In this episode, guest host Dr. Edward Mills talks to Professor Jon Blount, Director of Postgraduate Researcher in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences about preparing for your viva in STEMM subjects.

A couple of claifications on rules and regulations at Exeter:

  • Staff members doing a research degree viva will need two external examiners, not two internal examiners
  • It is not possible to 'fail' your first viva - the outcomes are no corrections, minor corrections, major corrections and resubmission
  • For minor corrections, you have 3 months to complete the revisions not two

This is the first in a new series of podcasts on the viva, being developed as part of a suite of online resources by Edward for the University of Exeter Doctoral College.


Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Podcast transcript


00:00:09,260 --> 00:00:15,880
Hello and welcome, R, D And in betweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece.

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And every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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And welcome to the latest episode of R, D and the In Betweens.

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This episode comes to you a little late due to an incident with a microphone cable that sadly is no more.

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But I'm really delighted for the first time to bring you guest host for R, D and the In Betweens.

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So this week, Dr. Edward Mills, who has been a frequent guest on the podcast,

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is taking over and bringing us an episode all about preparing for your viiva

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So Edward is working with me to develop some online resources and training about preparing for your viva

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and that includes a series of podcasts with different academics and examiners and researchers all about the process.

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So this is the first of a new series. And over to you, Edward.

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Hello. As Kelly said in her intro, my name is Edward.

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I am a postdoc in Modern languages. And this episode of R, D and The In Betweens comes to you courtesy of Jon Blount

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director of Postgraduate Researchers in CLES, the College of Life Environmental Sciences here at the University of Exeter.

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It's part of a series of interviews that I'm doing with DPGRs and examiners from around the

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university as part of the preparation for a new suite of resources on preparing for your viva.

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And Jon has very kindly agreed that we can use the long form version of our discussion as part of this podcast series.

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So I started by asking, Jonn, as you can probably imagine, whether he'd be willing to introduce himself.

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Yeah, sure. So I'm I'm Jon Blount. As you said, I'm a professor of animal physiology.

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So my sort of parent discipline is bio sciences.

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But in CLES, I oversee, in addition to bio sciences, geography, sport and health sciences and psychology as well, including clinical psychology.

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So it's quite a diverse range of subject areas and quite large college.

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We've got about five hundred and seventy five students, something of that in that order.

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You mentioned the diverse college that you have in CLES

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And I was really interested to hear about this during the preinterview chat that we had in that you've got researchers from

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areas that say human geography who might be quite close to some of the work that we do in humanities and social sciences.

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Then you also have, of course, a lot of researchers who are nearer towards the what you might call the hard sciences and in CLES

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Is that right? That's right. Yeah.

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I mean, most of most of the theses that are examined in this college would be, I guess, what you would call STEM related.

00:03:09,140 --> 00:03:13,730
But as you say, towards the sort of human geography and of the geography spectrum,

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we do see PhDs that can be examined, including elements of performing arts, for example.

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So, you know, a very diverse range of presentations. Yes.

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And certainly we're hoping that the material in this discussion that will be useful to people then has people in STEM and everything in between.

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I was wondering if we could start just with me,

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asking when you tend to advise these students to start thinking about the viva as a moment in their course of study.

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I think this is a conversation that will naturally emerge in the final you know, the final year, let's say.

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It should be it should be around the time when you're getting deep into writing up and thinking about the

00:04:01,640 --> 00:04:06,740
kind of literature that you should be citing to properly represent the field of work that you're in.

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I mean, the choice of examiners will be strongly informed by the experience of your supervisory team.

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And I think it's important. You know, it's usually the case that students are aware of who their examiners are going to be.

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At some point during the latter months when they're finishing up the up stage and end it.

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And it's useful at that stage to kind of, you know,

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your audience really to think about who's going to be reading this and what literature they are going to be familiar with.

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You know, making sure that you properly represent their own research,

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perhaps not just the broader field of literature that they will be most knowledgeable about.

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So as a sort of follow up to that, then just to sort of try and demystify the process of it.

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Could I ask what you as an examiner will do when you're given a thesis or

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approached by one of the supervisors first to ask if it's an area you'd be willing to examine.

00:05:08,330 --> 00:05:09,540

00:05:09,540 --> 00:05:19,200
Your typically you'd be approached by the primary supervisor who would tell you roughly what the subject area is and what how many chapters there are,

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roughly how long the thesis says and what kind of format it's in and so on.

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And then you decide, you know, whether you're available and able to do it within the timescale that they will identify for.

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You know, they'll say to you, look, the candidates looking to submit around so and so and so we you know,

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we'd really like to have this done within two or three months of that date. Is that possible?

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And you agree or you decline depending on what what you know, what you've got on your plate at the time and so on when the thesis arrives to you,

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it will, of course, come electronically and it should also arrive as hard copy.

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If it doesn't, most examiners will request that because it's a lot easier to read a large document,

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as we all know, you know, in hard copy than on screen.

