Common Qs About The Viva: What Should I Know About My Examiners?

I’ve been talking to PhD candidates about viva prep for over four years, and there are some questions that regularly come up at workshops. I’ve started answering some of these on this blog, but thought it might be useful to answer some of the most frequently asked questions all of this week. Let me know what you think in the comments, and please give me some questions for future posts!

What should I know about my examiners?

I think that this question is often asked in my workshops because candidates think there might be some special knowledge that they need. Like a cheat code on an early video game console, if they know the right bits of info, they will get an easy ride – or infinite turns at answering questions maybe! Of course, things don’t work like that, but there are some really useful things to know about your examiners in advance.

Many candidates know a little about their internal and external ahead of time (assuming that this is the examination team that you have; check your institution’s guidelines). Maybe you have met your external at conferences – perhaps even cited some of their papers in your thesis. And it’s likely that you’ve had the opportunity to meet your internal before, and know a little about them. There are three things though that will be really useful to know about your examiners.

Publications, Interests, Reputation

Publications: Even if you have cited one or both of your examiners in your thesis, take a little time to check their recent publication history. Look at their staff page, and check out what they have published over the last two years (or last six papers). Look for patterns: are they publishing papers on the same themes or ideas? Does it look like there is something in particular that they are researching? It makes sense to look at some of these papers, as this will give you an insight into what they might find interesting in your work; it might also give you an insight into the outside world of research that they might want to connect to your thesis.

Interests: Similar to publications, but maybe less specific. Go to the examiners’ staff pages and look at their declared research interests. This will give you an idea of the wider research that they pay attention to. Also check to see if they say whether or not they are active in research groups within (or outside of) their institutions. This might not be as immediately applicable as looking at their recent papers, but will give you a heads-up on the breadth of their knowledge.

Reputation: What do you know about your examiners? Do you know anyone who has worked with them (or been examined by them) before? Knowing a bit about them can help you to think about the way they might approach the viva. Some people have reputations for awkward questions; rather than panic, try to flip what you hear and look for the positive. Consider that your examiner might be looking for detail, or that they might be looking for gaps to explore.

Remember that your examiners want to be there; they don’t do it because they must, they’ve been asked and accepted. Remember also that your examiners are not trying to catch you out: they have PhDs too, and they know how important your viva is to you.

Thanks for reading this series of posts this week, I hope they’ve been helpful. Either tweet questions at me, leave them in the comments or drop me an email!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

PS – check out my Patreon campaign for the Viva Survivors Podcast!

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