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Ph.D. defence in botany: rules and customs

For reviewers and committee chairs.



  • The defence is opened by the committee chair. At the beginning, the committee chair summarises the whole procedure (supervisor's introduction, presentation of the candidate, referees' questions, general discussion, closed session), welcomes referees  and briefly introduces the candidate.
  • The supervisor introduces the candidate, the institute/working group and conditions/environment where the thesis has been done (max 5 mins, might be done/is welcome in a lighter tone).
  • The candidate presents the thesis (ca. 25-30 mins).
  • Both referees (usually there are two) present a short summary of their reviews (first part of the review, no reading of lengthy text is necessary).
  • The referees examine the candidate by asking specific questions on the thesis (second part of the review). They typically start with the questions from the written assessment (as a warm-up), but other questions are most welcome as the discussion develops. (It is not a very good idea to stick too literally to the written questions.) The candidate replies to each question immediately. This is the core part of the defence.
  • The committee chair opens general discussion, with questions from the committee members and from the auditorium. It is a good idea to stimulate the discussion so that everybody present has the feeling that the subject has been discussed in full and all necessary questions have been asked.
  • It may be a good idea to make a short (10 mins max) break during the public part of the defence (typically between questions of the first and second referee).
  • After the defence is over, there is a closed session with committee members, referees and supervisor taking part. At the beginning of the closed session, the referees summarize their opinion on the thesis and performance of the candidate.
  • The chair asks all committee members about their opinion on the thesis and overall performance of the candidate during the defence.
  • The committee members decide on the outcome (passed/not passed) by secret ballot. Referees do not vote unless a member of the standing committee has been appointed a referee (which may sometimes happen).
  • The result is publicly announced to the candidate and to the auditorium. Apart from the result (passed/not passed), the committee chair points out strong/weak points of the thesis as discussed at the closed session.

Format of the written assessment of the thesis

  • A short overall assessment of the thesis (1-2 paragraphs).
  • Several major questions to the candidate, dealing with subject, content, methods or interpretations of the thesis. The questions should be phrased so that the candidate by replying to them should be able to show that he/she is mastering the discipline. Detailed technical questions are not particularly encouraged here.
  • It is a good idea to put only a subset of the questions into the written assessment, and keep some questions only for the defence. It is a good idea to begin with questions from the written review and continue (as the discussion develops) to questions that have not been put into the review.
  • Further technical/methodological/review comments may also be part of the written reviews and are welcome, but usually are not dealt with at the defence unless the candidate specifically wishes so.
  • The written assessment should be available to the candidate at least 2 weeks before the defence


  • The outcome of the defence is decided by a standing committee, but not all committee members are present at every defence. Chair of the committee is appointed from the committee members.
  • The whole defence is in English.

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