Procedures for the Conduct of Research Degree Examination
The following Procedures and Notes are intended to guide Convenors and Chairs of Examining Boards, Examiners and Candidates through the process of the research degree examination and to underline the University’s expectations of those involved.
Arrangements for the oral examination (viva voce) are overseen by the Convenor of the Examining Board who is the Head of School or another member of senior staff in the School to whom the Head had delegated this responsibility. (Where the Head of School is a Candidate's supervisor, s/he should not assume the role of Convenor or Chair.)
The Convenor should act as Chair to the Examining Board or ensure that another senior member of the School's staff is appointed to this role by the Head of School.
Composition of the Examining Board
Every Examining Board for a research degree shall comprise at least three members:-
The Internal Examiner (see below)
The External Examiner (see below)
No person may assume more than one of the above roles.
The candidate’s supervisor cannot act as Internal Examiner. The supervisor may, however, be invited to attend the oral examination. He/she may offer clarification to the Examining Board on a given matter, but only when called upon to do so.
The External Examiner shall be appointed in accordance with Cardiff University's Procedure for nominating and appointing External Examiners for research degrees.
A Head of School may appoint other appropriate persons to act as Advisory Examiners. Persons so appointed have no right to vote on the decision of the Board
An Examining Board for a Candidate who is, or who has been within the past 3 years, a member of staff at the grade of lecturer or above shall be constituted with a second external examiner in lieu of the internal examiner.
Choosing the External Examiner
The external examiner should possess specialist knowledge and expertise in the subject area of the research, and should normally:
- be experienced in research and have published;
- have experience of the UK research degree examination process, and particularly for the degree for which the thesis has been submitted;
- hold a research degree;
- hold/have held appointment within the university system at Senior Lecturer grade or above
In certain cases, it may be appropriate to appoint from outside the university sector, e.g. a leading industrialist, researcher or professional practitioner).
The external examiner should not have direct professional or personal knowledge of the candidate, and should not normally:
- be a former staff member of the University, unless at least five years have elapsed since retirement/resignation;
- be a former higher degree student of the school concerned, unless at least five years have elapsed since the date of her/his qualification;
- be invited, on a frequent basis, to examine research degrees in the same School.
The University is required by the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) Immigration Regulations (2008) to verify the right to work in the UK of any persons undertaking work at Cardiff University. As part of the examiner nomination process, Schools will be asked to confirm that nominated external examiners are eligible to work in the UK.
Choosing the Internal Examiner
The Internal Examiner this should
- be competent in the area of the work to be examined;
- be an experienced examiner or have received training for this role;
- be a non-probationary member of the academic or senior research staff;
- usually be appointed from within the School concerned, but may be appointed from another School of the University.
The role of the Convenor - arranging the oral examination
It is the responsibility the Convenor to make the practical arrangements for the oral examination and to confirm these, in writing, to the candidate and the members of the Examining Board.
The Convenor shall ensure that each Examiner is sent one copy of the thesis.
The Convenor shall ensure that the necessary forms and instructions for the conduct of the examination are provided to the Internal Examiner. (The Registry is responsible for sending the forms and instructions for the conduct of the examination, and the forms for payment to the External Examiner(s).)
The oral examination should normally take place within three calendar months of the date of submission of the thesis. If this is not possible, the Candidate should be kept informed on the progress being made to arrange the examination.
The oral examination requirement
Oral examinations are mandatory for research degree submissions. However, if the Examiners are in agreement, this requirement may be waived in the case of a re-submitted thesis which the Examiners agree meet the requirements of the intended award.
Purpose of the oral examination
The oral examination is an integral part of the research degree examination process; it is not merely a ritual. The oral examination may serve different purposes, according to Candidates’ differing qualities but the essential purposes of the oral examination are:-
- to enable the Examiners to assure themselves that the thesis is the Candidate’s own work;
- to enable the Examiners to assure themselves that the Candidate understands the research that s/he carried out and what s/he has written in the thesis;
- to give the Candidate an opportunity to defend the thesis and to clarify any obscurities or weaknesses in it; (this is particularly important in borderline cases);
- to enable the Examiners to assess the Candidate’s ability to locate his/her work within the broader context of the particular field of learning to which the project relates;
- to enable the Examiners to explore how the thesis might be raised to the required standard should they be unable to recommend the award at this stage;
- to enable the Examiners and the Candidate to explore opportunities for publication.
