The examiners' main objective is to ascertain that you've written your own thesis, so if you have and are ready to talk through how you completed it, there's no need to panic. You may even enjoy the viva voce. In addition to assessing your thesis, the examiners are also there to assist you in deciding how and where this research might be published. There are various results between a 'pass' and 'fail' but it's very rare to slip up at this point of a PhD. Most Doctorate awards will be made upon the condition that several minor corrections are made, with re-submission requests far less common. However, while the pass rate is high, the viva exam itself can still be intellectually demanding. This is because you'll be debating issues that are conceptually complex, so preparation is crucial to your success. At the end of it, whatever the outcome, be prepared to take on board any advice, as the examiners are there to help you improve your argument or the presentation of your thesis.
Make sure you understand what you did
While you can be sure this isn't a memory test - as you're fine bringing notes and a copy of your thesis with you to the PhD viva - it's still important to gain a good understanding of what you've written and knowledge about your field of study. You'll need to think carefully about where this original piece of work would be placed in the context of the wider body of research carried out in this field. Questions will surely be asked about this, as well as whether the project could possibly be developed further through any future research.
As you'll be explaining parts of the document to the examiners (who'll also have a digital or physical copy), make sure the pagination is the same in your version as the one they're looking at to avoid any issues regarding everybody being on the same page. If you get stuck at any point during the viva exam, you can use looking at the thesis as an excuse to re-focus and gather your thoughts.
Anticipate the viva questions
The examiners will have prepared a series of questions for you to answer at the viva voce, but this is nothing to get too concerned about. The questions will all be based on your thesis - what it's about, what you did, what you found out and why these matters in relation to your field of study.
Get to know who your examiners are
The senior and well-respected academics who'll be reading your thesis will have their own ideas on conducting PhD standard research. Therefore, it's worth to find about their academic profiles to discover if there's any correlation with the research they've had published and your own work.
From this, you should be able to gain a better idea of their motivations, their possible views on your thesis and the kinds of questions they might wish to discuss after having read through it.
It's also necessary to check the policies and practices in place at your university and be sure of what the roles of the examiners are and how the viva panel will be structured. In many cases, Doctoral students can choose the examiners conducting the PhD viva.
On the day
Be sure to check that you have everything you wish to take with you, including the thesis, plus any notes or other materials that will help support your claims. The PhD viva can last between one and four hours - usually two - so it's necessary to pace yourself to get off to the best possible start.
Remember, the examiners aren't trying to trip you up, they want you to pass and are primarily there to hear you talk about your project. So, after the polite introductions they'll typically start with an ice-breaker to put you at ease and help calm the nerves. It's meant to be an open and honest conversation about your work, so feel free to politely disagree with the examiners, especially on areas you feel strongly about. Don't forget to use examples from your thesis to back up what you're saying, remembering to be clear and concise.
By Daniel Higginbotham,
Prospect, December 2020
Date of Input: 26/10/2021 | Updated: 01/11/2021 | aslamiah
Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400 UPM Serdang
Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia