Regulations Governing the Doctoral Dissertation

The dissertation is the culmination of a candidate's program. All PhD candidates are required to complete an original dissertation that makes a significant contribution to the existing knowledge in their field. If dissertation research involves human participants, approval must be obtained from the WLU Research Ethics Board; if the research involves animals, approval must be obtained from the WLU Animal Care Committee (details are available from the WLU Office of Research Services).

In order that the dissertation may be subject to the scholarly criticism of all members of the university community, the thesis is available from the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office two weeks prior to the oral defence. Also, the oral defence is open to any member of the university community.

See also Doctoral Dissertation Guidelines

Structure and Role of the Dissertation Advisory Committee

Each student must submit their PhD Committee Membership form within the first 6 terms of registration. Subsequent changes to the Dissertation Advisory Committee must be filed with the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies on the PhD Committee Membership Change form.

The Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) must consist of 2 members from the student’s home program, and a maximum of 4 members in total, with no more than 1 member acting as a co-advisor. The committee membership is comprised as follows:

  1. A Dissertation Advisor (DA), who is a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty of the university and is a full-time faculty member in the academic unit/program of the candidate. The Advisor is principally responsible for mentoring the student’s progress to completion (research, course selection, professional development). (Advisor – see Table below) 
  2. Two other Committee Members: 
    • One who is a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty of the university and a full-time faculty member in the WLU academic unit/program of the candidate (DAC Member 2 – see Table below), and 
    • One who is either a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty of the university from any program, or a faculty member elsewhere who meets the same requirements (DAC Member 3 – see Table below). Both DAC Member 2 and Member 3 provide feedback, and participate actively in the dissertation progression of the student 
  3. A fourth member is optional, and may be an academic or professional outside the university with appropriate expertise (DAC Member 4 – see Table below). This 4th DAC member must hold Associated or Special Membership on the Graduate Faculty at WLU.

For candidates in a joint program, committee members who are full-time faculty members in the joint program at the partner institution and who are Associated Members of the Graduate Faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University may serve as DAC Member 3 and as co-advisor.

The DAC may participate in the comprehensive/qualifying exam (or equivalent), based on program norms.

See also Structure and Role of the Dissertation Examining Committee.

Approval of the DAC

In consultation with the candidate, the DA recommends the members of the DAC to the graduate coordinator/ program director on the Committee Membership for Doctoral Students form. All members of the DAC must have membership on the Graduate Faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Once the DAC has been approved by the graduate coordinator/program director or the appropriate committee within the academic unit/program, approval of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, or designate, must also be obtained (the graduate coordinator/program director is required to forward the documentation to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for approval). All members of the DAC must review and approve the dissertation proposal. All members of the DAC must also review a complete draft of the dissertation prior to the oral defence and verify that it is ready to go forward for defence.

Note: If the advisor retires they are eligible for associated membership to the Graduate Faculty. In such a case, they may continue only in a co-advisory position, with the other co-advisor (DAC Member 2) being a Regular Member of the Graduate Faculty and in the student’s program (i.e., full-time tenured, or tenure-track faculty member at Laurier).

Structure and Role of the Dissertation Examination Committee

The Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) must consist of: 
  • all members of the DAC (Advisor, DAC Members 2, 3 and an optional member  - see table below
  • an Internal/External Member who is a Regular or an Associated Member (limited term position at the University) of the Graduate Faculty of the university, who is not a member of the DAC and: 
    • ensures the dissertation meets university standards in terms of quality 
    • must be from outside the program/academic unit of the candidate 
    • should have expertise related to the subject matter of the dissertation 
    • must notify the DA of any significant concerns about the quality of the dissertation prior to the defence
    • assists other DEC members examine the candidate’s performance at the defence 
  • an Exam Chair, who is a Regular Member OR a faculty member of Wilfrid Laurier University who is an Associated Member of the graduate faculty and 
    • has not served on the candidate’s DAC 
    • is a non-voting member of the DEC 
    • is appointed by FGPS to serve as an impartial DEC member from outside the candidate’s department
    • ensures the examination is conducted fairly and appropriately. 
  • an independent External Examiner who (is): 
    • external to the University 
    • a senior Associate or Full Professor 
    • a well-established subject-matter expert with a demonstrated and active research record 
    • has evidence of successful involvement in graduate supervision and teaching 
    • "arm's length" from the candidate and the DA (see Guidelines for Determining "Arm's Length" of External Examiners, below) in order to ensure fairness and impartiality 
    • does not have a vested interest in the outcome of the oral defence.
The Dissertation Advisor must generate a list of three nominees to serve as External Examiner, where each nominee must meet the qualifications noted above.

