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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Preparation for the viva

Before you submit

While your Internal Examiner is usually chosen for you, it is common for you to have at least some degree of input regarding who will be your External Examiner. As we saw in Section 2.2, there are some strict rules regarding who may or may not serve as an External, but even within these restrictions, it’s likely that there will be multiple people who would be capable of carrying out the job.

Listen: Jon Blount discusses the process of starting to think think about your viva. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

Unlike an academic book which may be read in universities around the world (if you’re lucky), a thesis is likely to be read by a handful of people: specifically, your examiners. It’s therefore worth taking a moment, before you submit, to consider how examiners read theses, and what they’re looking for. Examiners will usually be approached in the first instance by the candidate’s supervisor.

Listen: Jon Blount discusses how he, as an examiner, accepts to examine a thesis, and how the process of marking up a thesis begins. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

Once they have accepted to examine a thesis, whether as an internal or an external examiner, examiners will read the thesis carefully before the viva. At this stage – before you submit your thesis – it’s worth thinking about the effect that a good thesis will have on the examiners, and how putting yourself ‘in the shoes’ of your examiners can help you to make their experience (and, by extension, yours) as easy as possible.

Listen: Michelle Bolduc explains what she, as an examiner, does when she receives a thesis, and what she likes to see. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

Listen: Bice Maiguashca outlines her four ‘pillars’ to a thesis that will succeed at the viva stage. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

Before the viva

Once you’ve submitted your thesis, I strongly recommend that you take a few weeks off from working on it or reading it in any way. Whether that means doing something else entirely, or going on holiday, this enforced break will allow you to come back to your thesis with fresh eyes, reading it in a fashion closer to that of an examiner. When you are ready to come back, to your thesis, though, it’s worth thinking carefully – and critically – about how you’re going to reread it.

Listen: Bice Maiguashca shares advice on how to return to the thesis after a break from it, and what questions to ask yourself. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

In particular, it’s a good idea to get a hard copy of your thesis printed. As you’ll see in the next section, this needn’t be a particularly fancy version, but instead something that you can annotate, mark up and (as we’ll see shortly) ‘augment’.

Listen: Michelle Bolduc expands on the value of hard copies of your thesis, and on anticipating difficult questions. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

There are, of course, many different ways to approach rereading something as long as a thesis, but all of the examiners that we spoke to strongly encouraged candidates to think about the ‘big questions’ from the outset. One particularly useful idea is that of preparing (mentally) a ‘lay summary’: in other words, practising your ability to articulate key points in simple, straightforward language that you’ll be able to build on in discussion. One way to do this is to organise a formal ‘mock viva’, where at least one individual (perhaps a supervisor and friend who also works in your field) discusses your thesis with you in a similar fashion to how you envisage the final viva to take place. Even if your friend hasn’t read your thesis, there are still useful questions that they can ask, such as this list of 40 ‘stock questions‘ produced by the Open University.

Listen: Bice Maiguashca outlines why she encourages her students to arrange a mock viva. You can also download a transcript of this recording.

Listen: Jon Blount suggests some strategies for viva preparation, including the value of a ‘lay summary’.  You can also download a transcript of this recording.

In the next section, we’ll look at one practical method for how to mark up a thesis ahead of a viva, as well as exploring what it means to ‘augment’ a thesis.

Augmenting your thesis

I strongly recommend that, as part of your preparation for the viva, you get yourself a printed copy of your thesis. This is, after all, the format in which many examiners read theses, and reading away from the screen has many benefits. The question, though, is what exactly you should do with this copy before the viva itself. For one answer to this question, watch the video below, where I discuss how to make your copy of the thesis more useful to you during the viva; I call this process ‘augmenting your thesis’.

You can also download a transcript of this video.

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