Graduate School Handbook Part 13 - Preparing for the final assessment
Please note that whilst Covid-19 restrictions are in place, PGRs are required to submit their thesis to the Repository for their final assessment. Form RD14 should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org once you’ve uploaded your thesis. Unfortunately, printed copies of theses are unable to be accepted during this period. All vivas for the foreseeable future will be held via video conferencing. All other procedures and deadlines will remain in place.
This part of the handbook includes full details of regulations, procedures, information and guidance about preparing for the final assessment including:
- preparation of the final thesis/critical commentary for submission by the postgraduate researcher
- formatting and submitting the thesis
- submission format options for eligible MPhil and PhD candidates (the inclusion of research outputs)
- submission requirements for MPhil/DPhil by publication
- depositing the thesis/critical commentary on the UWE Bristol Research Repository
- responsibilities of the Director of Studies
- nominating and appointing the examining panel
- preparing for the viva voce – further information, guidance and tips.
Note: In chapters concerning the final assessment, the postgraduate researcher (PGR) may be referred to as the PGR candidate, or simply the candidate.
You can also find a shorter summary of this information on the final viva and thesis submission page of the Graduate School webpages.
The final submission must enable the PGR candidate to demonstrate that they meet the full range of award criteria at PGR 2.2.1R/PGR2.3.1R based on their individual contribution to the creation of new knowledge through original research or other advanced scholarship.
By the time the final submission is made by the candidate, the following requirements must also have been complied with:
- The supervisory team must have received a full draft of the thesis/critical commentary for comment and supplied comments about the draft to the PGR.
- The thesis/critical commentary must comply with requirements regarding formatting and submission.
- The required number of copies of thesis/critical commentary and published work must have been submitted to the Graduate School for distribution to the examining team.
- The thesis/critical commentary and published work must have been uploaded to the UWE Bristol Research Repository.
- An appropriate examination team must have been identified and appointed (the EX1 process).
Regulations about preparing for final assessment
PGR 13.1 Responsibility for submitting the thesis for final assessment
PGR13.1.1R The PGR candidate is ultimately responsible for deciding on the content of the thesis and when to submit the thesis for assessment. Submission can only take place between the minimum and maximum registration periods.
PGR13.1.2R The candidate will submit a full first draft of their thesis to their Director of Studies for comment and receive comments from the DoS and/or other members of the supervisory team prior to submitting the thesis for assessment.
PGR13.2.1R The language of the thesis will be English unless an application for an alternative has been approved by the Research Degrees Award Board.
PGR13.2.2R [PGR14.2.2R] Where candidates are assessed for MPhil and PhD awards with an approved creative practice focus, the assessment will be by submitted thesis and viva voce, but may also include submission of original creative work in any medium undertaken as part of the registered research project. This creative work may include but is not limited to: one or more scholarly texts, works of fiction, musical or choreographic works, designs, devices and products, short film, exhibition of work, installation or other original artefacts.
PGR 13.3 Preparing the collection of published works for MPhil or DPhil by publication for final assessment
PGR13.3.1R A candidate for an MPhil or DPhil by publication will submit a critical commentary and their collection of published works. Published work may include books, original and exhibited creative work in any medium, peer reviewed publications in the public domain, published patents or designs, or other forms of published scholarly output embodying original research.
PGR13.3.2R The language of the critical commentary will be English.
PGR13.4 Deposition of the e-thesis or critical commentary on the University Research Repository
PGR13.4.1R The candidate must deposit an identical electronic version of the work submitted for final assessment to the University Research Repository. This will be held by the University on a closed access basis until the completion of the award when it will be replaced by the final version of the thesis or critical commentary.
PGR13.5 The Examining Panel
Appointment of the panel
PGR13.5.1R Examining panels are appointed by the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) on behalf of the Academic Board.
Composition of the panel
PGR13.5.2R Candidates for MPhil, PhD and Professional Doctorates are examined by at least two and not normally more than three examiners. At least one examiner will be external to the University.
PGR13.5.3R Candidates for MPhil or DPhil by publication are examined by two examiners who are both external to the University.
PGR13.5.4R If the candidate and internal examiner are both permanent members of staff at the same work place, a second external examiner must be added to the examining panel. This is not needed if the candidate is on a fixed term contract of employment of less than 12 months.
