How to write a PhD thesis the way examiners want? & Viva Voce essential preparations

This article is an exposition of many recommendations coming from many published peer-reviewed papers on the topic of PhD theses assessment & Viva Voce oral examinations (please check the bibliography). Furthermore, it contains a lot of valuable advice from my PhD supervisor and other academics in my school. Also it contains what is dubbed as “grapevine stories” both horrible and nice about the “mysterious Viva Voce” and what happens in those closed doors. In addition, the article contains advice from many PhD candidates who have passed through the experience and from my own experience. My aim in this article is to shed the light on the topic and to help PhD candidates prepare themselves mentally, emotionally and technically for the Viva Voce.

Now that I have passed my Viva Voce and became a Dr, I can look back on the whole experience and see that it was indeed a very positive experience. This article presents worst case scenarios that are very rare to happen especially in top UK universities but nevertheless have occured, and this is only in the aim of making the candidate aware of such experiences. As I said, “rare to happen” still mean they have actually happened!

My goal is to teach candidates how to deal with such rare situations. My aim is not to scare you of this process. Overall the Viva Voce is a positive experience where you are asked tough questions and where you defend your research choices. All in all, it should be a positive experience that strengthen you (on a personal level) and underpins your research.

I think it is pertinent to write a PhD thesis the way examiners want. I have triangulated many opinions and conclusions coming from the literature and summarised them in this article. Any constructive and useful comments that help hone this article further, are very welcomed.

Unfortunately, the process of assessing a PhD thesis and the Viva Voce are literally hidden in the UK system. They are black boxes.  It is not me saying that but many scholars shed the light on this problem. You are only aware of the comments on your submitted thesis in the Viva Voce and afterwards. I am sure there are other better and more visible scenarios of assessment in other countries around the world. Per instance, the majority of Australian universities use 3 or more external examiners, few use 2 external examiners and there is NO Viva Voce or any form of oral examination [7]. Thus in case of disagreement between examiners, a delicate process of adjudication is utilised.

In order to populate this article with sound and useful practical material, I have read over 40 peer-reviewed academic papers that covers the topic of PhD thesis assessment and oral examination in the UK system, the Australian/New Zealand System, the USA system, the Canadian system and the Irish system and have summarised their content in this article.

The main emphasis of this article is on the UK system and I would state clearly if an advice is taken from a paper that covers a non-UK system in order to avoid any ambiguity.

Unfortunately the UK system is a system that is hidden, esoteric, secretive, and sometimes ambiguous and in some instances even non-transparent when it comes to PhD theses assessment and oral examinations [38, 22, 25, 17]. The criteria of the UK PhD assessment can be literally subjective [14].

According to Salmon [48] and Jackson and Tinkler [25] inter alia, many examiners are sometimes arbitrary and unfair and passing a PhD Viva Voce in UK in some cases appears to be based more on luck and academic politics than on ability and achievement. Many attempts were made to try to ensure that the same quality assurance, visibility and objectivity criteria that are available in other degrees’ assessment in UK apply to the degree of the doctorate. There is a lack of training of research degrees examination and there is also no clear objective methods examiners could follow precisely for assessing them [33]. Some UK universities such as the University of Reading [11] are recently mandating the attendance of training sessions and courses for all prospective examiners. Agencies such as the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education review on continual basis higher education practices in UK. QAA has been very critical of the PhD assessment processes adopted in UK for decades.

I started to survey and read the literature on the topic of thesis assessment and Viva in the aim of figuring out what happens in the mysterious Viva Voce and to get the maximum type of questions that are usually asked behind those closed doors. I ended up realising that a big number of papers surveyed (check the bibliography)  that wrote on the topic of the PhD thesis assessment and the Viva Voce process in UK has extreme negative views including reports from well respected quality assurance agencies such as the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. What the hell is going on?! This certainly freaks you out!!!!!!  Reading about moodiness, subjectivity, low quality examiners, low quality supervisors, rushed choices of examiners, “setting old scores”, “personal agendas”, “disrespecting international students” (since apparently some examiners think international candidates are weaker than their British colleagues so they could be “eaten easily” 🙁  , law suits, a big number of appeals, negative views even from many candidates who actually passed the Viva without corrections – check Tinkler and Jackson papers, and weird sicko examiners who think they are entering a battlefield! Why are we even wondering why PhD candidates freak out? Holy cow!

Only one exception of what was surveyed is the paper [37] written by an examiner who had a candidate complain/appeal against him of being incompetent and was pissed off of the whole literature pointing out the failings and injustices in the PhD assessment process in UK. Maybe this gentleman was actually wronged by being told that he is incompetent. I know that some candidates who fail, usually complain or appeal not necessarily due to reasons of injustice or bias but to see if the appeal process will lead somewhere. Although Grabbe [37] showed that he agrees with all the stories being told as true in the literature and that examiners can be incompetent but then he blames the supervisors and the candidates for choosing incompetent biased examiners in the first place (a logical fallacy by the way). The supervisor will not and can not do a competence test of ethics/ morality/ and objectivity for every examiner.  There are two dimensions here to consider: the academic competence which we could figure out easily by looking at profiles, peer-reviewed published papers, talks, published books, courses taught etc.. and there is the human side of being well-balanced academic with no insecurities, personal agendas, bias and so forth. How the hell could anyone know the second dimension?  Grabbe [37] said that he was payed only 100£ for the whole trouble of the examination – imagine! he mentioned that in a published paper – maybe this is the reason why he poured his harshness on the candidate. The fact that examiners get little pay is worrying and unfair since also Powell et al. [35]  mentioned that UK examiners get very low pay.

While on the topic why the hell UK universities are paying little money to examiners?? They are getting a lot of money from PhD candidates in the forms of fees! it is the candidate fees’ money! where the hell is it? Examiners are working very hard spending weeks and months dissecting PhD theses, paying for hotels, ticket flights and food, they should be given what they need + a bonus thank you for the great job they are doing.

The lack of visibility and transparency is pointed out in the literature. I think some aspects of the UK assessment system require some reform.

Denicolo [14] describes  UK PhD examiners as blind men describing (i.e examining) the elephant. I hope you are familiar with the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Truth be told, there are no formal overt criteria for the assessment. Many universities make these criteria intentionally vague and general. In addition, the degree of consensus over any particular criterion is very low or absent [14, 17]. The only criterion that all UK universities agree on is that a PhD must contribute to the knowledge of the field of research.

The reason for the secrecy or lack of visibility imposed by the majority of UK universities on the processes of PhD assessment and oral examination is simple to explain, believe it or not! It boils down to money!!!! Yes! money! Universities get their  share of the cake of research funding from UK research councils  based on a governmental assessment  of their performance dubbed as the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) replaced recently by the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Completion rate of PhDs, the duration and impact of PhDs are among the criteria that contribute to a good score on such assessment. Universities intentionally avoid making the process of assessment visible or unambiguous so they can have more control over it behind the scenes.

If I would start now the article with an advice from the literature, the advice would be about the annoying nature of presentation errors in submitted theses from the perspective of examiners.

Throughout the literature, overwhelmingly authors report that examiners are pissed off or annoyed by presentation errors such as language, style and typographical errors [1, 2]. It gives them the impression that the PhD candidate is sloppy, which leads to the assumption that if the candidate can not pay attention to such small details, how then s/he can pay attention to sound research approaches and cogent findings?

Many examiners [1, 2] said that first impressions are extremely important and they would have a basic judgement of the quality of the thesis by the end of literature review chapter (usually chapter 2). Imagine!  More importantly, the Literature Review chapter appears to be for many examiners the ‘litmus test’ or ‘acid test’ for the quality of the whole PhD thesis.

So please try to follow the advice in this article as much as possible. In addition, I advise you to  read all the academic papers in the bibliography section of this article and if you have the luxury of time (I know this might not be possible!) to read the books suggested later before your thesis submission or before your Viva if this is possible.

As usual, all my articles, if you have been following my blog, are works in progress: in other words, they will be updated continuously. I mean the article of the PhD skills reached over 30000 words while increased the traffic of my website by 450%, so you never know… Many staff, lecturers, supervisors and students in the University of St Andrews were very happy with the PhD Skills and the Literature Review articles. Supervisors are now suggesting them to their students and I hope this article will be also beneficial to PhD candidates, PhD supervisors, examiners and anyone interested in PhD assessment. So please check always back for any new material. I will keep updating this article whenever time allows… Many folks from the school of computer science claim that I write with guts and never equivocate (meaning I say things as they are, in contrast to using sugar coated language and gutless writing), which is gladly something admired by the majority of people. Let me start with the essential criteria of a PhD.

Essential Criteria of a PhD

A PhD is a monograph, a corpus or a self-contained piece of work. The following are the basic and essential requirements agreed by a great number of universities on what a PhD should have (sources: [8, 22] – NB:  please always refer back to your own university policy on Ph.D assessment and read carefully the guidelines that explain the criteria a Ph.D thesis is assessed on)

  1. A PhD MUST contribute to the knowledge of the field of the PhD. Novelty/originality is the central requirement of a PhD. This is the most important criterion that examiners tick on their assessment form. Per example, University of London states concerning the requirements of a PhD: “the thesis shall form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power“. Similar requirements can be found in all universities. This does not mean you need to split the atom or have an extraordinary contribution such as a new theory of relativity. There are many ways a PhD can contribute to knowledge.
  2.  A PhD should have an excellent literature analysis that contributes to the understanding of the field, that defends and situates the research gaps and that shows critical engagement with other researchers’ ideas on the topic (i.e. a critical assessment of the relevant literature). This is called the critical engagement with the literature requirement. Some universities refer to this as “situating the PhD research in its general context”  (i.e. in the literature of the field).
  3. The PhD should have a ‘coherent story’, a ‘coherent and consistent narrative’, a ‘coherent corpus’ tackling a specific topic in depth not in breadth. This is called the coherence and consistency requirement. This also applies to a PhD by publication a.k.a PhD by portfolio which involves submitting a set of published peer-reviewed academic papers that follow a coherent narrative which is accompanied by a written introduction and conclusion to pull everything together.
  4. The PhD thesis should be of good academic quality worthy of publication in the best journals of the field of research (i.e. publishable). This is called the quality requirement. This means the thesis has to be well-written. The concepts should be well-presented and well-explained and should qualify to satisfy a peer-review. It is extremely essential to publish from your thesis (ideally before you submit your thesis for assessment). It helps a lot to even publish every chapter as one or more peer-reviewed academic paper. This proves in the same time both the originality + the quality requirements  especially when you publish in the best conferences and journals of your field of research.
  5. The corpus of the work submitted should have “the scope of a PhD”. You can find the word “substantial” scattered in the criteria of a PhD in many universities’ assessment policies . This is called the scope requirement and it is the trickiest and most subjective among all the requirements. Usually supervisors/advisors are the ones who are the best to judge concerning whether the candidate have done “enough” already for a PhD. You will probably ask what does “enough” really means? 6 or 7 or 9 chapters? 4 or 5 or 10 published papers? 3 or 5 or 7 contributions? Can we really quantify objectively the degree of the importance of a contribution to the literature? A piece of work could have all the requirements above: originality (i.e. contribution(s) to the literature) + coherence/consistency of the overall argument + critical engagement with literature + publishable quality and still have a minimal scope for a PhD. A high quality Master of Science (MSc) or Master of Philosophy (MPhill) can have all the requirements mentioned above (although not necessarily the contribution to the knowledge requirement) and might not have the scope requirement. Nevertheless, “scope” does not necessarily mean “quantity” since there are a lot of very short and yet very brilliant successful PhD theses of 90 pages or less. You see why it is a bit subjective – it is up to the examiners to decide if what you have submitted has a PhD scope. Usually suppervisors should not allow you to submit a thesis that is not of a PhD scope. Scope here means either ‘considerable quantity’ or small quantity that presents ‘research outcomes of substantial significance and impact’. Per instance, in Computer Science, a revolutionary algorithm is worth 10 chapters of small to medium contributions to the literature.
  6. Germane only to UK or similar systems: A PhD should be defensible meaning it needs to pass a Viva Voce. This is called the defensibility requirement which aims (a) to check that the author is the one who actually did the work + (b)  to display the author’s knowledge on the topic + (c) to allow the author to defend successfully (i.e. logically and academically) all the research choices, findings and conclusions. A Viva Voce is not necessary in many educational systems around the world (example: Australia). In some countries such as the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, Netherlands, USA etc. the Viva Voce is public meaning university and non-university members can attend based on some restrictions of course. In the Netherlands, you have to publish from your thesis before you can be awarded a PhD. In UK, a viva voce is a private oral examination. In UK, you do not need necessarily to publish in order to get a PhD. There are very few exceptions of universities who decided to adopt a pseudo-public setting in UK such as the University of Manchester [12]. In the UK educational system, a Viva Voce is essential.  This is why on your PhD thesis cover, you would have a phrase  such as: “This thesis is submitted in partial fulfillment for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)”. The thesis itself, even if it is a perfect thesis, is only a partial fulfillment. The successful defense in the Viva Voce  is the completing piece that allows you to obtain a PhD. The private or secretive nature of the UK Viva Voce and thesis assessment is considered on many levels nontransparent, unfair, ambiguous and  mysterious by many scholars in the literature [38, 22, 25, 17, 14, 33]. There are even voices raised to push for its abolishment [46]. It does not play any role since statistically speaking and proven by many studies (over 40 papers) that I read, PhD examiners rarely change their mind after a Viva Voce from what they have decided concerning the thesis before the oral examination except in very rare cases of what is dubbed in the literature as ‘borderline theses‘ or I call them ‘cliff theses‘ (the candidate could either fell into the cliff or be saved by  his/her performance in the Viva).

