Getting to Re-Know Your Thesis

Having spent so many years with your thesis, it may seem strange to hear that a key part of your preparations is to get to re-know it. Your examiners will expect you to have a good understanding of the structure and contents of your thesis and that means getting to know it in a different way.

Step Back from the Detail

Your examiners are likely to ask you to comment on the wider implications of your work, so you should take some time to think more broadly about your research.

You may wish to use the following questions to help you prepare for discussing these issues in your viva examination:

  • What is your thesis? - i.e., What is your original contribution to knowledge?
  • Which overarching philosophical or theoretical assumptions have you been working within? Why? How successful were you working within these assumptions?
  • If you were given a block of new funding now, how would you like to follow up your work?
  • Think about your examiners: What links their work with your own research? Have you got hold of some of their published work to get a feel for how they work and how they discuss research?
    What would you do differently if you were starting again?
  • What has been happening in your field since you completed your research? Is a further literature review necessary? How does your research fit into this updated context?

Return to the Detail

Your aim is to know your thesis very well and be calm and confident as you begin your viva examination. You should try to remember that most research students who reach this stage do succeed in gaining their degree.

Here are some ideas to help you regain and retain familiarity with the detail of your thesis:

  • Re-read your thesis carefully; do not panic if you notice any mistakes - make a note of them so that it will not come as a surprise to you if they are mentioned in the examination and so that you can address them when you are making corrections for your final submission
  • As you re-read your thesis, make summary notes on the main points from each page
  • Print a copy of the List of Contents with plenty of spacing so that you can write a brief summary of the content under each heading
  • Practice telling the story of your research in two minutes
  • Practice telling the story of each chapter - giving yourself two minutes in each case
  • Identify areas of weakness and make notes on each of these
  • Identify the elements of originality in your thesis
  • Identify your contribution to knowledge in your field
  • Identify the theoretical, empirical, and practical implications of your findings

Practice Exam

Once you have re-familiarised yourself with your thesis, you can move on to practising your responses to some common viva exam questions.

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