The PhD Thesis Examination Process

Steps to be Followed in Submitting and Assessing Doctoral Dissertations

Once a candidate has satisfied the residence requirements and any additional requirements of their Graduate Academic Unit relating to language examinations, qualifying examinations, area and comprehensive examinations, etc., and acceptable grades have been obtained in courses prescribed by the Graduate Academic Unit (GAU), the granting of the doctoral degree then depends upon the acceptance of the candidate’s doctoral dissertation and an oral defence of that dissertation. Acceptance of the doctoral dissertation involves the following steps, each of which is outlined in detail in the following sections.

The GAU makes the preliminary assessment of whether a doctoral dissertation is acceptable for submission to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) and subsequently to an Examining Board. GAUs typically require that the dissertation be read by faculty members of the GAU. Some GAUs also conduct an internal oral examination of the candidate’s thesis. These steps have proven effective and all GAUs are encouraged to adopt the approach. Ultimately, submission of the dissertation to the Graduate School implicitly carries with it the stamp of approval of the GAU.

NOTE: Page Limits on PhD Dissertations - The length of the final dissertation submitted to the School of Graduate Studies (the SGS) should not exceed 400 pages (or approximately 100,000 words) without prior consultation and approval from the SGS.

Once approved by the GAU, the dissertation is submitted to the SGS, accompanied by a memo from the Director of Graduate Studies recommending the Members of the Examining Board and detailing the “Completion of GAU Requirements for the PhD Degree”.

The Graduate Academic Unit is required to:
  1. Submit an electronic copy of the dissertation to the SGS for subsequent distribution to the Examining Board.
  2. Submit a memo from the Director of Graduate Studies to the Dean of Graduate Studies identifying the names of all proposed members of the Examining Board, including the name and contact information for three potential External Examiners, from which one will be selected. This notification should include whether or not the GAU, or Supervisor, is inviting the External Examiner to attend the oral defence in person, affirming their ability to cover related travel expenses.
  3. Submit a “Conflict of Interest” form signed by the supervisor(s).
  4. Submit a “Completion of GAU requirements for PhD Degree” signed by the Director

Note that PhD dissertations can be submitted to the SGS at any time throughout the year, and every effort will be made to facilitate expeditious degree completion. Unfortunately, because the thesis examination process is involved and can result in the requirement for additional thesis work or revisions, it is simply not possible for the SGS to guarantee in advance when a final examination date will be nor when a particular thesis will receive final approval for graduation – much of that depends on factors that are beyond the control of the SGS.

Appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the GAU concerned, the Examining Board acts on behalf of the SGS and consists of the candidate’s supervisor(s) and three other members of the School of Graduate Studies, at least one of whom must be from the candidate’s GAU and at least one of whom must be from another GAU. In addition, there will be an external examiner from outside the University of New Brunswick.

The constitution of the Examining Board should be as follows:
  1. Internal Examiner(s) - Supervisor(s)
  2. Internal Examiner from the student’s GAU
  3. Internal Examiner from the student’s GAU, or from another GAU at UNB
  4. Internal Examiner from another GAU at UNB
  5. External Examiner (outside of UNB)

Examiners 2-4 may (but need not) be members of the Supervisory Committee; and Examiner 4 may also be external to UNB.

The process of constituting the Examining Board is initiated by the Director of Graduate Studies of the GAU. After appropriate consultation with the GAU, the Director will contact potential Members of the Examining Board, including making a preliminary inquiry of nominated potential External Examiners (see below), to canvas their willingness and availability to serve on the Examining Board. The Director of Graduate Studies then forwards nominations for membership on the Examining Board to the Dean, who then reviews and approves the nominations, or suggests modifications. See template memorandum on subsequent pages.

