I am doing my master's in Canada and my grant has already ended (7 months ago). I am paying my tuition fee and my expenses from my part-time job and my savings. My supervisor agreed that I should have my defense. We did all the paper work (this process took 2.5 months). We set up a poll system for a defense date and asked committee members to vote for their availability.

I created the poll system last week, it took them 3 days to vote, in the end, they did not agree on a date based on their availability. I noticed they pretend that they are very busy, and not willing to make some compromises.

My visa is going to expire, I have no grants from school, I do not want to pay extra tuition fees as I have been waiting for this process for 2.5 months. I need to have my defense soon, I have things to do for the next weeks. Their behavior makes me very stressed. How do I make them vote for the following week? They are very jealous people who pretend that they do not have 2 hours in the following week. How should I tell these things in an email? since my prof sent them an email, they did not take it seriously.

  • 5
    Talk to the head/chair? Get someone else to intervene on your behalf.
    – Buffy
    Aug 1, 2021 at 23:17
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    my prof sent them an email, they still did not take it seriously.
    – nikki
    Aug 2, 2021 at 0:19
  • 41
    In my experience most people qualified to sit on a committee are very busy; I don't know why you assume they "pretend". Keep in mind that there's a huge difference between one person having 2 hours free next week and several people having 2 hours free next week at the same time as each other.
    – Chris H
    Aug 2, 2021 at 9:42
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    A defense is usually scheduled long in advance. While it is not your fault that this needs to be done in a hurry, it is understandable (to a certain extent) that they lack a sense of urgency. The need for a quick solution needs to be communicated to them more vividly, and your professor should really be driving this.
    – alexis
    Aug 2, 2021 at 10:42
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    "I noticed they pretend that they are very busy". Well with that attitude I can see why they'd not be willing to go to extra lengths to accommodate you.
    – Voo
    Aug 2, 2021 at 12:45

7 Answers 7


My visa is going to expire

You need to elevate this outside of "academic" circle and into administrative. Talk to the following people:

  • student adviser (member of your department)
  • international students office
  • department chair

These are people who are professionally interested in you succeeding and helping you with paperwork / regulations. If your official status and other bureaucracy gets in the way of the academics (defense) they should help.

Do not use the following kind of language or even have the attitude of blaming your professors without evidence. You don't know their schedules and most likely they are not doing this out of spite:

They are very jealous people who pretend that they do not have 2 hours in the following week.


You can try what aaaaa recommends and escalate the issue. Depending on your department structure this may or may not work (it probably wouldn't in our department).

What you can and should do in that case is (1) directly talking to the involved people (phone call, checking in at their office, or at the very least a personal email), and for this to work to (2) change your mindset and expectations around this matter.

That the paperwork took 2.5 months to complete isn't the fault or problem of your committee (unless they explicitly blocked it), and it might not even be outrageously long. Answering a poll within 3 days isn't particularly slow either. Hoping that a committee consisting of multiple professors would have a free slot that works for all of them in the next week was a tall order to start with - it's not surprising that the outcome of this poll is that no slot works for everybody. And, without knowing your department processes, it still feels something went badly wrong in your planning that you are a week away from when you hope to defend without a specific defense date agreed by everybody (since that's normally one of the first things you do when you start arranging your defense, i.e., months ahead of the actual defense).

Most people are willing to work with students who are in a difficult situation and move some appointments around, but certainly not if you approach them with a mindset that they are "jealous", that it's inconceivable that they indeed find it difficult to agree on a multi-hour slot on very short notice, and that they are morally obligated to bend their work to your needs. If you are polite and show understanding that you are asking for a lot, I am convinced you will see that people are a lot more willing to help you make things work. That said, "next week" is almost always going to be a struggle - it may be more realistic to plan for two or three weeks in the future, or whenever is the next time slot that people can make work with some goodwill.

  • 21
    I'm really really impressed OP got a group of professors to answer a scheduling poll within 3 days. That's lightning fast.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:30

A few years ago, I had the same problem and I couldn't get an agreement on a date. I used a simple trick in the poll I sent to my busy defense committee members, and it worked.

Usually, students ask committee members to check the dates and hours they are available for the defense. I did the opposite and asked each of them to check the dates and hours they are not available.

It looks like silly and you might think the committee members would just swap the check boxes. However, I noticed a significant difference in the poll answers. When you ask for availability, they only choose the best dates and hours in their comfort. When you ask for the opposite, they take a look at their calendars and check the conflicting dates and hours. You'd be surprised with the results.

  • 2
    Probably too late in this case, but interesting. Maybe this should be the standard.
    – Buffy
    Aug 3, 2021 at 12:09

You gave them a poll and they voted. You chose dates that do not align with their calendars. I don't see the issue... You simply need to offer more dates.

  • I noticed they pretend that they are very busy, and not willing to make some compromises.

If you have proof that they are pretending to be busy, then raise a formal complaint of negligence with the university. Otherwise, you are just assuming something that may not be true. I, for instance, am assuming that you understand what proofs and assumptions are if you intend to receive a PhD...

