Why-How-What For Examiners

Long term readers will know that I like Why-How-What as a way to frame and explain ideas. I share it a lot in workshops when people ask me how they can explain what their research is about. I think it’s also useful to generate questions and unpick aspects of the viva process that worry people, and one of the biggest sources of worry for PhD candidates is the examiners themselves.

What do they do? What will they ask? How will they behave? What if….?

Instead of aiming at the worries, let’s start with three questions.

Why are they examining me? A basic one to start with, but important. They’re examining you because they’ve been chosen. They’re examining you because you’ve done something special. They’re examining you because that’s how PhDs are assessed in the UK. They’re examining you because they are supposed to.

How will they examine me? Professionally. There are rules and regulations. There are expectations. They’ll try to live up to them, and seek help beforehand if they need it. They will be asking you questions, but they don’t come to the viva with a malicious agenda. They’re not there to tear you or your work apart.

What will happen in the viva? A discussion. A series of questions that drives conversation and leads to a conclusion. They’re not there to torture you. Your examiners want the best possible outcome they can find for you, given your thesis and performance. They want you to pass as well as you can and they want your thesis to be the best representation of your research that it can be.

There are other ways that we can take these questions; different people might answer them differently. There aren’t full details about rules and regulations, about outcomes, about what the examiners will do to prepare, but that information is out there if these starter questions and answers do not comfort you enough.

If something about your examiners or how they conduct the viva troubles you then your next actions are to find out more, do more, so that you can get back to what’s important.

Why? How? What?