Research Update 2: Big Spreadsheet is Bigger

It’s almost four weeks since I last updated with news of the research. This is largely because I’ve been quietly finding half an hour here and there to standardise the dataset and start to look at some basic patterns in the information. It’s going to take time, and I’m staying focussed at the moment on making sure that I have something valuable to share with people. In early July I’m delivering two sessions where I’m being asked to share my findings, so that will be the first public venue for telling people, which is very exciting.

I’d not thought about it until just as I was writing this post, but the podcast itself would be a good means for sharing what I’ve learned – perhaps a couple of shorter episodes that are targeted to specific parts of the survey? What do you think?

This is just a short post really because I wanted to ask for YOUR thoughts. I asked seven questions (eight, if you count the optional email/Twitter request) in the survey. Given the following seven questions, to which I got 302 responses, what sort of questions might I ask of the data? And what sort of things would be good to look for?

  1. When was your viva?
  2. Which university did you do your research at?
  3. What was your research field?
  4. How long was your viva?
  5. What kind of pass did you get? (No corrections; Minor corrections; Major corrections)
  6. Were you told that you had passed at the start or the end of the viva? (Start; End)
  7. What three words come to mind when you think of your viva?

Over to you: what might I look for?

Please let me know what you think, either by leaving a comment here, tweeting at me, or even drop me an email!

Thanks for reading,

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Research Update 1: Big Spreadsheet Is Big

Hello!

How are you doing this fine sunny day? (fine and sunny around Liverpool on 6th May around 11:15, your experience may vary!) I’ve switched the title on these irregular updates now, as I’m switching my focus from tweeting and sharing the survey as much as possible to delving into the responses. I’ll still accept any and all people who want to respond now, but I’ve stopped actively sourcing more.

302 responses!

You guys are amazing. I started this survey thinking that I might get 150/200 responses, which would start to sketch a picture of what the viva is like in the UK, but 302 is awesome. This gives me confidence that as well as a sketch we’re going to be able to colour that picture in! Over the coming weeks I’ll be spending evenings and free time unpicking just what I’ve collected and then delving into what it all might mean. Read More

Survey Update 5: 384 is the Magic Number

As a pure maths PhD graduate you might expect me to be in love with numbers a bit. To think that they are quite special in fact. And I do! I’m just amazed by how amazing they are. For example, it’s possible to calculate how large a sample you need to take from a population in order to get results that reasonably represent that population!

And that’s exactly what I’ve done for tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. 384 is the magic number: 384 responses from PhD graduates of UK institutions will help to make sure that the pool of data I’m drawing from is as valuable as possible. 384 responses means that I can be 95% confident in the conclusions I’m drawing, and also give me a reasonable interval around the numbers that come out.

384 responses by 30th April… Thankfully, I’ve been very fortunate so far by the responding and sharing that people have been doing on Twitter and in other places. At the time of writing (11am on April 23rd) there are 245 responses to the survey, and however many I get I know that the results are going to be really valuable to the people I share them with… But if I can, I would love to hit those “significant” numbers!

Seven days, 139 responses. Can you help? If you’ve not taken the survey yet, there are seven quick questions – it will take two minutes of your time and it’s here: tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. Thank you! If you’ve completed the survey, and can share it any way shape or form, even to just one other person, please consider doing so.

I can’t wait to start analysing the data from this research, and to see what the responses say, and what picture they paint of the viva from the perspective of PhD candidates/graduates. And when it is complete, it will be the start, not the end of research in this area for me. Best to finish one project first though!

If you have any questions about this research (tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey) please get in touch, it would be great to hear from you.

Thank you for your time,

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

PS – there is a new podcast today!

Survey Update 4: Outcomes

The outcome I'm aiming for!
The outcome I’m aiming for!

On Tuesday I was fortunate to be asked to deliver a Creative Thinking and Problem Solving workshop at LJMU. I love helping people explore creative thinking, and as part of the activities that we looked at I mentioned the survey and the outcomes I’m aiming at.

Looking towards outcomes can be a really helpful part of the creative process. After using a series of questions to explore some of the facts and feelings that people had about the outcome they wanted for their challenge, I encouraged the participants to create a picture or some images that represent the outcome they want. To illustrate this I doodled the image at the top of this post to show the outcomes that I’m aiming at for the research from this survey.

First of all, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some meaningful results from the questions and the answers – and be able to analyse the data to get something which I will be able to present to others sensibly. (I’ve also got ideas about how I could represent the data really visually; I’m a closet data visualisation fan!)

Second, I’m excited about the possibility of presenting the outcomes of the research to others. I’ve accepted one invitation already, and am happy to be contacted about other opportunities.

The bottom row of images show the ultimate aims: I’m hoping that this research will allow me to write and share more on the viva, to help PhD candidates and those who support them. And I’m really hoping that this will inform my own best practice in the viva preparation workshops that I deliver.

