February 11, 2020
Some of the topics have remained over time, while others were added. And one of those additions was to enter the viva with a clear understanding on where you are. Basically, ask yourself: How good is your thesis?
As I see it, there are the three following categories that can be frequently encountered:
So let us quickly look into each of those.
The first category: ‘Not so good and you enter gambling on luck (e.g. deliberate choice or ignorance)’ – now, there is a difference in between in between deliberate choice and ignorance.
For the latter there is not so much to do. The ignorance category usually applies to students that decided to not listen to their supervisors, those that anyway know things better, and those that have a clear understanding what a doctorate is and shall be about. As said, not much to do about this and no time to be wasted. In contrast to this there is the student that took a deliberate choice of shaping the thesis in the way it ended up being.
Now, contrary to the ignorance category the student in the deliberate choice category understands that the ‘ideal’ or ‘by the book’ thesis should have been different, but for one reason or another the thesis ended up differently and thus it is questionable if the thesis would meet the examiners’ expectations. A typical example for such development is a solution focused thesis that aimed to ‘improve’ something and that has as a narrative alongside this: ‘look this did not work and I used the model of author ABC and things are now much better’, and which is very different to the problem focused thesis at which the narrative would read like ‘look this did not work therefore I examined in detail the reasons why this is not working and for all of the parts that did not work I then consulted the literature, and as a result of this the problem is now well understood and if I were to do ABC then this could result in DEF’. It is not too uncommon that students only gradually start to understand the nature of ‘research problems’ and that they feel that it ‘just too late’ to significantly alter the focus of the research. And to those readers that are at that point: let me tell, it usually is easier to refocus the thesis then to continue running into the wrong direction. In case of doubt, contact us.
The second category: ‘Not so good and you enter aiming to improve it (e.g. you were running out of time and that was the only choice)’ – so what happened here? Putting the thesis together is a daunting and slow process, while your official study time is running out quickly. And if you did not manage to put together a full thesis in this time, then be welcome to read about the silent death here. To avoid the silent death it thus might be more adequate to hand in a full thesis in time, that is meeting all criteria, but that still has room for improvement. This is not to suggest that students should hand in a thesis that objectively seen is not up to the standards (and for which you should have a supervisor who could tell you). What I want to say is that almost all students will get out of the thesis with minor or major modification requests, and thus do not attempt to hand in “the perfect masterpiece”. The point here is that the student is maturing together with the thesis, and therefore earlier thesis components will always seem ‘less good’ then the more recent parts of the thesis. Let’s look at the below slide from an earlier webinar on critical analytics. The green letter font colour shows critical analytic discourse, while the brown one shows just summarizing.
Alongside the doctorate journey students tend to move (and hopefully do) from the one end (summarizing) to the other end (critical analytics) and the thesis consequently contains parts from the full spectrum of such two ends. And there is no stopping on pushing the critical analytics further – so each thesis version is an outdated version as the students’ capability to produce a better piece should have been higher at the point the current version is ready. So, to break this potential endless improvement cycle one needs to accept parts of the thesis as final at one point.
The third category: ‘Pretty decent (and I am just damn nervous)’ – that’s fair enough and yes, you should be nervous. The viva is a make it or break it situation, sure. But if you did a fairly good job that then resulted in a pretty decent thesis, then all that is missing is to prepare yourself. Have a look at the questions that are to be expected (see webinar slides 24 to 29), put together a high level summary of the thesis, discuss your work with friends and peers, and consider having an authentic Mock Viva. And then, enjoy the Viva!
If you are interest in learning more about mirroring, please be welcome to replay the webinar recording, access the full slide deck, or to use the webinar’s discussion board, or get in touch with us via the contact form.