Examination and Graduation
This section contains important guidance about the research degree examination process, and how to book your graduation ceremony.
Viva voce/oral examination
You will always have an oral (‘viva voce’) examination on the subject of your thesis. Formally, the viva is a public occasion, which any member of the University may attend. In practice, however, it is extremely unusual for anyone except you and the examiners to be present.
Your internal examiner is responsible for making all the arrangements for your viva examination and will contact you to arrange a date (usually within a month of receiving your thesis).
‘Academic dress’ must be worn for your viva. For male students, this consists of a dark suit, dark socks, dark shoes or boots, a white shirt and collar and a white bow tie. Female students must wear a white blouse, black tie, dark skirt or trousers, dark stockings, dark shoes or boots, and if desired a dark coat. An academic gown must also be worn by all students. For Oxford graduates, this will normally be an Oxford BA gown and hood, but graduates of other Universities may wear the academic gown of their own University.
The viva may be of variable length. University guidance indicates a minimum of one hour, and a maximum of three hours for the viva. In some cases a longer viva may be required. There is no set format. Some examiners may spend nearly the whole time going through the thesis with you page by page. Others may take a different approach, and ask you mainly general questions on the background to your chosen topic, and on the implications of your results. Most commonly, both these elements will be present. You should be prepared to explain:
- The reasons for your choice of thesis topic;
- Review the strategy you adopted in tackling it;
- Describe any major problems you encountered on the way;
- Summarise the key aspects of your results;
- If your research involved collaboration with other people, you will be asked to identify your own specific contribution to the overall project;
- Answer questions on the theoretical and experimental background to your field of work. It is surprisingly common for candidates to handle with confidence the most esoteric question on their thesis, and yet to get into difficulty on some quite elementary aspect of background knowledge.
The Skills Training Team run a course on Viva Preparation and Practice which you may wish to consider attending in advance of your viva.
You are strongly recommended to take a copy of your thesis with you to your oral examination.
DUTIES OF THE EXAMINER
The formal duties of the examiners are set out in the Examination Regulations as follows:
(a) to consider the thesis and the abstract of it submitted by the student, provided that they shall exclude from consideration in making their report any part of the thesis which has already been accepted, or is being concurrently submitted, for any degree or other qualification in this University or elsewhere otherwise than as part of the requirements of this University for the Degree of Bachelor of Philosophy or of Master of Philosophy or of Bachelor of Civil Law, or as part of the dissertation submitted by a Student for the Degree of Master of Science by Coursework or of Master of Studies, and shall have the power to require the candidate to produce for their inspection the complete thesis so accepted or concurrently submitted;
(b) to examine the student orally in the subject of their thesis;
(c) to satisfy themselves by examination (oral, written, or both) whether the student possesses a good general knowledge of the particular field of learning within which the subject of the thesis falls;
(d) to report to the board through the Registrar on the scope, character and quality of the work submitted;
(e) to delete all digital copies of the thesis and return to the student any soft-bound copies of the thesis received from Student Registry.
When will I find out my result?
You should not expect your examiners to give you any indication at the end of the viva as to whether or not you have passed the examination. The University’s procedures are designed to ensure that the formal outcome of the examination is not known until the recommendation from the examiners has been considered and accepted by or on behalf of the responsible body, while recognising that examiners asking for minor corrections to be completed, will inevitably provide you with an informal indication of their recommendation.
In the case of the first DPhil examination, the examiners may make one of four recommendations to the divisional board:
(a) The degree of DPhil be awarded (this may, if necessary, be after correction by the candidate of any minor errors in the thesis);
(b) Major corrections to the thesis recommended;
(c) The thesis be referred back for substantial revision and later resubmission for the degree of DPhil, or the MSc be awarded;
(d) The thesis be referred back for resubmission for the DPhil or the MSc as the candidate chooses.
If the candidate chooses to revise and resubmit for the DPhil, then at any subsequent examination(s), the examiners may recommend any of the seven available options:
(a) The degree of DPhil be awarded (this may, if necessary, be after correction by the candidate of any minor errors in the thesis);
(b) Major corrections to the thesis recommended;
(c) The thesis be referred back for substantial revision and later resubmission for the degree of DPhil, or the MSc be awarded (as the thesis stands, or subject to minor corrections);
(d) The thesis be referred back for resubmission for the DPhil or the MSc as the candidate chooses;
(e) The thesis be referred back for resubmission for the lower degree of MSc only;
(f) The lower degree of MSc be awarded;
(g) The thesis be rejected outright.
In the case of original submission for an MSc degree, the examiners can only recommend the award of the degree (which may include the completion of minor corrections), referral back, or rejection (only available to the examiners’ on second examination).
