The viva experience – how was it for you?
February 2, 2015 No Comments · Teaching and Learning ·
One of the ‘rites of passage’ for postgraduate research students is the viva. The day when after all of your years of hard work, you finally get your few hours to be centre stage. For some its a joy, but for most perhaps a terrifying experience. From a personal experience, before hand it was certainly a mix of emotions including, uncertainity, trepidation and excitement. And the time went by the initial nerves calmed and things settled.
It is the one time of your life as a researcher, that you get to talk to someone else apart from your supervisor (assuming that you do actually see and talk to them), who is (vaguely) interested in what you have done and has (hopefully) read your work. Therefore it should be an enjoyable few hours. Formats vary (for example, students sometimes do presentations at the start), but there will be questions. It should be a challenge, because you should be demonstrating what you’ve achieved. However, at the same time, it should also be a discussion.
In the UK, vivas are closed safe for the examiners and student (even though the supervisor can in some cases be present, if requested by the student). However, in other countries, including in Europe, they are public events, open to all to attend and ask questions. There are undoubtedly advantages and disadvantages in both approaches. While the open viva, can produce left field questions, it can perhaps lend more transparency to the process and also enable a wider cross section of the public to participate.
Ultimately, the most important thing is for the student to come away from the event challenged yes, but also having learnt something. Indeed, all parties should have been able to take something away. After all, the student (should) know more about the particular issue than anyone else in the room. In the end, hopefully they should have done enough not only to have passed (with minor corrections), but also to have impressed enough to have a potential mentor and friend upon whom they can call as they progress in their career.
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