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My PhD is in computational Materials science. I successfully defended my thesis yesterday. However, I felt that one of the committee members was starting to get angry with my answers. I was trying to answer his questions, but his questions were very vague indicating that he clearly did not go through my thesis. Thus I had to answer his questions a bit elaborately, so that he could understand the reasoning behind my answers. I could sense that he was dissatisfied with my answers.

For example: He asked me, how confident are you about your theoretical model when comparing with the real world experimental results?

My answer: Since my model has A, B, C assumptions. It can never accurately predict the experimental/real world results.

His question: What would be your confidence level? What percentage?

My answer: It would be hard to put an exact percentage. But I would go with 90%.

He followed with an "okay".

Can I ask him directly about his feedback on my answers during the session?

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  • It is highly country specific, and could be university specific and domain specific Nov 27 '19 at 13:44
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    I'm dissatisfied with your answer to: You didn't explain why assumptions A, B and C cannot hold in the real-world, which would justify your answer. Could that have been why the committee member was dissatisfied? (I'm also intrigued why you'd introduce such assumptions, but that seems beyond scope.)
    – user2768
    Nov 27 '19 at 16:07
  • Did he sign your dissertation after your defense? I wouldn’t interrogate him until he’s signed it.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 23 at 18:07
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This would depend somewhat on your general relationship with him. If he is relatively anonymous to you then it probably isn't worth the effort and you won't get the feedback you want.

But if you know one another well, through coursework or other research (etc.) then it might well be worth a sit-down. You may have some misunderstandings and he may be able to help you clear them up. He may be able to point to directions for study or research. There are a lot of things.

But if you approach it right, you also show respect for him and his ideas and that can lead to a better long-term relationship that might be profitable.

And, it isn't especially uncommon that a committee member (even several) haven't read your thesis. A common question from committee members to advisors just before or after the defense is "You're sure this is ok, Jack/Jill?". The advisor nods affirmatively and all is well.

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  • I did not take his courses or yet worked with him. But he was my committee member during proposal, though never had any direct contact with him for the past 2-3 years. So, in that case, you are suggesting that it won't serve any purpose asking him about feedback?
    – vyom
    Nov 27 '19 at 13:21
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    You have to make the judgement. Your advisor can help with advice here, also.
    – Buffy
    Nov 27 '19 at 13:24
  • "it isn't especially uncommon that a committee member [...] haven't read your thesis" I had a member of the committee who didn't even know that they were in the committee until I went to their office to find out possible time slots for the defense (committee apparently had been appointed several months earlier, before summer break). Of course, neither had they received the pdf of the thesis... Nov 27 '19 at 15:46
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The answer may depend somewhat on local culture.

For the universities/departments I know here in Germany, the candidate usually has the right to see the documentation of their exam and grading after the process is finished, (for the PhD thesis some parts often also earlier: e.g. the written reviews about the thesis can often be seen already before the defense). This would also include the protocols of the committee decisions.

There is a general idea that an examinee needs to have the chance to review the exam, their answers and the grading for didactic purposes (I've seen some universities explicitly stating this, and also stating that some examiner should be available during this in order to answer questions that may arise for the candidate) as well as for ensuring procedural fairness.


Thus, I'd say:

  • Yes, you may ask that professor, possibly first making sure that the process is indeed finished also from the university burocratic side.
  • Otherwise, if the burocratic process is not yet finished, they may say that they can answer only after the whole procedure is formally finished,
  • or they may refer you to the protocol of the defense.
  • And of course, you cannot really do anything if they are not willing to discuss further.
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Congratulations! Tbh if you have already succesfully defended your thesis it might not be of great benefit to question the comitee.

As highlighted by cbeleites it would depend on the institution, country, culture etc of where you are so I would ask your supervisor for advice first. I think what would be a good question to ask is "if there were any questions you felt that I did not answer well, how do you think I could have answered them better?"

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Congrats! First of all, I am not sure whether your committee member has an expertise in your area of research. Many professors are specialized in specific topics. If s/he is specialized in your topic, you may ask him. If that is the case, he might have found some missing parts/elements and gave you some clues. If your defense is approved, which is a partial requirement for your doctoral degree, I guess he shouldn't be offended for such questions even if some of your answers during the defense may not be ideal answers. If he is not specialized in your research, the question might have come out of curiosity. For example, one of my committee asked about how my model could be applied in her area. Many times, these questions are asked to see how you can think outside the picture and consider alternatives.

#Just saw that this is a very old topic.

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