The examiners are requested to complete their formal report no later than one month from the date of the viva, and ideally within two weeks of the date of the viva or in the case of minor corrections, as soon as the required corrections have been checked and approved (normally within one month of receiving these).
How long do you get to complete minor corrections?
If minor corrections have been requested you have one month from receipt of the list, to complete and submit them to your examiner(s). You should make sure you know exactly what is required of you and how your examiner(s) wish the corrections to be presented by discussion with your examiner(s). If, for exceptional reasons, you cannot complete the corrections within one month you may apply for an Extension of Time for one further month on form GSO.18.
If your examiners recommend major corrections to your thesis, they must provide a preliminary report to the board with a detailed description of the major corrections required. After a decision has been reached on the examiners’ report, you will be sent an official letter from the Examinations Schools with a copy of the report. A copy is also sent to your supervisor(s) and college. You should not communicate with the examiners direct. If you require further clarification of their remarks you should seek guidance through your supervisor.
How long do you get to complete major corrections?
If major corrections to your thesis are requested, you will have six months from the date of being notified by the Research Degrees Team, to complete and submit these. Major corrections theses should be submitted to the Examination Schools via the Research Theses Digital Submission portal). It is not permitted for a thesis to be submitted directly to the examiners.
If, for exceptional reasons, you cannot complete the corrections within six months you may apply for an Extension of Time for a further three months on the GSO.18 form. If you fail to complete your corrections within six months (or nine months if an extension was approved), your name shall be removed from the Register of Students and you will be required to apply for reinstatement to the Register in order to submit your corrected thesis.
REFERENCE BACK FOR RE-EXAMINATION
If your examiners recommend reference back of your thesis, they must provide a detailed statement outlining the areas in which the thesis falls below the standard required for the degree. This will be sent to you with a copy to your supervisor once it has been approved by the divisional board. You should not communicate with the examiners direct. If you require further clarification of their remarks you should seek guidance through your supervisor.
Resubmission of thesis
There are some rules governing the resubmission of theses. It will normally be assumed (unless there are objections) that when a recommendation for referral back has been made, the same examiners should be invited to act again when the thesis is resubmitted. If the same examiners act a second time, they may dispense with a further oral examination provided that they can certify that you have dealt satisfactorily with the points made in the statement setting out the respects in which the original thesis fell short of the required standard. The examiners will only be able to make this decision once they have reviewed the revised thesis.
If you choose to revise your thesis for re-examination, you will need to submit, with your revised thesis, a separate report indicating the changes made. For MPLS the word limit for the accompanying report is 2000 words.
Timings for resubmission
DPhil theses cannot be resubmitted later than the sixth term after the referral back, and MSc theses not later than the third term after referral. An examination fee is payable when a thesis is resubmitted. This fee can now be paid online via the University Stores. (Note that decisions taken during vacation periods are deemed to be part of the previous term).
Examiners Report – Approval process
The examiners’ report is read by the relevant Director of Graduate Studies, who, if satisfied that the recommendation is clear and reasonable, passes it with a positive recommendation to the Head of the Divisional Board or the Head’s nominee, who, if similarly satisfied, approves the recommendation. In the MPLS Division, examiners’ reports on DPhil and MSc by Research candidates are approved by the division’s Director of the Graduate School, on behalf of the Divisional Board. If the examiners’ report does not clearly and reasonably support their recommendation, the case is resolved by reference to a sub-committee of the Divisional Board.
The above procedures have been put into place in order to reduce the delays between viva and notification of results to a minimum. However, instant approval is not always possible and it is not reasonable to expect to attend a degree ceremony less than one month after the date of your viva; in most cases, a longer period of notice is required.
EXAMINATION OUTCOME LETTER
After your report has been fully approved it will be sent to the exam schools to process the final result. If the approved recommendation was pass they will send you a Leave to Supplicate letter. If you do not pass the viva or major corrections are requested, the examiners will write a joint report which will go through the same approvals process before the exam schools officially notify you of the result and explain the next steps.
Complaints and Appeals relating to examinations
All complaints relating to the outcome of an examination for a research degree should normally be directed to the Proctors.
If you believe that a decision regarding your examination was unfair, you have the right to complain to the University Proctors. By virtue of the University Statutes the Proctors have the duty to investigate complaints by any member of the University and are responsible for seeing that university examinations are properly and fairly conducted. While investigating a complaint concerning a graduate examination, the Proctors have the power to summon any member of the University to help them in their enquiries; the candidate is entitled to appear before the Proctors to put their case and may be accompanied by a friend or advisor. The Proctors will consider all matters relating to the examination of the graduate degree in question, and will concern themselves in particular with alleged procedural irregularities and extraneous factors that may have affected the result. If they are satisfied that justice has not been done, they may recommend to the divisional board that your work be reconsidered or re-examined. You are advised to consult with your supervisor and with your departmental Director of Graduate Studies before making a formal complaint of this kind. Please view the University complaints and appeals processes for further information.
