Knowing what to expect

June 25, 2015

The article about how little help is on offer for those making their first formal review of a PhD candidate certainly struck a chord with me about the need for appropriate training before becoming an external examiner (“For doctoral examiners, it’s all about preparation”, News, 18 June).

I remember the first time I was an external examiner for a PhD, never having undertaken any kind of training or mentoring for the role. At the preliminary meeting with the internal examiner at the candidate’s institution, I was asked what I thought of the thesis. I said that I thought it was a fail because it was so poor. After a shocked silence, the internal examiner said, “But you don’t understand. The mere fact that he has reached the viva means that he has passed. The only question is whether he passes with corrections or without.” Feeling intimidated by this statement, I agreed after the viva that the thesis should be passed, subject to various corrections. Some weeks later, I bumped into the candidate at a railway station. He thanked me profusely for letting him through with corrections, saying, “Both I and my supervisor were convinced that I was going to fail.”

Charles Oppenheim
Visiting professor in library and learning services
University of Northampton

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