Oral Examination


The guide below includes the steps and policies normally required as per the Graduate General Regulations. Requests for exceptions to these for extenuating circumstances can be made by the supervisor or graduate chair to the Associate Dean, Academics in writing to defence@sfu.ca.

  • You must be registered in order to defend/graduate.
  • You may apply to graduate through SIMS.
    IMPORTANT: the deadline to apply to graduate is not the same as the library thesis submission deadline. Students can apply to graduate at any time in what is planned to be their final term of graduate studies. 
    • It is a straightforward process to withdraw your application, but more challenging to add you to the graduation list after the deadline.
  • If you complete your degree requirements during the first calendar month of the term, you may be eligible for an early completion refund. You do not need to formally apply for this. More information can be found on the Degree Completion page.

Degree Completion Timeline

This timeline is meant to give you a rough guide only. As everyone's writing speed is different, and your supervisor's and committee members' commitments and schedules can fill up quickly, we recommend that you give yourself, your supervisor and your committee as much time as possible.

6-8 months before your intended date of defence
Present your supervisor and your supervisory committee members with an outline of your thesis and notify them of your intention to defend in 6-8 months' time. Review your thesis progress regularly with your supervisor.
8-10 weeks before intended date of defence
Consult with your supervisor and committee to ensure that they have read your thesis and agree that you are ready for defence.

6-8 weeks before intended date of defence
Work with your graduate program assistant to complete all required forms. You should also apply to graduate (if you haven’t already done so).

NOTE: You should not be responsible for filling out any of the pre-defence paperwork or submitting it to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. It is the responsibility of the academic unit.

The documents must be submitted to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies a minimun of 6 weeks prior to your intended date of defence. Your academic unit may have earlier deadlines; please consult your graduate secretary or program assistant.

6 weeks before intended date of defence
Your academic unit submits doctoral forms and thesis file (PDF format) to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The email and associated PDF file should include the title "Academic Unit - YourLastName.pdf" (ie. "Mathematics - Smith.pdf").
After the defence
As per GGR 1.10.4, if thesis revisions are required, the student may complete them and submit the thesis to the Library no later than the end of the subsequent term after their successful examination.

Preparing to Defend

Scheduling a Defence

Once your thesis is substantially complete, your supervisory committee will work with your graduate program chair to determine the date, time and location of your defence (GGR 1.9.3-GGR 1.9.6). Students and supervisors are expected to discuss defence dates well in advance, and to plan defences around known absences.

At least six weeks before your defence date, your graduate secretary or program assistant will require information from you and your supervisor to fill out and submit a form for the Approval of Examining Committee for a Doctoral Student to Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. 

Once the paperwork is received, the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will formally invite your external examiner and distribute an electronic copy of your thesis to the external examiner and the rest of the examining committee.


Approval of Examining Committee Form

Access it in the Faculty & Staff area now →

External Examiner Selection Process

External examiners should be selected in a collaborative manner by the 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.

Normally, an informal approach to a prospective examiner is made by the supervisor or chair/director of the graduate program. This is done to ensure willingness and availability. Students are not permitted to contact potential external examiners. Once a date has been set, the academic unit is responsible for filling out the appropriate forms.

Conflict of Interest

Our regulations (GGR 1.9.4) and common sense dictate that the external examiners of theses 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:

  • Student and external examiner have or had a relationship unconnected to the student's academic work. Examples: family connections; business connections.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • External and 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 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.

Leaving/Retiring Supervisors

If the student's expected completion time is within a year of the supervisor's retirement, then the retired faculty member may remain as a supervisor.  

If the student's expected completion time is within six months of the supervisor's departure from SFU, the departing faculty member may remain as a supervisor. If the expected completion time exceeds six months, then the request for approval of a new or co-supervisor must be submitted to the graduate committee.