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About this book

This indispensable book helps PhD candidates to understand the viva process and to prepare and present their work in the best possible manner. With concrete guidance, examples and activities throughout, it covers everything from the constitution of the PhD viva panel and how to prepare as the event draws closer to typical questions and how to answer them. Chapters are enriched with authentic case studies and insights from successful PhD graduates.

This text is suitable for PhD and other doctoral degree students across all disciplines, and helpful to supervisors and examiners.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
“The day of my PhD viva was one of the most special days of my life. Yes I was nervous, but once I settled into it, I started to really enjoy the experience. When else do you get the chance to talk about your work (and nothing else) for a couple of hours with a few people who are really interested in what you have done?”
Peter Smith

2. The PhD Viva

Abstract
This chapter discusses the role and nature of the PhD viva in some detail. I start by defining the purpose of the PhD viva and what it is setting out to assess. I make the distinction between the assessment of the thesis and the assessment of you, the candidate. In order to do so, I first explore the concept of the doctorate and doctoral standards. This leads to a discussion of the concepts of ‘contribution to knowledge’, ‘criticality’ and ‘independent thinking’. The oral examination process is explained, leading to a discussion of alternative models for the viva with reference to the approaches taken in different countries, including the private and public defence systems. A typical timetable for a PhD viva is set out, and a sample regulatory framework is used as an example. The findings and conclusions of recent research into the PhD viva by a range of academic authors are reviewed, giving you pointers for further reading into the topic, should you wish to do so.
Peter Smith

3. The Examination Panel

Abstract
This chapter outlines the constitution of the PhD viva panel, including the roles of the examiners (internal and external), the independent Chair, the candidate and the supervisor. The expectations of each player are examined in some detail. The importance of choice of examiners is discussed, and tips on how to investigate the previous research experience of your examiners are given. This chapter also includes some discussion as to whether your supervisor should be present during your viva, how that decision is made and what their role is, if they do attend.
Peter Smith

4. Preparing For Your Viva

Abstract
This chapter contains some tips on how and when to start preparing for your viva. This includes tips on writing the thesis with the viva in mind, preparing for your viva in the months before and as the event draws closer, in the weeks and days before. I include some advice on reviewing your work: how and when to re-read your thesis, defining and explaining the contribution made, the literature reviewed and the methodological approach taken. Differences between disciplines are covered, including the possibility of preparing a formal presentation, which is becoming the norm in some subjects. The custom of having a practice or ‘mock’ viva is discussed, as is the importance of presenting your work throughout the PhD process in seminars, conferences and so on. The chapter makes use of case study material drawn from students, and how they prepared for their own viva. Practical tips, such as preparing chapter summaries and summaries of papers that you have read during your PhD, are given. The issues of student well-being and how to prepare emotionally and physically for your viva are also covered.
Peter Smith

5. Typical Questions and How to Answer Them

Abstract
In this chapter we’ll cover some typical questions that might come up during your viva and how you might approach answering them. Although, as I have stated several times, it is not possible to predict the questions that you will be asked during your viva, there are some areas of questioning which arise in almost every viva. Trafford (2003) observed a number of vivas and recorded examiners’ questions, concluding that patterns of generic questions can be discerned and that these transcend disciplines. In this chapter I have attempted, based on my own experience, to construct a list of question areas. The majority of this chapter is devoted to discussing those possible question areas, the sort of questions that might arise in those areas, and how you might respond to them.
Peter Smith

6. The Viva Itself

Abstract
This chapter plays out an entire viva. The account is fictional, but draws from aspects of real student PhD examinations which I have attended. First, I simulate the preliminary stages of the viva, including the examiners’ private pre-meeting, highlighting the role of the preliminary reports. I then go on to simulate some possible situations that might arise during the viva and show how the candidate reacts to these. Finally, I will cover the post-viva private meeting of the examiners while they deliberate the outcome, and how that outcome is relayed to the candidate. I also include some mock documentation to illustrate the type of forms which the examiners are likely to complete for the university.
Peter Smith

7. The Outcome

Abstract
The viva can result in several possible outcomes, ranging from a straight Pass, through various levels of amendments and revisions to re-submission, the award of MPhil or (very rarely) outright Fail. Each of these possible outcomes is discussed in some detail, with reference to university regulations and documentation. The questions which are often asked of examiners on the assessment documentation are used as an illustration. The chapter covers how to take the next steps after the outcome of your viva has been decided, including how to approach amendments, further work or a further examination. Appeal processes and the grounds on which a candidate might appeal are also discussed. Recovering from the viva and the sense of achievement, mixed with a feeling of anti-climax which candidates often report, are covered.
Peter Smith

8. Case Studies

Abstract
This chapter presents a series of ten case studies of students and their viva experiences. These have been drawn from real students with whom I have had personal involvement, as their supervisor, examiner or the Chair of their examination. In all cases the students have agreed to their narrative accounts being included. The case studies first present a brief background to the student. The candidate then relates, in their own words, how they prepared for the viva, how the viva experience was for them, the nature of the questions that they were asked, the questioning process and the outcome. Where there was a need for revisions to the thesis, these are also discussed.
Peter Smith

9. Summary and the Future

Abstract
This chapter briefly draws together all of the main points raised throughout the text, and summarises them as a checklist. It also gives some final reflections on my own experiences as a supervisor, an examiner and a PhD viva Chair. Finally, we encourage you, as a student, to reflect on your own doctoral experiences, and to continue to work at doctoral level after graduation. The chapter also addresses the question: ‘What happens next?’ and encourages you to view your doctoral study as one part of a lifelong learning journey.
Peter Smith
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