Defending my PhD via Skype

In this post, April-Louise Pennant, a PGR from CoSS, describes her recent experience of having her viva conducted online.  Congratulations to April-Louise for passing with minor corrections!

April-Louise outside Westmere with her thesisA viva is one of the biggest days of your life, a day you will remember for the rest of your life and the day you defend years of your hard work. If like me, you had to wait 6 months for this day (instead of the usual 2), the prospect of it being cancelled or even postponed – despite a surreal global health pandemic like the Coronavirus – is going to irk your soul.

When it looked likely that a national lockdown was imminent and everything began to move online, I waited with bated breath to hear news about what was going to happen to my viva. Scheduled ages ago for Wednesday 25 March, it was firmly marked in my diary and my mind, and for the last 6 months I had been preparing vehemently. Eight days before my viva, I was informed that it would still go ahead but that it would take place online via Skype. I sighed with relief that it wasn’t cancelled but then I felt annoyed because I realised that I was going to be robbed of the terrifying but ‘normal’ experiences of a viva such as that bold stride (to hide the nerves) as you took your seat to face the examiners, or that anxious wait outside the room as they discussed your result between each other, or that celebratory photo taken with your examiners after you had (hopefully) passed. Oh, and I was also jarred that I wouldn’t be able to wear the outfit that I had planned especially for the occasion.

However, I quickly realised that maybe an online viva wouldn’t be so bad after all. For starters I would be in my own space, in the comfort of my home. I could even still wear my planned outfit!  I continued to prepare, making sure to pray that the examiners, the chair or any of my supervisors wouldn’t contract Coronavirus before the day!

When the day of my viva finally arrived, I paced across my living room, smartly dressed in my suit, sweating bullets. I couldn’t believe that I was about to sit my viva. It was then that it dawned on me that I hadn’t been robbed of the anxiety of a face-to-face viva and that it had, in fact, increased as I fixated on silly, insignificant things like if my background was OK and if the lighting was bright enough for the Skype call.

I soon realised that completing my viva online was not much different from what I visualised a face-to-face one to be like. It was just as intense, and it was just as terrifying. Yet, I was well-prepared as I defended my thesis valiantly via video link. After about an hour and to the examiners’ satisfaction, they called me back after about 30 minutes when it was time to share my result. I definitely got to experience that suspenseful wait which felt like forever! Yet, it went well as when we all convened once more, with the added presence of my supervisors, I was informed that I had passed with minor corrections.

If your viva will also be online, keep preparing, stay calm and know that you’ve got this! Besides, you will be one of the few people to complete your viva online due to unusual circumstances!

See also this post (from a PGR at Oxford Uni) with tips on managing your online viva.  

Are you now expecting to have your viva online?  If so, what are you doing to prepare for it?  What are your concerns?

2 thoughts on “Defending my PhD via Skype”

  1. I am a year out from my viva, and had major changes to make afterward that took me into November before I returned the amended document for approval by my examiners. This was too late for a December conferral, so I am on the July 2021 conferral list. Obviously I passed my via and the examiners approved my amended document, and the library has it! All good things. I had done most of my supervisions via Skype and sometimes Microsoft Teams, depending on how my supervisor wanted to contact me. Therefore, the video conference viva was not a real issue. The examiners were well prepared and good questions for me and overall I enjoyed discussing my findings with them. The hour and 45 minutes went by fast. So if you are used to videoconferencing with your supervisor(s), the viva by videoconference is not much of an adjustment.


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