Saturday, December 27, 2008

Advice for Your Viva

If you are Ph.D candidate (esp. in the UK) there is alot you should do in preparation for your viva. Now at the University of Queensland where I studied they did not hold a viva vox as part of the examination process for the Ph.D degree. Still, I've been involved in several vivas now as an examiner and I have some advice that you should heed:

1. Make sure you understand the examination process and the viva. Most universities should brief you on this, but if they don't, make the effort to know what the process, rules, and possible results will be.
2. Re-read your thesis several times. Read it from the perspective of your worst-case-examiner. For me, and I did the historical Jesus and the Gentiles with a Wrightesque perspective, I imagined Bob Funk as my examiner. [I owe this advice to Bob Webb].
3. Rehearse your viva either with your supervisor or with a friend who knows your work well enough. A mock viva can be one of the best things you do before the event.
4. In your viva, be confident, don't get aggressive or defensive, don't waffle, and don't be afraid to say "I don't know". Stick to your guns where possible, but if you know that you've been bested on some point (hopefully a minor one), gracefully concede.
5. Finally, and this is my pet hate, make sure you can read the texts in the original languages. In vivas that I do, I always get students to translate some of the primary source material that they've been working with (I know other examiners do it too). So if you're doing 1 Corinthians, Matthew, or Revelation, you should be able to read the Greek text from whoa to go as if it were English! I've done a few vivas now where the student had struggled to read Greek texts that they were working on. Now if you struggle with Greek then you should not be in a Ph.D programme, but if you did fool them on your Greek profficiency in your admission, then you should be working your butt off to bring your Greek or Hebrew up to speed. So with that advice in hand, I swear before blessed Benny 16 that I will slap in the face with a soggy fish the next Ph.D student I orally examine who cannot translate thlipsis!

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