I've had a lot of conversions recently with numerous colleagues and students from various different universities who have had less than satisfactory experiences in the doctoral vivas which left me wondering....what the hell is happening to the viva? All of the books and website that students routinely read prior to their doctoral examination say useful and helpful comments along the lines of;
- "you know more about your work than anyone else on the room"
- "The examiners do not want you to fail"
- The viva should be a discussion amongst peers
However from the individuals I've spoken to lately there is a real sense that students felt that their work was more under attack than under review with examiners dismissing the approaches taken, the epistemological underpinnings of the work and the standard of writing, leaving them demoralised and disillusioned.
This made me think that may be students and their supervisors are under estimating the importance of careful selection of examiners and independent chairs. Indeed I was surprised to find that some universities do not have an independent chair for vivas which makes the student even more vulnerable. Is it fair, or even appropriate that the work of, for some students , 5 years or more is approved or otherwise by two people on one day? It's time for a re-think. Maybe it is time for a feedback website so that students can highlight good examiners or even for an examiners registry so that potential examiners can upload their areas of expertise and methodological interests so that examiner selection can be focused and relevant rather than being based upon who a student's supervisor think will be OK as it is at present. Or should we go further and try to think of a new way in which PhDs can be assessed - maybe by open access peer review?
If PhDs could be loaded onto secure websites for, say, a month and could be thoroughly reviewed by a minimum number of global reviewers - how much more valid would that be?