So if you haven’t responded to my survey yet and would be eligible to – looking for PhD graduates of UK institutions since the year 2000 – please click on this link: tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey. And if you are able to share this with friends, colleagues or your Twitter followers that would be a massive help!

Further posts on the research coming soon… Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

 

Survey Update 3: Focus

A different sort of update on the survey that I’m doing – which at the time of writing you can find at tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey – as I want to talk a little more about the focus of the survey, why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I’m looking to explore when the data has come in and I shift into analysis mode. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a little while now, but was really prompted to pull my finger out after a great tweet I received last week from Dr Pooky Knightsmith:

Which is a brilliant question to be asked!

Read More

Survey Update 2

Hello! How is your month going? Is March treating you well? And can you believe that it’s almost the end of March?

There: that’s three questions, and how easy were they to answer, right? A doddle! The survey that I am running on PhD viva experiences for graduates from UK universities has only seven short questions, so that won’t take long to fill in either! Thanks to the generosity of people sharing the survey and responding there are now 208 responses (at time of writing) – over halfway to the initial goal of 400 responses!

The survey will be open until the end of April to try to get as many responses as possible. With so much data already gathered, my plan for this week is to start going through the responses I have so far and start standardising the data set (e.g., some people have put “January 2004” as the when for their viva and others have put “01/04”) and also separating out some of the fields (three words that people use to describe their viva separated into three distinct data fields). This will allow me to start analysing the data after everything is collected and since there is going to be a lot of questions I’ll be asking of the data it’ll really pay off for me to get cracking now.

Hopefully soon I can talk about an interesting opportunity that has come up in relation to the research; I’m working out some of the details, but when they’re done I’ll be happy to share – perhaps it will be something that others want to pick up on as well… [/mysteriousness!]

208 down, 192 to go – and then more! Can you help me to spread the word about the survey and the research that I am doing? Have you had your viva since the year 2000 at a UK institution? Can you spare two minutes to fill in my quick survey? The link is tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey and every response will help to generate a picture of the UK viva process, as well as allow me to look for interesting patterns and commonalities.

If you have any ideas for how I can share the survey with more people, or contacts that it would be worth me getting in touch with, either drop me an email, comment below or tweet me!

Thanks!

Nathan (on Twitter as @DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Survey Update 1

My survey “UK PhD Viva Survivors (2000-2013)” has been running for a week now, and in that time with the very helpful assistance and generosity of people on Twitter and Facebook I have managed to get 138 responses! This is fantastic news, as it gives me hope that I can obtain enough data to produce something with statistical significance.

I’ve mentioned before that my first data collecting goal is to obtain 400 responses. This will provide a minimum in producing a picture of “the average viva” if such a thing could be said to exist. One problem with this minimal size is that when one considers subsets, say, of the arts and humanities and the STEM subjects, it may be that those subsets do not have enough respondents for the results to be meaningful. That’s why 400 responses is my bare minimum: and after that point I will take a first look at the data coming in, and see what the makeup is like. It may be that more targeted recruitment will allow for individual pictures of subjects or fields to be painted. If that goal of 400 responses is met, then I’ll take a look at the statistics again to see what the next goal might be, and what confidence one could have in those results.

(As an interesting side note, I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve got responses. After tweeting yesterday morning, someone sent out their own tweet about it, and this tweet was RTed over 20 times, which meant that I almost doubled my number of responses in under 24 hours. It’s these sorts of network effects that I am hoping will really produce great quantities of data for my analysis.)

Today is the 12th of March, and so we have good deal of time until the 30th of April, when I’ll end data collection. I won’t be resting on my laurels and just waiting for data to come in. When I get a chance my next targets/thoughts are to email and tweet some university alumni accounts, as well as keep tweeting and linking and hashtagging to get as many responses as possible. If you know someone who might be happy to answer seven quick questions about their viva, then please share tinyurl.com/VivaSurvivorsSurvey with them – or if you have the means to share the link more widely then please do so. You’ll be helping to create a picture of the PhD viva in the UK.

If you have any thoughts about what else I can do to share this survey – or interesting thoughts on questions to ask the data set when the responses are in, then please get in touch, either in the comments or by email.

Thanks for reading,

Nathan (you can email me here, or tweet at @DrRyder or @VivaSurvivors)

Why am I researching the viva?

Well, there might be a clue in the name of this site… But more seriously, here’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Why?

A few days ago I set a survey in motion asking seven quick questions of PhD graduates from UK universities. I talk to a lot of people about the viva – some of them are graduates, and I try when possible to interview them for this podcast – but most of them are candidates. They’ve worked hard for three or more years, become experts in their field, and then I meet them at workshops where some of them are terrified that their world is about to come crashing down. Having spoken to quite a few PhD graduates there are stories and experiences I can pass on, but sometimes the “official” stats seem unclear. I thought it might be interesting to capture a snapshot of what PhD graduates from the last fourteen years have been through – both to see what the stats are, and to see what kind of a picture it creates. And who knows, there might be some interesting things in the data!

Read More