How To Ace the PhD VIVA Test: Tips And Insights From Industry Experts

You may wonder what kind of sorcery is this even after being confident about your preparation, you stammer while facing VIVA panel. But first, congratulation on the successful submission of your PhD Thesis; it means you are getting nearer to the completion of your several years’ long turmoil. Handing in your PhD to your professor is no doubt a massive achievement, but it is not the end of your journey. There is still one hurdle left to cross, 'the VIVA'. This intellectually-gruelling experience can be too much for you to handle. So you need to be thoroughly prepared for not only facing the panel's question but also to leave behind a lasting impression.

A VIVA is not always that bad as your perception about a VIVA exam is. VIVA brings an opportunity for you to discuss your work with experts. It is a formal process for ensuring that you have written your thesis, not anyone else. While sitting in front of the assessing-board members, you can explain why your thesis deserves to get accepted by them. Yet, it is true that VIVA process is not easy as it involves many penetrating questions for which you need to be prepared for. Owing to conceptually complex debates, VIVA is infamous and terrifying.  

Hence, we asked many academics and recent survivors for tips on how to get easily past a strict VIVA process. The VIVA process can be termed as the gateway to joining the academic community as a professor. So think it as a verbal counterpart of your thesis. It is very natural for you to get cold feet before facing the panel. But you need not be worried as you have clicked on the right link. Here we will give you tips on the three different stages of getting prepared for the VIVA process.

  1. The Preparation Phase
  2. The Big Day
  3. The Aftermath

What you need to do right after the submission of your paper?

Now after the thesis has been submitted, it is too obvious to mention that you are feeling more relaxed than ever. However, situations like the one mentioned above can make your life hellish again. As you move your focus towards the preparation of VIVA, the concern and fear about would you be able to perform well starts creeping into your mind? To help you with sailing through the preparation phase smoothly, we have segmented the whole VIVA phase in three segments. With the help of these tips now, you can finally ward off misery and fear related to your upcoming VIVA.

Right after submitting your thesis, take some days off. Give your mind the rest it deserves, then start working on the details of your project. The first portion of this blog will take you through five stages of preparation for the big day; we like to call it

  1. The Preparation Phase

Step One: Submit your thesis

Step Two: Stepping back from the details

Step Three: Put the Thesis under scanner once again

Step Four: Preparing the defence plan

Step Five: Last few days

Among these five stages, we believe you do not need to hear any discussion about the submission. Discussing the submission part will be a mere waste of time, but in case, you have started planning for your VIVA even before you have submitted your paper, then here you go some last minute tips about how to submit your thesis without leaving behind any loophole.

While submitting the paper, for one last time scan the entire paper to point out any gaps in the literature review, findings' explanation and discussion segment and in the methodology section. Remember it is the culmination of all your hard work so far, so do not be casual with the submission. Keep your eye on all the crucial points on your paper. Lookout for red flags and try to eliminate all of those to enhance the quality of your paper. 

The checklist of last-minute changes before submitting the thesis

  • Text

Here, checking the text does not mean merely correcting typos, you are expected to be done with typo while editing and proofreading your paper. Now you need to aim for clarity,

  • Minutely read the general introduction and general conclusion portion
  • Introduction and conclusion of each chapter
  • Summary or abstract part
  • Check the Acknowledgment
  • Captions of figures
  • The Quality of your graphics (check whether the colour and symbol mentioned in the caption matches with figures)
  • Equations

Check whether all the equations are completed and thoroughly explained

  • Numbers and tables

Check whether all the numbers are written with their respective units mainly in tables

  • Bibliography

You do not need to be too worried about the formatting. Without any obvious mistakes, no one will complain about one or two missing page numbers or any other minor issues; however, you need to check if references are properly hyperlinked, check those links whether they are correctly redirecting you to the right online paper.

If a paper is showing the status ‘accepted for publication’, check if has been published and what is the latest update of status.

After you are done with this checklist, you are good to go ahead with submitting your paper.

Right after submitting our papers, many among us feel overly apprehensive about the thesis. They start over-think about all negative possibilities, which lead us to the second step of preparing for VIVA; stepping back. Do not over stress yourself by thinking about your paper, you have submitted it and now give your mind some well-deserved relaxation. Think about how you are going to celebrate this period. Try to catch up with your friends, hobbies and fun activities that you have neglected all this while. Giving yourself some time off will help you to assess your time commitments so that you can plan the adequate time required to prepare for your VIVA. 

Once you start preparing for the VIVA, you need to put your thesis under scanner once again. You need to remember few possible instances. The most possible one among these is, examiners are likely to ask you about the wider implication of your work, so this is the exact time to think more broadly about your research. Followings are some questions to think about that will support you to prepare to face the panel more confidently.

  1. Think about which philosophical and theoretical assumptions you have been working within. How did those assumptions work out?
  2. Think about if you were given new funds, how would you like to process further with your work.
  3. Do some research on your examiners, what are their works? If you get hold of some of their published work, study those to get a feel for how do they like to get the research done and how they discuss research.
  4. Another most frequent question will require you to describe, what would you do differently if you start your research again. Prepare some good answer for it, try to find some minor gaps in your research and point out those while discussing this answer. Mention you would like to avoid those if you start again. You can also talk about a different slant of research.
  5. Try to be updated about what has been happening in your field since you have completed your research, what do you think whether a further literature review necessary? Also, prepare a convincing answer of how does your research fit into these updated contexts?

