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Graduate Studies

Thesis, dissertations & supervision guidelines

Section 4 - Oral Examination

Master’s Thesis Exam Committees

Composition of Committee

A thesis examining committee shall consist of at least three voting members, including the Chair, as follows:

  1. two graduate faculty members chosen from the program and/or supervisory committee, at least one of whom must be from the supervisory committee;
  2. one graduate faculty member at arm’s length from the thesis, and normally from outside the program.

The Chair of the examining committee shall be chosen from among the voting members. Members of the student’s thesis supervisory committee may be members of the examining committee, but the principal supervisor may not serve as the Chair of the examining committee.

These are minimum requirements with respect to the composition of and quorum for thesis examining committees. Individual graduate programs may include one additional voting member on examining committees, in accordance with program requirements and procedures.

In exceptional circumstances, the Dean may approve a program director’s recommendation that a York University faculty member who is not a member of the graduate faculty serve as a member (but not the Chair) of an examining committee. Such recommendations are to be accompanied by a brief rationale and an up-to-date curriculum vitae, which may be attached to the Recommendation for Oral Examination Form, which can be found here: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/RecommendationOralExam_Masters.pdf.

In addition to the voting members, the thesis examining committee may include the following ex-officio members (non-voting, unless present as one of the voting members named above): Vice-President Academic & Provost, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or his/her representative, Graduate Program Director.

Approval Timelines

The membership of each master’s thesis exam committee, including designation of the Chair, must be recommended by the appropriate graduate program director for approval and appointment by the Dean of Graduate Studies as soon as possible and no later than three weeks before the date set for the oral examination.

Copies of the master’s thesis approved by the supervisory committee must be provided to the members of the examining committee no less than three weeks before the date of the oral examination.

Approval Process

Prior to the establishment of a master’s thesis exam committee, the student’s supervisory committee must read the thesis and agree that the version read is ready to proceed to oral examination.

Following agreement by the supervisory committee that the thesis is ready to proceed to oral examination, recommendation for membership of a master’s thesis exam committee (as well as the date and location of the oral exam) is formally initiated by the graduate program director via submission of a Recommendation for Oral Examination Form to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies. The form can be found here: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/RecommendationOralExam_Masters.pdf.

Final approval of master’s thesis exam committee membership recommendations rests with the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
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Scheduling of Master’s Thesis Oral Exams

Approval of Date, Time and Location of Oral Examinations

In consultation with the student and the members of the exam committee, the graduate program director will recommend the date, time and location of an oral exam via submission of a Recommendation for Oral Examination Form, which can be found here: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/RecommendationOralExam_Masters.pdf

Oral examinations for master’s theses shall be held normally no less than three weeks from the date on which copies of the completed thesis approved by the supervisory committee are sent to each member of the examining committee.

The student must be registered as active for the term in which the oral exam is scheduled to take place.

Number and Nature of Thesis Copies Required for an Oral Exam

Number of Copies
The number of copies of a thesis required for an oral exam depends upon the number of members on the exam committee. A thesis exam committee consists of at least three voting members, including the Chair. However, it is often the case that more than three copies of the thesis are required for an oral exam. The thesis supervisor or program director will inform the student how many copies of the thesis are required for the exam.

Nature of Copies
The student is responsible for ensuring that all members of the exam committee have a paper copy of the thesis, unless prior approval has been received for the submission of an e-copy. (If e-copies are submitted for the oral exam, the pagination and formatting of each page of the e-copies and the paper copies must match.)

For a complex electronic thesis, the student is responsible for ensuring that all members of the exam committee have a paper copy of the written component of the thesis, unless prior approval has been received for the submission of an e-copy. (If e-copies are submitted for the oral exam, the pagination and formatting of each page of the e-copies and the paper copies must match.) For the remaining component of the work, it is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the work produced for the thesis can be examined by the examining committee. Students producing a multimedia thesis should consult with the Theses Canada Portal (www.nlc-bnc.ca/thesescanada) on the Library and Archives Canada website for advice on formats supportable for preservation. However, a student may work in/submit work in an unsupported format as part of the oral exam as long as the work is readily accessible by the exam committee and the student submits a written component.

