Interdisciplinary researchers produce fascinating theses. I enjoy listening to the amazing ways disciplines collide. I’m no longer surprised though when interdisciplinary researchers tell me they have concerns about their viva. An examiner might be highly capable in one field of the researcher’s thesis, but not another. What then?
I’m not sure there is a great problem here. In my experience, examiners do their homework. They learn what they need to in order to understand a thesis. They’ll work to grasp aspects not related to their field. Still, that might not be enough to satisfy the concerns of an interdisciplinary researcher. I hope the following seven questions might help some more:
- How does your work differ from your examiner’s particular experience?
- What ways can you find to relate your work to your examiner’s field?
- How is your work similar to your examiner’s recent publications?
- What are the trickiest aspects of your work to explain to a non-expert?
- How can you make these easier to communicate?
- Where do you anticipate problems in explaining your work?
- What can you do about those problems?
Let me be clear: examiners should make efforts to unpick and understand a thesis not in their field if they have agreed to act as examiner. But for confidence, for peace of mind and for general preparation, these questions could be useful to reflect and act on for interdisciplinary researchers preparing for the viva.
(they’re probably quite useful for all candidates preparing for the viva!)