I recently had the opportunity to speak at an International Water Association conference in Taiwan. While at the conference I got to know a few other PhD students in my discipline and was surprised a little by the differences in the final exam, or defense, they would be required as it compared to mine. It certainly made me aware of my ignorance to the different practices outside of my own program.
For reference, my defense will consist of a public portion with my committee of five in attendance, where I will present for 30-45 minutes on my research. The public will then be allowed to ask questions before being excused for a closed session for the committee alone to ask questions.
I learned from my colleagues that in France, the entire defense is public, also includes a presentation, and anyone may be in attendance for the questioning portion. In England however, the entire defense is closed with no presentation, and two professors, NOT including the students supervisor, will have read the dissertation in advance and will question the student for a period of up to 2-3 hours. Another colleague from the US has a very similar process to what I have here at VT, but she has a committee of 3 instead of 5.
I found these differences to be interesting, and in the case of the closed session with two professors only, somewhat intimidating. Is anyone aware of any other different defense styles? Is it different in your department?