Surviving the Viva - PowerPoint Presentation

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					The Viva Experience

       Dr Harriet Hogarth

    University of Southampton
Some ideas for during the viva:
Begin with "Ladies and Gentlemen, please
rise for the singing of the National Anthem."

 Follow that with a joke that starts with
 "Which reminds me of a story – An
 Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman
 walked into a bar..."

Describe parts of your dissertation using
interpretive dance.
Answer tough queries with "You call THAT a
question? How'd you ever get to be a professor?"

Answer complex issues in mime.

Use the occasion to hold a Tupperware party.

 Use a Greek Chorus to highlight important

 Explain non-significant findings with "It would
 have worked if it weren't for those bloody
       What is the PhD viva?

 One of the two ways in which PhDs examined

 Candidates for the PhD degree must submit a
  thesis and be examined orally

 A discussion between you and your examiners

 Usually takes the form of being asked questions
  about the thesis and future research

 Also sometimes called a „defence‟
         How does it work? [1]
Before the viva:
    Examiners sent thesis
    Prepare independent preliminary reports
    Examine each other’s reports
    Come to preliminary judgement – which they
      sometimes (very rarely) communicate to

    Arrange viva date

    Each examiners complies lists of questions
     and queries they have about the thesis
        How does it work? [2]
During viva:
 Examiners meet before and plan the
  structure of viva, questions, roles, etc

 Meet PhD candidate (supervisors may attend but
  cannot say anything)

 Sometimes tell candidate their preliminary
  judgement at start of viva and the purpose of
  the viva
 Ask a series of questions and listen to the
      How does it work? [3]

At the end of the viva:

 You and your supervisor will be asked to
   leave the room

 Examiners discuss their views and come to a
   decision (see later)

 Invite you back in and tell you their decision

 Supervisor often comes in at this point
            Decision Time

The five decisions examiners can make


“if the thesis fulfils the criteria…and the
candidate satisfies the examiners in all other
parts of the examination the examiners will
report that the candidate has satisfied them…”

“if the thesis otherwise fulfils the criteria
but requires minor amendments…. require
the candidate to make within a certain time
period…amendments specified by them…”
(provisional pass with minor changes)

“if the thesis, though inadequate, shall seem
of sufficient merit…the candidate be
permitted to re-present his/her thesis in a
revised form within a certain time period.
The examiners may at their discretion
exempt from a further oral examination, on
re-presentation of his/her thesis…” (not
passed - major changes)

“if, after completion of the examination…the
examiners determine that a candidate has not
reached the standard required for the award of
the degree… they shall consider whether the
thesis does or might…satisfy the criteria for…
MPhil degree. If they so decide, the examiners
shall submit a report which demonstrates either
(a) how the criteria for the MPhil degree are
satisfied, or (b) what action would need to be
taken in order for these criteria to be satisfied.”
(offered MPhil now or with revisions)

“The examiners may determine that the
candidate has not satisfied them in the
examination.” (fail)
What are examiners looking for? [1]

      Check your own university PhD
        regulations examiners use

 “The scope of the thesis shall be what might
  reasonably be expected after three or at
  most four years of full-time study.”
“The thesis shall…
   form a distinct contribution to the
   knowledge of the subject and afford
   evidence of originality…

   be an integrated whole and present a
   coherent argument

   give a critical assessment of the relevant
   literature, describe the method of research
   and its findings, include discussion on those
   findings and indicate in what respects they
   appear to the candidate to advance the study
   of the subject…”
What are examiners looking for? [2]

 Does the thesis itself meet the criteria?

  What evidence can be gathered in the viva to
 establish if the thesis meets the criteria?

 Is it candidate’s own work?

Clarification of points made in thesis

 Clarification and extension of argument, rationale,
 logic, etc.
What are examiners looking for? [3]

   If thesis broadly sound and no/few changes

   Does candidate understand what they’ve

   Are they aware of strengths and weaknesses

   Beyond the thesis itself – does candidate know
   more than they have written that they maybe
   should add?
 If thesis probably not sound and major changes

What are problems and how did they come

 How much does candidate really know?

Just how substantial do changes need to be?

Is another viva necessary?
  Preparing for the viva [1]

Have a mock viva (highly recommended)

     Supervisor, other PhD students, etc

     Give them copy of thesis or at least a chapter

     Ask them to do what examiners do
Read the thesis carefully again yourself

 Does the overall argument make sense?

  What are the problems and limitations?

  Can you explain account for them?

  Have you spotted mistakes, omissions, etc?

  Talk to others about their viva experiences
  (as candidates or examiners)
Prepare questions and try to answer them
(even if you think you’ve answered them in the
thesis) – such as:

  Why did you do things in this order?

   Why did you exclude some areas of

    Why are your research questions
    interesting or important?
What are the main weaknesses with what you
did and why are they there?

If you did it again what would you do

What is the main contribution of your thesis?

How would you build on this research?
               The Viva

Think of it as a conversation but one where:

   You do have to defend and explain what
   you’ve done

    But don’t try to defend the indefensible or
    explain the inexplicable. If examiners point
    out error or something that doesn’t make
    sense, and you can see it, you should accept
    If you don’t understand a question ask for
    clarification – don’t try to answer questions
    you don’t understand
Remember that all research has weaknesses
and limitations

The mark of being a competent researcher is
recognising, anticipating, acknowledging and
overcoming weaknesses

And don’t forget to be clear about what’s
good about it. It’s also necessary to
demonstrate you understand the contribution
your work has made
    Common viva surprises
Any anxiety you have disappears fast when
you get going

It goes much faster than you think it will

The examiners really have read the thesis

you know a lot more about your area of
research than you realised

The examiners point out good things in the
thesis you didn’t know were there
You actually quite
    enjoy it!

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