School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Procedures for Holding Thesis Examinations Remotely—Updated Guide for Covid-19 Pandemic

School of Graduate Studies, Queen’s University, July 31, 2020

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, this document expands and updates “Procedures for Holding Thesis Examinations Remotely” section of “Conducting Master’s and Doctoral Oral Thesis Examinations in the Absence of Participants: A Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” published March 17, 2020. 

What is new in light of pandemic*

*Departments/Programs do not need SGS permission to conduct Thesis Examinations remotely. However, SGS is here to support you. Please reach out to with any questions.

*During this extraordinary period the SGS Thesis Coordinator is experiencing additional challenges in identifying Chairs for PhD oral thesis examinations and/or Chairs who are able and willing to chair an examination that is being held remotely. Therefore, for this period of emergency only, Departments/Programs have the ability to a) find their own Chair or b) allow the  Departmental Head or Head's Delegate to act as Chair.  If a Department/Program  identifies a Chair, they must inform Rose Silva ( as soon as possible. Please note that if the Head’s Delegate acts as Chair, that person will no longer be a voting member on the Committee.

*SGS requires an electronic version of the thesis for distribution to the Chair (not a hard copy version at this time). However, If the Department/Program finds their own chair, they are responsible for ensuring that that person has a copy of the thesis.

*The Chair should state out loud that recording or taking screenshots of the oral thesis examination is NOT permitted. All present must provide verbal confirmation that they understand and will adhere to this rule.

Best Practices Guide

This guide intends to offer advice and best practices for conducting remote exams.  To convene a thesis examination remotely, consent of all participants, including the candidate, must be received by the Supervisor and confirmed by the Chair before the exam begins either in prior written correspondence, at a test meeting, or at the outset of the meeting.

Guests are allowed if the following protocols are undertaken: supervisors are responsible for obtaining everyone on the Committee’s permission (most importantly the student’s permission) to have guests enter into the examination, but only for the student's presentation (if there is one) and general questioning period. Similar to the in-person rules, guests may not be present during the Committee deliberations. Guests must also verbally agree not to record the examination and not to be in communication with the candidate during the examination (e.g., sending texts, photos, or any answers during the examination).  The Chair is responsible for ensuring that the guests are welcome at the appropriate time and leave the online examination at the appropriate time. Departments are strongly advised to seek the assistance of ITS (Dave Smith) if they are contemplating an open electronic examination. 

Finally, to the best of their ability, all participants should ensure that they have a quiet environment for the duration of the examination, a place unlikely to be disturbed (by other people, pets, the doorbell or telephone) and where others can’t overhear the confidential conversation.   

The School of Graduate Studies recommends using Microsoft Teams. Participants should download the desktop application (rather than using a web-browser version or the web-based Office 365 version). Teams is available for download at: Please read this important Gazette article as it provides instructions on how to install Teams, what it can be used for, and how to use it. Microsoft Teams is free for all staff, instructors and students and is available to you immediately using your NetID. Additionally, anyone who does not have a Queen's NetID can be invited to and participate in a Teams meeting for free using any email address.

For PhD thesis defence examinations1, David Smith ( from IT Services, is available to help set up remote examinations and provide technical support during it. If such assistance is desired, supervisors should go into the IT service portal to request a web conference to coordinate exams between 8am-4pm Monday to Friday, in the following time-slots, 8:00-10:30, 10:30-1:00, and then 1:00-4:00. Supervisors should provide David with the email addresses and phone numbers of all participants to create a meeting invitation on Teams.

He and IT Services will then schedule a test meeting with all participants to ensure cameras and miccrophones are working. This test session should be scheduled after the full written e-reports are received 3 days in advance of the defense date. As per usual thesis examination procedures, it is important that everyone submit their reports to the SGS Thesis Coordinator ( in a timely manner so that David and IT Services have time to conduct a test meeting prior to the final Examination.

Equipment: All participants engaging remotely will need to have computers and/or mobile phones with video capability. These should be charged and charging cords available. The final forms can also be submitted electronically (a photo taken with cell phone and uploaded as a pdf and sent to the SGS Thesis Coordinator -

Please be aware of the need to send files securely to ensure confidentiality. Although an email sent from one “” address to another is encrypted, there is always the potential for sending the email to the wrong address.  In order to ensure confidentiality, please either: encrypt the PDF with a password (see video on this page for how to do so: OR have individuals upload their forms to a OneDrive for Business account by sending them a secure link to use.  

Contacts: Chairs and Supervisors should have email, phone, skype, whatsapp, messenger and other relevant contacts for all participants collected before the convening of the defense meeting. A chat/message platform that all participants can share for quick communication must be identified  in case of video and/or audio conferencing being disrupted for participants. One advantage of using TEAMS is that when the candidate is “asked to leave the room” for discussion, they can be removed from the conference call and then asked to rejoin the video/audio conference through a message in the chat room. If in doubt about how this works, Dave Smith from IT Services will assist during the test run. (For written instructions, please see the TEAMS conference tips for oral exams).

Back up procedures in the event of video-conferencing problems:

1. Audio conference calling

Microsoft Teams telephone conferencing is also available and depending on the internet connection, video can be suspended and audio used in place to conserve bandwidth. Only the candidate and the examiner who is questioning need to have cameras on (and other examiners can also mute their microphone when not contributing).

2. Written exchange

As per usual SGS Oral Thesis Examination Protocol, written reports need to be sent to the SGS Thesis Coordinator ( 7 days before the defense date. It is imperative in the case of remote examinations that the full written reports be circulated to the Chair 3 days in advance of the defense meeting.

It is ideal that the written reports have a final section that formulates several key questions to be posed to the candidate in the event that communication is disrupted. The Chair and Supervisor should advise examiners to prepare their reports in this fashion. External examiners or non-Queen’s Co-Supervisors in particular will need some instruction. The reports can be circulated to all examiners by the Chair. In the event of such a disruption the Chair or other examiner can pose these questions to the candidate.

In the event of communications by video/audio conferencing failing, the committee can still conduct the examination as appropriate through the discussion forum created in the chat function on a TEAMS group or other such platform if TEAMS is not used. There may also be options by telephone conference calling. However, these measures are a last resort. Alternatively, if the technology is failing and interfering with the content of the examination, the Chair can take the decision, with advice from Committee members in so far as possible, that the examination needs to be postponed or rescheduled. If this is the case, please contact the Associate Dean at SGS at to discuss options.


Chairs report: Usual procedures apply. The final suggestions for revisions can be compiled by the Chair and agreed upon by the examiners. The Chair can solicit the decisions of the examiners and sign on behalf of the committee members to submit the form in the manner described above.It is best if the Chair types or writes down the suggested revisions on the usual SGS forms rather than write on the TEAMS chat function. If the Teams chat function is used, the Chair is responsible for downloading the file or transcribing the notes and deleting the notes from the group chat. If the Chair feels that because of technical reasons the student was disadvantaged at the remote-based final Oral Thesis Examination, please contact the Associate Dean at SGS at

Any concerns, questions, comments about this guide, please contact Associate Dean at SGS

Procedures for Remote Defenses (PDF, 77 KB)

1 Given the current volume of PhD thesis defence examinations, we are currently prioritizing PhD thesis defence examinations for technical support from IT Services, Monday-Friday 8-4. We expect there will be many Faculties and Departments that do not require the IT support and/or can conduct Master thesis exams remotely through a Department’s own technical supports. In these cases, other parts of this document can still act as a guide for best practices.