Procedures for the nomination and appointment of the examination panel

PGR13.23 Nomination of the examination panel

PGR13.23.1 During the 12 months preceding the expected date of the viva voce examination, the Director of Studies will identify at least one internal and one external examiner and a UWE Bristol Independent Chair for nomination as the examining panel. Where the candidate is a permanent member of staff at UWE Bristol or at an affiliated academic institution, or otherwise defined in UWE Bristol procedures, they will identify two examiners only, both of whom are external to UWE Bristol, or to the affiliated academic institution if appropriate, and no internal examiner. The UWE Bristol Independent Chair (IC) will be drawn from the University’s group of appointed and trained, experienced researchers and examiners.

PGR13.23.2 The DoS should contact the Assessment Team in the Graduate School by emailing Research.Degrees@uwe.ac.uk to obtain three potential Independent Chairs (IC). The DoS is responsible for contacting an IC from this list who confirms they will act in this capacity. The DoS is responsible for ensuring the IC is included in all arrangements of the viva.

PGR13.23.3 The DoS will submit a completed form EX1 (DOC) proposing the examining panel to the Faculty Research Degrees Committee (FRDC) with sufficient time to allow the Committee to consider the proposal and make a recommendation for appointment to the Taught and Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) in the course of normal committee scheduling. It should not be necessary to rely on Chair’s Action to approve this recommendation because the EX1 has been left to the last minute.

PGR13.23.4 The examining panel will comprise:

a. An Independent Chair;

b. At least one internal and one external examiner (regulations at PGR13.5) or two external examiners for all staff or otherwise defined candidates (regulations at PGR13.5.3);

c. a balance of experience and subject specific expertise;

d. a combined experience of examining at least four research degrees at, or above, the level that is due to be examined;

e. Examiners who do not know the PGR personally/are not aware of personal information about the PGR (PGR13.5.5R-PGR13.5.10);

f. The proposed internal examiner may previously have acted as the PGRs progression examiner or independent reviewer and can be appointed as the internal examiner as long as they meet all the necessary requirements above (PGR13.5.6R refers).

PGR13.23.5 Definition of permanent UWE Bristol staff and PGRs with previous employment in this context:

A permanent member of staff is someone who:

a. is or has been employed by UWE Bristol or an affiliated institution for more than 12 months either on a permanent contract, or on a single fixed term contract of more than 12 months; or

b. has had a series of fixed term contracts of less than 12 months each, but which have run in succession meaning that the total period of employment is more than 12 months.

PGR13.23.6 Examination arrangements as for staff candidates (two external examiners) will normally be required for PGRs falling into either of the categories at PGR13.23.5 for up to two years after their last period of employment with UWE Bristol has ended. Up to two years means from the last date of employment to the expected date of the final assessment viva examination.

However, PGRs who would normally be categorised as ‘staff’ by this definition do not require two external examiners, if their teaching activities fall within the limits described in the UWE Bristol PGR Teaching Policy, summarised below, and they have not been employed by UWE Bristol in any other capacity during the 12 months leading up to the expected viva date:

Summary table

PGR status

Employment status  

Max hours per year of teaching permitted  

Required examiner arrangements  

Full Time PGRs

Appointed as: Demonstrators, Occasional Associate Lecturers, Associate Lecturers

and

NO standard academic contract

Can teach up to 120 hours per year and retain FT registration


One x external examiner required plus internal

Part Time PGRs

Can teach up to 220 hours per year

One x external examiner required plus internal

Any PGR candidate

Whose teaching activities make them eligible for a fractional standard academic contract

Two x external examiners required

Any PGR candidate
(PGR13.23.8)

Whose teaching activities up to 220 hours per year could potentially compromise the independence of the examination (RDAB decides)

Two x external examiners required

NB. An Independent Chair is required for all final assessment viva examinations.

PGR13.23.7 Where the FRDC or RDAB judge it necessary for the fulfilment of academic assurance requirements, or for other reasons deemed appropriate, an additional external examiner may also be appointed for any candidate.

PGR13.24 Criteria for appointment to the pool of Independent Chairs

PGR13.24.1 Independent Chairs are appointed following recommendation from the Faculty Research Degrees Committee (FRDC) to the Officer of the Taught and Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) when the University issues a request for nominations.

