Internal Vs External

Candidates focus on the distinction between internal and external examiners a lot. Have you heard these nuggets of examiner-related folk wisdom before?

  • Your external is likely to be more of an expert in your field than your internal.
  • Your internal will ask the easier questions.
  • Your external is going to take the lead.
  • Your internal is on your side.
  • Your external and internal will act differently.

They sound right, but from all of the conversations I’ve had about vivas, I’ve only seen some evidence to support the first point.

And really, when you break that down, it’s wholly dependent on the candidate, their research, their field and who is available in your department and elsewhere. The other four bits of wisdom sound like neat ways to sum up your examiners, but aren’t accurate and wouldn’t help all that much if they were.

Two simple truths that help:

  • First, your examiners are prepared: they read your thesis, are ready to examine you and are competent to do the examination.
  • Second, your internal is local: they know what the requirements are, and while they’re not on your side exactly, they are there to make sure it’s fair. (some institutions go a step further and have independent chairs in vivas, to ensure candidates get a fair exam).

Forget folk wisdom. Focus on what’s true about your examiners.