Research Student Administration Office

Information for examiners

Here you'll find the information and forms for examiners assessing a research degree.

Outline of the examination process

1. Research Degrees Examination Board appoints examiners

2. Thesis submitted by student and sent to examiners

3. Independent report submitted by each examiner within 8 weeks of receipt of thesis

4. Independent reports exchanged by Research Student Administration Office

5. Viva voce examination held within 1 month of exchange of reports

6. Joint report completed by examiners immediately following the viva

7. Examiners’ recommendation considered by Research Degrees Examination Board

8. Candidate informed of outcome by Research Student Administration Office

Examiner's forms

Appointment of examiners

Appointment of examiners form

(Please note that this form is filled out by the research supervisor)

First examination forms (Microsoft Word)

Independent and joint report forms for PhD and MPhil

Independent Report Form     

PhD Joint Report Form

MPhil Joint Report Form

Independent and joint report forms for professional doctorates

Professional Doctorate Independent Report Form

Professional Doctorate Joint Report Form

First examination forms (PDF)

Independent and joint report forms for PhD and MPhil

Independent Report Form     

PhD Joint Report Form

MPhil Joint Report Form

Independent and joint report forms for professional doctorates

Professional Doctorate Independent Report Form

Professional Doctorate Joint Report Form

Revise and re-submit second examination forms (Microsoft Word)

Independent and joint report forms for PhD and MPhil

Revise and Re-submit Independent Report Form   

PhD Revise and Re-submit Joint Report Form

MPhil Revise and Re-submit Joint Report Form

Independent and joint report forms for professional doctorates

Professional Doctorate Revise and Re-submit Independent Report Form

Professional Doctorate Revise and Re-submit Joint Report Form

Revise and re-submit second examination forms (PDF)

Independent and joint report forms for PhD and MPhil

Revise and Re-submit Independent Report Form   

PhD Revise and Re-submit Joint Report Form 

MPhil Revise and Re-submit Joint Report Form

Independent and joint report forms for professional doctorates

Professional Doctorate Revise and Re-submit Independent Report Form

Professional Doctorate Revise and Re-submit Joint Report Form

Instructions for examiners

Appointment of examiners

Examiners are formally appointed by the Research Degrees Examination Board, and written confirmation of the appointment is sent to examiners by the Research Student Administration Office. The viva date may not be set until the appointment of the examiners has been confirmed.

If the proposed internal examiner has not previously examined a thesis at the University of Sussex, the Appointment of Examiners form must clearly indicate the name of the experienced faculty member who will be briefing the internal examiner.

Where there are particular circumstances that warrant it, an independent viva chair will be appointed by the Research Degrees Examination Board.

Once the examiners have been formally appointed and the internal examiner has advised the candidate of the viva date, no further contact between the examiners and the candidate is permitted, as this may invalidate the examination. Instead, contact must be via the Research Student Administration Office or the candidate’s supervisor.

When nominating examiners, Supervisors must disclose and reflect on any associations between Examiners/Supervisors, Examiners/Student and Examiner/Examiner. Declaring a potential conflict of interest does not preclude the use of a particular examiner, but these must be declared and form part of the approval process. In some cases, the potential conflict of interest may be considered to be too significant for an examiner to be approved, however where appropriate, strategies for mitigation can be considered.

It is acknowledged that the combination of a small field and Supervisors with large numbers of joint publications can make it problematic to find an examiner without association. In these instances, a statement describing the context is required. Supervisors are asked to consider the expertise of the examining team as a whole, and if possible look beyond their home departments for internal examiners who, coupled with an external subject-expert, are able together to examine the standard of a thesis.

Please refer to Appendix 7 of the information for supervisors for the Criteria and Guidance for the Appointment of Research Degree Examiners.

Submission of thesis

A hard copy of the thesis will be sent to external examiners via recorded delivery and to internal examiners through the internal mail. An electronic copy of the thesis will be sent on request.

Independent report

Before the viva is held, each examiner is asked to submit an independent report on the candidate's thesis. Examiners must not confer on the writing of these reports as they must be truly independent. The report should be completed using the version of the Independent Report form applicable to the thesis under examination, which will be sent to examiners with the appointment letter or can be found at the top of this page under 'Examiner's forms'. 

The independent report should explain concisely the scope of the thesis, its merits and any shortcomings to be addressed in the viva.  This report should be returned to the Research Student Administration Office within eight weeks of receipt of the thesis.

Exchange of reports

When all the reports have been received, the Research Student Administration Office will send examiners the independent reports of their fellow examiners. Examiners should not confer on the writing of the independent reports.