For a multimodal thesis, the student is responsible for ensuring that all members of the exam committee have a paper copy of the written component of the thesis, unless prior approval has been received for the submission of an e-copy. (If e-copies are submitted for the oral exam, the pagination and formatting of each page of the e-copies and the paper copies must match.) For the remaining component of the work, it is the student’s responsibility to make arrangements for the exam committee to view/engage in the non-written component.

Final Confirmation Prior to Oral Examination

Before an oral examination can be convened, a majority of the exam committee members must agree that the thesis is examinable. The graduate program director shall poll the members of the exam committee one week before the scheduled date for the oral. If the student does not receive a majority vote, the members of the examining committee who do not agree that the thesis is examinable are required to give their reasons in writing to the student, the supervisor, and the Dean within one week after the poll. In such cases, the oral shall be postponed for a period not to exceed one year. However, the student has the right to insist that the oral proceed as planned.

Participation in Oral Exam Through Alternative Means

Members of the examining committee are normally expected to attend the oral examination in person, except where decanal permission for the use alternative technologies such as video- or teleconferencing has been granted. The rationale for this examination mode must be made by the program to the Dean. Normally, no more than one member of an examining committee should be linked to the examination process through alternative means. Only in exceptional circumstances would the supervisor, an internal York member, or the student be the off-site participant.

Rescheduling an Oral Exam

With the consent of the voting members of the examination committee, the program director and the student, the Dean may approve a recommendation that an oral examination be rescheduled due to exceptional circumstances.

Use of Audio-Visual Equipment at Oral Exams

The use of audio-visual (AV) equipment at oral exams is governed by the following principles:

  • AV equipment may be used for oral exam presentations but the Faculty of Graduate Studies is not responsible for ordering supplies or equipment (e.g., overhead projectors).
  • Audio-taping or videotaping of oral exams is not permitted.

Public Attendance at Oral Exams

The oral exam is a public academic event. Faculty members, graduate students and others may attend oral exams at the discretion of the Chair of the exam committee. They may, at the discretion of the Chair, participate in the questioning. Only members of the exam committee may be present for the evaluation and for the vote at the conclusion of an oral exam.
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Master’s Thesis Oral Exam Evaluation Guidelines and Reporting of Results

Evaluation Guidelines

  1. Master’s theses submitted by students in partial fulfillment of degree requirements must be successfully defended at oral examinations. The oral examination will centre on the thesis.
  2. The thesis oral examination requirement is met if one of the following two situations exists:
    1. the committee accepts the thesis with no revisions; or,
    2. the committee accepts the thesis with specified revisions.
  3. Specified revisions could range from typographical errors or changes of a minor editorial nature, to specified insertions or deletions which do not radically modify the development/argument of the thesis. The committee must specify such changes with precision. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that all such changes are made and the Chair will confirm that this is the case. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral examination.
  4. In cases where there is one vote for major revision, specified revisions are expected.
  5. A thesis is referred for major revision if any of the following conditions exist:
    1. the committee agrees that the thesis requires substantive changes in order to be acceptable; or,
    2. there are a minimum of two votes for major revision; or,
    3. there is one vote for failure.
  6. In cases of major revision, one of the following procedures, agreed upon by the committee before the examination is adjourned, must be used to finalize the oral results:
    1. the committee will reconvene within twelve months to continue the oral examination; or,
    2. the revised thesis will be circulated within twelve months to all members, who will inform the Chair whether they feel the stipulated requirements have been met.
  7. Detailed reasons for referring pending major revisions must be supplied in writing by the Chair to the Dean, the program director and the student within two weeks.
  8. After an adjournment and when the major revisions have been completed, the thesis is failed if there are two or more votes for failure. A thesis cannot be referred for major revisions more than once and no further adjournment is permitted. In the event of failure, detailed reasons must be supplied in writing by the Chair to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks.
  9. A thesis is failed if there are a minimum of two votes for failure. In the event of failure, detailed reasons must be supplied in writing by the Chair to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks.

Reporting of Results

The results of the oral exam, as determined by the exam committee in accordance with the evaluation guidelines described above, are reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Oral Examination Report Form, which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/OralExamReport.pdf. The form should be signed by the Chair of the exam committee and should include, where appropriate, details regarding any required revisions under “comments”.

