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Dissertation Defense

The defense of the dissertation will take place in two stages: first, a Departmental defense; second, a formal defense  – the Final Oral Examination (FOE) before a University committee according to procedures established by the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). The two defenses generally are separated by at least eight (8) weeks, although flexibility in timing may be possible with the agreement of the student, supervisor, and Departmental and SGS examiners. Candidates in PhD programs that permit this option (EPI, OEH, SBHS) can request their supervisory
committee waive the Departmental defense requirement to proceed directly to their Final Oral Examination.
Students must submit the Departmental Defense Waiver form to the Graduate Office, to be approved by the Graduate Coordinator.

Departmental Oral Defense

For students preparing one, the Departmental Oral Defense will be held after the completed dissertation has been approved by all members of the student’s Supervisory Committee, and the completion of the final Supervisory Committee Meeting Report. The purpose of this defense is to rehearse the oral presentation for the SGS defense and to determine whether the student is ready for the SGS Final Oral Examination (FOE).

The student should expect constructive criticism about the content, clarity and length of the presentation and the quality of visual materials, as well as about the dissertation itself. In particular, the Departmental Oral Defense will confirm that:

  1. The student has adequately met the requirements for a dissertation; and,
  2. The student has the required level of understanding of the scientific issues involved in the
    dissertation work.

The Departmental Oral Defense is attended by the student, the supervisor and at least one other member of the Supervisory Committee, although all are encouraged to attend, as well as two reviewers with SGS appointments.  At least one reviewer should have supervisory experience in the student’s Division at the doctoral level.  The second reviewer will have a SGS appointment and may be a substantive expert from another discipline.  Eligible reviewers will have had no prior involvement with the design or conduct of the research, with the exception of providing references or other background material, and generally will not be the faculty who served as reviewers at the proposal defense.  If reviewers with this qualification cannot be identifies, the student may apply to the Program Director for an exception.  The presentation will be advertised within the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences.  Students and faculty across the university are permitted to attend.


  1. The Supervisory Committee approves the dissertation.
  2. The student contacts the Program Director (copy to the Administrative Assistant) to give notice that the dissertation is ready for defense, together with the names and email addresses of potential reviewers. If necessary, the Program Director suggests alternative reviewers. The Program Director must approve the reviewers, and will nominate one of them to be the Program Director’s representative.
  3. The supervisor contacts reviewers and arranges the date/time of the defense, and informs the Administrative Assistant of the arrangements.
  4. The Administrative Assistant reserves a room and any required audiovisual equipment, as specified by the student, and posts notices on bulletin boards and e-mail, including a confirmatory e-mail to the Supervisory Committee and reviewers.
  5. The student distributes, electronically, a copy of the dissertation to reviewers, with copies to Supervisory Committee members, four (4) weeks before the date of the defense. Student to provide hard copies upon request.
  6. The Oral Defense Committee comprises the external reviewers, the supervisor and the other Supervisory Committee members.
  7. Before the Oral Defense Committee convenes, the student and non-committee attendees may be asked to leave the room to permit discussion of the defense process among the Oral Defense Committee members.
  8. The defense will begin with a 20-minute presentation by the student of the research findings, followed by a period of questions and discussion among those present, with the two reviewers taking the lead in the questions. The supervisor will chair the proceedings and act as timekeeper. The question period will typically be expected to last 60 to 80 minutes. The supervisor will take notes of all issues raised.
  9. At the end of formal questioning, the student and other attendees will generally be asked to leave the room, and the Oral Defense Committee will discuss any issues of concern, to provide focused, constructive, and detailed feedback to the student, supervisor, and other members of the Supervisory Committee on the dissertation and its oral defense. The supervisor will take note of the feedback with respect to whether the dissertation work is generally adequate for the FOE; changes that should be made to the dissertation prior to arranging for FOE, and improvements that could be made to the oral presentation and defense; and will prepare a summary of the recommendations. If revisions to the text of the dissertation are recommended, there will also be discussion of the timing of the FOE. The student may be invited to be present at these discussions at the discretion of the Oral Defense Committee.
  10. At the end of the Departmental Defense, the Oral Defense Committee will complete the Report of the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences Oral Defense Committee Meeting.