Guidelines to examiners of theses
Intent and objectives
These guidelines are intended to assist examiners of theses for the degree of Master or PhD by research in their decisions. In particular, they are intended to guide the examiner (in, for example, another country) not familiar with the standards required for that particular degree to reach a just decision which does not disadvantage the candidate.
Examiners are expected to be active in research and scholarship, thus ensuring that their knowledge of the field is current, and should be familiar with the supervision and examination process for research theses.
Two examiners are initially invited to examine a Master or PhD thesis by the Research Committee (RC). Examiners are asked to individually and independently assess the thesis, prepare assessment reports for the guidance of the candidate and recommend to the Research Committee one classification from those described under Section 3 of this document. The majority view of the examiners shall normally be accepted by the Research Committee and if examiners disagree significantly, the Research Committee may invite a third person to examine the work.
If an examiner is unable to complete the examination within a time satisfactory to the Research Committee, normally eight weeks, another examiner may be appointed in his/her place.
While there are no strict requirements for the format or the minimum length of a thesis, an upper limit of 55,000 words is recommended for a Master by Research and 90,000 words for a PhD.
Theses submitted for examination are temporarily bound. After the thesis is classified as ‘Passed’ by the Research Committee, it will normally be submitted in electronic format for lodgement with the Library for uploading onto the Australian Digital Thesis (ADT) archive, and available subject to specified conditions. Examiners are given the option of retaining the draft thesis.
2. Criteria for Doctor of Philosophy and Master Degree by Research
2.1. Master Degree by Research
The Master degree by research is normally undertaken over the equivalent of 2 years full-time candidature, which is spent primarily undertaking a supervised program of original research, although the depth of the research and the degree of originality required are less than those required for the award of a PhD. The topic is agreed between the supervisor and the candidate, with the supervisor laying down the broad outline of the research program. The Master degree is aimed at professional development of the candidate, with particular emphasis on research methodology appropriate to the field of study, conducted by applying such methodology to a specified program of research under appropriate supervision. It is intended to provide suitable candidates with the opportunity to develop their potential for research and to provide the community with graduates of enhanced ability, knowledge and diversity of experience, particularly in the skills of problem identification and specification, problem solution and presentation. In the thesis, the candidate is required to demonstrate competence in:
- Reviewing the literature relevant to the thesis
the candidate should demonstrate that he/she has become sufficiently familiar with the relevant body of literature to be able to make a critical assessment of the present state of knowledge in the subject. While not all references in the field need be included, the list should be reasonably complete and should include most key references in the relevant area.
- Designing an investigation, and gathering and analysing information
the candidate should present evidence to show that he/she has been trained in the techniques relevant to the field of research and can apply and adapt these techniques to other research projects. The candidate should show that he/she has satisfactorily designed, undertaken and concluded an investigation in the nominated field of research in a way normal for that field. The aim of the research should be described clearly and the study design should be appropriate for the aim and for the field of study. The thesis should show that the techniques adopted were appropriate to the subject matter and were applied properly. Data should be collected and analysed with care.
- Presenting information in a manner consistent with publication in the relevant discipline
the thesis should communicate the purpose and results of the research in a concise, logical and effective manner, by presenting them in a manner and at a level appropriate for publication in the field of the research. The thesis must be written clearly, accurately and cogently, and all sources must be documented fully. The quality of English and general presentation should be of a scholarly standard, suitable for publication. The thesis should be free of typographical and grammatical errors.
- Critical appraisal of his/her own work relative to that of others
the candidate should show that he/she recognises the limitations of the study and should justify fully any conclusions. The thesis should demonstrate the candidate's ability to assess the contribution of his/her own original work to the state of knowledge of the discipline and the more defined area of study, by identifying key references from the literature for comparison with the results of the research.
- The ability to carry out supervised research in the field.
The competence of the research design, methodology and reporting should suggest that the candidate can conduct research work of a publishable standard under minimal supervision.
