I am a completing Ph.D student. I submitted my thesis 4 months ago and have recently received the comments from the examiners. But to my surprise, two examiners have provided entirely different comments. One of the reviewers has appraised my thesis and congratulated on my work while the other has given intense/critical and harsh comments saying that the thesis may need some more work to be of a standard quality. I learned that the second reviewer who has provided extended comments will be attending in person for my oral exam. Could you please give me tips on how to appear confident and prepare in the best way possible. Most of the comments seem genuine but there are comments where he is beyond the objectives of my study.
Your help would be highly appreciated. Thank you.

2 Answers 2


You talk to your thesis advisor and do what s/he says. S/he'll be responsible for leading (or at least framing the) oral examination and working with the examiners to make sure that you get final approval.

None of us know you or your research or the needs of your university or department, the character and reputation of the examiners involved, and so forth -- you need a local expert.

  • 1
    Yes, I had a discussion with my primary supervisor and it looks that keeping calm and providing justification with confidence is the way to deal during the defense. However, I was wondering about some of the starting phrases while responding to the examiner's questions. Especially, when the it is a difficult question or the examiner identified something that I missed to include in my thesis. Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 23:00

The format and nature of the oral examination vary enormously by country. RoboKaren's description of an oral examination would be very unusual in the UK (where it is customary for the supervisor to not be present, except maybe at the very end when the examiners deliver their verdict).

To answer your question: you should be candid about the weaknesses in your work, and prepared to explain why you made the decisions you made. You should also be prepared to explain in detail why you did not pursue a particular methodology or why you did not give much attention to a given perspective. Examiners will almost certainly ask "why did you not consider X?" or "Y is really important; why did you mention it only once in the whole thesis?". Possible approaches to answering such questions:

  • explain that your data and sources are insufficient to enable an authoritative answer;
  • explain that you do not have enough space to explore the topic X in a thesis primarily about topic Z;
  • explain that you were concerned that a superficial treatment of topic X might come across as too polemical/biased, and might end up being misused as a political football (or result in others attributing approaches/beliefs to you that you do not hold) -- you are determined to avoid bias, and do not feel that your research qualifies you to tackle topic X with reasonable objectivity;
  • demonstrate that you realise that topics X and Y are important, but only two among many important topics that could have been mentioned -- outline some more examples A, B, C, D, &c., and explain you could not see a case for why X and Y had to be included in detail;
  • explain why topics X and Y are beyond the scope of the research questions you articulated in the thesis (and promise to add a footnote mentioning them briefly, plus a few cross-references to the literature).

Part of writing a coherent thesis is circumscribing the topic whilst also signposting other potential directions.

And finally, where you encounter weaknesses, find ways to make them interesting and turn them into strengths (e.g.: the data were inconclusive, but they raised some interesting questions on how we define success in phenomenon P).

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