4 things you should know about choosing examiners for your thesis

Yesterday on Twitter @kikidotca  asked “do you have some advice about making a list of possible examiners for a PhD?”. I contemplated answering in 140 characters or less, but I wanted to avoid writing a journal article, so I volunteered a blog post instead.

Someone once said “the un-examined thesis is not worth writing”. Actually, that might have been Socrates talking about life, but my point remains the same. Examination is the gateway to the hallowed status of ‘Dr’ and the source of considerable anxiety. The idea of someone reading and ‘marking’ your thesis can seem so… abstract when you are writing it, but as the hand in date draws near the abstract becomes alarming concrete. So – who should it be?

In the USA research students are lucky enough to be examined by their supervisors (or maybe not so lucky, as this piece from My Grad School suggests), but in other places examination is a peer review process. In Australia the viva (an oral presentation to examiners who have already read the text) is rare. We are a long way from anywhere and flying examiners in is prohibitively expensive. At RMIT we send the text to two or three examiners who are expected to write a report and recommend a ‘grade’. It’s not really a grade, but an indication of how much work needs to be done; from not very much to rather a lot. Although examiners can recommend a ‘fail’ grade, this only happens to about 2% of students each year (I suspect they are not the kind of students who are reading the Thesis Whisperer, so take a deep breath).

Thesis examination is an object of study and researchers agree that the choice of thesis examiners needs to be handled with extreme care. Examiners are human and will bring their own pet likes and dislikes into the process of reading your work. At RMIT, and many other places, the student does not choose the examiners – the supervisor does. However it’s a bit of a grey area and many students are actively involved in the decision making process. Some supervisors are very open about discussing potential examiners with the student; others take the rules very seriously and refuse to even discuss it. If the latter is the case for you I recommend taking the initiative and broaching the subject anyway as you do have the right to say who should not be examining.

Here’s four things to think about including in such a discussion:

1) Student knows best (usually)

You have been immersed in this study for years. Only those who have been immersed in similar topics will be qualified to judge your work.  It’s likely you have already ‘met’ your examiner somewhere in the literature. Your supervisor may not be reading the same sorts of literature and may be unaware of who is out there – so help them out.

The easiest way is to make an examiners profile. Make a list of your five favourite academic writers within your topic domain and Google stalk them. Use this information to write a short (2 or 3 page) document for your supervisor. Include names and short profiles of each person you have chosen as well as your rationale for why they would be a good examiner. Include contact details including university affiliation, address, phone number and email details.

Give this examiner profile document to your supervisor at least six months before you plan to submit (which should coincide with the first full draft of your thesis). Along with this include a short statement about the kind of person who shouldn’t examine your thesis and give a few examples, just to be clear. Finally please – listen to Aunty Thesis Whisperer now – keep a copy of the email with the date stamp. If there are dramas later you can point at this document and say “I told you not to send it to them!”

2) Beware of conflict of interest

It stands to reason that you can’t have your mum, dad, aunt, uncle, cousin or best friend judge your thesis. Such people have what we call a ‘conflict of interest’: their love for you might corrupt their ability to make a clear judgment and, even if they could put these feelings aside, there would still be the appearance of a conflict of interest.

It’s unlikely that a relative or close friend will be asked to judge your thesis, but you may have become friendly with people in your field at for example conferences, workshops and via Twitter. You shouldn’t avoid making friends with people in your field, but do avoid sending them any drafts to comment on as this is usually the reason why such people will be excluded from examining you. You must make your supervisor aware of these existing friendships and connections – it’s up to the supervisor to decide if the relationship constitutes a conflict of interest or not.

3) Methodology wars

The examiner profile I sent to my supervisor stated “no positivists allowed”. I was using qualitative methods and I didn’t want an examiner who thought that truth could only be found by numbers. They just wouldn’t have believed my findings. You may have entirely the opposite criteria, but either way it’s vitality important the examiner understands, and is sympathetic to, the way you are attempting to make knowledge. The best way to tell if a potential examiner is well placed to give your thesis a fair reading is to read their papers – so why not send some to your supervisor along with your examiner’s profile?

4) Shooting for the stars

If you’ve not yet read the seminal paper “It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize”, you must (and share the love while you’re at it by printing it out and leaving it in the research student tearoom). In this accessible paper Mullins and Kiley talk about examiners having firm opinions on “what a thesis looks like”. So – despite the fact that RMIT, like most other universities, sends a ‘marking guide’ with your thesis, the examiner is likely to just ignore it. Here’s the thing to take away from that statement: the more experienced your examiner is, the more theses they have read and the more likely it becomes they have read ones worse than yours. Experienced examiners are more forgiving, so don’t be afraid to put ‘stars’ on your list.

