Examining a Higher Degree: The View From The Other Side Professor Max Bramer University of Portsmouth
Choosing an External Examiner <ul><li>Nominated by the Director of Studies </li></ul><ul><li>Student can express a prefere...
Choosing an External Examiner (2) <ul><li>EE is an expert in areas relating to yours but not necessarily precisely your ar...
Awarding a Higher Degree The Student’s View <ul><li>3 years (or more) of hard work and false starts </li></ul><ul><li>150-...
Awarding a Higher Degree The Examiner’s View <ul><li>Examining fitted into a busy schedule </li></ul><ul><li>Short period ...
What’s at Stake? <ul><li>Student </li></ul><ul><li>Future career and income </li></ul><ul><li>Three year’s work potentiall...
What’s at Stake? Examiner Professional reputation (‘who was your external examiner?’) May not be asked again (?) Rule 3 Ma...
Possible Outcomes: PhD (First Attempt) <ul><li>Pass with no changes (<5%) </li></ul><ul><li>Pass with minor changes checke...
Possible Outcomes: PhD (Second Attempt) <ul><li>Pass with no changes </li></ul><ul><li>Compensatory MPhil </li></ul><ul><l...
What Happens at the Viva: The Official Agenda <ul><li>Present: the two examiners, the candidate and the Director of Studie...
What Happens at the Viva: The Hidden Agenda <ul><li>Negotiation of which items to include in the list of changes (there ar...
Preparing for the Viva Starts the day you begin your PhD
Relationship with the Supervisor <ul><li>A good supervisor will see you regularly, put you in contact with the field, help...
Writing a Thesis <ul><li>Make Chapter 1 a mini-thesis </li></ul><ul><li>Signposting in each chapter </li></ul><ul><li>Repe...
Writing a Thesis (2) <ul><li>Spelling, punctuation and grammar matter! </li></ul><ul><li>Clear expression matters (a lot) ...
Critiquing Thesis Drafts <ul><li>One of the supervisor’s key tasks, so make sure he/she has time to do the job properly </...
Assessing Your Progress <ul><li>Submit your work to public scrutiny (both internal and external) as often as possible </li...
Preparing for the Viva <ul><li>Rehearse answers to standard questions </li></ul><ul><li>“ What is the original contributio...
The Viva: How to Build the Examiners’ Confidence (1) Expert Systems always take 18  months to build [reference 27]. Rule 4...
The Viva: How to Build The Examiners’ Confidence (2) Less is more. A modest but accurate and well substantiated claim is e...
The Viva: How to Build the Examiners’ Confidence (3) The discussion will focus on two topics (a) Your work (b) The broader...
Defending a Thesis <ul><li>Examiners will have already formed an opinion based on the written thesis. A good viva can impr...
What to Avoid (1): Mind Your Language <ul><li>Everyone knows that … </li></ul><ul><li>There is no doubt that … </li></ul><...
What to Avoid (2): Do Not Criticise Other Researchers <ul><li>All previous researchers have made the false assumption that...
What to Avoid (3): Do Not Criticise Other Researchers Especially not the examiner’s friends…. Dr. X clearly does not under...
What to Avoid (4): Small Examples … …  that do not scale up e.g. model-based reasoning for a circuit with 5 components …  ...
What to Avoid (5): Horror Stories <ul><li>‘ X’s algorithm runs 1000 times faster than C4.5’ </li></ul><ul><li>A method whi...
