In the viva, the student is vulnerable, the least powerful member in the room, and for this reason the process should be more open and subject to scrutiny (“Whim and rigour”, 25 April).
My own experience was truly terrible. My external terrified me to the extent that I was literally speechless and I broke down in tears straightaway afterwards - and I’m not a wimp and am usually perfectly able to defend myself. She was severe and bullying, dismissive of my years of work and, in relation to my extended case study, had no interest in either findings or theory. Her focus was entirely on the ethics of my work - a good topic but not one which I had discussed at any length with my tutors and which was not part of my extensive preparations and mock viva. I just had no idea of the bombshell that was to hit me and ended up doing major revisions.
I think that, handled with more sensitivity by the external (the most powerful person in the room), I could have done my corrections in a minor revision, saved a year of my life and not been left with such a sense of utter failure.