HDR Oral Examination Pilot 2020/21

Provider business unit: Researcher Development »

Oral Examination Pilot 2020/22: Information for HDR Candidates and Supervisors

ANU is conducting a pilot of oral examination as part of the research degree examination process. The pilot started mid 2020 and will end in June 2022. This page contains details of how the pilot will be conducted and how you can get involved.

HDR Oral examination pilot Frequently Asked Questions

About the proposed change:

What is an oral examination ?

A proposed new component in our examination process where the HDR candidate presents in person to their examiners and answers questions about the research. An oral examination is called a ‘Viva’ in Europe.

What will I need to do? 

You will submit your written dissertation as usual and then prepare for the oral examination, which will happen approximately 9 weeks later. You will need to present a 10 minute overview of your dissertation and then answer questions from the examiners.


The examiners will have to submit their questions to the Oral Examination Chair, who will decide which ones will go on the agenda (this agenda will not be shared with you). It is also the responsibility of the chair to ensure that the conversation is collegial and keeps to time. The whole examination should take no longer than 90 minutes. 


The aim is not to disadvantage anyone who chooses to take part, so the oral examination should be a positive addition to the examination process.

Why is ANU proposing this change: what are the benefits? 

Research shows that additional benefits of oral examination are: 

  • To bring us into line with international standards and expectations. 
  • Provide a sense of completion of “rite of passage” 
  • Extend collegial conversations around emerging areas of work 
  • Bring in overseas academics of high standing to engage with the ANU community, either virtually or in person. 
  • For inexperienced examiners to learn how to examine  
  • For candidates to benefit from the examiners’ knowledge in terms of career advice / publishing options and suggestions for further research. 


Why are we holding a pilot? Why not just make the change? 

The pilot will test, in the ANU context: 

The mechanics of the process ie How do we overcome issues like time differences and technology to support distance participation? 


The level of support required to prepare students for the oral examination.  


The level of support required to prepare ANU staff to take the role of Oral Examination Chair.  


Resourcing and scaling options or barriers. 


Implications for existing policy and procedures 


When does the pilot start? 

The pilot started mid 2020 and will end in June 2022. 

Your involvement in the pilot will not affect your examination timeline. You will submit your dissertation at the time you have nominated and we aim to have the exam organised and run within approximately 9 weeks of your submission. 


Who can nominate to be in the pilot? 

Any ANU candidate can self-nominate, but only those who plan to submit by the end of February 2022 will be eligible. We aspire to achieve representation across the HDR cohort and from different thesis types such as thesis by compilation and traditional thesis. The selection of candidates will be made to maximise the diversity of the cohort. If you are interested in participating you should submit your Expression of Interest form before your Nomination of Intention to submit eForm is completed, so that your supervisor can be provided with specific advice prior to contacting prospective examiners.  


Who is in charge of the pilot? 

The pilot will be co-ordinated by the Office of the Dean HDR with assistance from the Graduate Research Office and Colleges. Training will be provided by the Researcher Development team and Oral Examination Chairs will be supported by the Deputy Dean supervision. 


Who will organise the examination? 

GRO will be responsible for booking appropriate venues and organising the time and date the examination will take place. GRO will also be responsible for communication with prospective examiners. Note we expect that the majority of Oral Examinations will take place virtually via Zoom or MS Teams to minimise the need for travel. 


A mutually convenient time for all examiners to be present should be arranged by negotiation. The time should be selected so as not to disadvantage the student or the examiners, as far as possible.  


Can I take part in the pilot if I have returned to my home country? 


Yes. We will consult with you to ensure that you have an appropriate venue to participate from – this may involve participating from a university located close to your home town or via Zoom or MS Teams. 

How can I take part in the pilot? 

We will consider people planning to submit their thesis by the end of February, 2022 for inclusion in the pilot. Please note that examiners will also need to have been nominated and approved by the end of February 2022. 


Anyone who nominates will be assessed against a set of criteria that includes: when the examination will take place, which discipline area you are associated with and the format of your dissertation.


We are aiming to get a reasonable representative sample of people with different circumstances.


To apply for the pilot, please download the form linked at the top of this page and forward a filled in version to gro@anu.edu.au


How will the oral examination pilot run?

Can I fail an oral examination ? 

