How do you pass your PhD viva presentation?
A PhD viva presentation is a PhD defence—you need to defend your research.
You often hear horror stories about people’s experiences during their viva presentations. Many may pass, but it depends on how you are grilled during the viva presentation, and most importantly, how you answer.
Prior to my own viva presentation, I had never seen one before. So I had no idea what to expect for my PhD defense. Since it was such an adventure for me, I want to let others learn from my viva presentation experience.
Here are 7 steps to pass your PhD viva presentation.
I sought advice from many people; my parents, my supervisor and colleagues.
YouTube was also very helpful. While my university did not record PhD viva presentations, there are other universities that do.
It really makes a lot of difference when you attend or watch a viva, for you are able to get some idea about how it may be like for you when you walk into the room and have to defend your life’s work in front of a committee of academics.
From all the advice I received and the videos that I watched, I managed to pick up a few useful tricks, which I want to share here.
1) Know what to expect during the viva presentation and come prepared
Talk to your supervisor and ask who your examiners will be. Have an idea of what your audience will be like. Be aware of how many minutes you are given for your presentation.
Important tip: It is also best to be on the safe side and come with your power points, as well as print out copies for all the committee members. Bring your copy of your thesis to your PhD viva presentation to refer to it if and when questions are asked based on specific parts of your thesis.
2) Know your thesis well
I can’t stress this enough. You have to know your thesis inside out in order to be able to defend it well. You must be able to answer questions and justify the most important aspects of your thesis.
For example, what lead you to choose this particular topic for your thesis, what were your research questions, the methodology you adopted and of course, your findings.
Anticipate the possible questions they may ask, and go through the answers over and over again.
3) Confidence during your PhD viva presentation is key
You have to be confident during your PhD viva presentation. Explain your ideas clearly and confidently, but do NOT memorise.
It is very obvious to your committee members if you memorise your script during your PhD defense, and you will tend to lose your train of thought if you are interrupted in the middle of your presentation.
It also helps to have a positive attitude.
Regardless of the horror stories you hear about PhD viva presentations, most students pass their PhD defence.
That means, the odds are in our favour and so that fact should console a student and ease the nerves somewhat. It is crucial to appear calm and speak coherently in front of the committee members.
This may seem difficult, but being prepared will give you some confidence. This is why you need to practice as often as you can.
It is even better if you go through a trial run with your supervisor or a friend who is more than willing to ask you hard questions.
Important tip: Be sure to check your grammar on your slides!
4) What makes your research significant
Another tip to remember when you are preparing for your PhD viva presentation is how your research is significant. There are other aspects that you would need to highlight such as:
- How does your research fit into the academic world?
- What makes your research different from what is already available?
- How will your work help contribute to the academic world and the community at large?
- What is your next plan in your academic career with regards to your research? Do you intend to publish?
Think long and hard about the answers to these questions. It is crucial to show to your committee members why and how your research is important.
You have to believe this, in order to make them believe it too.
Related post: How to Edit Your Thesis
5) If you really don’t know, just say so
While it is important to answer the questions posed and be confident in your replies. There may be one or two questions that you just don’t know the answer to.
Of course, there is a better way of admitting you are uncertain with regard to a particular issue without sounding unintelligent. In such a situation, it may be best to just admit that you are unsure, but it is important to TRY and give your opinion anyway.
For instance, you could try saying the following:
- I am not quite sure but this is my opinion….
- That is an interesting question but my research has its limitations and I am unable to answer that right now.
6) During your viva presentation preparation: Think from the examiner’s point of view
It may be a pointless exercise to prepare for your PhD viva presentation if you are not thinking about what the examiner wants from you and their expectations.
If you think that the examiner didn’t read your thesis, you are wrong.
The examiner reads your work in detail, BUT you are still the expert on your research so you must know how to clear some issues that your examiner may raise.
Below are the following things you will need to think about while preparing for your PhD defense:
- Always think about what the examiners may have to say about this and that.
- Ask your supervisor and other lecturers for their advice.
- Attend mock vivas of other students and request one of your own so that you will have a feel of what it may be like for you on that day.
To know a little bit more about the examiner’s point of view, you can watch this video here.
7) Be positive and have faith
I think this may be the most important tip I could ever give anyone.
God knows how many times I practiced in front of the mirror or forced my husband or a patient friend to listen to my presentation.
I was anxious and nervous the entire morning of my viva until I did my dzikir over and over; asking Allah to ease my transactions and grant me clarity in my thoughts and my speech. It was only then, did I feel at peace and I entered the discussion room with my head held up high.
Those were the steps I took in order to prepare myself for the hardest interrogation of my life. I had done my level best so the rest was up to Allah SWT.
Speak from the heart about your research, and listen intently to their questions. I received many questions and comments, but I didn’t hesitate in answering them and replied as best as I could.
There will be a few suggestions given that you may not deny, and so you should just take them into consideration for the improvement of your thesis, which was what I did.
Perhaps my answers weren’t perfect, but I nevertheless spoke with confidence. When you truly believe in the work that you do, speaking with conviction becomes easier.
My experience taught me that you can do everything in your power to prepare yourself for what you needed to face, but ultimately the outcome depends on Allah SWT.
You may speak and do your best, but fail. Or you may stumble here and there, and pass anyway.
It humbled me upon realising that at the end of the day, it is only His help and His mercy that determines my result. And so I must never forget Him. I need to always seek His assistance and give my thanks to the Determiner of all things.
Upon that realisation, I finally smiled, found my sense of contentment and finally felt a sense of accomplishment.
That was how I survived my PhD viva presentation, and I know that you will too!
This is a guest post written by Dr Murni binti Wan Mohd Nor, senior lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).