And Finally …… <ul><li>Good luck! </li></ul><ul><li>Bur remember … </li></ul>‘ You make your own luck’
Examining a Higher Degree: The View From The Other Side Professor Max Bramer University of Portsmouth
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Examining a Higher Degree: The view from the other side

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Examining a Higher Degree: The view from the other side

  1. 1. Examining a Higher Degree: The View From The Other Side Professor Max Bramer University of Portsmouth
  2. 2. Choosing an External Examiner <ul><li>Nominated by the Director of Studies </li></ul><ul><li>Student can express a preference </li></ul><ul><li>Must not be too close to project </li></ul><ul><li>Academic in UK university (usually) </li></ul><ul><li>Fairly senior (preferably) </li></ul><ul><li>Experienced examiner (normally) </li></ul><ul><li>Internal Examiner is chosen mainly for availability </li></ul><ul><li>IE and EE are equal but EE is primus inter pares </li></ul>
  3. 3. Choosing an External Examiner (2) <ul><li>EE is an expert in areas relating to yours but not necessarily precisely your area </li></ul><ul><li>You are the leading expert in your area (temporarily) </li></ul>Rule 1 (for Director of Studies) Avoid the ‘partisan’ EE opposed to research in any subfield and by any research group but their own
  4. 4. Awarding a Higher Degree The Student’s View <ul><li>3 years (or more) of hard work and false starts </li></ul><ul><li>150-200 pages or more of text </li></ul><ul><li>Frequently many drafts </li></ul><ul><li>Summary justice in a morning or afternoon after a sleepless night </li></ul>
  5. 5. Awarding a Higher Degree The Examiner’s View <ul><li>Examining fitted into a busy schedule </li></ul><ul><li>Short period of intensive reading (say 2-3 days), plus a lifetime’s experience </li></ul><ul><li>Personal interest in the topic </li></ul><ul><li>Onerous travelling in many cases </li></ul><ul><li>Small fee, high responsibility </li></ul>Rule 2 Make the thesis as interesting and as clear as possible for someone in a hurry
  6. 6. What’s at Stake? <ul><li>Student </li></ul><ul><li>Future career and income </li></ul><ul><li>Three year’s work potentially wasted </li></ul><ul><li>Status with friends, family etc. </li></ul>
  7. 7. What’s at Stake? Examiner Professional reputation (‘who was your external examiner?’) May not be asked again (?) Rule 3 Make the external examiner confident enough to pass you (see later)
  8. 8. Possible Outcomes: PhD (First Attempt) <ul><li>Pass with no changes (<5%) </li></ul><ul><li>Pass with minor changes checked by int. examiner (75%) </li></ul><ul><li>Major changes and resubmission after a year with second viva (20%) </li></ul><ul><li>Compensatory MPhil (0%) </li></ul><ul><li>Fail (<1%) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Possible Outcomes: PhD (Second Attempt) <ul><li>Pass with no changes </li></ul><ul><li>Compensatory MPhil </li></ul><ul><li>Fail </li></ul><ul><li>No changes permitted at this stage </li></ul><ul><li>No further resubmission possible </li></ul><ul><li>It is best to avoid a resubmission at the first attempt </li></ul><ul><li>– all effort needs to be devoted to this </li></ul>
  10. 10. What Happens at the Viva: The Official Agenda <ul><li>Present: the two examiners, the candidate and the Director of Studies (by invitation only) as observer </li></ul><ul><li>The two examiners ask questions in turn (2-3 hours) </li></ul><ul><li>The examiners confer in private </li></ul><ul><li>The candidate and observer return to hear the examiners’ recommendation </li></ul>
  11. 11. What Happens at the Viva: The Hidden Agenda <ul><li>Negotiation of which items to include in the list of changes (there are almost always some) </li></ul><ul><li>Negotiation whether the changes needed are minor or major </li></ul><ul><li>Most importantly, the examiners are trying to decide whether they are confident to pass the candidate (perhaps with minor changes) </li></ul><ul><li>If they are not confident, the easiest and safest course is to request a resubmission and a further viva </li></ul>
  12. 12. Preparing for the Viva Starts the day you begin your PhD
  13. 13. Relationship with the Supervisor <ul><li>A good supervisor will see you regularly, put you in contact with the field, help you get through the bureaucracy and do everything to ensure you pass </li></ul><ul><li>BUT is likely to be busy, so the onus is on you to arrange meetings, send papers for discussion beforehand etc. </li></ul><ul><li>A good relationship between student and supervisor is essential to the success of any project. If the relationship breaks down irrevocably, consider divorce! </li></ul>
  14. 14. Writing a Thesis <ul><li>Make Chapter 1 a mini-thesis </li></ul><ul><li>Signposting in each chapter </li></ul><ul><li>Repetition and redundancy are helpful </li></ul><ul><li>Order of chapters is important (not necessarily chronological) </li></ul><ul><li>A thesis is not a diary! </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t mention lack of time </li></ul>
  15. 15. Writing a Thesis (2) <ul><li>Spelling, punctuation and grammar matter! </li></ul><ul><li>Clear expression matters (a lot) </li></ul><ul><li>Non-native English speakers need to arrange for a native speaker to read drafts through carefully </li></ul>
  16. 16. Critiquing Thesis Drafts <ul><li>One of the supervisor’s key tasks, so make sure he/she has time to do the job properly </li></ul><ul><li>Expect several points marked per page (some trivial, others important) even in ‘near-final’ drafts </li></ul>If this step is not done thoroughly, the examiners will be sure to do it!