Proposed Independent Chairs will fulfil the requirements as set out by RDAB and will be:

a. Experienced researchers;

b. Current and experienced supervisors, having supervised at least 4 students to successful completion at doctoral level in a reasonable timescale, which includes experience as a Director of Studies;

c. Experienced examiners at doctoral level having examined a minimum of 4 theses including a minimum of two as an external examiner;

d. For research degrees based on a professional doctorates or creative practice, the Independent Chair should also have an understanding of the nature of this kind of programme.

PGR13.24.2 Independent Chairs will receive appropriate training before acting in this capacity. Training is the responsibility of the RDAB.

PGR13.25 Notification and length of appointment of the examining panel

PGR13.25.1 Following approval by the RDAB, the examiners will be appointed for a period of 12 months from the date of approval unless the thesis has been submitted for the final assessment.

PGR13.25.2 The Officer to RDAB will arrange for letters of appointment, information and guidance on examining at UWE Bristol to be sent to the examiners. The Officer will also confirm their appointment with the Independent Chair.

PGR13.25.3 Where a confidentially agreement to restrict access to the thesis has been approved, the Officer will send a copy of the agreement to the external examiner.

PGR13.25.4 The examining team will receive a further briefing from the Independent Chair during the pre-viva preparation session.

Information for PGR candidates to prepare for the viva voce examination

What the viva voce is

The viva voce examination is your oral defence of your thesis with the examiners appointed by the University. Your thesis demonstrates your skill in writing an academic document and your knowledge relating to the written presentation of your research. In the viva you will demonstrate your ability to participate in academic discussion with research colleagues.

The purpose of the viva is to:

  • establish that the thesis is your own work;
  • demonstrate that you have developed the necessary attributes to be an effective researcher (see postgraduate qualification descriptors in Part 2 of the handbook);
  • confirm that you understand what you have written and are able to defend it at an appropriate academic level;
  • investigate your awareness of where your original work sits in relation to the wider research field;
  • provide a development opportunity for considering future publication and research options.

Preparing for your viva

After the submission of your thesis, you will need to start preparing for the viva. It is helpful to work out a timetable for viva preparation. Examiners are likely to ask you to comment on the wider implications of your work, so take time to think more broadly about your research. Your aim is to know your thesis very well and to be calm and confident as you begin your viva.

The following may help with the preparation for the viva:

  • re-read your thesis carefully. If you notice any mistakes, don't panic. Make a note of them so that it won't be a surprise to you if they are mentioned in the viva, and so that you can address them when you are making your final corrections following the viva;
  • as you read, make summary notes on the main points on each page;
  • print out the contents pages with plenty of spacing, and write very brief summaries of the content under each heading;
  • practice telling the story of the whole research in two minutes;
  • practice telling the story of different chapters, each in two minutes;
  • identify areas of weakness and make notes on each;
  • identify the elements of originality in your thesis;
  • identify your contribution to knowledge;
  • identify the theoretical, research, and practical implications of your findings.

It is a good idea to practice answering viva questions. Contact your Director of Studies to discuss having a mock viva as some PGRs have found the experience invaluable. However, remember the examiners in the final viva may ask different questions.

Lots of viva preparation resources, including the top 40 most commonly asked viva questions, are available via the PGR Skills Development BlackBoard site, accessible via your MyUWE account.

The final few days before the viva are the time to address practical details, such as the following:

  • If your viva is going to be held face-to-face, how will you get to the place of viva?
  • What will you eat on the day and when?
  • What will you wear and what you can take into the room with you?
  • If your viva is to be held online, have you made sure your IT equipment is functioning appropriately, that you have the video conferencing platform required by the University loaded onto your device, and that you will have a reliable Wi-Fi signal at your location during  the viva?

If you are in doubt as to any of the details, please discuss with your Director of Studies or ask the Graduate School.

At the viva

People who may be present at the examination are:

  • PGR (you)
  • Internal Examiner and/or
  • External Examiner(s)
  • Independent Chair
  • Director of Studies or supervisor (with the PGR’s permission)
  • RDAB representative (with the PGR’s permission).