PGR13.5.5R All examinations will be overseen by an Independent Chair appointed by RDAB. The role of the Independent Chair is to make sure the assessment is fair and held in line with the Regulations.
Criteria for examiner appointment
PGR13.5.6R External examiners:
a) will be independent of the University and affiliated institutions registering candidates with the University for research degrees, and any collaborating establishment linked to the research project;
b) must not have acted previously as the candidate’s supervisor or adviser;
c) must not have co-authored or worked collaboratively with any member of the supervisory team or the other examiners on the panel, and their own work must not be the focus of the research being examined;
d) who are former staff members of UWE Bristol will not be permitted to be external examiners until five years after their employment has ended.
PGR13.5.7R Internal examiners will be:
a) a member of staff of the University; or
b) a member of staff of the candidate’s collaborating establishment; or
c) a member of staff of an affiliated institution where the candidate is registered.
Internal examiners must not:
d) have been a candidate’s Director of Studies, supervisor or adviser;
e) have co-authored more than five publications with any member of the supervisory team;
f) have worked closely in collaboration* with any member of the supervisory team (e.g. research project bids), nor will their own work be the focus of the research project being examined.
g) an internal examiner who is also a candidate for a research degree at UWE Bristol may only be used if the Board is confident there is no potential for conflict of interest;
h) members of staff who have previously acted as an independent reviewer for the candidate may be appointed as internal examiners, but must also meet examiner appointment criteria.
*Directors of Studies who are unsure about the eligibility of a member of staff for appointment as an internal examiner should seek advice from the Officer to the Research Degrees Award Board before submitting the EX1 examination arrangements form.
Procedures about preparing for the final assessment
These procedures set out the responsibilities of each person or party involved in the preparation for final assessment.
PGR13.6 Responsibilities of the PGR candidate
PGR13.6.1 The PGR candidate is responsible for deciding on the content and when to make their submission for the final assessment. The submission must be made before the end of the registration period.
Note: PGRs who reach the end of their registration (i.e. their maximum registration end date) without having submitted for final assessment and who have not submitted an eligible personal circumstances application will be withdrawn and no award will be made.
PGR13.6.2 The PGR candidate must ensure that:
- A full draft thesis/critical commentary has been submitted to the Director of Studies for comment in sufficient time for comments on the draft to be received and acted upon prior to the final submission deadline. Comments from the DoS or one or more supervisors must be received prior to submission for final assessment;
- The thesis/critical commentary is in the correct format;
- Any research outputs included in the ‘body of work’ within the written thesis are formatted correctly (eligible MPhil and PhD candidates only);
- Any other published work is included with the thesis/critical commentary in accordance with specific award requirements;
- The required number of copies of thesis/critical commentary and published work are submitted to the Graduate School for distribution to the examining panel;
- The thesis/critical commentary and bibliography listing the published work submitted are uploaded to the UWE Bristol Research Repository;
- Where figures, tables or large amounts of text are included in the thesis/critical commentary which were not originated by the PGR, copyright permission must be obtained. All relevant permissions must be added to the relevant items in the thesis/critical commentary;
- They refer to further guidance about including copyrighted materials in the preparation of the thesis;
- Where copyright permission cannot be obtained, the PGR should consider removing these items or redact the items using form RD22;
- See also Part 10 of this Handbook - Research Governance PGR10.3 and PGR10.8 - restricting access to a thesis. No award can be made if there are outstanding items in a thesis/critical commentary without copyright permission.
Note: Obtaining third-party copyright permissions can be time consuming. PGRs are strongly advised not to leave this to the last minute.
- The PGR will have no contact with the proposed or appointed internal and external examiners in connection with the examination before the viva voce;
- The PGR will not take part in any of the arrangements of the examination.
PGR13.7 Responsibilities of the Director of Studies
PGR13.7.1 The Director of Studies must ensure that:
- They have, or at least one member of the supervisory team has, read and provided written comments on a first full draft of the PGR’s thesis/critical commentary. These comments must be provided to the PGR to allow sufficient time to incorporate any suggestions or amendments to the draft material prior to the final submission deadline;
- An examination team has been identified and appointed by RDAB at least three months prior to submission of the thesis/critical commentary and before making arrangements for the viva (see PGR13.23);
- A date and time of the viva has been agreed with the examination team (including the Independent Chair) and PGR, and the Graduate School has been notified of these arrangements.
