Sharing my viva experience

posted
22-Sep-18, 13:05
Avatar for Walkerfree
posted about 12 months ago
I thought I would share my viva experience (school of biological sciences) on here to hopefully support those who are worried about their upcoming vivas.

I’ve had a few weeks to mull things over, and prior to this I’d search forums to prepare myself for it based on other people’s (both good and bad) experiences.

It started very pleasantly with introductions, hand shakes and small talk to break the ice. I had to summarise the impact of my work at the beginning and then answered project questions concerning a very broad and general background. My methods were skimmed over...

The hardest part for me was defending results that my examiners didn’t like or agree with. They had a pre-conceived idea of what they would have done in my position and questioned the competency of my supervisors on several occasions concerning the direction we took my project in. I received a harsh grilling because of this.

There were also results discussed in my thesis that were also being drafted for a manuscript and my external disagreed with the result. I received negative comments throughout along the lines of ‘this work isn’t publishable’. My defence consisted of my results, how I and my supervisors interpreted them and how the literature interpreted similar results. No matter how I stated my case my examiners were not convinced. After 2/3 of my thesis I took the grilling and didn’t pursue with defending something that they clearly couldn’t perceive as defendable. They had made up their minds before I had even entered that room to do the viva.

Towards the end they asked me again if I had any issues with my supervisor team as it was clearly apparent that they couldn’t perceive that I had done my project supervised (I said I was very well supported, as I was!). I left the room while they deliberated my PhD outcome.

It was a painful experience. They agreed that I had passed on the basis of minor amendments. They complimented my writing style and that the amendments were mainly in being more negative about by results. They were concerned at how long it would take me ,and that in a different situation I’d have been asked to do entirely different experiments (however they knew I had moved on to another job).

Condensing 4 years of work in a meeting like this felt fairly degradable. It is not an experience I wish to repeat ever again, but I am pleased that I passed. I was nervous, but when the meeting gets started the nerves do fall away. I felt that my experience was a bad one, but again, I believe it’s entirely down to your examiners and how they interpret your work.
posted
24-Sep-18, 12:02
edited about 23 seconds later
Avatar for Dr_Crabby
posted about 12 months ago
That sounds really tough but thank you for sharing. I haven't even submitted yet and I am worried about the viva.
posted
24-Sep-18, 18:44
edited about 26 seconds later
Avatar for Walkerfree
posted about 12 months ago
Quote From Dr_Crabby:
That sounds really tough but thank you for sharing. I haven't even submitted yet and I am worried about the viva.



If you have been well supported in your project and you feel as though you have a solid story, even if the results are negative you will be fine. My experience was likely negative because of choice of examiner - yet another really important issue to think about. Honestly, the biggest hurdle is writing a well written thesis and request as much help as you can with this process.
posted
25-Sep-18, 01:13
edited about 12 seconds later
by Pursue
Avatar for Pursue
posted about 12 months ago
Congratulations Dr. Walkerfree, 🎂🎂
You are a free man now💃🙌👏

But I want to know, how you chose your conceptual framework, any tips?
posted
25-Sep-18, 10:50
Avatar for kenziebob
posted about 12 months ago
Thanks Dr. Walker!

Sounds quite like my experience of the first-year viva, actually. Combined with your story it really does highlight the need to be very careful about the choice of examiners.
posted
25-Sep-18, 16:02
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 12 months ago
Congratulations Dr Walker!

Also it sounds nice to hear that despite them disliking your results, your writing was more than enough to make up for it. A lovely reminder for people with awful experimental results that it is possible (even if yours were good).
posted
26-Sep-18, 08:20
edited about 26 seconds later
by eng77
Avatar for eng77
posted about 12 months ago
Quote From rewt:
Congratulations Dr Walker!

Also it sounds nice to hear that despite them disliking your results, your writing was more than enough to make up for it. A lovely reminder for people with awful experimental results that it is possible (even if yours were good).

I totally agree with your statement. One of the main things that did not go well in my PhD that I did not have a solid innovative concept. So when experiments went bad, I was left but with nothing. The solid coherent story that is well written is more likely sufficient for PhD students to pass even with unexpected experimental results.
posted
26-Sep-18, 20:57
Avatar for Walkerfree
posted about 12 months ago
Quote From Pursue:
Congratulations Dr. Walkerfree, 🎂🎂
You are a free man now💃🙌👏

But I want to know, how you chose your conceptual framework, any tips?


Quote From kenziebob:
Thanks Dr. Walker!

Sounds quite like my experience of the first-year viva, actually. Combined with your story it really does highlight the need to be very careful about the choice of examiners.

Quote From rewt:
Congratulations Dr Walker!

Also it sounds nice to hear that despite them disliking your results, your writing was more than enough to make up for it. A lovely reminder for people with awful experimental results that it is possible (even if yours were good).

Quote From eng77:
Quote From rewt:
Congratulations Dr Walker!

Also it sounds nice to hear that despite them disliking your results, your writing was more than enough to make up for it. A lovely reminder for people with awful experimental results that it is possible (even if yours were good).

I totally agree with your statement. One of the main things that did not go well in my PhD that I did not have a solid innovative concept. So when experiments went bad, I was left but with nothing. The solid coherent story that is well written is more likely sufficient for PhD students to pass even with unexpected experimental results.
o

I have to admit, the viva process is massively flawed. Examination is subjective to the examiners decision which will vary from one person to another. It just highlights the importance that choosing a fair examiner can make a world of difference. I also feel that the choice of supervisors at the beginning plays a big part! If you have a supportive supervisor then that alone can get you from A to B!
posted
27-Sep-18, 10:27
edited about 21 seconds later
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 12 months ago
Quote From Walkerfree:

I have to admit, the viva process is massively flawed. Examination is subjective to the examiners decision which will vary from one person to another. It just highlights the importance that choosing a fair examiner can make a world of difference. I also feel that the choice of supervisors at the beginning plays a big part! If you have a supportive supervisor then that alone can get you from A to B!


100% agree. I am in my second year and my supervisor is already discussing external examiners. She
is pushing hard to get a particular person (who she knows through association) that is known as a soft touch. He reportedly has been external examiner 3-4 times and always gives minor corrections - he also goes to the pub with you after the viva. I know that if I get him, my viva will be a joke but it still counts as a PhD.

There needs to be some sort of standard but assessing a thesis is so subjective I don't there ever will be.

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