Advance warning

May 16, 2013

Pauline McGovern makes a good point about vivas (“Harsh interrogation”, Letters, 2 May). Their main purpose is to establish that candidates understand their work and can explain it in the context of the literature. Catching them off guard with a surprise line of questioning in an already tense atmosphere does not help.

I have led doctoral vivas in several countries, and it is my belief that the UK system is best fit for purpose. However, I would suggest that one rule of the European system be adopted, namely that of advance written notice by the external examiner of major issues to be raised at the viva (with a chair appointed to ensure that undisclosed questions are ruled out).

Advance knowledge of the examiner’s line of questioning does not make the process any less rigorous - the candidate may still fail if they cannot defend the thesis - but it does reduce the polarity of power in the room between examiner and student, and introduces an element of fairness if the latter at least knows where the attack is coming from.

David Jessop
Honorary senior lecturer
University of Bristol

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips