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How to ace the viva dcu


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These slides are specific phd thesis help for a talk I gave at Dublin City University on 15 May 2014. They should be helpful for any in a European context about to turn in their final thesis pre viva

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How to ace the viva dcu

  1. 1. We will start in just a moment Exercises Aimed to Help You Ace the Viva
  2. 2. How to Ace Final Defense or Viva Voce’
  3. 3. Let’s figure out whose in the room Raise your hand if you go to the following school…. • Business School • Engineering & Computing – School of Computing – School of Electronic Engineering – School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering • Humanities & Social Sciences – School of Applied Language & Intercultural Studies – School of Communications – School of Education Studies – School of Law & Government – Fiontar • Science & HealthSchool of Biotechnology • Chemical Sciences • Health & Human Performance • Mathematical Sciences • Nursing & Human Sciences • Physical Sciences • Oscail - DCU Online Education
  4. 4. Let’s figure out whose in the room Raise your hand for all the ones that are true…. 1. You have already submitted your “final” full draft thesis to: 1. Your supervisor, 2. You examiners are approved 3. Your soft bound copy has been accepted by registry (they send it to examiners) 4. You’re in the stage of waiting 6 weeks 5. Perhaps the university has set up a final defense or viva 6. if not then have you asked your supervisor who will set up your date? How long have you been on this journey? 1. You were successful in getting to this point in: a) 2 years? b) 3 years? c) 4 years? d) More? How prepared do you feel? 1. 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.” Remember your examination is the schools responsibility! This is a process you go through but you don’t need to manage it.
  5. 5. Steps/Agenda 1. The range of questions you might expect to hear when defending” 2. Questions you may want to ask before the day 3. How are theses/ dissertations evaluated? 4. What can you do to make sure yours meets these criteria? INTERVAL
  6. 6. The range you might expect when defending”
  7. 7. Range of Experiences Manage the expectations of your family & friends – the question most likely is how much work will still be required? 1. DCU has 6 possible outcomes: 1. Award recommended no corrections needed 2. Award recommended: corrections revisions required 1. Some will require another layer of validation 3. No award now pending another viva after revisions 4. Recommended to withdraw for another masters OR major revisions for another viva 5. Strong recommendation for Masters 6. No degree should be awarded (very rare). 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 feeling.
  8. 8. 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? Methods 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 and-help-in-authoring-a-phd-or-non-fiction/c3687cc75962
  9. 9. Range of Questions.2 Findings 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 next? 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 themes.
  10. 10. Questions you may want to ask before the day
  11. 11. Answers You’ll Need 1. What guidelines are you writing to and how strict will the examiners be? 2. Who/ How Many Examiners Will There Be? 2+ Chair + supervisor with their permission – useful to take notes 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? Will known recommendation – required changes will follow in 7 day 6. If you have required revisions – how long do you have to complete them? 6 week, 6 months or 1 year Prioritize these 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? 9. No copyediting – corrections back to examiner for sign off 10. Hardcopy to registry – Softcopy/digital to supervisor and for Doras- open repository
  12. 12. Lovitts, B. E. (2005). How to grade a dissertation. Academe, 91(6), 18-23. How are theses/ dissertations evaluated?
  13. 13. Evaluation 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 authoritative voice • 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 literature • Exhibits command and authority over the material • Argument is focused, logical, rigorous, and sustained • Is theoretically sophisticated and shows a deep understanding of theory • Has a brilliant research design • Uses or develops new tools, methods, approaches, or types of analyses • 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 think • Pushes the discipline's boundaries and opens new areas for research •General quality – pass at the outstanding, very good or acceptable level. •Has internal consistency •Meet the benchmarks
  14. 14. 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 important • 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 problem • 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
  15. 15. 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 wrong • Relies on inappropriate or incorrect methods • Has data that are flawed, wrong, false, fudged, or misinterpreted • Has wrong, inappropriate, incoherent, or confused analysis • Includes results that are obvious already known, unexplained, or misinterpreted • Has unsupported or exaggerated interpretation • Does not make a contribution •
  16. 16. Methods (con’t) • In alignment with the question addressed and the theory used In addition, the author demonstrates • An understanding of the methods' advantages and disadvantages • How to use the methods Component 5: Results or Analysis The analysis • Is appropriate • Aligns with the question and hypotheses raised • Shows sophistication • Is iterative Amount and quality of data or information is • Sufficient • Well presented • Intelligently interpreted The author also cogently expresses • The insights gained from the study • The study's limitations Component 6: Discussion or Conclusion The 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 discipline • Discusses future directions for research Component 1: Introduction •The 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 •The 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 appropriate • Is logically interpreted • Is well understood • Aligns with the question at hand In addition, the author shows comprehension of the theory's • Strengths • Limitations Component 4: Methods The methods applied or developed are • Appropriate • Described in detail
  17. 17. Where to go for help Lovitts, B. E. (2005). How to grade a dissertation. Academe, 91(6), 18-23. Exercise: Turn to your neighbour and give them three ways according to this list that you feel your thesis will make the outstanding mark.
  18. 18. What can you do to make sure yours meets these criteria? Thomson, P. (2014). Preparing for the PhD oral exam. Retrieved from
  19. 19. Tests and Trials •Read it all out loud! Listen for your voice. •Analyse for areas of strength and weakness •Read up on the questions most frequently asked •Practice so you are assured you will be: •Confident •Non defensive •Have skills breathing when stressed
  20. 20. Now its your turn to share… What questions still lurk in your brain? What are your “take aways” from today’s session? Links of interest: Examiner report form is available at: .pdf institutional repository is at :