In the absence of proof, you should ask a more general question of availability... Like are there certain times or day, certain days of the week, or certain days that it is not possible? If there really is an underlying conflict, then probably you will be allowed to change the people on the committee. This is typically the student's responsibility.

If I were you, I would be careful about how you proceed. Professors are indeed very busy people. It seems to be that you are asking them to drop everything and do what you want. Furthermore, you are trying to make them look foolish and petty. How do you think it will play out during the defence if you try to make am ass of them now? You do realize that it is not a foregone conclusion that you pass..?

I understand that there are time constraints on your side. Those are really your problems though. In hindsight, it would have been wise to reserve some Save-the-date options months ago if you knew that you had such time constraints.

  • The next-to-last paragraph here is one of the more important things said so far in response to the question. But the last isn't helpful. Time still runs one way AFAIK.
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2021 at 14:40
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    Hold on a minute here... The paperwork took 2.5 months to do... we don't have all the details but (at least where I work) the committee members would know that a thesis defence was forthcoming (either via the student, the supervisor, or the graduate chair), else there must have been serious miscommunications. So it's a bit much to suggest it's the problem of the student. Aug 2, 2021 at 18:13
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    In Germany, I am aware of several people (3+) that waited 2.5 months on paperwork. Committee members were not informed by the university. That is solely the responsibly or the student. Aug 3, 2021 at 6:29
  • @ZeroTheHero: In the systems I know, it certainly wouldn’t be only the fault of the student — the advisor, at least, seen the crunch coming and acted to forestall it. But it often is the student who’s primarily expected to co-ordinate the scheduling, and so even if others are jointly responsible for the situation, the student is often the one who can most easily find a solution.
    – PLL
    Aug 3, 2021 at 21:21
  • @bremen_matt well… the best part of this site is that you learn something every day. Aug 3, 2021 at 21:24

If your visa is soon to expire, can you go back to your home country and have the defence via video call?

I had my PhD defence a couple of months ago via zoom, it worked out fine. I believe my university is doing all of them online at the moment due to the pandemic

  • 2
    Sadly, this may be the only solution possible, but it can also fail and leave you with no degree, so beware.
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2021 at 12:49
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    One might, possibly, also return as a tourist for a few days to do the defense.
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2021 at 12:50
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    @Buffy Is that allowed by Canadian visa regulations? From all I know I'd imagine that would violate the tourist visa limitations.
    – Voo
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:00
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    @Voo I doubt it, actually. One isn't "working". And I doubt anyone would care, or even know. Some tourist visits (to some countries from some others) don't require a visa.
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:05
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    @Buffy If you are a US citizen, you own one of the most powerful passports in the world. I have a similar privilege as well, but many of my friends do not, and they need to plan their conference traveling a lot more in advance in order to deal with visa issues. I assume the OP is in a similar situation. Aug 3, 2021 at 18:04

Working with your committee is like trying to herd cats.

One strategy is to set an early, inconvenient time and you may suddenly get replies from everyone. A sympathetic member of my committee suggested this and it worked.

Subject: Thesis Defense for @AVA123 Scheduled

Tentative date for @AVAs thesis defense has been scheduled for Monday,
April 1 at 8 AM in conference room Romeo. If you cannot make this date and
time, please suggest alternate date(s) and time(s) when you are 
  • 3
    I suspect that this would be badly received by many if sent by a student.
    – Buffy
    Aug 3, 2021 at 20:08
  • 1
    I wouldn't try this unless you get buy in from at least one person on the committee.
    – bfris
    Aug 3, 2021 at 20:10

If your thesis director agrees it’s time to defend, then the other members of the committee will have accommodate your schedule. You have done the common courtesy of asking for availabilities, so someone else needs to take the bullhorn and get the message across to these busy people else the department or graduate school should be able to find substitutes and proceed.

I do not know of departments or people not (in the end) accommodating the candidate, although it may at times seem like you or your thesis director are trying to push a rope.

  • 3
    I agree that this is what should happen. But it isn't happening. How is this an answer?
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2021 at 12:47
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    Wait what? In what university can a supervisor (who is after all just a normal professor) decide the time schedules of some other professor? I've never heard of this and it seems incredibly strange. Sure people will try to accommodate students but it's not as if there's some kind of law that requires them to drop everything to agree to an incredibly short term meeting.
    – Voo
    Aug 2, 2021 at 12:52
  • @Voo The department or the School of graduate studies should be able to schedule the defence so the majority of the committee is present, and appoint additional members to replace those who cannot be. In what university does a single committee member hold veto over the graduation of a student because this professor is too busy to attend a thesis defence? Aug 2, 2021 at 13:02
  • 8
    @Zero In all universities I know it's the student's responsibility to organize the meeting with an understanding that obviously everybody tries their best to make it work. Not accepting an incredibly short term meeting request is not the same as vetoing graduation. Do you also expect a professor to cut short their vacation if they happened to not be at work next week?
    – Voo
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:05
  • 2
    @Buffy Absolutely, that's the best way to resolve this. But that's very different from the thesis supervisor applying that pressure or there being some regulation that requires that kind of immediacy. Given the usual timelines in these things the onus is on the student to explain the urgency and not simply assume everybody's going to jump when they say so.
    – Voo
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:17

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