Examiner Selection

You don’t get to choose your examiners. You might be asked for your opinion but ultimately, your supervisors will decide. They have the responsibility of nominating the two people who will examiner your thesis and convene your viva.

You don’t get to choose – but you might be able to steer the selection. You can put names forward, and it’s worth doing so. If your supervisors already have a good idea then ask them to share that with you. Ask them to explain why these choices are good ones for you; not to dissuade them but to build your confidence that they are the best choices for your viva.

You don’t get to choose. When your examiners are selected you can always find out more about them. You can be certain they are good candidates – in the same way that you are a good candidate. You can learn about them to get a sense of their perspective.

You don’t get to choose but that doesn’t have a big impact on how ready you will be to talk with them on viva day.

You Don’t Choose

You don’t get to choose your examiners.

You might be able to offer suggestions and discuss who they could be, but you don’t get to choose the best examiners for you; you can’t veto anyone that you don’t want either!

If your supervisor has a firm idea on who would be good then talk it through with them. Listen to their reasoning to feel confident about who they nominate.

You don’t choose your examiners – but as you prepare for your viva they won’t be total unknowns either. There will be lots you can learn so you feel good about the people you’ll be talking to on your viva day.

Citing Your Examiners

It’s not necessary for every PhD candidate to cite their examiners in their thesis.

It might be helpful for you in particular to have cited your examiners. Or rather, who you have cited might have an influence on the list of academics who might be considered to be good choices for your examiners.

If, as it turns out, you have cited your examiners then it’s worth looking at their work again during your prep for the viva. Be sure of how you have made use of their work in your own.

If, as it turns out, you have not cited your examiners then it will help you to take a look at their while you get ready. Get a sense of what they do and how it connects with your work, if at all.

You don’t need to cite your examiners in order for them to be good choices. You do need to read their work as part of getting ready, regardless of whether or not you have cited them before.

Don’t Go For These Examiners

Examiners aren’t all equivalent. Some choices will be better than others – which means, naturally, that some are less desirable. For example:

  • The Egotist. Someone who just wants to talk about their work, how important they are, and make connections with what they’ve done.
  • The Pedant. Someone who can only see the flaws, the minor details that aren’t quite right, all at the expense of discussing what’s great in your research.
  • The Ignorant. An examiner who knows nothing at all about the kind of work you’ve done, who has no experience with your field.
  • The Unknown. A name on a page, a choice for reasons you don’t get, but a stranger to you and your supervisors.

There must be better choices for you. What criteria matter to you and your supervisor? What names do these preferences suggest?

Start with exploring your criteria before names are mentioned. See where they lead.

Steer discussion away from Egotists and Pedants, the Ignorant and the Unknown.

Considering Examiners

I’ve frequently been asked, “What should I consider when selecting an examiner?” – a question which usually produces a very long response from me, but I’ll try to be brief and keep it simple!

First, candidates don’t get to select – they can be part of the discussion with supervisors, but supervisors choose.

Second, there’s no should. Good examiner qualities come from candidate preferences. Some will want an examiner they’ve cited; others won’t. Some want an expert, others will want a generalist.

Think about your preferences. What criteria does that give you? Who might meet those criteria? Talk it over with your supervisor.

I think the most useful criteria – for a candidate – are having met the examiners and knowing what other people say about them. If you’ve met your examiner at a conference or around your department then you know this is a real person. It’s not just a name at the top of a paper. And if you know what others say about them, you can build up a picture from their reputation about the kind of person who is going to be examining you.

Start with your preferences. Discuss with your supervisor. Be certain of who is coming.

Your First Choice

As you get closer to submission and the end of your PhD, it’s worth exploring possible examiners.

Who would be your number one pick for your external examiner? Why? What do they have that others don’t?

How about for your internal? Who in your department would be your top choice? Why?

You could suggest these people to your supervisor, and they might agree or not. It’s probably useful to have a couple of names in mind in case people are busy, and again, they might agree or not. Your first choice might be your examiners or not, but it doesn’t hurt to think about this at all.

  • If they are your examiners, then you’ve done work already for your viva prep. You’re one step closer to being ready.
  • If they’re not, then you’ve had the chance to practise exploring someone and their work. Now you can build on that for your viva preparations.

Nothing is wasted. It all helps. Your first choice might be the your examiner, or they could help you all the same if they’re not.

Background Checks

What do you need to know about your examiners? What will help you to feel happy about them being the ones asking questions in your viva?

Google is your friend. You can check out your examiners’ staff pages and their publication histories. You can see what they’ve presented at conferences and uncover their interests. You might even find out a little about them as a person, particularly if they’re active on social media.

This can all help give a boost to your confidence for how they’ll treat you on the day of your viva. You want to be examined by clever, reasonable people and a little research can help convince you of that.

Remember that Google works both ways. Think about what someone would find out about you if they looked. If your external wanted to know more about the researcher behind this great thesis they’ve been reading, what would they find?

Your Choice

You don’t get to choose your examiners, officially, but you can have a conversation with your supervisors about who might be a great examiner for your viva. Make sure you do that.

You don’t get to veto potential examiners either, but you could raise your concerns and expect your supervisors to listen. Don’t simply say yes if there’s someone you really don’t want; dig into why you are concerned and see how the conversation goes.

You don’t get to choose or veto your examiners, but you can choose to lead the conversation. Be pro-active: think about what you are looking for, who might be great, and start the discussion with your supervisors.