Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

It's Good to Talk: Letters

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

It's Good to Talk: Letters

Article excerpt

Rosemary Deem (Letters, 9 May) offers a constructive critique of the views expressed in "Whim and rigour" (25 April) and mentions my PhD research. It involves observing doctoral vivas in different subjects and interviewing candidates, examiners and supervisors afterwards. These examiners are passionate about research and education in their subjects, showing commitment to the task, rigour in assessment and fairness to candidates. They want students to do well but aren't prepared to compromise standards.

The candidate's achievements are demonstrated largely in the thesis. Before the viva, the examiners I've observed (in science, social sciences and the arts) have read the thesis at least once and usually twice, so they can question the candidate thoroughly. The candidate has to answer their questions satisfactorily to pass. You could argue that the nature of the viva depends on the quality of the thesis: the higher the quality, the fewer concerns examiners will have. However, a high-quality thesis does not necessarily mean a short viva: examiners may enjoy discussing the candidate's research outcomes with them. Variation in viva length is one of the subtle yet important differences between disciplines that exists for good reason and does not indicate variable quality. The viva is longer in some subjects to allow discussion of complex technical matters or other factors unrelated to quality; "norms" in different subjects are generally accepted in the field.

The two-part final assessment tests abilities developed by doing research and following a doctoral programme. Passing the exam demonstrates analytical skills, the ability to communicate in a multidisciplinary, multimedia environment, and independent and effective problem-solving.

Regarding the "emotional burden" placed on candidates during the viva: this affects some more than others. …

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