Thursday, 9 May 2013

Post viva questionnaire - responses from Joanne Bates

What is the title of your thesis?
The Politics of Open Government Data: a neo-Gramscian analysis of the United Kingdom’s Open Government Data initiative.

Can you provide an abstract (for inclusion in this blog)?
See abstract

How long did you spend preparing for your viva?
Intermittently -when I could find the time - for about a month (mostly re-reading the thesis and finding likely questions on the internet) and then a heavy burst for a week or so before.

How long did your viva take?
About an hour and half to two hours.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I’d got a bit addicted to using the word ‘emergence’ in my thesis – this was picked up by my external and led to a quite a few questions about causality, which I probably could have avoided…see the next question!

Did the examiners concentrate on any particular section of your thesis? If so, which?
My external was a political economist, so there were a lot of questions on political and economic theorists that I hadn’t drawn on even though they were relevant to the topic. Luckily I was aware of all the ones he mentioned and had a defence for not using them in my work – I think he just wanted to check I had a broader appreciation for the field than you can articulate in a single piece of work.

Also, there were a few questions on how I perceive causality in relation to social structure and agency. There were a few inconsistencies in some of the words I’d selected (i.e. emergence) and my discussion of agency. It was a good critical point, and it was good to be able to make clear my argument for the examiners.

Most of the discussion was actually quite theoretical or conceptual, rather than focussing on my methods or specific findings etc – I didn’t have to open my thesis or notes once, which I was surprised about.

Can you describe any part of your viva where you were pleased with your performance?
One of my key concepts – neoliberalism – I’d not given a detailed enough definition of it in the analytical framework of the thesis. Thankfully, I’d prepared a good response to the “define neoliberalism” question, and I got asked precisely that close to the start of the viva. My response was solid, without any wavering, and the examiners seemed pleased with it – so that gave me confidence moving forwards.

What was it you did that pleased you?
Being able to answer the question succinctly without tying myself in knots – it gave me confidence.

Can you describe any part of your viva where you were dissatisfied with your performance?
Not really – I was pretty happy with it in general.

Please give an example of a question that you found hard.
I said something about equality or social justice or something along those lines, and one of the examiners said – “Do you mean emancipation? Who do you want to emancipate?”

Why was it hard?
Well that’s a political and theoretical minefield of a question … I tried to give some sort of succinct response, but I don’t think it was the high point!

What was the outcome of your viva?
Passed with a couple of minor amendments - and some advice on further amendments to consider if I want to try and get a book contract.

Please give some examples of the sort of corrections you need to make (if any).

More in depth definition of neoliberalism – a key analytical concept I’d used (don’t overlook the obvious when you’re reading your own work!)

Draw out the analytical framework more throughout the body of the empirical chapters.

Do you have any tips for looking and feeling confident in front of the examiners?

I put myself on a hard core stress aversion regime the week before my viva. I swam or climbed every day to kill the adrenaline. I stopped working at 5 the evening before, tired myself out with exercise, slept well, and then went for a walk in the morning before heading into university. I also wore a new outfit, and got my hair cut!

I think mentally you need to have confidence in your work and your ideas, that you know your key concepts and arguments (and, whatever else you are likely to get asked about depending on your field of research) and be able to talk about them. I practised by answering (and asking) questions out loud, rather than just reading my notes.

If you go in with a good thesis that’s going to massively increase your confidence – so the hard work is actually before the viva.
Be yourself!

Can you think of any good advice that you would give to students who are preparing for their viva?
Remember that your examiners are people too; they want to see you get through even when they are grilling you on something.

I used loads of practice viva questions I found on the web to help me prepare – didn’t get asked most of them in the end, but it was useful nonetheless.

Enjoy the discussion, and remember you know more about this particular research project than they do - your examiners have probably only spent about a day preparing for the viva.

That bit that you are stressing about them asking loads of hard questions about – you’re probably being paranoid and it probably won’t even come up, so make sure you don’t over concentrate on it when preparing. Ask your supervisors if you’re unsure whether you should be worried about it.

Make sure that relaxation time is totally embedded in your preparation plans.  

Have fun plans for the evening that you can look forward to!

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