Prepare for Your Doctoral Viva

Updated on February 8, 2018

A Viva is an Interview

Interview
Interview | Source

What’s a Viva?

A viva is an oral examination, rather like an interview, in front of a panel of experts, who ask questions about your dissertation or thesis. The term “Viva” is short for the Latin phrase, “Viva Voce”, meaning, “live voice”. Vivas are usually held for the examination of doctoral theses in the United Kingdom but may also be held for examination of a Master’s dissertation. A thesis (plural “theses”) is a written account of your research into your topic of interest. A doctoral thesis may be 80,000 words long. For comparison, a light novel might contain 30,000 words, so a thesis may be the equivalent of writing two or three books. Well, it certainly felt like it!

Why is it held?

A Viva is held to check your understanding of what you have written, to check you wrote it yourself, to ensure there is no plagiarism (copying someone else’s work) and to clarify any points that are not clear.

Are You Preparing For A Viva?

Do You Have to Prepare For A Viva?

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What is Plagiarism?

graphic illustrating plagiarism
graphic illustrating plagiarism | Source

Plagiarism

In my university, all submitted written work is passed through an online piece of software that checks for plagiarism, that is, whether you have copied someone else’s work. It checks through all past publications, papers, theses and even exam papers and coursework. I heard recently that one person’s course work had been found to have been copied from a student who had completed the course a couple of years earlier! My thesis has already been passed through that software and any areas found to be the same as previously published work have been highlighted. A copy of the report was given to me and will have been sent to the examiners for my viva. I am happy to report that the result was good!

Have you heard of Plagiarism?

Have you heard about plagiarism?

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Published theses

published theses on a library shelf
published theses on a library shelf | Source

Why Are You Writing About This?

I submitted a doctoral thesis over a year ago now and had a viva held about three months later. I worked on various bits of my thesis as preparation for my viva but as I had never been very successful at interviews during my working life (I am now retired), and as I knew I was unlikely to have a mock viva offered, I decided to find out what was available to help me prepare for my viva and to write this summary at the same time. I worked on the science side, so my preparation may have been different from yours if you are working on the “Arts” side. Much of what is available on line appears to be written by social scientists, so it is important to consider whether the advice I am writing or that you find for yourself is relevant to your type of viva. Having said that, the advice I have been reading so far, is that every viva is different, anyway. If you have time, asking your supervisor for advice would be very useful. Many of the questions I prepared were never asked, but knowing that I considered them gave me confidence going into this exam.

Motivation for this

It's a big dream
It's a big dream | Source

Motivation

I find that going over and over a large publication is not very helpful for me, so having looked at a lot of the available material on vivas on line, I decided that creating my own workbook of questions to answer was probably going to serve me best. I say this because I found this way of working very helpful in preparing for my intermediate presentation (called the “confirmation viva” in my university) which is held half way through the study period and which you have to pass in order to continue working on your Ph.D. studies. While I was studying at that time, I read a book called “A Student Guide To Methodology” by Clough and Nutbrown. It was arranged with a number of questions to work through, which I did and while panicking about how to prepare for the confirmation viva, found that the material I had written as “answers” to the questions posed in that book formed a really useful basis for my presentation, which I passed.

One of my sons has a very good study strategy for exams, in that he goes through past papers and prepares his own exam based on previous exam questions in that subject. He has found that extremely useful both because lecturers tend to look at past questions when preparing future exam papers (!) and because trying to answer these questions shows you where your knowledge is lacking and you need to learn it better.

On the basis of both of these strategies, I believed that preparing my own workbook and doing my best to answer the questions in it was my best way of preparing for my viva.

Timescale

After I submitted my thesis, I expected a viva within about 6 weeks. That didn't happen but at least I would have been ready if it had. I am one of those lazy people for whom time pressure is a great motivator, so getting myself to think that I had only 8 actual working days was a good wake up call for me.

Workbook
Workbook | Source

Workbook

My workbook used the following headings, from all the sites I went through:

  • Examiners
  • Context
  • Introduction
  • Overall Thesis
  • Literature Review
  • Research Design and Methodology
  • Analysis
  • Review
  • Reflection
  • Nightmare Questions
  • Conclusion

Workbook Headings Expanded And Explained

Examiners

Find out who the external and internal examiners will be, look up their body and work and see which, if any is relevant to my thesis. I know their names and have looked at the external examiner’s published papers. Some of these are relevant o parts of my thesis, so I will summarise those, to help get the information into my head.

Context

Have I found any relevant papers published that I haven’t included in my thesis? Read and summarise these, in case the examiners ask about them

Introduction

I already know that I am expected to make a 10 minute presentation on my thesis showing what it covered. I have been advised that it is CRUCIAL to make my conclusions crystal clear and to hammer these home; and to ensure that my unique contribution to knowledge is also made very clear. (A Ph.D thesis is expected to make a UNIQUE contribution to knowledge.)

Overall Thesis

There are many things to consider and I am not going to include them all here because many may not be relevant to your viva, however, there is a list of links further on down that you may find useful in preparing for your own viva.

  • Know my key findings and contribution and what justifies this work as a doctorate (as opposed to a lesser degree)
  • Mark key sections with tabs
  • Prepare a 1 page summary of each chapter and a one sentence summary of each chapter (!) and create a brief summary of the overall thesis.
  • Know what claims I am making
  • Know my justification for making these claims

For me, making a one page and one sentence summary for each chapter will be a very useful way of going through the thesis and looking at it in an overall fashion, as opposed to just reading and re-reading it. I have already created an abstract of the work and this was included in the thesis I submitted. Knowing how I justify the thesis as being of doctoral level will be important in defending my thesis at the oral exam. The oral exam is also known as a “defence”, so this is important.