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And most examiners will have a quick flick through the thing when it arrives and just get a sense of the scale of the task ahead of them.

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You know, how much time do they feel that they will need to set aside to read this ahead of the thev viva?

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Well, if there is a viva. And then usually, you know what most people will do because we've all got a lot of things going on.

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It will normally be put to the side until a week or two before the date of the exam or the deadline for the submission of the report for the viva.

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And then they will they will intensively read it over a period of whatever's required, you know, two, three days as required and write the comments.

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I, I tend to go through the thesis and mark up the hard copy.

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And then after I've gone through each chapter,

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I'll then type up my notes and think about which bits of it are actually substantive and need to be discussed in a in a viva or

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would need to be presented to the candidate as a something they should respond to could potentially require revision and so on.

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So in that sort of post submission pre viva period, how do you typically advise a candidate to prepare for the viva?

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OK, so after you submit, obviously, there's a great sense of elation that you've sort of crossed the line and you

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tend to put the thing in the top drawer and forget about it for a few weeks,

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and that's absolutely the right thing to do. You know, just go away and forget about it, relax and do something else.

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But when it, when you when you know the date of your viva, I feel it's very important to make sure that you read the thesis and know its contents.

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Well, you know, you you can to a greater or lesser extent,

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anticipate the kinds of questions they're going to ask about each chapter and perhaps overall

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about how the thesis hangs together as a whole and what it what is its broader significance.

00:08:03,920 --> 00:08:11,320
So for each chapter, I would encourage candidates to just read it not immediately before the viva

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I'm not talking about the day before. I'm talking about maybe a week or two before.

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Read the chapter. Make sure you can or are clear in your own mind.

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What was the overall aim or question that we were setting out to address here?

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What were the what were the major questions and hypotheses that we approach?

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What were the major findings? And how do these findings change the way we think about the original question that we set out to answer at the outset?

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You know, you can you can if you can answer those sorts of questions in relation to each chapter,

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you're going to do absolutely fine, because you're almost certainly going to be asked to explain.

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What did you do? Why did you do it? What did you find out?

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You want to be all you want to almost be able to explain the purpose or the outcome of each chapter,

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as if you were writing a lay summary or or as if you were, you know, explaining to a non-specialist in the kitchen a party.

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You know what? Why what do you do? Why did you do that? What who cares?

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What did you find out? And in a conversational kind of way, you want to give a fairly pithy answer to those sorts of questions,

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because you're almost certainly going to be asked. And that's really I think preparation is the key.

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Think about potential weaknesses. It's not your role to hide any potential weaknesses that you're aware of.

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It's okay to be open and talk about them, too. The examiner's main job is, as I said before, is to make sure that you wrote the thesis.

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So just make sure that you you do remember its content.

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Don't put it to one side and then literally don't look at it again for three months and

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then go into the room because you're gonna be asked detailed questions about his content.

00:10:04,050 --> 00:10:09,050
And you mentioned this sort of writing of reports that takes place before the viva.

00:10:09,050 --> 00:10:12,800
Could you say a bit more about that and about the role of different examiners?

00:10:12,800 --> 00:10:22,040
Because, of course, there will be more than one. Yeah, there'll be an external examiner and one or more internal examiners.

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If, for example, a member of staff themselves went for a PhD, if they didn't have a PhD already, they might do a PhD as

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part of their work for Exeter. They would then require two internal examiners.

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But, you know, there there are sort of process related things like that that might determine how many people are in the room.

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But, you know, there's going to be an internal examiner. At least one of those is going to be one external examiner potentially two external examiners.

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If the thesis covers a very broad range of expertise, is that requires a bit more inputs to examine.

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And there might be a non examining independent chair whose role is just to oversee proceedings.

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They don't they don't read the thesis and they won't contributes the conversation

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other than to chip in and sort of bring things back on course if they feel that,

00:11:07,340 --> 00:11:13,370
you know, you've overrun the time that's available or something like that. And I think that's actually our requirement, isn't it?

00:11:13,370 --> 00:11:19,910
With the new virtual Vivas in the age of COVID, it is a requirement of the online virtual Vivas.

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It's not a requirement, typically, unless there's something like, you know, one of the examiners has not examined at the level of the award before.

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It might require a non-examiningchair to be present just to oversee, oversee proceedings.

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As I say, their role is just to make sure that the regulations are followed really,

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and that the candidate has a fair crack, the whip to defend their thesis, as we say.

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And obviously the first step, I imagine,

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is defending the thesis comes in the form of the examiners producing these reports on what you as a candidate have written.

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Could you say a bit more about what goes into these reports at all?

00:11:54,920 --> 00:12:02,540
Yes. So that the preliminary reports are written independently by the each individual examiner.

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And they will give an abridged version of their overall comments that they've already written up in note form or in longhand.

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You know, they would just give a sort of a sense of where they of

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what they feel the likely outcome will be on the basis of the thesis that they've read.

