GUIDANCE ON PREPARING FOR YOUR VIVA

PhD, MPhil, DMedSci

CONGRATULATIONS ON SUBMITTING YOUR THESIS!

When you have submitted your thesis, life can seem a little flat for a while. Congratulate yourself, take a breath – but try not to lose your momentum. Remember that the Viva Voce is an oral examination and, like any other examination, you need to revise and prepare for it thoroughly. And, as with other exams, there are strategies that you can adopt that may help you with this.

The School of Nursing and Midwifery has prepared some Frequently Asked Questions to guide you through the period between submission of your thesis and your oral examination.

WHEN WILL MY VIVA TAKE PLACE?

  • The viva is normally scheduled to take place between 8 and10 weeks after submission of your thesis. However, vivas are occasionally held sooner and not infrequently later. Delays can often happen because of difficulties in finding a date that both examiners can meet with sufficient time for them to read your work in depth.

WHO WILL BE PRESENT DURING MY VIVA?

  • For most candidates, an internal and an external examiner will be present. Both will have read your thesis in depth before they meet with you
  • For staff candidates, two external examiners will be present as well as an internal coordinator, who makes sure that all of the University of Sheffield’s procedures are adhered to.
  • In either case, you may also choose to allow you supervisor to attend but they are not allowed to talk unless specifically invited to do so.
  • Remember, this is your viva! Think about what will make you feel most comfortable. If you do want your supervisor to be present, talk to her/him beforehand about where you would like her/him to sit in relation to you. Sometimes it is useful to have your supervisor out of your sight line.
  • Supervisors are allowed to take notes for you during the viva.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN DURING MY VIVA?

  • You will be allowed to take your own copy of the thesis into the viva. You may find it useful to annotate your thesis with post-it notes so that you can find particular sections of your work or jog your memory on points that you anticipate wanting to elaborate.
  • Your examiners will have met before your viva begins in order to discuss your thesis. They will probably have decided the sort of questions that they wish to put and who will lead each element of the questioning.
  • The examiners need to establish that you know the area in which your study is located, that you are the author of the work that you have presented and that you have made an original contribution to knowledge.
  • A viva typically lasts around two hours but it may take less time, and sometimes takes more time. A long viva does not necessarily mean that you are struggling to demonstrate the quality of your research – it could just mean that your examiners are thoroughly interested in what you have to say!

WHAT CAN I DO TO PREPARE FOR MY VIVA?

You should already have had the opportunity to make oral presentations at several stages in your research process. You may also have taken a Research Training Programme unit involving oral presentation skills. You will therefore already have considerable skill in presenting your research. However, many students feel that the viva will be a very different experience and can get quite anxious as the viva date approaches. But there are a number of strategies that may help you to prepare for your viva so that you have some idea what to expect. The most important thing to remember is to keep the subject of your thesis alive:

  • Know your thesis inside out. You should read your thesis through before the viva with a critical eye. If there is anything that you have written that you are not sure about, or which you feel you might have justified more fully, spend time thinking about how you might respond if challenged on these aspects of your work in the examination.
  • Familiarise yourself with the literature that you have referred to in your thesis. You will be expected to have read widely during your research and to be able to discuss how your work ‘sits’ in the broader literature.
  • You may find it helpful to read something that your examiners have published as this can help to familiarise you with their academic stance
  • Produce a summary of what your thesis is about.

Practising For The Viva

There are a number of strategies available to you. Talk to your supervisor about which you would find most helpful, we have listed some possibilities below – they are not mutually exclusive, you might even want to try all of them!

  • Discuss with your supervisor the issues that you feel are likely to be pursued by your examiners during the Viva. While this may be comfortable, remember that your supervisor will also be very close to your work. Having a new perspective on your work, from someone outside of the supervisory team, may therefore also be helpful.
  • Talk to colleagues who have successfully gone through their viva and ask their advice.
  • Ask a friend or colleague to read one section, or perhaps a chapter of your thesis and then ask you questions about it. This may help to keep your thesis fresh in your mind while you wait for your viva, but you will not be able to defend your work as a whole in this way.
  • A mock viva: your supervisor can help to arrange a ‘Mock’ viva. Another member of academic staff will read your thesis and, along with your supervisor, invite you to defend your work to them. Probably the best time to do this is around 2 weeks before the date scheduled for your viva voce.

Remember that the questions that you are asked may not be the same as the ones that you are asked in your examination!! Indeed, look upon the mock viva not as a rehearsal of the questions examiners will ask, but as an opportunity to become comfortable fielding questions under pressure that are designed to test your knowledge.

DOs AND DON´Ts BEFORE AND DURING THE VIVA

The following is included with permission from Professor Jerry Wellington (WELLINGTON, J et al ( 2005) SUCCEEDING WITH YOUR DOCTORATE, London : Sage)

Another tip is to try to maintain eye contact with the examiners as appropriate – don´t look at the floor or out of the window for long periods! - See Downloads

WHAT SORTS OF QUESTIONS MIGHT I GET ASKED?

The following is included with permission from Professor Jerry Wellington (WELLINGTON, J et al ( 2005) SUCCEEDING WITH YOUR DOCTORATE, London : Sage) - See Downloads

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THE END OF MY VIVA?

Do not expect the examiners to tell you the outcome of your examination at the end of your viva voce. However, you may be asked to leave the examination room for a short time – often around half an hour. This will give the examiners time to confer and agree their response. You may then be recalled so that the examiners can explain their decision to you.

The outcome of the viva may be a recommendation:

  • that the degree be awarded;
  • that the degree be awarded once specified minor amendments have been completed to the satisfaction of the examiners;
  • that the degree be not now awarded but that the candidate be allowed to undergo a further oral examination without modification of the form or content of the thesis;
  • that the degree be not now awarded but that the candidate be allowed to submit a revised thesis after such modification of form or content as the examiners may prescribe, with/without oral re-examination;
  • that the degree be not awarded.

In addition, examiners for the degree of PhD may also make either of the following recommendations:

  • that the degree of PhD be not awarded but that the degree of Master be awarded (subject only to the necessary changes to the cover and title page of the thesis);
  • that the degree of PhD be not awarded but that the candidate be allowed to submit a revised thesis for the degree of Master after such modification of form or content as the examiners may prescribe, with/without oral re-examination.

After the oral examination, the examiners complete a report that has to be sent to the Faculty within six weeks of the Viva Voce. Unless there is some disagreement between the examiners as to the appropriate recommendation (a very rare occurrence), this is a joint report, to which the preliminary reports completed prior to the examination are appended.

Notification of the award of a degree is sent to successful students by the Graduate Research Office.

Once you receive notification of the award of your degree, you are entitled to request a copy of your examiners´ report (a form will be supplied for this purpose).

GOOD LUCK