Notes on thesis preparation and the oral defense
- Read the instructions in the Trent Graduate Students Handbook carefully, and before you begin to write. You can waste a lot of time reformatting text to fit the requirements (margin widths, title page, etc.). The rest of these notes cover points which are not in the Handbook.
- Start writing your thesis early. Even before you have all your results, use your "dead time" to write theory or apparatus chapters. You will need this time later on.
- Always give some context for your research in the Introduction section of the thesis. What was your motivation for carrying out the research? Where does it fit in the context of what preceded it?
- Make it clear how your thesis is part of a modelling project. For example, it can develop a new model, modify an existing model, collect data or develop an instrument to prove/disprove an exiting model, or provide an experimental base for the possible future development of a model. In all cases, existing models should be discussed as appropriate or, when no models exist, the thesis should include at least a discussion of the factors to be incorporated into such a model. This can be done either in a separate chapter of the thesis, or incorporated into the rest of the thesis as appropriate.
- The essence of your thesis should be understandable by a non-expert in your field, although not necessarily all the details. (One member of your Thesis Examining Committee will be a social scientist, for a natural-sciences thesis, and vice versa). Providing a glossary of technical terms may facilitate this.
- Remember that anything you mention in your thesis is a fair target for questions from your Examining Committee. Avoid introducing subjects with which you are unfamiliar; if you are speculating, make this clear.
- Different disciplines often have quite different styles for publications. For example, the American Institute of Physics publishes a Style Manual that includes the official forms of abbreviations, etc. Consult with your home department office. Make good use of previous theses, but check the style manuals in addition.
- The standard typing format leaves one space between words, and two between sentences. The bigger gap between sentences helps the reader scan much more quickly.
- Figures and tables must have both a number and a title. Every figure and table must be referred to explicitly at some appropriate place in the text and usually are placed immediately after this reference. Include an index of Tables and Figures (in addition to the index of Chapters and Sections) at the start of your thesis, for easy reference by readers. Remember you want it to be used by others.
- Decide early in your writing whether you will be inserting your figures and/or tables as full-page additions to the text, or importing them directly into the document. Both are acceptable, but the latter requires more computer dexterity.
- Hyphens: a group of words, which are used as a single adjective modifying a noun should be connected by hyphens so that it is clear which of the words is being modified. For example, "a 2-ml quantity" (but "the quantity was 2ml"); "The sample was used in its as-received condition."; "the low-energy-electron analyzer was used to..."; "the signal-to-noise ratio was...
However, an adverb followed by an adjective, normally does not use a hyphen. For example, in "the dearly beloved person..." one does not use a hyphen, because the "ly" on "dearly" clearly defines it as an adverb which can only modify the adjective "beloved".
Semicolons and colons are also frequently misused. The Note on the Preparation of Essays, produced by the Academic Skills Centre, has a good Summary of their usage. The over-riding rule is to use punctuation so as to make your meaning clear.
- Equation numbers should align vertically. In WordPerfect 6.0 or later, this can be accomplished easily by using the in-line equation editor to create the equation, with the equation number added afterwards with the "flush-right" command.
- Remember to acknowledge granting sources. These organizations pay many of your expenses, and like to be recognized for it
- An AMOD thesis is typically 80 to 120 pages long, depending on the number of figures and tables
- Spell-check with your word-processor and then give your thesis a final reading before you submit it. If possible, have someone else proof-read it, to catch the simple errors that you miss because you know it so well.
- Check that all pages of your thesis are present in every copy, before it goes to your Supervisory or Examining Committees for approval. Missing pages can slow the process by more than a week.
- Your current fees must be paid before you will be allowed to proceed to your oral exam.
- Remember that it takes about 7 weeks from the time of first submission of your thesis until your oral exam: two weeks for your Supervisory Committee to read it, a week to make corrections, and four weeks for the Examining Committee to read your thesis. Allow extra time in summer when people are often away. Finally, allow at least a week for corrections after your oral.
- This is your own book; most of us will never write another. Prepare it with professionalism and pride.
Supervisor's responsibilities regarding the student's thesis
This note addresses the question of the extent to which a Supervisor should be involved in the preparation of a student's thesis. To provide some uniformity within the AMOD program, the Executive Committee recommends the following procedure be followed.
- The supervisor must be involved in discussion of the research work that precedes the actual writing of the thesis, to be sure that the student's goals and methodology are appropriate to the discipline at the Master's level, and that the student's interpretation of data is reasonable and adequately justified. The degree of the Supervisor's involvement at this stage will vary greatly from situation to situation, depending on the ability of the student for independent work and the complexity of the problem, but normally Supervisor and student will meet at least once per week.
- The Supervisor is expected to read the entire thesis at the draft stage, preferably chapter by chapter, to point out problems in the research or writing style before the entire thesis is written, while respecting the student's right to his/her own writing style. The Supervisor will not normally read another full draft of the thesis until it is complete, although parts which were initially problematic may be re-read and criticized at the request of the student. This should ensure that the final version of the thesis is essentially the work of the student.
- The Supervisor should read the thesis in its entirety before it goes to the full Supervisory Committee for permission to proceed to the Examining Committee. This reading by the Supervisor will normally be primarily for minor linguistic corrections. On the other hand, the focus of the reading by the Supervisory Committee will be primarily on content, to catch major errors which might fail the student at an oral examination or result in substantial revisions; theses with very bad English or many minor errors will simply be returned to the student for improvement before being considered for content. A careful reading by the Supervisor before submission to the Supervisory Committee will avoid embarrassment for both the student and Supervisor in the case of a sloppily written thesis. If the Supervisor is doing his/her job responsibly, the Supervisory Committee will only rarely refuse to let a thesis proceed to the oral exam at this stage.