The following is a rendition of few extracts from the assessment reports (reports 2, 3 and 4) given to examiners in the University of St Andrews  to fill out before and after the Viva. The aim is to elucidate to a PhD candidate (mainly in UK) what criteria a Ph.D thesis and a Viva are assessed upon:

The Ph.D work has to be: (1) lucid, (2) scholarly (3) substantial (4) show original contribution to knowledge. By lucid It is meant that the work is explained very well with a language at an appropriate standard.  It is meant by scholarly that the work is well referenced, and of very good scientific quality and style (i.e  it has been the work of a scholar). It is meant by substantial that there is lots of it (as I said this is very subjective, what does it really mean? so you have to convince the examiners that you have done enough for a PhD scope) and that it is an original contribution to the field. You will find terms such as “Substantial” and “original contribution” go hand in hand in many paragraphs in these reports like “substantial contribution to knowledge” i.e. a lot of contribution to the field of research.

The following are taken from the reports that the examiners complete in the University of St Andrews before a Viva and at the end of a Viva (the purpose here is just to elucidate to you what do you need to be aware of):

  1. General quality and originality of the research described in the thesis
  2. state what are the main contributions to the field that are made in the thesis
  3. where relevant how the quality of these contributions compared to those made by other PhDs in the subject you may have seen or examined”- This is an interesting one! Not only the thesis has to be of a good quality but of a quality that is better or at least similar to  theses that the examiners have examined in the past.
  4. What if any of the thesis work was published or is of publishable quality” – this is why having publications from your thesis helps a lot in defending a Ph.D thesis successfully. If you publish, examiners would tick this and write down what you have published.
  5. whether English has been to an appropriate standard
  6. any concern that is raised in the oral examination has been addressed” – Remember the defensibility requirement.

In report 4 (the joint report compiled after Viva by the examiners – University of St Andrews case), the examiners have to discuss how the oral examination or Viva Voce went between each others and answer questions such as:

  1. Does the thesis show evidence of originality in the work described?
  2. Is the literary style and presentation of the thesis satisfactory?
  3. Does the candidate possess an adequate knowledge of the field of study and related literature?
  4. Were any concerns highlighted in the individual examiners’ reports satisfactorily addressed in the oral examination?
  5. How were any significant differences between the examiners’ reports resolved?
  6.  “Does the abstract appropriately reflect the content of the thesis?

WARNING: I should mention here a common misconception that some candidates have. Some think that if they publish many peer-reviewed academic papers they would have by consequence some kind of a very secure position and thus they feel that the Viva Voce is kind a promenade in the park. Publishing from your thesis just tells the examiners that other peers (i.e scholars) have looked favourably on your work nothing more than that. There is a lot of important criteria of PhD assessment other than “originality” that your work might/or might not have. It helps a lot to see that you have published many peer-reviewed papers from your Ph.D research. Nevertheless, always approach the Viva Voce with humility and know that no matter what the whole world or your supervisors think of your work, it is up to the examiners to give you a Ph.D or deny it from you in other words, you have to convince them and defend successfully your research choices.

Jargon you should be familiar with

There are many educational systems around the world with different criteria for PhD thesis assessment and oral defense. The information in this article pertains more to the English speaking countries mainly United Kingdom. I surveyed also several academic papers that discuss Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian educational systems.

Each university sets out specific criteria for the external examiner(s), internal examiner(s) and conveners to follow in the assessment of the PhD thesis and the management of the oral defense (a.k.a as Viva Voce).

Before we proceed there are few jargon words that you need to know:

Viva Voce“, simplified as “Viva” is the oral defense or oral examination used by many educational systems around the world to achieve a full fulfillment of the requirements of the Ph.D. In UK, a submitted thesis is considered only a partial fulfillment of the requirements of a PhD, until it is defended successfully in a Viva Voce.

Viva Voce” is a Latin phrase that means: “an alive voice“, translated also as “with living voice” or “by word of mouth” and this is because it is your voice, your defense of your “thesis”, your defense of your research choices, your defense of your findings and conclusions. Viva Voce gives you also the chance to clarify any ambiguity in your thesis to your examiners. A Viva Voce can last from 1 hour to 8 hours sometimes even more. The duration of Viva Voce is NO indication of its outcome. There is no time limit. An 8 or 9 hours Viva voce might end up in a pass with no corrections needed (the ne plus ultra achievement) or a pass with minor corrections or with major corrections. Science Vivas are on average longer than non-science vivas [14]. The average falls around 2.5 hours.

The Viva Voce or rigorosum is an anachronism that is remnant of the middle ages era. Noble [46] argues that it should be removed from the assessment system, it is not valid anymore. Australian Universities have figured this out from a zillion years ago and their PhD assessment process does not involve the presence of any form of Viva. Have a look at the  seminal book of Noble [46] for a thorough history of the degree and for many arguments of why the Viva Voce is not valid anymore in our time.

A little history on the degree of Philosophiae Doctor or Philosophy Doctorate (PhD) won’t be harmful I guess. The British took the degree from the Germans and the Americans (the Germans being the first to adopt the degree in its modern forms).  It was introduced in France in 1808, and in Russia in 1819. It was introduced for the first time in UK by the University of Oxford  under what is dubbed as DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy) in 1917. A more detailed history returning back to its first  forms in the middle ages can be found in Noble’s book.

In the majority of UK universities, the Viva Voce must take place within 3 months of submission of the thesis.

Why we have a Viva Voce? [10, 22, 25, 53]:

The following  are the rationales given by the defenders of Vivas:

  • A viva is essential so that the university know that it is you who wrote the PhD thesis and you did the actual work. In addition, the university needs to know of any collaboration you have done with other academics.  It also want to know matters concering contributions, copyright, embargo etc…We can also add here the requirement to check the authenticity and ethical nature of your PhD research. A lot of research studies require ethical oversight.
  • A viva is essential so that you can “clarify” any matters raised by your examiners and “defend” your research choices and methods. The terms “defend the doctorateness of the work” are quite often used throughout the literature [45, 25]. It plays the role of an independent assessment of the ‘quality‘ of the research.
  • A viva is essential to test your knowledge in the specific field of your research. It aims to show your command on the subject matter.
  • A viva is essential in order to assist in deciding how and where to publish unpublished components of the research [53].
  • A Viva is essential because it is considered to be the best meticulous feedback you can ever get. Suppose you have a chapter or two that are still unpublished, a viva is an opportunity to get a lot of detailed feedback.  It can also be an opportunity for future collaborations with the examiners in the post viva era. In addition, many successful Ph.D candidates are proud to put the names of the examiners on their academic CVs especially if the examiners are reputable authorities in the field.

Remember you are doing a doctor of philosophy in subject X so you have the “philosophy” word there. Your main argument is a “thesis” a.k.a thesis statement, other people arguments might be  antitheses to yours. So in a sense, you are defending your “thesis” as opposed to antitheses of others in the literature and  you are telling the world why yours wins logically, rationally, scientifically etc.

In United Kingdom, an internal examiner is an academic assigned from the institution itself (thus the term ‘internal’). An external examiner is an academic invited from outside the institution (either from within UK or from abroad) with expertise in the field on which the thesis has been written. Examiners assess the thesis and conduct the oral defense. This is in the aim of making the assessment and defense transparent, fair and objective but again sometimes the laws of the universe break in this regard. There could be more than one external examiner if the nature of the research work requires that. In case the candidate is a member of the academic staff, two external examiners are assigned and no internal examiner (to avoid any clash of interests).

A convener also called a ‘chair‘ or ‘independent chair‘ or ‘chairperson is a academic from the institution itself who organises the Viva Voce meeting and make sure rules and criteria of the oral defense are enforced so that everything said remains on the topic and more importantly remains objective. She or he must intervenes when rules are broken or when the candidate is in distress. Many guidelines such as [11] suggest that the convener should adjourn the Viva for a short period of time in case per example the candidate is distressed or there is something wrong. The convener would then raise the concerns/warnings with the examiners. The convener job in a sense involves making sure academic etiquette and fairness is respected. The convener also records the comments of the examiners and some even write the general minutes of the examination itself. The convener should make sure that examiners do not cross lines and that their questioning is appropriate and non-aggressive.  He/she make sure that examiners are fully aware of the regulations of the university and that they complete their reports as required. The convener also has a job of relaying the outcome decision to the candidate [11].

The convener job also involves ensuring that the candidate feel at ease especially if there is a problem of disability or exceptional stress or cultural differences.  Some UK universities’ policies states that the internal examiner job is to do that also. This is simply to encourage candidates to display their knowledge and abilities to best effect without stress [22]. A lot of universities combine the internal examiner job and the convener job giving the two duties to only one person for convenience purpose. In some extreme circumstances, the Viva Voce  examination can be conducted via video conferencing. In case there is no convener meaning your internal examiner is playing this role, he/she will organise the whole thing (accommodation and travel for the external examiner, venue, lunch etc…) and contact you about relevant details (date, time, venue etc…) [50].

At the start of the Viva Voce, the convener job or the internal examiner job (in case the internal examiner plays the role of the convener) is to introduce the external examiner(s) and to explain to the candidate the criteria of the Ph.D, the university assessment procedures, all the possible outcomes, plus the fact that the candidate should leave the room at the end of the Viva Voce and then return back only when called for the result before the writing, during the writing or when finishing up of the final examiners’ joint report containing the recommendation of a certain outcome and the exact list of corrections required. It is not uncommon to wait 20 minutes to half an hour even more outside before you re-enter the room. The time you wait outside is no indication of the outcome. Some folks I know waited for complete 2 hours and they got “pass with minor corrections”. Usually waiting could just mean that both examiners are too busy and they have decided to write the whole report before wrapping up everything while everything is still fresh in their minds. In a lot of cases, the joint report might take couple of days to be ready but I saw many candidates receiving the report immediately or after half hour or an hour as I mentioned before. There are many candidates also who receive the report after 1 week or even two weeks. Maximum time allowed for examiners to agree on a mutual report is 2 weeks (in University of St Andrews at least).

The etiquette is to tell you on the same day whether you have passed or not & what type of outcome they will recommend. As I said, you might be told that you have passed but the report is not ready for you yet and will be sent to you at a later stage or next week or whatever etc. When they do not tell you on the same date the outcome, it usually means there is disagreement between the internal examiner and the external examiner on the outcome.

The convener/internal examiner would usually state at the start to the candidate that the duration of the Viva Voce is in no way an indication of the outcome. It will take as much as is needed. In addition, being asked a lot of tough questions in a Viva Voce is in no way at all an indication of either a negative or a positive outcome.

In many universities, the supervisor/advisor can be invited to attend the Viva Voce as “an observer” only  and this usually requires the consent of the candidate. The supervisor has to leave the room the moment the examiners begin to state the outcome of the examination (i.e. at the end of the Viva) [11]. While on the topic and before I forget, if your supervisor present is in the room as an observer, keep an eye on his/her body language when you answer questions.

At the start of the Viva Voce, you might be asked some warm up/ice breaker questions or be asked to do a 15 min or 20 min presentation covering the entirety of the work focusing on contributions, findings etc… You might be contacted in advance by the internal examiner or the convener concerning the preparation of a presentation. Some examiners do not like the scenario of a “presentation before questioning”  and would prefer to directly start engaging in the questions/answers type of conversation.

UK Viva Setting
UK Viva Setting – Image taken from [9]

Thesis Assessment and Viva Voce Possible Outcomes

Possible outcomes for UK PhDs are taken from [9, 10, 11, 12]. In some universities such as Cambridge University, points 2 and 3 are collapsed under the category of “conditional approval“. Examiners submit detailed report(s) to a board or committee of your degree for approval and decision.