Viva voce examination

The viva voce examination should normally be held within one month of the exchange of the independent reports between the examiners, although it may be delayed in exceptional circumstances.

It is the responsibility of the internal examiner to make the arrangements for the viva voce examination, and also to ensure that the Joint Report is completed and signed by both examiners and sent to the Research Student Administration Office within two weeks of the date of the viva. Please try to complete the form on the day of the viva itself.

The examiners are asked to agree in advance whether they wish the supervisor to attend the viva voce examination itself. The candidate may also request that the supervisor is present. The internal examiner should formally notify the candidate of the time and place of the viva voce examination, with a copy to the Research Student Administration Office.

Non-attendance at the viva voce examination

Candidates must be advised that if they refuse to agree a time, or if they do no not attend the viva voce examination at the agreed time they risk failure of the examination, and the examiners will have the right to conduct the examination and make a recommendation to the Research Degrees Examination Board on the basis of the thesis alone.

Environment for the viva voce examination

Consideration should be given to the appropriateness and layout of the room in which the examination is to be held; the room should be separate and quiet and consideration should be given to the positioning of the candidate in order that they may be put at ease. More detailed guidance on the conduct of the viva voce examination can be found in Appendix 1 (see below).

Distant viva voce examinations

A ‘distant viva voce examination’ is a viva voce examination where one of the parties are not physically co-located and the examination is conducted by videoconference or Skype.

All cases of distant viva voce examination require review and approval by the Chair of the Research Degrees Examination Board well in advance of the proposed viva date. Approval will generally be granted, but may be withheld if this review indicates that the conditions of the examination would substantially disadvantage the student regardless of other difficulties that this may present. Further detail can be found in Appendix 2 (see below).

Basis of assessment

In considering whether the candidate has met the required standard for the research degree being examined, examiners should make their decision in accordance with the University of Sussex criteria for assessment of research degrees (see Appendix 3 below). Examiners should also take into account the doctoral-level qualification descriptors produced by the Quality Assurance Agency, which specify standards and characteristics that are expected of those who are awarded doctoral-level qualifications (see Appendix 4 below).

Papers-style thesis

The inclusion in a thesis of work which has been submitted for publication is permitted under the University’s regulations. In examining a thesis of this kind, examiners should (i) be aware that the criteria for assigning to outcome categories are the same as for any other thesis, and include viva performance (i.e. the candidate should be able give a satisfactory defence of the thesis in the viva); (ii) be aware that successful peer review and the publication of papers do not guarantee a pass outcome in an examination for the award of PhD; (iii) pay particular attention to consistency or otherwise in the quality of those parts of the thesis which have not been submitted for publication (linking chapters). Candidates submitting a ‘papers-style’ thesis are required to include a declaration confirming their contribution to each paper, especially in cases where the co-author is a supervisor.

After the viva voce examination

Examiners may inform the candidate of the recommendation they propose to make. However, it is important that both the examiners and the candidate are aware that such a recommendation is subject to consideration by the Research Degrees Examination Board. In the case of a recommendation for the award of a degree, this is subject to ratification by Senate.

Examiners may indicate to the candidate the extent of any necessary revisions to the thesis being recommended. However, details of those items must also be included in the written report for consideration by the Research Degrees Examination Board and formal onward transmission to the candidate.  

If the examiners have marked the hard copy thesis where typographical errors should be corrected, the copy of the thesis may be given to the candidate after the viva voce examination.

Thereafter, any guidance from the examiners to the candidate should be communicated via the supervisor. The examiners must not have any direct communication with the candidate about the revision during the permitted revision period; specifically, they must not advise the candidate whether the extent of the revision is likely to be satisfactory or not, or whether the candidate's work is ready for re-examination.

Joint report form

A copy of the Joint Report Form will be sent to the internal examiner prior to the viva voce examination and the examiners should complete the report jointly and return the form within two weeks of the viva to the Research Student Administration Office. It is important that this report is as full as possible in order that the Research Degrees Examination Board can assess whether the basis for the examiners’ recommendation is sound.

  • Section A

    Report on the performance of the candidate in the viva voce examination. Special attention should be given to the extent to which any doubts raised in the Independent Reports have been dealt with.
  • Section B

    Indicate the recommendation from the list of permitted recommendations.
  • Section C

    In exceptional cases, indicate which of the reports may not be issued to the supervisor(s) and/or to the candidate. A confidential commentary may instead be added, which will be given solely to the supervisor(s) to assist them in giving guidance to the candidate.
  • Section D

    Detail any corrections that are required, even if a list of corrections has been given directly to the candidate or marked in the hard copy of the thesis.

