Wondering what your PhD viva might be like? Last week Salma described some of her preparations and the first part of her viva exam. Read on to find out what happened next…

I was asked a few more questions and I glanced at the time and we had gone pass 12 noon and realised my poor supervisor must be panicking (as she had told me a good viva normally goes on no more than 1.5 hour in our department at least), however mine went pass that, but I could tell it was going well, so I wasn’t worried and I was really enjoying the discussion, especially because the extrenal examiner from Oxford was an expert in my research area, and you could tell he was genuinely interested.

Around 12:30, the examination advisor intervened and said it is lunch time now so we will have to take a break and come back after lunch. The examiners then said actually we’ve only got one or two more questions, and we can wrap up. So that’s what they did. At the end of that the advisor said: Are you happy with the way you have been examined? and I replied affirmatively of course and then she said would you like to add anything or say something you didn’t get to mention before. I was expecting this question and my supervisor had advised me to finish positively so I started by thanking the examiners and explaining to them how grateful I was to have been given this opportunity to do a PhD, and how grateful I was to my supervisors, WMG, and EPSRC for the funding, as I couldn’t have done a PhD without funding. I also told them how grateful I was to my family for their support, especially my parents, who had to put up with a lot of comments from people, and had sacrificed a lot for me to get to where I am today.

I was then told I would be given the result after lunch, and two separate tables in the restaurant (at Arden) had been booked at the opposite end of the room, so I could have lunch with my supervisors and the examiners and advisor would have lunch at a separate table. I went out with the advisor who was escorting me down, when the examiners decided to give me the result immediately rather than make me wait over lunch (thank goodness for lunch!).  I waited for a minute outside with the advisor, and I was called back in and I was told congratulations, I had passed subject to some corrections! (By this stage I knew they were few as they had been mentioned during the viva, and not major – as Warwick doesn’t have major corrections option).

I came down into the café area where my two supervisors were waiting, looking a bit nervous. I gave them a big smile and told them I had passed, and we hugged! I was then sent off to call my family. I rang my husband, gave him the good news, and immediately texted my dad and then my mum. I knew my dad especially would be waiting anxiously for the news, so I was super relieved to tell him the good news. I then messaged close family and friends and the congratulations started pouring in!

We then went for lunch, and decided to all have lunch at one table which was great as I got an opportunity to talk to the external examiner too about his research, which is complimentary to mine, at Oxford. After lunch, I was asked to wait with my examiners whilst they decided on the changes. This took ages. Or it felt like ages to me anyways. My guess is the examiners were disagreeing about one of the changes, because when I was called back in, the internal examiner had left (and had explained to me why he had to leave) and that was the only change that the external examiner didn’t know exactly know what was needed, and I was told this change would be clarified through email (and it was on the next working day).

When I went back in (one of my supervisors came in with me too), the exam advisor went through the list of changes and made it clear she would type up all the changes required and send me a detailed list, so I didn’t need to take notes. But I did take notes, because I wanted to get started on the changes the next day (yes I am that type of a person!), and it was actually really useful because the external examiner chipped in with comments. There was one or two things that he said casually that I had noted down that came into real use when I made the changes. I was given only 8 minor changes to make, and one typo to correct. The examiner and advisor both commented something along the lines of how they were very surprised and really pleased to find only one typo in the thesis!

After that, I was told that was the end and we got ready to leave, I packed my things and said goodbye (the external examiner and my supervisor got into a conversation by now). One of my supervisors sadly couldn’t be there as he was on sick leave, so I sent him a quick email letting him know the good news. I got the bus back to the train station and headed back home, relieved it was over but the good news hadn’t quite sunk in.

On the weekend, to my utter surprise and I still can’t believe my whole family made a 5 hour journey with very small babies to throw me a surprise party. I was ecstatic, even happier than when I was told I had passed. They were all just so proud and happy, and I was so glad that I had made them happy, especially my parents, who had sacrificed a lot for me to reach this stage.

My list of corrections arrived on the next working day (hurray!), which were very detailed and thorough and I was really pleased. I allocated in my diary around 6 days to work on them, and it only took me 1 full day to complete!  I created a table in which I listed the correction requested, what changes I had made, and on which page the changes could be found. I also highlighted the changes in the thesis too. Three weeks later the changes were approved (I did chase up the internal examiner as I was really keen on graduating in July and the deadline was fast approaching). I am now planning a trip to submit the final copy of the thesis and graduate this summer! #PhDDone

Well done to Salma and, again, heartiest congratulations from everyone in PG Team! 🙂

How was your viva experience? How did you prepare for it? Let us know in the comments section. 

Salma Patel has just successfully passed her PhD in digital health at the University of Warwick. She is also an associate lecturer at The Open University and a postgraduate mentor at the University of Warwick. Salma is passionate about public health, the NHS and research methods and  has a background in computing, web design, education, librarianship and management. She blogs on her own website and others, and you can follow her on Twitter.