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How to survive a Phd viva 17 Top tips

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Dr.CherylStam,New Zealand,Researcher
Published Date:04-07-2017
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Welcome PhD Viva Guide A Springboard for your PhD Viva Preparation 1PhD Viva Guide A Springboard for your PhD Viva Preparation i Th s initiative was partially funded by the HEA under the Strategic Innovation Fund 2. iAuthor’s Pref Ace Author’s Preface Few students realize why there are external and internal examiners, and what they are supposed to do… or how long the whole process from submission to viva may take (Delamont et al., 2004, p. 141). I gratefully acknowledge the c entre for e xcellence This guide aims to support PhD students in preparing in l earning and t eaching (celt ) and the Dean for their oral examination, the viva voce. The motivation of Graduate s tudies, Dr. Pat morgan for their for developing such a resource is borne out of the encouragement and support to write and publish recognition that PhD candidates’ understanding of this guide. the viva process may be uneven. Although they are directed to sources about the PhD process, candidates Dr. Ann M. Torres experience considerable tension and fear around the J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics preparation for their viva; it is the “indeterminacy of National University of Ireland Galway thesis examination” that worries candidates (r udestam and Newton, 2001, p. 148). u nsurprisingly, PhD candidates seek reassurance their approach to the viva is adequate. h ence, this guide aims to demystify the process by compiling useful advice from a variety of texts to serve as a springboard for their viva preparation. iiDe AN’s Pref Ace Dean’s Preface 1 This booklet is one in a series developed within NuI Galway to support graduate students in their journey towards their PhD. We are delighted Dr. t orres wrote this booklet taking into consideration best practice internationally and the local guidelines for research degree programmes. I am sure you will find this booklet helpful as you prepare for your viva. Please consult our website (www.nuigalway.ie/graduatestudies) and Blackboard site (1Gst1) for additional resources. Dr. Pat Morgan Dean of Graduate Studies National University of Ireland Galway 1 Postgraduate Student Guide, 2010 University Guidelines for Research Degree Programmes (2011) Communicating Research: Understanding Knowledge Transfer Opportunities Guide to writing a PhD Thesis: For Engineering, Medical & Science Graduates iiiP W he D lc o vm ive a Wor D clou D PhD Viva Word Cloud ivt ABles of co Nte Nts Table of Contents Purpose of the Viva. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Concluding Comments 23 What to Expect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 List of References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Supervisors, Examiners and the Chair 3 a dditional Sources 27 Duration, Location and Possible Outcomes 5 Appendix 1: Questions Typically 3 t able 1 : elements of the e xaminers’ r eport . . .5 Asked in a Viva . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 t able 2 : PhD e xamination Process: Possible outcomes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 Possible Outcomes 7 Preparation is Key . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 e W Th ritten Thesis 10 University Policies and Procedures 11 Reviewing the PhD and Logistics 11 a Mock v iva and Presentations 13 Preparing, a nswering and a sking Questions 14 t able 3 : t ypical e rrors in r esponding to v iva Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 e Th Viva and Beyond . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 On the Day 19 t able 4 : t ips: on the Day of the v iva . . . . . . 20 Ae ft r the v iva . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Completing Corrections 23 vP W ue rlcP om ose e of the v iva Purpose of the Viva e Ph Th D is not meant to be flawless and definitive. It is a research training. It is a ‘master piece’ in the old guild sense of the carefully-done job which shows that an apprentice is now qualie fi d to practice this trade (Connell, 1985, p. 38 as cited in Leonard, 2001, p. 237). apprenticeship (Pearce, 2005, p. 79). moreover, it is The viva voce, which translates from l atin as living voice deemed “appropriate that the entry to an academic (r ugg and Petre, 2004), represents the culmination of career should include a requirement to be clear and the doctoral experience. The viva, also referred to as the articulate and to defend one’s ideas when challenged” oral defence or the oral examination, is a long-standing (l eonard, 2001, p. 241). tradition, which provides the PhD candidate with the opportunity to speak publicly about their research f rom the examiners’ perspective, the purpose of the by demonstrating their ability to advocate and justify viva is to assess the candidate’s research as a piece their research (r oberts, 2004). It is an opportunity for