Final Oral Defence

Purpose of the Final Oral Defence

  • To ensure that the candidate is able to present and defend the dissertation and its underlying assumptions, methodology, results, and conclusions in a manner consistent with the doctoral degree being sought;
  • To communicate the results of the work to the campus community.

Structure of the Final Oral Defence

The detailed Final Oral Defence procedures are outlined in the Exam Instructions. A copy of these instructions is provided to the examining committee approximately one week before the Oral Defence.

The basic structure of the Oral Defence is:

  • Candidate makes a public presentation of the dissertation (maximum 30 minutes)
  • Examining committee members question the candidate
  • Members of the audience are invited to ask questions of the candidate
  • Examining committee holds an in-camera discussion where it decides on the overall recommendation it will make to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (see Evaluation Protocol below)
  • Chair conveys the recommendations of the examining committee to the candidate

Candidates are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes early to get comfortable and set-up in the exam room. Exams start promptly at the official start time. The doors to the exam room are closed at the start of the exam and no one may enter the exam room, either physical or virtual, once the Final Oral Defence has begun. The Oral Defence usually takes two to two and a half hours.

Audiovisual Equipment

The examination rooms in the Graduate Student Centre come equipped with a projector and screen (room 200) or a large monitor and auxiliary screen (room 203), a white board, and a podium. Most candidates prefer to bring their own laptops to the examination; it is possible to use the wall mounted PC in either room, in which case candidates should either have their presentations available on cloud storage or bring a thumb drive.

The displays in rooms 200 and 203 are equipped with VGA and HDMI inputs. Candidates using laptops without these outputs must bring the appropriate adaptors.

Candidates planning to use Zoom to enable remote attendance should indicate their preference when making the exam booking.

Language Requirement

Candidates for the Final Doctoral Examination must have fulfilled all course and/or language requirements of the degree program. It is the responsibility of the candidate's graduate program to ensure these requirements have been met, and that the candidate's oral language proficiency is adequate for full communication between the examination committee and the candidate.

The Final Doctoral Examination is a public event at UBC and as such will be conducted in English. The candidate's oral proficiency in the language of the examination must be adequate for full communication between the examination committee and the candidate. For theses in language programs, some questions can be posed or answered in the language concerned, provided the examination committee can follow proceedings (by translation if necessary) in this other language.

Remote Attendance at in-person Exams

For information regarding Virtual Defences held entirely on Zoom, see Schedulng the Oral Defence, and the Virtual Exam Protocol.

Managing remote attendees can pose both technological challenges and challenges for candidates in managing divided attention. For these reasons, Hybrid Defences with more than one remote attendee should be discussed with the doctoral exams team in advance. We will work with candidates and supervisors to make sure these defences run smoothly.

Normally, examiners required for quorum at an in-person defence should be physically present in the room. The external examiner or a third member of the supervisory committee may attend the defence remotely. 

Doctoral exams team use a Meeting OWL to support videoconferencing with Zoom. Candidates who wish to have remote attendees should indicate this on their Booking Request. The OWL can be used in either room.

For exams in other suitable rooms on campus, the research supervisor should verify that appropriate equipment is available in the room. Devices such as an OWL, or other mobile AV device may be used.

Should any technological issues arise during the course of the exam, the exam may be paused for a reasonable amount of time to resolve them. Only those examining committee members who have been present for the full duration of the exam can cast a vote in the proceedings. If members required for quorum lose connection and it cannot be restored, the exam will need to be rescheduled.

Please also note that the examination chair has the right to discontinue a remote connection if it is interfering with the proper conduct of the examination.

Attendance of the External Examiner

The external examiner's participation in a candidate's Final Oral Defence offers the opportunity for a valuable dialogue about the dissertation and the research it presents. Therefore, the participation of the external examiner in the Final Oral Defence is encouraged, but it is not required.

Inviting the external examiner to participate in the Final Oral Defence is at the discretion of the research supervisor; Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will not extend such an invitation. For information about inviting the external examiner, please see Scheduling the Oral Defence.

Recording the Examination

See Recording the Examination.

Evaluation Protocol for the Oral Defence

The examining committee is asked to make an overall recommendation after evaluating two aspects of the candidate's performance:

  • The Oral Defence: The committee should evaluate the candidate’s performance while presenting the synopsis, responding to questions, and defending the work. The committee must decide whether or not the performance met the standard of excellence expected of a doctoral candidate at UBC.
  • The Dissertation: The committee should evaluate the overall merit of the dissertation, considering scholarship, scope and impact of the contribution made, and the quality of writing. They are asked to take into consideration the external examiner’s report, the assessments of the other examining committee members, and candidate's responses to questions during the Oral Defence. The committee will decide what revisions, if any, will be required before the dissertation can be considered fully acceptable.

Evaluation options available to the examining committee are:

  • The dissertation is satisfactory, provided suitable revisions are made (if required)
    • No revision or only minor revisions are required. The committee charges the research supervisor to verify that the required changes have been made.
    • Substantive revisions are required. The committee chooses two or more of its members, including the research supervisor, to verify that the required changes have been made.
  • The dissertation is unsatisfactory. Major rewriting and rethinking are required.
  • The dissertation is unacceptable; it is fundamentally flawed and therefore beyond revision.

The examining committee is then asked to select one of the following overall recommendations:

  • Pass. Pending final submission of the dissertation to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the University should award the doctoral degree to this candidate.
  • Re-examination required. The candidate should be allowed a second attempt to pass the Final Doctoral Examination. (No more than one subsequent attempt is permitted.)
  • Fail. The University should not grant the doctoral degree to this candidate.

In any category where the committee's judgment is unanimous, or nearly so (in that at most one examiner dissents), the chair will express it using the check-boxes on the chair's Report form. Dissenting opinions will be noted in the text of the Chair’s Report. In any category where two or more examiners disagree with the majority view, the chair will select a box labelled “No Decision” and provide a written description of the differing views in the text of the report. If this occurs, the chair will inform Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies as soon as possible (typically within one business day of the examination). The Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will review the Chair's Report and promptly determine an appropriate course of action, in consultation with the examination chair and the examining committee.

The examination chair is responsible for completing the Chair's Report form and submitting it to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies within one week of the Oral Defence.


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