Degree Completion

There are a number of academic and administrative steps involved in the final stages of your degree program. All requirements are governed by Graduate General Regulations (1.9 - 1.11).

Frequently Asked Questions

The Graduate General Regulations (1.9 - 1.11) provide the guidelines and deadlines for the different stages of preparing for and scheduling your defence. This list of frequently asked questions will help you navigate the process.

Please note: You may apply to graduate before you defend and before your thesis is accepted by the library.

I am ready to defend my thesis. How do I choose an external examiner?

External examiners should be selected in a collaborative manner by the student, senior supervisor and chair/director of the graduate program committee. The goal is to find an external examiner who is expert, available, not in a conflict of interest, and whose services can be obtained at a reasonable cost to the University.

For masters theses and projects the examiner can be any suitably qualified person. The Faculty of Arts states that the external examiner must be from outside the student's home department. University rules require that an examiner for a student in Special Arrangements must be from outside the University. The University provides no funds to cover the expenses of external examiners for a masters thesis.

For doctoral dissertations the examiner must be from outside the University. For doctoral dissertations the examiner must be from outside the University. The department administers some funds from a university external examiner travel support program.

Normally an informal approach to a prospective examiner is made by the senior supervisor or chair/director of the graduate program. This is done to ensure willingness and availability. Once a date has been set, the chair/director is responsible for filling out appropriate forms (see links above).

What is the timeline for scheduling a Master's defence?

Once your thesis is substantially complete (GGR 1.9.2), your supervisory committee will work with your graduate program chair to determine the date, time and location of your defence.

At least four weeks before your defence date, the Approval of Examining Committee Masters form must be completed and submitted to Graduate Studies. (If your master's does not require a defence, use the the Scheduling Master's Degree Completion form.)

At this time, your graduate secretary or program assistant will list your defence date in the Graduate Studies defences calendar.

At least two weeks before your defence date, unbound copies of your thesis must be distributed to your committee members, plus an additional copy to your department for inspection by interested faculty and fellow students.

Note: These are the required timelines in the Graduate General Regulations and your department may have earlier deadlines; please consult your graduate secretary or program assistant.

What is the timeline for scheduling a PhD defence?

Once your thesis is substantially complete (GGR 1.9.4), your supervisory committee will work with your graduate program chair to determine the date, time and location of your defence.

At least six weeks before your defence date, the Approval of Examining Committee PhD form must be completed and submitted to Graduate Studies.

At this time, your graduate secretary or program assistant will list your defence date in the Graduate Studies defences calendar.

At this time, the Dean of Graduate Studies will formally invite your external examiner.

Note: These are the required timelines in the Graduate General Regulations and your department may have earlier deadlines; please consult your graduate secretary or program assistant.

How do I avoid conflict of interest when choosing an external examiner?

Our regulations (1.9.5) and common sense dictate that the external examiners of theses and projects should be free of potential conflict of interest. An examiner should be a disinterested evaluator of the work, and should not be placed in a position in which it might be perceived that personal considerations could sway the examiner's assessment of a piece of work.

The following is a list of relationships that could be perceived as creating a conflict of interest:

  1. Student and external examiner have or had a relationship unconnected to the student's academic work. Examples: family connections; business connections.
  2. Student and external examiner had or have an academic relationship. Examples: examiner was student's instructor or a member of a previous supervisory committee; they have participated together in a research project; they have published together.
  3. Student and external examiner are planning a future relationship, contingent on a successful defence. Examples: student will work as post-doctoral fellow in external's lab; student will be hired by external's company.
  4. External and senior supervisor have the kinds of relationships discussed in points 1 through 3. Examples: external examiner was supervisor's student (or vice versa); they have been collaborators in a research project.

Given the interconnections between researchers, the need for students in many disciplines to publish, and the very specialized nature of some areas of research, it is unrealistic to expect that external examiners will have no knowledge of, or no connection to, the student in all cases. It is also unrealistic to try to write precise rules for avoiding such problems.

