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22 January was my viva. I don’t know what you know about PhD vivas, and I’ve only ever done one of them, so am not a great judge of whether mine was typical. If you read Tinkler & Jackson, or had a judicious Google, you’d learn a few things:

  • Mostly supervisors don’t let you submit if they don’t think you’ll pass
  • Vivas have an internal examiner, from your own university; and an external from elsewhere
  • They last between an hour and a day
  • Part of the process is checking that you actually wrote the thing & did the work described
  • The key thing is that you can ‘defend your thesis’ i.e. justify your research decisions, reflect on the outcomes and possible future work.

And that was about all I knew. I talked through some likely questions with my supervisors and they briefed me on the logistics. I prepared by reading the thesis again; marking up corrections (found a reference I had missed, as well as a few minor typos); and re-reading the key literature. Oh, and planning an evening out the night before with friends who would calm me down and not allow me to become too nervous.

Loughborough was lovely on Tuesday morning in the sunlight and snow and arriving on campus early (this is me we are talking about so of course I was early – been pacing about the hotel since 7:30, trying not to wake Phil up). Had a comedy unplanned icebreaker as I bumped into my external examiner, asking for directions – so I introduced myself there and then.

Sat for a few minutes with a hot chocolate checking phone messages – I was the recipient of many good luck texts and tweets – then ambled over to the Department.

And then we were off. The internal examiner told me the viva would only last an hour – which was either a really good thing or a really bad thing, so that was something of a wobbly moment.

I don’t really remember in detail the questions I was asked but I vaguely think we talked about…

  • Explaining a graph (at which point I had a total memory block about which is the x axis on a plot)
  • Justifying choice of mean as measure in one of the content analysis parts
  • Talking through the RQs
  • How might I use this work in future – discussion on early adopters/ lay volunteers/ ways of creating sites
  • Whether my discussion undersold the results
  • If I thought my content analysis was robust, reliable and valid
  • What were the interesting parts of the interviews that I couldn’t record (lots! some really great conversations)

I could see the list of questions being ticked off as we progressed. The further down the list we went the more I was thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be the tricky question – the next one will be the one I really struggle to answer…’ but it never arrived.

After an hour we were done, but it felt like about five minutes – the time whizzed by. Supervisors & I were sent out of the room for a few minutes. Then the judgment. Pass, with minor corrections. Phew! This is what I had hoped for, and what most had expected – it is a very common outcome. There is often a bit of re-writing involved, typos to correct, references to amend and the University allows six months for them to be made.

However, the mandated corrections were minor indeed – more than I’d found myself and anticipated following the viva. (All took me less than an hour to make). The external examiner said very nice things about the project and the thesis – that it was a good read, and very well presented and proof-read. So I was (still am, a week later) elated – pleased to have passed, and overjoyed to have ‘passed well.’

So that’s it. Corrections done, and informally passed by the internal examiner. Now I am just waiting for official notification from the University and instructions on submitting the final version.


This week I have my second year viva. I will be presenting the work I have completed in the past year and a bit; and what I intend to do next. No doubt I will also be fielding awkward questions (I have answers prepared for a couple about sample sizes and baseline measures).

I’ve written the presentation. I know more or less what I am going to say. Last year I was terribly nervous as I hadn’t been through the process before. This time I’m not exactly complacent but I am more at ease with what the day will involve.

English churches and websites – view my presentation on Slideshare