Public defence

Following the positive assessment of a doctoral thesis, the candidate can register for the public defence. The public defence of a doctoral thesis is the final step in the doctoral programme. The purpose of the public defence is the oral defence of the doctoral thesis, i.e. the theoretical approach, research design, data collection and findings, in front of an examination committee. The candidate should respond to criticism or suggestions that reviewers may have raised in their reviews.


  • The examination committee of a public defence has to comprise at least three persons. Usually, the committee consists of the two reviewers and the chair of the examination committee. The Directorate of Doctoral Studies appoints the members of the examination committee. The candidate has the right to suggest members for this committee. The thesis supervisor/s may act as a member of the examination committee, but only in exceptional cases.
  • Generally, the Director of Studies serves as chairperson, but this role can be delegated if required. All members of the examination committee contribute to the grading of the candidate.
  • If reviewers cannot attend the public defence in person, the examination may take place in a hybrid or entirely online format. Reviewers are kindly asked to inform the StudiesServiceCentre and the candidate as soon as possible if they can only attend the public defence by video conference.
  • It is the candidate’s and the supervisors’ responsibility to schedule a suitable date for the public defence. They first schedule two to three possible dates in consultation with the reviewers as well as the representative of the respective discipline within the Directorate of Doctoral Studies. Afterwards, they notify the StudiesServiceCentre Social Sciences/Doctoral Studies ( about these dates by submitting the form “Registration for doctoral thesis defence” (SL/P4).
  • The University of Vienna supports and encourages the participation of external reviewers in examination committees and reimburses a maximum of € 700 per public defence for this purpose to cover travel expenses and accommodation costs.


  • A public defence lasts about 90 minutes.
  • It starts with a 20-minute presentation by the candidate, which must clearly present the thesis project and substantiate the research design and findings. It is important that candidates specifically address the comments in the reviews and defend their doctoral thesis in a solid academic sense.
  • This is followed by a discussion between the candidate and the examination committee which is usually opened by the person chairing the examination committee. The reviewers have the opportunity to ask the candidate more in-depth and advanced questions.


  • Following the public defence, each member of the examination committee gives a numerical grade (1–5) on the entire examination (i. e. the presentation and the discussion). This grade is separate from and unrelated to the grades given in the reviews.
  • If the members of the committee come to a majority decision, i.e. the majority of them award the same grade, this grade will be the final grade (e. g. 1, 1, 2 –> majority decision for “excellent”). If the members do not come to a majority decision, the arithmetic mean will be used to determine the final grade (e. g. 1, 3, 5 –> arithmetic mean 1+3+5=9 divided by 3 = 3). The result of the assessment is a numerical grade.
  • Following the successful public defence, doctoral candidates are awarded the academic title “Doktor/Doktorin der Philosophie (Dr. phil.)” (doctor of philosophy) by official notice. The doctoral candidate has the opportunity to celebrate the completion of his/her doctoral studies with a graduation ceremony. For further information, please follow the link to the website of the Conference and Event Management service unit.

Guidelines (in English and German)

Guidelines concerning the assessment of doctoral theses and the public defence, Social Sciences Directorate of Doctoral Studies (Directorate of Studies 40), as of 27 September 2022

Richtlinien zur Beurteilung von Dissertationen und der Durchführung von Defensiones, Studienprogrammleitung Doktoratsstudium Sozialwissenschaften (SPL 40), Stand: 27. September 2022

ViDSS activities: Career Development

The ViDSS offers a range of workshops for early postdoctoral researchers, for example on grant proposal writing or strategic career development.