Thesis Defense Committee Members

The oral defense provides an excellent opportunity for the student to share what has been learned and to receive valuable feedback from invested and knowledgeable reviewers.

Faculty Member Responsibilities

Accepting this assignment means reading the work carefully and formulating thoughtful questions for the defense. Your responsibility is to help guarantee the quality of the final product and to examine the student rigorously at the defense. 

You should expect to receive a penultimate draft of the student's thesis at least one week before the scheduled oral defense. You should freely (and clearly) mark corrections and suggestions on this copy and return it to the advisor and student at the defense.

It is important that the student clearly and convincingly states the purpose, methods, and results of the work in the opening statement. Your questions may elicit further refinements on these issues; focus on specific points, illustrations, or passages in the work; engage the student in the most controversial or difficult aspects of the work; extend the ideas of the work to other topics or applications; ask the student to relate the work to the field and to her or his personal plans for the future; etc. This examination should be thorough (but not cruel). The defense is typically a stimulating intellectual conversation.

Notes: If you have serious questions about the work, please discuss them with the thesis advisor and even the Honors College Dean prior to the defense. As a courtesy, you would not normally discuss the thesis with the student before the defense except through the advisor or with the advisor's knowledge and agreement.  (For example, the advisor may in some cases appreciate the help of some direct coaching on style from a committee member in English or advice on statistics from a committee member with greater expertise in that area.)

Honors College Advisory Committee Member

The particular responsibility of the committee member representing the Honors College Advisory Committee Member is parallel to that of the graduate representative on dissertation committees. You are acting as a "quality control" check on behalf of the Honors College. In most cases, you will be judging work not in your discipline and will have to rely heavily on the advisor's competence and the ongoing quality checks in the process, but you can judge the thoroughness of the oral defense, the quality of the student's responses, and the quality of presentation of the finished written work. Please exercise the highest standards for writing and format as you comment on the penultimate draft and contribute to the decision about required revisions. If you have any questions about Honors College standards, please consult the Dean of the Honors College immediately.

Oral Defense Procedures

The defense itself should proceed in formal stages but otherwise have a congenial and relatively informal atmosphere.

  • Typically at the outset, the advisor, who chairs the defense, will ask the student to step out while the committee decides on procedures.
  • You will then decide whether to ask questions in turns or randomly and, if the former, in what order and for what duration.
  • The student is usually asked to make an opening statement about the work for 7-10 minutes. 
  • A piggy-backing on others' questions often occurs, and there may be a second round of questioning. 

When the questioning is over, the student is asked to leave. At this point, the committee will:

  • discuss and vote on whether the student passes;
  • come to a consensus about any necessary revisions for final acceptability;
  • determine whether the thesis is of outstanding quality (in instances where a student is a candidate for University Honors)
  • inform the candidate of the committee's decision

Finally, all members of the committee must sign a special form for the oral defense.