Now when the VIVA date is getting closure, it is time you start preparing the defence plan. Your motto is to know your paper well and to be calm and confident while facing the VIVA panel.

  • Re-read your thesis; chances are there you are going to spot some mistakes, yes after all these repetitive editing and proofreading it is most likely that some gaps will be left behind. On spotting errors, do not panic, make a note of these mistakes and do not be surprised if the board mentioned those during VIVA. By making records, you will be more prepared to face the panel with poise.
  • While re-reading your paper, make separate summary notes of main points on each page.
  • Print out the contents pages of your thesis with plenty spacing so that you can write the brief of each chapter under each heading.
  • Mirror practice; telling the panel, the brief about your whole research in two minutes
  • Also, practice saying the summarised story of different chapters each in 2 minutes.
  • You have already identified your area of weaknesses, now try to find out the element of uniqueness in your paper.
  • Make a short speech ready about theoretical and practical implication of your findings.

Do not try to memorize your work; no one expects that. Take the print out of contents page with you, and it is understandable and acceptable if you refer to it to remind yourself of specific details. However, try to avoid too much flicking as it might be annoying for the panel and can give an impression of you not being familiar with your own work. Some students choose small post-it notes related to what they might want to refer to while discussing their research.

  1. The Big Day

When it is only days left, you need to start practice answering possible VIVA questions. Some common problems are listed here; you may want to add up other issues. Make sure you practice answering the difficult questions first so that you get enough time to thoroughly practise how you want to explain those. Before facing the VIVA panel, it is always a great idea to go through some mock or mini VIVA. The importance of this exercise is to exercise answering out load not just in thoughts. You can talk to your peers to help you with a mock VIVA. However, try to arrange a formal setting. If you do not find anyone to help you with your dummy VIVA, you can practice it privately by speaking aloud; this will help you to think of answers with more clarity. Sometimes it might seem stressful, embarrassing and hard to continue, find yourself a safe refuge where you can practice this exercise privately without getting any unwanted attention.

During the last few days, you need to be more concerned to address practical details. Like what you will eat, drink both before and after the VIVA. What will you wear; ideally, you must go with something that allows you to feel comfortable as well as smart and confident. Decide what you will take into the room with you. What needs to be done to calm your nerves, have you sorted out any activity, which will dispel nervousness? Try to get some tips from stress management posts available on the internet to get useful suggestions about how to cope with pre-VIVA anxiety.

Checklist for making you thoroughly prepared to deal with the VIVA openheartedly

  • Think positively don’t anticipate too much
  • Be ready to be engaged in debates
  • Be confident in your preparation
  • Feel excited for the challenge ahead.

Finally, the ‘Big Day’ is here

Right after the alarm goes off on that day, you need to take out the checklist about, what you need to wear, what you need to carry with you and exactly when you need to reach the venue. Try to reach at least 15-20 minutes before the scheduled time, so that you get some time to settle down. Following are some tips to ease your anxiety on that day.

  • You are the expert in the room

While facing the panel, remember you are the most knowledgeable person, when it comes to your thesis. Be proud of the fact that your research will provide an original contribution in a specific area of study. Your study will have strength and weaknesses, and the examiners will want to discuss all of these. Therefore, you are the expert who will answer all their queries. Do not interpret criticism as an indication of a negative outcome.

  • Do enjoy examiners' warm-up questions

Most common questions like why you choose your subject are an opportunity to get talking and provide the panel insights of your study. These types of questions will put you at ease before you head towards difficult kinds of stuff. 

  • Know when to be quiet and when to defend your case

Many compare VIVA with a boxing match, but unlike the one, here you do not need to knock out anyone, you need to be defensive. There will be a time when you need to defend your arguments, approach and research methodology, but also there will be times when you need to agree that your research probably has some gaps. No research is perfect, that is why we get scopes for further study. Don’t try to defend your mistakes, but don’t keep mum in case you feel you can defend your thesis. Be ready to take useful criticism on board.

  • Don’t be overconfident

 Do not respond to any questions with lines of ‘it’s in the thesis’. When board members are asking for clarification and explanation about a certain segment or point of your paper to check whether they are on the same page as you or just to know simply get a thorough understanding about a definite point, do not misinterpret their query as criticism. Try to make your point more concise while explaining. 

  • Don’t underestimate the VIVA just as a formality

Many among us make this grave mistake of thinking the VIVA as a mere formality. Submission of thesis and VIVA comprise the whole process. So making a good impression of your research paper is necessary for the award of PhD. The VIVA voce assessment is as necessary and important as your thesis. Use the VIVA process as an opportunity to display your skill at critical appreciation.

Dos and Don’ts while being on the Hot seat

Do

  • Do start with giving a general introduction to what can be derived from your study
  • Do take time before replying if you need to
  • Always speak at reasonable slow pace with clear pronunciation
  • Enjoy the opportunity

Don’t

  • Don’t blame your supervisor for the gaps left in your paper
  • Don’t try to shift blame to participants
  • Don't hesitate to say ‘it was beyond the scope of my study.'
  • Don’t give forceful argument to support your claim
  • Don’t dismiss something as unimportant on identified as a weakness
  • Don’t take offence.

 

  1. The Aftermath

It is very rare that a thesis get reject after reaching the VIVA stage. Most of the time the board will demand some required changes before passing the thesis. So be prepared to make some minor amendments. Having got this far, then you are almost there; the finishing line is in sight. Try to use this short guide while preparing for VIVA. These tips are from experts and recent PhD scholars so nothing can be more helpful for you; thank us later. 

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