The Pros & Cons of Examiners

Or, to be more specific, the pros and cons of different kinds of academics who could be your examiner. Almost every good quality that you could value in an examiner, might be a negative for someone else.

An expert in my field!

“They’ll really understand what I’ve done!” versus “…they’ll… really understand what I’ve done… Oh… Hmm…”

Someone I cited a lot in my thesis!

“They can see what I did with their work!” versus “…what if they don’t like what I did with their work?!”

And so on. There’s no right or wrong really. Qualities you find helpful are your preference. Think about them and get a list of criteria for what a good examiner would be for you. Then think about who might match the list you have. You don’t get to choose, but can suggest names to your supervisors. They’ll probably have their own criteria and ideas too, so it’s worth preparing for a conversation.

No Strangers

There are lots of possible examiner qualities candidates might prefer – an expert, someone you’ve cited, someone relatively new – but all of these are just preferences. There’s no right or wrong preference: it’s just how you feel. Reflect on your preferences and make some suggestions to your supervisor. See which names surface in the discussion.

My only other piece of advice for candidates would be to aim for examiners who aren’t strangers.

Aim for an internal who you have spoken to before. Aim for an external you have met at conferences. Aim for people who aren’t big question marks when you think about them and their work. Knowing even a little about your examiners can boost your confidence a lot for the viva.

Overthinking On Examiners

It’s tough to generalise about examiners but it’s easy to tie yourself in knots about them.

Get an examiner who is an expert and you won’t have to explain the back story to your thesis… Unless they decide to test you and make sure that you understand it all…

Get an examiner who isn’t too connected then there’s no chance that they’ll have an ego to bruise… Although you might need to explain some things to them…

Get someone you know and at least it won’t be a total stranger coming to examine you… Doesn’t sound so bad actually…

It’s tough to generalise about examiners because they’re people. They have their own wants and needs, their own thoughts and feelings. So do you. We can go back and forth on pros and cons, try to second guess what someone might be like, but it’ll only ever be a guess. Whatever qualities you’ve discerned in the past, they’re there to exam your thesis.

All that said: they’re only people. Forget pros and cons. Think about what you need. Think about who you know. Talk to your supervisor. Don’t try to second guess what someone might be like or say. You’ve done the work. Find people who might appreciate it. Do your best to prepare. Then go to the viva and answer their questions.