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Sur-viva-l

Tuesday 31st January 2017 at 12.00am

When the day of my viva finally arrived, I was about as ready as I could have been. I had spent months preparing for it, but I was still worried.  I knew deep down that I had left no stone unturned but it was still nerve wracking to venture into the unknown with so much on the line. Still, it was 6 years since I had signed up for this ride and now the final destination was in sight.

When the examiners arrived they first met with each other to discuss my work before meeting with me to begin the examination. I started with a 30 minute presentation in which I highlighted the key aspects of the research. This was followed by a question and answer session during which my examiners queried me based on what they had heard and what they had read in my thesis.  I was then asked to leave the room while they decided on the outcome of my exam. I was called back into the room roughly 30 minutes later and awarded a pass with minor corrections.

My experience of defending my doctoral thesis was a positive one. I am sure that this was in large part owing to the years of work that went into the research and the preparation which took place in the months that led to it, but my experience of the viva was nonetheless far different to what I had expected. Although I had been assured that most vivas are successful, I had envisioned things going horribly wrong for myself and laughed nervously over the idea of wearing a suit of armour for the occasion. Contrary to my concerns, the viva did not feel like an attack. I did not feel as though my examiners were trying to ‘catch me out’ or look for reasons to fail me.

I was asked reasonable, fair, and thought-provoking questions. I simply needed to remain calm and consider them in an open and non-defensive way. That is not to say that the viva was not challenging. I was asked challenging questions that I had not anticipated and the pressure of the situation meant that it was quite mentally exhausting. What I realized through my experience, though, was that I was not expected to have a perfect piece of research, nor was I expected to have a definite and immediate answer to every question. What seemed more important was to evidence the thought and reasoning behind decisions that I made while conducting the research, to show openness to alternatives, and to demonstrate an ability to grapple with new points, questions, and avenues of exploration.    

The process of conducting and writing-up research can be a very isolating and challenging one, and ultimately, I appreciated the rare opportunity to discuss its findings with experts who were genuinely interested in the topic that I am passionate about. If you are currently preparing to defend your thesis, I hope you find your experience as positive as I did mine.

Dr. Aindre Jayasinghe

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