Waiting for a PhD or MSc viva is a nerve wracking experience even for the coolest people. What is the best way to prepare? What kind questions will the examiners ask. I have conducted dozens of PhD and MSc oral examinations over the years as an external an internal examiner and as observer/supervisor. For me the witnessing my own students is the biggest frustration. Watching a student struggle on questions I know they can answer has prompted me to devise some typical viva questions in order to aid preparation. If you are approaching a viva, think through the following questions. Write down the answers. Bullet points may be better so that answers appear spontaneous during the viva.
The exact nature of the questions is obviously highly dependent on the specific project. I have tried to generalise the questions. I hope by doing this they have not lost their essence.
- What is original or novel about your work/thesis?
- What are the main issues / debates in your subject area? What is the current state of the art in your field?
- What were the crucial research decisions that you made? How did they impact what you did?
- How have you analysed/evaluated your work?
- Why have you tackled the problem in this way? What alternatives did you consider?
- What do your results mean? Are there longer term implications for industry?
- How could you improve your work/thesis?
- What had not been done on this topic/field before?
- What theories or models or analytical techniques did you use?
- Are the techniques you have used appropriate for this topic?
- What are the theoretical basis/underpinnings to your work?
- How long do you expect your work to remain innovative? How do you expect the field to develop in the next 5-10 years?
- What sets your work apart from others? Who are the leading researchers in your field?
- What issues arose during this work? How did you resolve any issues which arose in the course of your research?
- What have you learned from the process of doing a PhD? How will you apply what you have learnt in your future career?
- How did you deal with the practical/fieldwork aspect of your study?
- Do you think that your recommendations are appropriate or widely applicable?
- Is there scope for further study on this topic? What would you recommend the next student on this topic to do?
- Do your contributions have a limited timescale? When do you think your work will be obsolete?
- What have you done that merits the award of a PhD?
Prepare well, dress your best, be confident and just do it. Make yourself, your parents, supervisors and the University proud.