Your DoS or other supervisor can only attend if you give your permission. It is a good idea to have one or other of them in the viva, particularly when oral feedback is given by the examiners after the end of the viva.  They can take notes and be a useful extra pair of ears. 

However, they are not allowed to take part in the viva conversation unless required to do so by the Independent Chair, or allowed to remain in the viva meeting while the examiners are deliberating their outcome. Remember, if you don’t want your DoS/supervisor to be there, you don’t have to give your permission; it is your choice.

How long your viva is likely to be

There are no time limits for the viva, so keep travel arrangements open. At the start of the viva, the Chair may give an indication of the expected duration. PGRs are entitled to request a break at any point during the viva.

Making a presentation at the viva

PGRs are not normally expected to give a presentation as part of the viva. If you wish to make a presentation to the examiners on your thesis, this should be discussed with your DoS in the first instance. Any presentations must be no longer than 10 minutes and must not include any new material that has not been included in the thesis.

You must notify research.degrees@uwe.ac.uk in advance of the viva if a presentation is going to be made, who will then notify the Independent Chair and examining team.

Where a presentation is being made the following issues should be used as a structure:

  • What was the purpose or intent of the research work reported?
  • How successful was the project?
  • In what way do the outcomes of the project demonstrate originality?
  • What were the key methodological issues?

If your viva is being held online, make sure that your IT device will support your presentation, and make sure you have loaded any slides or other material onto your device prior to the viva. Practice how you will share this material with the examiners on-line using that particular video conferencing platform.

Discussion at the viva

Your thesis will have strengths and weaknesses, and the examiners will want to discuss these. It is considered positive, even essential, that you can discuss both strengths and weaknesses. Examiners will seek to find and discuss weaknesses in all theses. You should not interpret criticism as an indication of a potentially negative outcome. A good approach to answer questions may be to:

  • take time to consider before replying;
  • remember to breathe and to speak reasonably slowly;
  • don't take criticism personally;
  • don't take offence;
  • don't get angry;
  • enjoy the opportunity to talk about your research.

Common questions you may be asked

The questions that crop up at viva can usually be grouped under four basic headings:

  • What is it about?
  • What did you do?
  • What did you find?
  • Why does it matter?

The top 40 most commonly asked viva questions are available on the PGR Skills Development BlackBoard resource library, accessible via your MyUWE account, but here are a few starters for ten:

General questions

  • Why did you decide on this particular research question?
  • What have you found the most interesting aspect of your research?
  • How did your thinking about this topic develop as you went through this research process?
  • Now that you have finished the research, which part of the process would you say you enjoyed the most, and why?
  • Were there any surprises along the way?
  • Has undertaking this research changed you as a researcher?

Context questions

  • You refer to… as a key influence on your research. Can you summarise the particular relevance of their work?
  • What developments have there been in this field since you began your PhD? How has this changed the research context in which you are working?
  • You make only a passing reference to the field of … Why do you think it is less relevant than the others you give more space to?
  • You don't say much about the… theory in your thesis. Can you explain why you have not focused more on that?

Methods questions

  • How well did the study design work in practice?
  • Did you have any problems with the data collection process?
  • You used an existing research method and developed it further. Can you tell us why this further development was required?
  • What were the main ethical issues of conducting this research?
  • How did you establish the limits around the scope of your data collection?

Questions about analysis and findings

  • Talk us through your method of analysis.
  • Did you encounter any problems with applying this method of analysis?
  • Do you think the data you collected were the most appropriate to answer your research question, or are there any other data you would have liked to have collected?
  • Can you describe your main findings in a few sentences?

Discussion

  • If you were starting your research again now, are there any changes in the way you would plan it?
  • You interpret these findings as … Do you think there could be an argument for interpreting them as… instead?
  • You said in your thesis that … Can you expand on that point?
  • In what way do you consider your thesis to be original?

Conclusions about/implications of your research

  • What is the research, practice, theoretical implications of your findings?
  • How would you hope that this research could be followed up and taken further?

After your viva

You may well take away from the viva a mix of positive and negative feelings. Almost all PGRs will have further work to do in the form of corrections or amendments. You can be assured that getting through the viva is in itself something to celebrate.