of high-level scholarship. The examiners seek to candidates to be at their best, as they are the experts in ensure the candidate’s research is authentic – that is, their research (Burton and s teane, 2004). it is the candidate’s own work, to locate it in a wider academic context, and to assess how it contributes f rom a holistic perspective, the viva is not only to the literature (l ee, 2012; Delamont et al., 2004). an examination, but also a “formative and highly The viva is also an opportunity for the examiners to educational” component in the candidate’s academic 1Pur Pose of the v iva clarify aspects of the candidate’s research, as well as to The u niversity’s criteria for awarding a PhD relate to assess the candidate’s ability to critique and analyse. whether a candidate’s research: c ritical thinking is the essence of the doctorate, as • h as made a significant contribution to understanding the research process requires the candidate to solve a and knowledge series of problems and to reflect how each stage may • h as completed work that is suitable for publication in progress towards addressing the research question. whole or in part h ence, the examiners seek evidence of the candidate’s • c an display an appropriate depth and breadth of ability to conceptualise findings, develop theoretical knowledge and understanding of the relevant field(s) of study frameworks, synthesise ideas, and to establish links • h as gained significant expertise with respect to basic among constructs (l ee, 2012). and advanced methodologies and techniques (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.1). Although, “evidence as to whether … these criteria are met is found in the thesis, … the oral examination is critical … in confirming the required standards have been achieved (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec 6.1). 2W We hlc A o tm to e ex Pect What to Expect The viva will consist of a panel comprising of the internal and external examiners, the supervisor … and a neutral chair. The one universal principle is that thesis and student are examined by someone who has not yet been involved in the project (Murray, 2009, p. 44). Supervisors, Examiners and the Chair examination, the chair formally introduces the parties present and outlines the regulations and procedures The candidate’s primary supervisor is responsible aa tt ched to the viva. for making the necessary arrangements for the examination process. The primary supervisor works The internal and external examiners are responsible for with the examiners, one internal and one external, assessing the candidate’s thesis, as well as the viva voce. as well as the chair in confirming a date for the viva, The internal examiner is an academic staff member which should be within two months of the candidate’s who has the requisite expertise and experience (NuI submission of their thesis (NuI Galway Guidelines, Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.3.2). The external 2011, s ec. 6.4). The chair is independent and is not examiner should also have expertise in the candidate’s an examiner; the chair’s role is to ensure the viva is field of study and be an academic staff member in a managed fairly and according to the u niversity’s PhD u niversity outside of the NuI system (NuI Galway regulations. f or example, at the beginning of the 3Wh At to ex Pect Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.3.3). “Because of their specific consulted about the selection of the external and internal expertise, external examiners have a critical role and examiners, as well as the chair. f urther, the candidate normally lead the oral examination process” (NuI may object to the appointment of a suggested examiner Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.3.2). or chair (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.3.2 & 6.3.4). e ither of the candidate’s supervisors, primary or secondary, may ae tt nd the viva subject to the f urther information about the roles of supervisors, agreement of the examiners, chair and the student examiners and the chair during the viva process may (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.3.3). h owever, be found in murray (2009; see Chapter 3 Roles and the supervisor neither participates nor intervenes in Responsibilities); Pearce (2005; see Chapter 5 The the examination process and may only observe the v iva) and Delamont et al (2004; see Chapter 9 a Lack viva proceedings. f urther, the supervisor is expected of Genuine interest: Choosing the Right External and to leave during the examiners’ final deliberations Preparing the Student for the Examination). (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.3.3). The supervisor’s presence in the viva may be reassuring; and the supervisor may also be helpful by taking notes of the proceedings for the candidate’s benefit ( r ussell, 2008). It is also important to note the candidate is 4W We hlc A o tm to e ex Pect c ommittee of Academic c ouncil, which is the body Duration, Location and Possible Outcomes