So, last week I had my viva, where I presented my thesis on “Fibre-optics sensors with molecule coatings”. It was, if you can believe it, quite good fun and I thought it might be helpful to share a blow-by-blow account of how it went. So below is as detailed an account as I can provide, without boring people to death.
Before I start, I’d better explain some background – I have four supervisors (getting my thesis proofread was… not fun) all of whom wanted to attend my viva, along with an internal and external examiner. For the purposes of not getting shouted at, I have anonymised my supervisors and examiners but I expect that they’ll know who they are :).
7:30 Matthew arrives at University.
7:40 Having made vital coffee, Matthew starts getting things together for his viva.
7:41 Matthew finishes getting things ready and starts browsing the internet and after years of otherwise excellent service, Matthew’s laptop crashes.
7:43 Matthew restarts his computer.
7:44 Computer crashes again and now refuses to start.
7:45 Matthew fruitlessly checks all the cables for his laptop computer and out of desperation, blows dust off the keyboard.
7:46 Computer starts.
7:47 Matthew copies his viva presentation on to 3 separate memory sticks while swearing at the computer.
8:00 Matthew makes a second cup of coffee and goes back to browsing the internet to kill time.
8:30 Matthew stops browsing the internet when he realises that he can’t remember part of his thesis and in a flurry of panic starts leafing though it.
8:35 Other members of the department show up for work, Matthew totally abandons his cramming of his thesis and gets into a fascinating discussion about the paperwork required for a work visa with one of his colleagues.
9:00 Matthew leaves for the School of Health building to set up in the meeting room.
9:05 Matthew arrives at meeting room to set up computer and arranges pens nicely on the desk, looks bored.
9:10 Supervisor 3 arrives at meeting room with more energy than a caffeinated bumble bee, and repeatedly asks Mathew if he’s “doing okay”. Matthew assures him that he’s fine but supervisor continues to ask every 30 seconds for the next 20 minutes.
9:30 Official start time for Viva. Supervisor 3 has now wandered off for coffee and no-one else has arrived.
9:35 Supervisor 4 arrives see that only Matthew is there and promptly leaves promising to “come back later”.
9:40 Supervisor 3 returns and asks Matthew if he’s “doing okay”.
9:45 Supervisors 1, 2 and 4 arrive with examiner 1. Examiner 1 introduces himself and the supervisors all immediately leave to get coffee. Matthew and the examiner exchange small talk about why he has so many supervisors.
9:55 Matthew and examiner 1 are now deeply engaged in a discussion about a mutual acquaintance and are swapping stories about some of Matthew’s lab equipment. Neither seem to have noticed that supervisors 1, 2, 3, 4 and examiner 2 (all with coffee) have returned and are waiting to start.
10:00 Viva starts and the first question is from examiner 2, who asks why Matthew has so many supervisors.
10:02 Matthew starts his 10 minute presentation.
10:03 Matthew gets two slides into his presentation before the first question.
10:20 Two slides and 20 questions later Matthew gives up presenting his slides and sits down to start flicking from one slide to another while the examiners ask questions on each area.
10:45 Matthew finishes his 10 minute presentation and examiner 1 and 2 begin going though the thesis page by page. Examiner 2’s copy of the thesis is bristling with yellow post-it notes.
10:50 Supervisor 2 starts looking bored and begins to fiddle with his finger nails.
11:00 Matthew nervously glances at the clock having spent the last 15 minutes listening to criticism that he uses far too many superlatives in his writing. This process is made worse by examiner 2 reading out the best ones – to much sniggering from supervisors 1 and 4.
11:15 Questioning has moved on to knowledge of the theory behind the work, and examiner 1 turns to an A4 page of technical questions. Matthew tries to look relaxed and fails. Supervisor 2 has finished with his fingernails and now starts staring at the ceiling.
11:20 Examiner 2 discovers another superlative he forgot to mention earlier. More sniggering from supervisors 1 and 4.
11:30 Supervisors 1 and 4 are now discussing something on their laptop in a vain attempt to not cringe while Matthew discusses optical theory.
11:45 Examiner 1 announces that time is getting on and he wants to skip to some of the larger discussions. So far, only the content of chapters 1 and 2 (out of 14) have been discussed. Examiner 2 takes this moment to point out yet more superlatives.
12:00 Examiner 1 announces that he’s run out of questions and thinks the viva has gone on long enough. Matthew and examiner 2 agree but continue a discussion about one particular point.
12:05 While waiting for Matthew and examiner 2 to talk, examiner 1 sorts his paperwork to pack up and discovers a whole page of un-asked questions.
12:06 Matthew is heard to exclaim that he wished he’d shut up and let the examiner stop the viva.
12:10 Having rushed through the extra questions in what can only be described as a lightning round, Matthew is asked to leave the room for the final viva decision.
12:11 Much laughter is heard from the meeting room while Matthew dutifully informs twitter of progress.
12:12 Matthew is invited back in and greeted by examiner 1 with “congratulations”. Supervisor 3 produces a bottle of Champagne, also congratulates Matthew and asks if he’s “doing okay”.
Footnote: I’ll need to make a few minor corrections before submitting my final thesis but essentially it’s done! I need to check with the library and my sponsor about copyright but I hope to make a PDF copy of my thesis open access and available through this blog for anyone interested.