Selection of External Examiner: External Examiners will be selected based on advanced academic rank and recognized academic expertise. This normally means the External Examiner will hold a tenured or tenure track position at the level of Associate Professor (or equivalent) at minimum. Acknowledging that the definition of academic merit and expertise may vary across disciplines, an External Examiner should have a notable publishing record in the field or topic of the dissertation, as demonstrated on their academic cv. The Director of Graduate Studies will advance three (3) possible External Examiners to the School of Graduate Studies for consideration at the time the doctoral candidate submits their dissertation. The Director (but NOT the Supervisor) may make an informal approach to nominees to canvas their willingness and availability to serve. Where the Director also has some involvement with the dissertation, the Chair of the Department, or Dean of Faculty, or designate in the decanal structure, should make this informal contact with nominees for External Examiner. Every precaution must be taken to avoid potential conflicts of interest; hence, the Conflict of Interest form must be signed and submitted to the SGS verifying that there are no conflicts.

The School of Graduate Studies will
  1. Handle all subsequent communications with members of the Examining Board, including the External Examiner (see note below).
  2. Preschedule a date for the oral defence agreeable to all members of the Examining Board, including the External Examiner.
  3. Distribute an electronic copy of the thesis to all members of the Examining Board, including instructions to examiners on how to complete their reviews and submit their evaluations within 4 weeks of receipt of the dissertation.


NOTE: To preserve the integrity of the Examination process and avoid any perception of bias, members of the Examining Board are prohibited from being in communications with one another, or with the student, concerning the thesis during the review process. The only exception is that the Supervisor can continue to be in communications with the student in their ongoing supervisory role.

  • Examiners are expected to return their reviews to the Administrative Coordinator in the SGS within 4 weeks of receipt of the dissertation.
  • If the reviews of all examiners include a recommendation of only option 1 (minor revisions) or option 2 (moderate revisions), the process will normally proceed to the oral defence.
  • If the reviews of any examiner include a recommendation of option 3 (major revisions) or for other reason involve substantive concerns that warrant broader dicussion, a meeting of the Examining Board will be scheduled to consider feedback to the student and next steps. The student will NOT be notified of this step until the Examining Board meets and provides further direction to the student concerning next steps.
  • Normally the result of the meeting of the Examining Board is a report, developed collectively, that gives clear instruction to the student concerning next steps including any revisions that are deemed to be required prior to oral defence. In this instance, Examiners' individual reports are normally not shared with the student. Instead, the collective report of the Examining Board by itself provides the full direction needed.
  • Where revisions are required by the Examining Board, the student will have a maximum of one year to complete the revision and return the revised dissertation to the SGS for followup review and assessment by the Examining Board.

  • The responsibility for coordinating and scheduling the oral defence, and for preparing announcements of it to the University community, rests with the SGS.
  • Students will do an oral defence (in person, or for the time being in the COVID context, virtually). They are advised to be accessible to campus facilities and services following the defence to allow sufficient time and access to the requisite supports to complete revisions, and paperwork, and to submit the final approved dissertation to the School of Graduate Studies.
  • Oral defence proceedings will be chaired by a member of the Decanal group in the SGS, or by a nominee of the Dean. The examination will be open to all members of the University community and the public.
  • The purpose of the oral examination is to examine both the content of the dissertation and the candidate’s ability to defend it.
  • The oral defence will be limited to 3 hours duration, including a 30-minute presentation by the candidate. The Chair will introduce the candidate, outline the proceedings, and preside over the question period. Following this, the period of formal questioning by the Examining Board will commence. During this question period, there will be rounds of questions by members of the Examining Board. Examiners are asked to pose clear and specific questions of the candidate that do not require protracted elaboration in order to optimize the use of time, and to be respectful of fellow examiner’s opportunity to pose questions. The Chair will ensure that questioning remains professional and respectful and will quell any inappropriate questioning or behaviour.