  1. Accept as it is: meaning pass with no corrections needed also called “unconditional approval”. This is extremely rare and is considered a ne plus ultra level or a badge of honour for the candidate.
  2. Pass subject to minor corrections or amendments (a pass subject to minor corrections of typographical, style, grammar errors, may include additions or deletions of complete sections in chapters, correcting missing references, explaining things better etc..). Minor corrections has to be corrections that require only few months to address. The majority of PhD candidates vivas outcomes fall into this category. Minor corrections for full-time PhD candidates should be submitted within 3 months. The 3 months deadline begins from the date of the decision meeting of the board or committee of your degree. Usually, minor corrections are shown to the internal examiner who should approve them.
  3. Major corrections or amendments (more extensive revisions are required, though re-submission is not). Major corrections for full-time PhD candidates should be submitted within 6 months. The 6 months deadline begins from the date of the decision meeting of the board or committee of your degree.  Major corrections could involve doing more experiments/collecting more data or other necessary substantial work to be done.
  4. Revision and Re-submission of the PhD thesis (the thesis must be reviewed and revised according to the guidance of the examiners, and resubmitted by an agreed deadline usually 12 months) with or without Viva. This depends on the examiners opinions and the opinions of the degree committee. In some universities such as the University of St Andrews [49], the outcome of 6 months (the above option) is not available only the 12 months option is available for major corrections which involves a revision and re-submission.
  5. Award of a lesser degree such a MSc/MLitt/MPhil where the research is not felt to be at a doctoral level. The award could need a revision and re-submission such as the case of the University of Cambridge. I am sure that the mere thought of this outcome causes shivering through the spines for all the PhD candidates especially the ones who are reading this article now. Hopefully no one receives this outcome!
  6. Outright Failure – Some universities do not even have this option. The mere thought of this outcome causes shivering through the spines of all PhD candidates. Hopefully no one receives this outcome!

Some universities do not fail a candidate at least from a first examination/assessment so there is no outright failure, while others have this option. Some universities such as the University of St Andrews [49] has a category of pass with only minor corrections of purely typographical/language nature. This category is situated between outcomes 1 (pass as it is) & 2 (pass with minor amendments) in the above list. They give the PhD candidate 3 weeks for corrections. In all cases, please review your own university policy on Ph.D thesis assessment and Viva Voce examination for the possible outcomes since universities either compact many outcomes or expand them into more nuanced outcomes.

Prior to Thesis Submission

Andrew Broad [54] gives very good advice for the phase just before submitting your Ph.D thesis (making sure all the necessary nuts and bolts are in place).

  1. Get the “philosophy of your thesis” absolutely correct and very clear. Usually it is presented in chapter 1 (Introduction). You do not want your examiners to find “holes, they will run rings round you”.
  2. Identify the contentious statements in your thesis. Usually a good supervisor will point them out to you and grill you until your flesh is completely cooked.
  3. Start a file of anticipated Viva questions before the submission of your Ph.D thesis. You can use this article to prepare them.
  4. The conclusion chapter dubbed the “so what!?” chapter is pertinent especially  restating clearly your research questions  and how they were addressed in your thesis, stating clearly your contributions and the limitations of the work. Please do not undersell or trash your work and do not oversell it either.
  5. Compile a summary for each section of your final draft thesis before you submit. This has the advantage of allowing you to spot “strategic-level flaws” in time to fix them. That summary material can also be used  for revising for the Viva Voce.
  6. Do not be obsessed with perfecting your thesis and making it naively free of minor corrections at the expanse of delaying the submission. Examiners will always find mistakes. It is extremely rare for a thesis to have no errors or typos.

It is strongly advisable to send a complete final draft (a submission ready draft)  at least to two senior academics in your department (not your supervisors of course and preferably folks who have examined Ph.Ds before). Give them enough time for a detailed feedback and give yourself enough time for any corrections that you would make as a result of the feedback. Organise a mock viva also ideally before submission. I would say try to finish your final thesis draft if possible 2 to 3 months earlier than your planed submission date. I know sometimes this could not be easily achieved for a a lot of reasons.

IMPORTANT ADVICE: You will thank me later. Ideally you should plan ahead of submission. You need to avoid the situation where your scholarship funding runs out. You need also to aim to submit a lot earlier (at least 3 to 4 months) than when your Ph.D program matriculation end date (i.e. the date on your student card). Why? Things will infernally become difficult! Everything become expensive from bus tickets to paying council taxes 🙂

If you are an international PhD candidate, do not forget that there is a lot of headache involved in extending Visas, finding additional funding for extensions added to the headache of submitting an application for an extension. If you live in a rented house in UK (not a university accommodation), do not forget that the minute that your course ends officially, you are required to pay council taxes which were waived before due to your student status. All this while you are without a job. You should give yourself a good grace period so you have time to find a job before you starve. Also another important thing, while you are preparing for your Viva Voce, you need ideally to be able to access your university resources/computers, journals for academic papers etc.. so it is very detrimental if you can not do that because you are not matriculated anymore.

Concerning the Doctorate Extension Scheme (DES) Visa: A good advice for all the international candidates out there! I found that international candidates are sadly unaware of this  and no one  usually tell them about that. In many snob universities in UK, no one help each other especially no one help international students which are usually very disadvantaged. Be aware that you are entitled for a 12 month visa with no restriction on working hours  but you do not have access  to public funds when you finish a doctorate level degree (including a PhD) in UK. This visa is called DES. Now the pain in the neck is that it has some weird requirements. You MUST  apply for the DES visa before you hand in your final hardcopy of your thesis (i.e. during the corrections period & BEFORE you submit your corrections in final hard bound copy)That might be a problem so please plan ahead. You need  to have 2 months living expenses as stated by UK Home Office  for at least 28 days. I strongly advice you to have the money before you submit your thesis in this way if you get a 3 months or 3 weeks corrections you are safe!

Another important advice if you allow me: Always pay attention that in  almost all UK universities there are normally only two graduation ceremonies each year in either May/June and in November/December depending on the university. It would be very inconvenient to you to miss one of these two dates and have to wait 6 months to graduate, simply  because you are late for few days or for few weeks on submitting your corrections. There is an internal registry deadline that if not respected would prohibit you from graduating in the next ceremony (whether in absentia or in person). You might be given a duration for your corrections (e.g. 3 weeks or 3 months) but usually they do not tell you whether you can make it for the graduation date. You have to ask explicitly and you might realise you need to submit your corrections way before the deadline given to you in order to be considered for the graduation date. You need to spend less than what you are given so that you do not miss an internal registry deadline, so please be very careful and get the timing right! I should mention that some folks intentionally miss a certain graduation date so they can have extra 5 to 6 months as a PhD leaving status for purposes of applying to certain fellowships and to keep using Eduroam.

The Process of Thesis Submission

Near the end of the Ph.D degree deadline (usually before 3-4 months), you would be contacted by the registry of your institution to submit something called “intent to submit” or worded similarly. You would fill out an online form (some universities still do this by paper), where you will specify that you intend to submit and provide the title of your thesis. Some institutions ask you also to provide the abstract, and a range of dates in which you will submit (usually you specify 4 weeks range or 6 weeks range), or sometimes  couple of months range such as the example of [12]. This allows the registry to officially begin the whole process of assigning examiners etc.. The registry will contact the supervisor who has to fill out several forms. There are some internal forms that the supervisor complete which involves suggesting the names of examiners among other matters. This also allows the registry to contact the examiners after they have verified them and to make sure that your assessment and Viva Voce fits into their busy timetable.

Before that, you MUST have a discussion with your supervisor(s) maybe spanning several meetings concerning possible names of external/internal examiners that are suitable for assessing your research.

Don’t let your supervisor respectfully and in a calm cordial conversation choose  names without consulting you first. Usually the majority of supervisors do not do that, and do not have any reason to do that anyway! and usually have a decent discussion with the candidate concerning examiners’ names and concerning their suitability for assessing the research but still you can find people with severe Vitamin D deficiency and a bloated ego who do not do that. In majority of cases the judgement of the supervisors in such a choice is very good and usually very rational and objective, but there are many legitimate cases where this was proven  not to be true. I mean this is from the literature explored in this article (see the references) not only from cases of other PhD students that I know about. So be aware! Usually, a good planning in this regard involves having a complete list of probable external examiners’ names (maybe also internal examiners) where you end up both picking up a name for at least the external examiner. I mean you both should know the research literature very well and you both should know all the experts in the field. In some UK universities, the internal examiner can also be suggested by the supervisor to the department. Check your own university policies.  Always take into consideration the criteria for choosing examiners mentioned in the next section. External examiners MUST be experts in the field, MUST have published in your particular area of research: a requirement needed by your university registry. Usually the names of examiners would come from important peer-reviewed papers, from conferences or from acquaintances. In addition to the requirements mentioned, it is advisable  to choose expert examiners ideally from around your university or from the same state or county or at least same country since they are not payed well to tell you the truth. I have no idea why?! This might not always be possible or useful in your case.

Examiners should have NO relationship whatsoever with the work you have done in the PhD or with the work of your supervisor. By your final year, your supervisor would have already in mind certain examiners’ names to consider. Trust the judgement of your supervisor concerning the choice of the examiners but again as I have mentioned before, I have heard many authentic horrible stories where this choice was NOT wise at all. This is why I emphasise on the fact that you should know the names and do your own little investigative work on them by asking around before rushing the choice. You and your supervisor should not rush this at all and you should not leave this to the last moment.

I would suggest to add another criterion: in my opinion, always choose the examiners (especially the external examiners) that you think you can collaborate with them in the future. They are experts in the field and that is exactly what are you looking for to move your research forward as a career. Sometimes you have a work not published yet from your PhD and you might need their expertise maybe adding a certain needed angle to the work before publishing it.

Once the external examiner is chosen, your supervisor will informally contact her/him. An abstract of your thesis, a report or even important published papers would be sent to check if the external  is willing to examine. In addition, a general timeline of the Viva and submission process might also be discussed [5].

Before the submission, you would write your declarations. In many universities, this is an online form which export at the end of the process a MS Word document or a PDF which you can joined to your thesis (whether written in LaTeX or MS Word). The declarations/copyright statement usually involve the final number of words of your thesis  main matter which should be less than 80000 (always have this ready before you start up the online form), information about any embargo you wish to have, information about funding and acknowledgements. etc. Most important it will generate one or more forms which require your supervisor/advisor signature and your signature. Some universities are still doing it manually in the sense you download the form online (as MS Word or PDF) and then you fill it up, print it and then sign it and give it to your supervisor to sign it.

Bare in mind, the first submission of your thesis (i.e. the submission that will be examined) should be soft bound printed copies meaning the examiners will not receive a PDF or a digital file. They would receive actual printed copies (soft-bounded). After you get the signatures, set aside the forms. You need to have your thesis printed into at least three physical copies that are soft bound. Every university has a print office of some sort that provides services for printing theses, posters and for binding. The print office might need 48-72 hours so please plan ahead. A lot of the students I know print their theses in their schools or  on their own colour printers and then go to these folks for soft binding which takes less time.

NB: Pay attention to the pages of your thesis which must be printed in colours  (Images, graphs etc.). Better at this stage and I think it might be recommended by the university to print the whole thesis in colours.

Please check your copies after printing them. You never know maybe you would find missing pages or some unwanted marks etc…

The three copies are usually sent as follows: one for the external examinerone for the internal examiner and  one for the registry. If you have more than one external examiner you need more printed copies.

IMPORTANT: I strongly advise you to print and soft bind another copy for your own use similar to the copies given to examiners. If you find errors don’t try to correct them before printing your own soft bind copy. You need to be in sync with your examiners concerning exact pages and typos in the Viva. This is the copy which you will be putting a lot of sticky notes on it and which will probably contain corrections of typographical errors or omissions that you will find after the submission (it is always the case). ALWAYS BRING THIS PRINTED COPY to the Viva. I have been told by many supervisors that it might be considered a faux pas not to do that (it shows you are arrogant or that you do not care). It is also advisable to say to the examiners that you are sorry that you have found some errors and that you would like to point those out to them if possible at the end (it always gives a good impression). The time after submission and before the Viva is known to be a case of “PhD blues” and it an emotionally draining time.

Usually candidates celebrate when they submit (their first copies – applies also to final copies) with their supervisors and their friends. Do not forget to take pictures of you handing your thesis copies to the registry office and if you want post those pictures on Facebook. They are a good memory!

Also please do not forget something important that a lot of candidates forget. Your supervisor(s) have helped you a lot and supported you all the way to reach this stage so don’t forget to express your gratitude and say thank you or even give them symbolic gifts such as bottles of wine or cards or even boxes of delicious chocolates or sweets. Bare in mind there is a limit of the price of the gift that academics can accept legally (so you can not buy him/her a yacht!?). The gesture is what matters here. Some PhD candidates  “create” the gifts. Per example, A PhD candidate in my school created a frame of her supervisor’s portrait with all the words in his academic papers forming his face. This is a beautiful gift that takes time to create and with the amount of time she spent on it, she showed her appreciation. Quite clever!

After the Viva Voce Outcome

You will have an outcome after the Viva Voce and you will need to do the amendments required by the examiners. You will be told how and what time you are given. You then give the amendments after you complete them to the internal examiner (unless if the external asked to see them explicitly). Then you will be asked to submit a hard bound final copy i.e a physical copy with a fancier binding  (some universities require two) to the registry or the main library and then to submit to the university online research repository/archive a digital version (PDF) of the thesis (a.k.a E-thesis) with all metadata requested from the library (title, abstract, keywords, supervisors etc…).

Your thesis will be also by consequence made available online on the EthOS platform (Electronic Theses Online Service) since the absolute majority of UK universities have participated in this.  Candidates or actually Drs at this stage, print many hard bound copies to keep them on their home library shelves and to be given to the supervisor (s). Make sure you have more printed final copies than required. Supervisors usually collect PhD theses of their PhD students. This gives them, according to a supervisor I know, a lovely feeling that they made a big difference in the lives of students and guided them to successful completions.

The Corrections Period

After the Viva  either on the same date or maybe few days later, the examiners might give you their own physical copies of the thesis which usually contain notes, and typographical/grammar/style errors for you to correct. It depends of course. You must correct these errors exactly as requested. You can use an Excel workbook per example to document these errors.

Assuming it is not major corrections, this period is very important and very stressful. You would begin to think about jobs, about money, and what to do next etc. It is another well known ‘PhD blues period‘. It is frustrating because it is an uncertain transition period.

Your corrections would be given to you in the form of a report (the examiners report) where you would have precise corrections to do. Examiners will point out pages, sections, chapters etc… You might be asked to add discussions, clarify things, talk about concepts etc… I advice you, especially if you have a 3 months minor corrections outcome, to divide the corrections under different semantic units to make it easy to address them and to allow you to explain well usually to the internal examiner/convener how have you addressed them in the new version of your thesis. To do that, you should write a detailed letter (an MS word or a LaTeX document) explaining how you have addressed each recommendation required (assuming you have divided them into semantic units) and where they were actualised in your corrected version of your thesis. So you would say concerning the recommendation X (you state it), I have added a discussion section on page Y covering blah blah… Some clever folks also put typographical/grammar/style corrections in an Excel Sheet for ease of reference (a tabular form is very easy to read).  Put them is a table in the form of the error and on which page/paragraph is the correction. This makes the internal examiner’s life easier and would streamline the whole process.


You will receive a letter of your degree award. There are usually two graduation ceremonies  a year (May/June & November/December). You can of course not attend the graduation ceremony and graduate in absentia. In this case, the university will send you your award certificate by post. The graduation ceremony is a good and lovely memory so make sure you can participate otherwise you might regret that when you grow old! Keep in touch with the university after graduation and participate in Alumni’s associations. They provide you with good connections by the way. If you are an international Dr, you might  have alumni clubs or groups in your country. Please do not forget to pass by your university career center before you leave the university so that they can have a look at your CV and/or cover letters for certain positions and give you feedback on how to make them better. This is a free service for university students. I strongly advise you to create two master CVs (one that is academic and one that is industrial), you never know what the future holds for you! Bare in mind that looking for job and then securing interviews in industry takes a lot of time. This also applies for postdoc positions or lectureships. All decent industrial graduate jobs, postdoctoral positions, fellowships and lectureships have very strict deadlines. You do not want to end jobless and without money so you should plan very well.

The PhD assessment process resembles to a degree that of a professional peer-review process of published material (whether papers or books) but in a more rigorous way and with an oral examination component. An editor of a well-respected journal will always choose authorities & experts in the field of research to review a submitted paper same as you and your supervisor would recommend an expert in the field to examine the PhD thesis. Actually, I can write a complete article on how both a professional peer-review process of an article & a PhD thesis assessment are similar and on how they are different. The choice of examiners is explained in the next section. I should mention here also that the same “critique” questions that are checked when assessing a thesis (Examples: are the results support the conclusions? Is the analysis of results cogent? and so on and so forth) are the same bread and butter that academics engage  with when reviewing a journal article per example. Please do not forget to have a look at the set of questions normally asked in the Viva Voce toward the end of this article.

Choice of Examiners

I touched a bit on that in the previous section. In this section, I present few material from the literature. The basic requirements for an examiner are based on three criteria [22, 11]: (1) the examiner academic credentials and knowledge in the subject, (2) the examiner experience in previous PhD examinations and (3) the independence of the examiner and his/her objectivity.

Institutions check these three requirements carefully before approving the suggestions of supervisors concerning examiners.

All policies of UK Universities  (without exception) allow you to comment on the choice of examiners (i.e it is a right), some allow you to explicitly veto a choice forced by your supervisor if you are not happy while others do not allow you to veto but allow you only to comment or to log your opinion. Your opinion will always be taken into account policy-wise (i.e as to avoid an easy appeal submitted to the senate which would show also incompetence of the registry or DoPG) especially if you have concrete proof/evidence that the examiners have prejudices or biases or that one of the three requirements for their choice (mentioned later in this section) is not taken into account. The Director of PostGraduate Studies (DoPG) then has to ask you and your supervisor to provide names of new examiners.

The examiners must be competent and have the expertise in the area of research of the thesis that is to be examined. This applies more to the external than the internal. Practically, university registries ask for examiners’ peer-reviewed published papers in the field of the candidate’s research. That means examiners especially external examiners must have publications in the field of the thesis. Few old Scottish and English universities ask  that external examiners  should  be at least senior lecturers or some even higher. It is known that experienced  and effective examiners will not be inappropriately confrontational [50].

Examiners must have experience of examining a PhD thesis, although universities differ on what this really means, a great number of UK universities [22, 38] agree that at least one examiner should have viva-d three or more research degrees preferably the external examiner. Other UK universities are extremely strict when it comes to the experience requirement  meaning both the internal and external(s) should have viva-d at least three research degrees including at least one PhD Viva. For [11] per example, “the two examiners should normally have previously examined at least three PhDs between them”. Universities are sloppy sometimes when it comes to this requirement and the independence and objectivity requirement causing all sorts of headaches. Supervisors have a factual fear when it comes to inviting “a newbie external examiner” for assessing a thesis and a Viva Voce and that is based on a fear that the institutions themselves have.

According to Tinkler and Jackson [25] there is an angle called “research agenda” that supervisors fear when it comes to examiners. Unfortunately some examiners (backed by evidence), use the Viva for self-aggrandisement and self-promotion.

Tinkler and Jachson [25] mentioned in their paper that one of their interviewee was given advice concerning the “personal agenda” from lecturers in her department concerning young examiners (i.e. meant newbie examiners):

…don’t touch someone who is very young because they are going to want to prove themselves at your expense. So they [lecturers in her department] are like, don’t take a junior anything, they will be like “this is, this T isn’t crossed” and it’ll be more about them than you. So they said try to get someone established and if you know their personality great, but stay away from the junior people who are going to want to mess you about basically

Choosing inexperienced examiners is quite dangerous.  It is simple psychology really. Always aim for the well established academics who saw and viva-d as many times as the number of hairs on your head (figuratively speaking). Established examiners who witnessed all the cycles of the academic life and who do not have the burden of proving themselves to anybody. Usually such folks are humble. There are exception to the [young newbie examiner means bad]  equation. A lot of young examiners have the maturity of old established academics. It depends really on the personality of the individual.

Baldacchino [42] states the following hair rising observations about some examiners with severe psychological problems:

Examiners may be more intent to impress… rather than  listening to  and engaging with the student. Examiners may feel that their reputation is at stake, unless somehow prove to be more knowledgeable or to be capable of prising open an argument, hence, an element of critique maybe indulged in perfunctorily.

Imagine! Perfunctorily!

The independence requirement is complicated and involves making sure that there is no formal or informal relationship between the external examiner(s) and the candidate, the supervisors and the department or the school. Many universities have elaborate policies concerning that. Please refer to [22] if you are interested.

There is a legitimate fear of  examiners’ bias  that stems from hidden conflicts and twisted “personal agendas”. As I explained before, this is documented in the literature on the topic so it is not only my opinion. I know a story of a nice supervisor (from the University of Dundee) who chose an external examiner  that was refused a post in Dundee university by him few years ago (the unwisest choice ever). The supervisor  had good intentions and thought that the matter is now water on the bridge. This examiner made the life of his PhD student, hell on earth in the Viva Voce. This phenomenon of “setting old scores” in PhD thesis assessment and Vivas between supervisors and examiners was elucidated by Powell and McCauley [35].

So please make sure that you and your supervisor end up choosing examiners following the requirements of your institution and more importantly following a long established academic wisdom:  meaning (a) choose always examiners that are truly objective and transparent, (b) choose always examiners that do not need to prove anything (no insecurities), (c) choose always examiners that do not have any hidden conflicts, hidden bias or personal agendas and they are not after setting ‘old scores’.  Keep in mind that these recommendations are taken from the literature on the subject of PhD theses assessment and Vivas and are NOT my personal recommendations. This task is in reality a lot more difficult than you can ever imagine and has severe repercussions if messed with or if is not taken seriously. As Grabbe [37] said why blame the incompetent examiner if he/she is found to be biased while we should blame the supervisor and the candidate (supposedly the supervisor should consult the candidate) for a bad and yet hash choice of  incompetent examiners.

In the article of PhD skills, I mentioned many techniques to investigate whether a supervisor/advisor is suitable or not for your PhD supervision from a technical/expertise side and from a human/personality side, both being equally important (Skill A, section titled “How to approach the matter intelligently”). You can use the same ideas and apply them to choosing external and internal examiners.

Assessment procedure used by examiners

Examiners (external and internal) are required to write independent reports and submit them before the Viva Voce. They usually need to submit these reports at least one week before the date of the Viva Voce. Some universities expressly prohibit examiners to discuss with each other any content in their pre-Viva reports or any content in the PhD thesis or to discuss anything with the candidate or his/her supervisor while other universities have a completely divergent policy [45, 33]. In Imperial College of London [53], examiners are allowed to exchange pre-viva reports. In the University of St Andrews [49], they are not allowed. Check out always what are the formal policies of your institution in this regard.

The reports  of examiners before the Viva contain what is dubbed as “provisional definite outcome or recommendations“. They are provisional because they can change after the Viva Voce defense if the examiners change their mind based on the defense. The word definite means that the university requires a result after all. This helps the university to obtain a judgement on the thesis itself before the Viva Voce.

Some universities allow the examiners to share the independent reports with the supervisor and the convener [45].

Half an hour or an hour before the Viva Voce , both examiners usually meet to share their comments on the PhD thesis and decide what to ask in the Viva Voce and who asks what. Some examiners agree to meet on a specific day before the day of the Viva to do that.

After the Viva Voce, examiners (external(s) and internal) write a joint report of the recommendations or in case there is a disagreement, each examiner write a separate report to be handed to the degree committee for perusal and adjudication (if necessary). Some universities differ when it comes to asking examiners to submit either independent reports or a joint report after the Viva Voce [22].

Any “unfair assessment” or evidence of “bias” or “prejudice” are a ground for a review of the oral examination/thesis assessment and ground for a re-assignment of new examiners. The candidate or sometimes the convener is allowed to file an unfair assessment complaint.  Usually no one wants this to happen even the examiners themselves avoid that since any shred of concrete proof of prejudice or bias is damaging to the examiners’ reputation and also to the supervisors who recommended them in the first place.

Concerning what an examiner is required to do based on universities policies (sources: [22, 33, 11]):

  • Examiners should check that the appropriate standard of a PhD award is met and use the Viva as a way to make sure that the work was done by the candidate and that s/he understand it and can defend it.
  • Examiners are bound to give ample opportunity and time for the candidate to talk about a point raised, including time for rest, time to think properly and time to consult his/her thesis, notes etc…
  • Examiners are bound to encourage friendly dialog and be non-aggressive nor confrontational [22].
  • Examiners are responsible for “monitoring the atmosphere or environment of the Viva and for ensuring that the candidate is comfortable and able to perform at his/her best” [22].
  • Examiners are required NOT to show any degree of subjectivity, discrimination, prejudice, bias or stereotyping in their assessment of the thesis or in the Viva Voce. They should behave with utmost academic decorum and  conduct themselves in adherence to the university’s regulations.

Make sure you monitor that in your Viva Voce, do not be shy or afraid to point anything that is not right in the Viva itself or immediately afterwards. Any foul play or break of these rules of transparency in your Viva voce should be quickly spotted and reported. This helps to buttress your complaint/appeal for re-examination if there is really a break of the duties of examiners which is extremely rare to see but nevertheless could happen. Inappropriate questions are also a break in the duties of examiners.

Unfortunately audio recording the Viva Voce  might not be allowed as far as I know or at least it is apparently frown upon etiquette-wise.  Audio recording in my opinion is the most transparent and effective mechanism to assure objectivity. If we live in a perfect world, the school, department or the university should be mandating it.

Normally PhD candidates will see only the joint report or the independent reports that are written after the Viva Voce. In case you think that there might be any foul play  quickly record and write down precisely & objectively what happened (fresh out of the Viva, while you remember what happened) since audio recording is probably not be allowed. I hope this situation does not happen to anybody. Send ASAP an email or letter to the Director of Postgraduate Studies, include also the head of research in your department or school, and maybe the head of school also and of course your supervisors  explaining in detail what happened. Be calm as much as possible so that you can be precise in this email. Don’t send emotional outburst emails or letters that you might regret sending later. That does not mean that you should not act fast since you don’t have much time anyway. This email or letter might be used later in legal hearings or appeals. Even if you talked to people in the administration after your Viva, it is always essential from a legal stand point of view to have written records.

Remember in UK, you have two legislations that are always your best friends. I call them visibility legislations. Ask to release all reports digital and non digital that were written pre-viva, post viva(they will be released anyway), all emails, all communications, all internal memos pertaining to the entirety of the PhD thesis assessment process (including communications with examiners, examiners forms and university procedure and policies related to that) and pertaining to oral examination under the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 and Freedom of Information Act (FIA). Don’t be afraid, these are your rights! Send an email immediately to the Chief Information Officer and Data protection office of your university (ccing the principal office and your email which should be outside the University server) requesting something called Subject Access Request (SAR) under all  rights and powers of DPA  2018 (by the way the 2018 version is more powerful than the previous legislation) and FIA with immediate effect.  The three parties should be on the email. This has a “legal purpose” your lawyer would tell you why later in case matters would escalate to warrant a lawyer. It helps to uncover things behind the scene. It depend on the university, some redact reports and claim they can not disclose third party information, others are more transparent and just send you everything concerning the assessment and you. A university is an institution that receives public funds. Universities “claim” also being charities 🙂 and are usually exempt from paying taxes so FIA has serious power over their functioning. All information would be released to you immediately without any hesitation or evasion. They can NOT say NO.

Then follow your formal university’s appeal procedures and ask immediately for help even with appeal from a legal advisor. Some are hired by your student union (not your university) so you can use your student union legal advisor who have free services. Student unions hire legal counselors that theoretically should not work for the interests of the university. In my opinion, I advise you to consult a specialized good lawyer immediately and take the normal appeal route. I mean foul play or bias in Vivas is very serious and merit in my opinion paying a good legal adviser or a lawyer.  There are other more powerful legal ways to get you another re-examination in case the university was not helpful. Usually universities have procedures that protect you anyway so you do not need to go that high up in the process. It is rare to find universities taking a rigid or stubborn stance when it comes to this unless if you are making things up because  your work was not of decent scholarly quality.

Foul play/bias etc.. won’t happen probably. The probability of a foul play in a Viva Voce in UK is very very slim anyway. Most important advice I can give you is to have a mechanism to record what is happening while it is happening or immediately afterwards.  Leaving the complaint on a bad behaviour to later is very detrimental to you. Pay attention to everything! The examiners should not disrespect you in any way so keep that in mind always!!! know the motto that legal practitioners use: the law protects the weak but not the idiot!!

Actually if you would like to see the pre-viva reports before your viva even occurs, you can ask their release under DPA and FIA whenever they are submitted even if the policies of the universities deny that. That is the funny thing about it! the law of the land always overrules the policies of institutions which they could be changed without notice by the management of that institution (not many know that). You can literally sue the university for having a policy that breaches legislations. When you file a SAR, all the university has to do is to release information, they can not NOT release it. It is not an option for them. Advice: don’t do that for no reason because it will give a bad impression about you, only use these legislations and others not mentioned for brevity in cases of strong submissible evidence of foul play.  Actually Power and McCauley [35]  alluded to this fact i.e. the fact of  using legislations to force visibility in their paper discussing whether to release reports to candidates or not.   The fact that universities policies can be easily bypassed by law savy candidates and supervisors is quite amusing 🙂

Ask the convener or usually the internal examiner (in case the convener is the internal), whether s/he will be taking notes of the Viva or you. Don’t forget to bring a notebook and pen obviously to write down the questions asked , to scribble some answers, to write down the minutes although doing the latter  in many cases might be very difficult since you are focusing more on the questions and how to answer them cogently and quickly.   In addition, bring a printed copy of your thesis with your notes on it. Bring a laptop if you want. I guess probably (not always) you will be asked to give a PowerPoint presentation for 15-30 minutes at the start of the Viva Voce.

If you were advised by your supervisor or asked by examiners to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, make sure the PowerPoint presentation contains all your contributions. It is strongly advisable to rank contributions based on importance and impact. It is a classical question that examiners usually ask, so having this on a PowerPoint is great. You can create a table for your ordered contributions with columns such as contribution, publication, chapter.

Always take your time before you answer! Do not care of how much! They will not say I can not believe he/she is taking time to think before answering!? That would be ridiculous. The Viva Voce is NOT a police style of investigation, it is NOT an academic virility test, it is NOT a rite of passage (even if some academics think it is), it is NOT a baptism in fire and it is NOT an inquisition. It must be an interesting intellectual, calm and engaging conversation about your research. No sarcasm, no aggression, no hostility should be shown either by the examiners or by the candidate. Always be respectful as a candidate when you answer and do not take neither a defensive nor an offensive stance. Do not be aggressive!  Don’t get angry! You can respectfully deny answering clearly inappropriate questions and ask the convener to keep it on the record immediately and to label it as inappropriate or as biased.

Vivas are supposed to be critical but in a respectful way. Examiners will ask and must ask you very tough questions! In a nutshell, you should be assertive but not aggressive. Always remember that you have studied the specific subject for too long to consider yourself as a knowledgeable expert. Don’t be afraid to shine!

I am quoting the following from the University of Leicester (UK) documentation [50]:

Your study will have strengths and weaknesses, and the examiners will want to discuss these. It is considered positive, indeed essential, that you can discuss both strengths and weaknesses. You could think of these weaknesses as an opportunity to demonstrate your skill at critical appraisal. Examiners will seek to find and discuss weaknesses in all theses. You should not interpret criticism as an indication that you will not get a positive outcome.

Examiners have different personalities, styles, and levels of experience. Sometimes a candidate may feel that a challenge has been made in a confrontational way. Experienced and effective examiners will not be inappropriately confrontational, but some personalities are more prone to such approaches. It is important that you do not take offence. A relaxed, thoughtful, and non-confrontational response from you will help re-balance the discussion.

Delamont et al. [44] criticise whoever think that the Viva voce should be the academic equivalent of  practicing martial arts on the candidate 🙂 Poor Candidate surrounded by a pack of flesh eating academics!

Some misguided examiners actually believe that the Viva should be about intimidating the candidate in a battle field setting so be aware of such specimen. Wallace and March [43] quoted in their paper an examiner saying:

The viva is an ordeal, a baptism of fire. The external examiner when challenged by Barbara’s supervisor, insists that the candidate must learn to fight and takes hard knocks as preparation for the academic world.

Pack you backpack for the battle soldier! That is so pathetic!

This is why many universities such as the University of Reading [11] mentions explicitly in their regulations that any conversation in the Viva Voce between the candidate and examiners should be a “conversation among professionals”. Examiners “should never talk down to students or ask questions aggressively or dismiss responses without due consideration” [11].

It is good to see that some universities policies prohibit aggressiveness in Vivas but of course this does not change the reality. You might end up with an examiner that do not follow the decorum of a Viva Voce or a Ph.D. In [53], examiners you might encounter can be any of the three categories (reality wise) – you can still find all these categories in the same examiner:

  1. Friendly & interested: “Examiners will make you feel at ease. They will want you to explain your research”.
  2. Adversarial: “Some examiners will challenge your views in order to hear your argument”. That is quite nice and shiny but pay attention some of them become aggressive or rude which is not allowed. Challenging your views is something very good but being aggressive, ridiculer, insulting or rude is inappropriate.
  3. Detailed: “Some examiners inspect every word and phrase”. On page X you said Y. Explain that

The internal examiner may take the job of  recording the minutes of the Viva, if there is no convener. If this is not the case be prepared to take that job yourself. Schools are getting sloppier by the day so do not be surprised. Writing the notes and major minutes of the Viva has also benefits to you believe it or not: it allows you to organize your thoughts, to write what the questions are which gives you additional precious seconds in the process and allows you to see what angles the examination is moving toward.

Advice to you fellow candidate

You might be nervous, stressed out and afraid and that is absolutely normal.  One very funny supervisor I know in my school said to me that he normally likes his PhD candidates to have “a healthy dose of fear” :-). Despite that try to be confident. Examiners love to see enthusiasm and excitement projected by the candidate [45].

Arrive 30-40 minutes earlier but not much than that because this might get you more stressed out. The least thing you want is being late on such an important date. Check out the dress code. I saw a lot of PhD candidates wearing suits and yet others T-shirts. In computer science, maybe a suite might be an overkill 🙂 Also you need to wear something very comfy, don’t forget that! Strike a balance between smart and comfortable!

Make sure you eat a good breakfast and avoid things that will make you go to the toilet.  Low sugar is bad in a Viva. Avoid drinking too much before the Viva! Well! you know why 🙂 and take a bottle of water to the Viva Voce. In the majority of cases, refreshments will be provided by the school but take a bottle anyway. Avoid over caffeinating yourself since you will have plenty of natural adrenaline pumping through your body (fear and stress)!

Inquire on refreshments before hand, schools in UK are getting cheaper by the day (“deep pockets and short arms”). If there will be no refreshments bring some yourself to everybody. Sometimes your sugar level might drop because of extreme stress, so you need to have on your person or in your laptop bag couple of flapjack bars (very delicious and packed with energy). Drinking water gives you time to take a break in a presentation or to think. In all my presentations/speeches, I usually make sure I have a bottle of water.

You should sort out ways to calm yourself before the Viva Voce, trust me you will be extremely nervous & stressed out but things will work smoothly – I heard a case of a girl who fainted before she entered the room! so plan ahead! Check out this lovely guide from the University of Leicester on stress management in presentations and vivas. Please always think positively!

Please listen carefully to the questions asked and do not interrupt even if you are extremely excited or you think you can predict what the rest of the question would be. This will be seen as extremely annoying by your examiners. Show your enthusiasm which is lovely to see but always respect the rules of academic dialogs.

If you do not understand a question, ask the examiner to clarify it. You can paraphrase the question and say “is this what you mean?”. Don’t attempt to answer a partially understood question or try to devise an answer because you think “this is probably what they meant”. Don’t be shy about asking for clarifications. Not doing that is extremely stupid. Remember you know more than anybody in the room about your particular topic!

Always have succinct answers to questions asked. That does not mean that your answers should be too short either. There should be no rambling or going outside the specific scope of the question. The definition of a good answer is an answer that is well informed, succinct and directly addresses the question. As a rule of thumb your answer should never exceed 2 minutes. Rambling is always a strong characteristic of a bad answer.

You can rethink/revisit a previous answer (but don’t do it too much), there is no rule that prohibit revisiting an answer and rephrase it differently or even changing it. The danger of this is that in excess it gives a bad impression. I believe it is better to take enough time to think about a question and then give an answer then rush an answer and be obliged to revisit it.

Make sure you have an open friendly body language and a good degree, but not weird, eye contact with your examiners. Use a normal relaxed tone when speaking and pronounce well. Remember to breath and speak slowly. I know it is difficult to do that especially when you are afraid and extremely stressed out. All these foster friendliness, non-aggressiveness and a good positive environment.

If you are asked questions outside the scope of your thesis, you should deflect them immediately giving cogent arguments and mention clearly the scope and boundaries of the research. Many examiners ask you on purpose such questions to oblige you to talk about your research scope.

Do not leave any question that pertain to the scope of your work unanswered since questions usually arise from ambiguities that the examiners want you to clarify.

According to Tinkler and Jackson [25], some examiners expect you to “think on your feet” or “think on the hoof“. As we say in my country, in a Viva, you are expected to have an answer to every question “under your armpit”. This is why you MUST practice and prepare well for a Viva by answering all humanly possible questions that might be thrown at you in your oral examination. Not preparing for a Viva is the equivalent of gambling with the only money you have in your pockets. That has been said, English might not be your first language or you might be uncomfortable in giving quickly answers from under your armpit.

