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 and the supervisor/s need 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 to another Faculty member who is allowed to supervise doctoral theses. The candidate and the supervisor/s can suggest a chairperson. 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 supervisor/s’ responsibility to schedule a suitable date for the public defence. The supervisor/s first schedule two to three possible dates in consultation with the reviewers, the candidate as well as the representative of the respective discipline within the Directorate of Doctoral Studies or the chairperson they suggest. Afterwards, the candidate notifies the StudiesServiceCentre ( about the suggested date and the names of the members of the examination committee 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 welcoming note by the chairperson including an explanation of the procedure.
  • Afterwards, the candidate holds a 20-minute presentation in which they 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 terms of its academic merit.
  • 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. The supervisor/s are only part of this discussion and can grade if they are members of the examination committee.
  • The public defence is followed by an internal discussion about the grading of the public defence among the members of the examination committee. Afterwards, the chairperson communicates the outcome of the defence to the candidate, often together with a short feedback.
  • The chairperson fills out the form “Minutes of the final oral examination” including the grading of the public defence and submits it to the StudiesServiceCentre. If the defence takes place in person, all members of the examination committee need to sign the form.


  • 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 officially awarded the academic title “Doktor/Doktorin der Philosophie (Dr. phil.)” (doctor of philosophy). The doctoral candidate has the opportunity to celebrate the completion of their 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 concerning the assessment of doctoral theses and the public defence (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 23 January 2024

Richtlinien zur Beurteilung von Dissertationen und der Durchführung von Defensiones, Studienprogrammleitung Doktoratsstudium Sozialwissenschaften (SPL 40), Stand: 23. Jänner 2024

ViDSS activities: Career Development

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