Transitioning the DAC to the DEC


Determining "Arm's Length" of External Examiners

Arm's length means not being a close friend, a regular or current collaborator, a former supervisor or Graduate student, or a former colleague/co-worker of the dissertation advisor (DA) or the candidate. It also means not having a vested interest in the outcome of the oral defence. For the purposes of past collaboration—in terms of publication, conference organization/presentation, research grants, etc.—the collaboration must have occurred at least six or more years from the time of the oral exam in order for the nominated scholar to serve as external. Former supervisors or graduate students of the DA or the candidate will not be permitted under any circumstances to serve as external examiners, nor will anyone outside the DAC involved in the candidate's dissertation/thesis project development, data collection, or data interpretation. In the event that the dissertation/thesis involves co-supervision, the rules for the DA will apply to both co-supervisors.

The Dissertation Defence

Each candidate must be duly registered in the term in which the defence takes place. Upon approval of the final dissertation and submission to Scholars Commons, the candidate’s registration will be adjusted by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in accordance with Calendar deadlines and tuition adjustments.
The defence is conducted by an impartial Exam Chair.

It is expected that all members of the DEC will attend the dissertation defence, either in person or via teleconference or videoconference. The defence should take place on the Wilfrid Laurier University campus, and at most, one committee member may be absent (not physically or virtually present), and the absent member cannot be the External Examiner. At most two committee members may be virtually present.

Note: During Covid-19 restrictions, please refer to the Remote Defence Guidelines.

Decision Categories for the Dissertation Defence

The following are the decision categories that are available to the DEC:

  • Accepted: The dissertation is accepted but may require minor typographical and/or minor editorial corrections to be made to the satisfaction of the DA. The final copy of the dissertation must be uploaded to Scholars Commons within three weeks of the oral defence. 

  • Accepted conditionally: The oral defence has been completed to the satisfaction of the examining committee. The dissertation is acceptable but requires content changes which are minor enough that re-examination is not required. The DEC’s report must include a brief outline of the nature of the changes required, and must indicate the time by which the changes are to be completed. Changes must be completed to the satisfaction of members of the examining committee (as designated by the committee). The final copy of the dissertation must be uploaded to Scholars Commons within eight weeks of the oral defence. If the final copy cannot be uploaded within eight weeks, the decision category reverts to ‘Decision deferred.’ 

  • Decision deferred: The dissertation requires modifications of a substantial nature, the need for which makes the acceptability of the dissertation questionable. The examining committee's report must contain a brief outline of the modifications expected and should indicate the time by which the changes are to be completed and the candidate must remain a registered student in the program. The revised dissertation must be resubmitted for re-examination. Normally, the re-examination will follow the same procedures as for the initial submission. Normally, the same examining committee will serve. A decision to defer is open only once for each candidate. 

  • Rejected: The dissertation and/or defence are not acceptable. The committee must report the reasons for rejection. A candidate whose doctoral dissertation has been rejected is required to withdraw from the PhD program.

Voting Procedures

If all but one member of the DEC agree on a decision category, the decision shall be that of the majority. Where two dissenting votes are cast, discussion must continue to arrive at a decision on which there is consensus (i.e., no more than one dissenting vote). When consensus is reached, all members of the DEC must sign the Graduate Candidate Record. As discussed above, if a DEC member is absent but has provided a preliminary vote, this vote will be shared with the committee during the in-camera deliberations.