In accordance with the evaluation guidelines described above, the Oral Examination Report Form requires that the committee reach one of the following four decisions:

  1. Accepted with No Revision
  2. Accepted Pending Specified Revisions
    The nature of the revisions should be agreed to by the exam committee and reported in detail on Oral Examination Report Form under “comments”. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral exam. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral exam. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that all of the specified revisions are made and the Chair will confirm that this is the case. Approval of specified revisions should be reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.
  3. Referred Pending Major Revisions
  4. In cases involving a referred pending major revisions decisions, one of the following procedures, agreed upon by the committee before the examination is adjourned, must be used to finalize the oral results: a) the committee will reconvene within twelve months to continue the oral examination, or b) the revised thesis will be circulated within twelve months to all members, who will inform the Chair whether they feel the stipulated requirements have been met.

    Please note that a clear consensus must be reached by the committee as to the extent and nature of the revisions required. Detailed reasons for referring pending major revision must be supplied in writing by the Chair of the exam committee to the Dean, the program director and the candidate concerned within two weeks.

    Approval of major revisions should be reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.

  5. Failed
    In the event of failure, detailed reasons must be supplied in writing by the Chair of the exam committee to the Dean, program director and candidate within two weeks.
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Doctoral Dissertation Exam Committees

Composition of Committee

A dissertation examining committee shall consist of at least five voting members, including the Chair, as follows:

  1. The Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or her/his representative, who will be at arm’s length from the supervision of the dissertation, and who will serve as Chair of the examining committee;
  2. One external examiner, from outside York University, at arm’s length from the dissertation, recommended by the program director;
  3. one graduate faculty member at arm’s length from the dissertation, and normally from outside the program, recommended by the program director;
  4. two graduate faculty members from the supervisory committee, or one member from the supervisory committee and one graduate faculty member from the program.

These are minimum requirements with respect to the composition of and quorum for dissertation examining committees. Individual graduate programs may include one additional voting member on examining committees, in accordance with program requirements and procedures.

In exceptional circumstances, the Dean may approve a program director’s recommendation that a York University faculty member who is not a member of the graduate faculty serve as a member (but not the Chair) of an examining committee. Such recommendations are to be accompanied by a brief rationale and an up-to-date curriculum vitae, which may be attached to the Recommendation for Oral Examination Form, which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/recommendationfororalexamination.pdf.

In addition to the voting members, the thesis examining committee may include the following ex-officio members (non-voting, unless present as one of the voting members named above): Vice-President Academic & Provost, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or his/her representative, Graduate Program Director.

Only under rare, exceptional and compelling circumstances can an oral examination proceed in the absence of the external examiner, and only with the express permission of the Dean. In such circumstances, the following conditions must be met:

  • the external’s absence must be unplanned and unavoidable (i.e. it must have been the initial intent that the external would be present);

  • a written assessment of the dissertation must be received before the scheduled examination, including certification that the dissertation is examinable, and identification of any areas that need revision, or questioning and clarification at the oral exam. However, if the external examiner feels that the result of the examination depends upon the oral exam, then the external examiner shall be present or the oral exam will be postponed until the external examiner can be present or an alternative external examiner is appointed.

Approval Timelines

The membership of each committee must be recommended by the appropriate graduate program director for approval and appointment by the Dean of Graduate Studies as soon as possible and no later than four weeks before the date set for the oral examination.

Copies of the doctoral dissertation approved by the supervisory committee must be provided to the members of the examining committee no less than four weeks before the date of the oral examination. (The oral exam may be held less than four weeks from the time copies are sent to the examining committee provided all parties agree.)

Approval Process

Prior to the establishment of a doctoral dissertation exam committee, the student’s supervisory committee must read the dissertation and agree that the version read is ready to proceed to oral examination.

Following agreement by the supervisory committee that the dissertation is ready to proceed to oral examination, recommendation for membership of a doctoral dissertation exam committee (as well as the date and location of the oral exam) is formally initiated by the graduate program director via submission of a Recommendation for Oral Examination Form to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies. The form can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/recommendationfororalexamination.pdf.

Final approval of doctoral dissertation exam committee membership recommendations rests with the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Selection of External Examiner

Note: The following external examiner guidelines apply to all dissertation examining committees as well as to those master’s programs that require an external or outside examiner on their exam committee.

External Examiners are expected to be established academics, normally members of a graduate Faculty at another university. Students may not initiate the invitation to external examiners; this is the responsibility of the program director and/or the supervisor.

