A PhD viva is the culmination of all your years of study and training. It is how you are assessed to see if you are ‘worthy’ of the Dr title. But it is also a source for a lot of stress for PhD students. No matter how prepared you can be, you will never predict the questions you will get asked. So, I thought I would compile a list of questions that you could use as practice. My very own flash cards for viva prep if you will. I must add that there is no guarantee that these questions will be asked, and it of course is not an extensive list, but hopefully they will help you get into the swing of the kind of questions you may be asked.
- Can you start by summarising your thesis?
- Now can you summarise it in 2 minutes?
- Now summarise it in one sentence?
- Can you explain your thesis to your grandmother?
- What motivated you to pursue this research?
- What are the main issues in this field?
- What are the main challenges and debates in this subject area?
- Which of those issues does your research tackle?
- Why have you studied this research area? What was the point?
- How is your work different to what is already published in the field?
- What are the three most influential papers in your thesis and why?
- What are the most recent developments in this area?
- How does your work relate to [insert something relevant]?
- How did your research question emerge?
- How did your research focus change over time?
- How did you define your thesis title?
- What were the difficulties you faced during the research and how did it change your research question?
- How is your thesis original?
- What are you most proud of from this work and why?
- Who are your closest competitors?
- What do you know about the history of [insert something relevant]?
Materials & Methods
- What methods did you use and why?
- Explain [insert technique] and how you got from starting product to final product?
- What alternative methods could you have used?
- What advantages would those other methods have brought your work?
- Would you have gained extra insights using alternative methods?
- How did you collect and manage all your data?
- Talk us through how you analysed your data.
- Why did you use that statistical test?
- How does that statistical test work?
- Why have you used standard deviation over standard error, or vice versa?
- Is an n number of [insert n number] really significant? Does it really have any value?
- In an ideal world, are there any different techniques or other forms of data you would have liked to have used?
- What are the main ethical issues to consider in your research?
- Where did [insert cell line] come from, and is it male or female?
- Why did you use this model system?
- Explain what Figure [insert number] means and how you got to that conclusion?
- What do your results mean?
- Is your data really strong enough in terms of quantity and quality to sustain the conclusions you draw?
- How do your findings agree or contradict with the rest of the literature?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your results?
- How do you explain the differences in interpretation of the results between me, you and other literature?
- What is your favourite result?
- How would you do it differently next time?
- Which sections of your thesis are the most publishable and which journals would you publish them in?
- Explain Chapter [insert number] in 2 minutes.
- Given the rate of development in your research area, how long will your contribution be relevant?
- How does your thesis compare with what you set out to do?
- Did this result in [insert Figure number] surprise you?
Discussion & Conclusions
- Where will this research be in 10 years time?
- What are the main implications of your research for future work?
- Why have you chosen these experiments as potential future work?
- How do your major conclusions link to the work of [insert name]?
- How generalisable are your findings and why?
- Does your data support or refute your hypothesis?
- What are the potential problems that could arise from the future work you have proposed?
- If funding was no object, describe how you would follow on from this project?
- What is the relevance of your work to healthcare?
- You said this in your thesis [insert quote here] – can you expand on that point?
- What is the idea that binds your thesis together?
- Why did you want to undertake a PhD?
- How has this research or your PhD going to affect your career?
- What are your next steps for your career?
- What have you learned from the process of doing a PhD?
- Has your view on the research topic changed during the course of your research?
- What have you found to be the most interesting aspect of your research?
- Why should you be awarded a PhD?
Hopefully there are enough questions there to give you the confidence you need before your PhD viva because the examiners are not trying to trick you. Not that you need the confidence though because you are the one that wrote your thesis and did all the work – you are the expert! Always remember that!
And before you know it – this will be you!
Good luck if you have your viva coming up soon! You will ace it! And if you have already passed your viva, congratulations Dr! Maybe you can share some of the questions you got asked during your examination in the comments and build up this resource for others.
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