Deposit of hard copy thesis in the Bodleian Library & e-Theses to the ORA
Students will not need to submit a hardbound copy of their DPhil thesis to the Examination Schools in order to graduate.This includes any students who were unable to submit a hardbound copy due to COVID-19 social distancing measures in the 2019/20 & 2020/21 academic year. However, all candidates will still need to submit an electronic copy to the Oxford University Research Archive (ORA) a minimum of five working days prior to their graduation date. Students will not be able to attend a degree ceremony (even in absentia) without doing so.
What if there is restricted content in my thesis?
In general, the MPLS Divisional Board are of the opinion that theses should be readily accessible as contributions to knowledge. The board accepts that it may sometimes be necessary to restrict access to a thesis temporarily, e.g. while a patent is being taken out, and that bodies such as the UKRI make specific provision for such a course in their standard conditions of research studentships, but the board wishes to be consulted as early as possible (i.e. normally before a student is admitted as a candidate for a higher degree) if a sponsor or other person wishes to impose any longer-term restriction on access to a proposed thesis, or the exclusion of any material from a thesis on the grounds of confidentiality. Only in exceptional cases will the board accept such conditions. If you wish to apply to restrict access to your thesis, your application (GSO.3c form) should ideally be made simultaneously with your application for appointment of examiners. This should include the reasons for your request and the length of time for which dispensation is required.
Oxford Digital Theses - e-Theses
The University of Oxford is committed to the widest dissemination of research theses produced by its graduate students. The Oxford University Research Archive (ORA) is an online archive of research output including theses created in fulfilment of Oxford awards, produced by graduate students at the University of Oxford. Students following DPhil and MSc (by Research) programmes are required to deposit a digital copy of their thesis with the Oxford University Libraries. This is a condition for award of the degree. The digital copy should be deposited into ORA after Leave to Supplicate (LTS) has been granted. When completing the online submission form you will have a choice of selecting immediate release for your thesis via ORA, or a choice of a one year or three year embargo period (starting from the date you were granted leave to supplicate). This is to avoid endangering publications in preparation. At the end of the embargo period your thesis will automatically become freely available unless an application for further dispensation from consultation (form GSO.3c) is submitted.
For UKRI funded students the normal embargo period is usually one year from the date of award unless the candidate opts to make them freely available. This is so that it is in line with the current terms and conditions set out by the Research Councils. However, in exceptional circumstances students may apply to the relevant Board for an extension to the one year embargo period, by completing the GSO.3c form.
ORA provides maximum visibility and digital preservation for Oxford digital theses. Students should read important information about the deposit of and access to digital theses, which includes:
- Legal requirements and author responsibilities;
- When to deposit the digital copy of your thesis;
- How to deposit the digital copy of your thesis;
- Open and embargoed access (for reasons such as sensitive content, material that would affect commercial interests, pre-publication or legal reasons) to all or part(s) of your thesis;
Copyright of the thesis usually rests with the author: this does not change when depositing your thesis in ORA. The author does not give away any rights to the Oxford University Research Archive or the Bodleian Libraries. However, please see information on third party copyright. A useful template is available here for students to use to keep track of permissions for copyright/third party material.
It is also crucial to take steps to ensure that sensitive information not intended for public release is not inadvertently made freely available on the open Internet. Errors could result in serious consequences for the University or third parties which could be of a legal, personal or financial nature. Please view information on sensitive content.
What is sensitive content?
Sensitive content might fall into any of the following categories:
- Personal information: personal data (name, address, age, criminal record etc); personal medical details; information that enables the identification of an individual; photographs etc
- Commercially sensitive information: details of new products and processes; names of companies and collaborators; content covered by non-disclosure or other agreement
- Patentable information;
- Research using controversial processes;
- Some political, security or similar content ;
- Other information which could be deemed to cause similar difficulties if made public;
- Material where copyright is held by a third party.
Please contact ORA@bodleian.ox.ac.uk if you require further information or have any queries regarding deposit of your digital thesis.
Formal ceremonies for the conferring of degrees are held in the Sheldonian Theatre (or should the Sheldonian Theatre not be available then at the Examination Schools). You can graduate in person by attending a ceremony, or in absence.
Once you have been granted leave to supplicate, you will receive an email invitation with information about booking a degree ceremony. The days available will depend on when your college is presenting. Full academic dress must be worn for the ceremony.
If you have any debts or dues outstanding to your college or the University you will not be permitted to graduate.
Please note that you will not be able to book onto a ceremony until you have been granted leave to supplicate.