Michael James Heron, school of computing science and digital media, robert Gordon University Share any advice you have in the comments below. Enter the guardian university awards 2015 and join the higher education network for more comment, analysis and job opportunities, direct to your inbox. Follow us on Twitter @gdnhighered. I submitted my thesis way back in March but, somewhere between creet and the research School, the documentation was mattress lost or abandoned for a couple of months. Add to that a spell in hospital when they finally got round to fixing a date and Im left with a viva in late august, when my thesis is fast becoming a distant memory and Im on the mend from major surgery. Of course, successfully completing a viva affects all sorts of things: employment prospects, roles I can take on at the university, status, pay and I could have done without lying in intensive care worrying about the event itself. Someone, somewhere at the university has messed things up big time not that they are apologising for it, or even owning.
Peter Smith, author of The Phd viva 16) Expect your viva to last between one and three hours Students frequently ask how long the viva is likely. Discipline differences are important. Our research suggests that most natural and applied sciences vivas were completed in one to three hours, whereas arts, humanities and social science vivas were typically less than two hours long. In the natural and applied sciences 43 of vivas lasted two hours or less, compared to 83 in arts, humanities and social sciences. Penny tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The doctoral Examination Process: a handbook for S tudents, Examiners mom and Supervisors 17) Enjoy it The best advice i ever got was Try to enjoy. It seemed ludicrous at the time, but i actually found myself really getting into the discussion as the viva went. Its one of the earliest chances you get to talk to someone who not only informed your research (ideally) but is also conversant with your own. Its a great chance to explore the contours of your research treat it as such, and it doesnt seem quite so daunting.
Stall for time until you get yourself back together again. Gina wisker, professor of higher education and contemporary literature at Brighton University 15) Focus on your contribution One of the most important things that the examiners will be looking for in your thesis, is the contribution to knowledge. It is the contribution which makes your work doctoral level. Be sure that you understand exactly what your contribution is, and that you are able to express and explain it clearly and concisely. Write it down in a paragraph. Discuss it with you supervisor and fellow students. Make sure that you can relate your contribution to other work in your field and that you are able to explain how your work is different.
Read Aloud How to survive your
Leave that to number the examiners to pick up in their reading, they dont need help. Dr Mariana bogdanova, lecturer in management, queens University belfast 12) Dont talk like a politician Theres a danger of trying to over-prepare. Dont learn answers off by heart it removes the spontaneity and is obvious to examiners. If a student has pre-prepared essay answers they become a bit like politicians, answering questions they werent asked rather than the ones they were. I have come across mixed views on mock vivas. Some people really like them and they can settle nerves but other times it can remove spontaneity and steal your thunder.
Jerry wellington, head of research degrees at University of Sheffield and author of Succeeding with your Doctorate 13) you may need to move from friendly questions to complex debates vivas can appear friendly and then suddenly go very conceptually complex. The language used is an alternation between accessible normal language and really specialised arguments. The student needs to be able to move orally between the two. Gina wisker, professor of higher education and contemporary literature at Brighton University 14) If things get on top of you, use the excuse of having a look at the thesis make sure that before the viva you get plenty of sleep, eat properly and de-stress. If things get too much when youre in there, use the excuse of having to look something up in your thesis. You could also pause and say can I write that down for a moment?
If the first few answers are short and non-specific, not demonstrating knowledge, this can begin to raise concerns, and that can set the tone for the whole viva. Rowena murray, author of How to survive your viva: Defending a thesis in an Oral Examination 9) Prepare for the icebreaker, every viva opens with that dreaded icebreaker that is supposed to break you in gently but often seems to be the thing that gets. Its so basic, students almost forget about. Most often this would be to give a five to 10 minute introduction to your work and your key findings. This is such a common question that not preparing for it would be silly.
Dr Bhavik anil Patel, senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry 10) Silence doesnt mean bad news. Dont assume that you will be given any indication of the outcome at the start of the viva. The examiners may or may not offer comments on the thesis at this stage and candidates should not interpret a lack of comments at this point as a negative sign. In some cases institutional policy prohibits. Penny tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors of The doctoral Examination process: a handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors 11) Dont point out your own weaknesses. Avoid shooting yourself in the foot by highlighting the weaknesses in the thesis by being overly humble (eg I didnt think this would be an acceptable piece of research given the way i handled x or y) or by saying what you failed to achieve.
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Ensure you and your supervisor have a printed mom copy that is exactly the same as that of your examiners (specifically the same pagination). Mark with tabs the key sections and highlight for reference important"s and points you might want to refer. If you have some key diagrams it may help to have these printed larger on A4 sheets that can be used in a discussion. There is a chance, albeit slim, that an examiner will wish to see some piece of experimental data, software, or other supporting evidence. Have this all neatly archived and accessible. You can do this after submission. Anthony finkelstein, dean of the ucl faculty of engineering sciences who has blogged about surviving vivas, during the viva 8) Get off to a good start. Give a few detailed answers in the opening 15 minutes, demonstrating knowledge, describing your thinking and working - then the examiners are likely to relax into the viva.
There were a couple that were unexpected but they were either conceptual points or based on literature that I just didnt know. Richard Budd, research assistant, University of Bristol who sat his viva in summer 2014 and has blogged about the experience 6) Its not like sitting at a laptop where you can edit a sentence as uni you go along. By the time you finish your Phd youll know your thesis inside out. One of the things you wont be as practised at is talking about. When I was preparing for my viva, i practised vocalising answers. Its not a case of needing to learn to answers verbatim this would only work as a technique if you could guarantee the exact way your examiner will ask a question but it is about thinking about how you will articulate certain things. A viva isnt like sitting at a laptop where you can edit a sentence as you go along. Richard Budd, research assistant, University of Bristol who sat his viva in summer 2014 and has blogged about the experience 7) Bring a printed copy that is exactly the same as that of your examiners.
anil Patel, senior lecturer in physical and analytical chemistry 4) Think about what you will or wont defend. Consider carefully what you will defend to the hilt in the viva, and what you are prepared to concede. Its important to defend your claims about the originality of the thesis and its contribution to knowledge. However, no research is perfect, and showing that you have considered what could have been done differently, or even better, is not a bad thing. The doctoral Examination process: a handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors 5) Draw up lists of possible questions especially ones you dread. I collected questions from a bunch of different places ( listed here ) which I then tailored to my PhD. Somebody i worked with also recommended that I put together my 10 nightmare questions. I found this really useful, by writing down and thinking about my dreaded questions, they were no longer so bad it was almost as if Id faced the beast. Generally speaking, i was able to predict the questions that I was asked.
Find out who will attend your viva (eg will a supervisor attend, will there be an independent chair?) and what their roles are. Penny tinkler and Carolyn Jackson, authors. The doctoral Examination process: a handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors 2) re-read your thesis and keep up-to-date with research. Dont underestimate the amount of time the examiners will have spent reading and thinking about your thesis however, you should remember that you are still likely to strange be the expert in the room on this particular topic. Check to see if any relevant recent papers have emerged since submitting the thesis and, if so, read these. Dianne berry, dean of postgraduate research studies, University of reading 3) As an examiner, you tend to stick to things youre an expert in when driving the questioning. Your viva panel will consist of an external expertise in your subject area and an internal which may be in a subject field associated or directly related to yours.
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Handing in your, phD thesis is a massive achievement but its not the end of the journey for doctoral students. Once youve submitted, youll need to prepare for the next intellectually-gruelling hurdle: a viva. This oral examination is a chance for students to discuss their work with experts. Its formal purpose is to ensure that theres no plagiarism involved, and that the student understands and can explain their thesis. It involves lots of penetrating questions, conceptually complex debates and is infamously terrifying. How can PhD students best prepare? We asked a number of academics and recent survivors for their tips. Preparing for the viva 1 check your institutions policies and practices. Institutional policies and practices vary.homework