2.2. Doctor of Philosophy
The PhD degree is normally undertaken over the equivalent of 4 years full-time candidature, which is spent primarily undertaking a supervised program of original research. The program provides training and higher education, with the aim of producing graduates able to conduct research independently at the highest level of originality and quality. The PhD is recognition of successful research experience at the standard used internationally in that discipline. In the thesis, the candidate is required to demonstrate, in addition to those qualities required of a Masters student:
- a significant and original contribution to knowledge of fact and/or theory
While it is difficult to assess what constitutes a 'significant contribution', one important way of gauging if a candidate's work meets this expectation is to consider the extent to which the thesis is publishable. Normally a satisfactory PhD thesis would be expected to form the basis of at least one article in a recognised research journal, conference proceedings or, in some disciplines, a monograph from a specialist publisher. It would be helpful for the examiner to offer an opinion on the publishable content of the thesis. However, the thesis should not be failed solely because similar work conducted simultaneously elsewhere has resulted in prior publication, unless such simultaneous work could be reasonably expected to be known to the candidate.
'Originality' may be shown in several ways. For example, a candidate may have posed an important new problem, have formulated an existing problem in a novel and useful way, investigated previously ignored material, offered new and significant insights about issues which have been examined by other researchers, developed new techniques for investigating issues or have applied appropriate techniques to a new set of problems. Replications of previous investigations would be acceptable only if they incorporated important new elements in the design or execution of the investigation.
- Independent and critical thought.
The candidate should show that he/she has the ability to conceive original ideas for further investigation from independent, critical examination of the literature, to state clearly the central theme or argument, to develop this theme systematically and to assess the results of those investigations in a critical manner, relative to the work of others.
- The capacity to work independently of supervision.
The originality and significance of the contribution to the field, and the rigour of the independent, critical thought should be high enough to suggest that the candidate can initiate and conduct independent research leading to publication in a scholarly journal or equivalent.
3. Recommendations by examiners
In assessing the thesis, the examiners should prepare a report of (a minimum of 2 pages), indicating if the criteria stated above have been satisfied and, if not, what modifications are necessary. Examiners are reminded that candidates value as much feedback as can be provided.
After examination of the thesis, the examiner must make one of the following recommendations:
1. The thesis be classified as passed with no requirement for correction or amendments and the candidate be awarded the degree for which they are enrolled;
The examiner may recommend this category for a thesis which is accepted as satisfactory for the degree.
2. The thesis be classified as passed, subject to minor amendments being made to the satisfaction of the Research Committee, without further examination. The candidate must make minor textual corrections as recommended by the examiner/s;
The examiner may specify this category for a thesis which requires correction of deficiencies in addition to minor typographical errors, but which are not of sufficient importance to warrant submission for re-examination. Such amendments would be minor editing of the script, (eg. spelling, punctuation, grammar, setting out of tables, etc), the insertion of additional information, or the clarification of points in the text. The changes should not entail further experimental work or substantial re-writing, merely editing of the text. Such changes would be carried out to the satisfaction of the Head of Department, who would recommend to the Research Committee that the changes made have satisfied the examiners' specifications.
3. The thesis be classified as passed subject to specific amendments being made to the satisfaction of the Research Committee, without further examination. The candidate must rewrite/rework specific sections of the thesis as recommended by the examiner/s;The examiner may specify this category for a thesis which requires more substantial amendment than that outlined in Recommendation 2, above, but which still does not warrant submission for re-examination. In addition to corrections as specified in Recommendation 2, above, such further amendment might include rewriting and/or reworking certain aspects of the text as specified by the examiner/s. The amendments should not change the substantive conclusions of the thesis. Such changes would be carried out to the satisfaction of the Head of Department/School, who would recommend to the Research Committee that the amendments have been made in accordance with the examiners' requirements.
