Between the time you submit your thesis and the viva examination, several things go on in the background:
- Student Records & Examinations forward the submitted soft bound theses to the appointed internal and external examiners, along with copies of the summary and declaration forms submitted by the candidate.
- The appointed examiners each prepare an independent report on the thesis before the oral examination.
- You will be advised of the time, date and location of your viva by your School postgraduate research secretary and/or supervisory team.
Students involved in the Peer Assisted Learning programme have completed video testimonials of their Viva Voce experience. You can view their videos at My Viva, My Story: PGR Student Viva Testimony.
Preparing Yourself for the Viva
What is a Viva?
Once you have submitted your thesis you will be invited to defend the work at an oral examination known as a ‘viva voce' (Latin for ‘by live voice'). It’s a daunting prospect, and an integral part of successfully completing your PhD. But it can also be a very enjoyable experience in which you are discussing your research with genuinely interested experts. Remember that it is also a potentially important opportunity to ‘network’ with your external examiner, who will also most likely be one of your academic referees in the future.
Look at the following checklist and use it to structure your Viva preparation:
- Know your thesis thoroughly.
- Write a one-page summary of each chapter.
- Continue to work with your thesis after submission or begin to prepare a conference paper or publication.
- Ensure you can explain how your thesis fits into the big picture.
- Keep up to date with relevant literature.
- Know what the implications of your research are to both theory and practice.
- Conduct a mock Viva with your main supervisor.
- Ask your peers to quiz and challenge you about your thesis.
- Explain your thesis to friends and family who are not familiar with it.
- Investigate the backgrounds and publications of your examiners.
- Look at your institution's guidelines for Vivas.
- Produce a list of likely questions.
- Identify areas of your thesis that are likely to be challenged.
- Mark up your thesis to help you refer to it during the Viva.
It is also useful to prepare strong answers to the following 3 questions:
- How significant do you believe your original contribution is to the research field?
- From the research conducted, are there gaps for further research?
- Looking back on the 3 years, would you do anything differently, and if so what?
Have the ability to interpret the thesis
Examiners see the thesis and prepare a report on it prior to the viva and will therefore have determined some of their own points. It is not uncommon that examiners misinterpret or view certain aspects of the thesis differently from the student so it is important that you are able to clarify these points assertively to the examiner without sounding forceful or rude.
Attend PRDP workshops
The Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme (PRDP) provides Queen’s University students with support in developing their research skills through various training and development. For the purposes for students in their final stages, the following workshops may be useful:
- Academic Assertiveness - Useful for helping students deal with criticism and how to respond to it professionally.
- See the online training resource The Good Viva video on the PRDP website.
The Viva Itself
- The oral examination itself usually takes place in the University, though in exceptional circumstances special permission can be sought to hold it elsewhere or via telephone, or video-conferencing. The following people usually participate in a viva:
- An independent Chairperson, usually a Director of Research from within the University
- The internal and external examiners
- The student
- Your primary and/or secondary supervisors may also be present, but do not participate in the viva. Where a student has two supervisors, normally only one of them will attend the examination, by agreement between the student and the supervisors.
- Students should not be in contact with the examiners prior to the Viva.
- The student will be notified officially of the result of the Viva by Student Services and Systems, but some examiners may choose to recall the student and inform him/her of the outcome once the examination has ended. If they do so, they should make it clear that the result is only a recommendation that has to be confirmed by the University, and that the student will receive formal notification.
Possible Viva Outcomes
7.7.5 After the oral examination, the examiners, via the School, must send Student Services and Systems all the independent reports plus a joint report which includes one of the following decisions:
- The Doctoral degree be awarded as the thesis stands.
- The Doctoral degree be awarded subject to corrections* being made to the thesis that must be completed within three months.
- The Doctoral degree be awarded subject to corrections* being made to the thesis that must be completed within six months.
- The thesis be revised and re-submitted** for the Doctoral degree at a later date. Students are normally only permitted to revise and re-submit a thesis once, not counting minor corrections or minor revisions. When making this decision, examiners may also propose one of v, vi, or vii below as a possible alternative. The student must confirm the preferred option.
- A Master’s degree be awarded as the thesis stands.
- A Master’s degree be awarded subject to corrections* being made to the thesis that must be completed within three months.
- A Master’s degree be awarded subject to corrections* being made to the thesis that must be completed within six months.
- The thesis be revised and re-submitted** for a Master’s degree at a later date.
- No degree be awarded.
Passing the Viva… What next?
After students have been awarded their PhD, they must complete some final tasks before the result is officially posted:
- All corrections/revisions must be made and the presentation of the completed document must be in the same format as the soft bound copies
- Students must then submit 2 hard bound; copies of their thesis to the Student Records and Examinations Office.
- The hard bound copies must be in the form of a book, and must include a library form supplied by the Student Records and Examinations Office. This form is also available for download alongside all thesis submission forms.
- This form must be counter-signed and certified by the internal examiner to prove that all corrections/revisions have been made.
- The hard bound copy must have the student’s name, year and degree title printed on the spine.
- One copy of the completed hard-bound thesis will be sent to the University library and the other to the student’s School.
Failing the Viva….. what next?
If a student fails their viva, they can consider the following options:
Thedetails the University’s appeals procedures. Students should familiarise themselves with these regulations thoroughly and also ensure that they have been provided with a detailed description describing the reasons why the examiners have recommended a fail.
Students can then begin to seek advice from the following people:
- Their supervisory team
- Academic Affairs
- The current University Student’s Union Vice-President of Welfare, who is contactable at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Failing the viva may have a knock-on effect on your confidence and/or leave you feeling upset and anxious. Queen’s University also offer students a counselling service in partnership with Carecall. This service is free of charge and is available to all students to help students discuss any issues or concerns they may have. To book an appointment please call on their free phone number 0808 800 0016 or alternatively email to email@example.com.
Useful resources on preparing for the viva:
- Nasty PhD Viva Questions
- Ten Tips for Getting Through your PhD Viva
- Preparing for your Viva - Study Guide
- Vitae - Your Viva
- You might like to read How to Survive your Viva by Rowena Murray (ISBN 0-335-21284-0) or The Doctoral Examination Process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors by Penny Tinkler and Carolyn Jackson (ISBN 978-0-335-21305-4).