Viva confusion


I'm an EdD student and had my viva on Friday. My 2 supervisors were very confident that I had produced an excellent thesis, my main supervisor said he'd be 'flabbergasted' if I didn't pass. The examiners did not share this opinion, the viva was very hard work and the examiners took a very conservative view of my thesis which was trying something different. I've now been given a year to incorporate changes based on the examiners view. If the thesis was bad I could understand and accept this decision, yet 2 highly rated supervisors told me the thesis was a very good piece of work. How can this happen? How can supervisors and examiners have two very different views of a thesis and how are we as students meant to deal with this. Based on my supervisors' opinions I couldn't have done anything more yet I didn't pass?!! My supervisor was very apologetic but I have a hard year of rewriting ahead of me and I've lost confidence in the system. Has anyone else experienced this?


Hi Lloyd,
I'm really sorry to hear about your troubles, it sounds awful. To me it sounds either like you have two awful supervisors who didn't know what they were doing or else didn't bother to look at your work, or your examiners had preconceived ideas about your subject and were not willing to change their minds. Where were most of the changes they requested? I was wondering whether they had problems with your methodology which meant they couldnt accept your findings, or whether they accepted your approach but didnt agree with your interpretations? Either way you should probably talk to your sup about appealing the decision.


hi there, I agree with siwee. I had a similar experience with my MSc thesis. My supervisor thought it was a good work (and good discussion); but the examiner found fault with every single part of it, as if HE was my supervisor--and yes I think he did a better job correcting it (than my supervisor) although he was so so so picky! I ended up feeling depressed about it. I forced myself to make the thesis corrections/changes. I forced myself..really. So that I could move on with my life.

If you can't reverse the decision, try your best to cope with it.


Thanks for the comments. I think it was an issue of methodology - my thesis is about social class and education and the examiners seemed to think that it was unethical to research school pupils and have a strong subjective view about the affect that class has on achievement. It was my value free stance that they objected to but my supervisors believed that I had justified this. They also seemed to object to the lack of 'thick' traditional data; a lot of my data was anecdotal/observational. They had a very conservative view of what constitutes data. Anyway thanks for the comments and a week after the viva I feel confident that I can move forward and turn things around although my faith in the fairness of the system is a little shaken. The lack of any objective assessment criteria at doctoral level is a little intimidating - our efforts seem to be judged on the subjective whims of academics in their ivory towers. I now feel like I am changing the essence of my thesis to satisfy the beliefs of examiners; not a nice feeling!


Hi Lloyd

Great news that you are feeling more positive about this horrible situation. Who picked your viva examiners? In an ideal world your supervisors would have already known about their bias against your methodology and would not have picked them/would have suggested some appropriate revisions before submission. There is the possibility of being re-viva'd with alternative examiners, but if you wish to stay in academia, it is often best just to get on with it (as you currently are)

Good luck!


Quote From lloyd35:

They also seemed to object to the lack of 'thick' traditional data; a lot of my data was anecdotal/observational. They had a very conservative view of what constitutes data.

Strange they should say this, for anecdotal/observational material lies at the heart of what is called ethnographic research, and whether or not you did ethnography, anecdotal/observation material is what ethnographers like Cliff Geertz called "thick description". So, if they did use the word "thick" to say observational material is not thick, please take a copy of Geertz on thick descriptions and ask them to have a read!


Thanks for the advice and constructive comments. My main supervisor picked the examiners (the original external examiner had to drop out and was replaced at short notice); I left it to him and I now think this was a little naive - I would advise people to be more proactive in the appointing process, especially if their methodology is a little unconventional. If you are trying something a little different I have now learnt that it is essential to have examiners with an open mind who are not precious about their subject beliefs. Thanks for the advice about being re-viva'd - I may look into this. I will certainly gather more evidence about what constitutes 'data' and thanks for the Geertz reference, I think I need to back up my methodological stance with such references, Thanks for the help- I appreciate it!


I'm so sorry you are in this situation. It sounds horrible. I don't understand how your examiners could consider your research to be unethical. I presume, like all of us, you have had to jump through the many hoops that is the ethics application and that you had received ethics clearance for your study. In fact, given that you were studying school students I presume you had to get ethics clearance from a number of different bodies - the university, the education department etc. Given all of this, how could they justify their statement regarding it being unethical? All the re-writing in the world is not going to change the way the research was conducted, so wouldn't they still consider it to be unethical no matter how it's written.

Given that your supervisor appointed these examiners, I think he should be taking a very strong interest in resolving this situation for you. Good luck.