The oral examination (viva)
At the current time, arrangements have been made to enable PGRs to complete their viva by video streaming, where appropriate, with all parties (PGR, examiners, Independent Chair and supervisor, if attending) completing this process remotely. If a PGR would prefer to postpone and rearrange their viva, the University will be happy to support this, and the Internal Examiner is asked to inform their Graduate School in these cases. The revised video streaming policy is available and we have also prepared a good practice guide for those involved in the process. This includes guidance on the platforms that may be used and details of the OD&PL Team’s viva preparation sessions that are available for internal examiners and Independent Chairs. Under the video streaming policy, it must be confirmed that pastoral support (normally via the supervisor or other appropriate member of staff, who might be available via video streaming or telephone) will be available to the PGR immediately after the viva, should this be necessary. If the supervisor will not be attending the viva as an observer, they, or other appropriate member of staff (e.g. Director of PGR Studies) must be contactable if needed.
Preparing for the oral examination
The internal examiner arranges the oral examination. The examiners are asked to accept a timescale of three months from when they received the thesis to complete the oral examination (or six months for an MD). Many PGRs find the provision of a "mock viva" extremely beneficial in the preparation for the oral examination and, where requested by the PGR, the supervisor is asked to organise this. Please see our Guide to the thesis examination process for more detailed information about the support available to PGRs in preparation for their viva, including OD&PL Team’s viva preparation sessions that are available at the current time.
The oral examination
The role of the oral examination is to ensure that the work reaches the University standards for the degree; that the work has been written by the PGR and that they understand the work they have submitted.
The University does not have specific regulations regarding the length of the oral examination or what should be discussed except that the thesis should be discussed with the PGR. The oral examination also gives the candidate the opportunity to answer questions in areas where the examiners are not satisfied. Where the evidence in the thesis is not compelling, the examiners should use the oral examination to encourage the candidate to provide convincing evidence that the stated criteria can be met. Some examiners will also wish to satisfy themselves of the candidate’s general level of understanding in the subject area.
Examiners are provided with good practice advice on the conduct of the oral examination which is available on the instructions to examiners page.
The role of the supervisor at the viva
PGRs may invite one of their supervisors to be in attendance at their viva as an observer. In cases where a PGR has more than one supervisor, only one supervisor is permitted to attend the oral examination. A supervisor may only attend with the prior permission of the PGR. If attending as an observer, the supervisor must remain silent during the examination. The Supervisor may not participate in the viva and takes no part in the academic judgement and the decision making process. The Supervisor must leave after the oral examination (with the PGR) so the examiners can discuss their recommendation.
If not present as an observer the supervisor (or appropriate individual e.g. Director of PGR Studies or Advisor) is required to be available for contact if necessary.
The role of an independent chair (if appointed)
In some circumstances an independent chair may be appointed for an examination. The role of the independent chair is to ensure that the examination is conducted fairly and professionally, and in accordance with University regulations. The independent chair is not expected to be an expert in the subject area, although they should be from a cognate discipline. As such the independent chair is not expected to read the thesis or play a role in academic examination of the candidate or question the candidate on the work being examined at the oral examination. Further details are given in the Criteria for the appointment of examiners.
An Independent Chair is required for a viva by video streaming.
After the examination
The examiners informally notify the PGR of the result (usually immediately, but no later than 24 hours afterwards). They will be given one of the following results: pass (or pass subject to editorial and presentational corrections or minor deficiencies), referral or fail. Find out more about the outcome of the viva and the results a candidate might receive.