PhD Reflections

Key questions for the viva voce

I was at an interesting session yesterday at the School of Education (University of Leeds) on preparing for the viva voce doctoral examination. Timely for me, yet also serendipitous, as it was one of those sessions that you accidentally attend because you happened to be in the room slightly before it starts for another purpose. Know what I mean?

I decided to make notes – in no particular order – of the main viva voce preparation questions that a doctoral candidate can use to prepare for the defence of their thesis, and share them here. These are not exhaustive and there are as many viva voces as there are PhDs, so anyone is free to add further questions in the comments section.

  1. Why did you decide to study this topic?
  2. What attracted you to work in this context?
  3. How did your research questions develop?
  4. Could you explain your conceptual framework, and the main theories underpinning your work and why you adopted these?
  5. What overall argument were you trying to present in your literature review? Which particular sources were influential in shaping your work?
  6. In retrospect, are there any other theoretical perspectives which you could have adopted?
  7. What are the key features of your methodology? Is there anything innovative in the way you conducted the study?
  8. Why did you use [specific method, e.g. interviews] to collect data? Why not other methods?
  9. What process did you go through in designing the study and its instruments?
  10. How did you analyse the data, and why did you choose this particular form of analysis?
  11. How did you identify and select your samples/participants for your study?
  12. In retrospect, are there any other methods you could have used?
  13. What do you feel the main limitations of the study are?
  14. Did you face any practical challenges in conducting the study?
  15. Where there any surprising or troublesome moments? How did you deal with them?
  16. What do you think are the most important findings to emerge from your study?
  17. What contribution does your study make to the field, and who are the beneficiaries of this research going to be?
  18. How do you intend to communicate the impact of your research to those beneficiaries?
  19. What practical implications does your study have, and how would you like people within and beyond the academy to respond to your findings?
  20. What further research does your study suggest a need for? Are you going to take any of this further?
  21. If you were to do the study again, what would you do differently?
  22. Overall, please justify how this work exhibits doctorateness.

Of course there is no guarantee that the examiners will ask these exact questions but based on the experiences of the people in the room it seems likely that an oral defence will consist of some of these issues. There will, of course, be questions about specific points in the work, and that requires an in-depth knowledge of one’s own thesis!

If you don’t have anyone to practise with you may be interested in Peter Hartley and Gina Wisker’s ‘interviewer VIVA’ software:

Professors Gina Wisker and Peter Hartley's 'Interviewer Viva' software

Professors Gina Wisker and Peter Hartley’s ‘Interviewer Viva’ software

Please feel free to add more questions in the comments, and I will add them to the post as further iterations…

Acknowledgements: Dr. Judith Hanks, Dr. Lou Harvey, and everyone else in the room for their ideas and insights. Prof. Peter Hartley for his keynote at the 2013 RSAC conference in Leeds, from which some of the questions above are drawn.

Mostar © ibrar bhatt

Mostar © ibrar bhatt

2 replies »

    • I’d like to see how you argue that one Cormac. And I’d like to see your thesis without a Lit Review. Although, Is your not doing a Lit Review, in the traditional sense, based on the Latourian injunction to only ‘follow actors’ and describe, describe, describe?

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