Last week PhD candidate Gundula Winter successfully defended her thesis into the physical wave transformation and water flow across fringing reefs, and in a first for WA, she did this through an oral exam.
Professor Kate Wright, Dean of the Graduate Research School says the value of an oral exam for PhD candidates can’t be overstated.
“There’s so much value for students. Gundula met with her examiners for two hours; this is a great opportunity for her to talk in depth with experts about the research she’s just completed.
“Not only was she able to demonstrate her knowledge and the significant contribution her research has made to the field but her examiners are also potential mentors and future collaborators so these are great connections to make,” Professor Wright says.
Gundula agrees and says she is really pleased with her decision to undertake the oral exam.
“I volunteered to do one because I knew it would be a great learning experience and also a nice end point to my PhD.
“I was able to showcase all of my research, even the parts that didn’t make my thesis. Promoting my research and myself as a researcher in this way was invaluable,” Gundula says.
Professor Wrights says there are also additional reputational benefits for experts to visit UWA.
“The whole university benefits when scholars visit. Having Professor Karin Bryan from Waikato University and Professor Tom Baldock from UQ visit campus was wonderful.
“Both gave seminars and were able to check out our fantastic facilities, and it’s from visits such as these that future collaborations are initiated,” Professor Wright says.
Incorporated into the doctoral program in many universities internationally, PhD oral exams are less common in Australia, a circumstance traditionally put down to Australia’s geographic location isolation.
With the advent of planes and video conferencing including an oral exam in the doctoral program doesn’t present the same challenges.
“It’s great that UWA has been the first in the State to instigate the oral exam process and we’re encouraging current PhD students to opt-in to this. In the future perhaps it will become a mandatory part of the program, I know there is a lot of debate about this especially between G08 universities,” Professor Wright says.
Gundula says she would certainly encourage PhD students to complete an oral defence of their thesis.
“Having a two-way conversation with experts in your field is an opportunity too good to miss.
“My examiners were so supportive and I know I can connect with them in the future to share ideas or even collaborate,” Gundula says.