Following approval by the Dean of the program’s external examiner recommendation, a formal letter of invitation will be written by the Dean to the external examiner, offering the examiner an honorarium and indicating how to claim expenses. Program directors must obtain prior approval from the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies of external examiners’ expenses above $350; therefore, external examiners should not be invited unless approval has been obtained.

The program assistant or the supervisor (not the student), should send the external examiner’s copy of the dissertation. The copy must be received by the external examiner at least 4 weeks prior to the exam. It should be accompanied, at the minimum, by generic instructions and notification that the Dean’s official letter of invitation will follow (see below for generic instructions). For delivery to an Ontario university or home delivery, the minimum method used to send the dissertation should be by Express Post. The dissertation should be well packaged to protect it from damage. A follow-up e-mail or phone call should be made to the external examiner to ensure the dissertation was received.

The external examiner will be asked to submit written comments one week in advance of the oral examination. These comments may be made available to the candidate after the oral, with the external examiner’s permission.

Generic Instructions for External Examiner

The following generic instructions should be used when sending a copy of the dissertation to the external examiner.

Enclosed is your copy of the dissertation for [student’s name] at whose oral examination you will serve as the external examiner.

As the external examiner, you are recognized as being an eminent person in the field of the dissertation, whose assessment will be treated as the standard by which the quality of the candidate’s work will be measured. As a voting member of the committee, you do not have a formal power of veto, but the exam committee must have substantial reasons for not accepting your recommendation, especially if the recommendation is negative.

One week before the date set for the oral defense, please send a written assessment of the dissertation to Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies. This written assessment may be sent by mail (Office of the Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, 230 York Lanes, York University, 4700 Keele St, North York, Ontario, M3J 1P3), by FAX (416-736- 5592) or by e-mail (gsthesis@yorku.ca).

The written assessment report should:

  • outline the strengths and weaknesses of the dissertation
  • be more than a statement of errata and/or questions you would pose to the student
  • contain an explicit statement indicating whether the dissertation is examinable
  • be written with the understanding that should the dissertation be nominated for a Dissertation Prize, the report will form part of the nomination papers
  • This report will be distributed to the program director and members of the Examining Committee before the examination.
  • Where the Committee deems it advisable and if you agree, the report may be made available to the student at the end of the examination.
  • If you have serious doubts about the examinability of this dissertation, please contact the Graduate Program Director «GPD name» (416-736-2100, ext. «GPD telephone») or the Dean at 416-736-5329 at least one week before the date of the oral.

The formal invitation from the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies will follow shortly. Thank you for your participation.
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Scheduling of Doctoral Dissertation Oral Exams

Approval of Date, Time and Location of Oral Examinations

In consultation with the student and the members of the exam committee, the graduate program director will recommend the date, time and location of an oral exam via submission of a Recommendation for Oral Examination Form, which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/faculty_staff/forms/RecommendationOralExam_Doctoral.pdf.

Oral examinations for doctoral dissertations shall be held normally no less than four weeks from the date on which copies of the completed dissertation approved by the supervisory committee are sent to each member of the examining committee. The oral exam may be held less than four weeks from the time copies are sent to the examining committee provided all parties agree.

The student must be registered as active for the term in which the oral exam is scheduled to take place.

Number and Nature of Dissertation Copies Required for an Oral Exam

Number of Copies
The number of copies of a dissertation required for an oral exam depends upon the number of members on the exam committee. A dissertation exam committee consists of at least five voting members, including the Chair. However, it is often the case that more than five copies of the dissertation are required for an oral exam. The dissertation supervisor or program director will inform the student how many copies of the dissertation are required for the exam.

Nature of Copies
The student is responsible for ensuring that all members of the exam committee have a paper copy of the dissertation, unless prior approval has been received for the submission of an e-copy. (If e-copies are submitted for the oral exam, the pagination and formatting of each page of the e-copies and the paper copies must match.)

