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PhD Viva: What it is and How to Prepare

Thu, 26 May, 2022

What does PhD Viva mean? - Definition & Advice

The official name for a PhD Viva is Viva Voce, which is Latin for living voice. It is an oral examination, comprising 20% towards the evaluation of a doctoral degree. The other 80% of the doctoral degree is allocated to the research work. Both are compulsory components of any PhD programme. In the United States of America, it is often referred to as a doctoral defence or oral doctoral thesis evaluation.

Once the doctoral thesis has been submitted, the viva takes place at the awarding university in front of a panel comprising of internal examiners and external university academics. It is this environment of being in front of your peers that can cause some understandable anxiety for any PhD candidate.

At this moment, it is important to reassure yourself because you are a subject expert in your PhD field. Take this opportunity to network and get into an interesting, non-confrontational debate with experts and enjoy the experience.

To help you take control of the situation, here are a few things that you can add to your preparation list, and if everything is done in the right way, then there will be far less chance of something catching you by surprise.

In a rare case, some feedback is given that happens to invalidate research or render it suitable for M.Phil. level. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to how you are preparing for your Viva, so that you give yourself the best chance of passing.

Remember to enjoy the process, as your hard work will pay off!

How to be best prepared for your doctoral defence. Photo: UnSplash
How to be best prepared for your doctoral defence. Photo: UnSplash

How to Prepare for your Viva...

Like every successful plan, it is important that you strategies your oral exam in three stages, start with preparation, make a checklist with a tentative deadline to keep everything organised, followed by the execution phase during the viva and post-viva checklist.

Here are some pointers to help you understand how one should prepare for viva three months ahead of the examination date to viva with flying colours.

Before your Viva...

The first thing you need to know is, that your supervisor can not participate in the examination, he or she can only act as an observer. You will be alone in the examination, therefore you need to prepare everything in advance. Secondly, post-graduation viva is equal to an event for many institutes, sometimes they ask students enrolled in MSc. Or MPhil to participate. However, in the UK, the oral examination is conducted in a closed room with restricted access. Also, the policy may vary depending on your university.

Apart from being an observer, the supervisor plays an important role in the timely completion of your doctoral degree, from the very beginning of your thesis submission and selection of examiner. Also, he or she is responsible for making all the arrangements such as coordinating availability, venue selection, and mode of viva - onsite or online – for both student and external examiner.

Viva date allocation and external examiner selection take a maximum of three months from the date of submission, a hard copy of the doctoral thesis. In the meantime, it is recommended to read your thesis at least three times and prepare a presentation that addresses key aspects of your research. It should also include a summary of each chapter.

Another thing that you can do is to request your supervisor to arrange a mock viva to practice your doctoral speech. In between, you can note down questions and points raised by the mock examiners and also enlist the good and bad points about your response. It will help you improvise and improve your delivery.

The most significant step is to research your examiner and read through their research work to familiarise yourself with the examiners' expertise and style.

Lastly, invest your time to create a checklist of frequently asked by external evaluators.

During your Viva...

Often PhD students think the viva is a rapid-fire round in which you need to answer quickly. Contrary, it is completely the opposite. Therefore, you must take your time to understand the question and ask the examiner for any clarification if needed. Also, it is of equal importance to provide an answer in the same format.

Remember, during viva assessment examiner is obliged to provide a constructive critique of your research, it can address both the weaknesses and strengths, one encounters while reading through your work. This does not mean to take it to heart, rather, it means to provide a logical argument backed by your findings or the literature. Additionally, PhD viva is an open-book examination and you can bring supportive material such as your reference material or notebook along with you.

Post-Viva Preparation...

The final stage of every PhD viva is to invest time in making amendments and minor corrections to the thesis and resubmitting your work. Afterwards, you can celebrate with your loved ones that have achieved the greatest level of education.

Typical PhD Viva questions asked by external examiners

  1. Summarise PhD thesis in two or three minutes.
  2. What is your rationale for selecting a particular subject?
  3. What original contribution has your research made to the subject matter?
  4. What limitations did you encounter during the research degree
  5. What future recommendations do you suggest?
  6. If you take on the same research project in future, what changes you would make in it?
  7. What recent development has been made in your field, and how does your study contribute to it?
Photo: UnSplash
Photo: UnSplash