An end in sight: surviving the Viva!

Rhona O’Connell
Viva voce
 Oral examination
 Defence of a theses
Reasons why PhD viva is required
To check whether it is your own work
To check your understanding of the
To check whether it is worthy of a
Other issues
 Defend the thesis!
 Locate study in broader context
 Opportunity to clarify unclear or weak areas
 Ability to reflect critically on the work
And also
 Understanding
 that you're ready to become an
independent researcher
 Relationship to other work
 that you have a command of your
 Originality – what is ‘new’ about this
Best time . . .?
 Submission of our work
 No more to be done
 Time on your hands
 Other peoples’ comments . . .?
Preparation for viva
Where to start . . .
 Read and re read – take notes
 Anticipate the questions you'll be asked
 generic and specific
 Be familiar with the literature used
 and some you haven’t!
 Who are the examiners?
 what is their interests?
 Have confidence in your work and your ability to
defend it
Know your thesis . . .
 Familiarity with the literature and debates
about the topic
 Prepare to justify and defend decisions
 Highlight the strengths and implications of
the study
 Consider what could be done differently
 Consider the implications of this study for
further work or for ‘practice’
 Any new literature (or any missed!)
 Any publications prior to completion
are helpful
 Programme of further study?
Reflect on existing skills
 Confidence at oral presentations
 What are your strengths when discussing our work?
 What are your weaknesses?
 Have you been asked ‘difficult’ questions about your
 Have you explained your work well to others?
 Have you had feedback on your performance?
 How do you handle criticism?
 How do you handle pressure?
On the day
 Have breakfast . . .
 Know where to go and arrive early
 Bring a copy of thesis – write all over
it/ ‘post-it’ notes /triggers
 Prepare to summarise your study
Know who will be present . . .
 Internal + external examiner
 Supervisor present
 Someone on ‘your side’?
 Take notes, provide feedback, provide support
 Or not . . .
 Independent chair/university official
 Duration . . .
 Relax and enjoy it, if possible!
 Listen carefully to the questions and take your time
answering them.
 Provide enough information as relevant and avoid going off at
a tangent.
 Handling difficult questions:
 If you don't understand, ask for clarification..
 Treat vague questions as opportunity to tell the examiners what
you think might be of interest
 If you really can't answer a question:
Be honest and say you don’t know
If it's about literature you haven't come across, thank the examiner and
ask for a reference.
 Will be prepared and will have read your work in detail
 Examiners will usually agree in advance which areas
they will focus on
 Be aware of their research interests and previous
Various approaches to questioning
 Sequential approach
 From literature review through to discussion
 Thematic approach
 Broad areas to more specific
 Page by page approach
 Systematically through each page or section
Opening question
 ???
 Summary of study??
 Why this topic selected??
 Should demonstrate interest and familiarity with your
Prepare for the expected . . .
 Summarise the various areas addressed in this thesis
 What are the interesting components of this work?
 Who will be interested in this study?
 Did your study turn out as expected?
 How will this area of research develop over the next few
years and do you see that you will have a role in this?
Also expected
 Why is this subject important?
 Who else thinks it is important?
 Why has this study not been done before?
 What is your contribution to this area of research?
 Who will be interested in your findings?
Anticipate questions
 Literature reviewed
 Methodology
 Ontological and epistemological questions?
 Methods – decisions made
 Findings
 Potential pitfalls – alternative results possible?
 Reliability/validity or rigour/ trustworthiness of data
 Discussion
 What is new, interesting, exciting about this study?
Typical Viva Questions
 What is the study about
 Key findings
 Challenges in undertaking this work
 Importance of this work
 What is exciting or new
 Any omissions – what might you do differently
 Limitations
 Recommendations (key)
 Dissemination
 Implications for further research
What about the unexpected?
What can trip you up?
When you are told that it is over. . .
 Reprieve from questioning
 Relief
 Awaiting judgement . . .
Possible results
 PhD awarded
 Awarded with minor revisions
 Referral - major revisions required
 No award or recommendation for lower degree
Post viva
 Various experiences
 Relief
 Frustration
 Exhaustion
 Delighted
 Anti-climax . . .
 Are there corrections / changes to be made . . .
Follow on work to graduation
 Procedures . . .
 Timelines . . .
 Revisions . . .
 All Universities have appeal mechanisms
 Ascertain grounds for appeal – usually
related to irregularities of procedures not
academic judgment of examiners
Not about surviving the viva
but . . .
an opportunity on how to do justice to
yourself and your research
and . . .
perhaps even to enjoy the event!
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