For a complex electronic dissertation, the student is responsible for ensuring that all members of the exam committee have a paper copy of the written component of the dissertation, unless prior approval has been received for the submission of an e-copy. (If e-copies are submitted for the oral exam, the pagination and formatting of each page of the e-copies and the paper copies must match.) For the remaining component of the work, it is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the work produced for the dissertation can be examined by the examining committee. Students producing a multimedia dissertation should consult with the Theses Canada Portal (www.nlc-bnc.ca/thesescanada) on the Library and Archives Canada website for advice on formats supportable for preservation. However, a student may work in/submit work in an unsupported format as part of the oral exam as long as the work is readily accessible by the exam committee and the student submits a written component.

For a multimodal dissertation, the student is responsible for ensuring that all members of the exam committee have a paper copy of the written component of the dissertation, unless prior approval has been received for the submission of an e-copy. (If e-copies are submitted for the oral exam, the pagination and formatting of each page of the e-copies and the paper copies must match.) For the remaining component of the work, it is the student’s responsibility to make arrangements for the exam committee to view/engage in the non-written component.

Final Confirmation Prior to Oral Examination

Before an oral examination can be convened, a majority of the exam committee members must agree that the thesis is examinable. The graduate program director shall poll the members of the exam committee one week before the scheduled date for the oral. If the student does not receive a majority vote, the members of the examining committee who do not agree that the thesis is examinable are required to give their reasons in writing to the student, the supervisor, and the Dean within one week after the poll. In such cases, the oral shall be postponed for a period not to exceed one year. However, the student has the right to insist that the oral proceed as planned.

Participation in Oral Exam Through Alternative Means

Members of the examining committee are normally expected to attend the oral examination in person, except where decanal permission for the use alternative technologies such as video- or teleconferencing has been granted. The rationale for this examination mode must be made by the program to the Dean. Normally, no more than one member of an examining committee should be linked to the examination process through alternative means. Only in exceptional circumstances would the supervisor, an internal York member, or the student be the off-site participant.

Absence of External Examiner

Only under rare, exceptional and compelling circumstances can an oral examination proceed in the absence of the external examiner, and only with the express permission of the Dean. In such circumstances, the following conditions must be met:

  • the external’s absence must be unplanned and unavoidable (i.e. it must have been the initial intent that the external would be present);
  • a written assessment of the dissertation must be received before the scheduled examination, including certification that the dissertation is examinable, and identification of any areas that need revision, or questioning and clarification at the oral exam. However, if the external examiner feels that the result of the examination depends upon the oral exam, then the external examiner shall be present or the oral exam will be postponed until the external examiner can be present or an alternative external examiner is appointed.

Rescheduling an Oral Exam

With the consent of the voting members of the examination committee, the program director and the student, the Dean may approve a recommendation that an oral examination be rescheduled due to exceptional circumstances.

Use of Audio-Visual Equipment at Oral Exams

The use of audio-visual (AV) equipment at oral exams is governed by the following principles:

  • AV equipment may be used for oral exam presentations but the Faculty of Graduate Studies is not responsible for ordering supplies or equipment (e.g., overhead projectors).
  • Audio-taping or videotaping of oral exams is not permitted.

Public Attendance at Oral Exams

The oral exam is a public academic event. Faculty members, graduate students and others may attend oral exams at the discretion of the Chair of the exam committee. They may, at the discretion of the Chair, participate in the questioning. Only members of the exam committee may be present for the evaluation and for the vote at the conclusion of an oral exam.
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Doctoral Dissertation Oral Exam Evaluation Guidelines and Reporting of Results

Evaluation Guidelines

  • Doctoral dissertations submitted by students in partial fulfillment of degree requirements must be successfully defended at oral examinations. The oral examination will centre on the dissertation.
  • The dissertation oral examination requirement is met if one of the following situations exists:
    • if the committee accepts the dissertation with no revisions; or,
    • if the committee accepts the dissertation with specified revisions.
  • Specified revisions could range from typographical errors or changes of a minor editorial nature, to specified insertions or deletions which do not radically modify the development/argument of the dissertation. The committee must specify such changes with precision. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that all such changes are made, and the Dean’s representative will confirm that this is the case. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral examination.
  • In cases where there are no more than two votes for major revision or one vote for failure, then specified revisions are expected.
  • A dissertation is referred for major revision if any of the following conditions exist:
  • the committee agrees that the dissertation requires substantive changes in order to be acceptable; or,
    • there are two votes for failure; or,
    • there is one vote for failure plus a minimum of one vote for major revision; or,
    • there are at least three votes for major revision.
  • In the cases of major revision, one of the following procedures, agreed upon by the committee before the examination is adjourned, must be used to finalize the oral results:
      • the committee will reconvene within twelve months to continue the oral examination; or,
      • the revised dissertation will be circulated within twelve months to all members, who will inform the Dean’s representative whether they feel the stipulated requirements have been met.
  • Detailed reasons for referring pending major revisions must be supplied in writing by the Chair to the Dean, the program director and the student concerned within two weeks.
  • After an adjournment and when the major revisions have been completed, the dissertation is failed if there are two or more votes for failure. A dissertation cannot be referred for major revisions more than once and no further adjournment is permitted. In the event of failure, detailed reasons must be supplied in writing by the Chair to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks.
  • A dissertation is failed if there are a minimum of three votes for failure. In the event of failure, detailed reasons must be supplied in writing by the Chair to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks.