So that’s my four main tips for choosing examiners – what are yours? Is there something that should be number five on the list? Alternatively, do you have any questions about examination? Pop them in the comments!

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69 thoughts on “4 things you should know about choosing examiners for your thesis

  1. Lynne Kelly says:

    I am nearly two months into the examination now, and may soon go mad. I am comforted by the fact that my supervisor said nearly everything written above and asked for a long suggested list of examiners, discussing each with me. She then did her own research and made decisions based on this and inside knowledge to which I am not privy. She is very pleased with the chosen examiners and their fast acceptance of the request to examine, but has not told me who they are. I trust her judgement completely. I have had the bliss of not a single disagreement with her or my co-supervisor, and the benefit of really constructive advice throughout.

    But, the thesis took a life of its own and ended up crossing a wide number of disciplines. I cannot name the discipline I am in, nor can my supervisor. I am making some very big claims, which makes me very uncomfortable. I wish I had stayed safer and stuck to my original topic. But I just couldn’t let go of the insight I thought that I had glimpsed. As an author, if it passes, I have some great books in it for the mass market.

    After 4 years of obsessive work, the wait is very hard.


    • Lynne Kelly says:

      Now many months on since the above comment – the thesis was passed with minor adjustments, although one passed it without adjustments and great praise. My supervisor chose very big name examiners, knowing that one was known to be harsh, but taking the risk that if they passed it, then I could go on knowing it was sound – one American and two Australians. All gave long, very valuable reports. I have now rewriten, using their reports, for publication as a book – a different audience to a thesis.

      The issue I mentioned above, which gave me great stress throughout the research and writing, was that I didn’t fit neatly into a discipline. But the reports of the two archaeologists (the other was an anthropologist) was such that I can now write into the archaeology genre. My thesis applies my speciality, primary orality, into the archaeological context. Without a background in archaeology, I felt fraudulent writing to that genre. The examiners’ reports were a godsend, one specifically recommending the thesis be reorganised to make it archaeology from the outset for publication as a book. All suggesting areas for further research.

      My whole confidence and life as a researcher and writer has changed since the examination. I am rapt with the outcome.

    • Leon says:

      It’s even more interesting reviewing your comments throughout this thread from this vantage point in time knowing that you are _THE_ Lynne Kelly. I’m in a completely unrelated field, so I first heard about your remarkable and fascinating work via your Conversations with Richard Fidler interviews on the ABC. Outstanding. This thread serves as a comforting reminder that everybody starts out somewhere, and that these student anxieties are practically universal.

  2. kikidotca says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I find this process especially difficult when living at the bottom of the world (NZ in my case) and not having as many opportunities to meet potential examiners at conferences and other events because of prohibitive travel costs.

    In New Zealand, a PhD must be reviewed by three examiners (one from your own university, one from elsewhere in NZ and one international). The only person in New Zealand who conducts research in what I do (Game Studies) is one of my supervisors. This leaves me with the difficult task of recommending examiners both at my own university and in NZ who are not familiar with what I’m researching. What do I look for? An area of expertise with possible links such as Digital Media? At the international level, is it a good idea to suggest someone, cited many times in your thesis, who is the only person who has published on your topic from a similar angle? Or is that a bad idea because they will be too focused on the way they’ve researched the topic?

    Finally, as you mention in 4) I’ve also been told that ‘new’ examiners will be harsher to try and establish themselves. How you can tell how much examining experience a potential examiner has?

    Thanks for your help 🙂

    • Lynne Kelly says:

      In Australia, it’s two from other universities here and one international, or can be two international. None from your own university are allowed. I was also told that new examiners would be harsher because they are still trying to prove themselves. My supervisor said that any well established, well published academics will have examined lots.

      I, too, had no-one in my exact discipline, whatever it is. My supervisor says that I have defined a new discipline – not very comforting. I just don’t fit anywhere. Although my starting point is primary orality (sociology: the way cultures with no contact with writing store information), there is no-one working in that field at present, although I have met with the few experts there are in America. They were very supportive, but are now in secondary orality – not relevant here. I am also using informations systems and natural sciences as my basis. But that is at a level in which I am very confident of my claims and have no doubt that strong academics would accept my arguments. The radical aspect of what I am saying is in the application to anthropology and archaeology, so we looked for people in those fields who were not rigid in their beliefs about the reason for the construction of monumental structures in non-literate cultures. That’s where I get really original. So the choice was more based on those whose support I would really value for the next stage (in my case publication, not academia) than those who were really familiar with my key field.