Before the oral examination — the role of the Examiners
The Internal and External Examiner(s) are required independently to assess the thesis and each to prepare a written report on their reading of the work and to submit these to the Chair of the Examining Board before the oral examination takes place.
Immediately prior to the oral examination, the Examiners should arrange to confer with one another, in the presence of the Chair, in order to:-
· exchange copies of their independent reports (if this has not already been done);
· identify the issues to be raised in the examination;
· agree the broad strategy for the examination - who will ask which questions and in what order.
The conduct of the oral examination
The oral examination should take place at Cardiff. (The permission of the Chair of the Graduate Development Committee must be sought if it is proposed to hold the examination elsewhere.)
The oral examination should take place on a face-to-face basis, with all concerned present in the same room, at the same time. Notwithstanding this expectation, it is recognised that it may be necessary - under very exceptional conditions - for arrangements to be made for examinations to take place through electronic media. Accordingly, the Graduate Development Committee is empowered to give approval to requests that electronic media may be used, in exceptional circumstances. (See Cardiff University Procedure for Examination by Electronic Means')
An examination may not proceed without all the appointed Examiners being present. In the event of an Examiner’s unexpected illness, the examination must be postponed to another date.
The Convenor should arrange for a comfortable room to be set aside, in a quiet and ‘neutral’ location.
The duties and responsibilities of the Chair
The Chair should greet the Candidate on arrival and introduce him/her to the Examiners.
The Chair should take care to put the candidate at ease and explain the form that the examination will take, as already agreed by the Examiners.
The Chair is responsible to the Vice-Chancellor for the conduct of the examination. It is his/her responsibility to see that the oral examination is fair and that due process is followed.
The Chair should not allow a candidate to be apprised of the likely result at the outset of the oral examination. To do so would be to deny one of the primary purposes of the examination - to confirm that the thesis is the candidate’s own work. Such practice is also unfair to other candidates who are given no such reassurance at the outset of their examinations.
The Chair should be fully conversant with the Regulations governing the award of the relevant degree, in order to be able to advise the Examiners, as required.
The Chair should ensure that each of the Examiners has proper opportunity to contribute to the examination process.
The Chair should ensure that the questioning of the Candidate is not allowed to become aggressive.
The Chair must remain present throughout the oral examination.
The Chair should allow the oral examination to run for as long as may be necessary for it to serve its proper purpose.
A supervisor, should s/he be present, must be asked to withdraw before the Candidate so as to provide the Candidate with an opportunity to say anything to the Examiners that he/she would prefer to say without the supervisor being present.
The Candidate must be asked to withdraw before the Examiners begin their final deliberations.
The Chair is responsible for seeing that the formal documentation is properly completed once the oral examination has been held (see below).
Criteria for the award of research degrees
For Cardiff University awards, the following criteria apply:
Doctoral level awards — PhD (including PhD by Published Works), MD, MCh, EngD and Professional Doctorates (DClinPsy, DEdPsy, EdD,DSW, DHS)
The degree of doctor may be awarded by the University in recognition of the successful completion of a programme of further study and research, the results of which are judged to constitute an original contribution to learning and to give evidence of:
- the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline and merit publication;
2. a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;
3. an ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the discipline;
4. the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;
5. a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry.
In respect of the award of MD or MCh, the results of the study and research shall be judged to constitute an original contribution to medical or surgical knowledge, and shall afford evidence of originality either by the discovery of new facts or by the exercise of independent critical power. The candidate shall indicate in what respects the thesis appears to advance clinical knowledge and/or practice.
Master's level awards — MPhil, MScD by Research
The degree of MPhil/MScD (by Research) may be awarded by the University in recognition of the successful completion of a programme of further study and research, the results of which are judged to constitute a critical evaluation and analysis of a body of knowledge and/or an original contribution to knowledge, and to give evidence of:
.1 a systematic understanding of knowledge, and a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights, much of which is at, or informed by, the forefront of the academic discipline, field of study, or area of professional practice;
.2 a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to the research or advanced scholarship;
.3 originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the discipline;
.4 conceptual understanding that enables;
- the critical evaluation of current research and advanced scholarship in the discipline; and
- the evaluation of methodologies, the development of critiques of them and, where appropriate, the proposal of new hypotheses.
