Monday, January 27, 2014

Never too soon...

Most PhD students would argues that filling in university forms, obtaining ethical approval, negotiating access to their research area and collecting data leaves then little time to be thinking about their viva - an event that may be up to 5 years in the future.

However I would argue that the best time to start thinking about your viva is the first time you lay finger to keyboard to write something (anything) about your thesis, and my reasoning goes like this -

You can be challenged on anything that you put into your thesis - A lot of students, especially in the early drafts of their methodology chapter spend an awful lot of time exploring various philosophical approaches to their work, discarding them one by one until they begin the defence and justification of the approach they finally used. This is fine, it's part of the learning process and a discussion about Heidegger versus Husserl may help you clarify your thinking about which philosophical mast you want to nail your colours to. The problems occur if you leave that in the thesis because then your interpretations are cast in stone and ripe for challenge. The one thing you do not want to do is to send your examiners off down a blind alley, focussing on how they disagree with your interpretation of Gadamer rather than concentrating on what you actually DID.

The thesis is a report about what you did, not what you didn't do. If something happens that means your research has gone horribly wrong, think very carefully about whether you want to include your angst into your final work. Will it add anything to the thesis? Will it clarify why you did something? Or will it mean that you spend a long time at your viva talking about something that did not actually contribute in any way to your final findings? For example, it may be frustrating if it takes 6 months to get governance approval from your participating trust but will a six page rant about that enhance the quality of your final work or merely make the person reading the thesis lose interest?

Issues like these are better kept in a 'jottings' folder or even a reflective diary. They are important parts of the PhD process, especially the first one BUT if it is in your final thesis the examiners have a right to ask you about it in great depth if they wish - so it is never too soon to start to take control of your viva by being intelligent about what you write.

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