This is the third in a series of posts (you can read the first two here and here) about the viva. In this entry, I’m going to list the bibliography of resources I used, the list of questions I came up with to ask myself as practice questions, a handy checklist of equipment you might need and my final hints and tips, in the hope that it might prove useful!
- Dunleavy, Patrick. “Top ten questions for the PhD oral exam”. Writing for Research. 11.02.2014.
- Farrow, Tristan. “How to shine at your viva”. The Independent. 02.12.2004.
- Murray, Rowena. The Viva.
- Ryder, Nathan. Viva Survivors: Episode 9. 25.10.2012.
- Ryder, Nathan. Fail Your Viva: 12 Steps to Failing your PhD and 58 Tips for Passing. Amazon Kindle, 2013. E-book. Available to buy here.
- Smith, Peter. The PhD Viva: How to Prepare for your Oral Examination. Palgrave: London, 2014.
These questions were compiled from a variety of resources, including those listed in the bibliography above.
- What are the most original (or value-added) parts of your thesis?
- Which propositions or findings would you say are distinctively your own?
- How do you think your work takes forward or develops the literature in this field?
- What are the bottom-line conclusions of your research? How innovative or valuable are they? What does your work tell us that we did not know before?
- Tell us about your research.
- What is your research about?
- What are your key findings?
- What are the implications or applications of your findings/results/contributions?
- What is the key message?
- What are the main arguments of the thesis?
- What is original about your study?
- What are the weaknesses of your thesis?
- Origins and Scope:
- Can you explain how you came to choose this topic for your doctorate? What was it that first interested you about it? How did the research focus change over time?
- Why have you defined the final topic in the way you did? What were some of the difficulties you encountered and how did they influence how the topic was framed? What main problems or issues did you have deciding what was in-scope and out-of-scope?
- Why did you choose this topic?
- What was the initial spark of interest?
- What was the main aim of the thesis/study?
- How did your research questions emerge?
- What are the core methods used in this thesis? Why did you choose this approach? In an ideal world, are there different techniques or other forms of data and evidence that you’d have liked to use?
- What would you have done differently?
- Why did you go about your research in that particular way?
- Why did you choose this particular theoretical perspective?
- Why did you opt for that form of analysis/those methods?
- How would you describe your methodological stance? Why did you do it that way? What were the strengths/values and weaknesses/limitations of that approach? How could you have done it differently?
- Data and Information:
- What are the main sources of evidence? Are they strong enough in terms of quantity and quality to sustain the conclusions you draw? Do the date or information you consider appropriately measure or relate to the theoretical concepts or underlying social or physical phenomena, that you’re interested in?
- How do your findings fit with or contradict the rest of the literature in this field? How do you explain the differences of findings, or estimation, or interpretation between your work and that of other authors?
- To what extent were the research aims met?
- What have you learnt from the process of doing a PhD?
- Has your view of the topic changed over the course of the research?
- What literature did you find useful and why?
- What next:
- What are the main implications or lessons of your research for the future development of work in this specific sub-field? Are there any wider implications for other parts of the discipline? Do you have any “next step” or follow-on research projects in mind?
- What are your ideas for future research?
- Copy of your thesis – marked up as you need/see fit!
- A notebook and pen.
- Bottle of water.
- Sweets/mints/chewing gum (in case you do what I did in my mock viva – throat went really dry, started coughing, couldn’t stop!).
Final Hints and Tips
Everyone is different. Know yourself and the ways/methods that work for you. Here’s a brief list of what I found useful.
- Take notes: during the viva, take your time to jot down the question asked by your examiners as well as what they say about your work. Trust me, although it tends to last a minimum of 90 minutes, the time FLIES! And if you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to remember much about what happened. Taking notes means that you have a record of the discussion and I know I’ve referred back to my notes on several occasions not just while completing my corrections but also subsequently when working on applications, new articles etc.
- Repeat the questions: in order to make sure you’ve understood what you’re being asked, repeat the question back to your examiners. This gives you time to collect your thoughts but also shows that you’re listening carefully to what you’re being asked. If you’ve misunderstood the question, this gives the examiners a chance to reword it for you prior to you launching into a long response to the wrong question!
- Pause: remember to breathe. Take a drink of water. Collect your thoughts. My supervisor advised me that it is absolutely ok for you to ask for a moment to think through your response before you begin talking. This can feel intimidating (eek! Uncomfortable silence!) but if it’s what you need to do, do it!
- Enjoy it!: I know it sounds unlikely but it genuinely can be an enjoyable experience. Make the most of it.
Ok so there you go. My thoughts on the viva in three posts. I do hope this proves useful to those of you still to sit the viva. Please do feel free to get in touch if you have any thoughts and/or questions using the comments function below. You’ll also find me on Twitter: @FionaFNoble. Best of luck!