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They will give a tentative recommendation at the end. I think this is I think this is worthy of the award of PhD

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It's subject to perhaps some revisions in the areas that I've outlined above.

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That's the kind of the way that that report typically. And and then then then examiners share those reports with each other.

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Usually the day before the exam, just so they're aware of the gist of what each other's feelings are.

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It's useful to have that for context. And then but you wouldn't modify those reports at that stage, even if you identified differences in your view.

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So that's that's quite normal.

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But then on that, you know, after the after the viva has taken place, the examiners would then get together virtually.

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In the current circumstances or physically, they would get together a room and they would draw up a report,

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a joint report where they make their recommendation.

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This should be awarded, you know, subject to revisions or whatever the recommendation is, though, they'll state, what their recommendation is.

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And then if there are revisions required, they'll list them. That's that's the function of the final report.

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The period, of course, when the examiners are doing this before the viva itself starts is one of high tension for the student candidate.

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I remember it myself, very well, what advice do you tend to give to PGR is going into the viva about nerves and how to handle them?

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I think I think the first thing to say is, you know,

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try not to be nervous because you know more about this thing than anyone else does almost certainly.

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And that the primary function of the examiners is just to make sure to verify that you indeed wrote this thing yourself.

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You know, this is an independent, independent piece of research. And you are the author. That's their primary function.

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So, you know, of course, that is almost invariably going to be the case.

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So, you know, you should go into this feeling that you're in control.

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You know, to us to a greater or lesser extent, that you know more about this than anyone else.

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So you shouldn't. Although it's almost impossible. Not to become anxious ahead of a major life event like this.

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The examiners are going to want you to do well. And I think it's important that, you know,

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that the candidates recognise that good examiners will set you at ease when you walk into the room just by

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asking you some rather banal questions about what you've been up to since you submitted the thing or you know,

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that just conversation starts ready to break the ice. They might even give you a sense of the likely outcome before that final proper begins.

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So everybody wants you to do well.

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And in an ideal world, you will be put at ease relatively quickly after the thing starts.

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And that's something that's come up a lot, actually, in the discussions I've had with examiners and DPGRs across across colleges that

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examiners will often give an indication early on over the way the wind is blowing.

00:15:24,130 --> 00:15:24,430

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that might not always be the case and you might not get this sort of early indication of whether you're going to pass with major corrections,

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minor corrections, no corrections or so on if you don't get that.

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Is that necessarily a bad thing from the outset of either place?

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So it's sometimes quite difficult to give a precise indication because it may not be cut and dry whether they will want you to make revisions or not.

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You know, some of the some of the items that they've, some of the things they've itemised in the provisional list of corrections that

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they they want to discuss with you will end up just being put to one side,

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having had a discussion. It's the misunderstandings cleared up and it doesn't actually require revision.

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So I think I wouldn't be at all concerned if you're not given an indication of the likely outcome is is quite often

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difficult to be definitive before you've actually heard the candidate speak and wants to do the questions in.

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So once we're into the meat of the viva, if you like, past the initial introductions, those those early questions.

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Is there anything that you as an examiner like to see that gives you confidence in the

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candidate that you examine in confidence that the candidate knows what they're doing,

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knows what they're talking about? I mean, you're you know, you're an examiner.

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You're looking for a thesis, a thesis that's well, well presented and has been proofs

00:16:47,050 --> 00:16:49,210

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It makes the task of examining so much more enjoyable if you feel that the candidate has taken care over the presentation and then the proofreading,

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you know, there's really no excuse for it to be littered with typos.

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And it sets the tone in the wrong direction from the outset because you're creating a

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great deal more work for the examiners if you haven't had time or bothered to do that,

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work yourself. You know, similarly, you want to see a good you want to be easy to navigate.

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So you want see a good context content section so you can find all the different bits easily and cross-reference things when you need to.

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You're to make sure that the literature is appropriately cited. We've touched on that already.

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And the other thing I suppose to say here is I think it's important to make sure

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that you deal with all all the revisions that you're given at the end of it.

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You know that the final report that you receive at the end of viva will

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potentially have a list of things that the examiners want you to correct or amend.

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And, you know, occasionally candidates don't agree with all of those things.

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And and they might then choose to sort of argue the point.

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And I would strongly advise against that, because it doesn't it just doesn't end well for the candidate, because it just draws out the process.

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And basically the examiners are highly unlikely to. To back down on an amendment that they've asked for.

00:18:19,410 --> 00:18:28,890
So that's a really interesting point, Just to check are you referring specifically to amendments that are proposed post Viva or to the kind of

00:18:28,890 --> 00:18:35,280
discussions that you'd have in the propositions made by the examiners during the viva itself?

00:18:35,280 --> 00:18:36,180
No. No,

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During the discussion, I mean, it's absolutely fine to sort of argue, argue the point and perhaps not argue, but of robust discussion about something.