In judging the merit of a thesis submitted in candidature for any research degree, the Examiners shall bear in mind the standard and scope of work which it is reasonable to expect a capable and diligent student to present after the period of registered full-time or part-time study.
The text of a PhD or EngD thesis should not normally exceed 80,000 words (excluding bibliographies and appendices).
The text of a MPhil, MScD by Research, MD or MCh thesis should not normally exceed 50,000 words (excluding bibliographies and appendices).
The word length for the text of a Professional Doctorate thesis is stipulated in separate programme regulations.
Decisions open to Examiners following oral examination
Examiners should judge whether:
the work meets the criteria stipulated for the award (see above)
the thesis is presented in a lucid and scholarly manner;
the thesis has been submitted in the form prescribed by University Regulations;
the Candidate has presented a satisfactory abstract of their thesis.
The Examiners should then reach one of the following decisions:
- Pass - recommend the award for which the thesis has been submitted
- Pass Subject to Minor Corrections - recommend that the candidate be approved for the award subject to the satisfactory completion of such minor corrections as may be required by the Examining Board. Such minor corrections shall be completed within twelve weeks of the Examining Board. The Examining Board may stipulate that the minor corrections made shall be scrutinised by either/both examiner(s) prior to the award process being initiated.
- Pass Subject to Corrections and Amendments- recommend the award for which the thesis has been submitted - subject to such corrections and amendments as may be required by the Examining Board. Corrections and amendments shall be completed within a period of twelve weeks. The Examining Board may stipulate that the corrections made shall be scrutinised by either/both Examiner(s) prior to the award process being initiated.
- Not to recommend the award.
Where the Examiners are not wholly satisfied that the thesis has met the criteria for the award, they may recommend:
- that the Candidate is not approved for the degree but is allowed to modify the thesis and re-submit it for the intended award on one further occasion, upon payment of a re-submission fee. The re-submission shall take place within a period not exceeding one year from the date of the official notification to the Candidate of the outcome of the examination;
- that the Candidate is not approved for the award for which they have submitted the thesis, but be is recommended for a lesser degree (e.g. MPhil — as stipulated on the Results paperwork);
- that the Candidate is not approved for the degree but is allowed to modify the thesis and re-submit it for a lesser degree on one further occasion, upon payment of the examination fee The re-submission shall take place within a period not exceeding one year from the date of the official notification to the Candidate of the outcome of the examination;
- that the Candidate is not approved for the award of a degree.
Further guidance on the available decisions can be found in the University's Notes for External and Internal Examiners and for Convenors and Chairs of Examining Boards attached to the Examiners' Report and Result Forms.
Suspicion of unfair practice shall be investigated in accordance with Cardiff University's 'Academic Integrity in Research Degree Study' Procedure.
Completing the oral examination
Once the Examiners have concluded their deliberations and agreed a recommendation, the Candidate should be invited back into the examination room and informed of the outcome of the examination.
If the Candidate has not been successful on this occasion, the Chair should advise him/her that he/she will, in due course, receive a written statement of the deficiencies of the thesis to assist him/her in the revision of the work.
At the conclusion of the oral examination, the Examiners should agree upon, and sign, a joint report on this part of the examination, including the 'Decision Sheet' which must be countersigned by the Chair. This should be copied immediately to the Registry so that official notification can be issued to the Candidate of the result and of any deadline for the completion of corrections or resubmission.
After the oral examination
As soon as a successful candidate has made any changes to the thesis deemed necessary by the Examining Board and presented two copies of the finished thesis for deposit in the appropriate Libraries; or immediately after an unsuccessful examination, the Convenor should despatch the following documents to the Registry under cover of the appropriate proforma:
· the original Decision Sheet, signed and dated by the Examiners and countersigned by the Chair of the Examining Board, showing clearly the decision reached by the Examining Board, together with:
· the External Examiner’s Report, signed and dated
· the Internal Examiner’s Report, signed and dated
· the External Examiner's Report on the Candidate's performance in the oral examination, signed and dated
- the Examiners’ Joint Report, signed and dated.
Written advice to candidates not recommended for the award but permitted to resubmit
Where the Examiners do not recommend the award of a research degree, then the Chair or Convenor shall provide the Candidate with a written statement of the deficiencies of the thesis.