  17. 17. Assessing Your Progress <ul><li>Submit your work to public scrutiny (both internal and external) as often as possible </li></ul><ul><li>- Seminars </li></ul><ul><li>- Workshops </li></ul><ul><li>- Working papers </li></ul><ul><li>- Conference and Journal Papers </li></ul><ul><li>Discuss your work with people outside your field </li></ul><ul><li>Start doing all this as early as possible </li></ul>
  18. 18. Preparing for the Viva <ul><li>Rehearse answers to standard questions </li></ul><ul><li>“ What is the original contribution to knowledge of this work?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ What are the limitations of your approach?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ How would you propose to develop your work further?” </li></ul><ul><li>Anticipate likely lines of criticism and prepare your response [your supervisor can help with this] </li></ul>
  19. 19. The Viva: How to Build the Examiners’ Confidence (1) Expert Systems always take 18 months to build [reference 27]. Rule 4 Do not defend the indefensible
  20. 20. The Viva: How to Build The Examiners’ Confidence (2) Less is more. A modest but accurate and well substantiated claim is enough. Very strong claims to have solved everything are not necessary, will not be believed and are almost certainly untrue. Rule 5 Do not claim too much
  21. 21. The Viva: How to Build the Examiners’ Confidence (3) The discussion will focus on two topics (a) Your work (b) The broader picture The examiner does not want to believe all you know about is your own work. Rule 6 Make sure you can put your work in context. Why is it important? Why did you not use a different method? How does your method relate to other approaches?
  22. 22. Defending a Thesis <ul><li>Examiners will have already formed an opinion based on the written thesis. A good viva can improve it. A bad one can ruin it. </li></ul><ul><li>Most examiners would much prefer to pass the candidate and want to be persuaded to do so </li></ul><ul><li>Vital that answers make the examiners more confident not less </li></ul><ul><li>An open mind and a proper scientific approach is far more important than trying to justify every word of the thesis (pass mark is not 100%) </li></ul>
  23. 23. What to Avoid (1): Mind Your Language <ul><li>Everyone knows that … </li></ul><ul><li>There is no doubt that … </li></ul><ul><li>I have proved that … </li></ul><ul><li>X is well-known to be the best method of … </li></ul><ul><li>It is clear that … </li></ul><ul><li>No-one can dispute that … </li></ul>
  24. 24. What to Avoid (2): Do Not Criticise Other Researchers <ul><li>All previous researchers have made the false assumption that … </li></ul><ul><li>Einstein had the mistaken view that … </li></ul><ul><li>No-one has looked at the possibility of …. </li></ul>Just say what you have done and examine the evidence for its being a small improvement on previous work. That is all that is needed.
  25. 25. What to Avoid (3): Do Not Criticise Other Researchers Especially not the examiner’s friends…. Dr. X clearly does not understand the work of John Stuart Mill. Summary of 1 to 3: Do not waste the examiners’ goodwill by unsupported and unscientific comments on fringe issues.
  26. 26. What to Avoid (4): Small Examples … … that do not scale up e.g. model-based reasoning for a circuit with 5 components … that could easily be handled by other methods
  27. 27. What to Avoid (5): Horror Stories <ul><li>‘ X’s algorithm runs 1000 times faster than C4.5’ </li></ul><ul><li>A method which chooses between 2 equally likely possibilities with 30% accuracy </li></ul><ul><li>A method that predicts rare events less accurately than chance </li></ul>It is not necessary to be an expert to spot problems like these. Any competent reader should be able to do it. So why do mistakes like these keep being made?
  28. 28. And Finally …… <ul><li>Good luck! </li></ul><ul><li>Bur remember … </li></ul>‘ You make your own luck’
  29. 29. Examining a Higher Degree: The View From The Other Side Professor Max Bramer University of Portsmouth

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