Picking external and internal examiners


Do people know how to pick internal and external examiners?

The time has come to pick them. My supervisors suggestion of the external isnt my top choice although my top choice he's mentioned also. His top choice I dont know personally and havent seen in person. My supa said that he is tough but fair and very experienced. What ever that means. I really want a guy who I can get on with. Hence my choice and Im familiar with his work and papers. I also have friends who are working with him.

Of course Im yet to let my supervisor know my opinions. I thought Id get a feel of how its done before I contact him.

Is the internal very important and does the internal needs to be in my field and know 100% of my area?



Hi! Basically vivas can vary tremendously, and it is your examiners who will create your experience so choose as wisely as you can! The external should obviously be someone who's well-reknowned in your field and preferably someone whose work you know well, and who will have an interest in your work. My own external wasn't a perfect match on topic but a fairly close match, and was also of the 'firm but fair' variety. I had met her at a conference prior to asking her to be my external and knew that she was at least nice, although I expected some tough questions from her, and I got them! But it was still reassuring beforehand to know that I'd met her and that she was essentially a nice person! The internal doesn't have to be a particularly good topic match at all (at least where I'm studying), and although mine was in the same broad field, her research interests were completely different. In my opinion it wasn't a great choice as she was quite rude throughout the viva, and my sup said she wouldn't be choosing this person to act as an internal examiner again...others who are on the doctoral course she teaches on have since said that she can be very impolite and impatient with them and I think that came out in the viva. Having said that, it didn't affect the outcome, but in retrospect, I would choose someone who is reputed to be nice and friendly- a bit of reassurance on the big day is helpful! Good luck! KB



I had the same experience as KB. Quite unexpectedly, my internal turned out to be a very rude person. Even her hand-written comments in my thesis are very impolite. Instead of simply saying something is incorrect, she used words like "crap" etc. (And technically she was wrong as apparently it turned out that she does not quite understand my research domain even though it seemed to be listed in her profile).
So, one important point, if your topic matches considerably with the examiners' profile, please triple check to see if she does not have a special minimalistic understanding of that domain otherwise it might become a bit of a mess (as happened in my case).
Another important point is, maybe senior examiners might not be abnormally hard on the student as they have had a lot of student vivas and don't need to assert themselves. (At least I can say this about mine as my External was quite senior and internal was only a lecturer)



Hello there Can I choose both my internal and external examiners?


It is really going to depend on your supervisor, I would say you should have some say on the examiners. I remember my supervisor suggesting some names and asking what I thought before he made the approaches - that all turned out fine! I think it is important your comfortable with the choices but it is even more essential that your supervisor knows them. Neither you nor your supervisor want any suprises at the viva!


It depends on which institution you are enrolled at. At mine, the two external examiners are nominated by your thesis committee, and the only input the student has is to specify who they don't want as an examiner.


First evaluate the relationship that you have with your supervisor. Is he sympathetic towards your research? keen on seeing you finishing it off at your earliest? supportive of helping you with the viva tips? understands that by this stage of the degree you are hard up on money and don’t want too many changes to make. If the answers are yes then I would say that go with your supervisor’s advise since it is his way of taking responsibility of making sure that he saves you from a tough external who has no work ethics and calls someone who is tough yet honest in his approach towards evaluating your work, and your performance in the viva. I am saying these things from my own experience. I was in the similar boat as you are. I also wanted a person whom a friend knew since she worked with him as a PhD student. But my supervisor wanted someone (who became my external as well) whom I hadn’t referenced in my work, with whose work I was unfamiliar and who was known to be tough. My viva went very well with a straight A grade. Later on I came to know that this other person in whom I was interested as an external was though very kind towards his own PhD students yet he had a reputation of giving atleast major revisions on the theory chapter and a minimum of 6 months of changes. I hope and wish that things go great for you! But just contemplate on from all the angles and then push your choice forward. All the best and do share with us how your viva goes!


Hi... I went through similar dilemma when choosing external member for my proposal defense. I left it to my supervisor in the end although she asked me to suggest a few people. I passed my proposal defense even though it was very difficult. According to my supervisor, the external does not have to be 100% familiar with your area, and it is better to choose someone they have worked with before rather than a stranger. As others have suggested, it also depends on your institution; some gave freedom to students more than others in terms of choosing externals. As for internals, I've learned that its better to get people who work well with your supervisor so you don't have 'problems' later on... :-) Good luck to you!


@ Iman @ Ash79 Thanks guys! What if you do not get on with your supervisor and are thinking of submitting without his/her approval? What chance do you have then to nominate internal and external examiners? Who do you go to with nominations if you can't go to your supervisor?


I had a very similar experience as Keenbean and Mak. I did not choose my external and the first external that my supervisor picked became unavailable just few weeks before my viva so my supervisor had to pick one random from where she graduated (which is technically ranked no. 1 in the world) just few weeks before my viva. My sup picked a young examiner, a lecturer, and she was graduated only 2 years before me but worked under people whom I used a lot of references from. During the viva, the external was extremely rude and self-righteous to a point that my sup had to tell her about our lab limitations and several other issues but she was extremely demanding on the techniques (mostly hi-tech analytical methods) which were not available to me or even any of the unis in the country (only one or two unis in the world would have those). I passed my viva but the external examiner made a dent in my thesis (and my confidence) which I had to spend about 4 months to do corrections (she read word by word of my thesis and pretty much all pages were revised at the end). After I submitted my final version to her to review she mentioned that I did a good job initially but she wanted to make my thesis better, and she offered that if I was planning to do some additional tests on my subject, she would love to collaborate! But by then the damages was done and I was so upset and bitter at the whole academia that I did not attend my convocation and picked up my PhD diploma next day!

3 years has passed now and I have published few journal papers from my PhD work and some of it came from the suggestions that external examiner made. So I always wonder whether I should be thankful to her for that 4 months that she made my life like hell or whatever :)... Many told me that senior profs make much better external examiners!


Hi sorry for my rather delayed reply to you. There are two possibilities here. One scenario that I am writing is of my best friend, doing PhD in the same dept as myself. Her supervisor gave her a real hard time in the final three months of PhD submission. For instance, the supervisor would criticize her work which was earlier on approved by the supervisor. My friend lost confidence in her supervisor completely, and wanted to have examiners of her own choice. In this regard, in our dept the point of contact was our postgrad officer. When she spoke with him about the possibility of having the supervisors that she wanted (note that she never bad mouthed her supervisor in front of anyone), he took the list of her choice examiners. In the end however, the examiners chosen were those that were suggested by her supervisor. Later this was also found out that the post grad officer and the supervisor were best of friends and all was decided amongst them before hand. Her viva went alright in the end and she got 6 months of changes. It was a very tough time for us as she would have sleepless nights before the viva; lacking in confidence and thinking what if the supervisor and the external examiner are also friends? And what if she gets a fail in the viva? However nothing of the sort happened. I would only kindly like to advise that just try once and discuss with your supervisor or post grad office with a reason that why you want a specific examiner and why not the one chose by your supervisor. If your voice is still unheard then remain silent on the issue and just hope for the best. You have been very brave so far, so just continue with that, go to the viva room with confidence and give you maximum. Fingers crossed!!!


Thank you. My confidence is shattered right now and would really benefit from positive feedback and positive relationship with my supervisor right now. I have told her about my internal and external nominations but I won't be surprised if she ignores them.