Appointment of examiners
Guidance on appointing examiners for thesis examinations.
It is the supervisor’s responsibility to nominate suitable examiners with appropriate subject expertise and experience well in advance of the student submitting their thesis. It is essential, therefore, that the student keeps their supervisor informed of progress towards thesis submission, so that a recommendation for the appointment of examiners can be made to the faculty in good time. Students who submit their thesis without first informing their supervisor should note that this may result in delays in the examination process if the examiners have not yet been appointed. All nominations for the appointment of examiners require faculty approval prior to the thesis being sent out.
Supervisors should informally approach the external examiner(s) initially to verify their willingness to act and should then complete the Appointment of Examiners form for approval. Supervisors should also check that the proposed examiners are aware of the timescales for examination of the thesis and completion of examiners’ reports and are available to act within the relevant timescales.
At least two examiners must be appointed for every examination, at least one of whom must be an external examiner. The external examiner is a senior academic or professional/practitioner with expertise in the relevant subject area of the thesis and must be appointed from outside the University.
Most students are required to have one internal and one external examiner, apart from university staff candidates, who are required to have two external examiners. It may also be deemed appropriate to appoint two external examiners for candidates who are
undertaking work in their department, even if they are not formally registered as staff candidates. If it is not possible to appoint a suitable internal examiner, it may be possible to appoint two external examiners.
Where two external examiners are appointed, departments must also nominate a senior member of academic staff to act as an internal coordinator. An internal coordinator may also be appointed if the internal examiner has not yet accrued much examination experience. The internal coordinator's role is primarily to ensure that the University's regulations and procedures are correctly followed and, where there is no internal examiner appointed, to liaise with the examiners and the student concerning the arrangements for the oral examination.
To avoid any potential conflict of interest, examiners should have no previous association with the student or direct involvement with their research project and must declare any past or planned future connections with the student. This includes, but is not limited to, current or former academic supervision, pastoral relationships, family relationships, friendship, employment, or professional connections.
The examiners should also advise Research, Partnerships and Innovation if they have a connection to the supervisor that might constitute a conflict of interest (such as those listed above). In cases of uncertainty, Research, Partnerships and Innovation should be consulted.
Departments are expected to appoint a diversity of external examiners and not to reappoint the same examiners on multiple occasions. Where possible, an external examiner should not be reappointed within a three-year period. Regular pairings of the same internal and external examiner should also be avoided.
Examiners should always treat the contents of the thesis they are examining as strictly confidential throughout the examination process and afterwards, and under no circumstances should they share the contents of the thesis with anyone who is not authorised to read it. In some instances there may be a requirement for a formal confidentiality agreement to be put in place to cover the examination of the thesis, for example, where specified in sponsorship agreements or when there are commercial considerations. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that arrangements are made for a confidentiality agreement at an early stage, e.g. when the examiners are nominated. Confidentiality agreements can be drawn up by Research, Partnerships and Innovation and initial enquiries should be directed to the PGR Support Team.
The University has agreed eligibility criteria for the appointment of examiners for research degrees to ensure that the composition of the examination team is appropriate in terms of specialist expertise and experience.
The external examiner is expected to have significant and demonstrable knowledge of the field covered by the thesis to provide an in-depth analysis of the thesis and a rigorous viva voce examination.
The internal examiner should be able to assess the thesis and to ensure that the examination process is conducted fairly and rigorously and must therefore have a sound knowledge and understanding of university regulations and procedures governing the examination process.
In order that the candidate is treated in a fair and equitable manner consistent with the standards and expectations of the University of Sheffield, the examiners should have demonstrable experience of the PhD process beyond their own candidature and should have experience of successfully supervising at least one doctoral candidate and/or significant experience of examining at least three doctoral theses.
Should this not be the case, the curriculum vitae of the proposed examiner and a supporting statement as to why they are considered appropriate should be provided. This will then be assessed by the relevant Faculty Officer.
Honorary members of the University’s academic staff may act as internal examiners provided they meet the above criteria and provided they will continue to hold their honorary status for the duration of the examination process.
Former members of the University’s staff are not eligible to act as an external examiner until a period of at least four years has elapsed following their departure.
Completed Appointment of Examiners forms must be forwarded to Research, Partnerships and Innovation for faculty approval, along with any additional supporting information on the proposed examiners' qualifications/suitability. If it becomes necessary to replace an examiner, the same appointment procedure must be followed, and the Replacement of Examiners form must be used.
In all cases, examiners must be formally appointed by the faculty before the thesis is dispatched to the examiners and the date of the viva voce examination is set.
Non-UK-based external examiners who are visiting the UK to participate in paid work such as a viva must ensure that they enter the UK on the correct visa. Information regarding the Permitted Paid Engagement Visa is available on the UK government website.
Expenses and fees incurred by examiners solely because of carrying out the examination should be claimed through Research, Partnerships and Innovation, not the academic department, in line with the guidelines issued to examiners with the thesis.
Internal examiners wishing to claim for expenses incurred as part of the examination process should use the University's Expenses Claim Form for Staff.