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If if the examiners ask you to change the way some piece of statistical analysis is done or something and you don't agree,

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then it's absolutely your prerogative to figure out why you feel that they're wrong and they may well be wrong.

00:18:56,260 --> 00:19:00,000
I mean, that could be an example of a potential amendment that they then just scrub

00:19:00,000 --> 00:19:03,810
out off the list because they realise that they misunderstood or something.

00:19:03,810 --> 00:19:10,800
But at the end of the process, if there are amendments or corrections requested, it will come in the form of a list.

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And, you know, you've basically just got to do what you've been asked to do at that stage.

00:19:15,810 --> 00:19:21,480
There's no point arguing candidates occasionally will feel that they want to do that.

00:19:21,480 --> 00:19:26,790
But it's a pointless exercise would be my advice.

00:19:26,790 --> 00:19:29,010
Yeah. Thanks for clarifying that.

00:19:29,010 --> 00:19:38,620
Actually, I think that resonates with a lot of what people have heard in HASS subjects as well about the need to engage in this robust discussion,

00:19:38,620 --> 00:19:44,700
during the viva itsel on that topic, actually, of a sort of robust discussion.

00:19:44,700 --> 00:19:52,130
How do you tend to encourage candidates to reach that stage?

00:19:52,130 --> 00:19:59,060
Well, one thing that I've heard before from a lot of people is the value of not getting too defensive in the viva

00:19:59,060 --> 00:20:08,130
Yes. I think, you know, you got a break. You got to recognise that. You know, exams will vary and some examiners are just human beings,

00:20:08,130 --> 00:20:14,810
right so they will have different demeanours and ways of approaching things and different manners of asking questions.

00:20:14,810 --> 00:20:21,930
But as a candidate, whatever you're presented with, you've just got to stay cool and listen to the question carefully.

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And, you know, above all, don't don't don't argue.

00:20:26,190 --> 00:20:32,580
Just take your time. Listen to it. Ask. Ask for a clarification if you don't understand the question properly.

00:20:32,580 --> 00:20:37,200
Once you do understand what they're getting out, you know, whatever it is.

00:20:37,200 --> 00:20:47,100
Just give a calm answer. This is the best advice really is absolutely no point folding your arms and arguing.

00:20:47,100 --> 00:20:51,930
So when you say don't argue. It sounds like a kind of demeanour thing.

00:20:51,930 --> 00:20:55,890
Almost. Don't don't snap back. Just keep your cool. If that makes sense.

00:20:55,890 --> 00:21:03,000
Very often in in STEM subject areas that, you know, there will be multiple ways of doing something.

00:21:03,000 --> 00:21:07,770
And the examiners may have their own particular preference of how something should be done.

00:21:07,770 --> 00:21:09,870
And they may say to you, I think you should do it like this.

00:21:09,870 --> 00:21:20,280
And it say it's absolutely fine to try to reason with the examiner why you feel the way you've done it is it is an alternative or adequate approach to.

00:21:20,280 --> 00:21:25,500
And, you know, a good examiner, a good board of examiners would accept that they'd listen to and accept that.

00:21:25,500 --> 00:21:28,860
And actually, that will sort of bolster their confidence that you are in command of this.

00:21:28,860 --> 00:21:32,940
And as I said, it is your PhD. And you know more about this to anyone else.

00:21:32,940 --> 00:21:37,950
And in many cases, examiners will simply say, that's absolutely fine.

00:21:37,950 --> 00:21:44,400
And drop the point. You will occasionally get situations where examiner is absolutely adamant that they want something done in a particular way.

00:21:44,400 --> 00:21:51,990
And you very strongly disagree. And that's the sort of bit where the internal examiners role really comes to the fore there,

00:21:51,990 --> 00:21:59,370
because they ought to be experienced enough to, you know, recognise a point when, you know, we've exhausted this.

00:21:59,370 --> 00:22:05,130
Now let's move on. And they will potentially intervene and say, I think we think we've covered this now.

00:22:05,130 --> 00:22:06,120
We'll move on at the end.

00:22:06,120 --> 00:22:12,660
And then, you know, yet when you see the report, the and you'll find out what the decision has been as to what they want you to do.

00:22:12,660 --> 00:22:19,830
But that's the point at which you there's no point arguing, just jumping back slightly, if that's okay.

00:22:19,830 --> 00:22:25,350
One thing that you mentioned earlier was the importance of signposting and there being a clear structure throughout the thesis.

00:22:25,350 --> 00:22:32,820
And another thing that came out of our discussion before I hit the big red record button was this notion of the results chapter,

00:22:32,820 --> 00:22:42,240
which sounds in some ways that's quite a specific STEM thing for listeners who are a maybe HASS subjects.

00:22:42,240 --> 00:22:50,790
Would you be able to say a little bit more about what you mean by that and how that might apply more generally, this notion of results chapter?