      My worry is that I am coming from outside the disciplines, although none of the anthropologists or archaeologists I discussed it with were concerned about that – they were just interested in my arguments. In my head, though, it is a constant worry.

      I wonder if your situation is similar, and people with links to Game Studies, rather than embedded in it, would be the most receptive.

      No idea if this is any use, but I wish you all the very best with it.

      • kikidotca says:

        Thank you Lynne. Locally (in NZ), I’ve been looking for people who have done interdisciplinary work in digital media since I can’t find any in game studies. I figure that at least because they are open to various aspects of media in their own work, they will be more open to the various aspects of my topic that I’ve tried (trying) to weave together.

        It sounds like you were careful in your choices and have made good strategic ones. That’s another aspect that I didn’t mention earlier: the strategy. How strategic in relation to what you want to do later should your search be? So much to think about.

    • M-H says:

      You might find that if there really is no-one in NZ who can reasonably be expected to examine in your field the thesis can be sent overseas – to Aus, for example. It may not be a hard-and-fast rule, just a recommendation.

      • kikidotca says:

        That’s a good point. I’ll ask my supervisor about that possibility especially since there are a lot more on your side of the ditch.

    • audioarc says:

      Hi kikidotca,
      I’m not a potential examiner as I’m just completing my own PhD. I suggest that you select carefully depending on your orientation. Read people’s research to see if their orientation is in line with yours. I teach in the Undergrad Games Design at RMIT and there are 3 people who have PhD’s and are active researchers who might be suitable examiners, each come from very different orientations. Games research only at RMIT is more HCI oriented. Feel free to contact me if you would like further comments. There are a number of Australian Games Studies people so you should be able to find suitable people.

  3. Lynne Kelly says:

    Oh, just to add – my supervisor said that the first thing many examiners will do is check for their presence in the bibliography. All those we discussed were well represented and people whose work was highly influential on my own, therefore quoted and not just referred to.

    “It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize” has been very comforting. When the thesis was at 160,000 words and growing, 750 references and growing, my poor supervisor had to force the end point. I would have never got there following my own judgement alone. Cutting it back to 100,000 was incredibly difficult because I kept imaging the examiners saying ‘ but she should have included …’ In fact, I kept imagining every possible criticism. I still do. But it is a PhD, not a Nobel prize. There is no interdisciplinary Nobel prize.


  4. Helen Marshall says:

    Just to add to the reassurance about the difference between your PhD being read by individuals who often spend a lot of their lives working out if students has reached a benchmark called ‘pass’ and the prizes they give out in Oslo after a lot of heavily political committee work: I’ve only wanted to fail one out of the twenty plus postgrad research theses I’ve now examined. (It was the one that was really really badly conceived- I could not determine what was research question, so had no idea if the data might have answered it.) In the end I sent it for rewriting and re-examining. I’m not particularly kindhearted; I just understand that the PhD degree accredits you as fit to begin a career as a researcher not as a star in your research field.

  5. Lynne Kelly says:

    Thank you, Helen. All the reassurance in the world needed just now. My supervisor wouldn’t have let it go without a really clearly defined research question and very clearly defined scope. So thank you for being specific.

  6. Kat says:

    Although I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion to pick someone sympathetic with your methodology I had the strange experience of suggesting an examiner who himself had written a lot of broad studies similar to mine, in fact he was very much one of my research models and I included many of his ideas in my discussions, and then his report listed criticisms (such as that it was very broad in scope etc) all of which applied to his own work. I’m not sure why, he ticked all the boxes for a good examiner, ‘retired, experienced, long time teacher’. My supervisor and I can only think perhaps he felt I was treading too closely into his area. It was pretty disappointing and sort of odd to have a very critical report that didn’t actually recommend any changes. Luckily my second examiner was much more positive,

    • Lynne Kelly says:

      How much is ‘broad in scope’ an issue with most examiners (she asks nervously)? What specifically did he identify as the problem with being broad in scope? Did he then recommend a fail, given he didn’t suggest changes?

