Started with the one question possibly every examiner will ask: What is your thesis about?September 24th, 2011 | Posted by in Viva Stories
Today, Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell, a social scientist, shares her PhD Viva Experience in her own words:
“The Viva is perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome purely because you are in the lap of the gods, or in this case the examiners, so much depends on your performance during the Viva. Many PhD students will be able to recount more nightmare Viva stories than they will good ones. I don’t know whether this is because people who have plain and simple non eventful Viva’s don’t talk about them or if it is just because the horror stories are so bad they stick in the mind, and I think get exaggerated over the years. So in this post I am going to talk about my experience and give some tips on how to prepare:
I submitted my thesis on 24th August 2010 and my Viva exam was held on November 16th. It was a very grey Tuesday, I think it rained and it was quite chilly. My exam was to start at 1.30 after my examiners had been taken to lunch by my supervisor, they went to the Thai square on The Strand if you wanted to know, however, they didn’t get back till after 1.30 leaving me sweating waiting in the Department. My supervisor came to find me after she had taken them back to her office and she said to me it was going to be fine, they liked my thesis but were going to ask me some tough questions, obviously but she felt it would be ok. My supervisor makes a point of attending her students vivas. I think this was especially important for me because of all the stress and hoo haa that had gone on before. We started at about 1.50 after my examiners had had their preliminary conversations and divided up the questions they were going to ask. It started with the one question possibly every examiner will ask ‘what is your thesis about’. I took a deep breath and off I went with my pre-prepared answer. It took about 5 minutes for me to settle but once I had it wasn’t too bad, or at least not as bad as I thought it would be, for some reason I thought I would be hung out to dry, I wasn’t, far from it.
We started with general questions and then moved on to those where my examiners asked me to clarify small points. Apart from one question on my methodology where I had a complete blank and got hissed at by my supervisor because we had gone through this question, I had a prepared an answer but I didn’t take my notes in with me, yes I know, fool. So apart from that and having a strange reaction to some painkillers mid way through meaning I had to run out and be sick it was incredibly straightforward. By 3.50 my supervisor had to leave to go and teach and at that point both examiners decided that we had done enough and I was asked to leave for them to make their decision. Supervisor went to teach, I sat and waited for what felt like an eternity It was probably about 30 minutes tops until the door opened and both examiners congratulated me.
I passed with minor corrections, I had three main things to do and deal with a few typos and formatting issues. After they went through with me what they wanted me to do my examiners wrote up their joint report and I went back outside to make my way through the list of people I needed to call with the result. I was sitting on a table in an empty corridor in the middle of the Department on the phone to my friend when my supervisor arrived by this time it was nearly 6pm, she looked at me and I got to tell her I’d passed we met my intercollegiate examiner on the stairs he had finished with his report, we went and sat down looked at it briefly, and then went to the pub!
So how did it go so smoothly, preparation is the key. Read here for my advice on how to prepare for a PhD Viva.”
Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell is a social scientist, specifically a human geographer with a diverse range of research interests from international environmental politics, development practice and management – specifically issues pertaining to capacity-development and geographies of cyberspace. Sarah is also interested in the digitisation of the academic research process. Sarah is a trainer for the King’s College London Graduate School Researcher Development Unit where she delivers training on how to use social media in academic research and researcher development. Sarah gained her PhD from the Geography Department at King’s College London in 2010.