The viva is a big moment for any doctoral researcher and understandably brings with it a wide range of emotions. It’s natural to be worried, excited, stressed or anything else you are feeling as the big day approaches. That you may be undertaking the viva online is unusual but that doesn’t mean the experience need be a troublesome one. Indeed, since we first went into lockdown in Spring 2020, we’ve seen successful vivas completed using online technology every week.
Below we offer a few tips on preparing for online vivas.
Practice using the technology
We use Microsoft Teams to conduct our vivas. You have access to Teams via your university Office 365 account. If you are not familiar with Teams, arrange to have a conversation with your supervisors or with two or three friends to get used to the software and the practice of having a multi-way conversation on the platform. Some people find using headphones with in-built microphones useful in these meetings. If you are having problems getting Teams working, contact IT Service Desk.
The Doctoral College’s Examinations Officer, Ursula O’Toole, will arrange to have a Teams conversation with you before the day of the exam to check all is working properly. Ursula will also provide useful hints and tips on managing an online examination and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to ask questions. Ursula will also be doing similar checks with your Examiners. If you have doubts about your internet connection or other ability to maintain a clear connection, or your living arrangements would make it impossible to find a quiet space, contact the Doctoral College as soon as you can as it may be possible to arrange for a room to be opened on campus for you to use. Please, at no time try and contact your examiners about the viva; always come via the Doctoral College (that goes for your supervisors too). Please also note that the viva cannot be recorded.
Think about your space
You will need to be on your own when the viva takes place. If you share a property with others, talk to them to make it clear that this is one time you absolutely cannot be interrupted and that it may take an hour or two. If you have attention-seeking pets, they will need to be kept away.
We strongly recommend that supervisors attend online vivas as a support for you. However, there is no requirement for them to be there and the decision is yours to make.
Attend one of our Preparing for Viva sessions
These are currently being run online. Please check PhD Manager for details of upcoming sessions.
Both the Doctoral College’s Examinations Officer and the viva Chair will be in contact with you before the examination. They can answer any questions you have about how the process will run on the day.
Turn off all other programmes and devices
Once the exam starts you cannot be in contact with anyone else, so make sure your email is shut down, and phones and tablets are switched off. It is also helpful for your concentration not to have notifications popping up mid-viva.
Wait to be invited
Your Examiners and the Viva Chair will be meeting immediately before the examination to discuss the questions that are going to be asked. The Chair will invite you in when they are ready to start. So start up Teams but wait for the invitation to pop up before you join the meeting.
Raise any problems you experience immediately
If anything is not right for you during the viva, say. If, for instance, one of the Examiners’ audio or video is not coming through clearly, point this out. The Chair has the responsibility to suspend the examination so technological issues can be sorted, so tell them if there are any problems rather than trying to soldier on. If you did not fully understand a question, ask them to say again. Talking online can be tiring, so if you need a break, ask for one.
Stay by your computer
Once the examination has concluded the Chair will ask you and your supervisor (if one is in attendance) to leave the conversation so the Examiners can discuss their decision. Make sure you keep Teams running and stay by your computer as they will invite you back when ready.
Arrange for post-viva support
Whatever the result of the viva, it is good to have someone to talk to. At the end of the exam the Chair will stay online to talk to you and answer any questions you may have, and your Supervisor will do the same if they are present. Is there anyone else you can arrange to talk to once the exam is over?
Try not to worry (but it is OK to)
Everyone has worries going into a viva but remind yourself that it is an examination of your thesis and nobody knows your thesis better than you. The Examiners are there to explore your work and not to try and catch you out. It is natural to worry but you have every reason to be confident too.
If you have any question about your viva, big or small, please get in touch with our Exams Officer Ursula O’Toole on U.O’Toole@brighton.ac.uk.