A better approach is for senior supervisors and graduate program chairs to ask themselves before contacting an external examiner whether a potential conflict of interest could be perceived. In addition, when the potential examiner is contacted, it would be worth checking whether there is a conflict of interest that ought to be declared.

What do I need to bring to my defence?

You should not need to bring anything but your thesis and presentation notes but you may wish to work with your graduate secretary or program assistant to ensure that the following will be available:

  • Copies of your thesis abstract for the audience at your defence. Some information about yourself may also be included with your abstract, such as previous credentials, list of publications, list of awards.
  • Normally, several copies of the approval page of the thesis and the Recommendation for the Award of Degree form are brought to the defence in anticipation of a successful conclusion.
  • Appropriate audio-visual equipment, if required to support your presentation.
  • Arrangements for conference calls or videoconferencing, if required.
  • Water and cups for the candidate and examining committee. (Additional refreshments may be ordered at the discretion of your department.)

What normally happens at a defence?

Tip: It's a good idea to attend other defences so that you know what to expect. See the calendar of upcoming defences.

The defence is conducted in accordance to Graduate General Regulation 1.10.1 and may vary slightly in departmental practice.

At the beginning of your defence, the chair introduces you and the members of the examining committee and outlines the procedures to be followed. It is normally expected that all members of the supervisory committee, including the senior supervisor, will be in attendance.

In most cases, you will then present an outline of your thesis, lasting 20-25 minutes.

This is followed by questions from the examining committee, beginning with the external examiner, then the "internal external" and then the supervisory committee members. The senior supervisor is normally the last to ask questions. 

Finally, the chair will invite questions from the audience.

Once you have answered all of the questions, the chair asks you and the audience to leave the room. The examining committee then meets to decide on the outcome of the defence. The committee should agree on any significant changes that are required, and these should be noted in writing.

You are then invited back into the room and provided with the committee's results. If any copies of your thesis have been annotated with revisions, you should collect those. If major revisions are required, you should meet with the committee immediately to discuss them. 

If there is a successful outcome, your committee members will sign all of the appropriate forms.

In the event of outcome 3, the external examiner may be asked to sign the appropriate forms, on the understanding that the forms will not be submitted until a re-defence takes place.

What happens if my thesis requires revisions?

The second and third outcomes cited in Graduate General Regulation 1.10.2 both involve revisions, and can be subject to interpretation.

Outcome 2: The thesis may be passed on the condition that revisions be completed to the satisfaction of the senior supervisor

There is sometimes considerable discussion among members of the examining committee of the meaning of 'revisions'. Although there is no University-wide definition, some departments have developed their own guidelines.

Typically, these revisions address deficiencies in spelling, grammar, punctuation and presentation or minor deficiencies in the work itself.

Outcome 3: The examining committee may defer making judgement if it judges that the thesis could pass after additional work by the candidate. A thesis upon which judgement is deferred shall come forward for re-examination within a period specified by the examining committee. The examining committee may require formal re-examination under section 1.10.1 or may reach its decision by examination of the revised thesis.

If your defence falls under outcome 3, the participation of all members of the original examining committee is required in the re-examination leading to a final decision. The role of the external examiner should normally be limited to providing a critique and suggestions for improvements at the time of the original defence.

A second oral examination may not be required, depending on the performance of the candidate in the original defence.

I've been readmitted just for one semester to defend. What happens if my defence has outcome 2 or 3?

If you have been readmitted for one semester to defend a thesis under the terms of Graduate General Regulation 1.12 and your defence results in outcome 2) or 3) and time additional to the one semester is required, a one-semester final extension may be granted, on application to the Dean of Graduate Studies.

Additional tuition will be assessed, normally on the same basis as for students enrolled on an extension of the time limit for degree completion.

What constitutes "beyond the control of the student"?

Students and supervisors are expect to discuss defence dates well in advance, and to plan defences around known absences.

Examples of circumstances that will not be considered beyond the student's control include: absence due to vacation, conferences, research, maternity leave; failure of student to obtain needed research materials; other students completing theses at the same time; failure to find an external examiner in time.

Examples of circumstances that will be considered beyond the student's control: sudden illness or family emergency for student or member of examining committee.