 

If the recommendation is that the candidate may revise the thesis and resubmit for the award of either MPhil or PhD, it is important that the examiners provide separate instructions on the revisions required for each award. This section of the report should be as full as possible in order to assist the candidate in their revision of the thesis.

Note that if the candidate is given the opportunity of resubmission, the same examiners will be asked to consider the revised thesis and to submit further independent and joint reports in due course. On reading the revised thesis the examiners will be in a position to decide whether a second viva examination is required.

Review of recommendation by Research Degrees Examination Board

The examiners’ recommendation will be considered by the Research Degrees Examination Board as soon as possible, and normally within two weeks of receipt of the Joint Report. If there is a disparity between the recommendation made by the examiners and the content of the examiners’ reports, the Chair of the Research Degrees Examination Board may seek clarification from the examiners on the basis of their recommendation.

If the recommendation is for the award of a degree, it will be passed to the Chair of Doctoral School Board for approval on behalf of the Senate.

On completion of an examination, the examiners’ reports will be released, under confidential cover, to the Director of Doctoral Studies in the relevant School.

Outcome of examination

The Research Student Administration Office will inform the candidate in writing of the decision of the Research Degrees Examination Board and will communicate any advice and instructions in cases of referral for corrections or re-examination. The examiners may not contact the candidate until the examination process is concluded.

Further information

Examiners should contact the Research Student Administration Office (telephone 01273 876550; email researchstudentoffice@sussex.ac.uk) with any queries about the examination process. If examiners are unexpectedly unable to attend the viva examination, if there is a disagreement between the examiners on the outcome of the examination or if any of the examiners suspect plagiarism, the Research Student Administration Office will be able to advise on the correct procedures.

 

Appendices

Appendix 1 - Guidance to examiners on the conduct of viva voce examinations

Before the viva, the examiners should hold a pre-meeting to discuss the following:

  • Will one of you serve as chair and what will this entail?
  • Who will introduce the participants, and explain the structure of the viva to the candidate?
  • Who will introduce the purposes of the viva to the candidate and what will they say?
  • What is the (agreed?) provisional decision – good thesis, borderline thesis, failed thesis?
  • How long should this viva last?  If the viva is likely to exceed two hours, you may want to include a break
  • Provisionally, and recognising that the unfolding direction of the discussion may itself suggest appropriate lines of questioning, what specific questions do you want to ask? 
  • It is generally helpful to provide some positive feedback at the beginning of the examination to dispel the potential for candidate anxiety and to allow them to make their best performance.
  • If the discussion moves away from the examination purpose to broader review of the candidate’s work, e.g. to publication options, then this should clearly be signalled in advance and the candidate should be informed that the discussion does not form part of the assessment

 

Checklist of preparations for the examination room

  • Sufficient comfortable seating and table space
  • Clock/watch
  • Fresh water and glasses
  • Adequate ventilation/heating
  • Your notes and other examination paperwork
  • Paper and pen/pencil
  • ‘Do not disturb’ sign on the door
  • Telephone unplugged
  • Mobile phones switched off
Appendix 2 - Guidelines for distant viva voce examinations

The viva should normally be held at the University of Sussex with all parties present in one room. However this arrangement may not always be possible, and in order not to unfairly disadvantage the candidate in such cases the following guidelines must be followed.

A ‘distant viva voce examination’ is a viva voce examination where one of the parties cannot be present at the University of Sussex.

All cases of distant viva voce examination require review and approval by the Research Degrees Examination Board, which delegates this authority to the Chair or Vice Chair to act on their behalf. Approval will generally be granted, but may be withheld if the review indicates that the conditions of the examination would substantially disadvantage the student, regardless of other difficulties that withholding of approval may present.

A request for review of distant examination arrangements needs to be received a minimum of two weeks before the examination.  It is preferred that the request is received as early as possible.

The request needs to:

  • Identify the party that will not be present at the University
  • Specify the technical arrangements for participation (see below)
  • Assure the RDEB that a brief report concerning the efficacy and quality of the arrangements will be provided following the viva voce examination.

In arranging the examination, the appointment of an independent viva Chair is strongly encouraged, and approval will be promptly granted for the appointment of a Chair even if a Chair was not initially proposed during the examiner approval process.

