The importance of choosing the right PhD examiner… a sideways look at the possible consequences…

Choosing the right examiners for a PhD (or other research degree) is very important. You want examiners who are able to assess the thesis in its own terms and in the context of the paradigm within which it is set without  prejudice of any sort. As Tinkler and  Jackson say in their ground-breaking 2004 book, The Doctoral Examination Process (published by the Society for Research into Higher Education (London) and the Open University Press (Maidenhead, UK)), you want examiners who are not pushing any agendas. The sort of agendas they’re thinking about include:

  • the promotion of discriminatory beliefs and/or interests, such as the exclusion of specific social groups from the academy and/or the suppression of particular political, academic, religious perspectives…
  • the pursuit of grudges against individuals;
  • the promotion of favourites;
  • pleasure in making the relatively powerless PhD candidate suffer for their aspirations;
  • jealousy;
  • academic self-promotion and aggrandizement including the ‘drawbridge mentality’  (pp. 73-74)

Tinkler and Jackson’s book is well-worth reading if you want to know more about the PhD viva or, as its sometime called, the oral defence of the thesis. And you certainly shouldn’t worry because almost all PhD examiners approach theses they are asked to assess fairly and without prejudice and, in addition, your supervisors should be aware of the reputations of any examiners they are putting forward for nomination.

Here, however, is an example of when it all goes horribly wrong!

Whatever you do, don’t choose Professor Stickleback!!

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