If a question takes you by surprise, always preface it with “That is a good question“, “The answer to that is not that straightforward, allow me to elucidate how” or similar phrases. The mere usage of such phrases gives you a thinking space.  In the worst cases (i.e. if you can not come with an immediate answer), ask for some time to think about a question after you tell your examiners that it is “a very interesting question that have many angles that you need to consider“. You are allowed even to say: “I can not answer this on the spot, kindly can I have a bit of time to think about your question”. No one will judge “taking time to think” as a faux pas in a Viva!

If you have been asked about literature that you haven’t come across, thank the examiner and ask for a reference. The literature is like an ocean. Some scholars such as Saunders et al. [52] compare the literature on a topic as a very large fast flowing river, the best thing you can ever do is to take a snapshot in time (during your research) with your limited camera of a very small part of that river, the part that is directly relevant to your work. Flowing means it has flown before your research and also in similar vein it means it will continue to flow after you have submitted (you have no control over that at all). Thinking otherwise is extremely hypocritical. The only danger is when the examiner points out to you a seminal and established relevant study and you are not aware of it or is clueless of it- that would be extremely bad. Example of something that was published and is very similar to what you have done and your literature review fishing net did not caught such study from day 0.  Anything other than that, is not a concern.

The Viva is a defense so defend to the hilt your choices with sound arguments. Don’t be passive in accepting easily critical opinions. Refute them with confidence using logical, and/or technical arguments. Actually a lot of examiners want to see the way you think really  and how you would approach matters. So stay always calm and confident, nothing personal. Examiners want to see the way you think. Don’t trash yourself or your work because you want to appear humble so avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

Trafford and Leshem [45]  suggest three set of variables that the candidate should show in a thesis defense. The first set of variables represent  explicit scholarship which demonstrates the “doctorateness” of your work and which defines the synergy between chosen research paradigms and respective features of your research. The second is personal resilience which is shown in the confidence of the candidate in answering questions based on evidence. In addition, resilience is shown in deflecting and rejecting inappropriate questions or questions that are outside the scope of the work.

NB: I want to mention a side note here before I continue to their third set of variables. The dumbest thing you can ever do is to go and answer a question THAT DO NOT PERTAIN TO YOUR WORK. Don’t be dragged into that! it would be detrimental!

The third set of variables  represents interpersonal awareness in the sense of the ability of the candidate to gauge or detect the social dynamics of the Viva and to know one’s own strengths and be  comfortable in using them.

Many examiners think that although the Viva is important, their assessment of the whole work is based more on the quality of the thesis [14].

Things to focus on that examiners are overwhelmingly known to focus on [14] – the basics of the basics:  (A) your research methods should be appropriate to your research questions and you should have a rationale of why you have chosen them and not others – this is the classical of the classical angles that examiners focus on when grilling you (B) You should show that you understand the research topic’s literature and you should be able to situate your work in that literature: what gaps are you filling? or what things are you doing better? etc… (C) Following (B), you should be able to articulate cogently your contributions both the major and minor ones (PS: you would almost always have both types) (D) you should be able to articulate the limitations of your work – every work has limitations – DO NOT OVERSELL your work – it is extremely bad. Actually in your thesis you should have a big section in the discussion chapter or conclusion chapter concerning the limitations of your work. I should mention quickly that in similar vein DO NOT UNDERSELL YOUR  WORK! It is even worse than overselling it a thousand fold.

Please get familiar with your examiners (both the internal and the external) publications and read them all if possible or at least read the most recent and/or most relevant to your work – This is VERY IMPORTANT. This will help you figure out what might be the points that they will focus on.

Summarize every chapter in a single page or summarize every paragraph in one line. It is a good exercise, in addition these pages would constitute your notes that you can revise before the Viva Voce

Viva Voce discussions

In the oral examination of a PhD thesis (Viva Voce), there are many levels of feedback and comments that the examiners might give – always keep in mind examiners will pass through the entirety of your thesis, page by page and paragraph by paragraph, so be prepared to defend everything (this advise is given to me by my supervisor who examined many PhDs):

  • First level: the “word” or “expression” level – yes! to this level of detail – Per example, you would be asked: What does this “word” or “expression” you used here mean? What do you mean by using the term “precise” here? I do not see empirical data to back this up! So you would probably then say: Well! what I meant  here is this and this, and thus they would tell you to change things and clarify the paragraph more. Things of that sort.
  • Second level: comments on very structural issues. Questions here might be: Why is this material here not there?. This section place does not make sense, why it is here? Shouldn’t you add material X to this section in your literature review?
  • Third Level: argumentation level comments – Questions might be: Why is this contribution a major contribution in your opinion? Why do think that a particular question is a key here?  Why did you use this research method knowing that it has such and such disadvantages? your findings here are over generalized, don’t you think? – here they will try to grill your defenses intentionally on research questions, contributions, research methods, research design and research outcomes/findings (don’t forget that they want intentionally to see how you defend your argument and if what you are saying is logical)
  • Fourth Level: Speculative level comments I will use an example from Computer Science if I am allowed to do that by the esteemed reader:  “You built this tool, that is great but what if I want to move in an Augmented reality display, my new museum would like to build a virtual extension etc….. Do you think that  what you have done here still apply to my case and please explain how?” {Realise here it is speculative domain – outside what have you done – in the ether-  but still related nevertheless}.  This has to lead to an intellectual dialogue, and the examiners are waiting for a reasonable/logical discussion, they want to see how you reason about things not necessary if you know the absolute answers (since it is speculative – you do not know if it will work or not until you do the actual research and the experiments etc…), Many supervisors including my own supervisor  said to me that it is totally ok to say: “I have to think about that. I can  do more research on this but I  think I would begin to approach this by doing A then B, then C” (say a tangible and probable logical answers). The sole aim of the external here is to see how you think. Is your answer a logical one (a deductive or an inductive)? etc.

According to [54], specific discussions or specific questions on your thesis might be in the following forms: (1) clarification (Example: “what do you mean when you said X”), (2) justification (Example: “you said XYZ where is the evidence or justification for that”), (3) Alternatives considered (Example: “what are the alternative approaches you can use here”) (4) awareness of other people’s work (5) distinction from other relevant work (6) correction of errors (typos, technical errors, missing references, misleading statements etc..).


Golding et al.[1, 2] surveyed a large number of published studies on the topic  of thesis assessment (in addition to their own experience as examiners). The articles surveyed covered 3504 examiners reports, recommendations for around 1324 theses and 465 quality rankings given by examiners.

Examiners expect a PhD thesis to pass

Examiners expect a PhD thesis to pass and want it to pass [1, 2]. Mullins and Kiley [27] emphasise on the fact that only experienced examiners expect the thesis to pass and speak of reluctance of failing a thesis. Mullins and Kiley [27] adds that “for students, the most heartening information is that experienced examiners want them to be awarded the PhD and will go to extraordinary lengths to enable this to happen”. Grabbe [37] mentioned that many examiners have a balance between having sympathy with the student who has a lot at stake and ensuring objectivity and standards.

Actually if a submitted thesis does not pass due to the worst imaginable cases, the reputation of the supervisors, the reputation of the school and the university are on the line. This usually causes a serious PR problem where many blames are thrown around. No one wants that really! Usually in a reputable university, the school will not allow you to reach the final stages if you are not apt yourself or your work is not apt for a PhD degree. Normally they get rid of you earlier by downgrading your work to an MPhil or similar degrees. This is also mentioned in [54], a failure is extremely rare and is an indication of a failure in the system usually your supervisors.

That has been said, this does not exclude the extremely rare chance (<1%) of not passing a PhD thesis in a reputable university. You should always keep in mind that examiners are people who want you to pass, they know the enormous effort that you have made and the long years that you have spent. They are not your enemies. They read your PhD thesis with curiosity, enthusiasm and a degree of constructive criticism expecting a PhD thesis to be good and of quality and ‘hoping to find their tasks rewarding and enjoyable’ [4]. They know that if supervisors signed the form that says you are ready, that probably means for them you are and should be ready. However, again it is not a general rule. This is why the anecdote of “examiner from hell” is so common [1, 2]. Experienced supervisors avoid suggesting an inexperienced examiner or “a newbie” since some of them usually tend to be ‘overcompensating‘ and lack necessary experience.

PhD examiners are in general cases reluctant to fail a PhD thesis unless they discover serious and ‘significant errors or omissions that threaten the credibility of the research’ [1, 5]. According to Golding et al. [1, 2], Holbrook et al. [6] and Starfiled et al. [3] examiners are distressed when they have (obliged) to fail a thesis or recommend a resubmit. So <1% of examiners recommend a outright fail.

Preparing for the Viva Voce Examination

1 – Practice Viva or Mock Viva

Mock vivas allow the candidate to rehearse and experience what is it like to be in a real oral examination. To get the best experience and the grilling needed out of a practice viva (mock viva), you should not let your supervisor (s) do it (since they are as much subjective as you are), and don’t ask PhD candidates like you to examine you.

You need to ask examiners in your department preferably senior academics who have examined and viva-d many times to participate in the mock viva. A lot of academics are very helpful and would love to participate in a mock viva. In my school 98% of academic staff would be extremely happy and would be willing to do a mock viva for me if I ask any of them since I have a good relationship with everybody and we have a very friendly and loving environment. There is always couple of bad apples in every school or university 🙂 We have few bad apples of course but hey! which school do not have those? You can let your supervisor organise the mock viva by the way. Actually this might be a smart move. It formalises the mock viva which is a good tactic anyway. You want it to be serious. A well-done mock viva allows you to get an experience quite near the experience that you will get in your real viva.

Do not forget to thank the participants in the mock viva for doing the mock viva and thank them on their comments and recommendations. It is a very good honorable deed to do a mock viva for a PhD candidate. Remember they would spend weeks reading your PhD thesis and preparing for a fully-fledged  mock viva and they don’t get payed at all for that while your assigned examiners actually get payed although sadly a low pay  according to one respondent examiner in the study conducted by Powel and McCauley [35] . So do not forget to thank your mock viva examiners!

NB: It is better to have the mock viva conducted before you submit your thesis (at least 4 weeks before submission), than after your submission (i.e. between submission and real Viva) so that you can have enough time to actualise in your thesis any comments or recommendations given. Sometimes this might not be possible. In all cases, a mock viva is extremely important even after the submission of the thesis!

2 – Bisecting & summarising the thesis method

You need to buy sticky notes, a notebook and you need to print your thesis. This advice is taken from [50, 54] with some additions and involves the following:

  • Read the thesis very carefully several times (at least 3 times). Read critically from the perspective of an examiner. Do not panic if you find errors (there is a big chance that you will). Make a note of them. You can bring them with you to the Viva Voce. This is a very good gesture to start/end the Viva by saying to the examiners: I apologize but I discovered the following errors. It gives a very good impression of being an arduous candidate and it helps you in your correction phase anyway. Have a break of several hours or a complete day (if time allows) between reading iterations. I always find what I wrote in the past weak. This is an advice all writers know (spaces between iterations of writing and reading to give your brain the ability to process stuff and to look at what you have wrote critically). NB: Before I forget, during your Viva Voce, do not flip your thesis forward and backward giving the impression you do not know where the material covering an answer to a question is – this will give a very bad impression – it shows you did not do the work. You can refer to your printed thesis for specific details in the Viva but do not look like you do not know your own work. No one expect you to memorise the thesis but examiners expect you to be extremely familiar with the material in it, it should be your baby! you should know your thesis inside out (use sticky notes on pages containing important material you think you might be asked to cover).
  • Be familiar with every reference cited in your thesis. This is the literature your examiners will ask you about. Make sure you emphasise on the most seminal studies in the literature which you should by now have identified them clearly. Check whether any recent relevant studies or relevant surveys were published after you have submitted although they can not ask you anything about them after submission but they might be interested to see if you are aware of them. This is a more serious concern in the scientific disciplines.
  • As you re-read the thesis, make a summary of the main points of each page. With each iteration of reading, you might add to the summary of each page. A very good preparation tip [50] and the Vitae folks mentioned it.
  • It is strongly advisable to write a one page summary for the whole thesis. Do not copy a summary page you might have in the conclusion chapter of your thesis. Practice writing another one.
  • It is strongly advisable to write a one page summary for every chapter.
  • Print a copy of the List of Contents (LOC) of the thesis making sure there is a lot of spacing between headings and sub-headings so that you can have enough space to write a summary of every single heading or sub-heading.
  • Practice telling the story of your research in just two minute/how about one minute.
  • Practice telling the story of each chapter – in just two minutes/how about one minute.
  • Identify areas of weaknesses in each chapter and make a note of them (on a sticky note or on a A4 paper). Identify the contentious statements in your thesis which you anticipate having to defend in the Viva Voce.
  • Identify the elements of originality in your thesis and clearly identify in the thesis your contributions to knowledge to the field.
  • Identify the theoretical, empirical, and wider practical implications of your findings. Examiners usually ask you to comment on that. It is a very classical question.
  • Read all the academic papers or the most relevant papers of your examiners (internal and external). Study carefully their background from courses taught, presentations given, academic papers etc…. This helps you predict to a good degree the questions that you might be asked.
  • Prepare a list (a stock) of questions and answers (please refer to the sections in the end of this article for several lists of common/classical Viva Voce questions). Write the answers down on notes or papers. Please do not read from these note in the actual Viva – these are just for revision). Get your peers to ask you the questions so that you can practice answering them in succinct and cogent manner.