 

Technical Guidelines

  • We expect examinations to be conducted using the best technology which can be practically accessed at the local and remote sites. 
  • The central considerations in assessing the conditions of the examination from a technical viewpoint are whether a continuous video image will be available at both local and remote sites and whether parties at the local site can both see and interact with the distant party.
  • The Research Student Administration Office can provide guidance on suitable locations on campus for holding a distant viva.

 Variance to these procedures may be approved in exceptional circumstances.

Appendix 3 - Criteria for the award of the research degrees of MPhil, PhD, EdD and DSW

 

The University’s Regulations for Higher Degrees state that a candidate shall be required to satisfy the examiners in one of the following:

  •  Master of Philosophy

    • for the award of the Master of Philosophy, that the thesis makes an adequate original contribution to knowledge or understanding or is a valuable presentation or interpretation of material put together in an original manner.

    • for the award of the Master of Philosophy taken by musical composition, that the portfolio of musical compositions makes an adequate original contribution to the field of composition and that the associated discursive and critical component should comprise (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the compositions and relevant practices in the field within which they are located (c) an account of ways in which the practice responds to or explores specific issues in relevant critical theory.

    • for the award of the Master of Philosophy taken by music-theatre performance, that the work makes an adequate original contribution to the field of music theatre practice and that the associated discursive and critical component should comprise (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the performance work and relevant practices in the field (c) an account of ways in which the practice responds to or explores specific issues in relevant critical theory.

    • for the award of the Master of Philosophy taken by Media Practice that the work makes an adequate original contribution to the field of media practice, and that the associated discursive and critical component should comprise (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the practical work and relevant practices in the field (c) an account of ways in which the practice responds to or explores specific issues in relevant critical theory.

    • for the award of the Master of Philosophy taken by creative writing, that the work demonstrates adequate levels of creativity, originality, scholarly competence and knowledge of the field within which it is located. The critical component should comprise at least one of (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the literary composition and contemporary or traditional achievements in the genre (c) an exploration of ways in which the writing responds to or explores specific issues in contemporary literary and critical theory (d) a research-based consideration of the creative writing process in relation to issues in the field of personal development.  If the creative and critical components are inter-woven, examiners will take particular account of the way these components enhance each other and form a coherent whole. 

  • Doctor of Philosophy

    • for the award of the Doctor of Philosophy, that the thesis makes a substantial original contribution to knowledge or understanding.

    • for the award of the Doctor of Philosophy taken by musical composition, that the portfolio of musical compositions makes a substantial original contribution to the field of composition and that the associated discursive and critical component should comprise (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the compositions and relevant practices in the field within which they are located (c) an account of ways in which the practice responds to or explores specific issues in relevant critical theory.

    • for the award of the Doctor of Philosophy taken by music-theatre performance, that the work makes a substantial original contribution to the field of music theatre practice, and that the associated discursive and critical component should comprise (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the performance work and relevant practices in the field (c) an account of ways in which the practice responds to or explores specific issues in relevant critical theory.

    • for the award of the Doctor of Philosophy taken by Media Practice, that the work makes a substantial original contribution to the field of media practice, and that the associated discursive and critical component should comprise (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the practical work and relevant practices in the field (c) an account of ways in which the practice responds to or explores specific issues in relevant critical theory.

    • for the award of the Doctor of Philosophy taken by creative writing that the work demonstrates substantial levels of creativity, originality, scholarly competence and knowledge of the field within which it is located. The critical component should comprise at least one of (a) a critical understanding of the attendant creative process (b) a critical consideration of the relationship between the literary composition and contemporary or traditional achievements in the genre (c) an exploration of ways in which the writing responds to or explores specific issues in contemporary literary and critical theory (d) a research-based consideration of the creative writing process in relation to issues in the field of personal development. If the creative and critical components are inter-woven, examiners will take particular account of the way these components enhance each other and form a coherent whole.

  • Doctor of Education or Doctor of Social Work

    • for the award of the Doctor of Education or Doctor of Social Work, that the thesis makes a substantial original contribution to knowledge or understanding.
Appendix 4 - Quality Assurance Agency descriptors for the award of qualifications at the doctoral level

Doctorates are awarded to students who have demonstrated:

  • the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication;

  • a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;

  • the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;

  • a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry.

Typically, holders of the qualification will be able to:

  • make informed judgements on complex issues in specialist fields, often in the absence of complete data, and be able to communicate their ideas and conclusions clearly and effectively to specialist and non-specialist audiences;

  • continue to undertake pure and/or applied research and development at an advanced level, contributing substantially to the development of new techniques, ideas or approaches;

and will have:

  • the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex and unpredictable situations, in professional or equivalent environments.