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Rob Briner Organizational Psychology Birkbeck

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1 Rob Briner Organizational Psychology Birkbeck
Surviving the PhD Viva Rob Briner Organizational Psychology Birkbeck

2 Outline What is the PhD viva? How does it work?
What does ‘surviving’ the viva mean? What are examiners looking for? Preparing for the viva Common viva surprises

3 What is the PhD viva? One of the two ways in which PhDs examined
“Candidates for the PhD degree must submit a thesis and be examined orally…” (all quotes in italics are from UoL PhD Regulations) A discussion between you and your examiners Usually takes the form of being asked questions about the thesis Also sometimes called a ‘defence’

4 How does it work? [1] Before viva Examiners sent thesis
Prepare independent preliminary reports Examine each other’s reports Come to preliminary judgement (see later) – which they sometimes (very rarely) communicate to candidate Arrange viva date Each examiners complies lists of questions and queries they have about the thesis

5 How does it work? [2] During viva
Examiners meet before and plan the structure of viva, questions, roles, etc Meet PhD candidate (supervisors may attend but cannot say anything) Sometimes tell candidate their preliminary judgement at start of viva and the purpose of the viva (see later) Ask a series of questions and listen to the answers

6 How does it work? [3] At the end of the viva
You will be asked to leave the room Examiners discuss their views and come to a decision (see later) Invite you back in and tell you their decision Supervisor often comes in at this point

7 What does ‘surviving’ the viva mean? [1]
What (five) decisions can examiners make? [1] “(a) if the thesis fulfils the criteria…and the candidate satisfies the examiners in all other parts of the examination the examiners will report that the candidate has satisfied them…” (pass) “(b) if the thesis otherwise fulfils the criteria but requires minor amendments….require the candidate to make within three months amendments specified by them…” (provisional pass with minor changes) “(c) if the thesis, though inadequate, shall seem of sufficient merit…the candidate be permitted to re-present his/her thesis in a revised form within 18 months. The examiners may at their discretion exempt from a further oral examination, on re-presentation of his/her thesis…” (not passed - major changes)

8 What does ‘surviving’ the viva mean? [2]
What decisions can examiners make? [2] “(f) if, after completion of the examination…the examiners determine that a candidate has not reached the standard required for the award of the degree… they shall consider whether the thesis does or might…satisfy the criteria for… MPhil degree. If they so decide, the examiners shall submit a report which demonstrates either (a) how the criteria for the MPhil degree are satisfied, or (b) what action would need to be taken in order for these criteria to be satisfied.” (offered MPhil now or with revisions) “(g) The examiners may determine that the candidate has not satisfied them in the examination.” (fail)

9 What are examiners looking for? [1]
Check the UoL PhD regulations examiners use “ The scope of the thesis shall be what might reasonably be expected after three or at most four years of full-time study.” “ The thesis shall… (b)…form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality… (c)…be an integrated whole and present a coherent argument (d)…give a critical assessment of the relevant literature, describe the method of research and its findings, include discussion on those findings and indicate in what respects they appear to the candidate to advance the study of the subject…”

10 What are examiners looking for? [2]
Does the thesis itself meet the criteria? What evidence can be gathered in the viva to establish if the thesis meets the criteria? Is it candidate’s own work? Clarification of points made in thesis Clarification and extension of argument, rationale, logic, etc Explanation for/identification of errors Questions about things not in thesis

11 What are examiners looking for? [3]
If thesis broadly sound and no/few changes needed Does candidate understand what they’ve done? Are they aware of strengths and weaknesses Beyond the thesis itself – does candidate know more than they have written that they maybe should add? If thesis probably not sound and major changes needed What are problems and how did they come about? How much does candidate really know? Just how substantial do changes need to be? Is another viva necessary?

12 Preparing for the viva [1]
Have a mock viva (highly recommended) Supervisor, other PhD students, etc Give them copy of thesis and UoL regulations Ask them to do what examiners do Read the thesis carefully again yourself Does the overall argument make sense? What are the problems and limitations? Can you explain account for them? Have you spotted mistakes, omissions, etc? Talk to others about their viva experences (as candidates or examiners)

13 Preparing for the viva [2]
Prepare questions and try to answer them (even if you think you’ve answered them in the thesis) – such as Why did you do things in this order? Why did you exclude some areas of literature? Why are your research questions interesting or important? What are the main weaknesses with what you did and why are they there? If you did it again what would you do differently? What is the main contribution of your thesis? How would you build on this research?

14 Preparing for the viva [3]
Think of it as a conversation but one where: You do have to defend and explain what you’ve done But don’t try to defend the indefensible or explain the inexplicable. If examiners point out error or something that doesn’t make sense, and you can see it, you should accept it If you don’t understand a question ask for clarification – don’t try to answer questions you don’t understand Remember that all research has weaknesses and limitations The mark of being a competent researcher is recognizing, anticipating, acknowledging and overcoming weaknesses And don’t forget to be clear about what’s good about it. It’s also necessary to demonstrate you understand the contribution your work has made

15 Common viva surprises Any anxiety you have disappears fast when you get going It goes much faster than you think it will The examiners really have read the thesis You know a lot more about the thesis than you realized The examiners point out good things in the thesis you didn’t know were there You actually quite enjoy it

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