7.13 Advisory panels for doctoral examinations

7.13 Advisory panels for doctoral examinations

7.13.1 The role of an advisory panel

The Monash University (Academic Board) Regulations allow for the Graduate Research Committee to appoint persons to advise it in the event of a difference of opinion between the examiners. When an advisory panel is constituted, copies of the examiners' reports are sent to each panel member, who may also ask to see a copy of the thesis itself. Copies of the reports are also forwarded to the student.

The Graduate Research Committee (GRC) may accept, vary or reject the recommendations of an advisory panel. In the latter case, a meeting of GRC with the advisory panel would take place to consider an appropriate course of action.

7.13.1.1 Initial recommendations of an advisory panel

An advisory panel normally recommend, depending on the examiners' recommendations:

  • amendments, either to examiner(s) or head's satisfaction;
  • fail;
  • revision and resubmission; or
  • appointment of an adjudicator. Advisory panels are reminded that this should be the normal recommendation where there is a substantial disagreement between examiners.

This would normally apply to recommendations other than:

  • pass;
  • pass with corrections;
  • response to questions raised by the examiner on the examination report form;
  • provision of additional information/clarification by examiners; or
  • other, e.g. oral examination, response by student to questions posed by examiner(s).

Note: An advisory panel does not have the authority to overturn an examiner's revision and resubmission assessment. Only the adjudicator may recommend this (see the section 7.15.1.5 below).

In special circumstances, it may seem appropriate for a panel to contact one or both examiners. If so, it may first seek comment from the student for transmission to the examiner by way of clarification. However, panels are reminded that all contact with examiners and the student must be through the Monash Graduate Education Examinations Unit.

Monash University does not reveal the names of examiners to each other at any stage during the examination process; therefore, a panel cannot recommend that examiners be asked to consult each other about a thesis under examination.

Where an advisory panel is asked to advise the Graduate Research Committee on an apparent inconsistency in an examiner's report (i.e. where a ticked box indicates a pass but the detailed report suggests more substantial revisions), an advisory panel may recommend a pass result, subject to justification for this recommendation being made to, and accepted by, GRC.

7.13.1.2 Fail

A fail recommendation will normally arise only where both initial examiners have recommended fail or where one examiner recommends fail and the other recommends revision and resubmission and the adjudicator subsequently submits a fail report.

7.13.1.3 Revision and resubmission

Where a recommendation of revision and resubmission is made by the advisory panel, it is required to specify the date by which the revised thesis is to be submitted, as well as mode of re-enrolment (full-time or part-time) and supervisory arrangements.

When a student is advised to revise and resubmit his/her thesis, a copy of the original thesis is retained by Monash Graduate Education and two revised copies must be submitted. The student is also required to re-enrol for the period of thesis revision. Normally the maximum period of revision is 12 months FTE. The Graduate Research Committee (GRC) has resolved that theses for revision which are not submitted by the specified date will, in the absence of evidence of extenuating circumstances, be deemed to have failed.

The panel may also recommend examiners for a revised and resubmitted thesis according to the GRC policy on the examination of revised and resubmitted theses:

(a) Where a student has been required to revise and resubmit a thesis which has had one dissenting report only, the advisory panel may recommend the appointment of only one examiner, not being the original assenting examiner.

(b) Where a student has been required to revise and resubmit a thesis which has had one dissenting examiners' report and an adjudicator's report that also endorses revision and resubmission, the advisory panel may again recommend the appointment of only one examiner (not being the original assenting examiner).

(c) Where a PhD student has been required to revise and resubmit a thesis which has had two dissenting examiners' reports, the resubmitted thesis shall normally be examined by two examiners who shall be appointed in the usual way on the recommendation of the head of the relevant academic unit.

(d) The examiner(s) recommended for appointment in accordance with (a–c) shall normally include the dissenting examiner(s) or, if appropriate, the adjudicator. Examiners of a revised and re-submitted thesis will be given the full range of recommendation options, regardless of whether they are an original or a new examiner. The original assenting examiner will be notified that the student has been advised to revise and resubmit the thesis and will be informed of the general nature of the adjudicator's recommendation, following endorsement of that recommendation by the advisory panel and the Monash University Institute of Graduate Research Committee.

Where an advisory panel recommends fail or pass and GRC accepts the recommendation, the panel's task is completed. However, in the case of a decision of revision and resubmission or other, the advisory panel will normally reconvene to consider the recommendations of the examiner(s) of the revised thesis.

7.13.1.4 Appointment of an adjudicator

A panel may resolve to recommend the appointment of an adjudicator. Adjudicators must be external to Monash University.

The student is invited to submit a written defence of the thesis in response to the criticisms and comments of the dissenting examiner. The student's defence will then be sent to the adjudicator together with the thesis and the examiner's reports.

The student and examiners are informed that an adjudicator has been appointed and the student is informed of the adjudicator's name under the same conditions of confidentiality as per to the appointment of examiners. However, the identity of the original examiners and the adjudicator are not revealed to each other.

The Graduate Research Committee considers an appropriate order in which an adjudicator might proceed with the task. Firstly to read the thesis, then assess the examination reports and finally consider the student's thesis defence. The student's thesis defence should address issues raised by the examiner's reports and should not contain comments directed at the professional competence of an examiner, or seek to influence the adjudicator's decision.

The Graduate Research Committee has defined the adjudicators role as follows:

An adjudicator is not an additional examiner but a judge requested to pronounce on the relative soundness, correctness and appropriateness of the initial two examiners recommendations. To this end, the adjudicator should offer an opinion on whether the examiners were competent and fair. For example, the adjudicator should assess whether:

  • the examiners have fully grasped the substance of the student's thesis;
  • they have erred in their judgement of the thesis;
  • they have reviewed the thesis at a level appropriate to that of a doctoral student.

An adjudicator is asked to provide reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with examiners. It should be reiterated that, in making an assessment on the appropriateness of the two examiners reports, the adjudicator is not being asked to set additional new requirements for the student. In the case where an adjudicator recommends revision and resubmission, they are asked to specify to which examiner(s) the thesis should be sent after revision, and whether the adjudicator would be willing to act as an examiner for the revised thesis, should the circumstance arise.

Where an advisory panel recommends the appointment of an adjudicator and GRC accepts the recommendation, the adjudicator's report is referred to the panel for a subsequent recommendation.

7.13.1.5 Subsequent recommendations of an advisory panel

Following the submission and favourable assessment of a revised thesis, or following the receipt of a favourable assessment from an adjudicator, two further options become available to the advisory panel:

  • pass; or
  • pass with amendments.

7.13.1.6 Provision of additional information/clarification by an examiner

There are a number of circumstances where this may be the preferred action of the advisory panel. For example:

  • the exact nature of the revisions/amendments that the examiner requires may be unclear;
  • the detailed written comments of an examiner may appear to be at odds with the favourable tick box assessment, in which case the advisory panel will be required to differentiate between revision and resubmission on the one hand and amendments on the other.

7.13.1.7 Other

There are other possible recommendations. For example, one examiner may recommend revision and resubmission, the other an oral examination. In some instances, the panel may believe an oral examination would satisfy the concern of both examiners and recommend accordingly.

An examiner also has the option of requesting that the examinee answer questions raised by the examiner to their satisfaction.

The advisory panel may endorse such a request and, following certification by the supervisor that the responses are appropriate for transmission to the examiner(s), the student's comments are forwarded to the dissenting examiner by the MIGR Office.

7.13.2 Membership of an advisory panel

When an advisory panel is constituted, the Graduate Research Committee representative for the student's faculty is asked to act as the convenor as a nominee of the Chair. Other members of the advisory panel include the main supervisor (or nominee) and the head of academic unit (or nominee). The panel convenor also arranges the appointment of a fourth member, who is normally from outside the student's academic unit and not necessarily from the same faculty. An important consideration is to ensure an appropriate gender balance is maintained within advisory panels.

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