00:22:50,790 --> 00:22:57,060
So the typical structure of a PhDthesis in STEM would be an introductory chapter,

00:22:57,060 --> 00:23:04,230
which might be a sort of a literature review type chapter that sets the research questions in the context of the existing

00:23:04,230 --> 00:23:11,550
literature and identifies the gaps in knowledge that you're going to address that may or may not be publishable units,

00:23:11,550 --> 00:23:17,910
if you like, in its own right. It might end up being a review article in in in in the STEM literature,

00:23:17,910 --> 00:23:25,230
or it might just serve the purpose of being part of the thesis that sort of bookends the results chapters which are in the middle.

00:23:25,230 --> 00:23:32,370
So after your introductory general introduction, you would typically then have a series of, you know, what we call results chapters.

00:23:32,370 --> 00:23:38,730
So each of those will have its own introduction methods, results, discussion, reference list and so on.

00:23:38,730 --> 00:23:49,740
They may or may not have been submitted for publication, as you know, individual publishable units at the point by which you have the viva.

00:23:49,740 --> 00:23:51,060
If they have been published,

00:23:51,060 --> 00:23:57,630
it's very often the case that you'll just have an interesting chat about the contents of it and what we found out about it.

00:23:57,630 --> 00:24:02,100
You know, what was the main question? How did you address it? What were the main findings?

00:24:02,100 --> 00:24:07,380
How does this change the way we view the world? You know, but they won't nit pick about details.

00:24:07,380 --> 00:24:11,820
And why did you do your analysis in this way? Did you think about doing in a different way?

00:24:11,820 --> 00:24:16,460
Because it's already been subject to peer review and and it's published.

00:24:16,460 --> 00:24:22,470
You know, what's the point of changing a part of a thesis that's already in the public domain as a published article?

00:24:22,470 --> 00:24:27,900
So most examiners won't ask you to revise published chapters.

00:24:27,900 --> 00:24:31,620
It can happen, but it's it's relatively unusual.

00:24:31,620 --> 00:24:37,180
They're more likely to spend more time talking about the aspects of the thesis which are potentially publishable,

00:24:37,180 --> 00:24:41,460
i.e., the results chapters which have not yet been submitted for peer review.

00:24:41,460 --> 00:24:46,690
So they'll be doing the job of external peer review is at that stage.

00:24:46,690 --> 00:24:54,540
And actually, that conversation that happens in the Viva is really, really helpful for you for when you come to write those papers up for publication,

00:24:54,540 --> 00:25:00,480
submit them, because hopefully with all of that expert opinion you've already had about this piece of work,

00:25:00,480 --> 00:25:02,920
you'll have covered many of the issues that the.

00:25:02,920 --> 00:25:11,110
The reviewers might might have picked up and how helpful is it, at least in in STEM specifically to compartmentalise in this way?

00:25:11,110 --> 00:25:17,610
I mean, I'm assuming most reviewers will take it in a relatively chapter by chapter like fashion.

00:25:17,610 --> 00:25:23,100
They will actually, in this subject it's actually the most common format for these conversations will be to let's start with

00:25:23,100 --> 00:25:30,060
chapter one and then two and three and so on you can you can approach this and examine other ways entirely up to you,

00:25:30,060 --> 00:25:35,940
how you approach it. But with the agreement of all the examiners, you could go it in a very much wider way.

00:25:35,940 --> 00:25:40,050
And just and just start with the really broad questions about, you know, what have we learnt?

00:25:40,050 --> 00:25:46,530
How does this how does this how does the findings of your thesis change the way we think about the original questions you set out?

00:25:46,530 --> 00:25:53,400
And then just sort of pick up on individual bits of it as you as you sort of navigate through that conversation.

00:25:53,400 --> 00:25:59,970
And that might be the more appropriate way to do it. If, for example, as exceptionally to be fair, but if, for example,

00:25:59,970 --> 00:26:07,110
the candidate had already published all of their results, chapters in the peer reviewed scientific literature,

00:26:07,110 --> 00:26:15,930
then it might be appropriate to have a slightly different style of conversation in the viva, where you just go at it from a much broader perspective.

00:26:15,930 --> 00:26:20,010
I was going to ask actually on that subjects, would you recommend, therefore,

00:26:20,010 --> 00:26:30,180
at least in STEMM subject that candidates try and sort of publish as much as possible prior to their PhD just to give themselves that insurance?

00:26:30,180 --> 00:26:34,610
I wouldn't say recommend because it's so project specific. You know, some it's some projects.

00:26:34,610 --> 00:26:38,760
The results only come towards the end. It's just a necessary part of it.

00:26:38,760 --> 00:26:44,460
You know, if you're working on a longitudinal study of a mammal in the wild or something,

00:26:44,460 --> 00:26:49,920
you might only get all of your data in the final year and so on. So it's almost impossible to publish as you go.

00:26:49,920 --> 00:26:56,160
But, you know, in in this subject area, we are we're all obsessed, if you like,

00:26:56,160 --> 00:27:01,590
in our careers are judged on the numbers and quality of the publications that we produce.