Procedures about preparing the thesis: PhD; MPhil; Professional Doctorates
PGR13.8 Title of thesis
PGR13.9 Length of thesis
a. Science, engineering, and creative practice/performing arts disciplines:
- PhD 40,000 words;
- Professional Doctorate 35,000 words, or as detailed in the programme specification;
- MPhil 20,000 words.
b. For business and management, humanities and the arts, social sciences, health and social care and education disciplines:
- PhD 80,000;
- Professional Doctorate 60,000, or as detailed in the programme specification;
- MPhil 40,000.
Ancillary data, such as appendices, are not included in the maximum word limits.
Please note that examiners are not obliged to examine additional material included in the thesis beyond these word limits.
PGR13.9.2 An MPhil or PhD thesis that incorporates research outputs within the body of work submitted (PGR13.10.1 point 4) may be expected to be longer than a written thesis submission that does not incorporate them, and may exceed the maximum permitted for that discipline by up to 10,000 words.
PGR13.10 Format of the thesis
- A title page (see example of a thesis title page);
- An abstract;
- Contents page;
- The body of work to be assessed;
- Relevant appendices;
- Copies of publications as a result of the research not otherwise included in point 4 above.
Note: For new PGRs registering on the MPhil or PhD award for the first time on or after 1 October 2019, and for existing PGR candidates on these awards who are due to complete their PR3 (Progress Review) on or after 1 October 2020, the body of work to be assessed (PGR13.10.1 point 4) may incorporate research outputs.
This option is not currently available for PGRs registered on Professional Doctorate awards, or on PhDs with an approved creative practice focus, or for existing MPhil or PhD PGRs whose deadline for completing their PR3 progress review is before 1 October 2020.
PGR13.10.2 The thesis should be formatted to enable printing using the following rules:
- Both electronic and printed versions must be legible;
- A4 format must be used and the printed version must be on standard white A4 paper;
- The size of the letters in the main text shall not be smaller than 2.0 mm for capitals and 1.5 mm for x-height (that is the height of a lower-case x). Depending on the font chosen, this may be a minimum of 10 pt or 12 pt text;
- To allow for binding, the margin on the binding edge of the page must be a minimum of 40 mm. All other margins may be a minimum of 15 mm;
- Line spacing of double (2.0) or one-and-a-half (1.5) is required for the main body of the text except for indented quotations or footnotes where single (1) line spacing is acceptable;
- The main body of the text may be printed on both sides of the paper;
- Pages must be numbered in order and in the margin throughout the main text, including photographs and/or diagrams included as whole pages;
- Standard British English conventions should be used throughout, eg spelling, numbering and symbols;
- The examined copy of the thesis shall include a word count of
the main body of the thesis, ie excluding appendices.
Note: This is not required in the final publishable version of the thesis.
- Where approved, copies of CD-ROMs or other materials must be secured in a pocket at the end of the thesis;
- An abstract of approximately 300 words must be bound into the thesis, after the title page (see PGR13.13.1);
- The title page must include the following information, in
i. The full title of the thesis;
ii. The full name of the author;
iii. The following text “A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of the West of England, Bristol, for the degree of (add the degree here, eg Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Philosophy, Professional Doctorate in (add full title of the award being studied)”;
iv. Where there is a collaborating organisation their details must be included as follows: “This research programme was carried out in collaboration with the (name of the collaborating organisation)”;
v. The faculty where the PGR was based and any affiliated institution;
vi. The month and year of submission for the final assessment (this will need to be updated for each occasion the thesis is submitted). A sample title page can be found at the end of this part of the Handbook.
PGR13.10.3 Written research outputs incorporated in the body of work within the thesis should, where possible, be formatted as per PGR13.10.2 and be in a format consistent with the rest of the submission. Other kinds of research outputs informing the written thesis should be represented by a written and/or visual record of the output, or details of how they can be freely accessed. Each written research output and each record of other research output must be accompanied by a cover page that includes a statement of the origin of the work and a declaration of the candidate’s individual contribution to the work.
