PhD examination and examiner characteristics

Year: 2001

Author: Bourke, Sid, Scevak, Jill, Cantwell, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The choice of examiners for PhD theses across disciplines tend to be based on a stable group of features, i.e. reputation in the field, publication record, subject and/or methodological expertise, and experience of research supervision and examination. In Australia each thesis is normally examined by three examiners, and there is the expectation that most or all examiners would be drawn from outside the examining institution, with possibly some from overseas. What are the results of this process? It is a question that is rarely posed, and yet may have a significant impact on the process of assessment. For any one thesis how ‘balanced’ are examiner characteristics and is there a difference by discipline? Do individual or collective examiner characteristics predict the ratings given to a thesis, or particular qualities of examiner reports? This paper draws on data from a study of the examination of 101 PhD theses from one institution (i.e. a total of 303 examiner reports). The findings have implications for the process of thesis examination, the interpretation of thesis reports, and advice given to supervisors and candidates.