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This is the private oral defense of a dissertation with only the members of the graduate committee. The committee must determine if the material that has been included in the thesis is sufficiently novel, relevant, descriptive of a substantial quantity of original research, and thus usually publishable. In this ultimate exam of graduate student careers students will be the experts, who will likely be asked what the next logical experiments may be, what could have been done different with the benefit of hindsight, and what the next steps in their science career will be.
As during the Preliminary Exam, the first portion of this exam is chaired by the major professor. The second, deliberation phase of the exam for which the student is asked to step outside, is chaired by the Graduate Council Representative, whose major function is to assure that the student and all members of the committee are treated fairly, and that Graduate School guidelines and quality requirements are met.