I (Clare) am a very active doctoral supervisor and have two students near completion of their Ph.D. At the University of Toronto like many other universities the final stage in the doctoral program is the thesis defense. It is a complicated process requiring 2 external examiners, a student presentation, discussion, and voting. The entire exam is so so so stressful for the students. No matter how much I reassure them that they will be fine because their work is high quality they are still nervous, stressed, tense, anxious …. From my perspective it should not be so stressful nor so high stakes. These students have worked for years under careful supervision and presented at their doctoral committee meetings.
Some universities have a much more informal (and civilized) approach to the final exam. I try to see it as a celebration of the student’s work rather than a grueling experience. I think it is time for many universities to rethink the final stage of the process to make it less stressful for the student (and supervisor) and more joyous.