The Measure of Viva Success

We need to change how we measure the viva and a candidate’s success.

Lots of questions are asked about the viva:

  • What corrections did you get?
  • How long was it?
  • What kind of corrections did you get?
  • Did you go blank?
  • How long did it take you to do the corrections?
  • What mistakes did they find?
  • Where did you go wrong?

That last question is underlying all of the above, of course. The story about vivas says corrections are bad, major corrections especially; a long viva is bad, for some value of “long” that someone else gets to determine; going blank or saying “I don’t know” is bad, and so are any mistakes.

I’m not trying to claim the opposite. In reality all these things are just part of the process, not “bad”. Some vivas are longer than others, some lead to more corrections than others. Some people will make mistakes along the way; they don’t typically lead to great problems.

I don’t have a foolproof plan to change this part of the viva narrative. All I have are some questions that might be more helpful to ask:

  • Did you pass?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What did your examiners like?
  • How are you feeling?
  • What did you enjoy?
  • What surprised you?
  • Where do you think you excelled?

If you ask these questions of graduates around you, their responses can help you prepare for your own viva. If we ask them more generally then people will start to notice the words and ideas that are associated with the viva. If enough questions like these are asked then maybe they will trickle down through future PhD cohorts and help them and how they think about their viva.

Eventually, change will come to the viva and the culture around it.

Change always comes.

We can do something to steer that change if we want to.