Literature Review

Apparently a favourite question here is “Who are the most important authors in your field and what influence did they have on your thesis?”, or “Which publications (or authors) have influenced you most?”

Research design and methodology

This will be important for me to work on, as I carried out an experiment and there could have been several different ways of doing this. I will need to remind myself of why I chose the particular method, consider any limitations and whether I would do anything differently if I were to run it again.

Analysis

This is a very important section and I will need to summarise the findings as they relate to the research questions I posed in preparing the literature survey. I used human subjects, so may need to consider the ethical implications of this.

Review

Again, a very important section. This looks at the overall thesis and so of course will be different for each person. The questions to develop here might consider the implications of my research, whether it could have been done better, whether I needs to be redone in a different way and what difference my findings may have made to my field.

Reflection

I suppose the questions people are suggesting here really look at how I have changed over the course of doing the thesis and how my thinking has changed. I know that some very big changes have happened and I will need to think about those.

Conclusion

I have been advised to prepare a concluding statement, showing how my work has made a difference and emphasising the conclusions I came to, making sure to end on a positive note. This would also be the point at which to pick up any points that had been missed.

Top Four Tips

1. Know your panel, especially your external examiner. Check out their body of work.

2. Know Your Thesis

3. Identify possible questions and develop answers to these. Especially, identify the very worst questions you would not want to be asked and identify answers to them.

4. If you can get someone to hold a mock viva for you ahead of time, you may find that very useful.

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    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 3 weeks ago

      Hello Rochelle. Yes, I worked in various parts of the field for 13 years before I retired and decidedto do a Ph.D. It's not what my bachelor's degree is in but there are so many interesting subjects. Thanks for visiting.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 3 weeks ago from California Gold Country

      Wow, I respect your academic prowess and persistence. Did you work in this field as a career? You are an inspiration.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 months ago

      Thank you Jackie. I hope you also have a very merry Christmas.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Merry Christmas!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 months ago

      It's the kind of experience you never forget!

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 months ago from Hollister, MO

      I defended my dissertation for my PhD in February of 1995. I will certainly never forget the successful experience. It did take much preparation, for sure, and thank you for the reminder. Hadn't thought about that, for awhile!! ;-)

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 3 months ago

      Yes, I did a course with them too. They really are excellent.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 3 months ago from Norfolk, England

      I did an Open University course once a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I really should carry that on and apply to do another one.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I also took several classes online and I really loved those too. I was amazed how they managed this so you really learned and also in touch with your classmates and teacher online.

      Been a few years so I bet it is even more interesting now.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 5 months ago

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. I enjoyed my studies and would go back again, if I had time! College seems to be more fun and less difficult when you really WANT to go.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I went back to college too which I am really proud of but no PHD. What I did was so much fun though and not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. You are a real go-getter!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 10 months ago from Texas

      I admire your drive for higher education and thank you for this interesting walk through preparing for your "Viva."

      Congratulations on all your hard work.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 12 months ago

      Great, I look forward to seeing articles on your progress.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 12 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I will...starting now! Thank you.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 12 months ago

      Thank you very much, but not highly intelligent - just persistent - and I think it is persistence that is one of the biggest contributors to gaining a Ph.D. If you dream of having a Ph.D., then work to bring it to reality. Good luck.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 12 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      You are an inspiration and highly intelligent! I have dreamed of one day receiving a PHD. Your hub is informative and interesting. You are amazing!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 13 months ago

      Psychology is interesting but I think it is very hard work being a counsellor, probably all that psychology studying helped you with your Hubs and writing them?

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 13 months ago from England

      Yeah! well done! I did go to night school for five years studying psychology, I could have been a councilor but decided to go back in an office! duh! lol!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 13 months ago

      Hello Nell Rose, yes, I graduated just before Christmas 2016. It was a long journey. Your education never stopped, your Hubs are great.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 13 months ago from England

      Congratulations! I take it you have passed now? I left school at 16 so never went any further!

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 15 months ago

      @ M abdullah javed. Thank you for your comment. For some reason I did not see it previously. Thank you for visiting and commenting

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 15 months ago

      @happymommy2520 Thank you very much for visiting and commenting. Sorry i didn't see your comment earlier.

    • Happymommy2520 profile image

      Amy 18 months ago from East Coast

      Great Hub. I don't think they go by that process in the United States. I only have my four year degree, they may. I wish you lots of luck with your education. You are a very good example for your grandchildren!

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 2 years ago

      Grandma you made us proud. Your efforts are inspiration and motivation for us. You should get special accolade from all of us for this wonderful effort. The details are quite informative and guiding. We wish you all the best and pray for an early completion. It will be another feather in your cap and facilitates us to call you Dr Grandma. Thanks for sharing. Take care.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      The university will probably put it online but a thesis is not generally a document that most people would pick up and read. :)

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Congratulations! I would like to read it when and if it is online.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Thank you very much. It's on road safety engineering. I passed the viva and now have to make some minor corrections before getting it printed and bound.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I really admire you for writing a doctoral thesis and now getting ready to defend it with a viva. May I ask what the subject of your thesis is? Good luck with the viva. I am sharing this with my HP followers.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Thank you very much.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great read.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Thank you, FlourishAnyway. I hope you are right.

    • RoadMonkey profile image
      Author

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      No, billybuc, not yet. I have only just published this hub and have to keep going through my workbook in preparation. Thank you for visiting and commenting. I would say it is mostly dogged determination.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Just remember your advisor and committees wants you to succeed. Been there and survived.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My goodness, congratulations....I assume you got your doctorate by now. I have three degrees but never took it to the next level.....anyway, great information here and best wishes to you in the future.

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