Being an examiner of a thesis – a personal view

Two weeks ago represented by far one the busiest of my academic career.

For the first time I assessed a PhD, a very interesting experience. For the moment I am limiting my entry to the practicals of the process and not of the individual in question (since the process is not officially complete as of yet), of which there would be so much more to write!  None of what is written here is referring to the exam I have just been a part of, but a generic assessment of the process itself.

I do wonder about the British system of two or three ‘experts’ examining a thesis in great detail, identifying it’s merit and originality and then having the power to award or not.  [Of course we must never forget that supervisors play their part in steering it through in the first place and are in a position to suggest whether a student is ‘ready’ to submit, which in itself carries great responsibility.] I would like the examination backed up by a ‘presentation forum’, where the work is presented to a wider (selective?) audience, who would then have the possibility to question the author too.  [Something they do in the USA I believe?] In future, that is something an author will be subject to anyway ( i.e. audience scrutiny), so that can be part and parcel of the examination process.  I wouldn’t favour a presentation forum alone of course; some people do need to give the thesis a rigorous examination, having been through the system and therefore in a position to proffer relevant academically rigorous questioning.

There is another point for this: it gives the audience the opportunity to see exactly what the candidate is put through in this examining; I have obviously been through it myself and it can be a tough process.

Then again, perhaps what we have is a pressurised enough system as it is!  All that said, I did enjoy the process, and of course reading and learning from the thesis itself.

Finally there is the ‘post-colonial dynamic’ of a Deaf person being in the role of assessor, but that’s for another night!


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