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SUMMER

4th July


comfort to students anticipating it that the likely outcome is minor corrections detailed in their examiners' joint report stipulating what remains to be done.

There is something profound about the metaphor of the viva as a kind of intellectual gambling. As in a game of poker you have to be clear about what's in your hand. In a sense, this is about being clear going into the viva, the intellectual cards you have to play. What is of value in your thesis? What is it that other readers in the field will be interested in? What did you find out that surprised you and by extension will surprise others? What is the thesis about and what is its thesis ie, what is its main argument? In preparing for the viva it's sometimes as simple as thinking through how to describe in clear and concise terms where the idea from the project came from, how the idea was investigated, what was found out and why it is interesting. Often students worry unnecessarily about being caught out by the examiners referring to an obscure article they haven't read, or by a cringing typographical error that slipped into the submitted thesis. All of these things are of a lesser importance. What is crucial is that the student is clear about what they have in the hand, ie, the intellectual, ethical and political integrity of their project and what is to be learnt from it.

The viva has a kind of social etiquette. The examiners read the thesis beforehand, they write independent reports (if they manage their time well), then they meet prior to

 


the viva (often over lunch) and confer and agree key questions to be raised in the viva and a kind of intellectual script designating to each examiner areas of questioning to lead on. The student is very often - almost always in fact - asked an opening question that is designed to get the conversation started. Examples of opening questions range from: "Tell us where the idea for your project came from?" or "Reading over your thesis prior to the viva which parts of it were you most proud of and are there any parts of it you would do differently?" Students can anticipate these kinds of questions and it is advisable to prepare or even practise how to answer them. Some students like to have mock vivas. I am personally not convinced that they are necessary but what is important is to be prepared to describe in concise but substantive ways the key arguments of the thesis and its main qualities. It is important for students in the context of the viva to take time to reflect and make a considered answer; and to ask for clarification of the question if it isn't clear. Also, allow the examiners to take their time in expressing their reflections and asking their questions. There is a lot of advice available on postgraduate websites about how to dress, how much to smile, how to flatter the examiners or whether or not to shake hands. These kinds of impression management tactics are usually glaringly obvious and, at least in my experience, completely ineffectual. I think it's better to be yourself and speak sincerely about the

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19 August