that makes the award. The broad elements included in The length of the viva may vary; though, it is reasonable the examiners’ reports and the possible outcomes to to expect the examination will be at least one hour and the examination process are outlined in t ables 1 and 2. not more than three hours in duration (NuI Galway Table 1 : Elements of the Examiners’ Report Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.4). The viva is usually held on campus and it is preferable for all examiners to be The contribution the work performed makes to knowledge and scholarship. physically present (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.4). c andidate’s capacity for original and critical thought, and depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding of the relevant field(s) of study, including performance at the viva. The examiners are expected to give the candidate feedback as soon as it is feasible. Ae ft r the question and c andidate’s expertise with respect to relevant methodologies and techniques. answer discussion, it is customary to ask the candidate to step outside while the examiners deliberate. This The extent to which the thesis contains mae tt r suitable for period of deliberation may be as short as a few minutes publication. or as long as an hour (s ternberg, 1981). Naturally, to The structure, written style and overall presentation of the the candidate, this period of deliberation may seem thesis. unbearably long. The chair will invite the candidate The nature of corrections to the thesis required, if any. to return and the examiners will give informal oral Adapted from eo G 031 NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, p. 57. feedback as to their recommendations to the s tanding 5Wh At to ex Pect Table 2 : PhD Examination Process: Possible Outcomes Nature of Corrections (Time Limits) Possible Outcomes None t ypographical corrections (1 month) a ward PhD minor corrections in content (1 month) major corrections in content (3 months) Permit submission of a revised thesis without a second viva (1 year) Refer Permit submission of a revised thesis with a second viva (1 year) None a ward a Masters Degree s ubject to typographical corrections s ubject to corrections in content No recommendation as to resubmission Reject a dapted from EOG 031 NUi Galway Guidelines, 2011, p 58 Adapted from eo G 031 NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, p. 57. 6W Wh elc A o tm to e ex Pect Possible Outcomes The majority of candidates are successful and many are asked to make some form of amendments to The outcomes range from award, as is to reject, with their thesis. Please note, the PhD “candidate may no recommendation for resubmission. “outright failure not graduate until the revised thesis, incorporating is uncommon, but not unknown” (Delamont et al , the required changes as confirmed by the internal 2004, p. 158). s uch a scenario normally reflects a examiner(s), has been lodged with the e xaminations major weakness or problem that is known to the o ffice” (NuI Galway Guidelines, 2011, s ec. 6.6). supervisors and the candidate prior to submission of h ence, a candidate may not officially use the title, the thesis. In principle, failure at the viva is avoidable. Dr , until the corrections have been made, accepted, In conducting their research, candidates should follow and registered with the examinations office, all of their supervisors’ advice. In addition, candidates should which indicate the u niversity has awarded the degree present their research in seminars and publications in to the candidate. advance of their viva as a means of highlighting possible oversights (r ugg and Petre, 2004). 7Wh At to ex Pect 8W Pre elc P oA m t e Io N Is key Preparation is Key ra A candidate must prepare for the defense in three areas: 1. total mastery of the substance of the thesis; 2. packaging of the thesis for the social ritual of the formal defense; 3. cultivation of a set of self-protective and realistic aitu tt des about the defense which will carry the candidate through both the predefense period and defense itself with relative equanimity (Sternberg, 1981, p. 196). The candidate’s performance during the viva may discourse about their research. In this respect, the be as important as the written thesis. The examiners candidate can prepare for the viva by: submitting a will have assessed the thesis prior to the viva, however, polished thesis, reading the u niversity’s policies and “a strong performance at the viva could sway them if procedures, reviewing the logistics for the oral defence, they were unconvinced about parts of the candidate’s participating in a mock viva, preparing and answering thesis. e qually, a weak performance might make potential viva questions. them question their inclination towards passing the candidate” (r ussell, 2008, p. 122). Please note, the criteria for assessing a candidate’s viva performance is admittedly vague. Nonetheless, examiners seek to establish whether the candidate can engage in a 9Pre PAt Io N Is key e W Th