  • At the conclusion of the oral examination, the Chair will request the candidate and general members of the audience to withdraw while the Examining Board deliberates.
  • The Chair will coordinate the Examining Board deliberations and their review and recommendations of both the dissertation and the candidate's performance in presenting and defending the dissertation. Note that, in cases where there are Co-supervisors, they have together only one vote.
  • The Chair will record and report the Examining Board's assessment of the dissertation to the SGS, using the "Assessment of Ph.D. Dissertation & Oral Examination" form. The options for assessment of the dissertation are as follows and are outlined on the “Assessment of PhD Dissertation & Oral Examination” form.
  1. Minor revisions: The dissertation is accepted with few (or no) modifications.
    (This option is appropriate where the dissertation is acceptable in its current form, or where only minor editing changes may be needed to correct typographical errors or minor infelicities of grammar, style or presentation.)
  2. Moderate revisions: The dissertation is acceptable subject to moderate revisions.
    (This option is appropriate where revisions are needed to improve the presentation of material but do not materially alter the substance of the thesis and the conclusions that can be drawn from it. This could include more extensive editing to correct typographical errors; to address other problems with the writing style; to clarify elements of methods, analyses, or data presentation (e.g., tables, figures); or to clarify or expand upon particular arguments or intepretations.)
  3. Major revisions: The dissertation requires major revisions and is returned to the student for revision and resubmission to the Examining Board within one-year.
    (This option is appropriate where extensive revisions are required that could materially affect the content and/or the inferences or conclusions that can be drawn from the work. This could include problems with the core scholarship, data analysis and interpretation, or major gaps or errors in the information or arguments presented.
  4. The dissertation is not acceptable and the Examining Board recommends that the degree not be awarded.

NOTE: When any of options 1-3 are used, the Examining Board must discuss and decide who will be responsible for reviewing and approving thesis revisions and this is to be noted by the Chair. Generally, the Supervisor would have this responsibility for options 1 & 2, and the entire Examining Board would be involved for option 3. However, alternatives can be considered. Whatever the decision, it must be clearly communicated to the student.

The Examining Board will also make an assessment of the ability of the candidate to defend the dissertation using the following options indicated on the “Assessment of PhD Dissertation & Oral Defence” form.
  1. The oral defence is acceptable.
  2. The oral defence is not wholly acceptable and the Examining Board therefore requests that a further oral presentation and defence be held before a final decision is made.
  3. The oral defence is not acceptable and the Examining Board recommends that the degree not be awarded.

Following the consultation of the Examining Board (which may take 30 minutes), the candidate will be invited to return to the examination room to meet with the Examining Board.

Following the oral defence and any required revisions to the thesis, the supervisor(s) and other members of the Examining Board (as required) will sign and submit the appropriate form indicating that the requirements for revision have been satisfied. This form must be received prior to submission of the final dissertation to the SGS for electronic deposit and archiving. The final dissertation submitted to the SGS must conform to standard formatting guidelines which are detailed in the Thesis Formatting Guide available on the SGS website. To assist in this, formatting templates and ‘how to’ guides are provided on the Electronic Thesis Deposit website.

The supervisor(s) must also ensure that both they and the student sign and then submit to the SGS the "Dissertation Deposit” form authorizing deposit of the thesis in the UNB institutional reposity, UNB Scholar. A student may request an embargo of their thesis, limiting its accessibility to the public for any period to a maximum of 4-years. All such requests must be accompanied by a detailed justification and will be reviewed and considered for approval by the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. Requests for extension will not generally be considered.

Students, supervisors and departments can request printing and binding directly through Lehmann Bookbinding  If you have questions, please contact

Following receipt and acceptance of the final dissertation, the candidate will be placed on the tentative list of graduates for the following Encaenia or Convocation. To complete this process, students are required to complete the on-line application to graduate even if they do not plan to attend the ceremony.

Unsure where to find one of the mentioned forms? They are all located under Forms related to degree completion and graduation at

Approved by the Executive Committee of the School of Graduate Studies, March 18, 2004; Approved by Fredericton & Saint John Senates, March 30/31, 2004. Revisions approved by SGS Executive February 9, 2017 and approved by Fredericton & Saint John Senates, May 15, 2017.