How important are PhD examiners' reputations?

posted
09-Jan-17, 21:07
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 1 month ago
Hi everyone,

I'm on course to submit my thesis by the end of February (assuming nothing disastrous happens). Hopefully, this means I can have my viva in around May. In my uni, PhD candidates have two examiners.

One has already agreed. He is a leader in my subject area and would be a great examiner so I'm happy about that. My supervisor has just found out that the other proposed examiner unfortunately is on sabbatical in America (I'm in the U.K.) until July so if we picked her as the second examiner, my viva would be delayed until July. This potential examiner is very well respected professor and has a good publication record.

The alternate is a good scholar but she is younger and her publication record is understandably much shorter. I think she got her PhD in 2011. She is currently an assistant prof.

Do you think it is worth delaying the viva for the more well-established scholar? I almost never see 'examiners' mentioned on CVs etc so maybe it's not that much of a big deal? My supervisor knows both women personally and can vouch that both would be good examiners so it'd probably be fine to go for either but I'd be grateful for others' opinions. As you can imagine, I don't have much experience in this area!

Thanks a lot for your help!
posted
09-Jan-17, 21:52
edited about 16 seconds later
Avatar for butterfly20
posted about 1 month ago
What I have heard is that well-established professors tend to be a lot tougher if that helps!
posted
10-Jan-17, 02:53
edited about 17 seconds later
by awsoci
Avatar for awsoci
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From butterfly20:
What I have heard is that well-established professors tend to be a lot tougher if that helps!


I've heard the opposite actually! Suppose it depends on the field, but I've heard and experienced that younger scholars tend to be much tougher, generally because they are still finding their feet, needing to really demonstrate their expertise, and lacking in confidence that builds over time. To give an example, the much more well-known, esteemed and respected examiner (who had examined 12 PhDs) on my PhD gave me no corrections, while the young scholar I had (who I was the first one they examined) did. It's not enough of an example to make a substantial claim though.

I would also think about how many PhDs these individuals have already examined. Ideally you would want at least one examiner who has examined a number of PhD theses and years of experience. While others say you'd want two, I suppose we all have to remember that scholars do have to start somewhere, and they can't get the experience needed without actually doing it, so a young scholar isn't necessarily a bad thing (after all, for those of us continuing in Academia, we are/will be the young scholars examining theses).

I guess it depends on how long you want to wait, do you have that time available (i.e. work?) Could you work while you wait, maybe publish? You could use that time to your advantage. However, it's a long time to wait for a Viva, an extra two months. Do you want to wait that long?
posted
10-Jan-17, 07:24
by Ephiny 1 star member
Avatar for Ephiny
posted about 1 month ago
I have also heard that early-career/young academics tend to be tougher as they have more to prove and less experience of the range of acceptable work - there was a survey with that finding that I'll try to find the link to.
posted
10-Jan-17, 07:27
edited about 24 seconds later
by drkl
Avatar for drkl
posted about 1 month ago
I tend to agree with awosci. I have seen young scholars (usually fresh PhD graduates) being unduly harsh on students, partly because they were too eager to show how critical they can be and partly due to their lack of experience in examining theses.
posted
10-Jan-17, 10:20
edited about 9 seconds later
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 1 month ago
Hi everyone, thanks a lot for your responses so far!

I have also heard that younger scholars can be harsher for the same reasons that you've already outlined but as awsoci said, I suppose this is mainly based on anecdotal evidence.

I am able to wait for a couple of extra months since after I hand in my thesis, I will be starting a part-time research assistant position with my supervisor. I could also spend time trying to get articles published.

After thinking about it and hearing your advice, I will probably go for the more experienced examiner in July. My SO (who's also a PhD student) pointed out that examiners can also act as academic references so it could be useful to have two 'big names' to ask if necessary.
posted
10-Jan-17, 12:03
by Ephiny 1 star member
Avatar for Ephiny
posted about 1 month ago
This is the study I was thinking of, which talks about the 'dangers' of inexperienced examiners: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/555a/7e7198c9faca2656451c05bc1d51d55cb7cc.pdf
It does focus on the Australian system, which is different from many other countries (no viva, I think), but some of the findings might apply.

