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?
- 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.