Reporting of Results

The results of the oral exam, as determined by the exam committee in accordance with the evaluation guidelines described above, are reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Oral Examination Report Form, which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/OralExamReport.pdf. The form should be signed by the Chair of the exam committee and should include, where appropriate, details regarding any required revisions under “comments”.

In accordance with the evaluation guidelines described above, the Oral Examination Report Form requires that the committee reach one of the following four decisions:

1. Accepted with No Revision

2. Accepted Pending Specified Revisions
The nature of the revisions should be agreed to by the exam committee and reported in detail on Oral Examination Report Form under “comments”. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral exam. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral exam. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that all of the specified revisions are made and the Chair will confirm that this is the case. Approval of specified revisions should be reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.

3. Referred Pending Major Revisions
In cases involving a referred pending major revisions decisions, one of the following procedures, agreed upon by the committee before the examination is adjourned, must be used to finalize the oral results: a) the committee will reconvene within twelve months to continue the oral examination, or b) the revised dissertation will be circulated within twelve months to all members, who will inform the Chair whether they feel the stipulated requirements have been met.

Please note that a clear consensus must be reached by the committee as to the extent and nature of the revisions required. Detailed reasons for referring pending major revision must be supplied in writing by the Chair of the exam committee to the Dean, the program director and the candidate concerned within two weeks.

Approval of major revisions should be reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.

4. Failed
In the event of failure, detailed reasons must be supplied in writing by the Chair of the exam committee to the Dean, program director and candidate within two weeks.
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Exam Committee Roles and Responsibilities

Graduate Program Director Roles and Responsibilities

Before an oral examination can be convened, a majority of the exam committee members must agree that the dissertation is examinable. The graduate program director shall poll the members of the exam committee one week before the scheduled date for the oral. If the student does not receive a majority vote, the members of the examining committee who do not agree that the thesis is examinable are required to give their reasons in writing to the student, the supervisor, and the Dean within one week after the poll. In such cases, the oral shall be postponed for a period not to exceed one year. However, the student has the right to insist that the oral proceed as planned.

Exam Committee Chair Roles and Responsibilities

For master’s theses, the Chair of the exam committee shall be chosen from among the voting members. Members of the student’s thesis supervisory committee may be members of the exam committee, but the principal supervisor may not serve as the Chair of the exam committee.

For doctoral dissertations, the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or her/his representative, who will be at arm’s length from the supervision of the dissertation, will serve as Chair of the exam committee.

The Chair of the exam committee normally participates fully in the questioning of the candidate, the discussion and the vote.

In general, the role of the Chair of the exam committee is to ensure:

  • that the process of oral exam is fair and orderly,
  • that the student is truly being examined and challenged, and
  • that high standards of scholarship are met.

Prior to the formal start of the oral exam, the Chair should:

  • verify that all members of the exam committee are present. (If any member is not in attendance, the examination shall be postponed. Only under rare, exceptional and compelling circumstances can an oral examination proceed in the absence of the external examiner. Please see Role of the External Examiner below for more details.)
  • verify that the members of the exam committee are agreed that the thesis/dissertation is “examinable”. (If the thesis/dissertation is found to be unexaminable at this time, the oral exam may be postponed for a period not to exceed one year. However, the student has the right to insist that the oral proceed as planned.)
  • discuss with the members of the Committee the expected length of the examination, and the order in which the exam committee will question the student.

