Research Student Handbook

Submission and Examination Processes

Submission and Examination Processes

Submitting your thesis is the final stage before examination. Research students must follow the University guidelines on the submission of MPhil/PhD theses. These guidelines also provide guidance on the presentation of your thesis and how it should be submitted. You may also wish to refer to the TQA Manual, Chapter 12, Handbook for Examination of Postgraduate Research programmes for more information and to understand the examination process.

Research Council funded students

Please be aware that if you have been in receipt of a Research Council studentship to fund your PhD you must ensure that you have acknowledged the support you have received in your thesis.

For further information on the nomination of Boards of Examiners please see Submission and Examination Process in the College of Humanities’ PGR Student Handbook.

In the UK system there are normally two examiners, one from within your own University (the ‘internal’) and one from outside (the ‘external’), although in some instances three examiners will be appointed, two of which will be ‘external’. It is up to your supervisor to nominate suitable examiners for approval by the College Director of Postgraduate Research. Your supervisors will discuss possible examiners with you, and should then complete the appropriate nomination form on MyPGR. Examiners must be nominated at least three months before your expected submission date. 

Your supervisors cannot act as internal examiners, but one supervisor may be present at your viva as an observer only; if you wish to invite a supervisor to attend this should be indicated on the submission form. Previous supervisors or pastoral tutors cannot be examiners. The internal examiner should be someone in or close to your field of study; however they do not necessarily have to be in the same subject area or college of the University. The external examiner should be from a reputable research-led University and normally hold the academic rank of Senior Lecturer (UK) or above. 

Once examiners have been appointed and the thesis submitted neither you nor your supervisors should have direct contact with the examiners, except to arrange the formalities of examination. It is the responsibility of the internal examiner to arrange the examination of the thesis within 3 months of submission. 

The Business School promote the appointing of a Non-Examining Independent Chair (NEIC) as good practice for all viva examinations. NEICs are normally appointed when any member of the examination team is examining a PGR thesis for the first time, or for the first time at Exeter, or if the thesis being examined has been submitted in an alternative format. 

The NEIC’s role is however distinct to that of the Board of Examiners and is not a member of the Board. It is the NEIC’s role to ensure that the University’s procedures with regard to the examination of degrees by research are followed and ensure consistency and fairness throughout the examination amongst other responsibilities. The NEIC does not take any part in the assessment of the quality of the thesis, and should not therefore have read the thesis.  The NEIC need not be a subject expert, nor even a member of the discipline of the student.

The University has a Code of Conduct for the examination of research degrees which you are recommended to read prior to examination. 

The examination of research degrees focuses on the candidate’s thesis, which the student discusses, advances and justifies through an oral examination (‘viva voce’ or ‘viva’). The viva fulfils two key purposes in the examination process in that it provides an opportunity for the Board of Examiners to determine whether the thesis:

  • is the work of the candidate, by assessing the thoroughness of the candidate’s understanding of the thesis (as submitted in written form) and the candidate’s ability to justify the thesis
  • meets the assessment criteria for the award in question, by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis and its justification, as well as the candidate’s knowledge of the relevant academic discipline, field of study or area of professional practice, and understanding of relevant theories, concepts and research techniques. 

The viva examination provides students with an opportunity to talk about their thesis with experts in the field and to receive feedback from them. Vivas normally follow a question and answer format. The questions can address any aspect of the submission, and there is no minimum or maximum number of questions that might be asked. The questions should allow the examiners to determine whether the thesis meets the assessment criteria.

Further details about the viva format and process are available on the Doctoral College viva pages. We also recommend that you refer to the Handbook for examination of postgraduate research programmes 

It is important that you prepare for the ‘viva’ - you are recommended to visit the University’s Researcher Development Online service, which has an e-learning course on ‘Preparing for your Viva’. 

Your viva should be held no more than three months after the submission of your thesis.

MPhil examinations may not require a viva, however, may be required if: 

a) a viva examination is judged to be necessary by one or more of the examiners; or

b) there is substantial disagreement between the examiners; or

c) the examiners are not inclined to recommend the award of the degree for which the work was submitted (aside, if necessary, from minor amendments). 

PhD examination

On the basis of reading your thesis and the oral examination, the examiners will produce a joint report with a recommended outcome.

At the first examination of an MPhil or PhD this can be:

  • the award of the degree,
  • the award of the degree subject to minor amendments being made to the thesis (to be completed within a stated period, not longer than 3 months)
  • the award of the degree subject to major amendments being made to the thesis (to be completed within a stated period, not longer than 6 months)
  • a requirement to revise and resubmit the thesis (to be completed within a stated period, not longer than 18 months).

On resubmission, the possible outcomes are award of the PhD (straight award or subject to minor or major amendments), award of an MPhil (straight award or subject to minor amendments) or no degree awarded.

MPhil examination

In the case of an MPhil, the examiners may recommend to:

  • the award of the degree,
  • the award of the degree subject to minor amendments being made to the thesis (to be completed within a stated period, not longer than 3 months)
  • the award of the degree subject to major amendments being made to the thesis (to be completed within a stated period, not longer than 6 months)
  • a requirement to revise and resubmit the thesis (to be completed within a stated period, not longer than 18 months).

On resubmission,the possible outcomes are award of the MPhil (straight award or subject to minor or major amendments) or no degree awarded.

After the viva examination and any required amendments have been approved, the examiners will recommend that the doctoral degree should be awarded. This is the point at which the doctorate can be said to be completed.

Students should aim to submit their thesis prior to viva examination at around one year before their programme end date, or in line with their funding end date to allow time for the examination process and any necessary amendments to be completed before the maximum period of study expires

Please bear in mind that there will be a period of time between submission of your thesis and the viva (the examiners need to read it and write their preliminary reports). The examiners also need to write their recommendations after your viva regarding amendments. In addition, you may need to spend some time making these amendments, which will have to be approved by the examiner(s). All this takes time, which is why it is very important to try to submit your thesis prior to your viva as soon as possible, provided that this is academically appropriate. It is worth bearing in mind that it may be better to delay submission of the thesis slightly in order to improve its quality and to minimise the danger of the thesis needing major amendments, rather than submit too early. This should be the subject of conversations between you and your supervisor(s) towards the end of your final year.

Useful University documents relating to the examination process:

Calendar: Regulations governing academic programmes

TQA: Chapter 12 - Handbook for Examination of Postgraduate Research programmes