An abstract of approximately 300 words must be bound into the thesis after the title page to provide a synopsis of the thesis stating the nature and scope of the work undertaken and of the contribution made to the knowledge of the subject. The abstract will be in English.
PGR13.12 PhD/MPhil The body of work to be assessed
- introductory and contextual material;
- the body of work;
- material summarising the PGR’s claim to meet the award criteria and to establish their ownership of the work submitted.
PGR13.13 MPhil or PhD creative practice
PGR 13.14 Collaborative work in the thesis
PGR13.15 PhD, Professional Doctorates and MPhil: Published work not otherwise included at PGR13.10.1 point 4
PGR 13.16 Other variations to the prescribed submission format
Procedures about preparing the submission for MPhil or DPhil by publication
PGR 13.17 Assessment for MPhil or DPhil by publication
- A critical commentary;
- A collection of published works.
The two elements form the submission for assessment.
PGR 13.18 Length of the critical commentary
PGR 13.19 Published works for MPhil or DPhil by publication
PGR13.19.1 Published works may include:
- original and exhibited creative work in any form;
- peer reviewed publications in the public domain;
- published patents or designs;
- or any other form of scholarly publication.
PGR13.19.2 There is no specified minimum or maximum number of published works that may be submitted. The published work, combined with the critical commentary and any professional training or development undertaken, must be sufficient to demonstrate that the candidate as an individual meets the requirements of the MPhil or doctoral qualification descriptor (see Part 2: PGR Qualification Descriptors of this Handbook).
Additional guidance about published works
- For example, it is unlikely that a single publication eg a book (unless it is the accepted seminal work in the field), or a small collection of joint authored journal papers will be sufficient to evidence the creation of new knowledge through original research required by the doctoral descriptor. Likewise, a collection made up solely of patents or designs without the inclusion of any peer reviewed journal publications may not be sufficient evidence of scholarly research activity.
- Where outputs submitted were published some time ago the critical commentary should show how they are still relevant to current thinking/knowledge and research within the discipline.
- Candidates should avoid overloading the examiners with non-essential outputs above and beyond that required to demonstrate compliance with the qualification descriptor; the critical commentary must show how each output is relevant to the candidate’s contribution to current knowledge in the field.
PGR 13.20 Format of the submission for MPhil or DPhil by publication
PGR13.20.1 The submission will comprise:
a. A bibliography listing the works being submitted;
b. The proposed title of the submission together with the following statement: “Published work and a critical commentary submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of the West of England, Bristol for the degree of Master of Philosophy by publication (MPhil) or Doctor of Philosophy by publication (DPhil)”;
c. A critical commentary setting out the PGR’s view of the nature and importance of the work being submitted, the claim of originality, reference to the research methodologies used and the applicant’s assessment of the contribution of the published work to existing knowledge in the relevant subject area;
d. Where the submission includes jointly authored works or other types of collaboration the PGR will include a statement identifying the separate and distinctive nature of their individual contribution to the overall project, both achieved so far and planned for the future;
e. A statement confirming which, if any, parts of the submission has been or is being submitted for another academic award;
f. A statement of the training completed and confirming that the minimum number of credited learning requirement has been met;
g. Three copies of the whole submission.
PGR13.20.2 Parts b to f of the submission will be in English. Parts a and g will normally be in English unless the subject matter involves substantial language and related studies and approval had been gained at the registration of the research project from the Faculty Research Degrees Committee to include another language.
PGR13.20.3 Identical copies of parts a and c will be placed on the UWE Bristol Research Repository at submission for the final assessment and will be updated with revised versions where required until the examiners agree to make the award.
PGR13.20.4 Formatting, printing and temporary binding of the critical commentary should follow the same conventions as all other PGR submissions for the final assessment (and as listed at PGR13.10.2, points I– 4) ensuring that the correct award is listed at on the title page. PGRs who are in any doubt as to how to format their submission should contact the Graduate School Assessment Team for further advice.
Procedures about making the submission for final assessment – by thesis for PhD/MPhil/Professional Doctorate, or for MPhil/DPhil by publication
PGR 13.21 Number of copies
PGR13.21.1 The PGR is responsible for ensuring that the correct number of copies of the submission are submitted to the Graduate School Office for the final assessment. The number of copies will depend on the number of examiners appointed. A copy is also usually required for the Independent Chair. The PGR can find out this information from their Director of Studies or the Graduate School.
