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Have a clear idea what structure the viva normally has
Understand what examiners will be looking for from the viva
Understand what you need to do in preparation for the viva
Have a better idea of how to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding in a viva
What is a viva for?
The purpose of the viva is an oral defence of your research and your knowledge of the academic area in which your research has been carried out
It usually lasts between 1.5 and 4 hours
You need to be able to explain and defend:
what you have done
what you know about the subject area
the other research that has been carried out on this general topic
the foundations of knowledge on that topic
What do examiners do before the viva?
Read the Thesis
Look for material that is unclear, poorly presented or possibly wrong
Mark every point with a post it note??
Extract key issues and select questions to explore the candidate’s (your) knowledge (examiners may reinterpret data if appropriate)
They may check on prior work
In the viva
The viva should allow
You to defend your thesis and clarify anything raised by Examiners
Examiners to probe your knowledge in the field
Examiners to be assured that it is your own work
Examiners to come to a definite conclusion about the outcome of the examination
They should/may not give you an indication of this but how it went will give you an idea
Re-read your thesis and write a one-page summary for each chapter
Prepare example answers and take in notes with you – but do not read these out !
Get your peers to ask you all the questions you are dreading
Study the background of your examiners
Tips for during your viva
Don’t rush your answers . Take your time. Have a drink of water or use phrases such as ‘That’s a good question’ to give yourself time to think.
Discuss. Don’t answer questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but justify your comments with examples or evidence.
Answer assertively but don’t be defensive . The examiners are not there with the intention of failing you; they’re on your side.
Stay calm . Don’t forget, this is the one exam where you are likely to know more about the subject than those giving the marks! The examiners want to get the best out of you. As long as you do the preparation, you’ll be fine.
Work in groups
In your groups/pairs:
Think up examples of questions you might be asked in your viva
e.g. what led you to pursue this area of research?
Write these questions down on paper…
Discuss in your groups/pairs
Some possible questions
What in your view is the main contribution of this thesis?
How does this relate to xxxx’s work?
What was your thought process that lead you to try that approach?
Summarise the basic theory behind this approach.
Be prepared for: ‘Are you sure about that?’
It is legitimate to check your thinking and to challenge you
Even negative feedback requires an answer
Think & try to respond constructively:
Rephrase your point
Do not be defensive or dogmatic
Make explicit links to the question you were asked
Rowena Murray, Surviving Your Viva
Now, the real thing (on DVD)....
How was it for you?
Summary of viva tips
Know your examiners’ work & quote it!
Know your examiners’ likes & dislikes
Organise a mock viva
If you don’t know, don’t bluff
‘Enjoy the academic banter and debating – have fun relishing the intellectual exercise. Be delighted that someone has read you work in detail.’
How to survive your Viva – Rowena Murray, Open University Press (ISBN 0-335-21284-0)
The Research Student’s Guide to Success, Pat Cryer, Open University Press (ISBN 0-335-20686-7)
The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research, Gordon Rugg, Marian Petre, Open University Press (ISBN 0-335-21344-8)
How to get a PhD, Estelle M Phillips and Derek S Pugh, Open University Press (ISBN 0-335-20550-X)
Another source for information about what actually happens in vivas are websites where students report their experiences. Some are specifically intended to help you prepare for your viva – see a site by Joseph Levine, which has a helpful account of the processes: www.learnerassociates.net