Guidance and resources covering the responsibilities of the supervisor, how the viva examination is conducted at Bath and how to prepare your student for their viva, including explaining the purpose of the viva and demystifying the viva process.

Expectations and responsibilities

As lead supervisor, you are responsible for:

  • liaising with the Director of Studies and the Head of Department or School to nominate the internal and external examiners (and where necessary, the independent chair) for the Board of Examiners
  • undertaking a critical reading of the draft thesis/portfolio
  • providing advice to the student on the submission of a final thesis for the viva

In addition:

  • supervisors are not normally expected to be present during the viva examination, however your student can notify the Doctoral College at the point of submission if they wish you to attend.
  • you will need to be available should the Board of Examiners wish to consult with you at the time of the viva and you should be in attendance when the student is informed verbally of the recommendation.

Details of responsibilities can also be found at QA7  Sections 13 and 14 Board of Examiners, and Criteria for appointment of examiners and QA7 Appendix 1 Responsibilities of the Supervisory team.

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Purpose of the viva

The viva voce examination serves to establish that the candidate is the author of the work presented for examination, and demonstrates appropriate understanding of the broader aspects of the field of research and the context of its main findings or argument. A viva voce is mandatory once a doctoral thesis/portfolio has been submitted to be examined; there is no option to unofficially return the thesis or portfolio to the candidate for any sort of amendment until the viva has been completed. The assessment criteria state that the candidate must both present a satisfactory thesis and pass the viva examination to the satisfaction of the examiners in order to be awarded a doctorate (Note: MPhil candidates do not have to undergo a viva unless the examiners request that one is held).

In common with practice in the UK, the viva voce is a closed examination and not a public event taking place in the presence of friends or colleagues. Supervisors do not routinely attend the viva voce examination, however, candidates may request that the Doctoral College arranges for a member of their supervisory team to attend the viva if they feel that it would be reassuring for them. In such cases the Doctoral College will inform the examiners prior to the viva voce examination about who exactly will be in the room. A member of the supervisory team who has been permitted to attend a viva voce examination must not take any part in the viva voce examination.


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Preparing for the viva

 

It’s therefore very good practice to, in advance of the viva, discuss with the student the guidelines for the examiners of research degrees to ensure they are familiar and prepared.

 

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Outcomes of the viva

QA7 Section 17 covers the possible outcomes of the viva available to the examiners. However, note that the specific options depend on the programme on which the student is registered: these can be found in Regulation 16 (e.g. sections 16.3 is the MPhil, 16.4 EdD, 16.5 PhD and so on for IPhDs and other professional doctorates).

Typically these can vary between passing with or without corrections, be permitted a second attempt and submit a revised thesis, undergo a second viva exam, be awarded a lesser award, or fail outright – in which case there might be various alternate awards that can be considered as well as outright fail.

A big responsibility of the supervisory team is to be available to the examiners on the exam day in case they are needed, and to be present with the student at the point they are given their outcome result by the examiners. Even more critical nowadays when the viva is taking place remotely and the student is alone at home. Allocate enough time after the viva to appropriately celebrate or commiserate the outcome too.

Further resources and support