PGR13.21.2 Unless otherwise permitted, each copy will be in printed form and temporarily bound to ensure pages cannot be added or removed (eg perfect binding or spiral binding). Each copy shall be exactly the same. In all other respects the submission for final assessment shall be in its final form.
PGR13.21.3 For PhD, MPhil and Professional Doctorates awards assessed by thesis, one loose printed copy of the abstract will be submitted with the submission for the final assessment. This copy will include the name of the author, the degree for which submission is being examined and the title of the thesis/critical commentary.
PGR13.21.4 A declaration form (RD14) must be completed and signed and accompany the submission. The form requires information about whether the submission has been used as part or all of another award; confirmation that the necessary copyright permissions for any items in the submission not the original work of the PGR have been obtained; and confirmation that the submission has been uploaded to the UWE Bristol Research Repository.
PGR 13.22 Uploading the thesis or MPhil/DPhil by publication to the UWE Bristol Research Repository
PGR13.22.1 In order to complete the submission process, the PGR must upload an identical copy of their thesis (MPhil/PhD/Professional Doctorate) to the UWE Bristol Research Repository. For DPhil/MPhil by publication, the critical commentary and bibliography should be uploaded and links to the submitted publications may be added instead of each individual item where relevant. Each time there is an amendment made to the submission, as requested by the examiners, a revised version will be required following the format for the first submission.
PGR13.22.2 All copies of the thesis/submission will be held in a secure area of the UWE Bristol Research Repository until the examiners have approved the final version. Access to these versions will be by designated members of University staff and appointed examiners, where required for examination purposes.
PGR13.22.3 The final version of the thesis/submission as approved by the examiners must be uploaded before any award can be conferred. This final version will be made public unless approval to restrict access has previously been granted by the Research Degrees Award Board (see PGR13.6.2).
Procedures for the nomination and appointment of the examination panel
PGR13.23 Nomination of the examination panel
PGR13.23.2 The DoS should contact the Assessment Team in the Graduate School by emailing email@example.com to obtain three potential Independent Chairs (IC). The DoS is responsible for contacting and identifying an IC who confirms they will act in this capacity. The DoS is responsible for ensuring the IC is included in all arrangements of the viva.
PGR13.23.3 The DoS will submit a completed form EX1 proposing the examining panel to the Faculty Research Degrees Committee (FRDC) with sufficient time to allow the Committee to consider the proposal and make a recommendation for appointment to the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) in the course of normal committee scheduling. It should not be necessary to rely on Chair’s Action to approve this recommendation because the EX1 has been left to the last minute.
PGR13.23.4 The examining panel will comprise:
a) An Independent Chair;
b) At least one internal and one external examiner (regulations at PGR13.5) or two external examiners for DPhil/MPhil by publication;
c) a balance of experience and subject specific expertise;
d) a combined experience of examining at least four research degrees at, or above, the level that is due to be examined;
e) Examiners who do not know the PGR personally/are not aware of personal information about the PGR;
f) The proposed internal examiner may previously have acted as the PGR's progression examiner or independent reviewer and can be appointed as the internal examiner as long as they meet all the necessary requirements (PGR13.5.8-9R).
PGR13.23.5 If the PGR is, or has been, a member of UWE Bristol permanent staff, a second external examiner may be required on the examining team in compliance with PGR13.5.4R.
PGR13.23.6 The definition of UWE Bristol permanent staff and PGRs with previous employment in this context:
A permanent member of staff is someone who:
a) is or has been employed by UWE Bristol or an affiliated institution for more than 12 months either on a permanent contract, or on a single fixed term contract of more than 12 months; or
b) has had a series of fixed term contracts of less than 12 months each, but which have run in succession meaning that the total period of employment is more than 12 months.
PGR13.23.7 A second external examiner will normally be required for candidates falling into either of the categories at PGR13.22.6 for up to two years after their last period of employment with UWE Bristol has ended. Up to two years means from the last date of employment to the expected date of the final assessment viva examination.
