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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I examined a Ph.D. thesis this week. I usually do about two or three of these a year. I was curious to work out how long it takes to undertake this task, so in my slightly obsessive fashion, I got cracking on the time tracking.

For this thesis, I had to read three very long novels that I hadn’t ever got round to before and two poetry collections (other texts that it dealt with were very familiar with me and directly in line with my precise expertise, hence the selection as an examiner). I then had to read the thesis itself. I then had to write up my comments in the independent report on this (4,200 words). I then travelled across the country, conducted the viva, wrote the co-report with the internal, stayed overnight in a hotel, and travelled back the next day.

The overall time that I logged on this was 42 hours or just over five working days worth of full-time work. The fee that I received from the university for this work was £210. This works out at £5.00 per hour or £2.83 less than the National Living Wage.

Of course, I am not on the National Living Wage doing this work and it would be completely dishonest to claim it to be so. I am paid a salary by my university and examining external Ph.D. candidates is part of the job description. So the examination fee is actually just a nicety if you are in a privileged/fortunate position, as I am. (Although I note that examiners do not have to hold university posts; they could be independent experts, in which case the work here would be considerable for not much remuneration.) BUT: what does it say of the investment in our Ph.D. candidates that such a low monetary value is put on external examination?

It’s also the case that other Ph.D.s take much less time to examine. A thesis that didn’t require me to read 1,800 pages of new novels, for instance, would definitely be quicker. The viva being held near to my own institution would also cut down the time required. In short, though, it is quite a lot of work properly examining a Ph.D. thesis and giving it the attention that such level of work deserves.