The following advice is given by Amjad Al Tobi who is now Dr Amjad Al Tobi. This is how he prepared for his Viva Voce:

” Regarding the preparation materials, all what I got is what available on the web… Many of these questions were generic and I used them as they are. Whereas, some other questions I have adapted them to my needs and many more have just come-up while I was reading my thesis. What I did was:

1) I read my thesis about 3 times after submission.

2) In every read I did, for every page, I would look at the relevant questions from these lists and;

2.1) write them to a sticky note and attach it to that page.

2.2) write the same question into a document and note the relevant page number.

3) I asked someone to go through the list of questions in that document (in 2.2) and ask me the questions one by one, while I answer them as if I am in a real viva. (I did this step twice where my confidence and the focus of my answers in the second time were much better).   ”

Vitae Thesis defence Checklist
Vitae Thesis defense Checklist [51]

3 – The 5 W and H Questions Method

Here I will provide an amazing advise given to me by a lovely soul that I know who have examined tens of PhD theses and Vivas in UK (He has now retired):

First you need to print your PhD thesis in a way that allows you to include a lot of material in the margins around it –  the number of pages will increase that is fine  :-). A lot of universities already give strict recommendations of using 2 lines spacing or some 2.5 lines spacing in the case of PhD theses so that this allows the examiners to put many notes above and below the lines and near paragraphs. In addition, many thesis are printed out one page per paper.

You take your thesis go to each chapter, divide each chapter into many semantic blocks. A semantic block is a component that can contain one or more paragraphs that hold one group of related ideas. Use certain colours for this. Afterwards, near each of these semantic blocks, put the 5 Ws questions and the H question (not all of them might apply to the block, that is normal – but the mere fact that you have these questions thought off near that block in your thesis in advance is extremely beneficial):

  1. What are we talking about here? + summarise that in a tweet –  This question ALWAYS APPLY
  2. How it is done? or even how can it be done better or done worse?
  3. Who is involved, is anybody involved? ( per example who are the stakeholders I am talking about here? what are the benefits of stakeholders in this …? who could be affected negatively?) – might not apply sometimes
  4. Why has it been done? Why it can not be done differently (see the notion here!!!)? or why is this chosen (probably talking about a method)? even why am I talking about this? does it follow logically? or Does it serve the argument of the PhD? — THIS question is the MOST important question and you MUST ALWAYS  ALWAYS have an answer for it before the Viva. It is the king of all questions.
  5. Where did it take place? or even where can this be applied? the where questions could take another meaning here: that of possible applications, or other domains, or other scenarios etc… Think big.
  6. When did it take place? also related here is how much time? – this might or might not apply.

4 – Read articles and books about the processes of thesis examination and Viva

The way I did in this article. … You can create your own blog article if you wish!

5 – Know your examiners

I touched on that before. Think about your examiners research. How their research is linked/relevant to yours? Read their publications mainly the relevant to your work and the most recent. This would allow you to predict to a good degree the lines of questioning they may follow. Recall one of the Vitae Thesis defense checklist: “I have investigated the backgrounds and publications of my examiners”. You can also check the courses they teach and watch the presentations or talks they gave.

Your supervisor/advisor might know the examiners better than you do so s/he might suggest to you areas of your work where the examiners might be more interested in.

If you have the time (ex: 3 months) and the will you can familiarize yourself with their social media especially twitter since a lot of academics tweet all the time about their interests and current research. They leak also their personalities in social media.

6 – Learn from other candidates experience

Are you familiar with Confucius saying?

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; Second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

There is nothing better and richer in advice than recording the experiences of other PhD candidates before and after their Vivas. It is always recommended for PhD candidates to speak with a lot of post viva peers [47].

Ask PhD candidates which would be now doctors what questions they were asked in the Viva, what happened, what angles did the examiners focused on and write those down.

Guess what there are many good Samaritans who audio recorded the experiences of many UK PhD candidates across many years and across many disciplines after their Viva Voce and have a website for that. Please check and bookmark the Viva Survivors website.

There is also Joseph Levine web site called learnerassociate which  is dedicated to help candidates write their theses and prepare for Viva Voce examinations.

Another cool website which is very famous among Ph.D candidates which is the Thesis Whisperer. It contains many blog articles about the Ph.D, thesis writing, Viva voce among many other topics.

Please if you have suggestions for any other similar websites, kindly leave them in the comments.

7 – Whiteboard the PhD thesis

One beautiful soul not from the realm of mere mortals has taught me this technique and since that time I am indebted to her. The activity is called Whiteboarding the PhD Thesis”. I advise you to do this technique with your supervisor or any academic either before you start officially writing you thesis or just before the submission or even after submission meaning in the preparation period of the Viva Voce.

The idea is to use a big wide whiteboard and write your chapters titles in sections on the whiteboard and then follow your arguments under each chapter. The aim is to see how your argument flow across your thesis’ chapters. There is an important requirement for the PhD that examiners check on their assessment forms which is the coherence of the argument.

The PhD should have a ‘coherent story’, a ‘coherent and consistent narrative’, a ‘coherent corpus’ tackling a specific topic in depth not in breadth. This is called the coherence and consistency requirement. 

Under each section, you write what the chapters outcomes are and move forward with this technique chapter by chapter. There would be very useful discussions about each chapter or general sections between you and the person who is whiteboarding the PhD thesis with you.

Another technique that is quite useful to learn which is the backward reasoning  technique taken from Saunders et al. [52]. This technique can be used in the thesis whiteboarding session. You start by stating clearly the conclusions and contributions of your whole PhD research then from these you would say how they are based on your findings (from experiments, tools developed etc…), then you would be probed on what these findings are based upon. This will lead backward to the method(s) used (what, how and why) which should be based on a research strategy that leads to valid and reliable findings. The research strategy should be built upon a critical literature review and upon the research questions and objectives. As you can see in this technique you move backward from the final research outcomes of your whole PhD to the beginnings and you check if everything is cogent.

What material you are advised to bring to the Viva Voce

The Viva Voce is an open-book oral examination. You can bring whatever you want really.  You can bring your laptop to show the examiners an implemented system per example.

According to [54], it is advisable to bring the following material (list copied verbatim with additions):

  • A soft-bound copy of your thesis, obviously – you can stick yellow `post-it’ notes on it (e.g. anticipated questions and answers)
  • Your list of anticipated viva questions and your answers – do not show them around and do not read answers from them aloud. If asked you can use them as reference notes only.
  • Printouts of the results of any post-submission experiments or any paper published or submitted after the submission of your thesis.
  • The chapter-summaries you made for revision; The sections summaries – Other type of summaries presented before.
  • All the notebooks you should have been keeping since the start of your research (the notebooks need to be indexed so that you can look things up).
  • Any papers such that when you reviewed them in the thesis. You regurgitated something they said blindly without really understanding it. You can bring a potentially contentious academic papers to the viva).
  • Printouts of any files or emails containing useful ideas which you haven’t documented elsewhere.
  • Tissues, paracetemol, etc. in case of any unexpected bouts of sneezing, headaches, etc.

List of questions an examiner asks herself/himself when assessing

This also means that these questions should be asked by yourself and should be checked and contextualised in your thesis before you submit:

  • What is the main conclusion of the thesis? What is the overall argument? Is it well-supported? Does the candidate have an explicit and defensible main conclusion? Does the candidate clearly state what the main conclusions are? Can they summarise the thesis in one tweet or two phrases…? (PS: this is a traditional question in the Viva Voce – the examiners might ask you to summarise the topic as little as possible so be prepared!)
  • Have the student engaged “critically” with the Literature? Is it comprehensive and up to date? Have the candidate summarised, analysed, categorised/classified, interpreted and applied the literature to the germane topic at hand in order to draw insights and conclusions? Does the literature review provide a rationale for the research conducted? Does it pinpoint the contributions of the thesis?  Does the results and conclusions presented in other chapters make an important contribution to this literature? [Remember the article on Literature Review (LR) which I wrote and in which I mentioned that examiners don’t want to see laundry lists of relevant research but a critique of the literature. The Literature review job is to defend your research. It tells examiners why they should care. A literature review without critique is not a literature review. An LR MUST support the claims of thesis and the research questions and defend them, and must pinpoint a gap or a problem.
  • Are the right research methods being employed? How and Why? In the article of PhD Skills I dedicated a big section that covers research methods and I have strongly advised many times PhD candidates or prospective PhD candidates to read at least one book from cover to cover investigating research methods in their specific fields of research. Why? These books contain pertinent explanations that are peculiar to a field of research and that cover research methods,  how to design research, how to formulate hypotheses, hypothesis testing, on the pros and cons of each research method (very important) among many other super important concepts.  Examiners love to probe weaknesses in your research methods and in many cases they just “hammer you” or “grill you” with the traditional criticism of a particular research method that is found throughout the literature.  Research methods books usually capture such criticism and by reading such books you become aware of that as a researcher. At this stage of preparing the Viva, I would assume that you already read such books at the beginning of your research journey if not for whatever reason please do that before submission or at least before you do your Viva Voce although this might be too late unfortunately.
  • Does the title of the thesis represent its content?
  • Is the abstract cogent? Does it read well? Does the abstract represent the thesis in miniature? or is it a sale’s pitch only?
  • Is the conclusion chapter really the “So what” chapter? Make sure this chapter is written perfectly. It is known that a lot of examiners either read this chapter first or when they are bored mid way your thesis, they would jump to this chapter [5].

List of questions you might be asked in your Viva Voce

In this section, I will present a large set of questions that are usually asked in Vivas. The questions are either taken from the literature [32, 50, 53, 54, 11], or from what many PhD candidates told me they were asked or from supervisors and examiners I know. It is impossible to know in advance exactly what the examiners will ask you (each Viva is different)  but there are many classical questions you need to be aware of.

Please put the lists below in front of you and answer all  the questions cogently & clearly without rambling 🙂 (change letters such as X, Y with ideas, topics from your own research topic, improvise!). You can script the answers if you like. Try to adapt them to your particular topic. You MUST have a ready, cogent & succinct answer  for each of these questions. It is advisable to extract the questions that you need and tailor them to your specific research & thesis then write the tailored questions on a paper. Always be critical!

You can get from the literature more questions that are akin to what will follow. If you are keen on more questions, there are many websites & resources that I have already recommended before so please bookmark them and consult them. You can search through the literature of PhD thesis assessment and Viva Voce (there is a big literature on the topic, please consult the bibliography). Also don’t forget that there is also a literature dedicated to the academic process of peer-reviewing articles, books, grants etc… This literature also applies here and you can get tons of questions, advice and guidelines that reviewers usually follow. Remember the anology in terms of the “critique” that I have made previously in the article between a professional academic peer review of a work and the PhD thesis assessment.

Ice breakers, free kick, experience and future oriented questions:

  1. Introduce yourself briefly. Give us few words about yourself. Before you begin your presentation, introduce yourself anyway. After you introduce yourself, it is good to talk  about what motivated you into this field of inquiry for 2 minutes.
  2. What made you research this topic? Why did you choose this topic for your doctoral research? To whom it is relevant? (think about the possible stakeholders that might benefit from your research) What excited you/interested you the most about it? What have you found most challenging?
  3. What have you learned from your doctoral studies? How did doing this research changed you as a researcher? What are you proudest of in the thesis?
  4. How do you see the research field developing over the next 5 years? or 10 years? etc.. It is a good question to see candidate’s awareness of the field and its future.
  5. What are your publication plan? i.e What plans do you have to publish from your thesis? In which journals you are planning on publishing your work? (in case you did not do that before submission or even if you still have some chapters you did not publish yet).

Set 1 of Questions (generalised, pass-partout and classical)

PS: Questions covering what is dubbed as “theoretical framework” are interested in elucidating why the research problem or space exists and why it is worthy to investigate it, what are the main research questions/objectives that you were trying to address and by consequence the resign design and how all of this have shaped your literature review?