      • Kat says:

        No not at all, he recommended it for pass with no changes, which is, I guess, good though frustrating. His comments were quite grudging. He didn’t identify any problem with it being broad, just said ‘it seems to be very broad’, which was something it was meant to be and that I explained as part of my methodology and that the other examiner saw as a strength. Go figure!

    • doctoralwriting says:

      Thanks for sharing this Kat because you make an incredibly important point. I had a similar experience with a masters examiner who I thought would totally ‘get me’ because I worked in a similar way. But she criticised me for things I think she did herself! Sometimes there is a blindness to the self which you just can’t predict. Or there may even be professional jealousies at play. You can never entirely know. Best guess only. Glad to hear you passed I assume?

      • Kat says:

        Yes I did, the other examiner actually recommended it as being in his top 5% of theses ever examined. Nice to hear others have had similar experiences. Both my supervisors also stood up for me against the grudging report and said it was ‘grumpy’ and the criticisms were not really properly explained.

  7. claire says:

    Lynne, I don’t know you at all but I want to give you a bit of advice. It is over. Relinquish control. There is nothing you can do until you get the feedback. Don’t fret. Maybe even actually do something FUN! Your PhD sounds very interesting. If your supervisors are supportive, that is a very good sign. Be kind to yourself for a while!

    • Lynne Kelly says:

      Thanks, Kat. Your observations are much appreciated.

      Claire, you are perfectly right, of course. I am having trouble relinquishing given four years of obsessive work. No complaints – I found every minute fascinating.

      • ingermewburn says:

        Lynne – remember the stats. 2% fail rate. There was much more chance of you not finishing at all (33% attrition rate). Of that 2% it is usually a case of major problems with things like sampling – not having enough data or drawing dodgy conclusions from it. Being speculative is a risk yes, but if you have backed it up with all the evidence you can that is all you can do for now. Next time you are in the city do let me know and I will buy you a coffee to celebrate the amazing achievement you have already – finishing it!

  8. Anon says:

    Awesome post, Inger!

    I am afraid I have to remain Anon for this, as my thesis hasn’t come back yet!

    When choosing examiners, my sups and I followed all those rules. 🙂

    In addition, we decided to choose examiners that were also seen as being ‘open minded’. My thesis is in a new area of research and challenges current theory. Someone who was familar with the field (in general) and willing to see a new way of doing something was an absolute must!

    I have had many friends who went through really difficult examinations because examiners weren’t open minded. They were experienced, yes. There were no method wars or conflict of interest. It was, in their opinion, not done the ‘traditional way’.

    Maybe something else for your readers to consider…

  9. cheerfulresearcher says:

    Thanks for this post – wish I’d thought this hard a few years ago!

    I’m in the UK, and we had to have one examiner from our department, and one from another university. I didn’t have a choice in the internal one, and I made the mistake of letting the internal one choose the external one – someone neither I nor my supervisors knew. I didn’t realise they worked together and had a particular agenda (which I hadn’t addressed adequately, and didn’t know enough about to defend myself against). I ended up with major corrections, and had to spend another year working on my thesis (not a direct result of examiners, of course, but I do think it contributed)

    Maybe I’m a complete softie, but I’d also recommend seeing how your prospective examiner critiques other people’s work. I didn’t at all relish receiving an examiner’s report saying ‘opening of thesis reads like a tabloid headline’ and other worse comments – I think it’s important to find someone who can stay professional and not express their annoyance (even if they are annoyed at you, which hopefully they won’t be)

  10. djbtak says:

    Great post Inger, all these points are excellent and this is a really important topic.

    I had a similar experience to Kat. Someone I didn’t know (and, red flag, my examiners didn’t either) but whose work I thought was some of the best on my topic gave me a conditional pass with amendments based on changing the thesis to situate it in relation to anglo-analytic pragmatism, while totally ignoring the bulk of the argument. Meanwhile, another examiner I suggested (known to supervisors) passed it with flying colours, and made very helpful suggestions about weak points that should be addressed for future publication (i.e. it was more rigorous, but also more supportive).

    In retrospect, I can see that the problematic examiner had never explicitly published their commitment to my methodological framework, and that I made a serious mistake in assuming they would be sympathetic to my approach. Secondly, these kinds of methodological orientations are like Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’, incommensurable, but are usually not running into each other unless forced to, e.g. in the case of an examination. In that case, someone who is well-known in your particular subject area might feel that their turf is being encroached upon, and take a reactive position. So probably best if your examiner is not competing for the same exact space.

