I have previously written about Why Do a PhD? and How to Prepare for your Viva. But the final examination of doctoral research is based on both the written work (the thesis) and the performance of the student at the viva voce (verbal examination). So what is the motivation for examining a doctoral thesis? How does an examiner go about examining doctoral research? How does an examiner prepare for the viva? And how do they go about reaching a final decision on the quality of the work?
For every examiner this may be different. However, from my perspective I thoroughly enjoy examining doctoral research. I find it to be a great opportunity to learn about the most current research and to discuss this with an emerging scholar. I also want to help the researcher to improve the work and ensure that it is the best that it can be. Ultimately, I am on your side.
In examining a doctorate I will read the thesis thoroughly, making copious notes, and thinking about areas of the thesis where I will want to focus within the viva. By the time I have finished reading the thesis I will have made a judgement about the quality of the research – but it is then important to gain an understanding of the motives and learning of the researcher.
By the time it comes to the viva I will have read the thesis at least twice and will have lots of notes to guide my questions. Typically I will start by asking about the student’s experience and their motivations for doing the research. I may want to know more about the decisions that were made around choice of methodology and methods or how the theoretical focus of the research has been arrived at. Overall I will be exploring the researchers motives and their competence as an independent researcher. I will also want to know what they might do differently if they were to do the research again – what has the researcher learned through the process and are they able to critically reflect on their own practice as a researcher?
Overall I want to make sure that the research can be as good as it can be. It’s important to remember that, by the time you come to submission of your thesis and the viva, the researcher will have engaged in lots of peer review and formative assessment of their work. This may be by presenting at academic conferences, by getting feedback from their supervisors, or through their annual review(s). I will be assessing both the written work and the performance in the viva. As such it is important to prepare for both. What I’m looking for is to see the researcher as a potential future colleague – as a peer.
Remember – I am interested in the research, I want to learn about what has been done and I’m really looking forward to the viva conversation.