How to ace Phd/Doctoral final oral defense or viva voce'
We will start in just a moment
How to Ace Final Defense or
How to Ace
or Viva Voce’
Let’s figure out whose in the
Raise your hand if….
1. You have already submitted your
“final” full draft thesis to: a) Your
supervisor, b) a committee, or c)
the university which will set up a
final defense or viva
1. You were successful in getting to this
point in: a) 2 years? b) 3 years? c) 4
years? d) More?
2. You: a) feel you have a good
understanding of the “endgame”? b) are
confused a bit about the “endgame”? c)
Have heard all sorts of stories and are
concerned about “endgame.”
1. How are theses/
2. What can you do to
make sure yours meets
3. The range you might to
expect when defending”
4. Questions you may
want to ask before the
Lovitts, B. E. (2005). How to grade a dissertation. Academe, 91(6), 18-23.
How are theses/
What Makes for Outstanding?
• Original and significant, ambitious, brilliant, clear, clever, coherent,
compelling, concise, creative, elegant, engaging, exciting, interesting,
insightful, persuasive, sophisticated, surprising, and thoughtful
• Very well written and organized
• Synthetic and interdisciplinary
• Connects components in a seamless way
• Exhibits mature, independent thinking
• Has a point of view and a strong, confident, independent, and
• Asks new questions or addresses an important question or problem
• Clearly states the problem and why it is important
• Displays a deep understanding of a massive amount of complicated
• Exhibits command and authority over the material
• Argument is focused, logical, rigorous, and sustained
• Is theoretically sophisticated and shows a deep understanding of
• Has a brilliant research design
• Uses or develops new tools, methods, approaches, or types of
• Is thoroughly researched
• Has rich data from multiple sources
• Analysis is comprehensive, complete, sophisticated, and convincing
• Results are significant
• Conclusion ties the whole thing together
• Is publishable in top-tier journals
• Is of interest to a larger community and changes the way people
• Pushes the discipline's boundaries and opens new areas for research
•General quality – pass
at the outstanding,
very good or
•Meet the benchmarks
What is Acceptable?
• Is workmanlike
• Demonstrates technical competence
• Shows the ability to do research
• Is not very original or significant
• Is not interesting, exciting, or surprising
• Displays little creativity, imagination, or insight
• Writing is pedestrian and plodding
• Has a weak structure and organization
• Is narrow in scope
• Has a question or problem that is not exciting--is often
highly derivative or an extension of the adviser's work
• Displays a narrow understanding of the field
• Reviews the literature adequately--knows the literature
but is not critical of it or does not discuss what is
• Can sustain an argument, but the argument is not
imaginative complex, or convincing
• Demonstrates understanding of theory at a simple level,
and theory is minimally to competently applied to the
• Uses standard methods
• Has an unsophisticated analysis--does not explore all
possibilities and misses connections
• Has predictable results that are not exciting
• Makes a small contribution
What is Unacceptable?
• Is poorly written
• Has spelling and grammatical errors
• Has a sloppy presentation
• Contains errors or mistakes
• Plagiarizes or deliberately misreads or misuses sources
• Does not understand basic concepts, processes, or
conventions of the discipline
• Lacks careful thought
• Looks at a question or problem that is trivial weak,
unoriginal, or already solved
• Does not understand or misses relevant literature
• Has a weak, inconsistent, self-contradictory,
unconvincing, or invalid argument
• Does not handle theory well, or theory is missing or
• Relies on inappropriate or incorrect methods
• Has data that are flawed, wrong, false, fudged, or
• Has wrong, inappropriate, incoherent, or confused
• Includes results that are obvious already known,
unexplained, or misinterpreted
• Has unsupported or exaggerated interpretation
• Does not make a contribution
• In alignment with the question addressed and
the theory used In addition, the author
• An understanding of the methods' advantages
• How to use the methods
Component 5: Results or Analysis
• Is appropriate
• Aligns with the question and hypotheses raised
• Shows sophistication
• Is iterative
Amount and quality of data or information is
• Well presented
• Intelligently interpreted
The author also cogently expresses
• The insights gained from the study
• The study's limitations
Component 6: Discussion or Conclusion
• Summarizes the findings
• Provides perspective on them
• Refers back to the introduction
• Ties everything together
• Discusses the study's strengths and weaknesses
• Discusses implications and applications for the
• Discusses future directions for research
Component 1: Introduction
•Includes a problem statement
•Makes clear the research question to be addressed
•Describes the motivation for the study
•Describes the context in which the question arises
•Summarizes the dissertation's findings
•Discusses the importance of the findings
•Provides a roadmap for readers
Component 2: Literature Review
•Is comprehensive and up to date
•Shows a command of the literature
•Contextualizes the problem
•Includes a discussion of the literature that is selective,
synthetic, analytical, and thematic
Component 3: Theory
The theory that is applied or developed
• Is logically interpreted
• Is well understood
• Aligns with the question at hand
In addition, the author shows comprehension of the
Component 4: Methods
The methods applied or developed are
• Described in detail
Where to go for help
Lovitts, B. E.