If, at this time, the Supervisor or Supervisory committee finds that the thesis does require major changes, then the form of these revisions must be written out to ensure that the student understands the changes to be made before resubmitting the entire thesis to the Supervisor for rereading. The thesis will not normally be re-read by the Supervisory Committee before it goes to oral examination.
- If the student and Supervisor cannot agree on the suitability of the thesis for proceeding to examination, the procedures outlined in the Handbook for Graduate Students of Trent University should be followed.
- The Thesis Examining Committee shall normally comprise the Research Supervisor, one or more other members of the Supervising Committee, a Core Faculty member who is a social scientist in the case of a thesis in the physical sciences, and vice versa, and an External Examiner from outside Trent University and without affiliation with the candidate that might be construed as creating a conflict of interest. The name and a short biography or CV of the External Examiner must be submitted by the Supervisor to the Director for approval prior to the official invitation to the External Examiner. The External Examiner will be a researcher with interests closely related to the subject of the thesis, and will normally be a faculty member from another university or a person with comparable credentials. The Committee will be chaired by the program Director or his/her delegate, who may be one of the Examining Committee members specified above.
Procedure for submission of thesis
- When the student and Supervisor are satisfied that the thesis is ready to proceed to examination, the student distributes one complete typed copy of the thesis to each member of the Supervisory committee, accompanied by a copy of the Pre-Examination Graduate Thesis Approval Form obtained from the program Secretary. All members of the Supervisory Committee must sign this form and return it to the Program Director, verifying that the thesis should proceed to examination, before the process can continue.
Note that it is the job of the Supervisory Committee at this time to ensure, as far as possible, that there are no major problems with the thesis. It is not their job to correct large numbers of spelling or grammatical errors; this is the work of the student and Supervisor. If the number of these is large, the Supervisory Committee members should merely return the thesis to the student without a full reading. If the Supervisory Committee decides that the thesis is not of a sufficient calibre to proceed to examination, and has explained where it believes the deficiencies lie, it does not have to re-read the thesis again. It is then up to the candidate and Supervisor to make the necessary changes to ensure that the thesis is suitable; ie, it is not the responsibility of the Supervisory Committee to continue to comment on the thesis until it is finally acceptable.
- Enough copies of the (corrected) thesis for all members of the Examining Committee must be deposited with the Program Director not less than three weeks before the proposed date of the oral.
- The Examining Committee is named by the Program Director, in consultation with the Associate Dean. It will consist of the External Examiner, the Supervisor, at least one other member of the Supervisory Committee, and a Core Faculty member of the AMOD program who is a social scientist in the case of a thesis in the natural sciences, or a natural scientist in the case of a thesis in the social sciences. This last member will be invited by the Program Director. The Program Director or his/her delegate will Chair the examination. One of the Trent Faculty on the Examining Committee (excluding the Supervisor) can act as Chair.
- External Examiner. The Supervisor will provide to the Program Director a list of three names and addresses (and e-mail addresses if available) of people qualified to act as External Examiner, with a brief rationale for each. The External Examiner must not have an affiliation with the university or the candidate which might be construed as creating a conflict of interest. (In some cases, fewer than three names may be warranted because of the small number of potential examiners within a reasonable distance.) One of the people proposed will be approached by the Director of the Program to serve as External Examiner and, once the decision is finalized, this name will be given to the Graduate Studies Office.
- The thesis must be distributed amongst the Examining Committee at least three weeks before the scheduled date of the oral, along with a covering letter from the Associate Dean explaining the status of the thesis and the range of options available for its disposition. A Pre-Oral Defence Thesis Approval Form is supplied by the Graduate Studies Office on which each examiner must verify whether or not they recommend that the oral exam should proceed. These forms must be returned to the Program Director at least one week before the scheduled date of the oral.
- The program Secretary will provide the Chair of the Examining Committee with a Thesis Approval Form prior to the examination.
The thesis oral defense
The make-up of the Thesis Examining Committee is given in section 8-5.
- The initial part of the exam may be attended by anyone.
- The Chair of the Examining Committee opens the examination by introducing the candidate and the Committee members.
- The candidate makes a presentation of about 20 minutes covering the main points of the thesis. An overhead projector will be provided, and a slide projector if requested by the candidate.
- There will be about 10 minutes for questions from the audience, after which the Chair will ask that everyone leave except for the candidate and the Examining Committee.
- The Chair invites questions from the Committee members in turn, beginning with the External Examiner. Typically each person asks two or three questions which takes about 10 minutes each. After all Committee members have had a turn, the Chair will restart the cycle with the External Examiner. When no more members wish to ask questions, the Chair will ask the candidate to leave the room but wait nearby while the Committee arrives at its decision, which typically takes about 15 minutes.
- The Committee has four options:
- The thesis is approved as it stands, or
- The thesis is approved provided certain minor or major revisions are made, or
- The thesis is not approved as it stands but may be resubmitted, and re-examined by some or all of the Examining Committee (this may or may not involve another oral defence), or
- The thesis is not approved.
- The Chair invites the candidate back into the examination room, and gives the decision.
- Under option (ii), the Committee leaves lists of revisions with the Program Director who provides a copy to the Supervisor. The candidate will make all required changes, in consultation with the Supervisor. The changes are verified by the Program Director in consultation with the Supervisor or the thesis is resubmitted to the Committee, as required. (see the Trent Graduate Student's Handbook for full details)
- When all required changes have been verified by the Director, the student deposits the requisite number of final manuscripts with the Graduate Studies Office.