4. The thesis be classified as deferred for major revision and re-submitted for completion of the examination following revision and/or extra work as recommended by the examiner/s;
The examiner may specify this category for a thesis which requires major amendment and re-submission for examination. Where possible, this re-examination will be performed by the original examiners. This category is to be used when the thesis contains flaws which have the potential to affect its substantive conclusions, but shows some merit which may, by a limited amount of further work (a maximum of one year) under approved supervision, be sufficiently improved for re-submission. The thesis may require further work in any or all areas, eg. further experimental work, further statistical analysis, major rewording of a section, expansion of the literature review.
In the report, the examiner should give clear, detailed guidelines as to what the candidate has omitted or misinterpreted. Your reasons for making this recommendation should stand scrutiny in an appeal process.
If the thesis is classified by the Research Committee as ‘Deferred for major revision’, the revised thesis will normally be resubmitted within twelve months of the notification of the classification to the candidate. The candidate is required to conduct further work, revise the text and resubmit the thesis for examination. The revised thesis will normally be assessed by the examiner(s) who recommended ‘Deferred for major revision’ for completion of examination. The examiner(s) of the revised thesis shall recommended to the Research Committee a grading of ‘Passed’ or ‘Failed’ only. (The examiner may advise of changes of an editorial nature).
A thesis deferred for major revision previously may not be deferred again, but shall be passed or failed at re-examination.
5. The thesis be classified as the examiner may recommend this category for a thesis when a limited amount of additional work or modification will not raise the thesis to an acceptable standard. This category is to be used when the thesis contains substantive flaws which are irredeemable and it is clear that the candidate has not presented sufficient evidence to warrant the award of the degree. The examiner is requested to detail as fully as possible the reasons for this recommendation in the report. These reasons should stand scrutiny in appeal process.
If the thesis is classified by the Research Committee as ‘Failed’, the project cannot be re-submitted for the same degree.
4. The examiner's report
The examiner is expected to prepare a detailed report (minimum of 2 pages) on the thesis; comments and suggestions should be full enough to enable the Research Committee to gauge the quality of the thesis. Comments on the following would be appreciated, particularly for PhD theses:
- the extent to which the candidate has demonstrated:
- critical insight
- capacity to carry out independent research
- the extent of the contribution to knowledge made by the thesis, and in particular its contribution to the understanding of the subject with which it deals
- the suitability of the thesis for publication, and any suggestions which would be helpful to the candidate in preparation of the material for publication
Detailed guidance for any revision referred to in the examiner's summary recommendation should be included. When the examiner recommends major amendments and re-submission, the revisions required should be sufficiently detailed to act as a specification for the candidate.
After assessing the project and preparing the examiner's report, in exceptional circumstances, an examiner may recommend that an oral examination be conducted. In this instance, the examiner shall specify clearly the purpose of the oral examination and the nature of the questions to be put to the candidate. An oral examination shall take place only at the discretion of the Research Committee, conducted as specified by the Research Committee and be convened by the Chair of the Research Committee or nominee.After the oral examination, the examiner shall prepare an examiner's report recommending one of the classifications outlined in Section 3 of this document.
Communication between Examiners, RMIT and the Candidate
- Consultation with other examiner(s) is not encouraged, to preserve the independence of the examinations. Each examiner should submit an independent report.
- An examiner may request the Secretary of the Research Committee to question the candidate on any aspect of the work, in which case a copy of the question and answer is sent to the other examiners.
- Examiners shall not contact the candidate nor the candidate’s supervisors directly during the examination process. In the case of an oral examination, such contact is permitted but is limited to the project presentation phase. Any other communication between examiners and RMIT or the candidate during the examination process should be channelled through the Secretary, Research Committee.
Confidentiality and the anonymity of examiners
Examiners’ reports will normally be made available to candidates and supervisors. Unless the examiner agrees to have his/her name revealed to the candidate, the normal practice shall be to provide anonymous reports to the candidate. Where the examiner’s name is revealed to the candidate, this shall not occur until after the examination process is complete. The examiner may also indicate if any part of the report is to be restricted. In such instance, that part of the report is to be marked “In Confidence”.[Next: Supporting documents and information ]