    Having had to organise examiners for students myself, I usually resort to what I know about their orientation toward assessment – e.g. are they formative, looking to support future work (preferred), or summative, judging what has been achieved according to an abstract hierarchy? This is more predictable than content knowledge. So my suggestion, along with everything Inger says above, is to explore the broader network of the scholarly community (including supervisors) to find out how potential examiners have examined previously, and go with that wherever possible.

    • ingermewburn says:

      Thanks so much for this Danny. My colleagues often complain to me that finding examiners is really hard. There is a lot of ‘craft knowledge’ in how to go about it, which your post amply demonstrates. In fact, everyone’s comments here make me think there’s another post to be written on ‘when the rules don’t work’… or something. Anyway thank you. This kind of knowledge sharing is really the best part of the Thesis Whisperer in my view.

  11. guest says:

    oh, oh, I have an opinion! 😉
    I just defended last December,I needed to find an internal and an external. The internal was the first choice of my committee and on my list, pretty much a no-brainer. The external was different. I used to be terrified by big names but decided to “shoot for the stars” I made a wish list for the external: 1)superstar in my field A, 2)only female I could find, hopefully my future postdoc advisor. 3) superstar in field B. Apart from trying to pass, I tried to use this as a networking possibility.
    My defense almost fell through because 1) was out of the country during that time (but bless him, he would have said yes) 2) never got back to my supervisor and 3) said yes last minute.. big drama. I would recommend picking the top people in your field that don’t have a reputation to be jerks. And start early. I agree, unless you don’t show up it’s hard to fail your defense.(I’ve seen some really really bad defenses in the past 8 years)

    • M-H says:

      True about making sure they’re not jerks. One of my key informants (an Australian academic) told me that he set up the process to get a thesis sent out once and went to a conference in the states the next day, where one of the examiners he’d nominated was a keynote speaker. After the talk he asked around a bit, then rang back to his Uni and told them not to send the thesis out until he got back. Although on paper he looked perfect, this examiner was really unkind in real life, so he replaced him. This key informant said he thinks the selection of examiners is one of the most difficult but important things about being a supervisor.

      • guest says:

        that makes sense but there are so many different ideas of “jerk”. After my defense people congratulated me how well I had handled the somewhat jerk-ish internal examiner. I thought the person was absolutely fine and the questions were appropriate. But a defense is stressful enough, no need to increase the stress level by inviting someone who likes to tear people up.

  12. Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD says:

    You need to make sure that the potential external examiner is not a diva and/or someone who might fail you because your PhD dissertation in fact (a) disproved their theory or (b) proved them wrong on the methodology/empirics. You would think that a good external examiner would be strong enough that if (a) or (b) happen, they would praise you instead of trying to fail you. I am NOT kidding. Have seen this way too many times.

  13. Bex says:

    Reading all this makes me freak out. There are so many factors to think about choosing my examiners. I feel totally overwhelmed with it. I just gave my Supervisors some names of people that i don’t want to have. I trust my Supervisors to find the right people. They know everyone here in NZ and also overseas that is working in my field. However since i’m working across disciplines and only focusing on NZ it is even more difficult. I just hope that my Supervisors will make the right suggestions. Maybe its naive?!

    • ingermewburn says:

      It’s not naive – most supervisors will do due diligence on the names you supply anyway. Ultimately what happens is out of your hands (see the comment below advising Lynne to relinquish control). You have done all you can by a) writing the best thesis you are capable of and b) telling the supervisors who shouldn’t examine it. It’s an anxious wait and nothing I can say will make it any better really. You just have to close your eyes and let it happen. Remember that 98% of the time it goes well 🙂

    • kikidotca says:

      I have to say that I feel a bit like you Bex. Everyone’s comments are making it seem even more like a minefield.

      • Bex says:

        Yes it is a mine field/ One of my friends just failed her Phd and need to redo heaps of experiments etc. I have seen her examiners reports and was shocked by what they were annoyed. I guess it is good to talk to other people about examiners that you have in mined. So you can find out what there preferences are etc. I would never suggest someone as an examiner only cause I used his work. Also examiners are people. My Supervisor always says:” We need to keep the examiners reading, we don’t want the to stop and think…. it needs to be easy to follow and we want them to feel good reading it!”.. . In a way i think this is good advice. Now , writing up the last things and in the editing stage it keeps me going to know it is worth fixing up all these little things…. sorry this is all maybe a bit off topic but it just came to my mind.

