Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The Onlooker Effect

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

The Onlooker Effect

Article excerpt

Initially unconvinced of the public viva's value, David Bogle found much to commend in this continental practice

Intro to go in here please Intro to go in here please Intro to go to go in here please Intro to go in here please

Intro to go in here please Intro to go in here please Intro to go to go in here please Intro to go in here please

The first time I participated in a public viva I was very sceptical. How could I really rake over the issues and probe the thesis' weak spots in a public forum without boring the audience or embarrassing the candidate?

Public vivas are not, of course, the practice in the UK, but they are very common across the Continent, and I believe there is a strong case for importing them.

In practice, I found my concerns easy to circumvent. The key was to put my questions on slides. These allowed me to make my questions clear to both the candidate and the audience, allowing us to keep on track and avoid any misunderstandings.

The great advantage of having an audience is that it allows the public to see that scientific debate is thorough, and that standards are high. While non-experts may not follow everything, they will get some appreciation of the level of debate, which can only increase their respect for holders of doctorates.

Transparency also allows scrutiny of examiners, restraining any poor behaviour or bias. This is a major concern of candidates, and eliminating it, I believe, would more than compensate for the potentially greater pressure of defending in public. It would also remove the need for an independent chair, a measure some UK universities have adopted to prevent excessively aggressive questioning from examiners.

There is considerable variation in the practice of public PhD defences across the Continent. Two-thirds of the 21 members of the League of European Research Universities require prior approval of the thesis before proceeding to the defence, and just under half treat the public defence as a merely formal confirmation. The most common number of examiners is three, with more than half of universities allowing the candidate's principal supervisor to be on the jury.

In the Netherlands, for instance, the panel consists of seven academics (including two international members, on the occasion I served as an examiner), and the exam lasted exactly one hour. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.