My Experience with a Doctoral Thesis in Format Two

Kia Ora! My name is Prabakar, from the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies. I have recently defended my Format Two thesis (manuscript format) successfully amid various challenges, including COVID-19! It has been a roller-coaster journey for me to write and get the Format Two thesis examined. I had to experiment with a few things to see how it came out, as there are fewer exemplar materials available for the less-common Format Two thesis than the traditional Format One (monograph) thesis.

When to opt for Format Two:

It is your choice! You and your supervisors should discuss how you are going to present your work. I chose Format Two because my research topic had various research outcomes that answered different research questions. Each question has a strong connection to my research topic. During my research tenure, I managed to publish all my research outcomes as articles in four reputable publications (IEEE journals) and five peer-reviewed conferences (IEEE conferences). I also had an article-in-preparation when I started to write my thesis.

I struggled to write my thesis as a monograph (Format One) due to the nature of my research outcomes. Thus, I liaised with my supervisors and opted to present my thesis under Format Two in a cohesive manner. The student should indicate in his/her PGR9 (confirmation of candidature form) that he/she is going to opt for Format Two style thesis submission. If they had changed their mind during the course of the research, they could update this in their PGR8 (progress report), with valid justifications. Their changes will need to be approved by the school and Graduate Research School (GRS). You will be declaring the type of the thesis in the PGR12 (lodgement of thesis for examination form) as well. Doctoral students using Format Two are also required to have a minimum of two manuscripts submitted to a peer-reviewed journal before submission for examination.

What publications/manuscripts can be included in a Format Two thesis:

There are regulations prescribed on page 101 of the 2020 Postgraduate Handbook on the types of manuscripts that are allowed for inclusion. Manuscripts may be, ‘in preparation for submission to a peer-reviewed journal’ or ‘submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, or ‘published or in-press or accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. Peer-reviewed conference papers can be considered to be equivalent to a journal in some disciplines. For instance, conference papers in the ICT field may have a higher ranking than a journal article. The regulations state that “manuscript(s) must be resultant from work completed during the student’s enrolment and supervision in their research degree.” (p.101) At least two manuscripts from the lot (included in the thesis) should have been submitted to peer-reviewed journals.

How a Format Two thesis is examined:

The PG Handbook states that “research that has been published or accepted for publication does not ensure a pass in a doctoral degree. Examiners will judge a student’s research on its original contribution to knowledge and scholarship. The thesis must stand on its own merits as a thesis and will be assessed on its totality” (p.103). As the chapters are stand-alone research articles, it may appear broken in terms of the flow of the thesis. Some examiners may not like this and some may be unfamiliar with the thesis format.

Usually, there are two examiners. Sometimes, if the examiner’s reports vary a lot between the two, your thesis will be sent out to a third reviewer. This happened in my case. Once all three reports have arrived, the GRS will see if there is a majority (in their provisional suggested outcome) and if the majority is inclined towards outcome 1-3, then your oral examination will be scheduled. If the majority is outcome 4-5 (although outcome 5 is rare), then the GRS will contact you with the next steps.

Oral examination:

This component of the Format Two examination is very different from the traditional Format One thesis examination. As most of your work is peer-reviewed already, you may not be questioned as intensively as you would in a traditional oral examination. Examiners may ask for clarification on missing parts of your work and/or ask why you have opted for a particular set of methodologies. Although the examiners may request changes to any part of the thesis whether the articles have been previously published or not, changes have a limited degree of freedom. Journal publications do not usually have revisions, unlike books which have editions. Thus, amendments requested by the examiners will be addressed differently, with the help of the examination convenor.

Examples from AUT open repository:  https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/handle/10292/13038 and https://openrepository.aut.ac.nz/handle/10292/13036

How to structure a thesis in Format Two:

Check back later this week on Thesislink for Part 2 of this post, which will go into detail on how to structure a thesis in Format Two.

About Prabakar Parthiban

Prabakar Parthiban received the Bachelor of Electronics and Communications Engineering degree (First Class) from Anna University, India, in 2010, and the Master of Engineering Studies degree (with Distinction) from the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, in 2012, where he is currently pursuing the Ph.D. degree in electronics engineering (majoring antennas and microwave). He has been a Senior RF engineer with Times-7 Research Ltd., New Zealand, since 2012. His current research interests are in antenna design using non-conventional radio frequency substrate materials.

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