ritten Thesis ra Candidates rarely appreciate how long it takes to proofread a text … they must find a friend and read the whole thing aloud, punctuation and all, especially checking the tables, figures, and data (Delamont et al., 2004, p. 155). The candidate should be prepared to answer questions Ideally, preparation for the viva should begin prior to on any aspect of the thesis. f urther, anything the submitting the thesis. Indeed, the thesis should only candidate has failed to include or chosen not to include be submitted when the candidate, the supervisors and in the thesis is also permissible during the viva. The the members of the Graduate r esearch c ommittee introduction of new information during the oral (Grc ) believe the research is substantially complete examination should be treated with some caution, as it and reflects high-quality scholarship ( r oberts, 2004). may lead the examiners to suggest the candidate should In this respect, the candidate should aim to submit an do further research (Wisker, 2008). excellent draft of their thesis. “A manuscript replete with errors … invites criticism” (Glatthorn, 1998, pp. 183- 184). Therefore, the candidate should invest time in careful proofreading and correction before the thesis is submitted, as well as to ensure the thesis adheres to the u niversity’s regulations for submission (Thomas and Brubaker, 2000). 10W Pre elc P oA m t e Io N Is key ra University Policies and Procedures Reviewing the PhD and Logistics The next step is to review the written thesis thoroughly Among the first steps in preparing for the viva is to so as to “respond readily and authoritatively to read and to become thoroughly familiar with the questions” posed (r oberts, 2004, p. 182). c andidates u niversity’s policies and procedures for managing should know the major sources they consulted, be able the PhD process, which may be found in s ection 6 to explain and defend their methods, and be equipped of the NUi Galway Guidelines, 2011. The u niversity’s 2 to interpret and discuss their findings, as well as outline Graduate s tudies website , and Blackboard site the implications of their research (Glatthorn, 1998). (1Gst1) offer a number of resources for PhD During the process of this review the candidate should candidates who are in the process of preparing their aim to play devil’s advocate in identifying weaknesses thesis for submission, as well as rehearsing for their oral that may attract the examiners’ ae tt ntion ( r oberts, examination. The primary supervisor and the chair will 2004). normally discuss the policies and procedures with the candidate to ensure they are clear, as well as to answer It is advisable not to fumble through the thesis during queries arising from the examination process. the viva, as examiners expect the candidate to know their work. s ome candidates use tabs, stickers or labels to allow easy access to pages and passages that may be 2 a vailable at: www nuigalway ie/graduatestudies/ 11Pre PAt Io N Is key ra useful during the viva, such as conceptual frameworks, problem points, key findings and implications (Wisker, 2008; Pearce, 2005). other candidates prefer to condense their thesis as a means to identify the key ideas, concepts, findings and implications. If this process of systematic reduction appeals, then please refer to Phillips and Pugh’s (2010) chapter 12 The Examination System, which outlines these authors’ suggested approach for revising the complete thesis within two to three pages. Prior to the viva, it is worthwhile to look over the room in which the viva will take place so as to be more comfortable during the examination process. If possible, go to the room during a vacant hour to sit where the oral examination will be held and to envisage a successful defence of the research. 12W Pre elc P oA m t e Io N Is key A Mock Viva and Presentations ra Dicu ffi lties that may arise during the oral defense can often be foreseen, … candidates who are aware of potential problems can be prepared ahead of time to wend their way safely through the minefield of professors’ questions and suggestions (Thomas and Brubaker, 2000, p. 257). the candidate to probe further into the rationale, In this respect, a mock viva and conference analysis and implications associated with the research. presentations are particularly constructive in preparing h owever, please note that supervisors and colleagues for the oral examination and to address queries with can “never be sure what the examiners will come up clarity and confidence (Burton and s teane, 2004). This with during the examination” (Graves and Varma, practice by proxy is an effective way for candidates to 1997, p. 94). become comfortable with the question and answer format typical of most oral examinations and affords the opportunity to address potential viva questions. The critiques resulting from these simulation sessions aid the candidate in articulating and clarifying their thoughts (r ussell, 2008). Ideally, the questions posed during these simulations should encourage 13