PhDs are assessed by two examiners. Being a PhD examiner is more interesting than
marking exams. However, it is also more challenging as there are no fixed rules
on how to assess the quality of the thesis. For first time examiners this may
lead to some doubts where to position themselves between the extremes of micromanagement
and a mere plausibility check (eg, when writing the pre-viva report). But,
then, there is also the other examiner: so how can we understand the dynamics? UK
Perhaps it’s like this: the ‘newbie’ (who starts here with a moderate position) adjusts his or her stance according to the views of the other examiner who may either be fairly harsh or lenient. It is also assumed that the newbie is initially more willing to change his or her view for the examination of the next thesis, but gradually becomes more confident, and eventually converges to the average.
But, then, the model of the first figure would mean that all experienced examiners should be in the middle; thus, it’s not consistent to say that they may have the extreme positions of the first figure. Therefore, the second figure assumes the opposite; the ‘newbie’ is still fairly extreme but gradually converges to the average of the other examiners.
However, the second model also does not seem realistic since not all experienced examiners are equally lenient/harsh. Thus, the third model may be the most realistic one: the experienced examiners vary a bit. The ‘newbie’ may initially have a more extreme position but gradually adjusts it and converges to a stable state which, however, even in the long run may deviate a bit from the average.
Does this show that this system ‘works’? It works well in the sense that having two examiners means that all examiners have to adjust their positions and therefore, in the long and in average, a common standard emerges. But for the individual candidate the fact that his or her two examiners may be skewed to one or the other direction means that good/bad luck clearly plays a role. So what to do? Perhaps a third person or, as in other countries, a panel of examiners may help.