Technically, yes. However, during the pilot, examiners will submit their written reports prior to the oral examination. For the pilot, we will only proceed to the oral examination if the reports do not suggest a revise and resubmit of the thesis.  If a revise and resubmit is required the revision will occur and the examination process will start again. The aim is not to disadvantage anyone who chooses to take part. 

How long will the examination take? 

The whole process should not take longer than 90 minutes. The Oral Examination Chair is responsible for ensuring that the exam is conducted collegially and to time. 

Will my supervisor be there? 

By default, your supervisor will not be present. You can ask for them to attend in the role of a your support person. The Primary supervisor/Chair of Panel will be provided with the examiners reports to assist you to prepare for the Oral Examination.

Who will examine me? 

The examination panel will consist of at least two and at most three external examiners, selected in accordance with the Research Awards Rule.


Examiners will be chosen by the normal nomination process, recommended by your supervisor. As we are using online communication platforms to run the examination, they may be anywhere in the world. The time of the examination may vary to accommodate everyone’s time zones. 


The panel will be overseen by an appointed Oral Examination Chair. 

The Oral Examination Chair is an ANU academic staff member at Level D or E who will be responsible for the conduct of the examination. The Oral Examination Chair will be the Delegated Authority, or their nominee, for the purposes of the pilot.

The role of the Oral Examination Chair is to determine an agenda for the Oral, set the tone of the examination and ensure appropriate conduct of all parties to the examination, and write the recommendation to the Associate Dean following the oral examination.

To ensure they are able to adjudicate the process impartially, the Oral Examination Chair will be from a cognate discipline and will not have served on the Candidate’s supervision panel, or be located in the candidate’s local area.

They are not examining your thesis, they are managing the examination and preparing the report and recommendation to the Associate Dean. 


How will I be supported? 

Anyone who is selected will be trained and coached by the Director, Research Training and the Researcher Development team. The training will be designed to support everyone – no matter how nervous you are at the idea of public speaking! In addition to the training sessions and coaching, we will aim to match you with a mentor who can support you in the development of your 10 minute presentation and advise on strategies for answering questions. 

How is this process different from a normal examination at ANU? 

The key difference, besides the chance to meet and talk with your examiners, is the time frame. 


Normally your dissertation is sent to two or three examiners who submit a written report. This report is reviewed by the Delegated Authority who makes a recommendation to the Associate Dean. Depending on the examiners’ recommendations, you will be asked to make changes and submit a final copy to the ANU. The changes then need to be approved. On average, this process from submission of your written dissertation to an outcome of your examination takes 6 months. 


Those who take part in the oral examination pilot will submit their written document as normal. Examiners will be given 6 weeks to read the dissertation and write a report. They will also be asked to send a list of questions about your dissertation to the Oral Exam Chair. The Oral Exam Chair will compile an agenda of questions. At the appointed time, you and your examiners will have a zoom conference in the presence of the Oral Exam Chair. You will have a chance to do a short presentation (about 10 minutes) and then answer the questions on the agenda. The examiners will confer with the Oral Exam Chair who will make a recommendation to the Associate Dean, who will make the final decision. With an oral exam, the whole process should take around 9 to 11 weeks from submission of your written dissertation. 

If I ask for my supervisor to be present, can they talk? 

No. Your supervisor will only be there if you request them as a support person. Your support person will have no speaking rights. 


Will the session be recorded? 

No, the session will not be recorded.


Who can I have as a support person? 

Your support person can be your supervisor, a colleague or a friend. The support person will have no speaking rights. Support animals are also permitted.

Will I have a say over who examines me? 

No. Your examiners are recommended by the Delegated Authority after input from your supervisor and appointed by the Associate Dean HDR. However, we would expect that you have discussed with your supervisor who might be an appropriate examiner throughout your program and particularly towards the end. You have the right to suggest people who should not examine you. 

What kind of questions can I expect? 

On receipt of the reports on the dissertation, and prior to the examination itself, the Oral Examination Chair will communicate with examiners and compile the agenda for the oral. It is envisioned that the agenda should be similar to a job interview, where topics move from the more general to the more complex. The Oral Exam Chair will work with examiners to make sure the questions are clear enough to answer and will ensure that follow up questions are appropriate. 

For more information about the pilot, please email researcherdevelopment@anu.edu.au