At the outset of and during the oral exam, the Chair should:

  • clarify to both the exam committee and the student the procedures to be followed,
  • determine the point at which further questioning will not produce additional useful information for the consideration of the exam committee, and
  • monitor the procedures throughout the oral exam.

After the candidate and any observers have left the room, the Chair should:

  • assess the committee’s opinion from the discussion, including whether the exam committee considers the work sufficiently outstanding to merit nomination for the Faculty of Graduate Studies Thesis/Dissertation Prize.
  • If there is no consensus, the Chair should call for a vote to determine the outcome of the oral exam. The outcome of the vote shall be governed by the master’s thesis oral exam evaluation guidelines or doctoral dissertation oral exam evaluation guidelines, as appropriate.
  • In cases of accepted pending specified revisions, the Chair should ensure the nature of the on the Oral Examination Report Form under “comments”. A clear consensus must be reached by the committee as to the extent of the revisions required.
  • In cases of major revision, the Chair should confirm which of the following two procedures, agreed upon by the committee before the exam is adjourned, will be used to finalize the oral results: a) the committee will reconvene within twelve months to continue the oral examination; or, b) the revised dissertation will be circulated within twelve months to all members, who will inform the Chair whether they feel the stipulated requirements have been met.

After the exam committee has reached a decision, the Chair should:

  • recall the candidate to convey the decision, including a description of any required revisions, as appropriate, and
  • inform the program director if the thesis/dissertation has been nominated for the Faculty of Graduate Studies Thesis/Dissertation Prize, where applicable.

If the thesis/dissertation was accepted with no revisions, the Chair should:

  • ensure that a properly completed and signed Oral Examination Report Form is returned to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies.

If the thesis/dissertation was accepted pending specified revisions, the Chair should:

  • ensure that a properly completed (including a clear description of the required revisions) and signed Oral Examination Report Form is returned to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that all of the specified revisions are made and the Chair will confirm that this is the case. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral exam. Approval of specified revisions should be reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.

In cases of referred pending major revisions, the Chair should:

  • ensure that a properly completed and signed Oral Examination Report Form (including a clear description of the required revisions) is returned to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, and
  • provide detailed reasons for the exam committee’s decision in writing to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks of the oral exam.

When major revisions have been completed satisfactorily as decided by the exam committee, the Chair should:

In cases of failure, the Chair should:

  • ensure that a properly completed and signed Oral Examination Report Form is returned to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, and
  • provide detailed reasons for the exam committee’s decision in writing to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks of the oral exam.

Exam Committee Members Roles and Responsibilities

The exam committee members have the responsibility of ensuring that high standards of scholarship are met.

The “at arm’s length from the thesis/dissertation” committee member has a particular responsibility of ensuring that these high standards of scholarship are met from a perspective broader than that of the student’s own program. Such exam committee members who are appointed to the student’s program should be especially mindful of this responsibility.

External Examiner Roles and Responsibilities

Note: All doctoral dissertation exam committee must include an external examiner. The following description of external examiner roles and responsibilities also applies to those master’s programs that require an external or outside examiner on their exam committee.

External examiners are expected to be established academics, normally members of a graduate Faculty at another university. The assessment of the dissertation provided by the external examiner should be treated as the yardstick by which to measure the quality of the candidate’s work relative to standards at other universities. The external examiner is a voting member of the Committee and must have been at arm’s length from the dissertation. The external examiner does not have a formal power of veto, but the exam committee must have substantial reasons for not accepting an external examiner’s recommendation, especially if the recommendation is negative. The external examiner’s written comments will be provided to the other members of the exam committee prior to the oral exam and, where the exam committee deems advisable and the external examiner agrees, may be made available to the student at the end of the oral exam. Only under rare, exceptional and compelling circumstances can an oral examination proceed in the absence of the external examiner, and only with the express permission of the Dean. In such circumstances, the following conditions must be met:

  • the external’s absence must be unplanned and unavoidable (i.e. it must have been the initial intent that the external would be present);
  • a written assessment of the dissertation must be received before the scheduled examination, including certification that the dissertation is examinable, and identification of any areas that need revision, or questioning and clarification at the oral exam. However, if the external examiner feels that the result of the examination depends upon the oral exam, then the external examiner shall be present or the oral exam will be postponed until the external examiner can be present or an alternative external examiner is appointed.

