You’ve done the research, you’ve ‘birthed’ your thesis, the last step between you and your PhD is the much dreaded viva voce exam. You have to sit in a room for a few hours to discuss your research and convince your examiners your work makes an original contribution to knowledge and is worthy of a PhD. In this article, Dr Emmanuel Mogaji reflects on his recent experience of undertaking a viva.
I was given six weeks notice to prepare for my viva. Even though I was quite confident about my research and my thesis, my approaching viva examination appeared very daunting. I reassured myself by telling myself I was going to enjoy my viva and not just survive it. To prepare myself mentally, I read articles and listened to various podcasts available on different websites.
When I heard former PhD candidates reflect on their viva experience, I always had this idea they had just survived it – akin to escaping from a lion’s den. I didn’t want to be like that, I wanted to enjoy every bit of it. My most important preparation though was reading my thesis from cover to cover.
I reminded myself of the following facts –
- I conducted this research myself.
- I was very confident about the content of my thesis.
- I knew more about my research than my supervisors.
- I knew more about my research than my examiners.
February 12 – D day – arrived and I decided early in the day not to allow my nerves get the better of me. I drank about a litre of water – I would be talking for a few hours after all! – had some breakfast and set out. My wife supported me in prayers and I told her next time she would see me, I would be a different person – someone who has passed his viva. Though I arrived quite early at the venue, I had to wait for the examiners to have lunch, deliberate and prepare for me. I had my supervisor with me and I was soon called in by the panel chair. The wait was over – time to defend.
The panel chair welcomed me and introduced me to the internal examiner and explained the how the exam would be conducted. The first question I was asked was to tell the panel the title of my thesis. I found this quite interesting as my viva prep had led me to expect that the first question would be to give an overview of the thesis! It was a great way to start my day. I have being reciting this title for the past three years – Emotional Appeals in UK Banks’ print Advertisement. So why wouldn’t I know it now?
The questions (rather grilling) began earnestly; most attention was focused on my research questions and objectives (Chapter 1), how had I been able to meet these objectives and answer the question? My methodology – sampling and reporting of the qualitative research were also explored. The questions were quite probing. Fortunately I had answers to all of them.
Two hours later, I was asked what I thought my original contribution to knowledge was – aka. what have you done to deserve a PhD? Thanking my viva prep, I answered the question to the best of my ability.
The examiners thanked me and said we had come to the end of the viva. Knowing there was nothing more I could do to influence the final result left me quite scared. I was asked to step outside to enable the examiners deliberate and assured that the amount of time spent in discussion would not have any impact on the outcome.
At this point, I was even more grateful for my supervisor’s presence. I needed some encouragement. A quarter of an hour later, I was called in by the Chair. The external examiner said three words I had been working towards over the last three years.
‘You passed. Congratulations!’
Administrative points were discussed. I would have some minor corrections to make and I could not use the term Dr until my award had been signed off by the University’s Registrar. There were some other terms and conditions mentioned but I was in a bit of a daze at this point and hurriedly called my wife, my parents and my mother-in-law to share the news. They were all so excited and very happy for me. Of course, they called me Dr : )
Even though there is still work to do, I am enjoying every moment of this success.
My personal advice when preparing for your viva:
- Read your thesis several times. For any question, you should be confident to know where the answer is in your thesis. I was asked a question and could not provide an instant answer but I quickly flipped over to the thesis- it is an open book exam after all.
- Anticipate the questions – Even though a viva is unique to each individual, I practised using the 40 Potential Viva Questions . I recorded my answers and played them back several times. Even if only 5 out of the 40 questions were asked, knowing the answers increased my confidence.
- Invite your supervisor to the ‘party.’ For a sense of reassurance and knowing someone in the room is ‘in your corner.’ Your supervisor can take notes and provide some feedback after the exam. Even though at a point, I completely forgot my supervisor was in the room, having her there helped.
About our writer – Emmanuel Mogaji is a member of the Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School. His research interests are in the design and development of marketing communication for service providers, universities and charity organisations. He has just completed his PhD investigating advertising strategies utilised by UK financial service providers. He tweets @e_mogaji.
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Featured Image – Surviving the viva by Gemma Watson.