  14. theacademicstranger says:

    Another element to consider, especially with external examiners: Will the Board clear them to undertake the viva? My first external was not, on the basis that he taught on an MA and had never examined a PhD before (talk about gatekeepers!) – this despite he was a renowned comic book artist, writer, and critic, and my thesis & novel centered on the notions of hypermasculinity in comic book fiction. In the end my external was someone considerably less suitable, but a thoroughly qualified and active academic/author from a similar (ish) field. So, in my experience, don’t just pick “perfect” fits for your work, as your impression of them & their position might not be shared by the stuffy professors upstairs!

  15. djbtak says:

    For people freaking out, also remember that your institution and your supervisors want you to succeed (their income increasingly depends on timely completion), and that it is hard to fail. If it doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like and you have to, for example, write a few thousand words on stuff you aren’t interested in or reframe something to pass, the process nevertheless makes it difficult for idiosyncratic examiners to stop you unless you really don’t know what you’re doing. It might just take some months longer than you expected, but for me everything about a PhD was like that.

    Mark Kostabi said that the two great occupational hazards in the artworld are paranoia and alcoholism – the same could easily be said for graduate study. I think it relates to the fear of judgement. I found it helpful to realise that while being asked to suggest my own examiners provided the illusion of control over how my work would be judged, in reality it was something I had no control over. So you have to find a way of getting comfortable with this being out of your hands, and be confident that your work will find its way through. For me, the various stories collected in places like here and in the higher ed literature on examination helped me realise that it wasn’t about me, so TTW is a great resource thanks Inger!

  16. carinaofdevon says:

    I did my PhD in the UK and I had a wonderful viva experience. I chose my external examiner for a number of reasons. The main one was that I liked his writing, I liked his approach to research, and he was definitely not a positivist! It was suggested to me that when choosing an examiner you should think of your future, because this is someone who will potentially write references for you. So having the name of some big shot high profile researcher in your reference list will look good. Oddly enough, I’ve never asked him to write a reference for me. But I also had another reason for choosing my external examiner. My theory was weak, to say the least, and this guy wrote a lot about politics and social issues, and didn’t lean heavily on social science theory. So I thought ‘yeah, this is good. He’ll ask me lots about politics, but he’ll go light on the theory’. Boy, was I wrong!! He grilled me on theory, pointed out all my weaknesses, and put me through my paces. So you may not get what you think you’re going to get!!

    However, overall, it was a really positive experience. Both internal and external examiners were pleasant but thorough. And I passed my PhD with minor corrections. It all seems a lifetime ago now…for those of you in the throes of your PhD…there is life afterwards!!

  17. Professor Charles Oppenheim says:

    ALL the comments made by you and commentators on your post are valid. it is a bit of a lottery, and depends a lot on the hang ups and prejudices the examiners have. If a particular Department has used external examiner A before, and it turns out A was tough but fair (which is at it should be), then it will want to use A again. If it used examiner B who was unfair and prejudiced, it will not want to use B again. So the experience of the Department is important. If possible, put at least one reference to the external in the bibliography, but GET IT RIGHT. There was a case I know of where the student had quoted such a reference, and had commented on it favourably, but unfortunately the examiner was a different person who happened to have the name surname and initials. The external argued with the favourable comment on the reference, and the candidate replied “but you wrote that article!” The candidate failed. Moral: don’t argue with the examiner!

  18. UKPhDstudent says:

    My criteria were: (Social Science, UK, Oxbridge)

    1. Someone who is an expert close to my area AND method; 2) but is not renowned for being unfair or prejudice in vivas; and 3) who would be advantageous to have write future job references and preface/reviews of my thesis when published as book.

    My apologies for the short response, but I am submitting in 7 days and time is of the essence. Thank you for addressing this issue. It is something that can make or break the very final moment, after 3-4 years of hard work, but rarely discussed openly.

  19. cyberfemmefatale says:

    My criteria for my Masters thesis in Popular Culture (which I’m currently working on) were

    1.) Choose people who are good with upholding deadlines. Many faculty in my department are notorious for returning things late, and I wanted to approach people who would encourage me to finish my thesis in a timely manner.

    This perhaps doesn’t seem like it should be the number one concern, but for the faculty I’m dealing with it is.