Criteria used by the FRDC/RDAB to establish whether a second external examiner is required for former employees will include but is not limited to:
- Any current or previous relationship, personal or professional, between the candidate and the internal examiner;
- The proximity of the candidate’s previous work to the work of the internal examiner.
For example, a candidate who was a member of the same department as the internal examiner would normally require the appointment of a second external examiner. Where the candidate was a member of a different department and it can be demonstrated that their work did not bring them into significant contact with the internal examiner or their work, a second external examiner would not normally be required.
A second external examiner will not normally be required where the work undertaken by the PGR (including those defined as permanent staff in section b above) has been limited to a small amount of hourly paid teaching or related activity undertaken alongside their research degree registration and in accordance with the UWE Bristol PGR teaching policy, and where the PGR has not been employed by UWE Bristol in any other capacity during the 12 months leading up to the expected date of the viva.
PGR13.23.8 Where the FRDC or RDAB judge it necessary for the fulfilment of academic assurance requirements, an additional external examiner may also be appointed.
PGR13.24 Criteria for appointment to the pool of Independent Chairs
PGR13.24.1 Independent Chairs are appointed following recommendation from the Faculty Research Degrees Committee (FRDC) to the Officer of the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) when the University issues a request for nominations.
Proposed Independent Chairs will fulfil the requirements as set out by RDAB and will be:
a. Experienced researchers;
b. Current and experienced supervisors, having supervised at least four students to successful completion at doctoral level in a reasonable timescale, which includes experience as a Director of Studies;
c. Experienced examiners at doctoral level having examined a minimum of four theses including a minimum of two as an external examiner;
d. For research degrees based on a professional doctorates or creative practice, the Independent Chair should also have an understanding of the nature of this kind of programme.
PGR13.24.2 Independent Chairs will receive appropriate training before acting in this capacity. Training is the responsibility of the RDAB.
PGR13.25 Notification and length of appointment to the examining panel
PGR13.254.1 Following approval by the RDAB, the examiners will be appointed for a period of 12 months from the date of approval unless the thesis has been submitted for the final assessment.
PGR13.254.2 The Officer to RDAB will arrange for letters of appointment, information and guidance on examining at UWE Bristol to be sent to the examiners. The Officer will also confirm their appointment with the Independent Chair.
PGR13.254.3 Where a confidentiality agreement to restrict access to the thesis has been approved, the Officer will send a copy of the agreement to the external examiner.
PGR13.254.4 The examining team will receive a further briefing from the Independent Chair during the pre-viva preparation session.
Additional information and guidance to assist PGR candidates prepare for the viva voce examination
What is the viva voce?
The viva voce examination is your oral defence of your thesis with the examiners appointed by the University. Your thesis demonstrates your skill in writing an academic document and your knowledge relating to the written presentation of your research. In the viva you will demonstrate your ability to participate in academic discussion with research colleagues.
The purpose of the viva is to:
- establish that the thesis is your own work;
- demonstrate that you have developed the necessary attributes to be an effective researcher (see postgraduate qualification descriptors in Part 2 of the Handbook);
- confirm that you understand what you have written and are able to defend it at an appropriate academic level;
- investigate your awareness of where your original work sits in relation to the wider research field;
- provide a development opportunity for considering future publication and research options.
Preparing for your viva
After the submission of your thesis, you will need to start preparing for the viva. It is helpful to work out a timetable for viva preparation. Examiners are likely to ask you to comment on the wider implications of your work, so take time to think more broadly about your research. Your aim is to know your thesis very well and to be calm and confident as you begin your viva.
The following may help with the preparation for the viva:
- re-read your thesis carefully. If you notice any mistakes, don't panic. Make a note of them so that it won't be a surprise to you if they are mentioned in the viva, and so that you can address them when you are making your final corrections following the viva;
- as you read, make summary notes on the main points on each page;
- print out the contents pages with plenty of spacing, and write very brief summaries of the content under each heading;
- practice telling the story of the whole research in two minutes;
- practice telling the story of different chapters, each in two minutes;
- identify areas of weakness and make notes on each;
- identify the elements of originality in your thesis;
- identify your contribution to knowledge;
- identify the theoretical, research, and practical implications of your findings.
