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PhD Examination and Thesis

Admission to candidacy

The graduate school requires all students to be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year. Students who have completed their course requirements with satisfactory grades, pass the qualifying seminars, and have submitted an acceptable dissertation final draft are recommended for admission to candidacy. The time line for admission to candidacy is the following:

  • By September the 1st students must submit a final draft of their dissertation which is sent, for peer review, to an outside examiner(reader) selected by the Graduate School Board.The outside reader must be someone outside of Pavia University who has had no involvement with the student’s research and who can be completely objective in his/her evaluation of the dissertation. The outside reader is usually selected by the dissertation supervisor and approved by the Graduate School Board. Usually the supervisor must be proactive in suggesting and contacting the reader.
  • By October the 1st the outside reader must submit a written report on the dissertation draft. After the report, the Graduate School Board may ask the student to make some changes in the dissertation. These changes must be made before submission of the definitive version of the dissertation.
  • By October the 10th students must submit a Research and Academic Performance Report reviewing the work done during the three years of graduate school. This report should include a succinct description of: (i) Research work; (ii) Academic performance; (iii) Complete list of publications in preparation or already published (classified into: peer-reviewed journals/ proceedings, etc.); (iv) Participation to summer schools and conferences (classified into: national/international conferences, workshops, (traineeships) schools); (v) Talks given (classified into: invited talks to conferences and workshops, contributed talks, posters; invited talks to other universities etc. ). This Report must be submitted to the Graduate Registrar, (Mrs. Anna Rita Mangia).
  • On the basis of the outside referee report and of the Research and Academic Performance Report, the Graduate School Coordinator will prepare a brief report of the Board’s assessment of the student’s graduate career and present this to the student and to the Graduate school Offices for the Admission to Candidacy.
  • By October the 31st student admitted to candidacy must submit the definitive version of their dissertation and the Admission to the Dissertation Defense Form (this latter obtained from the University Graduate School Offices).
  • Typically the Graduate School Offices require four bound copies of the dissertation- One for the Science Library, three for the members of the Defense Committee. Two electronic copies on a CD are required for the national record of graduate school dissertations.
  • The Graduate School has specific rules about the preparation of the dissertation, so students should obtain a Dissertation Packet from the Coordinator.

Forming a dissertation defense committee

The University of Pavia requires a 3-member faculty committee for the dissertation defense and must be approved by the Graduate School Board. Typically, the Dissertation Committee should be made up by one tenured faculty member of the Physics Department of the University of Pavia and by two outside members who are tenured faculty outside of Pavia who have had no involvement with the student’s research and who can be completely objective in their evaluation of the student’s dissertation defense. The student’s adviser cannot be a member of the committee. These rules are superseded when the dissertation defense is under the aegis of an international co-tutorship agreement between our graduate school and a graduate school abroad.

Dissertation defense

Once the Defense Committee is chosen and approved by the Graduate School Board, it is the Pavia Faculty member’s responsibility to set the date, time and place for the defense at a time convenient to all members of the Committee, (the Graduate School Board strongly encourages the selection of a date between mid January and the end of February). Copies of the dissertation should be given to the Defense Committee member at least a month in advance. The dissertation defense shall consist of two consecutive parts. The first part will consist of an oral presentation of
approximatively 45-60 minutes in length, in the style of a research seminar. An official announcement will appear in the departmental Seminar Notices. The second part will consist of detailed questioning of the candidate by the Defense Committee. Both parts shall be open to anyone interested.

The examination process is rigorous. It aims to ensure that candidates meet the highest standards of scholarship and that the degrees conferred by our Graduate School are of the highest quality.

Examiner's Recommendations after Reading Your Thesis

The first stage of the examination process involves an independent review of your thesis by two external  examiners(readers). Each examiner is asked to report within four weeks and to make one of the following recommendations:

  • The thesis is of  high standard and fully meets the requirements of the PhD.
  • The thesis is of sufficiently high standard to meet the requirements of the PhD, although it may require minor editorial changes.
  • The thesis is not yet of a standard to meet the requirements of the PhD, and there are matters that must be addressed.
  • The thesis is substandard with respect to the requirements of the PhD.

Examiner(reader)'s Report

Each examiner sets out the grounds for his/her recommendation in a detailed report. Examiners are asked to help the University gauge the quality of the thesis by commenting on such things as originality, critical insight and contribution to knowledge. They are also asked to provide guidance for revision and to indicate areas requiring exploration in the oral defense.
Candidates may be required to make corrections and amendments to their thesis. These can be minor cosmetic changes, but sometimes candidates are required to substantially revise and resubmit the thesis.

Reviewing Examiner's Report

The Board of Graduate Studies is responsible for reviewing the examiners' reports and approving the admission of the candidate to the oral defense.

Corrections and Amendments

As stressed above, it is very common for the external examiners to ask candidates to make changes to the thesis before it is accepted. Typically, each examiner will discuss with the candidate the needed corrections  and negotiate a timeframe for completing them. Please note that it is preferable that there are no spelling mistakes in the thesis. While it is unlikely that all spelling mistakes will be found, candidates are advised to remove as many as possible.  You should also tidy up other minor errors and inconsistencies of presentation.
Beyond the editorial corrections, examiners will frequently require that certain things are put right before you deposit the thesis in the University Library. Required changes may be small but important, such as replacing an incorrect use of a technical term or getting the notation right, or they may be major.
Changes candidates are commonly required to make include:

  • Rewriting a particular chapter to take account of material that has been overlooked
  • Reorganising material in the thesis
  • Omitting some material
  • Improving or clarifying an argument

It is important to make corrections of this type before the oral defense takes place. If the changes to the candidate's thesis are substantial and likely to require more than two months full-time work to complete, the Board of Graduate Studies will require the candidate to re-submit, and to apply for an extension(if possible).

Oral Defense

The oral examination will take place usually two to three months after you have submitted your thesis for examination. As already described above, the defense committee is usually formed by  three examiners: one examiner is a senior and independent academic from our Physics Department, and at least two more examiners come from another Italian university; qualified experts possibly coming from Research Institutions abroad can be members of the defense committee, as well. During the oral examination the candidate will be expected to defend his/her thesis by elaborating on his/her arguments; by explaining how his/her thesis is set in a wider disciplinary context; by discussing the implications of his/her work. The oral defense is an integral part of the examination process. The way the candidate performs in the oral will have a bearing on the overall recommendation submitted to the Vice-Chancellor (Rettore) for the fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD degree.

  • The Defense Committee will be chaired by the senior academic from our Physics Department.
  • All designated external examiners must be present in the room. The overseas examiners (designated as experts) may be linked by  video-conference.
  • The candidate's advisor is expected to attend, but he/she will not take part in discussion during the oral, though he/she may make a statement to the examiners at the end of the candidate's defense.
  • Any support people in attendance will not have speaking rights.

Format of the Oral

Oral examinations generally take place as follows:

  • The chair will commence with a welcome and introductions of all present.
  • The candidate will then have an opportunity to address the examiners for 45 to 60 minutes without interruption.
  • The examiners will question the candidate on his/her thesis and engage him/her in discussion about his/her research.
  • The chair may invite the candidate to make a closing statement.
  • The chair will ask the candidate and any support persons or observers to leave the room.
  • The candidate's adviser will be given an opportunity to make a statement to the examiners and will answer any questions the examiners wish to pose.
  • The adviser will then leave the room.
  • The examiners will discuss the candidate thesis and agree on what recommendation to make to the Vice-Chancellor (Rettore) of the University of Pavia.
  • The chair will recall the candidate to the room, and the candidate will be advised of the examination committee's recommendation.

The whole examination should take around two hours.