    2.) Someone who is an expert in my area

    Clearly a given, I study video games in a department where none of the faculty do which has made this bit interesting. When there’s no one extremely close to your area of study, I find that it’s good to pick people who are close, or are interested in some of the theories you will be applying. I’m looking at gender representations, so while my examiners know nothing about video games, they do know quite a bit about gender representations in media.

    3.) Theoretical complexity

    For my chair, I chose someone who would be prompt with feedback and encourage me to finish my thesis on time. For my secondary readers I focused on getting people that encourage theoretical complexity, and would make me think about things more deeply than I’d initially set out to. This does encourage more criticisms, but I feel will ultimately make my thesis stronger. However, these people are not my committee chair and therefore if I disagree with them, I can still get my thesis approved without catering to criticisms I disagree with.

  20. Dooglelover says:

    The use of scope and breadth when referring to another PhD is often used in academia to put a student or supervisor down. Yes we need to present knew knowledge and innovative thinking. You can respond to these vague questions of scope by thinking about how you justify your work, it’s presentation and contribution

    • Lynne Kelly says:

      I found defining the scope absolutely essential, hugely beneficial for me as the student and one of the most important aspects my supervisor insisted on. My topic just grew and grew. Every reference led to another ten – an exponential growth. In my head constantly the anonymous examiners were saying ‘But you haven’t included …’ and so I tried to include it all. The whole thing was out of control.

      My supervisor managed to convince me – not without a bot of effort on her part – that I can’t cover it all and by defining the scope I could show that I was aware of stuff beyond the actual thesis. Statements like ‘Writers on this aspect have shown that …. but a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this thesis.” and then a footnote giving the references to show that I was aware of them.

      For each chapter, I defined exactly the scope of that chapter which then enabled me to stop the endless task it was becoming. Lots of stuff I really wanted to do had to become ‘beyond the scope’ and are sitting ready for the next stage.

  21. Penny says:

    Dear Thesis Whisperer
    Thank you for your wonderful blogs and especially this last one on handing in and revising.
    Would you be able to step back and give some advice on the 6 months BEFORE you hand in -really quickly! I notice you write that 6 months before there should be a full draft.
    Thanks in hope

  22. Kaitlyn says:

    I was wondering, in a similar topic, if you have any advice for suggesting peer-reviewers for journal publications? I am looking to submit my first review article which covers a fairly broad range of disciplines and have no idea where to start!

    • Professor Charles Oppenheim says:

      By and large, you get no say in who referees a journal article – that is the editor’s decision. You only need worry about such things if the editor asks you for advice on names.

  23. Hopeless says:


    I was just wondering about the outcome of a thesis with a very badly written and edited draft chapter and missing a conclusion chapter? Would it be resubmission? How can I defend myself?

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  25. Gabi says:

    Firstly of all, thanks for this useful comments. I wish I read them before I took a bad decision. Let me explain, my thesis was not a PhD thesis but a master thesis, which had a passing grade. My biggest mistake was the supervisor choice. My thesis explored a new topic which not too much literature was published about. I had lots of troubles since it was my first time doing some research and I was working at the same time. Moreover, my thesis was not in my native language.
    After really discouraging comments from my supervisor about my very low skills about everything related to my thesis (English, topic, the fact that was macrodata instead his passion: microdata) the day of my defence was scheduled. They actually did not have any relevant opposite point of view but the grade said everything on behalf of them: the thought my thesis was not worthy to even talk about it. They discourage me to even perform further research.
    So far, I still do not think my findings are useless. My only purpose to write this comment is to encourage people to really think it through when deciding who would be a great supervisor/researcher/professor, who can help you seriously about you research, and who is only attending classes because he is passionate about reading articles and looking for the same topic without any innovative or creative mind.

  26. ziołolecznictwo says:

    I seldom comment, however i did some searching and wound up here 4 things you should know about choosing examiners
    for your thesis | The Thesis Whisperer. And I actually
    do have 2 questions for you if you usually do not mind.
    Could it be only me or does it appear like some of these responses appear like left by brain dead visitors?

    😛 And, if you are posting on other places, I would like to follow anything new you have to post.
    Would you make a list of the complete urls of your shared pages like your
    twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  27. Simon Bowland says:

    I’ve looked through various Australian university websites and am struggling to find any potential candidates for examining my practice-based scenic design research. Any suggestions for alternative sources?

  28. Mandy Cooke says:

    I am wondering how I find out how many previous PhDs potential examiners have marked? I have looked on their university profiles but can’t find this information.

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