I often receive calls from PhD students needing guidance on how to prepare for their PhD Viva Voce. Most of them sound stressed and nervous at this stage of their PhDs. It is however important to note that there is nothing to stress about as a viva voce (which literally translated means ‘with the living voice’) is simply an oral examination in front of a panel of academic experts after submitting your thesis. In this blog article, I share a few things to note in preparing for your viva.
The format for a viva differs from one institution to another though similar processes apply globally. Normally in the Ghanaian setting, a viva voce is open to the public (anyone can attend). However, with COVID-19 restrictions, most vivas are currently done virtually. The virtual presentation is likely to follow the same format. The whole presentation should be between two to four hours, maximum. The candidate presents his or her work using PowerPoint slides for about 30 minutes after which the Examining Board and people in attendance are allowed to ask questions. The Examining Board constitutes the internal and external examiners and a representative from the Graduate School Board, who chairs the viva. The outcome of the viva is for the Examining Board to pass or fail the PhD candidate.
Four Things to Note
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Your personal preparation is key to the success of your viva. Be abreast with the viva guidelines provided by your institution. If you may have to travel for your viva, ensure that you make all the necessary arrangements before the set date and carry along with you your thesis and other important documents. If your viva is online, ensure that the space you would be presenting from is as comfortable as possible, less noisy and allow you to be focused throughout the duration of the viva. During your viva you need to display mastery over the research you have conducted. Questions asked by examiners at this point are intended to find out if you have done your PhD on your own. There is no need to panic if you have done your work on your own. Read over your work severally as the day approaches. Read, to gain a deeper understanding of the research you have done. But don’t memorize your work. Most PhD programmes offer students the opportunity to do many presentations during the period of study hence taking away the fear of oral presentation. However, if you are still not so comfortable with an oral presentation before your viva you can practise presenting your slides in front of a few friends to boost your confidence.
- Your Presentation Slides
Ensure your slides contain a summary of the following:
- Your name, department, student number
- Introduction: Brief background to the study
- Statement of problem
- Methodology for the study
- Discussion of findings. Which of the scholars whose work you reviewed agree with your findings?
- Recommendations for policy
- Contribution to knowledge
- Thank you.
Keep your PowerPoint slides simple and straight to the point. Avoid adding points you can’t fully explain. Font used should be legible and images and charts well labelled. Know how to use the presentation pointer, to scroll your slides up and down.
- Some Possible Viva Questions
Note that the questions asked by the examiners would be based on your thesis. This means that you must constantly read through your thesis and figure out some possible questions from your work that might be asked. Some simple questions may include the following:
- What is your research objective?
- What is your research methodology?
- What is the research philosophy behind your thesis?
- In which discipline will your place your research?
- What is the contribution of your research to your field of study?
- Would you use a different research approach if you were to write your thesis again?
- How different would been your findings if you should use a different research approach?
- Read on Works of Your Examiners and Recent Research in your Field of Study
It may be helpful to read a bit on the research carried out by the examiners prior to your viva. This may be readily available online and gives you an idea of their motivation and their possible views on the research you have conducted. Read on recent papers published in your field to find out current trends. You might as well speak to other PhD candidates who may have recently done their viva in your field.
I hope these points are helpful. No need to panic, as the worst outcome of any viva is for the examiners to fail the candidate. But once you follow the guidelines provided you are on the road to success. I wish you success in your upcoming viva.
This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author – Prof. Jonathan Edward Tetteh Kuwornu-Adjaottor. He is an Associate Professor of New Testament and Mother Tongue Biblical Hermeneutics in the Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana.