What should I include in a 15-minute summary of my thesis?
The candidate asking me this had been prompted by their examiners to prepare a presentation to start their viva. This isn’t a common situation, but it’s one way to begin the viva. I can’t remember what I said in the moment that I was asked – it was towards the end of a three-hour webinar – but remembering it today I’m struck by several thoughts.
Fifteen minutes isn’t very long to summarise a thesis, so it pays to be concise. It helps to rehearse. It helps to think things through. And the question, as asked, is worth interrogating: should isn’t helpful. There are lots of things one could do.
Here are fifteen points and questions to reflect on if you were asked to prepare a fifteen-minute presentation for the viva:
- Why did you want to do this research?
- Why did the research need doing?
- What were the main methods you used?
- What literature supported the approach that you took?
- What makes your work an original contribution?
- What are you proudest of in what you have done?
- What was the hardest problem you overcame?
- What can you explain simply in the space of fifteen minutes?
- What can you not explain in the space of fifteen minutes?
- Given that your examiners have read your thesis, what do you need to re-emphasise in a presentation at the start of your viva?
- How does your work make a difference?
- How has your work made a difference in you?
- What do you need to start your presentation by saying?
- What do you need to conclude your presentation with?
- What can you safely leave out of your presentation?
Even if you – like most candidates – are not asked to prepare an opening presentation, reflecting on many of these questions could be useful before your viva!