Friday, June 29, 2007

Choosing my executioners examiners

I've been having examiner issues. The Australian system is different from the USA, and our university is slightly different again from other Australian places, so I should give a little background. There is usually no defense for PhD students. (We are defenseless; don't hurt us!). But the dissertation itself is examined by two or three external examiners. They are officially selected by a student's committee, but in practise, students themselves provide a shortlist, and the committee usually uses people from that.

There are a lot of considerations when it comes to choosing examiners. For one thing, they can't be dead.

You might scoff, but that rules out a large number of people in my bibliography.

They should be senior. And powerful. And preferably someone you might come in contact with on the job market, since that way they'll be familiar with your work. They can't be anyone you have been in contact with while writing the dissertation.

Legend has it that Americans make the cushiest examiners, because they are used to a PhD thesis being only a part of grad school, rather than the be-all-and-end-all of it, and our dissertations, which are, after all, all we have been doing for the entire time, usually compare favourably in terms of thoroughness, and in the size of the question(s) addressed.

It is also said that the more elderly the examiner, the more allowances they make for us poor ignorant younglings. It's the just-tenured you have to watch out for, as they see themselves as gatekeepers of the field. And anyone who hasn't examined a thesis before apparently feels pressure to do an exceptionally "thorough" job. And we doesn't like thoroughness, does we, my precious?

Then there's the consideration that, the more they know about your topic, the pickier they will be; but on the other hand, the better the final document will be after you incorporate their suggested revisions. Ideally you want someone who is generous enough that they won't fail you, but fussy enough to force you to revise to the best of your ability.

Finally, a financial consideration. While it is expected that at least one examiner should be from outside Australia, having three overseas examiners is frowned upon, since any one of them is allowed to request an oral defense, and then the university has to foot the bill to fly them halfway across the world. (This happens more rarely than you might think, given that all they have to do is tick a box and they get an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia.)

Anyway, I've finally picked out four names of non-threatening yet relatively famous non-dead (undead?) people—one in Australia, two in the USA, and one in Europe—and my committee gets to narrow it down to two of them.

Now to go back to the places in the dissertation where I have discussed their work, and make sure it's free of unnecessary snark...

12 Comments:

Anastasia said...

the process sounds much more intimidating than what we face here.

also, who doesn't want an all expenses paid trip to australia?? I'll examine!

shrinkykitten said...

Oooh! Pick me! Pick me! I want an oral defense!

Meagan said...

Oh dear, it sounds very scary!

I just wanted to write and say hello, and that I am enjoying your blog very much! From one PhD student to another...

Ianqui said...

Well, under the circumstances, I'm guessing you'll get the Australian one for sure, so I hope you like him/her!

Geeka said...

While I loved being in Australia when I was there, I was grumpy the first couple of days due to the time change. I don't think Styley wants a grumpy examiner!

We pretty much get told who is on our committee.

I got my post card today. It was excellent, although I wish post offices wouldn't put those stickers on them.

JustMe said...

feel free to add me to your short list as well, i promise i will be nice after i get the oral defense! and i demand it is held on the beach too.

Weekend_Viking said...

Well, under the Canty system, I had one internal and two external - Internal was one of my supervisors (Which I've always felt was a dodgy thing) and the two externals were an ex geological survey geologist from Wellington (very pedantic, didn't like my writing style at all) and the other a professor of geology from Chile, who was excellent. I didn't get any choice in examiners, but I was warned who they were beforehand.

StyleyGeek said...

You might have problems finding a beach in this city, JustMe :) The one major Australian city that isn't on the coast, dammit.

Ianqui, that's the logic I was using too, so I picked someone who is totally awesome and whose work has influenced my ideas quite a lot.

Geeka, I'm glad your postcard arrived. Weirdly, although they were posted at the same time, Brazen Hussy's arrived ages ago. I guess that's because it was superior :)

Welcome, Meagan! Glad you are enjoying the read. I see you are a parrot person too. Jake is gorgeous.

StyleyGeek said...

Oh and Geeka, we have a committee, too. But they aren't the same as the examiners. The committee has to read and pass your thesis before it can go out to the external examiners. So getting it past my committee is the first hurdle. I'm planning to submit to them in about 10 days time.

EA said...

Wow! Yikes! Scary? Oish! I've got one examiner outside my department, that makes me nervous enough... but two, not even attached to the university... ::blink:: you guys are way ethical...

ZaPaper said...

It's interesting to hear about the differences in process. However, I'm wracking my brains trying to figure out what else (other than the diss), as an American PhD student, I'm supposed to have been doing. Or do you mean qualifying exams which were so long ago I hardly remember them...?

StyleyGeek said...

I mean coursework, and comps and qualifying exams, and I don't know! You were the one who did it! Think back on those first few years of grad school...