I should start by briefly summarizing what a PhD viva is. A viva is an oral examination that takes place approximately 1-3 months after PhD thesis submission. In the viva, the PhD candidate discusses their work with two examiners – one is an internal examiner from the same university as the PhD candidate and the second is an external examiner from another university. Once the viva is completed, the candidate is informed if they have passed or failed and then if any changes/corrections are required.
My viva took place in December 2014 and I am pleased to say I passed with a few minor corrections (which I am currently finishing!). I was really nervous about my viva and was unsure how to prepare, so having experienced one, these are my top tips:
1.Remember to have a spare copy of your thesis to prepare for your viva and to bring along with you so that you can make notes on it during your viva.
2.Read through your PhD thesis and make a page long summary of each chapter and the key points from it. I found this was a good way to check through everything and reassure myself that I knew where everything was and what it said.
3.Think back on all the presentations you have given and discussions you have had about your research throughout your PhD. Then think about all the questions that you have been asked about your research and make a note of them. Chances are there are some common questions that arise that you can prepare answers to.
4.Often examiners will start by asking you to summarize your PhD research, so prepare a paragraph like an abstract that gives some background information, explains your methods and explains your main findings.
5.There are lists of questions people have been asked during their PhD viva on the internet. Do a quick search and note down the questions that keep appearing. You can then prepare some answers to them, or think about how you would answer each of them. Questions from the list I made that came up were ones like: What did you enjoy? What was most difficult? What would you do differently now? What are your plans for publication?
6.When re-reading your thesis in preparation for your viva, make a note of any mistakes you find in spelling, grammar, presentation etc. Then, if an examiner does point out a mistake, you can show them that you have already spotted it and made a note to correct it.
7.Bring the most relevant published papers that you discuss in your thesis with you. That way, if any questions are asked about them, you can pull them out and discuss them rather than having to remember them.
8.Do a bit of research on the background of your examiners. Finding out about what they work on and what methods they use can help you determine what sort of questions they might ask and what level of technical detail to include in your answers.
9.Take your time in answering questions and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or say that you do not understand the question.
10.See the viva as a positive event! It is the opportunity to talk for an extended period of time just about your research to a captive audience. You are the specialist on your subject and this should give you confidence in answering questions, even if your answers are only speculative.
Hope these tips are helpful! Remember that you have already done the majority of the work by writing your PhD thesis and the viva is the opportunity to talk about it with confidence and competence. So enjoy it!
And good luck!
Stay tuned for my next blog reflecting on what my PhD has taught me!