Hanna Dawson

The viva voce (from the Latin, meaning ‘living voice’) is an oral examination process where a PhD candidate is given the opportunity to defend and discuss their thesis.

There are many benefits of this process for the candidate, not least the opportunity to discuss their research with leading experts in the field. While many countries use the viva voce as part of thesis examination, practises vary enormously: it is important you read these guidelines and further specific advice related to your role (see links at the end of this document) to gain a full understanding of how the viva voce works at UWA.

    Viva voce at UWA

    The viva voce was introduced at UWA in 2018. Continuing candidates enrolled prior to 2018 are able to select the viva as an option, and all commencing candidates from January 2018 are required to undertake it. The process from submitting the thesis for examination to the viva usually takes between 10-12 weeks. Once the two external examiners have submitted their preliminary reports on the thesis, and if the Board of the Graduate Research School (BGRS) recommends proceeding to viva, these reports are shared with the candidate, their supervisors and the other examiner. The candidate can then consult with their supervisors to prepare a response to any questions raised as part of their opening presentation. They cannot make any contact with the examiners prior to the oral examination. Candidates will not be required to make any changes to their thesis prior to the viva voce; these will be clarified after the oral examination has taken place.

    Who attends the viva voce?

    The participants in the viva voce are the candidate, the designated Chair and two external examiners. Supervisors are not permitted to join the candidate during the examination, but their support for the candidate prior to the event is vital. The viva can take place with examiners, Chair and candidate all present in one room, or via a combination of zoom and face-to-face attendance. During the nomination process examiners are asked if they would like to attend in person and the examination is arranged according to those responses. Given that video conference participants may be in different time zones, this will mean that some oral examinations will take place outside of normal working hours. In exceptional cases (for example where a candidate now lives overseas) candidates may be permitted to participate in the viva voce by video conference.

    Viva voce duration

    The formal part of the viva normally lasts between 1-2 hours, which includes the candidate’s presentation (around 10 minutes) and questions and discussion with the examiners. Prior to this the Chair will meet privately with the examiners, and after the formal part of the viva, time is allowed for the examiners to agree a final recommendation and for the Chair to document their conclusions and complete all paperwork while the candidate waits outside the viva room.

    Role of the viva voce Chair

    The Chair is selected by the Graduate Research School (GRS) on advice from the School. They will normally be a senior academic registered as a Level 3 supervisor (an individual with extensive supervision experience and a track record of successful, timely completions). They are normally from a discipline area related to the thesis topic, but they will have had no direct involvement with the candidate’s PhD. Their primary role is to ensure that the viva voce process runs smoothly, to take notes during the examination and record the deliberations and decision of the examiners. If they deem it necessary, they may attempt to refocus the conversation or pause the examination if the candidate needs a break.It is important that they ensure the examiners are aware of the viva process used at UWA and agree any order of questioning to the mutual satisfaction of both examiners. They are responsible for introducing the candidate to the examiners and for ensuring the candidate begins the process with a presentation of around 10 minutes. It is also important that, at the end of the examiners’ questions, the candidate is given the opportunity to provide any further information or clarification that they feel is relevant before being asked to leave the room while the examiners deliberate.
    The viva voce is not normally recorded and the Chair’s notes will act as the official record of the event. The Chair is not required to have read the thesis (though it is recommended that they have access to a copy, and review at least the abstract and contents). They do not participate actively in the discussions about the classification of award, beyond interpreting UWA policies as necessary, recording the final recommendation to the BGRS, the nature of the revisions required to the thesis, and providing a summary of the examiners’ views on how the candidate performed during the viva in the examination report.

    Examiners’ decision after the viva voce

    Once the examiners have discussed the viva, they make a recommendation which will be passed on to the BGRS, who make the final decision. This recommendation is communicated to the candidate who is invited back into the meeting to hear from the examiners. This allows them to clarify any questions about required corrections or other aspects of the process. It is possible for the recommendation to be different from that anticipated on the basis of the preliminary reports. If the outcome is more negative, it is the Chair’s responsibility to capture the reasons for this in the examination report. It is also possible that the outcome will be more positive – in which case the Chair needs to summarise what aspects of the written reports (in addition to any further recommendations emerging from the viva) need to be addressed.