Viva questions: Examples from my personal experience

My name is Eljee Javier and I enjoyed my viva. Yes, you read that right. It is actually possible. Think less “this is fun” and more “actually, this isn’t so bad” which I wrote about in a previous blog post (please visit https://eljeejavier.com/2015/01/27/i-had-my-phd-viva-and-i-enjoyed-it-there-i-said-it/). Part of developing this mindset was demystifying the whole viva process and, in particular, getting to grips with viva questions.

PhD candidates dread the thought of facing viva questions in fear of a) not knowing the answer b) being asked an unfair question, c) blanking out and answering the question badly or d) all of the above. We all know (of) someone (who knows someone) whose viva was an inquisition from the fourth level of hell. Certainly there are bad viva experiences out there, but that doesn’t mean that you should expect yours to go badly.

One piece of advice that I was given was to consider the viva as a discussion about finding ways to make your work better. I felt my thesis was a solid piece of research, but it was far from perfect and certainly had room to improve. With this in mind, I found that my attitude shifted from being defensive to being prepared to defend my study. This new mindset helped me view the viva as potentially more positive experience.

In terms of the actual questions they asked during my viva, here are a a few examples taken from the notes my supervisors took during the event (a humanities-based viva). There are quite a number of viva preparation questions out there on the internet that are quite generic but nonetheless useful starting points. However, the following questions were tailored to my thesis and, as such, might come across as odd to some readers.

Opener / “Warm up” Questions

  • How are you?
  • How are you feeling about your thesis?

Questions about Chapter One (introduction)

  • Did you feel there was a hierarchy among the research questions?
  • Did the research questions change along the way?

Questions about Chapters Two and Threes (my literature review)

  • What alternative theoretical frameworks have you considered?
  • Have you considered intersectional theory? Discursive construction?
  • How do you conceptualise the term “TESOL community”?
  • Why did you avoid using “Literature Review” in naming your chapter?

Questions regarding my methodological approach (Chapter Four)

  • How did you approach the ethical issues of this thesis?
  • How did you decide when you had enough participants?
  • Your positioning within the research…Did you think you wrote enough about yourself? There was something unique about you doing this. Can you clarify your rationale?

Questions regarding data analysis (Chapter Five)

  • Was there anything unexpected that popped up in the data?
  • How did you come to the grouping of black Americans as distinctive?

Questions about the findings and implications of the data as well as my conclusion (Chapters Six, Seven and Eight)

  • Can you discuss further the implications your study might have on classroom teachers / teacher training / language policy / school management etc.?
  • Do you think your thesis has scope to make a bigger case for issues regarding globalisation?

Final questions

  • How have you changed by doing this study?
  • What plans do you have for publishing?

There were quite a few follow up questions that I’ve omitted because they were about very specific aspects of my thesis, but the ones presented here might give some readers a rough idea of the types of questions that might come up during a viva. While some of the questions were challenging to answer, at no time did I feel I was “caught out”. Overall, the discussion that emerged from these questions highlighted areas of my thesis that needed improvement to which I was grateful for the feedback from both my external examiners.

If you had your viva, what types of questions were you asked? Feel free to share them in the comment section. 

Awkward! – Transitioning from PhD student to working academic

In April 2015 I joined the Researcher Development Team at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Manchester as a Researcher Development Officer. It’s been an exciting and busy start to this new role and I’m excited to see where this new opportunity leads me.

I didn’t think that not doing a PhD would be so awkward. Some of you might be thinking “You’re crazy! I can’t wait until this is over” and y’know what, I totally agree with you. Finishing a PhD has this “I-want-to-break-free” kinda feeling. Now that I’m on the other side, so to speak, it feels very strange not to be doing my PhD.

I write from the perspective of someone  going through a transition period because on one hand, I am SO GLAD that I’ve finished my PhD, yet on the other hand, I don’t feel entirely settled in my new role at the university. I’ve been reflecting on why I feel so out of place and I found the following:

  • As  PhD student I was largely in control of how I spent my time and had the freedom to create my own schedule. In my new role, I work to a 9-5 timeframe and need to organise my time accordingly. I do have quite a lot of freedom and flexibility with regards to what / when I work on my projects, but this time I must take into account the times/schedules of others who work within these hours.
  • Most of the work I do must take place during office hours (as in real office, 9-5 kind of deal and not my-office-is-everywhere) because it involves working with other people. Consequently I don’t need to take work home, and it feels a little weird. I haven’t been able to shake that “academic guilt” and am still getting used to the idea that not working weekends is OK.
  • I miss my home office. It was a space that was entirely mine and one in which I carefully cultivated during my PhD. My books are arranged just so (e.g. by subject, genre, alphabetically *sigh*), my plants are at an optimal light angle, and my cat has his napping box that is out of the way of my chair. However, I need to be physically at the office, not because it’s a requirement but rather my day-to-day activities involve other people, and so while I have the option to work from home it isn’t really feasible in my new role.
  • In my new role, I’m responsible for several different projects and am juggling (changing) deadlines. A lot of my work involves consulting with and reporting to other people on a number of details in order for decisions to get made. So there’s a lot of emails to answer and meetings to attend. I’m not used to this way of working and it is taking some time to get used to!

It’s been about eight months since I started in this new role and I’ve come to realise that I had different expectations of what my post-PhD working life would be like. I suppose I thought it would feel more “normal” in that I should be able to just switch between roles. I’ve realised that I’ve gotten used to working as a PhD student that I’d forgotten what it was like to work differently.   It’s a nice change, and one that I think I needed for my own personal development. With any sort of change, it’s not easy, sometimes awkward, but certainly eye-opening.

Anyone else experience something similar? Please add your comment below!

End of an era: PhD graduation

The last five months have been rather eventful, with everything happening at the same time:

March: I submitted my thesis corrections which were approved by external examiners. I then submitted the final version of my thesis to the university.

Early April: I completed my first, full marathon (26.2 miles / 42 km) in 5 hours 13 minutes, then blogged about it HERE.

Late April: I started  a job at The University of Manchester!

July: My parents visited me in the UK and witnessed me graduate from my PhD programme wearing a Tudor bonnet and medieval robes! While they were here we travelled to Sweden and visited family that we haven’t seen for years.

August: Had laser eye surgery. Now I can see without the aid of contact or glasses. This was my graduation gift to myself and something that I had been planning to do for quite a while. I also changed my bank cards to say “Dr”!

Whew. It’s a lot of process. I’ve already blogged a little about the expectations I had for my post-PhD life, but now I’d like to backtrack and say a little about graduating. Now there is something very final about graduation ceremonies. Everything up to this point – submitting the thesis, the viva, then submitting corrections – was an end in themselves, but they never felt like THE end.  I felt I didn’t really have a PhD.

The graduation ceremony, on the other hand, is an event that publicly marks one’s successful academic achievement by conferring a degree. With awesome robes. My last graduation ceremony was my high school graduation. I remember the giddiness of feeling so ‘adult’ and ‘ready for life’ or something along those lines (it was a a long time ago)! My PhD graduation was far from feeling ‘grown up’, but was more like a very solid sense of achievement. A “Yes, I made it!” kind of moment, a swell of confidence in myself, and a sense of closure. A proper “I’m done now.” finality to my PhD journey. For me there was no sadness or emptiness on graduation day but a lasting memory of feeling very, very good.

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