Thank Your Examiners

During a recent webinar I was asked if it was appropriate to send a thank you note to examiners after the viva. There must have been a strange mood in the postgraduate researcher hive mind because the next day someone asked if they should get gifts for their examiners.

While giving gifts is a nice thought it’s not appropriate to give them to examiners – particularly before the viva!

A thank you note or message after the viva could be a nice gesture though. A chance to say thank you, to ask any follow-up questions that you forgot or to ask about keeping in touch if that aligns with your future work goals.

If a thank you note, card or email doesn’t feel right to you though then still take a brief moment on the day to thank your examiners. Thank them for their time, for their questions and for being part of your viva.

The Final Thing

What’s the final thing you need to do before submission?

What’s the final piece of information about your examiners that will help you feel better about them?

What’s the final thing you need to know about the viva?

What’s the final question you’ll have for your supervisor?

What’s the final task you’ll do as you prepare for your viva?

What’s the final thing you’ll do on the day to help you feel ready?

Getting started isn’t necessarily always easy, but sometimes it’s as simple as doing something. Finishing isn’t necessarily always hard, but sometimes it helps to know the final thing you might cross off your list.

Experienced

Your examiners have enough experience that they can read your thesis, understand it and know what they need to do in their role to give you and your work a fair examination.

It’s possible that your examiners might know more than you about your field. They might even be considered experts in topics related to your thesis.

If that’s the case, however you feel, remember that you have the experience of writing your thesis. You have the experience of doing the work. You have the experience of reading everything you needed to get this far. You have the experience of rising to all of the challenges you had so that you could get to submission.

Your examiners are experienced enough to do their part well. You are too.

Opportunities To Engage

Questions in the viva aren’t tricks, traps or trouble. They’re not dissecting problems or simply looking to expose weakness.

Your examiners’ questions are there to get you talking. They’re asked to get you exploring, explaining, talking – engaging with the exam, talking about your thesis, your research and your journey.

Viva questions are your opportunities to engage – how will you make the most of them?

 

Casting Your Examiners

Finding your ideal examiners is, I think, like seeing someone who is perfect in a play. Someone with exactly the right qualities for the part.

You might have a highly specific list of requirements for your examiners. You might know exactly who you want them to be:

  • An expert?
  • Someone you’ve referenced?
  • Someone new to academia?
  • Someone experienced?
  • A famous name?
  • A professor?
  • Someone who could write you a reference in the future?

You could want some of these features or none, and you could be really certain on who you want…

…and not got them.

Your dream team might not be available. Or one of your examiners might pass. And your supervisor could have a different idea to you.

For most candidates there will be the option to suggest names or ideas, but your supervisor makes the decision. They will be the one to nominate, and after that potential examiners get to decide.

Yes, it’s useful to share ideas and propose names, but given that the choice is far out of your hands, it’s not worth investing all your energy into casting the perfect people to join you in the one-act semi-improvised play that is your viva.

After your examiners are chosen you can learn more about them if needed. Explore who they are and find useful ways to direct your preparation; but before submission, before selection, the most you can do is share a few ideas, have a conversation, then step back and focus on other things (like your thesis).

Most candidates won’t find their dream examiners. The viva will still work out fine.

The show must go on.

Know The Aims

Vivas don’t just happen as some kind of almost-full-stop on the PhD. They’re done for a reason. There are aims of the process. Find out what they are – this isn’t a great secret, explore around on this blog and you’ll find lots of discussion on the topic!

Examiners have aims with their research: topics they’re interested in, questions they want answers to. While the viva is about you and your work, your examiners bring their agendas and ideas. Find out their aims by looking at their recent work. See how that might connect (or not) with your work. Explore how that might impact your viva.

And remember your aims: you had them. Maybe they changed, perhaps in some cases they were unfulfilled, but you had them. What started you off on the process and where did it lead you? How important are those aims for the conclusions of your thesis?

And how could you communicate that if asked in the viva?

Click Your Fingers

If you could click your fingers and make your viva better, what would you do?

  • CLICK! You don’t feel nervous!
  • CLICK! You have a perfect memory!
  • CLICK! Your examiners only have praise for you!
  • CLICK! You have a picture in your mind of the viva and it plays out that way!

Of course, none of these are realistic, but that doesn’t mean that the complete opposite is likely either!

Perfection is unattainable, but your efforts can help. You can’t click your fingers and feel no anxiety, but you can build your confidence. You can’t have perfect recall, but you can prepare with your thesis. You may not have ultra-nice examiners, but you can think about who they are and what they do – and explore how they might feel about your thesis. You can’t click your fingers and have your viva follow a script, but you can ask others about their experiences to guide your own expectations.

You can’t click your fingers and have your viva arrange itself according to your desires. But you can do a little work and steer it toward your preferences, whatever they may be.