00:27:01,590 --> 00:27:09,420
And so, you know, all all supervisors will be encouraging you to look for opportunities to publish as you go.

00:27:09,420 --> 00:27:14,510
Based on that, then, would publication make you untouchable in a viva on a given chapter,

00:27:14,510 --> 00:27:18,540
or is that, as I suspect, something of an oversimplification?

00:27:18,540 --> 00:27:25,290
It's an oversimplification, but, you know, the role of the examiners is to make sure you have been examined.

00:27:25,290 --> 00:27:31,350
You know, it'd be remiss of them just to have a laid back conversation if you just because you've published everything,

00:27:31,350 --> 00:27:37,710
they would be looking to test you on your thoughts about what are the most significant parts of what you've found.

00:27:37,710 --> 00:27:42,990
And, you know, why should we care about what you've found and how could this apply to fields, you know,

00:27:42,990 --> 00:27:48,240
outside of your immediate gaze and subject area and so on, mean they will as experienced academics,

00:27:48,240 --> 00:27:51,360
they will want to make you feel like you've had an exam,

00:27:51,360 --> 00:28:02,510
although a constructive and enjoyable conversation that just for the final part of our conversation, I was wondering if we could look at little bit more.

00:28:02,510 --> 00:28:07,950
Are some of the outcomes. We've briefly touched on these already.

00:28:07,950 --> 00:28:10,230
But just to begin with the basic points.

00:28:10,230 --> 00:28:17,910
Am I right in thinking that the standard outcomes od pass with no corrections, with minor corrections, major corrections,

00:28:17,910 --> 00:28:27,370
that sort of range of outcomes and of course, other ones alongside that are broadly consistent in STEM subjects as well as in HASS?

00:28:27,370 --> 00:28:29,100
The potential outcomes are the same.

00:28:29,100 --> 00:28:36,150
And at the end of the viva of the examiners will send you out of the room, you know, physically or figuratively speaking,

00:28:36,150 --> 00:28:40,770
if it was a virtual viva and they'll have a conversation about what their recommendations are going to be,

00:28:40,770 --> 00:28:44,700
then they'll call you back in and they'll tell you verbally what the recommendation is.

00:28:44,700 --> 00:28:50,700
Of course, if it's no corrections, it's just a case of, you know, slapping each other on the back and wishing you well.

00:28:50,700 --> 00:28:54,960
If it's if the recommendation is for major or minor corrections,

00:28:54,960 --> 00:29:02,400
then they'll explain to you why they feel that's justified and what you're required to do for the award.

00:29:02,400 --> 00:29:09,020
And then you will be sent the written up report once they've conferred and actually got it down in writing.

00:29:09,020 --> 00:29:17,100
You will be sent that within a few days usually, and you'll be given a period of time in which you need to turn it around and resubmit it.

00:29:17,100 --> 00:29:21,300
And then once the revisions are received back at the university administrative hub,

00:29:21,300 --> 00:29:29,900
they will be sent to the internal examiners whose role is just to go through and check that you've done all that you were asked to do.

00:29:29,900 --> 00:29:35,160
And if there's any uncertainty in their mind about that, they will confer with the external examiner.

00:29:35,160 --> 00:29:39,600
But in most cases, the external examiner isn't consulted at that point.

00:29:39,600 --> 00:29:47,970
And it the case in sciences as it is in, has subjects that you're not allowed to contact your examiners for further feedback.

00:29:47,970 --> 00:29:54,060
No, it's really important you don't contact the examiners. It compromises their position.

00:29:54,060 --> 00:29:57,420
They won't welcome the approach and it and it contravenes our rules.

00:29:57,420 --> 00:30:04,310
And regs so potentially would render the examination invalid and you'd have to do it again.

00:30:04,310 --> 00:30:10,170
There is that the option of going through your supervisor. But that can only happen once.

00:30:10,170 --> 00:30:15,090
As I understand it. Yeah. I don't know about the frequency, whether it once or whatever.

00:30:15,090 --> 00:30:22,270
It's some it. It's not generally considered to be a good idea for any one to confer with the examiners would be my advice.

00:30:22,270 --> 00:30:27,520
You can go back to the internal examiner would be that the supervisor could approach the

00:30:27,520 --> 00:30:32,880
internal examiner and ask for clarification about the wording of something that would be okay.

00:30:32,880 --> 00:30:39,490
Yeah. I think that would be fine once. And what is the distribution curve, if that's the right term?

00:30:39,490 --> 00:30:46,330
Look like what percentage of candidates will get no minor major correction.

00:30:46,330 --> 00:30:52,870
So in our college, minor corrections is the most common outcome.

00:30:52,870 --> 00:31:00,160
Something like 80 percent of submitted theses will get minor corrections, no corrections,

00:31:00,160 --> 00:31:12,070
about 10 percent major corrections or other potential outcomes like a fail or award of a lower degree and MPhil or that sort of thing.

