Ph.D. Defense Procedures
The Committee on Graduate Studies of the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences approved new requirements and procedures for the final examination, or Ph.D. defense, effective Fall 2023. Please review these requirements and best practices which should be used at all future CCAS Ph.D. final examinations.
1. Construction of the Final Examination Committee
The director of the dissertation research committee and the student should consult to choose the members of the final examination committee. The director of graduate studies in the program in which the student is enrolled may also be consulted in the selection process.
Each final examination committee must include at least five voting members who fulfill the following criteria:
- The dissertation research committee—A director and at least two committee members who have advised the student during the dissertation research process. (The director can be drawn from outside the program faculty in which the student is enrolled. If the director is from outside the program faculty, then the committee must also have a co-director from inside the unit. At least one other member of the student’s dissertation research committee should have regular, full-time status in the University. Other members of the GW faculty and external scholars can serve as members of the student’s dissertation research committee, if deemed appropriate by the program’s faculty.)
- An examiner (or examiners)—At least one examiner who has not played a direct role in the dissertation research process and is asked to read the dissertation only after all the members of the student’s dissertation research committee have approved the dissertation for defense. (If the student’s dissertation research committee comprises only three scholars, then at least two examiners are required for the final examination.)
- An external scholar—At least one member of the final examination committee must be drawn from outside the program faculty in which the student is enrolled. The external scholar may serve either as a member of the dissertation research committee or as an examiner. (Final examination committees could also include external scholars in each of these roles.)
- An examination chair—The examination must be chaired by a member of the program faculty in which the student is enrolled. The chair cannot be drawn from the dissertation research committee or examiners. It is recommended that the program’s director of graduate studies, if not an examiner or a member of the dissertation research committee, serve as chair. The chair takes no part in the examination itself, except, if asked, to pose an introductory question or elicit an opening summary from the student.
2. Pre-examination preparation
When all the members of the dissertation research committee agree that the dissertation is ready to be defended, the final examination may be scheduled. Whenever possible the final examination should be held in person, but hybrid or virtual final examinations are permitted, when necessary, provided that the student consents to such arrangements.
The version of the dissertation that is to be defended must be approved by all members of the dissertation research committee and circulated to all final examination committee members at least four weeks prior to the examination. Final examinations should be announced to the program faculty at the time the dissertation is circulated to examination committee members, and anyone who wishes to attend should be allowed to do so, assuming space is available.
3. Final Examination procedures
The examination chair assembles members of the final examination committee. While the student and any observers wait outside the room, the chair discusses examination procedures with committee members. Issues that are discussed should include the number of rounds of questioning, the order of questioning, and the time allocated for questioning. Typical practices include two rounds of questioning, with the examiner or examiners questioning the student first, followed by the other members of the examination committee, for 10-15 minutes per round. (The amount of time allocated to each examiner and committee member may vary, depending on the number involved in the final examination.)
Opening the examination—The student, the dissertation director/co-director, and the examination chair assemble at head of table for the following introduction:
- Examination Chair: This is a final examination for the degree of doctor of philosophy. I call on the director of the candidate’s research to present the candidate.
Dissertation Director/Co-Director: It is my/our pleasure to present [student name], who has completed all the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy in the field of [program name]. [Student name] and their/her/his dissertation are before the committee for examination.
The student, the dissertation director/co-director, and the examination chair take their places, and the examination begins. Typically, the student provides a brief (10-minute) summary of the research question, methodology, and main findings. This presentation may be omitted if the student has already made a presentation on the dissertation in the department.
When the questioning is completed, the student and any observers leave the room. The dissertation director (and co-director, if any) is called upon to make a case for the merits of the dissertation and the student’s performance at the final examination.
Each examiner and member of the dissertation research committee offers an evaluation of the dissertation and examination.
The final examination committee must decide (1) whether the student has passed or failed the examination, and (2) if the student has passed, what revisions to the dissertation, if any, are required. The decision to pass the dissertation and defense is reached by a majority vote of the final examination committee, excluding the examination chair.
If revisions are required, the final examination committee must decide which members wish to see and approve the revised dissertation as well as the deadline by which revisions must be submitted. Ordinarily, only the director/co-director of the dissertation research committee reviews the revisions, but other research and examination committee members may be involved if they wish. Regardless, the director/co-director should be given clear instructions to convey to the student regarding the nature and timing of expected revisions.
Once these matters have been decided, the student and any observers are invited back into the room. The student assembles with the dissertation director/co-director and the examination chair at the head of table, and the chair announces the results of the examination to all present.
The dissertation director/co-director reports the results of the examination to the program’s director of graduate studies, who then completes the requisite paperwork and submits this paperwork to the Columbian College.