins as scheduled, s/he will not be permitted entry into the exam room. Once the exam room door has closed and the exam has begun, no one is permitted entry into the room. In this case, it may be advisable to wait for the missing committee member to arrive before commencing the exam.

What happens if an audience member is late?

Once the exam room door has closed and the exam has begun, no one is permitted entry into the room. Audience members arriving late will be unable to join the exam, but will be welcome to wait outside the exam room until the proceedings have finished.

Can I record/videotape my exam?

Any request for videotaping of an exam must be made to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at least one week in advance of the defence. For additional information, please see Recording the Examination.

Can I use videoconference to allow my family/friends to watch my doctoral defence?

Unfortunately, no. Doctoral defences are public events and your friends and family are welcome to attend in person, but we are unable to accommodate audience members wishing to attend remotely.

What is the in camera discussion? Who participates?

The in camera discussion is the portion of the defence when the examination committee meets privately to discuss their assessments of the candidate's oral defence and written dissertation and to determine their overall recommendation to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Only the official members of the examining committee participate in this discussion; the candidate and all audience members will be asked to leave the exam room. The candidate will be recalled once this discussion is complete and the Chair will inform him/her of the recommendations the committee will make to the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Note: this discussion is never recorded (i.e. there are no cameras involved).

Can I see the Chair Report after my oral defence?

The Chair's Report on the exam is considered a confidential correspondence between the examination committee and the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. As a result, it is not shared with the candidate.

At the end of the defence, the Chair will communicate to you the recommendations the examining committee will be making to G+PS. The Chair will also provide you with information about the revisions required to your dissertation before it can be accepted as final and which examining committee members will be withholding their signatures from the Doctoral Dissertation Approval form until the revisions have been completed.

Submitting the Final Dissertation Post-Defence

How long do I have to make revisions to my dissertation after my defence?

The final approved copy of the dissertation must normally be submitted to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies within one month of the date of the oral examination. If your examining committee recommends a longer period for the revisions, this will be communicated to you by the Examination Chair at the end of your defence.

If you anticipate being unable to meet the submission deadline, please contact the Doctoral Examinations Coordinator.

What is the difference between substantive revisions and minor revisions?

This refers to the nature and scope of the revisions required by your examining committee. In the case of minor revisions, your research supervisor will withhold his/her signature from the Doctoral Dissertation Approval form at the end of the defence; she/he will sign the form after checking that the required revisions have been completed. If substantive revisions are required, at least two examiners, including your research supervisor, will be selected to check the revisions and will withhold their signatures from Doctoral Dissertation Approval form until the required revisions have been completed. The revisions required by your examining committee and the names of the examiners required to check the revisions will be communicated to you at the end of your defence by the Examination Chair.

After my oral defence, how do I submit my final dissertation?
What forms are required for submitting my final, defended dissertation?
Am I automatically registered for graduation when I have passed my doctoral exam?

No. All candidates must formally apply for graduation and submit a research description. Details are available on the Graduation page.

Can Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies provide a letter to say that I have passed my doctoral exam before graduation?

Once your program has been closed, you can obtain a Program Completion letter. For details please see Program Completion.

Am I eligible for awards on the basis of my doctoral exam?

For a list of awards administered centrally by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, please see our Award Opportunities page and enter "dissertation" in the Award Search box. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of all available awards. You may also wish to speak with your graduate program and/or faculty about additional opportunities.