00:31:12,070 --> 00:31:20,760
That would be, you know, in the single figures. And how do people tend to react to all of the different outcomes that they might achieve?

00:31:20,760 --> 00:31:25,410
I went into my viva I remember hoping for minor corrections.

00:31:25,410 --> 00:31:28,930
Is that sort of the attitude to take, would you say? I think so.

00:31:28,930 --> 00:31:32,410
I mean, if you if you've prepared the thesis, you know,

00:31:32,410 --> 00:31:38,170
if you've if you've had it read by your supervisors and you've gone through rounds of revision and so on, us,

00:31:38,170 --> 00:31:43,570
as should be the case, then everyone should feel reasonably confident that the point that which is submitted,

00:31:43,570 --> 00:31:47,480
that this is going to get a pass with no no major difficulties.

00:31:47,480 --> 00:31:53,830
That's why major corrections or a fail or award of a lower degree is that is a relatively rare outcome.

00:31:53,830 --> 00:32:00,060
Yes. Can I ask first what constitutes minor corrections as opposed to say no corrections?

00:32:00,060 --> 00:32:08,320
Yeah. So minor corrections is typically could just be a list of typos, you know, or very minor things.

00:32:08,320 --> 00:32:13,240
Like I think you should reference this additional area of literature, which you haven't mentioned.

00:32:13,240 --> 00:32:21,610
If that list of very minor issues becomes increasingly very long and pervasive throughout the thesis,

00:32:21,610 --> 00:32:28,300
then potentially that could in itself swing it towards major corrections because it would require longer than,

00:32:28,300 --> 00:32:34,750
you know, just two months to fix sort of thing. It's it's a wholesale rewriting that could potentially constitute major corrections.

00:32:34,750 --> 00:32:42,370
The more common justification for the requests of major corrections is if there are aspects of the analysis,

00:32:42,370 --> 00:32:48,420
i.e. the data analysis in STEM that require doing again.

00:32:48,420 --> 00:32:53,740
And that could potentially also the interpretation, because the results are not known,

00:32:53,740 --> 00:33:01,060
because the analysis hasn't been revised and might not require more data gathering.

00:33:01,060 --> 00:33:06,360
Or would it be a question for major corrections of reinterpreting the data they already have?

00:33:06,360 --> 00:33:12,670
If it required more data to be collected, that would almost invariably constitute a recommendation of major corrections.

00:33:12,670 --> 00:33:14,980
Because you can't predict what the outcome of that would be.

00:33:14,980 --> 00:33:21,670
That would in fact probably be the sort of thesis that might be failed and would be, you know,

00:33:21,670 --> 00:33:25,880
you're asking a student to do more work, substantially more work and then try again.

00:33:25,880 --> 00:33:30,610
That that would that would be major corrections. But it's typically it's typically, you know,

00:33:30,610 --> 00:33:35,890
examiners might not like the way that the statistical modelling has been done and they feel there's

00:33:35,890 --> 00:33:41,260
a reasonable chance that it could render a result that you think is statistically significant,

00:33:41,260 --> 00:33:46,840
being non significant, or it could be that they think there's more to this story,

00:33:46,840 --> 00:33:50,530
that your analysis hasn't done it justice and, you know, you should do it in a different way.

00:33:50,530 --> 00:33:57,010
And that, almost by definition, is is going to result in a recommendation of major corrections.

00:33:57,010 --> 00:34:02,350
Presumably, the simple fact of there being more can be done in a given area would not be enough to constitute corrections, though.

00:34:02,350 --> 00:34:06,410
It's more to do with your individual project. Yes.

00:34:06,410 --> 00:34:14,770
And will more to be done to properly interpret the outcomes of the results that you've posed and the results from your studies?

00:34:14,770 --> 00:34:19,210
This has nothing to do with the fact that you may not have covered all the different things you might have done.

00:34:19,210 --> 00:34:23,110
That's not their role, but that's not their role to assess.

00:34:23,110 --> 00:34:29,740
And how the candidates usually respond if they come out and provide them with major corrections as opposed to, say, minor corrections.

00:34:29,740 --> 00:34:36,640
It's usually apparent by the end of the discussion that, you know, if if a thesis is going to get a recommendation of major corrections,

00:34:36,640 --> 00:34:41,140
I think the candidate would come out of the viva pretty much expecting that outcome.

00:34:41,140 --> 00:34:47,680
It wouldn't typically be a surprise. They'd be told at the end. You know, we're recommending major corrections for the following reasons.

00:34:47,680 --> 00:34:55,450
But I think because of that, the nature of the conversation that they've had for the last whatever is two and a half to four hours,

00:34:55,450 --> 00:35:02,380
then they would they would have a rough idea of what way the wind is blowing by the end of it.

00:35:02,380 --> 00:35:07,340
How do people tend to respond to that? Is it sort of disappointment, acceptance somewhere in between?

