Supporting Doctoral Candidates through Completion and Final Examination: History
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Completion and final examination comprise the final stages of a doctoral program and represent the culmination of the doctoral candidates’ years of research. In this entry, completion is defined as the writing and submission of a doctoral thesis, and final examination is defined as the viva voce. Over the years, the format and scope of doctoral degrees has expanded and a variety of formats are now offered. In addition to the traditional research-only doctoral degree, professional, practice-based, and new route programs also contain a taught element alongside research. However, the creation of a substantive thesis or practice-based alternative addressing a novel research question is common to all. In contrast, processes and formats of viva voces vary across the globe. These range from private, closed-door defenses to assessed or ritualistic public defense presentations. For both completion and final examination, there are many practical and psychological hurdles that need to be navigated in order for the candidate to attain their doctoral degree. This entry will highlight these aspects as well as provide evidence-based guidance for supervisors in supporting their doctoral candidates through these daunting final stages.

  • doctoral
  • thesis
  • viva voce
  • completion
  • supervisor
  • supervisory support
Doctoral degrees have a rich history stretching back centuries. The first doctorates were professional doctorates (for example, Doctor of Law, Doctor of Medicine) and were conferred from the 13th century onwards, representing the pinnacle of academic achievement in particular fields [1][2]. The concept of the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, or DPhil) gained prominence in Germany in the 1800s [1] and has now spread to all parts of the world. It represents the highest level of academic achievement in diverse fields including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM), education, arts and humanities, social sciences, and more; these are all under the umbrella term of ‘Philosophy’. This is due to the following central requirements of doctoral study: the creation of new knowledge, critical thinking and debate, and development of research that satisfies the advanced standards of an international doctoral peer network (e.g., publishable in reputable international journals).
Just as the recognition of the importance and value of a PhD to professional development has evolved over recent years, so has the number, type, and route of doctoral programs that are available. This more diverse approach to doctoral study is designed to address the perceived lack of provision of transferrable skills development in the traditional PhD, which has been criticized for not preparing its graduates for the wide variety of postdoctoral employment opportunities that are available. These doctoral routes now include:
  • Traditional PhD—a substantive body of research addressing a specific research question that is novel, robust, and generates new understanding or knowledge
  • Professional doctorate—undertaken by individuals who are already established within a profession and designed to enhance their professional development, including a taught element
  • Practice-based doctorates—typically offered within the Arts and creative fields where assessment is not constrained to a written thesis and includes a taught element
  • New route (or integrated) doctorates—these offer a one-year masters level (taught) qualification before progressing onto a standard three-year traditional PhD
This entry forms part of a collection on ‘Doctoral Supervision’ which covers the length and breadth of the doctoral supervisory journey from recruitment through to completion, and how doctoral candidates can be supported throughout. This specific entry will focus on the final aspects of the doctoral program. It will summarize the literature regarding the different aspects of PhD completion (submission of the thesis) and final examination (the viva voce or defense) followed by an assessment of the different factors that can affect each of these, and how doctoral candidates can be supported to maximize their chances of success and attain their doctoral degree.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/encyclopedia4020053


  1. Bourner, T.; Bowden, R.; Laing, S. Professional Doctorates in England. Stud. High. Educ. 2001, 26, 65–83.
  2. Hoddell, S.; Street, D.; Wildblood, H. Doctorates—Converging or diverging patterns of provision. Qual. Assur. Educ. 2002, 10, 61–70.
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