Unique, Not Unknown

Your viva, in a nutshell.

A unique exam, arising in response to a unique thesis, written by a unique candidate. There has never been a viva the same as yours before; there will never be another the same again.

But there are regulations: the rules that frame how vivas have to happen. There are academic practices: ideas from research culture about what makes a viva good. There are expectations: built up from all of the stories of past candidates, relatively probable situations, structure and outcomes for the viva.

Your viva will be unique, but not totally unknown, not totally unexpected. You can never have total certainty for it, but the more light you can shine on the probable circumstances the better you will feel for your once-in-forever experience.

Remote Chances

Most vivas go well, but there’s always a chance that something could go wrong a little. With the move towards remote vivas, over Skype or Zoom, there’s that little extra room for doubt and worry that something might go wrong. Video vivas were less common, until now, and so there aren’t as many easy answers for what to do or how to solve something.

In the absence of general advice, whatever the worry or potential problem, there’s three questions that come to my mind:

  1. How can I reduce the likelihood or the impact? You might not be able to avoid something, but you could soften it somehow.
  2. What is Plan B? Say the tech fails, what could you have on standby? What’s your backup?
  3. Who could help? In the viva the answer might be no-one – and knowing that helps because you know you have to get it done. Before the viva there are lots of people who can help you – you have to think about who might be best to ask.

The chances of something going wrong are slim. A little bit of constructive thought, just in case, won’t hurt your preparation or confidence.

Check The Regulations

Three words that need to be on every candidate’s to-do list for the viva.

The Regulations page I put together – a list of every uni in the UK’s thesis examination regulations – might be a good starting point for some. Given the changes brought on in the last five or six weeks, it’s worth digging deeper with your institution. Check to see if there is anything substantially different. I don’t imagine there will be: the purpose of the viva hasn’t changed, it’s only the medium that’s altered.

There may be constraints that a remote viva forces or suggests, but you know why you’re there and what your examiners have to do. Check the regulations to see if there are any particular conditions that have to be met to satisfy your institution. Ask friends and colleagues about their experiences for a better idea of what to expect.

Formally Informal…

…or Informally Formal?

How do we classify the viva?

  • Are there regulations that spell out that the viva is relaxed and has a format which allows for variation?
  • Or is there an understanding among everyone involved that this is serious, but that the rules are agreed on by the “community” rather than someone at the top?

Which is it? Could it be both? Or neither? Does it matter?

I think what matters is that candidates check the regulations, find out about experiences and expectations, then think about what they need to do to meet them. The classification for how formal the viva is or isn’t is just one more piece of baggage, that doesn’t help unless we know what’s really involved.

Check The Outcomes

What might the outcomes for your viva be?

Maybe: No corrections, minor corrections, major corrections, fail?

Or: pass without amendments, minor amendments, resubmission, re-viva, no award?

It’s never simply “pass or fail”.

Different institutions have different formal terminology. They can also have different formal consequences for outcomes, like the amount of time given to complete corrections. Be sure of the possible outcomes at your institution.

You can reasonably expect to get minor corrections, because most people do. Be sure of what that means so you can plan that period after your viva.

You can also reasonably expect to find your university’s thesis examination regulations at my Regulations link page, because most people do – and I’m working on tracking down links to the missing institutions!

New! Viva Regulations page

A frequent comment at my Viva Survivor sessions from candidates is that they don’t know where to find the actual examination regulations for their institution: the document(s) that specify exactly what they can expect from the process and their examiners. What’s needed for submission and by when? Who will be in the room on the day? What does minor corrections mean at their university?

I could always give some general assistance, but didn’t know where exactly where they would be able to find this information. So I decided to find out…

…for every university in the UK.

If you’re looking for your institution’s regulations then check the Viva Regulations page on this site: a list of every university in the UK with a doctoral programme and links to the regulations for most of them. There’s just under twenty at the time of writing which I couldn’t find, but I’ll keep looking. It took me a long time searching around to find many of these, and it will take some time to maintain it, but I figured it was a useful resource to make. I hope you find it helpful!

Want to know what your university expects from the viva process and from you? Click and find out!

And if there’s any other kind of resource that you think would be useful then let me know. It may be something I can work on ๐Ÿ™‚

Follow

“Is it OK to stalk your external examiner on Twitter?”

I chuckled when I got this question at a workshop. “Stalk” is funny, but they meant follow, which is fine… I couldn’t see why it would be an issue. I can’t imagine there would be an extra restriction on who you follow on Twitter on the lead up to the viva. Unless your external was pseudo-anonymously dropping huge hints with their tweets…

Learning a lot about an interesting bit of research this week! #phdchat #vivasoon

Always nice to see my research referenced in a thesis! #phdchat #vivasoon ๐Ÿ˜‰

There is a difference between “effect” and “affect”! ๐Ÿ™ #phdchat #vivasoon #page74thirdparagraph

It should be fine. I’ve not seen anything from universities which means you can’t follow your examiners. Don’t DM them, don’t @ them and perhaps don’t RT or favourite their tweets, just to be sure. For avoidance of doubt, check with your university’s regulations.

(meanwhile it’s absolutely fine to follow @VivaSurvivors!)

Read The Manual

Talking to friends about their viva experiences is useful. Picking up on bits and pieces of what goes on in vivas while you do your PhD is inevitable.

Generally, candidates have a fair picture of what they need to do procedure-wise; the regulations might not need to be spelled out for you, but if you have any questions, concerns or “what if….” worries:

Read the manual!

Your university has one, and it will have a lot of the answers about situations and circumstances that come up around the viva.

Find it. Read it.

Snowflakes

Universities have regulations about thesis examination, conditions that they expect. But every viva will be different from every other.ย Every PhD thesis and every PhD researcher is different from every other. Your viva won’t be like mine: it’ll have the same goals perhaps, but it will be different.

That’s OK.

Every snowflake is different from every other, but we know how to prepare for a blizzard. Your viva is going to be unique, but you can still be ready for the day it comes. Plan a little, prepare a little and you’ll be fine. You’ve come a long way already.