Thursday, 30 October 2014

Post viva questionnaire - responses from Alex Schauer (pt 1 - Viva preparation and potential questions)

"Hi Andrew,

Having been a keen reader of the previous post viva questionnaires on your blog-post, I’ve decided to return something to the community by adding my own...."

Alex Schauer emailed me a couple of weeks ago after he successfully defended his thesis and kindly provided some inputs based on his experiences of defending his thesis.  The delay in posting them is entirely my fault!  Apologies Alex, and congratulations once again.

Viva preparation and potential questionsBackground

  • To test the candidate's knowledge of his/her research and subject area;
  • To allow examiners to clarify any queries that may have arisen when reading the dissertation
  • To judge whether the candidate has developed research skills appropriate to doctoral level
  • To give the candidate the opportunity to defend their dissertation in person
  • To establish whether candidates fully understands the implications of their work
  • To test if the thesis in whole/parts can be published

Key purposes of the Viva (usually set out in University regulations) include:

During the viva

This is mainly taken from a podcast by Tara Brabazon:
  • Breathe, speak slowly, concentrate, drink water.
  • Most importantly, listen to the opening remarks in the Viva because they can give you clear insights into what that examiners feel about your thesis.
  • Listen to the real question (don't turn it into a question you want to hear).
  • Consider writing down the question, so you don’t forget it and it gives you time to think.
  • Pause before answering the question (5-20 sec is OK).  Breathe, smile, look at the examiners, and consider your answer.
  • If done appropriately, admitting weaknesses can show that you’re able to critique your piece of work and thus be a good academic.
  • Re-phrase your answers with an emphasis on the word "focus" rather than "weakness"
  • Formatting your answer: intro, body, conclusion picking up on question
  • The written thesis should act as the foundation and source of your oral answers (Murray, 2003, page 89) so you should have it to hand and look for your answers ‘therein’.
  • Don't think of your thesis as earth shattering; rather you might lay claim to a ‘fresh approach’ or a 'new perspective'.
  • Think about your viva as a first experience in engaging with the academic community and locating your ideas amongst this community
  • Don’t say ‘Well I’ve written that’ as examiners can’t read everything.
  • Ask for a break if needed (5 min).
  • If anything weird happens, log it!  Occasionally examiners do strange or unfair things.  A record can help you to defend yourself if necessary.

Potential questions


What made you do this piece of research?
Why did you choose this topic?
Why did this topic interest you?
What drew you to this study?
Why this topic?
What led you to this particular study?
Why do think it is important?
What surprised you most in doing this study?
Tell us about your thesis, tell us about what you have done here.
Please could you summarise your thesis?
How would you explain to someone not involved in academia what your thesis is about?
Is there anything that you wish you could added or delete from your thesis?
Is there anything in it that you wish to comment on?
Have you enjoyed your PhD?
Has the thesis contributed to your professional life in any way?
What would you say has been an important learning experience for you in undertaking this work?
What did you learn from doing it?
Would you do anything differently next time?
Can you give one example of your thesis contribution to the development of knowledge and understanding in this area?
What original contribution to knowledge do you feel that you have made?
If  somebody from this field read your thesis, what would they learn that they don’t already know?
What does your study propose that is different from other studies in this area?
What is your own position (professional or personal) in relation to this field and these research questions?
What is your positionality in relation to the research project?
What prior conceptions and / or experiences did you bring to this study?
How did your own position/ background/ bias affect your data collection and your data analysis?
What are the main findings of your research?
Tell me what you think the most important findings are from your particular study?
Which elements of your work do you feel are worthy of publication and/or presentation at a conference?
What plans do you have for publication and dissemination?
Have you been thinking about publishing any of your PhD? if yes which parts?
Has any of the work been published or presented already?
Is there any reason why you haven’t published a paper yet?
What implications do you think your study has got for future research practice policy?
What is your hypothesis?
Why was your research worth three years of study?

Theories And Theoretical Frameworks

Please talk us through the main research questions that you were trying to address in your work. What was the origin of these questions?
What theories/ theoretical frameworks/ perspectives have you drawn upon in your research?
Which theories did your study illuminate, if any?

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