Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some Approaches to Selecting Examiners

The fifth fortnightly topic for the research supervision course I am undertaking is the selection of examiners and the examination process for doctoral theses. I asked a couple of experienced academics. They responded that they choose examiners, based on their expertise in the field, as well as international education, PHD supervision and examination, known personally, reliable and are likely to be sympathetic to the approach taken in the thesis. The last is most interesting, that the examiner needs to be matched to the candidate, much the way the supervisor should be:
I select examiners on the following basis:
  • they are experts in the field of research, preferably with a strong international education
  • they have experience themselves in PhD supervision (preferably examination as well), and are likely to have realistic expectations of a PhD thesis
  • preferably I know their personality, and they are balanced and reliable
  • they are likely to be sympathetic to the line of research taken in the thesis
  • main thing: match of field of thesis to fields of interest of potential examiner (not necessarily main publishing field, but other knowledge comes into play) - previous collaborators of the superviso, and, 
  • use of network of known people in related areas to ask for examiners in the specific area (If you can't do this one do you know of someone who you would recommend?) and sometimes this brings up a relatively early career person for whom the examination is itself a part of their further development - needs some extra judgement about the recommender as well
  • track record of returning exams in reasonable turnaround time in the past, if previously used and track record of not being overly tough if previously used (some pedants get no further invitations) - recognition that a PhD is not a final word but is itself an educational stage
  • match the quality of the thesis to the examiners quality - to some extent, reinforce good thesis with good examiner, but not use of goodwill of best researchers with mediocre theses (yes there are some) for a better than average good candidate thesis, also consider the future networking/patronage for the students' benefit (which redounds on the supervisor and home university) as a prescribed authority in the chain of turning recommended examiners list into actual invitations: also consider the standing of the examiner, and if necessary widen the supervisors' choice to a better quality than first choice of colleagues.

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