(2005). How to
What can you do to
make sure yours
meets these criteria?
Thomson, P. (2014). Preparing for the PhD oral exam. Retrieved from
Tests and Trials
•Read it all out loud!
Listen for your voice.
•Analyse for areas of
strength and weakness
•Read up on the
•Practice so you are
assured you will be:
•Have skills breathing
Range of Questions
Value-added and originality
1. What are the most original (or value-added) parts of your thesis?
2. Which propositions or findings would you say are distinctively your own?
3. How do you think your work takes forward or develops the literature in this field?
4. What are the ‘bottom line’ conclusions of your research? How innovative or valuable are they? What
does your work tell us that we did not know before?
5. Origins and the scope of the research
6. Can you explain how you came to choose this topic for your doctorate What was it that first interested
you about it? How did the research focus change over time?
7. Why have you defined the final topic in the way you did? What were some of the difficulties you
encountered and how did they influence how the topic was framed? What main problems or issues
did you have in deciding what was in-scope and out-of-scope?
1. What are the core methods used in this thesis? Why did you choose this approach? In an ideal world,
are there different techniques or other forms of data and evidence that you’d have liked to use?
2. Data or information
3. What are the main sources or kinds of evidence? Are they strong enough in terms of their quantity
and quality to sustain the conclusions that you draw? Do the data or information you consider
appropriately measure or relate to the theoretical concepts, or underlying social or physical
phenomena, that you are interested in?
Dunleavey, P. (2013). Top ten questions for the PhD oral exam. Retrieved from https://medium.com/advice-
Range of Questions.2
How do your findings fit with or contradict the rest of the literature in this field? How do you explain the
differences of findings, or estimation, or interpretation between your work and that of other authors?
What are the main implications or lessons of your research for the future development of work in this specific
sub-field? Are there any wider implications for other parts of the discipline? Do you have ‘next step’ or follow-
on research projects in mind?
James, E. A. (2014). Writing your doctoral dissertation or thesis faster : A proven map to success (H.
Salmon Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publishing.
Be prepared to discuss your empirical work – is it verifiable?
Have you delimited your scope?
What are the assumptions you made before you started and how did they influence your outcomes?
Are these assumptions acceptable within your field? Can you give an example of who else has worked
with or mentioned them?
What scales operationalize your variables? How do you know they are valid?
What are your findings in terms of effect size?
For quantitative evidence – take us through your test(s) of power.
For qualitative evidence – take us through the process through which you developed/triangulated your
Range of Experiences
1. Usually three: outstanding with 1or 2 small revisions if any
– b) revisions needed, c) failure – go back and rework in a
2. It is YOUR responsibility not to leave confused about what
is next to be expected of you.
3. Questions can be mild to in depth, from knowledgeable to
“where did that come from?”
4. Examiners can be polite, encouraging to strict or hostile
Answers You Need
1. What guidelines are you writing to and how strict will the
2. Who/ How Many Examiners Will There Be?
3. Will they expect a presentation or overview or will they
just jump in?
4. Can you make changes or work at improving your
document after you turn it in?
5. Will you hear the results at the end?
6. If you have required revisions – how long do you have to
7. What is the endgame if you have to turn in revisions? Who
judges them? How long before you hear results.2?
8. What are the steps for publication afterwards?
Now its your turn to share…
What questions still lurk in your brain?
What are your “take aways” from today’s session?
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