The viva is an oral defence of a student’s work. While, for undergraduate, and sometimes for master’s work, it could be used to explore the quality of work which is borderline, at PhD it aims to engage students in a defence of their work, and a dialogue about it with experts, so it is both an oral examination and an opportunity to enter into dialogue in the research community, both a testing moment and a chance to explore, clarify, discuss and defend. Not every country has a PhD viva, but the UK, New Zealand and those with European-based PhD systems expect postgraduate students to undertake a viva — a defence of their written thesis. In the North American model, it is rather an initial defence of the proposal, to test its readiness for the full research process. Unlike the kind of viva that is conducted with students whose work might be borderline, the PhD viva itself is neither a test of cheating or plagiarism, nor an activity conducted to see which side of a grade border a student’s work lies. Instead, it aims to evaluate and assess to what extent the doctoral candidate has full ownership of his or her written thesis. It aims to engage students in a defence of the arguments and cohesion of their research as expressed in the thesis, and to engage them in a dialogue about ways in which their work engages in a dialogue with experts in the field. As such, then, it is interestingly both an examination and a collegial discussion.
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- Supporting students towards a successful PhD viva
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