  1. Summarise your research in a tweet! Summarise your research in two phrases! In one sentence what is your thesis! Summarise your thesis in two minutes only! How would you describe your thesis to a lay audience? Summarize you key findings etc.. similar type of questions are very classic and aim to gauge your ability to compact and give the absolute gist of your work.
  2. What was the gap in knowledge that you were seeking to fill?
  3. What are the main/key findings of your thesis? What do you think your most interesting finding?
  4. Can you really draw the conclusions from the findings?
  5. What was the purpose of your study?
  6. How did you develop your research questionsHow did your research questions emerge? Why are they important? Where did your research project come from?  You can’t just say “my supervisor told me to do it” – if this is the case, you need to talk it over with your supervisor before the viva (Very important!).
  7. Did the research questions change over the course of the project? How and why?
  8. What is original about what you have found and done? Where is the novelty? What are the contribution(s) of your work to knowledge in the area? What is the main/most important contribution among your contributions (realize the ranking here – it is strongly advisable to rank contributions based on importance and impact)? What have you done that warrants/merits a Ph.D? Convince us! What is original here? Why should we care?
  9. Why do you consider contribution X significant? Where do you consider contribution Y significant? In which aspects?
  10. Why did you choose research method X instead of research method Y? Can you justify your choice of methodology?
  11. Did your experiment turn out as you expected?
  12. What precautions did you take against possible sources of bias?
  13. Are you sure the size/type of your sample is adequate to draw the conclusions you have come out with? Describe your sample. What sampling methods have you used and why? What boundaries did you set on your sample? What are the weaknesses of your sample? Why did you choose a convenience sample? Is it common to choose such type/size of samples in similar studies in the literature? How did you recruit your sample? (Oh boy! the samples questions are really really tricky – please prepare cogent answers to such questions – I will expand on these type of questions later.)
  14. Why did you choose this analysis technique?
  15. Is your research ethical? Do you think you have addressed potential ethical concerns? What were the main ethical issues for conducting this research? What ethical procedures did you follow?
  16. What is your conceptual framework? How did you arrive at your conceptual framework?
  17. Which overarching philosophical or theoretical assumptions have you been working within? Why? How did it work out?
  18. You refer to study Z as a key influence on your research. Can you summarise the particular relevance of their work?
  19. What developments have there been in this field since you began your doctorate? How have these changed the research context in which you are working? What has been happening in your field since you completed your research and submitted? Is a further literature review necessary? How does your research fit into this updated context?
  20. You make only passing reference to the field of K, why do you think that field is less relevant than the others you have given more space to?
  21. You do not say much about the  X theory in your thesis. Can you explain why you have not focused more on that?
  22. How do you distinguish between factual and conceptual findings?
  23. How would you critique this research? Please summarise for us the possible criticisms of your research?
  24. How would you repeat this research? What would you do differently if you started your PhD today? (have an answer for this that is not stupid whilst defending your work, examiners are waiting for an academic appraisal or logical critique of your work)
  25. If you were given a block of new funding now, how would like to follow up your work?
  26. What have you learnt from completing this research?
  27. How are you going to use your research findings?
  28. How can we apply your finding X here to this scenario N? The examiner then gives you a scenario in the speculative domain (remember you might be asked speculative questions!).
  29.  How did you know that X was not studied  before, was it because of the academic literature I see or the professional literature? Pay attention, this question is tricky and more serious that it might look like and is not just thrown in air for no reason, sometimes the examiner might have a paper of a previous study that is very germane to your topic that you did not take it into account.
  30. Have you seen the article of X et al.? What do you think of it?
  31. Was there any reason you did not mention X when discussing Y?
  32. Did your knowledge in the area X allows you to anticipate your results or where you detached totally from the inquiry?
  33. What do you now consider to have been the main determinant of X?
  34. How did X influence Y and Why do you think this happened?
  35. What led you to chose these statistical models?
  36. How did you derive those specific hypotheses from your research questions?
  37. What other statistical models did you consider? Why have you discarded them?
  38. How did you establish the limits around the scope of your data collection?
  39. Can you talk us through your methods of analysis?
  40. Do you think the data you collected were the most appropriate to answer your research question (s) or are there any other data you would have liked to have collected? What are the strengths and weaknesses in your data?
  41. How did you decide on the variables to be included in your conceptual framework/experiments? What is your theoretical framework? Why did you choose this conceptual framework?
  42. Where you “theory testing” or “developing theory” in your research and Why? (pay attention to what you say here)
  43. Did your findings about Y surprises you? How do you explain it? How could your findings be transferred to Z?
  44. Briefly summarise the findings as they relate to each of the research questions? (very good question)
  45. Have you heard about the Y theory/X tool… ? How could you have used it here? (Speculative domain)
  46. Please explain how have you arrived at this conclusion?
  47. How do your conclusions relates to what others (i.e. from literature) have deduced/concluded on X? How do you justify your conclusions?
  48. What correlations did you draw between the concepts in your thesis?
  49. If you were to follow on your research, or encourage others to build on it, which specific aspects of it deserve further investigation?
  50. Was your research deductive, inductive or abductive? and why? Did you combine induction and deduction in your analysis?
  51. What do you mean by influence? What do you mean by saying X? The title stated: Influence of X on Y. Why is that?
  52. Summarise your research design?
  53. How and why did you come to select this research design? Did you think of applying a different design?
  54. Why did you use both quantitative and qualitative approaches?
  55. You used an existing research method and developed it further. Can you tell us why this further development was needed?
  56. Is there anything novel in your method(s)?
  57. You interpret these findings as XYZ but do you think there could be an argument for interpreting them as QZA instead?
  58. You said in your thesis that XX – Can you expand on that point?
  59. What are the limitations/weaknesses of your research? What problems did you have? – You should show the examiners your critical appraisal skills. You should know the strongest and weakest parts of you work.
  60. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your study? (a very common question)
  61. What are the practical implications of your findings?
  62. Which topics overlap with your area?
    For topic X:

    • How does your work relate to X?
    • What do you know about the history of X?
    • What is the current state of the art in X? (capabilities and limitations of existing systems)
      What techniques are commonly used?
      Where do current technologies fail such that you (could) make a contribution?
    • How does/could your work enhance the state of the art in X?
    • Who are the main `players’ in X? (Hint: you should cluster together papers written by the same people)
      Who are your closest competitors?
    • What do you do better than them? What do you do worse?
    • Which are the three most important papers in X?
    • What are the recent major developments in X?
    • How do you expect X to progress over the next five years? How long-term is your contribution, given the anticipated future developments in X?
  63. How do scientists/philosophers carry out experiments?
  64. How have you evaluated your work?
    • intrinsic evaluation: how have you demonstrated that it works, and how well it performs?
    • extrinsic evaluation: how have you demonstrated its usefulness for a specific application context?
  65. [Computer Science]: How would your system cope with bigger examples? Does it scale up? This is especially important if you have only run your system on `toy’ examples, and they think it has `learned its test-data’.
  66. [Computer Science]: How do you know that your algorithm/rules are correct?
  67. What is the relevance of your contributions?
    • to other researchers?
    • to industry?
    • to policy makers? etc you ask this question on each possible stakeholder
  68. [Computer Science]: Have you solved the field’s problem that you claim to have solved? For example, if something is too slow, and you can make it go faster – how much increase in speed is needed for the applications you claim to support?
  69. [Computer Science]: Who are your envisioned users for your software? What use would your work be in situation X?
  70. Has the field changed since you conducted your research? How?
  71.  Are there any aspects of your research you would like to tell us about that we have not discussed yet? (this question usually signals the end of the Viva)
  72. How do your contributions generalise?
    To what extent would they generalise to systems other than the one you’ve worked on?
    Under what circumstances would your approach be useable? (Again, does it scale up?)
  73. Where will you publish your work? Think about which journals and conferences your research would best suit. Just as popular musicians promote their latest albums by releasing singles and going on tour, you should promote your thesis by publishing papers in journals and presenting them at conferences. This takes your work to a much wider audience; this is how academics establish themselves.
  74. Which aspects of your thesis could be published?
  75. What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD? Remember that the aim of the PhD process is to train you to be a fully professional researcher – passing your PhD means that you know the state of the art in your area and the directions in which it could be extended, and that you have proved you are capable of making such extensions.
  76. Has your view of your research topic changed during the course of the research?
  77. You discuss future work in your conclusion chapter. How long would it take to implement X, and what are the likely problems you envisage? Do not underestimate the time and the difficulties – this question might be a bit worrying because if it is asked, it means the examiners think you need to do more work to reach the “Ph.D scope requirement” and want you to do some of the future work you have mentioned. This maybe alludes to major corrections or re-submission outcomes.

There is a big difference between a research methodology, a research method and research instruments and procedures so some examiners like to play on this thread a lot so be aware. Not all disciplines have all the layers of the research onion formalized so learn this stuff please. Your examiners might ask you to distinguish between methodology and methods and how they relate.

You might be asked questions about the validity and reliability of your analysis/results. There are many of them and they tackle the possible threats to validity and reliability. I am sure you already know that. You should explain cogently how you do not have any them. Triangulation in terms of collecting data from different sources or triangulation in terms of using a range of different methods to lead to same conclusions and findings has an inherent benefit of strengthening the confidence in the results obtained. Nevertheless any experiment, any user-based study, any questionnaire etc… should take into account the threats to validity and reliability.

Validity and reliability questions and how to defend

Reliability means that your data collection techniques and analytical procedures could be repeated by other researchers and would have to lead to similar results. There are certain threats that challenge the reliability of any research so you should be aware of them and point out how you have avoided them to your examiners [52]:

  1. Participant error. “Any factor which adversely alters the way in which a participant performs”. For example, asking a participant to complete a user based study or a questionnaire just before lunch break may affect the way the participant respond. Another example that is common: some participants are only interested in the rewards  (Vouchers, money) and not in the actual experiment/study so maybe you should consider discarding their responses or the data collected from them.
  2. Participant bias. “Any factor which induces a false response. For example,conducting an interview in an open space may lead participants to provide falsely positive answers because they fear they are being overheard rather than retaining their anonymity”.
  3. Researcher error. Any factor which alters the researcher’s interpretation. For example a researcher may be tired or not sufficiently prepared and misunderstand some of the more subtle meanings of the participants.
  4. Researcher bias. Any factor which induces bias in the researchers’ recording of responses. For example researcher may allow his or her subjective view or disposition to get in the way of fairness and accuracy in the gathering of data or in the analytical process.

Validity of research means …. . There are 3 kinds of validity you should keep in mind: internal validity, external validity and construct validity.

Sampling questions (types, rationale)

What type of sampling have you used? Probabilistic sampling techniques or non-Probabilistic and Why? You might be asked question covering sample saturation, small samples, convenient samples etc…You should have a cogent rationale that convince examiners! There is a lot of material found in the literature and in methodologies’ books that covers the advantages and the disadvantages of each sampling technique so please be prepared!

Literature Review Questions

It benefits you to be familiar with my article on the topic of literature reviews and it greatly benefits you to be familiar with writing “systematic literature reviews” (review protocols etc..) even if you did not use one. The most important thing to pay attention to when doing a literature review is what is dubbed as “selection bias” which is represented under two forms: the first is the tendency of researchers including PhD candidates to report and publish only positive results. Contradictory results often are not reported. The second, is creating a critical literature review that is professionally done but is lopsided: emphasizing one opinion over another. A Literature review can  be critical and engaging but still considered biased especially when it comes to the sample of academic papers selected.

  1. How did you decide on the criteria of what to include or exclude in your literature review? Where did you draw the line on what you included in your literature review?
  2. How did the literature inform your choice of the topic/your choice of the research questions?
  3. How did the literature inform your research design and your research methodology?
  4. What three/four/X publications would you say were most influential to your work? How? Who are the other researchers in your field whose work influenced you the most?
  5. How study X is relevant to your work? or How study X relate to your work?
  6. Where and how does your work fits precisely in the literature?
  7. Who are the key names in this area?  please have a clear answer here. It is assumed that you know the influential authors and scholars in the field.
  8. Do the findings confirm, challenge or extend any of the literature?
  9. How does your work connects to ours? (an actual question asked by an external examiner to a candidate)

Suggested Books on the Viva Voce and thesis assessment

  1. The Doctoral Examination Process: A Handbook For Students, Examiners And Supervisors by Tinkler
  2. The PhD Viva: How to Prepare for Your Oral Examination by Peter Smith
  3. How To Survive Your Viva: Defending A Thesis In An Oral Examination By Rowena Murray
  4. How to examine a thesis by Lynne Pearce – This book is quite famous and a good necessary read for examiners. So why not read it yourself!!!

Latin Motto of this article: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Ego vigilan, et vos non!


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