This statement shall be agreed by the Examiners before being given to the Candidate.
A copy of this statement shall be given to the Candidate’s supervisor(s).
The Data Protection Act provides that all candidates have the right to request access to any comments or reports made about them, including those made in the context of the examination.
If the rare event that the Examiners are unable to reach agreement over the outcome of a research degree examination, no decision must be recorded. The Chair of the Examining Board should write via the Registry, to the Chair or the Graduate Development Committee giving a clear account of the disagreement. The Chair or the Graduate Development Committee shall make appropriate arrangements for arbitration. The Examiners Reports should accompany this request.
If an Arbitrating Examiner is appointed, s/he may require the Candidate to undergo a further oral examination.
Examination of re-submitted works
In the case of candidates re-submitting a thesis for further examination, the original Examining Board should be re-constituted.
If the Examiners are satisfied that the re-submitted work meets the criteria for the award of the degree for which it is being presented, it is open to them to waive the oral examination requirement on this occasion.
The documentation should be completed by the members of the re-constituted Examining Board as above (with the exception of the Report on the performance at the oral examination if this has been waived), and the Convenor should forward it to the Registry, as normal.
Appeals by Candidates against decisions of research degree Examining Boards
A candidate who is not recommended for the award of the degree for which he/she submitted, may appeal against the decision reached by the Examining Board, on the following grounds only:
(a) procedural irregularities in the conduct of the examination;
(b) exceptional circumstances affecting the candidate’s performance, of which the Examiners were not aware;
(c) evidence of prejudice/bias/inadequate assessment on the part of one or more of the Examiners;
(d) inadequacy of supervision, in which case there must be exceptional reasons why the Candidate did not report this prior to the decision of the Examining Board.
The grounds for appeal are fully described in the Cardiff University Appeals Procedure (Postgraduate Research Degrees).
Appeals which question the academic judgement of the Examiners shall not be admissible.
Additional notes for Candidates
In addition to the notes above, Candidates may find the following guidance useful.
Identifying an External Examiner
If you are a research degree Candidate you should be prepared to discuss with your supervisor the possible choice of an External Examiner. Your supervisor will approach the Head of your School (or designated nominee) with the name(s) of the people who might be asked to act as External Examiner in your case. The formal responsibility for nominating External Examiners rests with your Head of School. Once someone has indicated a willingness to act as External Examiner, your Head of School will then formally recommend the appointment to the University.
Arrangements for the oral examination
The University’s normal expectation is that an oral examination should take place within three calendar months of the date of a thesis having been submitted. A number of constraints influence the length of time you might have to wait after submitting your thesis; the timing of your oral examination will depend very much on the availability of the chosen External Examiner and your own circumstances at the time of submission.
If there is a delay in arranging the oral examination, your School should keep you informed of progress - even if that date that gets fixed is some considerable time away.
In any event, the University requires that your examination be held within twelve months of the date of submission, unless there are highly exceptional circumstances.
Preparing yourself for the oral examination
As part of your training as a research student, you will have been encouraged to write and speak about your work and to give presentations to your fellow students and staff — within your School are at events organised by the Graduate Schools or Graduate Centre. You may also have presented papers at conferences. You may have observed 'staged' vivas, enacted by staff or other students, and your progress throughout the course of your research programme may be been assessed via a ‘mock’ viva. These activities are all part of the preparation to defend your thesis.
Use the interval between the submission of your thesis and the date of your oral examination to stay in touch with your research material and to keep up with developments and publications in the field to which your project relates. Remember that one of the purposes of the oral examination is to establish your ability to locate your work within your chosen subject area.
Be prepared to be able to summarise your main arguments and to explain your choice of approach and methodology. Ask your supervisor for guidance concerning the questions that your Examiners are likely to ask.
How to conduct yourself at the oral examination
Your Examiners will understand if you are nervous at the outset, and they will make every effort to put you at your ease.
If one of your Examiners asks a question that you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask for clarification, or to ask him/her to re-phrase the question. If you are unable to answer a question, then say so.
Length of oral examination
It is a duty of the Chair to ensure that the oral examinations run for as long as may be necessary for it to serve its proper purpose. Most take between 2 and 3 hours, but some take less and some take more time.