So today I passed my PhD viva and am now “officially” a Doctor of Philosophy! My examiners were Prof Angelo Cangelosi (internal) and Dr Kai Arras (external). My chair was Dr Davide Marocco. The viva itself lasted two and a half hours and included a 30 minute presentation where I gave a brief overview of my Thesis. I’ve passed with “minor corrections”, which means that I have three months to complete what I am told is a very short list of things by my examiners (they indicated that 3 months is more than ample time).
The viva itself is a strange beast which I have seen compared to a snake fight. Though the PhD defence takes many different forms in different parts of the world (ranging from public defences, to no defence at all), in the UK it involves having the PhD candidate/student, examiners and any chairs locked in a room for a few hours and going over the Thesis. The examiners are allowed to ask anything that they feel necessary and the student must provide good convincing answers, obviously. The purpose of this process is essentially three-fold. Firstly to confirm that the student is indeed the author of the Thesis and conducted the work themselves. Second is to assess whether the work is novel and pushes the boundaries of the field. Finally, it is to determine whether the student is able to conduct a program of research independently.
While the process begins with the nerves running a little high (at least in my case), they soon settle and the Q&A session becomes an very clear academic conversation and discussion of the work that has been presented. This may sound daunting and perhaps even a little dubious to some, but I found it to be a very enjoyable experience. Very few people will read a PhD thesis properly and in-depth, and a PhD viva is a unique opportunity to showcase your work and have a mature and productive discussion about the work, its implications and of course the limitations. As a result, you may well come out feeling very inspired and full of ideas and thoughts that you may have originally missed. This is all very good!
Some advice for any future PhD candidates reading this, do not fight all the way. Your work will not be perfect. Defend where you feel strongly about something, but also concede where you need to. This is not about proving that your work is perfect and flawless. This is about demonstrating that you understand the process of research and are able to identify where the strengths and weaknesses are within the work that has been done. You have done a program of research, and you need to demonstrate that you are an able researcher, able of conducting novel and relevant research in an independent manner…
Best of luck to any students reading this!