00:35:07,340 --> 00:35:14,260
Well, I think in acceptance. I mean, most of us, you know, we some people some people will submit a thesis where they know there are issues,

00:35:14,260 --> 00:35:20,890
you know, they expect there to be conversation about one ot Two aspects of that already have an inkling that they're going to be asked to do revisions.

00:35:20,890 --> 00:35:23,260
It's just a question of how much they're asked to do.

00:35:23,260 --> 00:35:29,980
And I don't think it's it's not usually a surprise some people will hand in a thesis in a wishing

00:35:29,980 --> 00:35:36,340
they'd had an additional two weeks to polish all the little bits which that could otherwise have done.

00:35:36,340 --> 00:35:38,300
And so they'll be expecting some revisions.

00:35:38,300 --> 00:35:45,170
But it's just down to the judgement of the examiners really to decide whether it's whether they want revisions and whether it's major or minor.

00:35:45,170 --> 00:35:47,020
There are a couple of other points I'd make.

00:35:47,020 --> 00:35:56,290
One is that, you know, if it were a recommendation of no corrections doesn't mean that the thesis is absolutely polished and there are no typos in it.

00:35:56,290 --> 00:36:02,530
It it's it's at the discretion of the examiners to make a recommendation of no corrections if they feel that it's.

00:36:02,530 --> 00:36:06,010
I mean, clearly, it's you know, it's really top notch work.

00:36:06,010 --> 00:36:14,260
They just they don't want to burden you with going through and fixing the fact that you you've missed a Full Stop on page 116.

00:36:14,260 --> 00:36:19,270
You know, that that's that's the sort of thing the recommendation. No correction doesn't mean there's absolutely nothing wrong.

00:36:19,270 --> 00:36:24,850
It just means they've taken the view that you've done far away enough for the award.

00:36:24,850 --> 00:36:31,540
So just to conclude, could I ask what your advice would be to somebody who comes out of viva specifically with major corrections,

00:36:31,540 --> 00:36:36,400
whether they expected it or otherwise? Well, you know,

00:36:36,400 --> 00:36:41,020
take a minute to digest what's being asked of you and the scale of the task of what you need to do and

00:36:41,020 --> 00:36:46,420
then confer with your supervisory team and come up with a plan about how you're going to tackle this.

00:36:46,420 --> 00:36:55,060
And the timeline of when you're going to achieve this and so on. I think it's worth the risk worth reflecting on the fact that a recommendation

00:36:55,060 --> 00:36:59,560
of major corrections or minor corrections or whatever the recommendation is,

00:36:59,560 --> 00:37:03,550
it is down to the examiners in their judgement to come up with this view.

00:37:03,550 --> 00:37:09,220
But but that decision is also checked by two other senior experienced academics.

00:37:09,220 --> 00:37:12,370
It's checked by the college director of postgraduate research.

00:37:12,370 --> 00:37:23,420
So every single examiners recommendation that gets submitted back to the PGR administrative team then gets referred to the college director of PGR.

00:37:23,420 --> 00:37:32,590
So me in CLES and I go through and I'm specifically looking to see whether I feel the list of recommendations that they've come up with.

00:37:32,590 --> 00:37:39,250
Sorry, the list, the list of revisions or amendments that the examiners are requesting justifies the

00:37:39,250 --> 00:37:44,560
recommendation that I'm looking for correspondence between the recommendation of major minor,

00:37:44,560 --> 00:37:48,960
no corrections and so on. And the revisions are being asked for.

00:37:48,960 --> 00:37:55,240
And I and I will sometimes challenge the examiners on that and occasionally I'll overturn it.

00:37:55,240 --> 00:38:04,460
But it's usually it's usually the case that I agree with the recommendation after the college director of PGR is checked,

00:38:04,460 --> 00:38:08,320
that it then gets referred to the dean of the doctoral college as well.

00:38:08,320 --> 00:38:18,460
So to two other people have checked this. And so it should be a sort of a robust recommendation.

00:38:18,460 --> 00:38:23,710
Thank you very much to Jon Blount there for taking the time to discuss these questions with me.

00:38:23,710 --> 00:38:33,750
It's certainly been really interesting for me from a predominately humanities perspective to get a STEM view on these questions of the viva,

00:38:33,750 --> 00:38:38,590
and that would nevertheless hopefully be useful for people from all manner of backgrounds.

00:38:38,590 --> 00:38:43,060
I hope it is a useful topic to discuss.

00:38:43,060 --> 00:38:45,540
If you're preparing for your own viva yourself.

00:38:45,540 --> 00:38:53,290
And I also hope that this interview that we had has done double duty effectively as an episode of R, D and in betweens

00:38:53,290 --> 00:38:59,790
Thank you very much to Jon again and thanks for joining me.

00:38:59,790 --> 00:39:04,620
And that's it for this episode. Forget to like, rate and subscribe.

00:39:04,620 --> 00:39:31,531
Join me next time. We'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.



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