NursingWestern Health Sciences

Dissertation Proposal Oral Examination

A student who passes the proposal development milestone proceeds to the oral examination of the dissertation proposal. The oral examinations serve the following purposes:

For the student:

For the graduate program:

A student achieves PhD candidacy on successful completion of the PhD Dissertation Proposal Oral Examination and may then proceed to ethics review of the proposal (if required) and begin the dissertation.

Structure and Process

The oral examination consists of two parts:

  1. A public presentation of the proposal to faculty and peers, normally within four weeks of passing the proposal development milestone. The presentation includes an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

  2. A private, oral examination conducted immediately following the public presentation during which the student is asked to explain, clarify, and/or justify aspects of the proposal. The examining committee is composed of both internal members of the student’s advisory committee and an external reviewer who is a faculty member in the School of Nursing (for details, see the process section below).

Preparing for the Examination

Step 1

In consultation with the student’s supervisor, the Chair of Graduate Programs in Nursing confirms the examining committee as follows:

  • The student’s supervisor(s) and a minimum of one additional member(s) of the student’s advisory committee (internal examiners)*
  • One faculty member who holds PhD supervisory status in Nursing but who is not a member of the advisory committee (i.e. the external examiner)
  • A member of the Graduate Program Committee who chairs the process

*In the interest of timely scheduling of the examination, a minimum of 2 internal members of the advisory committee, including the supervisor(s), must participate as examiners, although all internal members may take part if this is a feasible.

Step 2

The Graduate Programs Assistant consults with the examining committee and student to set a date, time, and location for the public presentation and examination.

Step 3

The student provides 2 hard copies of the proposal to the Graduate Programs Assistant, who delivers these to the Chair of the Examining Committee and to the external examiner;

Step 4

The external examiner assesses the written proposal and independently decides whether it meets the scholarly standards for a PhD dissertation proposal in Nursing (based on the criteria listed in proposal development milestone guidelines). Within 2 weeks of receiving the proposal, the external examiner provides a written assessment to the Chair of Graduate programs.  One of the following may result:

  • A proposal which is judged by the external examiner to be ready for oral examination (i.e., is free from all but minor problems such as typographical or grammatical errors; errors in calculation, labels for tables, nomenclature; need for minor clarifications of content or minor changes to improve study procedures only) may proceed to examination.
  • A proposal which is judged by the external examiner to contain one or more major flaw(s) may not proceed to oral examination. Major flaws include serious problems in conceptualization, inappropriate or faulty applications of research methodology, neglect of content that is vital to the proposal, illogical argument, and seriously flawed writing and presentation. If unattended, a major flaw is one that would seriously compromise the overall integrity and validity of the study.

When a major flaw is identified, the exam is cancelled. The external examiner provides the supervisor and student with written feedback about the nature of the major flaw(s). In consultation with the advisory committee, the student is given an opportunity to revise the proposal to bring it to the acceptable scholarly standard for examination.

With the approval of the advisory committee, the student submits 2 new copies of the proposal to the Chair of Graduate Programs for assessment by the external examiner. If the external examiner judges the proposal ready to proceed to oral examination, a new date is set for the oral examination, typically within 3 months of the original date of the exam. If the external examiner determines that major flaws remain, the student is withdrawn from the program. 

Step 5

Once the proposal is ready for examination, the Graduate Programs Assistant sends faculty members and graduate students an invitation to attend the public presentation of the proposal.

Public Presentation

Faculty members, students, members of the nursing and academic communities and other guests are welcome to attend the public presentation of the proposal.

The Process

  1. The Chair of the Examining Committee welcomes those in attendance, introduces the student and examiners and briefly describes the process

  2. The student makes a 20-30 minute oral presentation which highlights major elements of the proposal. Appropriate audiovisual resources should be used to support the presentation.

  3. The Chair invites questions and/or comments from the audience.

  4. The Chair ensures that the public presentation does not exceed 60 minutes and directs the student and examining committee to examination room at the close of the session.

Oral Examination

Step 1

The Chair reviews the process with the student and examiners highlighting the following: 

  • The exam consists of two rounds, during which each examiner will ask questions to the student
  • The external examiner begins this process, with other examiners following
  • Each examiner has 10 minutes for questions/discussion in each of the two rounds
  • Additional time may be requested by an examiner if needed to assess the student’s competence

Step 2

When the second round has been completed, the Chair invites the student to leave the room so that the committee can discuss the exam.

Step 3

At the Chair's invitation, the examiners discuss the oral examination, identifying strengths and weaknesses in the student’s ability to respond to the questions posed in a way that explains and justifies the proposal. In principle, the oral examination should be evaluated as a whole, with the examining committee working toward consensus on the outcome (PASS/FAIL). Voting by majority should be used as an option when consensus cannot be reached. A PASS may be conditional on completing minor revisions to the proposal.

Step 4

The Chair enters the grade on the Dissertation Proposal Oral Examination Form. The Chair and each examiner sign the form which is taken for filing in the student’s academic file.  The student’s supervisor notes any issues that may require further consideration before proceeding to the ethics review of the proposal.

Step 5

The Student is asked to rejoin the committee and the outcome of the oral exam is shared. Feedback on the proposal and oral examination is provided and, if relevant, suggestions for minor changes to the proposal are discussed.

Step 6

If the oral examination is successful, the student becomes a PhD Candidate and proceeds with the dissertation research. If the oral examination is unsuccessful, the student is given a second opportunity, within six months of the first exam, to undertake the oral examination. If the student is unsuccessful on the second attempt, no further opportunity for re-examination will be provided and the student is withdrawn from the program.