It is a good idea to practice answering viva questions. Contact your Director of Studies to discuss having a mock viva, as some PGRs have found the experience invaluable.
A set of Viva Cards™ is available to borrow by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Practising answering these questions will take you a long way in your preparation.
The final few days before the viva are the time to address practical details such as how to get to the place of viva, what will you eat on the day and when, what will you wear and what you can take into the room with you. If you are in doubt as to any of the details, please discuss with your Director of Studies.
At the viva
People who may be present at the examination are:
- Internal Examiner
- External Examiner(s)
- Independent Chair
- Director of Studies or supervisor (with the PGR’s permission)
- RDAB representative (with the PGR’s permission)
Your DoS or other supervisor can only attend if you give your permission. It is a good idea to have one or other of them in the viva room, particularly when oral feedback is given by the examiners after the end of the viva. They can take notes and be a useful extra pair of ears.
However, they are not allowed to take part in the viva conversation unless invited to do so by the Independent Chair, or allowed to remain in the viva room while the examiners are deliberating their outcome. Remember, if you don’t want your DoS/supervisor to be there you don’t have to give your permission; it is your choice.
Timings - how long is the viva likely to be?
Making a presentation at the viva
PGRs are not normally expected to give a presentation as part of the viva. If you wish to make a presentation to the examiners on your thesis, this should be discussed with your DoS in the first instance. Any presentations must be no longer than 10 minutes and must not include any new material that has not been included in the thesis.
You must notify email@example.com in advance of the viva if a presentation is going to be made, who will then notify the Independent Chair and examining team.
Where a presentation is being made, the following issues should be used as a structure:
- What was the purpose or intent of the research work reported?
- How successful was the project?
- In what way do the outcomes of the project demonstrate originality?
- What were the key methodological issues?
Discussion at the viva - tips to think about
Your thesis will have strengths and weaknesses, and the examiners will want to discuss these. It is considered positive, even essential, that you can discuss both strengths and weaknesses. Examiners will seek to find and discuss weaknesses in all theses. You should not interpret criticism as an indication of a potentially negative outcome. A good approach to answer questions may be to:
- take time to consider before replying;
- remember to breathe and to speak reasonably slowly;
- don't take criticism personally;
- don't take offence;
- don't get angry;
- enjoy the opportunity to talk about your research.
Common viva questions
The questions that crop up at viva can usually be grouped under four basic headings:
- What's it about?
- What did you do?
- What did you find?
- Why does it matter?
A set of Viva Cards™ is available to borrow by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Practising answering these questions will take you a long way in your preparation.
General questions may include:
- Why did you decide on this particular research question?
- What have you found the most interesting aspect of your research?
- How did your thinking about this topic develop as you went through this research process?
- Now that you have finished the research, which part of the process would you say you enjoyed the most, and why?
- Were there any surprises along the way?
- Has undertaking this research changed you as a researcher?
- You refer to… as a key influence on your research. Can you summarise the particular relevance of their work?
- What developments have there been in this field since you began your PhD? How has this changed the research context in which you are working?
- You make only a passing reference to the field of … Why do you think it is less relevant than the others you give more space to?
- You don't say much about the… theory in your thesis. Can you explain why you have not focused more on that?
- How well did the study design work in practice?
- Did you have any problems with the data collection process?
- You used an existing research method and developed it further. Can you tell us why this further development was required?
- What were the main ethical issues of conducting this research?
- How did you establish the limits around the scope of your data collection?
Questions about analysis and findings:
- Talk us through your method of analysis.
- Did you encounter any problems with applying this method of analysis?
- Do you think the data you collected were the most appropriate to answer your research question, or are there any other data you would have liked to have collected?
- Can you describe your main findings in a few sentences?
- If you were starting your research again now, are there any changes in the way you would plan it?
- You interpret these findings as … Do you think there could be an argument for interpreting them as… instead?
- You said in your thesis that … Can you expand on that point?
- In what way do you consider your thesis to be original?
Conclusions about/Implications of your research
- What is the research, practice, theoretical implications of your findings?
- How would you hope that this research could be followed up and taken further?
You may well take away from the viva a mix of positive and negative feelings. Almost all PGRs will have further work to do. You can be assured that getting through the viva is in itself something to celebrate.