Ex-officio Committees Member Roles & Responsibilities

In addition to the voting members, the Vice-President Academic & Provost and Graduate Program Director may participate as ex-officio members (non-voting, unless present as one of the voting members) on doctoral dissertation exam committees. They, along with the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or his/her representative, may also participate as ex-officio members (non-voting, unless present as one of the voting members) on master’s thesis exam committees.

As the oral examination is the culmination of a graduate student’s study and advances the mission of York University as a whole, the inclusion of these positions as ex-officio members of the thesis and dissertation exam committees recognizes and emphasizes the importance of the oral exam. Due to the nature of the workload of the incumbents in these positions, they are not expected to attend every oral exam. When they do attend in their capacity as ex-officio members, they are encouraged to be active participants, but they do not vote.
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Oral Exam Procedural Guidelines

  1. For all doctoral dissertation oral exams and for those master’s programs that require an external or outside examiner, the written comments provided by the external examiner will be made available to the committee prior to the oral exam.
  2. At the oral exam, the student may be given the opportunity to present an oral summary of his or her work. If this procedure is followed, the Chair of the exam committee will inform the student and indicate the time available.
  3. Normally, the first round of questions will refer to general aspects of the work. Subsequent questions will deal with more detailed matters. For all doctoral dissertation oral exams and for those master’s programs that require an external or outside examiner, the external examiner will normally begin each round of questioning and will be followed by the other members of the committee in an order agreed upon before the exam.
  4. The Chair of the exam committee will ensure that each member of the exam committee has an equal opportunity to pose questions. After the formal rounds of questioning, general discussion and order of further questioning will be at the Chair’s discretion.
  5. The question period should normally run its natural course, with members of the exam committee indicating when they are satisfied. The Chair of the exam committee will, however use his/her discretion as to the appropriate closing point. For a master’s thesis, a general guideline for the length of the oral exam is approximately 10 to 20 minutes for presentation (if applicable) and 1.5 hours for questioning. For a doctoral dissertation, a general guideline for the length of the oral exam is 20 to 40 minutes for presentation (if applicable) and 2 hours for questioning.
  6. After the candidate and any observers have left the room, the exam committee will discuss the work and the oral defence of that work, the discussion beginning with the external examiner’s remarks.
  7. The Chair of the exam committee will then assess the committee’s opinion from the discussion.
  8. If there is no consensus, the Chair of the exam committee will call for a vote to determine the outcome of the oral exam. The outcome of the vote shall be governed by the master’s thesis oral exam evaluation guidelines and doctoral dissertation oral exam evaluation guidelines.
  9. In cases of accepted pending specified revisions, the nature of the revisions will be agreed to by the exam committee and reported in detail by the Chair in the “comments” section of the Oral Examination Report Form.
  10. In cases of major revision, the Chair of the exam committee will confirm which of the following two procedures, agreed upon by the committee before the exam is adjourned, will be used to finalize the oral results: a) the committee will reconvene within twelve months to continue the oral examination; or, b) the revised dissertation will be circulated within twelve months to all members, who will inform the Chair whether they feel the stipulated requirements have been met.
  11. After the exam committee has reached a decision, the candidate will be recalled and informed by the Chair of the outcome of the examination. Should revisions be required, their exact nature will be transmitted to the student by the Chair.
  12. The written comments of the external examiner will, with his or her permission, be provided to the student and program director.
  13. The Oral Examination Report Form will be properly completed (including, where appropriate, a clear description of required revisions) and signed by the Chair and returned to the thesis coordinator in the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies.
    • In cases of accepted pending specified revisions, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that all of the specified revisions are made and the Chair will confirm that this is the case. Specified revisions must be completed within six months of the date of the oral examination. Approval of specified revisions should be reported to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: http://www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.
    • In cases of referred pending major revisions or failure, the Chair will provide detailed reasons for the exam committee’s decision in writing to the Dean, program director and student within two weeks of the oral exam. When major revisions have been completed satisfactorily as decided by the exam committee, the Chair should report approval of the major revisions to the Office of the Dean, Graduate Studies, via the Revisions Approved Memorandum (which can be found here: www.yorku.ca/grads/forms/revisionsapprovedmemorandum.doc) or via email to the thesis coordinator at gsthesis@yorku.ca.

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