Examination Best Practices

Student Responsibilities

  • Thesis examinations are open to the University community. We strongly recommend that you attend other examinations in your department so that you know what to expect during your examination.
  • It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that appropriate audio-visual equipment for his/her presentation is ordered by the academic unit.
  • It is the student's responsibility to provide the Graduate Program Assistant a printed copy of the thesis if requested.  

Responsibilities that are NOT performed by the student

  • Doctoral students are to have NO contact with the external examiner. This includes—but is not limited to—contact to schedule the examination, setting up video or Skype for the exam or distribution of the thesis. These contacts jeopardize the examination and puts the student at risk of unnecessary postponement. For these reasons, contact between a student and an external examiner are grounds for GPS to cancel the examination.
  • Master's students should not contact their external examiner to set up their own examination.

Selecting an external examiner

Given the three criteria GPS vets for, there are best practices for selecting a potential external examiner.

  • As a rule, you want to get the most prominent examiner that you can. As such, strive for an examiner that is not only well published in the field of the thesis research, but is also well known, and well respected, in that field.
  • Be honest with yourself regarding the potential conflict of interest that may exist with the proposed external examiner. Although you may be confident in your, and the proposed external examiner’s, ability to remain impartial, perceptions are everything. The proposed external examiner MUST be at arm’s length to both you and the student.
  • If the proposed external examiner is an assistant professor make sure that they have the experience of having supervised a doctoral student through to completion. Often this can be determined from a publicly available CV
  • If the proposed external examiner is not in an academic position, as is sometimes the case for the more applied fields, then it is recommended that you get them pre-approved by GPS (defence@sfu.ca) before sending them an informal invitation. Include with such a request an articulation, not only of why the proposed external examiner is a suitable choice, but also why going outside of academia is the best choice. There are lots of good potential external examiners that work in the industry and business — but there are also lots of potential external examiners in these exact same fields who have academic positions.
  • It is awkward to have to un-invite a potential external examiner. As such, it is of benefit to be as certain as possible that the external examiner you have chosen will be approved by GPS. If you are uncertain, it is recommended that you get them pre-approved by GPS (defence@sfu.ca) before sending them an informal invitation.
  • Whether you are submitting a potential external examiner for approval or pre-approval it is your job to provide the necessary evidence that they meet the aforementioned requirements. For the most part this is accomplished by attaching a CV. If there is anything atypical about the proposed external examiner vis-à-vis the aforementioned requirements, please attach a letter outlining why they are still an ideal choice for examiner.
  • Keep in mind that GPS does not permit the student to have any contact with a potential external examiner. This includes contact for the purposes of extending an invitation, scheduling an examination, arranging travel and accommodations, arranging transportation from the hotel, arranging technology, and the distribution of the thesis. Violation of this will jeopardize the examination.

Administrative documentation

For the thesis approval page, it is best to have someone be practiced at it. If the student is generating this page, please have the Graduate Program Assistant (GPA) check it for formatting. Alternatively, have the GPA generate it and the student check for correct content (specifically the thesis title).

At the examination the chair should have the following documentation:

  • Abstract for the audience
  • Recommendation for Award of Degree Form
  • At least 3 copies of the Approval page
  • Supervision revision memo

Room Set-Up

  • The examination should take place in a room that can accommodate the expected number of people, and with a seating arrangement that facilitates discussion between the candidate and examining committee. The examining committee should not be seated with their backs to the audience. It is the responsibility of the academic unit to ensure that the room is at least clean and tidy.
  • The decision to provide refreshments is at the discretion of the academic unit. However, the candidate and examining committee must be provided with water.
  • Graduate regulations require the abstract of the thesis to be distributed to the audience. We recommend that some information about the candidate also be included. This may include previous credentials, list of publications, list of awards.
  • It is the responsibility of the academic unit to make arrangements for conference calls, video-conferencing etc.
The SFU Library contains a Thesis Examination Room at the Burnaby campus which can be booked by Graduate Program Assistants. The Thesis Examination Room contains:
  • Built-in and overhead projector
  • screen and computer speakers
  • teleconferencing
  • videoconferencing
  • lectern
  • internet connection (including wireless)
  • rolling whiteboard

Laptops are NOT provided. (Macs need an extra adapter). Technical support is not available between noon–1 pm weekdays and Fridays after 3 pm. Students have access to the room about 30 minutes before their examination is scheduled. On the examination date, the student goes to the Loans Checkout Counter to sign out the key with his or her library card. It is the student's responsibility to return the key at the end of the examination.

Suggested Order of Proceedings for the Oral Thesis Examination

  • At the start of the examination the chair must introduce the candidate and all members of the examining committee. The chair will also outline the procedures that are to be followed during the examination.
  • It is expected that the candidate’s oral presentation of the thesis research will not exceed 20–25 minutes (a typical conference paper length).
  • Questions should begin with the external examiner, followed by the “internal external” and supervisory committee members. The senior supervisor normally asks questions last. It is good practice to suggest that committee members ask a few questions each, and that two rounds of questions take place. Once this is done, the chair should ask if there are any other questions that the committee wishes to ask. The exam should continue until all committee members have asked the questions that they wish to ask.
  • It is good practice for the chair of the committee and the senior supervisor to take notes about the questions asked and the responses given.
  • The chair should invite questions from the audience.
  • Once the questions have been completed, the chair asks the audience and the candidate to leave. The committee then makes a decision according to GGR 1.10.2. The committee should agree on any significant changes that are required, and these should be noted in writing.
  • The candidate should be invited to return to the room, and is given the results of the examination. The senior supervisor should ensure that any annotated copies of the thesis are passed to the candidate to help with revisions. The candidate should be informed of any significant revisions that are required
    • A successful outcome (outcomes 1 or 2 of GGR 1.10.2) signatures of the committee should be obtained on all 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-examination takes place.
  • The thesis examination is a very significant event in the life of a student. It is appropriate to mark a successful examination with a social event at which the candidate can talk informally with the examining committee, especially the external examiner. Depending on the culture of the academic unit this could include a lunch or dinner with the committee and the candidate, or a more general gathering that includes fellow graduate students.