How the viva process works

The viva is a long-established part of the examination process for a research degree. The main focus of the assessment is on the written thesis/dissertation (and other outputs, for a Practice as Research students). However, the viva, which is the oral part of the assessment, is used to inform the examiners’ final assessment decision.

The viva gives the examiners the opportunity to explore any issues in detail and provide inspiring advice for your future research career. Examiners may have a strong sense of the outcome from reading the thesis, but the viva gives you an opportunity to defend your work, as well as to validate the thesis and demonstrate your skills in participating in academic discussion with research colleagues.

Viva arrangments

Your department is responsible for nominating two examiners: one internal and one external, whose names must be approved by the Deputy Dean (Postgraduate Research Education).

The internal examiner is expected to undertake any arrangements necessary for conducting the viva. You’ll then be contacted to confirm the arrangements for the examination of the thesis, including the date and time of the viva.

The viva should be held no later than two months after the submission of the thesis for examination unless exceptional circumstances prevent it from happening. In the case of a staff candidate, the department must nominate two external examiners, rather than an internal and an external, and an Independent Chair is appointed to oversee the examination process.

Students who fail to engage in viva arrangements, to the extent where it has not been possible to conduct a viva, shall be deemed to have withdrawn permanently from the University.

Venue

The venue for the viva should normally be on a University of Essex campus, reasonably quiet and allow the viva to proceed without interruption. The Deputy Dean’s (Postgraduate Research Education) approval is required for a viva to be held at a venue outside the University of Essex.

The Deputy Dean’s (Postgraduate Research Education) permission is also required for approval of the use of a video link in a viva (.pdf) or similar.

Who attends?

The viva will normally only involve the internal examiner, the external examiner and the student.

The Deputy Dean (Postgraduate Research Education) may appoint an Independent Chair, who is a senior member of the Academic or Research staff of the University of Essex, to oversee the conduct of the oral examination in line with the Policy for the Appointment of Independent Chairs for Research Degree Vivas (.pdf).

The student’s supervisor can only be present in exceptional circumstances, approved on an individual basis by the Deputy Dean (Postgraduate Research Education) and with the agreement of the external examiner.

Duration

The length of a viva will vary but if it is longer than two hours the internal examiner will recommend an adjournment for a break.

If you feel the need for a break earlier than two hours, please feel free to inform the examiners. Any breaks taken will not affect the outcome of the viva.

Discussion between examiners

Once you’ve submitted your thesis and the examiners have been appointed, copies of the thesis/dissertation and examination paperwork are sent to the examiners by the Postgraduate Research Education Team.

The examiners must not contact each other to discuss their assessment of your thesis, nor engage in discussion with you ahead of the viva, except for when making logistical arrangements. On the day of the viva and before seeing the student, the examiners will have a pre-viva meeting at which they discuss their initial assessment and agree the approach to the viva, including the areas of questioning.

It is the responsibility of the internal examiner to oversee the proceedings at the viva and to ensure that the University’s Principal Regulations for Research Degrees are adhered to, unless an Independent Chair has been appointed.

The start of the viva

At the start of the viva, the internal examiner will introduce the examination team, confirm the purpose of the viva, and explain how the viva will proceed. If there is anything you’re unsure of, now is a good time to ask.

Questioning

Remember, no one is perfect. There will be strengths and weaknesses to your research and your examiners will want to explore these in more detail.

Normally, the examiners will start with some general/introductory questions that will ease you into discussing your thesis and research. These will be followed by a discussion of strengths and weaknesses of the thesis. It will be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your abilities of self-analysis and reflection, exploring things you’d do differently in future and what you’ve learnt during the process.

The examiners will be asking questions to provide clarification, and seek explanation and elaboration where appropriate. Please remember that each examiner has a different style, and some questions may appear quite direct and challenging. In this situation, it’s important to stay relaxed and take your time to give a thoughtful response.

If you are asked a question which you don’t understand, feel free to ask for clarification.

Reaching a decision

Once the viva has finished, you’ll be asked to leave the room, whilst the examiners reach a conclusion about the recommended result. The result will be one which is listed in the University’s Principal Regulations for Research Degrees.

You’ll then be invited back into the room to be told the recommended result and the reasons for the decision. If corrections are required, you’ll be sent a written list of corrections after the viva.

Your examiners may give you back your thesis at the end of the viva, or alternatively they may use it whilst developing your list of corrections, and then request that the PGRE team return the thesis to you.

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Postgraduate Research Education Team