I have been invited to be an external examiner for a Ph.D. in electronic engineering at a UK University.

I work in the Electronics industry in a research role, regularly competing for external research funding with academics and sometimes collaborating with them too (including 2 or 3 of the academics in the department from which I have received the invitation).

I have not studied for a Ph.D., but feel I keep up to date with research on the topics in question. I review papers for IEEE journals and have some professional recognition.

The Ph.D. has been sponsored by my employer and I believe that a colleague has been the industrial supervisor. I have not met the candidate. I don't feel that any of this creates a conflict of interest.

Am I qualified to take this role? How much work will it involve?


Since you do not have a PhD degree, you should check to see if the university's regulations will allow you to serve. The University of Nottingham's regulations state:

However, it will be appropriate in some cases for Schools to nominate individuals from other suitable environments provided that those individuals are experts in the field of the student's topic of research and hold a professional status which is equivalent to a University Professor, Reader, Lecturer or teacher.

You should check if your experience allows you to serve as a reader. You wouldn't want to get involved and then find out it doesn't count for procedural reasons.

Otherwise, if you'd like to do it, there's no reason why you shouldn't!

  • 1
    I'd assume that usually someone at the university in question will have checked their regulations, and in case of doubt discuss things with the potential examiner, on their own initiative. Also, there should not be any real work required before a formal invitation to examine.
    – silvado
    Feb 13 '18 at 7:49
  • 1
    @silvado: I was once asked to chair a thesis defense before I was allowed to do so in my own department. They may be assuming “Mikado has published papers and therefore has a PhD.” Better to ask before accepting.
    – aeismail
    Feb 13 '18 at 15:15
  • Agreed, in case one does not have a PhD degree it would be safe to inform about that directly, because that may easily be assumed without being checked.
    – silvado
    Feb 13 '18 at 21:22

Are you qualified? Yes. Even if you lack knowledge, you can read the dissertation thoughtfully and give useful input.

How much work? Rough estimate: Twice the work it takes to review a IEEE paper.

Also: I think you'll find the experience rewarding.

  • 1
    I'd add to this that it's just fine to ask what the roles of the external examiner are. You may also need to attend an in-person defense, for example (I have no idea if this is typical for EE in the UK or not), as well as reviewing the written thesis.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 13 '18 at 0:05

I have been invited to be an external examiner for a Ph.D. [...] The Ph.D. has been sponsored by my employer and I believe that a colleague has been the industrial supervisor.

This could be perceived as a conflict of interest, since your employer and colleague would presumably benefit from the candidate's success. It is irrelevant whether there's a real conflict. If anyone perceives a conflict, then the candidate, your employer, your colleague, and you could all be harmed. Do not accept the invitation.

Beyond the conflict, there's an issue of whether you are qualified, which is addressed by another answer.

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