I guess if you're not in a particular rush to get your result, why not wait a couple of months and have the examiner you prefer?
posted
10-Jan-17, 12:12
edited about 15 seconds later
Avatar for chickpea
posted about 1 month ago
An academic friend of mine advised me that some universities will judge you on where you did your PhD, your supervisors, and your examiners. I'm not quite sure how a prospective employer would find the latter information unless you volunteered it (and quite frankly, it sounds like 'old boys' network' rubbish to me), but I guess there's a possibility that some people are impressed by the big names.
posted
10-Jan-17, 15:22
Avatar for DrCorinne
posted about 1 month ago
Choosing the right examiners is not only important for the outcome of your viva, but also because they might provide you with references in the future. My external examiner acted as my first referee on several occasions, and I think that it makes a huge difference if you have a reference from a high profile academic rather than from a young scholar.
posted
10-Jan-17, 18:34
edited about 1 minute later
Avatar for butterfly20
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From drkl:
I tend to agree with awosci. I have seen young scholars (usually fresh PhD graduates) being unduly harsh on students, partly because they were too eager to show how critical they can be and partly due to their lack of experience in examining theses.



That's strange, in my field fresh PhD graduates would never be allowed to act as an external. You have to be at the level of at least senior lecturer.

I guess it's different for different fields.
posted
10-Jan-17, 22:23
edited about 13 seconds later
by drkl
Avatar for drkl
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From butterfly20:
Quote From drkl:
I tend to agree with awosci. I have seen young scholars (usually fresh PhD graduates) being unduly harsh on students, partly because they were too eager to show how critical they can be and partly due to their lack of experience in examining theses.



That's strange, in my field fresh PhD graduates would never be allowed to act as an external. You have to be at the level of at least senior lecturer.

I guess it's different for different fields.




I meant acting as an internal examiner.
posted
11-Jan-17, 00:05
by awsoci
Avatar for awsoci
posted about 1 month ago
Quote From butterfly20:
Quote From drkl:
I tend to agree with awosci. I have seen young scholars (usually fresh PhD graduates) being unduly harsh on students, partly because they were too eager to show how critical they can be and partly due to their lack of experience in examining theses.



That's strange, in my field fresh PhD graduates would never be allowed to act as an external. You have to be at the level of at least senior lecturer.

I guess it's different for different fields.


Depends on the country too. In Australia, at least in my experience because we don't have vivas or panel committees (the latter depends really on the university), both examiners were external (i.e. not employed at the university). In this case, one of the externals could be a young scholar like what I had.
posted
11-Jan-17, 05:45
by tru
Avatar for tru
posted about 1 month ago
Hi, Nesrine87,

I think it is more important to know of the person's reputation as an examiner, rather than a researcher. If the person is a first time examiner, there is a high likelihood that the person may be too harsh and critical, expecting many corrections. This is because they may be trying to proof that they are doing their work as an examiner.

On the other hand, I have also heard of people who are experienced who have had bad reputations as examiners such as extremely long time to examine thesis (~ 9 months), overly critical (demanding original figures in the entire thesis including literature review, more experiments to address a question that was already pointed out as a future direction, etc) and no communication/response (eg completely no email response despite graduate school trying to contact for many weeks).

So choose a good examiner with a good reputation as a fair person, and choose wisely because your future is in their hands. Good luck!
posted
11-Jan-17, 10:40
Avatar for Nesrine87
posted about 1 month ago
Thanks again for your responses!

I'm not exactly sure about their reputations as examiners - to be honest, I know very little about this aspect in relation to scholars from my field but my supervisor is on friendly terms with both examiners and has known them for a long time so I would hope that they would want to be 'on my side' if you know what I mean. My supervisor (and I) made a mistake in the past picking someone who was quite hostile for my upgrade which was a nightmare so I think we're both being very wary about that again.

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